By Viktor Zef Kasneci
Memorie.al/ It was the last days of 1989 and the beginning of 1990 and the time I will talk about in this article, has occupied a considerable and very special place in my memory. It was a cold, dry and very gloomy winter, and it was normal for the winter in Shkodra to be cold, but the gloom of that winter was compounded by the difficult and unbearable life we were experiencing as a people in general. For my generation that period is imaginable, but for today’s generation it is incredible!
Albania in general was going through a catastrophic political and economic situation, it was the time when basic food was dealt with by coupon and ration, Albania had turned into a prison and a large concentration camp. I was very young and the desire to live had dropped to frightening levels, patience had reached its lowest point, fear had also entered our marrow from a regime that time proved to be among the wildest in the world.
A hopeless youth, contingent to be imprisoned at any moment, even for a word of mouth against the regime, we were not even among those who tried to escape, because they could kill us at the border and deport our family afterwards, but we were not even one of those who could live in this captivity, and the expression ‘patience has a limit’ seems to have come at a time.
My name is Vitor Kasneci and I am one of the participants in the first anti-communist demonstration that took place in 45 years under the communist regime of Dictator Enver Hoxha in Albania. The demonstration of January 14, 1990, the purpose of which was to openly express the dissatisfaction and anger accumulated for many years in the people of Shkodra against this regime and to try to achieve and kill fear once and for all …!
Not to take on the role of protagonist, but as one of the participants in that demonstration and with a significant role in that event, I am trying to bring from my memory, some of the most important moments experienced by me.
It was the period when anti-communist movements had started all over Southeast Europe, Timisoara was on fire and the regime in Romania was coming to an end, the Berlin Wall was collapsing and Germany was uniting, and day by day it was seen that this system was taking a hit strong throughout the Communist East.
It was the last days of December 1989 and together with a group of friends, we were staying in the center of our city, as there were a few days that we gathered and discussed the events that were happening in countries with dictatorial system, and the truth is, we were informed of these events. Taking a cue from the news we secretly listened to, especially the “Voice of America”, interested, but also inspired by those events, the idea was thrown as to why we should not start protesting against that regime!
The first to come up with this idea was Ded Kasneci (my uncle) and the immediate agreement of all, especially one of us, who was called Rini Monajka and who stood out among us, as a boy with intellect and western formation, it was even a pleasure to talk to him. The idea was to organize a protest demonstration, where the main goal would be to overthrow the bust of Stalin, as a symbol of the oppressive dictatorial regime. The truth is that Deda and Rini were much better informed and in addition to the courage and bravery that characterized them, a great role was played by the experience of life and age they had.
The idea was thrown out by Deda and the word took root, in Shkodra.
How could it be otherwise in Shkodra, the most persecuted city in Albania, where hundreds of people were shot, thousands of politically convicted people and thousands of interned families, in a word “the most reactionary city”, for the power of that time!
As soon as the word spread, some boys who were influential in their neighborhoods were announced, like Gjergj Livadhi with his brothers, who took a very big role from the organizer and together with Flamur Elbasani, Nikolin Thana, Nikolin Margjini , brothers Apollon and Kastriot Haxhi, Huana and Lek Kurti, Tef and Keti Curani, Vitor and Ler Martini, Gjovalin Rrolba, Gjovalin Zefi, Zef and Nikolin Kasneci, Franko and Tonin Kasneci, Tonin Dema, Aldo Perizi, Klaudio Daka, Kolec Ublina, Fatbardh Lici, Ndoc Leqejza, Adam Darragjati, Ylli Gershana, Nard Çiperjani, Edmond Ndoci, Ibrahim Bilali, Pjerin Deda (‘Axha’), and many others, to whom I apologize if they are not mentioned in this list, but all together, have played a significant role in this event of great historical significance.
Immediately, within a few days (11 to 14 January 1990), the organization began to announce and gather as many people as possible, with whom on a day to be decided, to go out and protest, and in this ongoing protest, to we tore down the bust of Stalin.
At the head of this organization were Ded Kasneci, Gjergj Livadhi, Rini Monajka, Flamur Elbasani and Kolec Ublina, who undertook to give a speech in the presence of protesters, as well as several others.
January 11, 1990 was originally scheduled to take place downtown, and so it was. The morning of January 11th considering that it was also a holiday (Republic Day) and with the hope that there would be many participants, but the truth is that that day did not gather as many people as we had anticipated, although the news had spread throughout the city. The fear and terror that the Albanian people and especially the people of Shkodra had gone through in these 45 years, who knew the consequences as it seemed, had its effect, however we were a few hundred people gathered, although the terror from the State Security had begun and this terror was giving its effect.
Of course, the word had reached the Police and State Security bodies; there were days when the State Security with their main leaders had arrived in Shkodra and Zylyftar Ramizi, the Deputy Minister of Interior and the head of State Security. That day of January 11 did not come true what we had days we were working and dreaming of, after staying in the square for a few hours we dispersed and decided to gather again on January 14 always in the hope that being Sunday there would be more participation, but always depending on how the regime would react.
But as the ‘wild beast’ of the State Security was seen, he had taken measures: In our districts there were also infiltrated people who sent information about what plans we had, so the State Security was informed that we would come out again after 3 days and exactly on January 14th. Taking the situation very seriously, they took measures to prevent a second gathering and exactly the night before, the arrests started. As a start, they arrested Deda, Gjergji and Flamur, considering them as the most important and judging that without them, the demonstrations could have failed.
But even they (I am talking about the regime), never believed that in Shkodra on Sunday, January 14, 1990, the city center (Piaca) was full of people, around the bust of Stalin, hundreds of people had gathered, even though they had the bust surrounded by dozens of Special Forces champions from Tirana and Security officers. The news of the arrests the night before spread and I believe it greatly influenced our ultimate goal. Although we stayed in the center for several hours, creating incidents with the police forces, throwing stones at the police minibuses, which were moving fast to create terror in the population, even in front of the bust, there were arrests; they took Kastriot Haxhi by force.
The news broke that snipers were placed on the terraces of buildings around the bust, who, if we took action to knock down the bust, would shoot at them without warning! After we stayed for several hours and tried several times, people started to get scared, that news spread that mass arrests had started. And mass arrests had really started, because as soon as we got home, it was our turn to be arrested.
A car with sampista landed in our house and took us all, Dad Zef, Tonin and Frankon (brothers) and me. Deda had been taken the night before on January 13th. We also learned that they had taken two other uncles: John and Nikolin. Apparently now came the time to face the consequences of this event, consequences that could have cost us our lives as well.
They sent us to the Internal Branch of Shkodra, and there we saw that the yard of the Branch was full of detainees and since they had no place to leave us and according to the plan they had made, they put us in cars and sent us to Tirana.
About 30 people, including us who were handcuffed and handcuffed, ended up in the cells of “Prison 313” in Tirana. They kept us in these cells for several days, questioning us and torturing us among the cruelest, so much so that we thought our end had come. Their purpose was to bring charges against us, for “violent overthrow of popular power” and to bring us against each other with accusations.
A few days after the violence subsided and everything was brought under control by the State Security, they took me, my father, Zefi, as well as my two brothers, Tonin and Frankon, and then released us, ordering us so that we do not leave the house and appear before the state bodies whenever they call us. After we went home to Shkodra, there we learned everything about what real terror had happened in that city, during those days.
Only if you look at what happened during January 1990 in Shkodra, one can judge what impact that event of January 14, 1989, had on the regime of that time. There are undeniable and verifiable facts that for that demonstration, about 600 to 700 people, men, women, old and young, were arrested or questioned, beaten and tortured.
After a few months, 10 of them went to trial and were sentenced to 12 years in prison or less. Sentenced to prison were: Ded Kasneci, Gjergj Livadhi, Rini Monajka, Flamur Elbasani, Kolec Ublina, Nikolin Margjini, Nikolin Thana, Tonin Dema, Klaudio Daka and Aldo Perizi.
Zef Kasneci, Franko and Vitor Kasneci were interned.
About 10 people headed by Vitor Martinin ended up in the Psychiatric Hospital in Elbasan.
But there were also consequences with loss of life and this happened to one who was among the most prominent in that event. The inhuman tortures that were inflicted on us, and especially on one of us, had left irreparable consequences, costing him his life after a while, at a young age and in the flower of youth, and this was the unforgettable YOUNG MONAJKA .
We were aware that we would not be able to overthrow that dictatorial regime so easily, but we are also proud of everything we have done to overthrow it, even though a spark. Two weeks after Shkodra, where the first “spark” ignited, on January 28, 1990, an attempt was made in Tirana and not far away, but after a few months, it was Kavaja that protested strongly.
The time came and the awareness of change went to the executioners: the communist systems were falling one by one all over Eastern Europe and from this, there was no way to save even our country, which through violence and terror against its own people, had remained last at all.
And the right moment of overthrow came – and here the baton was taken by the students, inspired by us, those who were the future of this country and who had the chance to play the role of major changes in the system, in December 1990 and in February 1991.
Today, after 30 years, the democracy and the rule of law that we dreamed of and moreover, that we persistently sought and sacrificed in those distant and cold days of January 1990, have not yet arrived in Albania…! Perhaps they have lost the way … of true democracy, that the free vote and the freely elected by the people, have their heavy representative weight for the fate and future of this country and these people, not only the freedom-loving citizens, and by no means invincible Shkodra. Memorie.al