From Alma Mile
– The rare testimony of the painter from the USA, the son of the famous composer of the song ‘Snowflower’, imprisoned by the communist regime, who was forced to undertake the dangerous adventure, with the 12 members of the family! –
Memorie.al / After the sensational escape in January 1988, which alerted the entire Albanian state, one of the 12 Albanians who became part of this adventure, returns to his homeland. Not that it hasn’t come before, but this time George Pali returns artistically. It returns with an exhibition, entitled “Journey”, curated by the artist Vladimir Myrtezai, which narrates his journey as an artist in these 26 years of absence. As a successful Albanian abroad, Pal was also presented with the “Albanian Excellence” trophy. About 70 works are presented in the exhibition, full of vivid colors, which tie together his past and present. Childhood memories, the connection with music, the image of the zadrimores that passed in front of the gate, over there in America, where he lives, rise up and refract into shapes and colors. That cold day in January 1988 is so alive for him, when together with his brother-in-law, and then head of Prapavija in the Internal Branch in Shkodër, Minella Andoni, his little daughter, mother Florence and other people nearby, full of 12 people, broke the Albanian border, going to Montenegro. A man full of humor and with an easily readable optimism, Gjergji, the son of Zef Pal, who wrote the lyrics of the song “Luleborë”, will not dwell too much on the details. “It wasn’t that terrible, it was enough to overcome the fear,” he says.
Mr. Gjergj (I am calling you by your Albanian name and not George as they call you in America), you are returning to Albania after 26 years of absence, why did you wait so long?
I have always come to Albania for family reasons, but now is the first time artistically. I left with a bang and I’m trying to come back with some bang. It’s a pleasure to return to the place where you started…! Of course, one day I would come, but this 26-year period took time to return decently as an artist. To open an exhibition of these dimensions with about 70 works, it takes some time. This is the reason for the “delay”.
But it seemed normal to me. My development of the last five years has exceeded the goals of the United States of America. And, when you pass this goal, you will definitely come to the place where you were born, to show who you are, what you have done and to give the good news that; “I am one of you”. I do not think that I am a special person, but I believe that anyone with education and a lot of work could reach where I have reached.
Did a kind of artistic shyness accompany your return, due to the many years away?
It seemed to me as if I had left Albania only a day before. I met my friends here, Ladi, Sadik, and I didn’t have any shyness or any kind of obstacle, because of the years of being away. In fact, it makes you even better, because it increases curiosity. This period of “absence” passed faster than I thought.
In many of your works you can feel the strong connection you have with music…?
From the first to the eighth grade, I studied in music school and later I started to express my reactions through colors. But music would follow me throughout my journey (as the exhibition “Journey” is called). Having decided my transition to painting, I began to take it seriously and participate in exhibitions of the time. Danish Jukniu and Ismail Lulani gave me a strong push.
Then I would compete in the Higher Institute of Arts…! But my connection with music continued to remain strong, my memory constantly brought me images from the past, when I played the violin in the Pioneer House and we went to concerts, in villages and cooperatives. They are very beautiful memories that have taken place in me. Just like the zadrimores dressed in their characteristic clothes, with necklaces on their chests, that I constantly recapture in my paintings.
Another favorite topic seems to be the one related to the great flood, in the Bible, do you think it is time for a “reflood”?
It’s been four years since I tackled this topic, which is very related to the book of Genesis, in the Bible, which is about correcting the world, and for me the painting is a kind of correction, as you go back to it, rework it, until it comes where you want it. So is human society. In the Old Testament, it is said that the world was very aggressive and God said: we must fix this problem. This is how the great flood happened.
We already know the whole story of Noah’s ark, but I didn’t want to become an illustrator of this fable, but I often thought: there are 16 thousand species, how did they all get into an ark?! What really happened?! I leave the answer open, giving way to fantasy and imagining it as I think. Artists try to shoot these opportunities and it seems to me that I “shot well”.
The fact that you followed the path of art is not so random, your father was a poet and through one of your paintings you show us that he is the author of the lyrics of the famous song “Luleborë”. There are many variations on this song, what is the story?
It was 1947. At that time, everyone was enthusiastic about the liberation of the country. Everyone had big dreams and hopes for tomorrow. Simon Gjoni says to my father: “Zef, can you make me a text”? My father was a Shkodra correspondent, journalist and poet. When he went to deliver the news to Tirana (only two cars a year passed to Shkodër), on the envelope where the writing was closed, one of those brown envelopes, tied with string, wrote the text of “Lulebora”, which I have imitated in my work . This is how the text was born, which was much liked and remained a gem of our culture, of our joys.
But “Lulebora” was dedicated to a girl, right?
The song is dedicated to my mother. She was a typist at the time, and one of the reasons she impressed me was that she never made a mistake in writing. He had always wondered who that girl was, so he couldn’t take away any commas…! Thus was born the idyll between them.
Why was his authorship covered by oblivion?
Of course, this is because of his imprisonment, in 1980. His name was removed and it was said; “popular”. After a long period, his name was mentioned again, as the author of the text.
Why was your father imprisoned?
I was in my first year at the Institute of Arts when he was arrested. He was sentenced to 4 years on the charge; “for abuse of official position”, even though there was no official position then. It was more of a quick elimination of him, all a political farce. In the 80s, an elimination of all those who had come out of the war and their replacement with other people began. When the question began to arise, who are these who are replacing us, their elimination also began.
After that, there was a break and the repression that came and increased against us children as well. We were all educated. The elder brother was a doctor, head of radiology in Shkodër, sister, an economist here in Tirana, the second brother, graduated from Mathematics and Physics and I was a painter…! I was taken to a deep village as a teacher, but this was no great tragedy. I continued to work and did not give up painting…!
Is this where your idea to leave the country came from?
After the 80s, a kind of degradation of the system began. A system that my family had helped brings about, but not to be transformed in this way. It is not for nothing that they say that the revolution eats its own children, and it began to eat us, who helped that power to stand up and built it. It was the social and political conditions of the time that forced us to flee. We felt threatened. I would never have wanted to leave my country, learn another language, learn other customs, start school from the beginning…!
And your departure was not usual; it even made a lot of noise. You left with your family on a truck, didn’t you?
I left in January 1988, in a drastic, dramatic way. Many people think it’s an adventure, but it’s a tragedy, to leave your country, to put your head, your family in danger. All my most expensive things, I had in that truck that broke the border post, my daughter, my mother, everything…! There were 12 of us. We could have easily been hit by bullets, but thank God, we are all fine now. We went through a very difficult test, so much so that even I can’t believe it and I often have to pinch myself and say: Is it me?!
How was the escape organized and how did you manage not to deconspiratory, since as you know the State Security had everything under surveillance…?
It was a special preparation for three and a half months. It was also a message that when people connect words, then anything can be done. But it wasn’t anything too terrible (I can only say that now that I’m alive). For breaking the border, one more myth was created. It was more of a fear that had to be removed. My brother-in-law, Minella Andoni, was the head of Prapavija in the Internal Branch of Shkodra at that time and we had the right materials, we had weapons, a car. So it was all prepared and not by random people who had no means to do the job. We had thought it through and managed to execute it, because you can have many plans, but you also need the tools.
What happened next?
Then we went to Black Mountain, through Hani i Hoti. We spent 4 months in Yugoslavia.
There were attempts to turn you back, as Security could intervene anywhere…?
We didn’t have any kind of problem. However, the caution was too great.
Then you settled in the United States of America…?
We settled first in Michigan, where I immediately began trying to resume my studies. I got interested and enrolled at Michigan State University. There I studied contemporary art of the 20th century. 20th century, which did not exist here at all? I came into contact with contemporary artists and the school I had done in Albania and the one in America, became a conglomerate, which is expressed in my works.
The State Security Report on the data from Belgrade, about the escape of the officer of the Ministry of the Interior, Minella Andoni and 11 of his family members, to Yugoslavia, in January 1988
A relation with data from Belgrade is the most interesting document of the State Security file, for the event of January 16, 1988. Apart from the “Top Secret” sign at the top (the other documents bear the designation “Secret”), the information makes it so special, collected in the agency way from foreign sources. Collected as a communication between the First Directorate (Counterintelligence) and the Third Directorate (Political Intelligence), the report on the escape of Minella Andoni and 11 others contains the chronicle of the event, disclosed according to the Yugoslav authorities, the latter’s assessments of the escape of unusual and updated data about those infiltrated from Albania.
“The family that escaped to Yugoslavia on January 16, 1988, had with them 6 automatic weapons and 12 pistols. At the moment of crossing the border, they used smoke bombs, while the officer fired a machine gun in the air. In the vehicle with which they made their escape, they had loaded old wooden furniture, as well as other items, in order to protect themselves from possible gunshots by the border guards. One of their children was found unconscious, because before crossing the border, he started crying and was hit by the officer with the handle of the pistol. On the other side of the border, the fugitives were received without any particular reaction. After the Secretariat of Internal Affairs of Titograd was notified, the alarm was given and all vehicles moving from the border in the direction of Titograd were checked, because they suspected that there may be other border violators from other points.
This control continued for several days in a row. For this event, the attention of the Yugoslav border authorities was drawn to the fact that they could not react, at the moment of the violation of the border by force and the use of weapons by the Albanian refugees. Currently, the fugitives are in the Spuzhe prison near Titograd and, upon completion of the investigations, they will be sent to the camp in Belgrade. Regarding this event, apart from the short notice given on radio, television and the Yugoslav press, no special comments have been made so far.
From another data of the III Directorate, it is said that: “The group of 12 people, who escaped with Minella Andoni, has been taken to Belgrade in the last few days. They have placed them on the outskirts of the city and keep them semi-isolated. It is thought that they will stay there for about 30 days and then they will be taken to the hotel “Trim” or to some other place in the city, where there are other fugitives. As for the family that escaped from Vermoshi, five people have been issued visas to go to the USA”. Memorie.al