Memorie.al/81-year-old Hysen Tabaku, or Ceni, as he is known differently by his family and all his friends, with American citizenship, who fled Albania in 1975, tells for the first time for “Memory”, his and his family’s history; since the imprisonment of their father and mother, the torture of them until they showed their gold, the internment of their family and their suffering in the village of Baldushk in Tirana, the death of their parents and their tragic burial in the backyard, the escape of their sister to Yugoslavia in 1956, the escape of Ceni himself in 1975, after he had made the first prison, the consequences that fell on his wife and two sons he left in Tirana, the escape of his brother, Engjëlli, a year later, the escape of his other brother, Ylli from prison of Fushë-Krujë and his 28 years in prison, and up to Cen’s life in the US, where he was helped to stabilize by his former close friend, Xhevdet Mustafa.
follows from the previous number
Today, in the third part, comes the testimony of Hysen Tabaku for his adventure in November 1975, where he and his nephew, Geri Qesku, crossed the Buna River and went out to the village of Vladimir in the suburbs of Ulcinj in Montenegro. How did they help the two Albanian families in that area and the strict UDB filter to give them the status of political asylum seekers?
But, while you were well organized with work, you again decided to escape from Albania?
As I told you a little above, the idea of escaping was an idea that had been ingrained in my conscience for a long time. I would do it because I lost a few years of my youth in prison and I was sorry to lose the rest of my life working in welding. I did not want to become a professor, but I did not want to work for others. I saw that I had the capacity to realize that dream, that is, to be free. But who aggravated this situation the most? Only threat from the state. Despite it being like a dream, the decision came spontaneously. I only talked to my nephew, Geri, my sister’s son and told him: “I do not want to live in Albania anymore”. This coincided with another case, that, the houses were divided by voluntary work and they never gave it to me. Then I told my mother and said, “I will leave.” My mother has suffered a lot, because we have been in prison all our lives, because as I told you a little above, my father did 15 years and 7 months in prison, my younger brother Ylli did 28 years, I did 7 years, and my brother second, the Angel has done 5 years in prison. My whole family has been in prison and exile, and if you add up these years of imprisonment and suffering, it amounts to 109 years of imprisonment. The mother herself suffered 9 months in prison. They tortured him and took all his gold and left us with no money at all, because we lived with them, because we were small children. We broke the gold to eat, but we lost it too. We grew up, not wild, but more than poor; we had nothing. When I say nothing, except the four basement walls, where we collided. We did not even have hours to orient ourselves with time. Regarding the work of the clock I am telling you in two words one thing I say that speaks volumes. There was a cart we called the ‘Dum cart’, which passed from morning to morning to get to the train. It is about the time after the father was released from prison, around 1964. As soon as the father heard the trumpet of Dumi’s horse, he told us: “Dumi passed in a wheelchair, go to work because the time has come”. There was a day when Dumi got sick and did not go to work in a wheelchair and we were left awake and could not go to work because we did not catch the schedule. So, we were conditioned in some way by Dum’s wheelchair and if he did not go to work, we would stay.
Why did you decide to flee exactly in 1975, when the class war was extremely aggravated as a result of the proclamation of the so-called hostile groups in Culture and the Army? So, so to speak, exactly at that time, when the Party was calling on the people to sharpen revolutionary vigilance…!
I decided to escape in that period, for the reason and cause of the law of physics I mentioned a little above. So, when something is pressed, it tends to rise higher. Even at that time I could not stand the oppression and the total lack of freedom. It is completely true what you said, that in 1975, the class war had taken on an extremely large impetus. The reason for this were other arrests, in the military, economics, literature and art. The striking force of the dictatorship of the proletariat was directed precisely against the oppressed classes, of which I was a part. This brought a terrible fear to us, especially with the speech made by Manush Myftiu (then secretary of the Central Committee of the Albanian Labor Party for Culture and Propaganda), who, during the meeting where the class war was discussed, between others said: “We will crystallize Tirana”, which meant, “we will clean it from our enemies”. It reminded us of the speech Hitler once made in 1933, when he took power and authority into his own hands. He called the war against the people of Israel, or as it was otherwise called, the Jews of that time, “Crystal Night.” Manush Myftiu did the same in Albania, after deporting all people suspected of being enemies of the working class. Not the enemies of the people, because the enemies of the people were called political prisoners. While we who were free, from the enemies of the people, had become enemies of the class. Such a fear that I might be imprisoned after that made me flee.
By the time you decided to run away, had you started a family?
Yes, I was married and had two sons, Tony and Endri. The wife worked as a literary proofreader at the Publishing House “Naim Frashëri” in Tirana.
Did you tell your wife about the escape adventure you had planned?
Absolutely not, because I knew he would not approve of me, so it was useless to tell him.
In what year did you escape from Albania and do you remember exactly the route of your route and how could you cross the barbed wire of the clone, where at that time it was said that not even flies came out without being spotted?
In November 1975 I escaped from Albania and I definitely remember with the greatest accuracy the way I did to cross the border of barbed wire. Also, I want to tell you that what you are saying is very accurate, so that at that time not even a fly could come out of the clone wires. But every rule has an exception and so fate helped me by excluding me. But let me leave the theories and tell you what you asked me. After we had made the plan in detail, my nephew (sister’s son, Geri Qesku), I went by train and stopped in Lac. We did not have a ticket to Shkodra, because at that time it was a great horror to book a bus ticket from Laçi to Shkodra. So, I told my nephew: “We need a ticket to go to Shkodra, try to manipulate a driver.” After that I went to a driver myself and said: “Look, I definitely want to be in Shkodra tonight, because I have a very sick man of mine and I do not know if I can find him alive. I need two tickets and I will give you more than the ticket costs. ” He liked the offer I made. I further explained, telling him that, the next morning I would come back again, and he would wait for me where he would leave me, fixing the clock as well. “No problem,” he told me, and we left. When we arrived near the place where I was going to get off, somewhere at the exit of Bushati, the driver started shouting, saying loudly: “Tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock to be here”. I intended to camouflage myself there, as there were a lot of security officers on the bus, who would create some doubt as to why we were getting off in the middle of the road, where there was no one. When we went down there with my nephew, I had with me the book by Enver Hoxha, work XVIII wrapped in the newspaper “Zeri i Popullit”, trying to show that I am a communist. After we came down very cold, just as if we were communists and went to our relatives to see a sick person, we walked through the mountains and made our way for four hours. In fact, that road was made for less, but the nephew was very careful and it was raining terribly. I put Enver Hoxha’s book under a cart, which was overturned in a canal down the road. I left it there and said “let whoever wants to find it the next day”. We reached the border and there we saw that the river Buna had come out of the bed, which had caused the whole surrounding field to be filled with water. There I say to my nephew: “Do you see those lights there? “They are the reflectors of the border, but those of the border cannot find us now, because it is raining and a curtain of fog is being created.”
How could you navigate an area completely unknown to you, especially when there was the border strip, which was normally under strict control, at any hour of the day or night?
The nephew had been a soldier there and therefore knew the place by hand, perhaps better than the inhabitants of that border area themselves. And that was the reason we went right there in that area and I agreed to take my nephew with me. And I want to tell you that in those years, more than the armed guards and the people of the border areas, the border was guarded by fear. But back to the path we traversed to cross the border. After approaching a mountain, we descended again to a hill full of water, just before reaching the Buna River. With great difficulty we overcame the flooded part and sat down in a place like a pit, where we rested until after midnight. I looked at the nephew who was in an extremely aggravated physical and psychological condition. At one point he said to me: “Uncle, let’s not go any further, look at the river. I tell you to return to Tirana, we will come in April, in the spring “. I, very bluntly, said to him: “We have come this far and I will not return alive again. “It is better to drown in the water than to be torn by the border dogs and to be sifted through the bullets of the border soldiers.”
How did your nephew answer, he obeyed?
He obeyed and said to me, “So be it!” and we hugged. We started swimming and where the depth begins, he begged me once again to go back to Tirana, but I objected again very sharply, ordering him to move only forward. He said to me, “Uncle, I will tell you one thing. Here whoever comes out, that we can drown. “There is no help here, I keep it, because I’m done.” Meanwhile I pushed him to continue towards the water and I did not reach him at all, and he left, but before leaving, he took off his jacket, as it was made of cotton and he took water. As I entered with my jacket and wool sweater, which drank a lot of water. In a few minutes, the river started pulling me down and I shouted, “Gary, I can’t go anymore.” He, telling me not to shout, reminded me of what we had talked about before. I did not speak to him anymore and there I realized that out of fatigue I was floating on the water, as the body clothes had formed a galaxy that kept me afloat. There I fell into a state of fainting, almost unconscious, and thousands of figures appeared in front of me. When I was mentioned and I opened my eyes, I saw that I had approached from the Albanian territory, close to the hills we had set off, I started shouting like a wanderer: “Oh God, where am I, oh God help me”. I spoke any words to give myself courage in those moments. Luckily for me, the clouds opened up and the moon lit up the river. I saw where I was and took strength and crossed the river bed. The flow pushed me in the opposite direction I wanted to go. Once I caught a weeping willow, I said “thank God I was saved”. It had not been willow, but land which was a little flooded, that I had after crossing the river, but I did not know. From a distance it seemed to me that I was looking at a small building that looked to me like a border post, that I was looking at a light. “I will go to that Post Office”, I said to myself and left. It was absolute silence, but extremely awful. When I got there, I opened the door slowly and saw two young women with their husbands, who shouted, “He came, he came.” My nephew had gone there before and told him that my uncle had drowned. We had gone to the village of Vladimir in Montenegro, which belonged to the suburbs of Ulcinj, a border village where there is also a forgiving monastery.
What happened to you next?
Those two women gave me clean, woolen clothes. I was so cold that I wanted to get inside the wood stove. They gave me cognac and said “now he is coming to his senses, now he is coming to his senses”. “But why did you shout so much?” they told me. The night passed and in the morning some of the UDB came to inform the people of the house. They saw the place where we had come from, what it looked like, because the rain was over and it looked exactly like a desert. I was already on the foreign side, the other side I was abandoning was my side. Anyway, I had a lot of emotions, but the Yugoslav Security staff treated me very well. Then the investigation started, because they never believed that I could escape from Albania and get out of there on their land across the border that winter night. That was the main reason, because I was stubborn to accomplish what I accomplished, and I explained these to them clearly and concisely.
Following is Part IV