From Kujtim Boriçi
Continues from last issue
Memorie.al / Veli Llakaj, one of Mehmet Shehu’s closest collaborators at the time he was in charge of the Ministry of Defense, through notes taken from his personal archive, shows that his boss, although he was stern in appearance, a man who did not forgive intentional mistakes, that is, causing trouble, for those who knew him closely, or had a working relationship with him, know another noble side of him; hospitality. According to Llakaj, the Shehu family was a hospitable family, they knew how to respect their guests, but also returned their visits for other reasons or occasions. Their family, according to the author Llakaj, was a model of hospitality, of the traditions of the Mallakastra area, from the respect for the friend, waiting at the door, to the rite of rent to the special traditional cooking and toast.
At home, for friends, whoever they were, according to Llakaj, Mehmet Shehu was a very friendly man, who respected you by erasing any shyness or embarrassment in his friend. Even, so socially and friendly, as Llakaj remembers, Mehmeti gave a powerful “chorus” to him and his fellow deputy ministers, lining them up and leading them to walk barefoot on the razor-gravel that made their feet bleed.
To Mehmeti, in the rest house in Durrës
“Mehmet Shehu was very hospitable and very social. Anyone who has worked closely with him, in addition to his intolerance in demanding accountability for timely and quality performance of tasks, the example of correct implementation of orders, being always at the forefront of work, harsh criticism and punishments for cheaters, abusers , remembers and remembers many wonderful qualities of Mehmet, among which is hospitality. As the Chief of the General Staff of the Army and the first deputy of the Minister of Defense, being his direct subordinate for 8 years, I have many good memories with Mehmet and in this aspect. Here are some examples. In one of the springs of those years, I was on vacation in Durrës, with my family. We took our vacations at the Army Cavalry, while that year, Duro Shehu, Mehmet’s brother, and were also taking family vacations at the same time as me.
Due to the fact that Mehmeti was also in Durrës on vacation at that time, I talked with Duro and we thought of going for a social visit, on one of those days. I call Ali Çeno and tell him that I want to go to Mehmeti’s place for a social visit, not a work one, so he should contact him and give us an answer. It didn’t take long, Ali comes to me and says: “He told me that; “You will come to visit, only when I inform you, because that’s what the master told me.” After 4-5 days, Aliu contacts me again and tells me that Duro and I will take the women with us on the visit. While Mehmeti, as Aliu sent us the invitation, was waiting for us at 1:00 p.m.
So we did. He welcomed us together with Fiqreti. As soon as we approached, they both came out of the tent where they were staying and welcomed us. After drinking from a coffee, in a social and family environment, Mehmeti started with the usual jokes and jokes, without any hint of formality. Then Fiqreti invited us to go inside the room to eat lunch. He had prepared a wonderful lunch, according to the tradition of the village custom. Mehmeti, laughing, said to me: “Veli, this is how a friend is expected, not like what our friend Lenko Çuko did to us, who roamed around Myzeqe with her all day, and when she left, she said to us: “You won’t have lunch, friend Mehmet”?
Congratulations on the wedding of Mehmet’s son, Bashkimi
Mehmet Shehu had married his son, Bashkimi, and for relaxation, they had gone for a few days’ vacation in Dajt. We, as his closest collaborators, at the Ministry of Defense, had to congratulate Mehmet for this family joy. I don’t remember who took the deputy ministers from us on the phone to inform and confirm the reception and the time we would go. Thanking us for this request, Mehmeti told us that we would go when he told us. That’s how it happened.
He told us to go at 17.00. In such congratulatory cases, usually, a symbolic gift is also sent. So did us. After brainstorming what to bring, we agreed and decided. So as a gift, we had received the bust of Skanderbeg. While our women, for their part, had received something as well. He welcomed us together with Fiqreti, as usual, coming out the door, meeting us and welcoming us warmly. We stayed for a while in the waiting alcove, so much so that Fiqreti gave us the rent. After that, Mehmeti intervened and invited us to go outside, where he used to walk every day.
“Let’s go for a walk together, that’s where I go every day”! We continued our conversations freely, where necessary, most of them were about the problems we had in our work at the Ministry of Defense, problems of strengthening readiness, problems of training and professional training of the cadres. I don’t know how long we walked like this, until we came out on the main road, under a tree shade where he tells us: “Now you will do as I do with Fiqret. So take off your shoes and socks and come after me”! At first we didn’t understand where he wanted to go, but we did as he did with Fiqreti. We took off our shoes and socks and continued walking alongside them. The road we were going to cross was lined with small pebbles so that every time you stepped on it, you would get a blow on the top of your head, from the painful and unbearable pain in the flesh. Real horror, we didn’t cry from the pain. Mehmeti, on the other hand, walked without any obstacles. Apparently, daily training in this way had made his legs get used to this kind of torture, gain immunity and no longer feel the pain effect that tormented him.
We cursed ourselves for crying. After this “pleasant” march, we went to the villa where he rested. Dinner was served there, just like in the villages of Mallakastra, with roast meat and a characteristic, very tasty dish that is cooked in the Mallakastra area. After the bread, we drank coffee and stayed until late, until we parted. Well, this was Mehmet Shehu, socialite and host. As I mentioned above, I personally, as well as other friends and colleagues who worked with him for a long time, keep many memories of this nature, where Mehmet Shehu, apparently very rude, was a very sensitive, kind, friendly and welcoming.
Llakaj: “Mehmet Shehu, complex figure”!
The law of the time: “The party in command of the army”! Although, after the conviction in 1974, of Beqir Balluk’s “Coup Group”, Mehmet Shehu took the “helm” of the defense problems in the Army, along with others and a man prepared from the military side, the law, as in every field of life, the Party does. So, according to the notes of Veli Llakaj, the former chief of the General Staff of the Army and his collaborator for 8 years, for every problem in the Army, they are informed and receive the “stamp” from Enver Hoxha, who was also the Commander of General of the Armed Forces. While one of Enver’s closest people, Hysni Kapo, was in charge of the Central Committee, for the problems of the Army and Defense.
The dictate of the party, or the directive of the time…?!
“In our army, at the head of our defense, in command, is the Party”, was an indisputable reality. Based on the practice of the time, one day every month, the Chief of the General Staff of the Army (Veli Llakaj) was obliged to report and have direct contact with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Enver Hoxha. So, even though Mehmeti was the drafter, implementer and responsible for the party’s directives and line in the field of defense, in the capacity of the Minister of Defense, he was overlooked, or rather, received contacts in this field, from the Chief of Staff. In a way, the Party, even though this form, had the defense of the country under control. For Veli Llakaj, the greatest military man of this period, at the same time responsible for ensuring the country’s defense, the contacts and working relationships with Enver and Hysni Kapo were correct.
Contemporaries, as well as other people who had the opportunity to have single or rare work contacts, with Mehmet Shehu, among others, remember him as a hot-tempered, harsh, arrogant man who would do “the thing” if confront him, or if he finds fault with you. Veli Llakaj, a former close colleague for 8 years, in his notes, while not removing these evaluations for his boss, insists on Mehmet’s other qualities; from honesty, perfect preparation in many areas of life, generosity as well as dynamism at work. Llakaj’s definition of Mehmet Shehu’s morals is also interesting, especially in the case of the rumor of “Natasha Shehu”, as his illegal daughter.
Listing concrete examples and data, Llakaj asserts that Natasha is a fraud, that Mehmeti has been honest throughout his life. According to Llakaj’s notes and confirmations, even in some cases of the punishments of major cadres in the Army, Kadri Hazbi’s hand is first and not Mehmet’s. In the function of this argument, Llakaj also brings concrete examples, where before Mehmeti judged punishments for the cadres of the units, who had shortcomings in their work; he took as a basis the complex evaluations at their time, as well as the opinion of their direct superiors.
Morality, work and social relations with Mehmet Shehu
“Having been in a working relationship with Mehmet Shehu for 8 years, of course we also had a social relationship. Then, but also later and now, judging more calmly, I maintain the opinion that; Mehmeti remains not only a man prepared in many fields, but also a respectable person, with a strong character, although often hot-tempered. Much has been said about the nature and character of Mehmet Shehu, both by those who knew him closely and those who have heard of him. This is their right, for everyone to give their opinion as they judge, at the given time and place, the figure of one or the other. I, who have worked with him for 8 years, will try to share the few memories that remain in my memory.
Those who have known him longer and more closely are certainly more reliable and accurate. Of course, the figure of Mehmet Shehu is complex, both in the state and party duties, as well as in the social one. The roughness of his nature, to me and others who knew him intimately, did not detract from the sincerity and social bearing of his benefactor. In my opinion, he was not as “black”, as you seem, or as far away in spirit and conscience, but one thing is certain, he was a fanatic of meticulous implementation of orientations, directives and the party line; he was fanatical about implementing Enver Hoxha’s orders, he was the only one who could break down and properly comment on his orders or speeches, in any field. But, I know more closely and better, only the military side of him. He was demanding of the implementation of decisions and laws, for which he did not forgive.
Mehmet’s morality, Natasha Shehu, deceitful!
It is known that morality is the basis of principles, norms and rules that determine human behavior in society, related to honor, honest behavior, etc. Mehmet Shehu was one of those who had a moral, precisely according to these definitions, that is, he had proletarian, social and religious morals, because such was his background. Mehmeti has never been a moralist, that is, selling morals and acting differently himself, because he had a principled attitude, he was very fair and honest, sincere and simple, generous and hospitable, demanding towards himself and others. So, in these matters, he did not forgive. It was once said by a so-called “international lawyer”, Natasha Shehu, that she was allegedly his daughter out of wedlock, which is not true at all.
For this, I have written a long article in a newspaper, where I have refuted her vile slander with convincing evidence. But, she did not stop accusing that statesman. Why might Natasha Shehu have done this? It was probably introduced by someone, to lower this figure, at a very delicate time, especially in the period when his son, Skenderi, dropped his candidacy for deputy.
Mehmet Shehu’s tolerance and communication
Some phenomena that have impressed me with this man who is so “rude”, but very kind and communicative. From Gramshi, a letter goes to a pilot, that he had a bad biography! In this letter, it was written that X should not be a pilot because his uncle was a gendarme at the time of Ahmet Zogu! Mehmeti, after clarifying how he behaved, what kind of preparation and flight skills he had, etc., explanations which I forwarded to him, after receiving these positive data from the Aviation Commander, the honorable Bardhyl Taçi. Mehmet wrote this note on that letter: “The officer should stay in office, and not talk about this problem, because he will be worried, because if he leaves because of this issue, I (Mehmet Shehu) would not be the Prime Minister of Albania, because one of my cousins, Mehmet Ismail Shehu, died in Burrel Prison”.
The next moment, he was with the commander of the Gramsci Brigade, Ibrahim Çela, to whom an extraordinary event had happened, that is, a weapons warehouse had caught fire and he had to answer for this according to the rules. The command of the Elbasan Group and the Committee of his Party had proposed a very serious measure that the event was not small. He was severely criticized, and was called to the Collegium of the Ministry, for the relevant measure. Of course, Ibrahim was very scared. Before it was discussed and measures were taken by Mehmet Shehu, as Minister and Prime Minister, Mehmet consulted with the four deputy ministers and we all agreed that such events could happen, but the commander should not be punished. Mehmet took into account all the opinions of his deputies and Ibrahimi passed it with a warning remark.
At the time of the so-called “coup” of Beqir Balluk and others, several high-ranking Army officers were sentenced to very ridiculous positions, from Chief of Staff, Battalion to Corps Commander, such as the late Malo Harshova, or the Defense Commander Against the Air Force of the State, Kiço Janku, later for absurd reasons, I would say, left office and Mendu Tetova and Kristaq Qarri, respectively the Academy Commander and Deputy Chief of the General Staff. He had known these cadres personally, and after some time, with his memory, they returned to Tirana and to the academic institutions, with the exception of Kristaq Qarri, who died. I regretfully experienced it, where I was also criticized, when I was punished, because, allegedly, unjustly, I had defended some cadres.
Later, with assumptions and fabrications of some insurance companies, the removal of Eqerem Osmani, Director of Army Intelligence and later of Tomorr Hilë, management officer at the General Staff, both high-value cadres, was requested. About these two, what is the truth, I have reported to Mehmet Shehu and he has ordered that neither of them leave, but be criticized. In this case, with Kadri Hazbi’s insistence, it became possible to remove them from their respective duties. It was interesting that; in both party organizations, I was the one who proposed their removal, because they allegedly did not treat us well, some training. How heavy it was for me, but the task…! There will come a time when I will meet them and I will be ashamed, because I will be called the cause of their departure…!
Llakaj: “My relations with Enver Hoxha and Hysni Kapo”
The high task I had, like; chief of the General Staff of the Army and first deputy of the Minister of Defense, in addition to the long working cooperation with Mehmet Shehu, during my 8 years in this position, I had constant contact with other leaders of the time, with Enver Hoxha and Hysni Kapo. Regularly, as I have said in my Armed Forces notes, it was the meeting norm, once a month. Also, with Hysni Kapo, who covered the Army, in the Political Bureau, I had numerous working meetings, during my highest career in the army. As far as I have worked with these two high figures of the party and the state, the relations have been very correct.
Every time we went to report to the Defense Council, together with fellow deputy ministers, and with the directors or commandos of the army units, which were not few, the environment that was created for us and the spirit of the discussions, was very correct. Enveri was very serious in dealing with problems and very authoritative, but I have the impression that whenever we presented any material to be discussed at the Defense Council, he studied and came prepared, asking questions and asking sharp answers, in the military line. I have many warm and social memories with him, but sometimes also strict, as there were two cases, in his critical speeches, the case for discipline on May 28, 1980, and the discussion about the shortcomings of the “Biza” exercise, where the commander was dismissed, the commissar and secretary of the Tirana Group, and I, as Chief of the General Staff, received a warning.
Both of these criticisms, even to this day, I call fair and appropriate. Similarly, in the monthly reports when I made them, he was very social in his opinions, remarks and advice. Hysni Kapo differed both with Enver and Mehmet in work and social relations. Hysniu was very sweet-mouthed, loving and very sociable, but very principled, which he did not forgive. In this case, he became stricter than Enver and Mehmeti. However, I would say that you could discuss with him freely and if you brought him arguments, he was very correct; to believe and withdraw, but also to follow every action, and to check whether they were right or not.
With Enver and Hysniu, in the active of Vlora
I was appointed as a delegate of the Central Committee of the PPSh, in the active part of the party in Vlora, which was for the Army. This event took place on March 21, 1977. Enver Hoxha was on vacation in Vlora and had confirmed his participation. Enter Kapo, now, apparently, he was worried about how I would handle the defense problems, where would Enveri be. So, Hysniu knowing Enver’s idea, as his closest collaborator, at any cost, wanted me to appear, as dignified as possible. Therefore, two days before the meeting, he called me to the Central Committee of the ALP, warning me beforehand that Comrade Enver would also participate in this activity.
In advance, he inquired on the phone whether I was well prepared or not. Further, he added: “If you don’t mind, you can come here, let’s look at the material together, which you will keep in the active one”! So this also shows a kindness of a serious superior. After I went, he did not want me to read the material, but he took it and read it himself. After a few moments, after making some random interventions, he says: “Veli, again, if you don’t mind, I say that you have good material, but you can let me look at it more carefully and take it later in the day, at 18.00”. I wasn’t offended, but I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, saying: “Come on, friend Hysni, you’re going to get tired of my discussion”! That’s how it happened. Hysniu had made a lot of interventions, with his characteristic writing, mainly in the political line of the party, as it seemed, I had hit him with the “axe of dardhar”, with priority in the military field.
I took the material and thanked him for the concrete help. This very good material was not held at all in that plenum. Enver Hoxha, after listening to the report given by Gaqo Nesho, former first secretary of the Party Committee, and the two discussions, took the floor. He made a very long analysis and after sitting down, he said with a laugh: “Don’t take what I said as a conclusion, that Comrade Veli is a delegate.” It seemed that, after Enver’s speech, no one would discuss. Therefore, Gaqo Nesho says: “The delegate of the APS Central Committee, friend Veli Llakaj, has the floor.” I got up, went to the podium and addressed the party’s active, in this way: “I thank Comrade Enver, for those lessons and the task he gave us all. Let’s mobilize to implement it as best as possible, because I have nothing to say, because garlic is not eaten after baklava”!
Everyone clapped and I sat next to Enver. He shook my hand and that was it, all that worries.
Enver’s telephone connection with Sazan from the command post
Another important meeting, I recorded in my notes, was on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the General Staff, on July 10, 1978, when he visited the joint headquarters of the Defense Council and the General Staff for a time war. Enver Hoxha, who was accompanied by Mehmet Shehu, in the presence of the Deputy Ministers of Defense and several directorates of the Ministry, after getting to know this very solid and comfortable facility, through Menduh Backa’s reports, asked for a lot of clarifications, especially for a stable and solid connection with the operational units of the Army.
In this facility, the connection was, as in all other premises of the General Headquarters, that is, both near the peacetime building and that of Bërzhita. To his interest, we replied that; he could try any of the branches of the Army, whoever he wanted. At the moment, he asked for the commander of Sazan Island. This connection was perfect and underground. After a few seconds, the switchboard of the Island Command answered: “Order”! Enver says: “I am the Commander-in-Chief, I want your Commander”! The answer of the Commander of the Island, Naim Muho, is heard correct and clear: “I am the Commander of the Island, Naim Muho! After asking him about the problems there, Enver congratulated him on the Army holiday. Immediately, he contacted the command of the Saranda Brigade and exchanged the same messages with its commissioner, Kadri Cenolli. This is how he acted with the Puka Corps, etc.
After going down through the premises, he met cadres, soldiers, and switchboard operators in turn. He asked who made the connection to the unit so fast. “Me” – answers an extremely resourceful operator, Minushe Hysenaj. Enver hugged him and took a photo with all the operators. The talented engineer, Ibrahim Shametaj, explained to him in turn, the entire interconnection system. In the same way, the director of Interconnection, Abaz Thana, very competently, told about the plans for the further perfection of Interconnection. After that, we went to the United Officers School, where there was an impromptu parade, with all three types of Armed Forces. There, the Commander-in-Chief was warmly received by the school commander, Rustem Peçi, Commissioner Agron Dushku and Secretary of the Party Committee, Nuredin Dushani./Memorie.al
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