By Eugjen Merlika
(Imaginary conversation with my Homeland)
“You, Albania, give me honor, give me the Albanian name
You cooked my heart full of desire and fire…
Albania o My mother, although I am in exile
Your heart has never forgotten your love”
Memorie.al / In these verses, written more than a century ago by the national poet Naim Frashëri, I find myself in this part of time, in which my fantasy wants to talk to you, my Homeland. Although it starts with a love story our conversation will not be easy. In some ways it will even be difficult, as our relationship has not always been excellent, as it should have been between mother and son. You treated me like a stepmother and I felt like Cinderella looking for the blue prince, who never arrived.
I knew you quickly; you were still at war when I came to this world under gunfire. Since childhood your heaven, your earth, your people were imprinted in your mind. Surprisingly, I have an indelible memory, vivid and vivid, like a movie scene: a three-year-old child crawling on the bars of a prison gate. He was addressing a man, his father: “Dad, come with us, come home …”, the child shouted, but the police pushed him away from the gate…! The father was sentenced to 15 years in prison after attending a meeting to discuss the formation of an opposition political party with the government. That child was me.
Bring to mind the scenes of your nature, of rivers, fields, hills, mountains traversed one day, on a long journey on a truck with loot and people. That truck took us to a remote place, in the middle of the mountains, to an “extermination camp”, which was not at all the envy of his Nazi sisters, which was located near a town called Tepelena. That name remained in the memory as a synonym of hunger, misery, violence, death…!
Later, while studying literature, I surprisingly found it near a glorious name in world poetry, that of Lord Byron, the genius Englishman who left his “unworthy” homeland in search of romantic adventures in various Mediterranean countries. . The poet reached Tepelena and wrote the famous verses of his poem “Child Harold”:
“Albania let me turn my eyes to you
O stern Mother of strict men
Has the enemy ever seen his back? ”
My fate of my country is strange. For a long time your imagination has been equated with a blue uniform of a policeman who was following me everywhere, changing his face but not his attitude. It was my shadow, an ominous shadow that terrified my being and killed my childhood dreams. I cannot forget the “punishment” given to me by a policeman, leaving me one night alone in a dark cell at the age of six, after I had thrown stones at command pigs, which were grazing quietly outside the barbed wire. . I cannot forget another policeman hitting my hands, which were caught in despair in the body of a truck taking my mother with me. I was eight years old and I refused to live away from my mother, but my desire did not match the plans of the authorities who always acted “in the interest of the people”…!
This is how my childhood passed in the concentration camps, which grew like boils in your small and emaciated body, killing every day human life, desires, aspirations, projects…! I was always accompanied by the figure of a man in blue; it was your body, the symbol of the State in my eyes. In my mind it was like the bad guy who had entered the imagination from the tales my very dear grandmother told me. I would collide with him at every moment, at every step, in every movement of my life. I felt persecuted, trampled on, condemned in a corner. I did not understand the reasons, I did not see anything to blame myself for, and so I could not explain such harsh behavior towards a child.
I felt like a stranger in a reality that pushed me back, that did not accept me, that hated me, slapping me in the face with the expression “enemy of the class”. Every day more and more the wall of resentment and mutual distrust was rising between the two of us, over which the people in blue clothes and the greats of the communist party were watching unperturbed…! It was one of the first November days of many years ago. I was 17 years old and I was enrolled in the final year of a Pedagogical school, away from the circle of family residence, sheltered in loving and generous relatives, trying to change the badly started course of my life. During the break between classes the principal called me to his office. Upon entering I saw the ubiquitous man in blue, who informed me of the decision of the Ministerial Deportation Commission: in a state of arrest I had to accompany my family, to suffer five years of exile. Damocles’s State Security Sword mercilessly struck at the aspiration of a young man who wanted to build a life through his hard work in study and work.
Under the supervision of four police officers, I was forcibly removed from school, accompanied by the surprised, hardened but understanding looks of my friends, colleagues and teachers. It was the last day of school in my life, still a day defined and marked by the presence of blue clothing…! A few days later I learned that almost all my schoolmates, together with the teachers, had gone to my relatives to express their solidarity, appreciation, and love for me and at the same time to condemn that arbitrary decision that took me away from their bosom. It was one of the greatest pleasures experienced in my life. The action of those people made me realize that you, my homeland, had two souls. In those moments inside me the wall of anger that separated us collapsed, I realized that your appearance could not be just the blue dress. In those moments I realized that there was another Albania, that of noble people, which preserved and defended its values against the pressure and blows of one of the cruelest dictatorships of human society…!
Over time, in many cases I have been able to recognize the true face of this Albania, through the sacrifices of many people who, before the election put a spy or prison with forced labor, to protect the dignity and honor did not hesitate to choose the latter. I have lived for decades near a state in which power, for all its vileness, could not change a single hair of its character. That people, although in conditions of misery and terror, respected to the end, sometimes at the cost of life itself, the basic values in which he believed such as honesty, dignity, hospitality, loyalty, non-violation of the word given. It was these values at the core of the supporting structure of a society, patriarchal and backward compared to Europe that, for all its shortcomings, for centuries went without state institutions showing an inner resilience to be admired. I have lived with hundreds of people in barracks where a large number of men, women, boys, girls, old people and children lived together, without being present in any scandal or episode of sexual rape, without even knowing the term pedophile.
The image of this Albania rose majestically every June 13, when thousands upon thousands of Albanians of all faiths, of all ages, of both sexes, from all provinces, climbed the paths between the rocks of Laç hill, to pray and celebrate Saint Ndoun . They awaited the miracles of the Saint by challenging the party, the state, the police, the Security and even the Army which, at times, tried to stop the pilgrimage. In a country where the regime had outlawed all faiths, massacring and imprisoning clerics and believers, these performances deserve to be remembered as the most powerful and valuable challenge to the culture of evil, personified by a sustained power in an ideology that, like the great Victor Hugo, “impoverished the rich, without enriching the poor.”
It seems obligatory to me to recall another challenge of your people other conductors of the culture of death. During World War II, Albanian Jews did not end up in Nazi extermination camps, and hundreds of Italian officers and soldiers were rescued by German retaliation, even though the country was under occupation. Only a year ago, the world had the opportunity to witness the generosity of your people, in the face of the Kosovo tragedy.
For almost half a century the battle between the two souls was not equal, your noble face remained dark because the omnipotence of evil suffocated its breath. Your good soul was wounded and had to endure the blows. Our life was a dry desert where the buds of hope were mercilessly destroyed. Even in the most intimate feelings evil dictated its laws, its destructive logic through pressure, coercion, terror.
On a hot August day, on the sand of an enchanting coast, I painfully lived the end of a great love that had marked the years of my troubled youth. The girl could no longer withstand the direct or indirect pressures of a power that was in control of everything and surrendered. Our paths parted. She was a teacher while I was in the army of lifers. Yet she remained faithful to her feeling, continuing an almost nun life. How many broken families, how many orphans, how many women in black handkerchiefs weigh on the conscience of your evil spirit, my country? How many human tragedies within your borders, increasingly narrow borders, as a result of dishonest agreements of the Greats towards you?!
What a cruel fate of yours! Wars, the denial of development and civilization, have marked your long walk and perhaps also determined the dominance of that spirit. At the crossroads of East and West, you have always been the target of invading armies that constantly threatened their shores and borders. What curse weighs on your head my homeland? One hundred years after Christ’s death, you captured the message and embraced His doctrine. Your blood has been shed for a quarter of a century to protect it, and many were martyred in the following centuries until the long night of the Antichrist. It is true that the Antichrist has appeared several times under various parables, but the one you raised was of a particular race. I do not know where you got her, but I’m sure Lucifer would have been happy to know about his son. Well, you had been born for centuries capable and worthy men to rule empires like those of Macedonia, Rome, Byzantium and Turkey, then artists, doctors, philosophers, poets, engineers who deserved respect and appreciation throughout the continent. Out of your bosom came the architect of the Taj Mahal and the designer of Semering, and even Mother Teresa was your daughter, even though you had denied her and she was unknown to your people for a long time…!
There is something absurd about your fate, O my country: you have almost never given your best sons the opportunity to serve you, you have given them wings to fly high, but under other heavens. It is a tragic absurdity, passed down through the centuries and perfectly embodied in the half century of the regime that marked the triumph of nothingness, the dominance of anti-culture, which appeared in a hundred ways but above all in the annihilation of that “bourgeois” intellectual class glorify your name in the best universities of Europe. I have been told an event from the late 1940s, which seems quite meaningful to me in this regard. A delegation from the Ministry of Health had arrived from the Soviet Union, and was received at the Tirana airport by a representative of the same Albanian Ministry. The Russian delegation also included a well-known scientist, a professor at Leningrad University. When he met our representative, he immediately asked: where is Dr. Shiroka? Ours avoided the answer and he immediately caught the situation and said: “Every country in Europe would be proud of such a personality.”
Dr. Shiroka was one of the most prominent but underrated people because he was not a member of the Communist Party, although his fame far exceeded the borders of his country. Laureate with the best grades at the University of Graz, he was luckier than many other honest and capable laureates who were sentenced to death or long prison terms of forced labor. It was the highest price you, my Homeland, paid to the monster of communism and its ideology. Monasticism weighed on your whole body, striking not only your sons and their best but also your spiritual subject, your cultural wealth, your centuries-old tradition, your written and unwritten laws that have held your building for centuries. Libraries of fundamental importance to your history were destroyed, churches and mosques with paintings of inestimable value in the name of the war against the “old world” and the “construction of the new world”. Your material wealth was used to build hundreds of thousands of vain Don Quixote bunkers, invading the land and ruining the look of your landscape. The spiritual and moral wealth of your people was struck to death, leaving behind an immeasurable void, with consequences that we see every day in the services of the black chronicle that fill the pages of newspapers in Albania and in various European countries.
The end of half a century of anxiety, which the East wind warned of, required another price to be paid. The final blows of the system, already in agony, were felt by machine-gun fire that knocked down young people who wanted to breathe the air of freedom across your borders. Then your good spirit prevailed. Your people became aware of the situation, took to the squares and put an end to the one-party communist dictatorship through a symbolic gesture, the demolition of the dictator’s monument. Democracy, so much dreamed of, had to restore the violated rights of citizens: freedom, private property and religion. It had to lay the groundwork for rebuilding an economy suffocated by fifty years of misgovernment, it had to reform institutions, put the country in the right alliances, and bring a smile of hope to your sons’ dry lips inside and outside the borders.
It had the task of undertaking the construction of a society founded on the honest work of each and the observance of laws freely accepted by all, on the possibility of honest participation in the race of individuals or groups and on solidarity with those who really need it. .
Unfortunately, our democracy turned out to be lame and deficient, because those who had the task of breeding it in the initial and most important stage did not have the right mentality and clear ideas. A people living below the poverty line were introduced to the idea of easy enrichment with the slogan: “all rich Albanians and owners”, closing both eyes in the face of illegality of any kind. Instead of taking the difficult but without the trauma of a slow but sure recovery, as a result of fundamental and necessary reforms, such as the return of private property, privatization with fair criteria and concessions without fences and obstacles, we moved towards an economic anarchy of finance and an institutional neo-authoritarianism. The failure of light illusions, created by the financiers, completed the ominous framework that led you to one of the greatest devastations of your history, my country.
Your evil spirit reappeared in all its ugliness. Destructions, robberies, gunfire, scenes unworthy of a European people on the threshold of the year two thousand, presented in the eyes of the world your cruel suicide. We killed in a few days the trust of others towards us, after a State that is not capable of defending the headquarters of its institutions, hospitals, schools from the attacks of maneuvering gangs is a State that deserves to lose the vote of confidence.
I am reminded of the verses of the famous elegy of Pashko Vasa “O moj Shqypni”, written a century ago, but unfortunately very current today:
“O my Shqypni, poor Shqypni
Who shot you in the head in the ashes
You had a heavy Lady
Men of the Earth to be called Mother…
But now Shqypni without telling me how are you?
Just like the oak we knocked to the ground
The stranger passes by and steps on it
A sweet word no one can say… “!
Times have changed. We have entered the era of globalization, but we have failed badly in the first meeting with the world, in the first steps towards a new reality. We have condemned ourselves and compromised the future of our sons, because the past with its mentality conditions us severely. We must now learn the lesson and be aware that to us, only we have the extremely difficult, but not impossible, task of recovery. We can expect help, solidarity, advice from others, but the decisions and responsibilities will be ours and for them we will respond to the judgment of history and of our children, whose childhood we ruined with the useless shooting of 1997 weapons.
Will we be up to the task? Will we know how to avoid the fatal decision of history and not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors who handed over to you a system that stopped your progress and determined backwardness? Today times are more difficult. To survive you have to enter the race, but as per normal economic laws and not with lawlessness and immorality. We need to compete with our work in a market where strong competitors are numerous. Unfortunately, as a result of our mistakes, we enter this unfavorable market with a lot of delay. First of all we should try to restore your image to the world, having destroyed it almost irreparably in recent years.
It is a difficult, tedious and long undertaking. It is like building a pyramid, to which all your sons and daughters should contribute, starting with the people of politics, to whom you have entrusted the task of leading your people. Honesty and their skills will be the foundation of its foundation, while all of us, inside and outside your borders, can contribute as much as possible, putting each one a stone, big or small. Each of us, with our daily behavior, in the environment where you live and work, builds or destroys your image My Homeland. We must be careful, because in front of the tens of hundreds of thousands of people who honor your name, there are tens of hundreds of your creatures who, with their mischief, throw mud every day in your face and multiply by zero work and sacrifice of others.
Will there be a rebirth for you? Can we nurture the hope of one day returning and finding a normal place in exile? Will the smile return to your children’s faces? Will the sea continue to swallow the dreams and bodies of your sons and daughters? Will your noble soul come to dominate and guarantee your future? Will the day come when poets call you “Heavy Lady” again? These are questions that strike my mind like a hammer every day. In the long, dark tunnel, which is your historic road, I see a glimmer of hope that, perhaps, will become security and truth over the years. I am given this hope by the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, young and old, who study, most of them with very good results, in low schools, high schools and well-known universities in Italy and the USA, in Greece and Belgium, Germany and Canada, France, England and other parts of the world.
Perhaps they are the greatest wealth that you, my Homeland, have with the preparation, with the knowledge, with the contemporary mentality formed in the most advanced societies and schools of the world, they are your future. They are the cream of the crop that will have the heavy burden of guiding you on the winding paths of the next century. You have to be on top of the task to know how to expect and encourage them, as they are like birds that, when they do not find the right environment to build their nest, fly away in search of other spaces. You have to trust them, because only a new, honest and modern leadership class can heal the wounds of your exhausted body and can bring a smile to your eyes extinguished by the tears shed in this certainly unkind century. .
Such a political class will be able to complete the construction of the “pyramid”, ie your image, as that of a country that aspires and tries to find itself, without complexes of humility, in the space of a Europe that aims to unite for face the challenges of the third millennium. The conditions to achieve the goal are not lacking. Your natural resources, subsoil, geographical location, climate, desire for the advancement of your good spirit, your young and vibrant population, together with foreign aid, advice, experiences and capital should give you a future of development welfare in the medium and long term, my dear Albania.
I want to greet all those children and young people, especially those who were born and raised in concentration camps and who today realize their dream of studying in a free society. Wishing you good luck and success in exams that never end, I join you in hoping that there is a place in their souls and for the earth “where every stone knows and reminds you of childhood”. With this wish, which I also make for my sons, come the end and our conversation. It remained within the framework of a verb itself permeated by the desire to deepen and make a balance of our past, an analysis of the present and a prediction for our future. I am using adjectives in the plural as our destinies are forever linked like those of a son to his mother.
On the day when my task will be over, to make three European citizens, who are also your citizens, grown, laureate and mature, I will return to you forever. I like to end my days in your bosom, in the places of bitter and sad memories of my youth, hoping that this time you will be more generous with me, restoring me the dignity of a free citizen, after dreams broken you can no longer return them to me. I wish it a happy day for both of us. Memorie.al