By Filip Guraziu
The third part
“Gold Medal”, in the First National Spartakiad, 1959
Continues from last issue
Memorie.al / The First National Sports Spartakiada, September 1959, which was undoubtedly the most massive and qualitative sports organization in the history of Albanian sports, had just ended. From the Sports Club “17 Nëntori”, whose sportsman I was, I received the message that the next day at 11.00 am, dressed in a sports suit, I would appear at the university gymnasium, where the closing ceremony of the Spartakiad would take place. I showed up at the right time, wearing the sports uniform of the club (tracksuits and rowers), but how, I was a little impressed by the fact that not many teammates were present.
The representatives of all the Albanian clubs appeared, “one by one”, in front of the leading podium of the ceremony. The sportsmen of “17 November” were led by the great boxer, Teodor Janku (February, Todi).
After a while, the podium began to be filled, by the leaders of Albanian sports, and we realized that, for the beginning of the ceremony, the Chairman of the Soviet Delegation who had organized and led the Spartakiad, as well as the Minister of Education, Manush Myftiu, who would also share the medals.
In those moments of waiting, Todi Janku approached with a certain haste and worry, and asked us, that one of us would give him, for the duration of the ceremony, his personal sports jacket with the uniform of “November 17”, because he , Todd had already left it at home!
He also motivated the request with the fact that he had found out about his decoration with the “Spartakiade Gold Medal” and appearing in front of the tribune, it should be ethical, so he wears it with the club jersey. Todd’s request was not answered by any of the athletes, except me.
Maybe they, like Todd, had some information about their decoration, and therefore needed a regular uniform, whereas I, at the age of 16, didn’t even think about medals.
I stood in the row, without a seat, to follow the ceremony with great interest. The governing committee of the Spartakiad had decided to award “Gold Medals”, only one athlete, for each type of sport. The representative of the Albanian Sports Committee read the names of the decorated athletes, while the medal was handed over alternately, sometimes by the head of the Soviet Delegation and sometimes by Manush Muftiu.
The decorated ones, after receiving the medal, thanked you and shook hands with the other members of the podium. At one point, as after the turn of sports, the moderator of the activity declared:
“The Gold Medal of the first National Spartakiad for the sport of basketball is received by the basketball player of the club “17 November”, Filip Guraziu, with the motivation: The young basketball player, we stand out and with perspective, in the Spartakiad activity”.
Frozen in surprised by this great honor!
I stayed put, I didn’t go to get the medal, with the reasoning that it wasn’t serious for me to appear in front of such an important podium without my sports uniform, because from the waist up, I was naked, (I gave my jacket to Todd, as they knew ours), but on the other hand, in fractions of a second, the intuition of self-defense gave me the right and ordered me: “Don’t play the country, don’t go on the podium in front of Manush Mufti”…!
At the end, when the ceremony was over, and the “principals” left, I went to the podium and received the “Gold Medal”, which was written in Russian.
Today, after many years, in retrospect, my life experience allows and enables me to predict with a high degree of probability, the post-episodic developments of that event, in the case of my appearance on the podium, in front of Manush Mufti, who was one of the members of the infamous meeting of the Political Bureau, in February 1951, where the shooting of 22 innocent intellectuals was approved, including my father…!
Perhaps, I need a day in honor of the deceased, Teodor Janku, the inimitable Albanian boxer, my friend, for whom I have special respect, since in September 1959, on the day of being decorated with the ‘Gold Medal’ of the Spartakiad, he forgot the in home…!
Romanian adventure, January 1960…!
The end of the 1950s was the period when the politics of the Albanian communists was doing its best to present itself to the “Mother” party, that of the USSR, (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), with Khrushchev at the head, as a party not Stalinist, which condemned the “cult of the individual”, and which aimed at building a humane and non-dictatorial socialist society (the condemnation of Stalin’s cult of the individual, in 1960, was also in the thesis of the university exam).
For us Albanians, but not only… this attitude was “readable”; in reality, this type of tactic served the narrow interests of the Albanian communist leadership clique to maintain the seat of power, because Khrushchev’s policy at that time was eliminating, one by one, all the communist leaders with Stalinist behavior in Europe Eastern.
In the spirit of this policy, in the last days of January, 1960, the organization of a political-cultural-sports meeting of the communist states of the Balkans was planned in Bucharest, where Albania would also participate with political representatives of art and sport (basketball).
At that time, I continued my studies with great seriousness and high results, in the measured class, at “Çajupi” high school, Tirana, and also training in the sport of basketball. After the sporting and personal success in the 1959 Spartakiad, I could be told that I was confirmed as the main player of the basketball team, with the adults of “November 17”.
These may have been the reasons that integrated me into the Albanian representative basketball team (up to 22 years old), which would participate in the meeting in Bucharest.
The surprise and the joy, for this kind of selection, were equally great.
I am fully convinced that, in addition to that of the well-known coach, Fehti Borova, the “good personal characteristics” that Sofokli Afezolli, the director of the school, were a powerful help in making the decision for my selection in the representative team high school, “Çajupi”, and Lame Konomi, as head of the “17 November” Sports Club, presented to me.
The preparation time for the sports training was short and without problems, but the main concern for me was the clothing, because in that winter period, in Bucharest, the temperature went up to minus 15 degrees Celsius! Axha Toni, they gave me a woolen hat, and Beniamini (kushrini) his suit, made of woolen fabric, for a hat, we had our own, the white Albanian kelesen.
At the airport, we were escorted by the aunt, Tonin Guraziu, together with the unforgettable professor of physical education, Abdullah Stermasi.
The air route to Bucharest was taken over by Romanian aviation, with two USSR-made propeller planes. Initially, only one plane from Romania arrived at the Rinas airport, where political representatives immediately took their seats. The other, which would come after 30 minutes, the sports group would travel.
My trip abroad was so special that not only me, but also those around me, were not 100% sure that everything would go according to plan…! In the past, it had happened, and not just once, that in the last seconds, before departure, by order from above, X person’s exit from the country was cancelled!
During the waiting time, with these thoughts in mind, we were informed that there was an empty seat left on the first plane and any of the athletes could travel, immediately the coach, Fehti Borova said: let’s go Filipi, we all understood the reason this decision…!
Bucharest made a special impression on me; there was no comparison with Tirana. City of 1.5 million inhabitants, with 15-story buildings, magnificent art galleries, modern gymnasiums and indoor sports pools. Although we didn’t win any matches, the Albanian basketball team left a positive impression. I was declared the youngest player of the sports activity; I was not yet 17 years old.
The closing of the “Youth Meeting” was organized during the late hours of the night, in festive form (banquets, music and dancing), in the environment of the magnificent building with classical architecture, the seat of the Romanian government, before the Second World War.
During that beautiful evening, a girl approaches me, not so charming, and invites me to dance in Romanian, which I gladly accepted. We immediately started talking; she spoke to me in Romanian, and I answered her in my Russian, the only foreign language we learned at school at the time.
Fortunately, my Romanian dance partner spoke Russian much better than I did, and so the conversation continued; among other things, I remember that she asked me some questions: How do young people spend their time in Albania?! How is your economic situation?! Are you satisfied with power?! I immediately gave the standard answers; the necessary ones were said…! That we, the young people, have a great time; that we lack nothing; that the government cares a lot about the people…!
After receiving these answers, I got the impression that the Romanian girl was not interested in continuing the conversation with me, and as soon as the music ended, she quickly left. Of course, all these questions and behavior rightly put me in doubt as to who she was and why she approached me, this Romanian girl?
That’s why I followed him from afar, where he was going! There were many people, and I was not in sight, during the chase. I noticed that he immediately went to the Albanian Security officer, who was the “companion” of our group, and was talking to him. I approached from behind and listened. They are speaking Albanian. That’s it, everything was clarified…!
After 7 days, unforgettable, of the Romanian experience, the sports group took the way back. During the flight, the plane started shaking and shaking in an unusual way. The cause was a powerful storm that suddenly interfered with the airline’s flight.
The shaking of the plane was so strong that many teammates started screaming and crying out of fear. I, surprisingly, was quite calm, so much so that today, when I remember it, I think of myself as “irresponsible”! I thought.
Fortunately, after a few minutes, we were informed that the plane would make an emergency landing at Belgrade airport, waiting until the danger of the storm was gone.
This suddenly brought out a problem: we, who were traveling on this plane, were without identification documents, because the file with the collective visas was left in Bucharest, where the largest part of the delegation was, then, the high-ranking leader who was traveling with us, friend Todi Lubonja, ordered the athletes not to get out of the plane, but to stay inside, waiting for the weather to improve, for the flight.
It was understandable that this decision also served to prevent the eventual escape of any athlete to the Yugoslav “enemy” land, which had happened a year ago, with an Albanian athlete, in Belgrade.
It seems that, “the accounts were empty”, because as soon as the plane landed, at the old airport of Belgrade, an officer of the Yugoslav border appeared, who ordered our passengers to get off the plane with the argument that: “the international regulation of airport administration, did not allow passengers to stay on a plane, to park at the airport”.
We got off ours, and they directed us to a very large hall, with tables, which served as a bar-restaurant, on the ground floor of the airport.
We were informed by friend Todi, after a few minutes, two representatives of the Albanian embassy in Belgrade came and served us, as desired, tea and coffee. Time passed, and the signal for resuming the flight to Tirana did not come.
I felt the need to go to the bathroom. I asked the embassy representatives where the toilet was. They showed me the direction, and calmly continued the conversation, with friend Todi.
As soon as you enter a toilet, the first action is to close the door from the inside, in this particular case the door was closed with a latch, not a small one. I shared my personal needs and how, without any concrete thought, I opened the toilet window.
I was surprised that it was not barred. Getting through the window was incredibly easy. Behind the window were a sidewalk and then the highway.
Beyond was the free world, without violence, without the “dictatorship of the proletariat”!
Wasn’t this the moment of my life?
But… only the desire and the will that I had been not enough; the “decision” was also needed, because the will without a decision itself is annihilated. That decision for me was extremely difficult and painful.
I did not consider the personal risk, because at that age full of energy, it seemed to me that I had “arms”, but the thought went far away, there in Shkodër, to my mother and sister, who as compensation for my “freedom” , would suffer the fury of the “class war” on their backs, during eternal exile in the swamps of Myzeqe!
Happiness cannot be built on someone else’s misfortune, for me family was and continues to be the most precious thing in life. In that case, morality and love won over selfishness: I moved the bolt, opened the door and returned to my friends.
The plane took off after an hour; the journey continued smoothly. On the way back, late at night and rainy, Tirana seemed to me like the most lost place in the world; dark, dirty and empty!
Maybe the eyes of the soul shine and not those of the head…! I never regretted the decision I made at the toilet window in the old airport of Belgrade, on the contrary, even today after so many years, I feel good, calm and happy about that decision.
The Romanian adventure was the first, and last, occasion of my going abroad during the period of the communist dictatorship. Memorie.al
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