By Enver Memishaj
(45 years ago – State Security in search of “enemies of the people” – Who burned down the Wood Processing Enterprise of Vlora?)
Memorie.al / Usually when you are young you live mainly with the feelings of the present, but in old age it is different, you live moment by moment with the weight of memories of the past that bend the body even more and hurt the soul. This is what happens to me as I have been graying for years…! A worry of the troublesome past does not leave me alone and the only thing I can do is writing….! I am worried that, while I was thinking and working at the Wood Processing Enterprise in Vlora, with all my spirit and professional skills, the State Security had lined me up on the list of “enemies of the people” and followed me because I could be the one who was thinking night to sabotage the socialist economy! The years of life go by and with them I also get tangled up, as the people say, and I don’t want the memories and events that I lived to go with me, that’s why I’m publishing these memories about the burning of the Wood Processing Enterprise of Vlora, 38 years before, but which have remained unredeemed in my memory…!
An extraordinary event
It was April 21 of the distant year 1977 and my desolate mother, who had gone out at one o’clock in the morning to buy a liter of milk, came rushing home and spoke to me worriedly: Enver, Enver…! I woke up and was looking at my mother, who hurried to tell me: “It’s bad, mother, because Wood Processing has burned down.”
Without understanding what my mother had told me, I sleepily went to the company where I worked as a mechanic. When I arrived I was saddened to see that instead of the Enterprise, there was now only a giant fire still burning. Even the firemen seemed to have been defeated, and they had nothing to do but to fight with the rest of us…! In this Enterprise where furniture and packaging boxes were produced, nearly 300 workers were employed, who worked with a backward technology and very high cost. I worked in that Enterprise from October 17, 1971 to June 22, 1980. There I won the seventh category, the title “Master in Mechanics”, and managed to complete the Faculty of Economics, defending the diploma with a topic: “Fiber cutting and compensation in the Wood Processing industry”, by means of the mathematical method of Linear Programming.
Already on April 21, 1977, instead of that Enterprise, I had in front of me a giant fire which in a few hours, had turned to ashes the work and sweat of the Vlonjats of many years…! After passing the first moments of confusion, we started work, but without having a clear idea of where to start and what we should do.
We had an advantage. In continuation of this Enterprise, a new building had just been completed to which the machines were expected to be transferred from the old building and the work started there.
The electro-mechanical brigade, of which I was also a part, had the heaviest burden of repairing and assembling machines in the new building.
I had the good fortune to work with the unforgettable Xelal Veizi, chief mechanic, a noble and generous man, excellent in all directions, as a family man and an honest man, from citizenship and humanity, from his profession and his gentle behavior. In the same way, I also remember with respect the other friends, with whom I spent almost ten years of my life: Xhevdet Sheraj, the prototype of a good and smart lab, the man who threw water on the fire, whenever we younger people caught fire with someone the other, or with usta Xelal.
Janaq Mandi, the type of mass man. Perlat Rexhepi, an excellent guy as a person and professional. He was an electrician but he knew how to do all professions with that skill. His intellectual and professional skills were tested after the 1990s, when he set up a modern carpentry. Vangjel Dako was an excellent electrician and a tireless worker. Llazar Ceko was the driver of the Enterprise. In this brigade, there were also two boilermakers: Avdul Robi and Stefan Sheshi. Asim and Kujtim Strati also worked with us for a while.
In order to eliminate the consequences of the burning, material and specialist help came from several enterprises of Vlora and cities of the country. But a heavy burden fell on us, the owners of the house, who, apart from the selfless work, had to plan our needs for material basis, we had to organize and direct the electro-mechanical specialists who had come to help. In charge of this great work, there were three talented engineers: Nikolla Bej, Filip Angjeli and Agron Ruka, without denying the role and work of many other specialists, who worked selflessly, seven days a week without taking a break for more than 12, or 16 hours a day and after leaving work, we were called to a collective meeting, where we fell asleep from exhaustion. After an unpaid slave job, for nearly three months, the slaves of Enver Hoxha and Kadri Hazbiu, under inhuman pressure, managed to put the new carpentry to work. After this work, no good words, no moral reward, no reward for work and sweat. Only silence and eavesdropping and humiliation from the Security officers who did not leave us during the three months we were working, they eavesdropped on us.
State security in search of “enemies of the people”!
In 1995, after the overthrow of the communist dictatorship, in my position as the Head of the Secret Service of Vlora, I was given the opportunity to familiarize myself with the secret documents of the Security, about the burning of N.P. Wood. On the basis of this file, I am describing the activity of the State Security “On the pursuit and discovery of the possible perpetrators of the burning of the Wood Processing Enterprise”. (Archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Branch of Internal Affairs, State Security, “Secret” Relation, Vlorë, dt. 15.7.1977 and 5. 9. 1977).
The burning of this enterprise, due to its importance, as it brought an economic damage of 1,400,000 ALL, was followed from the beginning with an operative group, under the direction of the Deputy Chairman of the Internal Affairs Branch. All data and denunciations were continuously analyzed and the necessary measures were taken. The First State Security Directorate as well as the VIIth Branch was constantly informed about the work done. Immediately after the event, two meetings were organized one after the other with the entire agency staff and it was requested that the problem be seen from a political perspective. The heads of the sections made plans and all-sided measures were taken to activate the reconnaissance force in the direction of processing the enemy contingents, giving priority to those working in this enterprise.
From the data of operative officers, State Security extracted and identified ten workers of this enterprise with bad political background, who had not been identified before in the contingent lists of “enemies of the people”. For this lack, i.e. that ten “enemies of the people” who worked in N.P. were not identified. The wood was brought to the attention of operative officers. At the same time, the State Security drew up the biographical certificates of all the workers of the second shift dated April 21, 1977, as well as for the other ten workers who were identified as enemy elements. Some of these workers were taken into processing, which means that they were followed by collaborators day and night.
On the other hand, State Security studied the residents who are around this Enterprise and found that near this Enterprise live two citizens who were pursued as enemies by 2/A, as potential Greek and Yugoslav agents, as well as three citizens registered in the evidence of “enemies” of the people”. In the direction of these elements, the existing agents that followed them before were activated. In the same way, an associate of the informant category was also urgently withdrawn in their direction.
I carefully watched the two citizens who were being followed by contingents of the enemy, Greece and Yugoslavia. They were good patriots and it didn’t even occur to them to work against their country and even more to serve Greece or Yugoslavia, against which their ancestors had fought for the interests of their country. But this was the criminal and ignorant logic of the communist officers of the State Security of Vlora. State Security also evidenced that drivers Kozma Pjero and Dashnor Sina had entered the Enterprise outside of working hours to leave their cars, about which State Security had no doubts because they had a good political attitude.
At the end of these actions, the State Security drew up a list of 17 employees of this enterprise, suspected of having burned the enterprise separately or in collaboration! The reason for the suspicion was bad political attitude. It is necessary to clarify that the Communist Party called citizens with a bad political attitude tribes or families that before 1939, or during the War (1939-1944), had been rich, or officials or their ancestors had been part of or were sympathizers in anti-communist movements or organizations or during the communist regime, they had relatives imprisoned or interned for their ideas.
So all those who were not originally lucky enough to be poor peasants or manual laborers were kept on special lists, viewed with suspicion and pursued by the volunteer agents of the State Security, as contingents of the enemy, because according to them they had been and whatever they did, they remained enemies of the people, who did not love the Party and popular power! In the list of 17 suspects drawn up by State Security in cooperation with the Basic Organization of the Labor Party of this Enterprise, the name of the author of this article and the reason why he was suspected: with a bad political past!?
I looked carefully at the name list of 17 people, in which there were also women. I knew all those suspected of burning the enterprise, such as: Rasim Bejkosala, Mehmet Shaban, Tefta Ismaili, etc. All were citizens, honest people and tireless workers to support their families. I read them again and again and at each name I stopped and asked myself: Could this man set fire to the Enterprise where he worked? I didn’t doubt anyone, and like me, they didn’t even think of doing such an act.
They did not like the communist system and maybe they hated it, but no one thought of doing such an act and no one could be happy about what had happened, on the contrary, everyone looked at that extraordinary event with bitterness that “it should have happened. In continuation of the pursuit of the suspects, State Security took operational control 2/B, two other people and placed in preliminary processing (P/P), four others, as possible perpetrators of the event or who were aware of this action.
Violence and psychological terror on the Enterprise’s employees!
In the daily meetings of the collective, i.e. during the collective investigation, the Security officers were distributed in the hall and each of them sat next to the worker who was suspected of being an arsonist, to exert pressure or to be ready to neutralize any action of the enemy or enemies of the people!!! Specialists from the Prosecutor’s Office and the Court also assisted in these meetings, which were in fact collective violence. The violent and frightening meetings were led by the secretary of the Labor Party Committee, friend Jorgjie Premti – Peçini, the wife of Llambi Peçini, the Head of the Department of Internal Affairs and one of the most loyal people of the criminal Enver Hoxha. (Both of these husband and wife paid with their skin for their loyalty to him: Llambi was shot as an enemy of the Party, while Jorggia killed herself).
It was a meeting of terror and fear. People suffered from the mania of persecution: What if he shot someone and got up and said that the Enterprise was burned by so-and-so or pistachio?! Jorgia was a healthy woman, full of energy and threats in front of the workers. She never tired of calling on the workers to report and informs the Party of anything suspicious. After several meetings, she came to the conclusion that the Enterprise had been burned by the enemies of the Party who are among you and soon the irons will be thrown. Thus continued the violence on this collective for two consecutive months every day…!
* * *
On the first day, on April 22, 1977, the two guards of the Enterprise, Petro Dardha and Hysen Shameti, as well as the guard Llazar Boçi, were arrested. From the investigation and operative-investigative measures that were used against them, no suspicious person emerged. Behind the guards, the Security put pressure and interrogated the workers who had worked in the second shift in order to get information about any suspicious movement, or any suspicion of an electrical spark, but without any concrete results.
It emerged from the collective meeting that Orfe Dhamo, a worker, had hit the head of the department, engineer Bashkim Lelin, after an argument with him.
The security took advantage of this opportunity and arrested Orfe Dhamon on the charge of assaulting an official. But in fact, the State Security had another goal; they used violence on this innocent worker as well as on his family and relatives: Thoma Çaçin, Koço Dhanilin, and his wife Vangjeli Dhamo, to get the arsonist out. Placed under inhuman torture, Orfe Dhamo could not take it anymore and brought the criminal investigators satisfaction by declaring that he was the one who had set fire to the Enterprise, to the anger of Bashkim Leli!!!
But was Orfe Dhamo actually guilty?
He was never asked about the beating of Bashkim Leli, but on the first day of his arrest, he was asked to explain about the burning of N.P. Wood. It was processed in isolation rooms, so it was laid on wood. His wife, brother-in-law, sister-in-law were interrogated with violence and terror, who were isolated in a cell and their conversations were listened to and recorded by means of Operative Technique. From this inhumane investigation, the investigator came to the conclusion that: Orfe Dhamo’s wife and relatives have no knowledge that he is the author of this fire. His wife clearly stated that her husband, Orfe Dhamo, on the evening of April 21, 1977, when the fire broke out, until the morning of April 22, 1977, when he left for work, Orfeu did not leave the house. Despite this appearance of Orfe Dhamo’s innocence, he was kept under pressure and in complete isolation, continuing to be processed by State Security spies who were sent to his cell.
A week after Orfe Dhamo was arrested and subjected to inhumane torture, he told the Security officer in the cell that he could not endure the torture that was being done to him and “I will do what I have not done, I will admit that I am the author setting fire to the Enterprise!” The next day he was interrogated and claimed to the investigator that he was the author of the arson and that he had done it out of anger at engineer Bashkim Lelit, with whom he had been beaten and for this he had been fired. After this statement, the torture was stopped, but he continued to be questioned every day. During the three days that he was on the stand, he changed his depositions regarding the way the fire was set, the tools used and the place where he had set the fire, and after three days he rejected the depositions and declared that he was not guilty and that he had accepted guilt from torture and fear.
Even from the processing of the two citizens as close connections of Orfe Dhamos, from the surveillance, contacts and short conversations between them were confirmed, as well as the agent processing was carried out, but nothing of interest came out. Under the conditions of this pressure, Orfe Dhamo presented abnormal behavior to the investigators, accepted everything they told him and laughed. In short, the bloodthirsty investigators had driven Orfe Dhamo crazy, and his investigation did not prove anything serious. For this, he was transferred to the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Tirana, where he was hospitalized for a month. The investigators write that: “Although a strong investigation was conducted in his direction, it did not turn out that Orfe Dhamo had set the fire and as a result, he was sentenced to 6 months in prison for hitting the official”.
Anyone can easily understand that everyone means “strong investigator”, it is also easy to understand that to justify his arrest and isolation for 2 months, they gave him 6 months in prison! This was communist justice! After two to three days of the arrest of Orfe Dhamos, Divid Dëma, worker, close friend of Orfe Dhamos, was arrested. Dividi was kept in isolation for 14 days, under pressure, violence and inhumane torture, he, his wife and his family. Dividi was interrogated every day to affirm his collaboration with Orfe Dhamon for the burning of N.P. Wood. After Dividi, his family members were interrogated, listened to and recorded with Operative Technique.
Dividi endured the violence and terror and testified to the investigator: “I know nothing about the burning of Perpunin Druri and Orfe Dhamua did not set the fire.” Eventually it was proven that Divid Dëma had not collaborated with Orfe Dhamon and both of them were not guilty. In addition to the above actions, four combinations were organized with operative techniques for the family members and relatives of Orfe and Dividi, the prohibited elements and their close connections who were called to the Branch to verify the suspicions. With or without grace, the State Security, within a few days, brought into cooperation four new collaborators of the category of informer and directed them to process and discover the enemies of the list of 17 people as well as in the direction of the suspicious connections of the event happened. The heads of the sections studied the work files, that is, the information and reports provided by their colleagues and other existing archive materials, to find data and suspicions about the arsonists of N.P. Wood, but no data of interest was found.
* * *
After this event, the collaborators of the Security, or his dogs: “Besniku”, “Ora”, “Stilografi”, etc., worked very diligently and managed to discover the “enemies of the people”. The first was Llazar Ceko, a wise and hardworking man like all Narqots. On 1.6.1976 together with Thanas Ceko, Janaq Zarka, Sotiraq Xhani and Kleanth Vidon, they escaped to Greece, crossing the border in Kapshtica, the border they knew because they had served there as soldiers.
At the beginning of 1977, the repentant Llazar asked the Albanian embassy in Athens to return to Albania. On 1.4.1977, the Greek authorities handed it over to the Albanian border authorities.
A month before they escaped, Llazar Mano denounced Llazar Ceko, but surprisingly no action was taken. The court of Vlora sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court chaired by Eleni Selenica, with decision no. 864 dated 30.9.1977, upheld the decision of the Court of Vlora and Llazar Cekua at the age of 35 was shot. (Archive M.P.B., P. 1, File 3363).
On 8.5.1978, Ilias Kelo, who was the head of finance in this enterprise, was arrested. He was kept in the investigator until 9.10.1978. Through the witnesses: Fiqiri Veliu, Fatosh Çobo, Hysen Bani, Festim Gjyshi, Luto Mahili, Liljana Ramo, Tefta Ramo, Vladimir Çeçi, Nuri Maze, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “agitation and propaganda”. Iliazi had completed his studies in the Soviet Union and was a pilot. There he fell in love and married the beautiful Russian Vali. In early 1962, he was summoned to the Political Directorate of the Ministry of Defense and asked to divorce his wife, whom he did not do; therefore he was released and looked upon with suspicion.
After Iliaz’s conviction, his wife and two sons were exiled to Peta in Vlora, and after a few months she was also sentenced to ten years in prison, for agitation and propaganda. Her eldest son Viktori was able to secretly board a Bulgarian ship in Cold Water and escaped. It is believed to have been sent by State Security. (Fatos Lubonja in his book “Ridënimi” says that Iliazi diligently served the State Security and shot Vangjel Lezhon with his friends). After 1990, the family immigrated to Canada, where the eldest son Victor was. (Archive M.P.B., F. 1. File 11.430). Likewise, the good and innocent Sefer Dauti, former member of the Labor Party of Albania, was sentenced to 10 years for agitation and propaganda.
Who burned down the Wood Processing Enterprise…?!
According to witnesses, the source of the fire was seen at the top of the packaging box department between the ceiling and the roof. Electrical experts ruled out the possibility that the fire had come from the electrical network. Then why did the Wood Processing Company burn down? That establishment was an old barn, silo after silo, the roof and ceilings loaded with wood dust, or hay as they called it in practice, so that only a spark of fire was enough to reduce it to cinders and ashes, as it did. It has been confirmed by several witnesses that: sparks occasionally came out of the boiler chimney, even several hours after the boiler was extinguished.
The sparks went to different distances, in special cases to the roof of nearby buildings and reached the ground lit up, which is confirmed both by the statements of the witnesses and by the notes left in the notebook of the receipt and delivery of the shift by guards and on duty of the Enterprise. It has also been proven that a few years ago, there was a fire in the second shed of the furniture machinery department, which is adjacent to the box assembly department and very close to the boiler, where the fire was first seen. Memorie.al