By Namik Mehmeti
– The confession of the well-known sports journalist, Namik Mehmeti, about his former colleague, Rifat Uruçi, considered the father of sports journalism in Albania, who was sentenced in 1971, after returning from Kosovo, together with other teams of the Sports Club “Vllaznia”!-
Memorie.al / A person dedicated only to a passion, sport, which was his daily food like three meals a day. He started the day with morning coffee, and after exchanging the first greetings with the people of Shkodran, he would answer the question: – “Hey Rifat, what does Vllaznia say”? And not only the ordinary citizen, but also when passing by to enter the “Vllaznia Club” building, he had to answer an employee of the Party Committee, the Executive Committee, and not infrequently even the highest leaders of these institutions .
We are talking about the well-known sports journalist, equally well-known volleyball and basketball referee, born passionate about sports propaganda not only in Shkodër, but everywhere in Albania, Rifat Uruçi.
I only knew him physically before, when I was only 18 years old and in the sports corner of the “28 November” gymnasium in our city of Shkodra, where the national basketball and volleyball championship matches were held, and he would be present, as a judge, as a journalist, why not in the role of a coach. So it was in the early 60s.
Being with his classmates as spectators, he had also smelled our passion for sports, so one day we expressed our wishes to be active with youth teams in hand games. Classmates Valteri, Haliti, Gezimi, Merzuku, Bepi, Lini, etc., managed to be included in the youth team, while I, with the support of Rifat, entered the path of refereeing, and then sports journalism, thanks to the support of Rifatit.
Inheriting a stain in his biography, where his uncle (Riza Uruçi), was shot by the partisans of the communist dictatorship, the young high school student, Rifat Uruçi, with a lot of courage and will, was able to withstand the class war even though his family, (of six brothers), went through the trials of the investigation and punishments of the communist courts. Sports man no. one in Shkodër, as Rifati was known not only by his fellow citizens but also in the sports facilities of Tirana and beyond, he was looking for the ladders of ascent in the direction of sports, but he saw objectively that in Shkodër, the class struggle was more exaggerated compared to other cities of Albania.
Having recognition and support from his high school friends, who were placed in important jobs in the state departments in Tirana, he managed to be part of the staff in the only sports newspaper that was published in Albania, the “Sporti Popullor” newspaper, with Editor-in-chief Osman Palushi. Working alongside Anton Mazrek, the father of sports journalism, Kristofor Grillo, Prokop Koretes, Arshi Sefer, Ismet Bellova, etc., he benefited a lot from their experience, where the comments on the matches of the national championships of football and hand games attracted attention not only to quality but also to their critical sense.
But the objective of his work as a sports journalist was always “Vllaznia”. But this passion for journalism was intertwined over the years with administrative duties that brought him closer to the management of Shkodran sports, as an inspector or director of the “Vllaznia” Sports Club. While for sports journalism he had a status that made him irreplaceable in Shkodër, while his chair as a civil servant was shaken from time to time, in case of class war campaigns or even for his whims that broke the frame of an official, as he requested state discipline. In short, he was, as a popular proverb says: “black of himself” and an anti-conformist and even an opponent of the regime.
When he was the director of the “Vllaznia” Sports Club in the 80s, in addition to the problems he covered for sports propaganda, he was also responsible for the financial progress of the Club with services, for the nutritional treatment of the athletes or for the service provided by the Bar-Buffet ‘, for the subscribers of “Vllaznia”. So, it involved a cook, a bartender, a waiter and a cleaner. These responsibilities that did not go to him for seven, as he himself admitted.
In these tasks, the society within the Club was exposed more with his peers who were in the roles of coaches of the teams, especially with some football players from Vllaznia such as Selami Dani, Ramazan Rragami, Esat Rakiqi, Paulin Ndoja, etc.
Rifati would not make much of a career in these functions since, a physical confrontation with the bartender of the ‘Bar-Buffet’, dislodged him from this chair he had dreamed of. He remained outside the doors of the “Vllaznia” Club, but not outside the problems of “Vllaznia”. If the sport in Shkodër was run by respected names, the name of Rifat Uruçi, would challenge them as the fans were passionate, the athletes, their parents, before knocking on the doors of the state offices, would first meet with Rifat.
Even the leaders of the local government or party, when it was their job to find a way to solve a sports problem in Shkodër, willy-nilly, their tongue went to Rifati, since those problems, he faced them with the right courage rather than justice with these authorities. Rifati had the courage to stop the first secretary of the Party Committee or the chairman of the Executive Committee of the district, for a “mark in the biography” of an elite athlete who could be expelled from sports or deprived of the right to go abroad. And in order to carry out what he had undertaken to the end, he found a way to meet with officials of the highest ranks in Tirana, even with ministers and deputy ministers. And there are many witnesses, athletes and coaches, who dedicated the attributes to Rifat.
And in Shkodër, Rifati would stop on the street to answer the fans who asked him: “Will I come to “Vllaznia”, Bizi, or Rragami, but Radoja and Guraziu, or go out with “Vllaznia” Paulin Ndoja , Fred Çapaliku, Lekaj, or when the weightlifting competition will be held to break the world record by Faruk Kalleshi”, etc., etc. And this was even more challenging when the Sports Federations in the capital, before picking up the phone to talk to the sports leaders in Shkodër, would get Rifat’s opinion. And the favorite of these Federations for the organization of activities at the national or international level in the propaganda commission was the name of Rifat Uruçi.
This was also the case with the National Spartakiads, with the Student Spartakiads or secondary schools, without excluding the Balkan Basketball Championship that was held in Tirana in 1965. But due to the malicious ego of some persons with party and state functions in Shkodër, they became the cause to remove Rifat from his job, after he had given tickets to the Balkaniad matches to people with a bad biography, even in the preferred seats.
Rifat’s odyssey was not over even when he was working outside the sports structures, somewhere in a mundane job at the former “Migjeni” printing house in Shkodër. His name would be mentioned on all occasions, when his dream came true to accompany the “Vllaznia” men’s volleyball team in a friendly tournament in Kosovo, in 1971, as a sports journalist.
It was the first case that a non-professional journalist was allowed to go abroad, even this case, it was rumored that Shkodra had not received an opinion and approval, as were the rules at that time for going abroad.
So there was no questioning that a team like “Vllaznia” was going to Kosovo, but where did these friends Rifat Uruçi goes abroad?! Even I, who had a collaboration with the Albanian press in the sports columns, this path was paved with the mediation of Rifat, (since he had an acquaintance with the cream of Albanian journalism in the capital), I managed to learn that the collegium of the only sports newspaper in Albania, ” Popular sport”, i.e. the editor-in-chief, Skender Tupja and the secretary of the collegium of this newspaper, Kristofor Grillo, without excluding the well-known sports editors like Ismet Bellova, had approved the name of Rifat, for his contribution to this newspaper over the years.
But it was written that evil would follow Rifat’s life from behind. It is already known what happened to the “Vllaznia” volleyball team when it returned from Kosovo. The people of Shkodran were curious about how they were welcomed by their Kosovar brothers. Rifati conveyed with enthusiastic notes three comments and analysis about the “Vllaznia” matches, about the fraternal spirit in which they took place, about the interest and traditional hospitality of the Kosovar brothers, about the meeting with the close people that some of them had in Kosovo, who had also donate televisions.
The enthusiasm with which the Shkodra athletes had returned did not last long. From Shkodra, the deputy head of the Department of Internal Affairs, Pllumb Kapo, (son of Hysni Kapo), had alerted the deputy prime minister, Mamush Muftiu, about the gifts that were blocked at the Hani i Hoti Customs. Meetings began, accounts were given, there were rumors for several evenings with the well-known singer Nexhmije Pagarusha, about a bag belonging to the journalist Rifat Uruçi, who had forgotten it in a hair salon, a bag that was rumored to have “secrets”, and all kinds of accusations that were fabricated without truth and with malice.
Drastic measures were taken, starting from the team leaders, coaches, down to the latest volleyball player. But the exclusion of the volleyball team was learned by all the sports teams of “Vllaznia”, where the football team was hit and suffered the most, excluding it for three years from international activities.
Among those who were punished, was the sports journalist, Rifat Uruçi, where in the collective meeting of the “Migjeni” Press, the norms of a meeting for accountability were exceeded, going so far as to deny him the right to write in all the central and local bodies of the Albanian press, which would mean: dismissal. Such a punishment was usually given to those who had committed very serious crimes, which had to do with the Party line.
Thus, after four decades of contribution to the sports press and sports propaganda, being recognized throughout Albania for his passion and contribution, Rifati put down his pen and kept quiet, but his writing machine would not be closed. He starts addressing party and state leaders in Shkodër, senior party functionaries in the Central Committee and, up to the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the PPSh, a large number of letters, which would not have an answer! Having no other way, he sets to work to put the company on the border, but the opinion that Rifati is the master of sports in Shkodër does not fade.
The local leaders of sports in the northern city distance themselves, but not the broad mass of athletes and coaches. And as always ready, to provide help and guidance for the injustices that were presented to him. In addition to a sports leader in Shkodër, Bahri Axhemi, known and respected by the entire northern sports community, even by those athletes and coaches, who were punished by the communist dictatorship for plagiarism in their biographies, offers him a coffee and why not and does not hesitate to ask him for an opinion on how the Historical Sports Museum will be organized in the city of Shkodra.
For the establishment of this museum, Rifati made a great contribution and felt bad and upset when the party observers refused to display the photographs. Although he was not invited to sports conferences or commemorative sports events, the absence of Rifat, i.e. his hand, in such events, was noted by the guests from the capital and from the sports clubs of our country.
Just as enigmatic, Rifati was also in the role of referee of hand games, where he made a well-known name, both in the volleyball and basketball championships, being a favorite of the “Dinamo” and “Partizan” teams, as well as for international matches. Uruc’s refereeing at the former “Studenti” Sports Corner on “Elbasani” street, in 1960, in the match “Partizani” – “Dukla” in Prague, in men’s volleyball, will go down in history.
Uruc’s nightingale disorients the Czech volleyball players, especially when waiting for the first ball. They came from the world championship where Czechoslovakia was declared world runner-up and from this team, 5-6 volleyball players were in the formation of “Dukla” from Prague.
“Partizani” won 3-0. At the banquet that was given after the match at the “Dajti” Hotel, in the presence of senior officers of the Ministry of People’s Defense, the leaders of “Dukla” protested the one-sided judgment of Uruc, but the Chief of the General Staff, general lieutenant Petrit Dume, answered by saying: “This is the most competent judge and at the same time a sports journalist”.
Although the “Sporti Popullor” newspaper of that period did not write a single column about the referee, Uruçi, many years later, the sports commentator and well-known writer, Skifter Kelliçi, in an article in the “Shekulli” newspaper (dt. 08.05.2005), giving the portrait of the well-known master, Feti Borova, also as an international referee in volleyball, would return to this episode, writing among others: “Unlike one of your Albanian colleagues (Rifat Uruçi – my note) who unfairly gave the victory to our team, “Partizani”, in the match with the famous team “Dukla” from Prague, leaving a bad impression even on our sports fans”. (In the second match that took place in Durrës, “Dukla” won 3-0, when the referee was Fehti Borova).
And the comment about this victory of “Partizan” in the newspaper was made by Rifati himself. This also happened for the matches of the national championships, where, using the protocol of the match, the comments were indisputable by the teams. But it would be the new editor-in-chief of the “Sporti Popullor” newspaper, the well-known journalist and publicist, Besnik Dizdari, who would give the green light to the oldest sports journalist in Albania, Rifat Uruçi, for his signature to reappear in the newspaper “Albanian sport”.
It was a conversation on foot, held during the break of a football match in the stadium “Vojo Kushi”, (today “Loro Boriçi”), between the well-known journalist, Besnik Dizdari, with one of the secretaries of the party committee that covered the propaganda. To the question of the editor-in-chief Dizdari, should Uruç’s signature be restored on the pages of the “Sporti Popullor” newspaper, the former secretary of the Party Committee did not oppose the opinion of his fellow citizen, but even though it was a “yes”, without a signature and stamp , Besnik Dizdari, did not hesitate to take out an unpublished writing of Uruc from the archives at the first opportunity, and this would happen when the communist dictatorship was in its last throes.
That’s enough, so the opening of the green light and Rifati, regardless of his age and the stress he went through for several years, after returning from Kosovo, entered without wasting time in his journey as a sports journalist and becoming a master of sports propaganda at the local and national level .
And what I did not realize during the years of the dictatorship because of its own laws (wild class war), he made it a reality in the years of democracy. He was the initiator of the establishment of the Association of Sports Journalists “Anton Mazrreku”, where with sports journalists and commentators, such as the author of these posts, Ymer Striniqi, Gasper Marku, Gjergj Kola, Admir Uruçi, as well as photojournalists Nenshati, Jakova, Gega, Palushi, Elbasani, this association supported the organization of the “Anton Mazrreku” award, on a national scale, this award was conceived by the former editor-in-chief of the “Sporti Shqiptar” newspaper, Besnik Dizdari, and financially supported by the prestigious Italian firm, “Pedrollo”.
At the same time, this association in Shkodër also published its organ, the newspaper “Vllaznimi sportiv”, and the first independent sports newspaper published in our country, after the collapse of the communist regime. It would be the first mayor in the years of the establishment of Democracy, Mr. Filip Guraziu who approached the sports office in Shkodra Municipality and with the support of the leaders of this office, Skënder Bushati and Mehdi Milla, (two respected figures of Shkodra sports), Rifat Uruçi gave an impulse to the development of sports propaganda , supported the reaffirmation of many sports figures of “Vllaznia”, who were ignored by the communist dictatorship, imprisoned and interned, commemorating their denied activity, for the development of Shkodran and Albanian sports.
Rifat Uruçi had an unannounced address, but not only the people of Shkodran, but also the people of Tirana, Durrsak, Vlonjat, Korcar, Elbasana, Gjirokastrites knew it: “Rifat Uruçi – “Brotherhood of Shkodra”. Memorie.al