By Vangjush Gambeta
The first part
– The rare testimony of the well-known former journalist of the “Zëri i Populli” newspaper, who was interned in the villages of Mat district in 1975, where he worked in agriculture, until the collapse of the communist regime-
Memorie.al / I left the office and headed to the dental clinic, next to the Journalists’ Club. Since I was leaving to go to the meeting, I told my friend to wait for me right there, not at the Journalists’ Club, where we often left the meeting. -No! Not in the Club of Journalists! -Why? – From the first meeting, everyone avoids meeting me in places where there are other people. Nobody likes witnesses. They are right, they hurt themselves and me: “Why did you meet him?”, “What did you say to him?”, “What did he say to you?” The vigilance mechanism starts to work to “detect” the enemies…!
– “The war reaped the brave, while after the liberation the dictatorship put the rabbit in people’s stomachs”!-
My friend was waiting for me in the corridor of the clinic. We had left the meeting for 12 o’clock. I thought that the last meeting of the organization, where the decision would be taken, did not have to last more than two hours. But she had been waiting for me there for an hour.
That she also knew that the meetings of the Party, especially when it came to “dismantling” an “enemy”, it was known when they started, but it was not known when they ended. An hour of walking through the corridor. He sat down and got up several times on the bench by the wall.
It’s a good thing that in that crowd of patients he didn’t find anyone he knew. What would he say? What was he waiting for? I had ordered: “No conversation! With no one, if he asked you anything about me”. But in the end, what did that matter when she was anxiously awaiting the end of the meeting? He would tell anyone he knew, if asked, that a terrible toothache had kept him up all night. Anyone would believe it, when they saw him yellow in the face, disfigured, lost sight.
Everyone, except for the journalists who knew that in the opposite office, they were “dissecting” the husband with the questions: When? Where? Who do you hang out with? What did Filani tell you? What did you say to him?
And even with such a call: “Speak, Vangjush, open up to the Party, be honest, the Party is generous, it will help you, if you will also help the Party, to further discover the activities of these enemies of the Party and of the people”!
And everyone should discuss, unmask the enemy. Otherwise you put yourself on the list of suspects, who feel sorry for the enemy. I know that most debaters feel and think differently.
But that doesn’t matter. In order to judge the discussions of my friends, I tried to remember how I myself had discussed when in the meetings of the organization we “dismantled” and condemned others. And with all my heart I forgave my transgressors…!
Our life is a theatrical performance without spectators. We are all actors; we have a role assigned by the party. Be careful not to miss a word that does not match the assigned role! Otherwise you ate it! There is no more courage. The brave reaped the war against the conqueror. After the liberation, the dictatorship put the rabbit in our belly.
“Finally!”, she thought when she saw me barely climbing the stairs. He approached me.
I grabbed his arm, I mean I wanted to keep him from falling when he heard the noise, and I said to him in a voice that we both heard ourselves:
-Hold on, honey! From now on you are the wife of an anti-party element.
Lightning! But a lightning that was not unexpected, because the weather had been cloudy for some time. People were used to rumblings and thunders and lightning strikes. Many people were waiting for the turn, for the lightning to fall on their house.
Every thought and feeling was immediately erased from her mind and heart, with the exception of only one thought and one feeling: “How wills the soul of the mother, 13-year-old Artan, end”? A mother never thinks of herself when her child is in danger.
-What about now?
-I do not know! I know only one thing, that the title “anti-party element” is a prelude to either prison or exile.
-Shut up! How does the mouth say these words?
– It has been dry for a long time. Do you know what bravery is, Leti? You don’t remember how Lim Keta explained it to us in Durrës? Courage is that even in the most difficult situation, you don’t lose your temper, but you pick yourself up!
Now you go home. I will come a little later. Take the boy inside too. Do not leave it in the yard with friends. And don’t talk to anyone, about anything.
– Follow me. I can’t go alone. My legs are shaking.
I escorted him to the entrance of the palace, without entering the courtyard, which at this hour is full of children.
– Don’t be late, you can’t stay at home alone. I really needed to be alone for a piece of time, to think: whatever happened next? It goes without saying that I could no longer work as a journalist, and even less so in “Voice of the People”. They told me to wait at home, the announcement of where I would work. I started a walk, walking like that in vain, without an address, where my feet were leading. I didn’t want to meet anyone I knew. What should I say?
Could I cry about my problem? If I tell him, how will he react? During the twenty years of working in the newspaper I had known many people, both the angel and the devil. But what is more in this world, angels or devils? Now, with my “status”, as an “anti-party element”, I will understand them better, I will know how to distinguish them.
I felt myself tired. Then I thought: “No, this is not fatigue, this is fear, fear for the future.”
I realized I needed a coffee to pull myself together. And here, on the street of Barricades, opposite the “Peshku” restaurant, there is a buffet. I entered. I said to the waitress: “Make me a double coffee.” She looked at me surprised. But he did, even very well, in a cup of tea. She, apparently, understands my concern, looking at me intently. Then he looked away and said in a low voice: “Halle-halle this world”. Then he filled a glass of cognac and put it on the counter, next to the coffee cup.
– Sorry, friend, but I only ordered coffee!
– You got the cognac from that friend over there, – and he pointed to a man who was drinking at the end of the counter.
It was a friend of a colleague of mine. Worked at NTLUS. I had met him several times. When it came to company affairs, he often used the phrase “… because this is what the Party has taught us” as a wedge. He thought that this is how we should talk to the journalists of “Voice of the People”.
Our eyes met. He greeted me with a nod, but did not approach me, as he would no doubt have done the day before, when he did not know what had happened to me.
He took the glass from the counter, brought it to his lips and, without taking his eyes off me, shook his head and his left hand, as if he wanted to wish me: “Health and patience!” and finally shook him. Then he took a few steps, but stopped two palms away from me, and turned to the bartender to pay. Without taking his eyes off the bartender, he said, “I’ve heard it all. What happened to you guys? Patience, as we are listening…! So be it… because there is even worse…”!
-“How? What? What didn’t you like? What’s worse”?! – The barmaid scolded him. She thought those words were directed at her and slammed her change angrily on the counter.
-“No no! Nothing, I have nothing to do with you, I talked to myself, in vain”! – And hurried out of the bar.
– “What happened to this one?” Who is this dude? Do you know him?! – The waitress addressed me.
-No! Today I knew him. – And indeed that day I knew him well.
He played the part nicely so that the other two customers in the bar didn’t think he was talking to me. But this time, he did not act “as the party has taught us”.
This life of ours is a theater without spectators, everyone is an actor, and everyone uses masks to hide their feelings and thoughts. The creator, screenwriter, director and operator are the same man, Enver Hoxha.
Don’t exaggerate, what am I worried about? Worried? No! I am rather revolted. The attitude of acquaintances towards me, from now on, will be open, without a mask, “for” or “against”.
Discussions at recent meetings disappointed me about some I considered friends, but revealed to me others I hadn’t appreciated before. The first, to gain points in the eyes of the delegate of the Party Committee, insulted me again and again; the second chose their words carefully, to burden me as little as possible, but they did not care to defend my arguments. Now I understood that man is not an angel, or a devil, or white, or black.
Between these two colors there are many shades. Why did I think before that this man is a cart horse with the license plate “PPSH”? But maybe many others have evaluated me as well?
“Back home! – I ordered myself. – What are Violeta and Artan doing now”?
In the courtyard of the palace, the boys were playing with a ball. I had to walk about twenty meters through the courtyard to enter my apartment. As soon as the boys saw me, they stopped playing and accompanied me with their childish but silent gaze.
“But what do these have? Why did they remain frozen?”. But I soon realized that in their families my name was inflected in all cases in those days.
As soon as I rang the doorbell of my apartment, the door of the opposite apartment suddenly opened. It opened a little, so that Socrates stuck his head out and, seeing that there was no one else on the stairs, he said to me:
-Vangjush! When they call you to the Party Committee, don’t say a word more than you said in the basic organization, because they will confuse you with so many questions that they will make you believe that you have cut off the water to the village. Did you understand me? That’s it! – And closed the door, carefully, without noise.
I said to myself: “Thank you, but I know this myself.”
Immediately Violeta opened the door.
– I barely calmed the boy down, – he told me, – he was crying. – But even Violeta could not hide her teary eyes from me. – Now he is sitting in front of the TV, let him lose his mind with a movie.
We sat in the minder. Silence, silence, and silence again.
– You are speaking a word, – Violeta told me.
– What can I say? I don’t even understand anything myself. I can’t even think.
– Maybe tomorrow at the Committee of the Region…
– The Committee of the Region does not decide on such cases. Set above. We cannot escape this downpour.
Pull yourself together. Be strong, take it easy.
– Black silence. I only think about the boy.
– But I think about you and the boy.
– Make a letter of any size. Complain.
– It’s pointless. In such conditions, when people are convicted not on the basis of facts, but on the basis of suspicions and conjectures, such complaints are not even considered. Sentences are decided before the trial. If the facts are missing, it is not difficult to fabricate them. This will also happen to me, when they “dismantle” me in the Committee of the Region.
– What should we do then?
– Oh, yes. We have to do something. Do you know how it is? It is no wonder that they also check our house. I need to see my bookshelf and drawer, there’s nothing that needs to disappear. There are things that need to be burned. Would you like a strong coffee? I’m checking there.
I went to the next room. I sat in a chair in front of the bookshelf. I put my elbows on my knees and bent down a little so that my head rested on the palms of my hands. I wanted to think: what needs to be cleaned? Any book in Italian, lest I be accused of influences of bourgeois culture, any book in Russian, lest I be accused of nostalgia for Russians. But I couldn’t concentrate.
Unrelated phrases were spinning in my head: “Economic books are for the trade, they don’t disrupt work”,: But who needs this butchery?”, “Also the records of the gramophone should be looked at, because there are no Russian songs”. What did he say? “You don’t see him drinking, he answers: yes, no, yes, no. He will not open up to the Party, he is not honest”. “I, the enemy of the people?!”
I picked out some books, some pictures and notepads. They must be burned. I broke some gramophone records. I said to the woman: “I’m going out to throw these in the yard, in the garbage can. You lit the fire in the stove.” Will I burn books? I would commit a crime for the first time in my life: I would burn books.
I remembered the Library of Alexandria, that’s why I called it a crime. “What do you want Voltaire, when you have Hitler’s ‘My War’?”. “Why are you alone in the library reading foreign books? Are not the Party’s materials and Comrade Enver’s works enough for you?” Enter Violeta.
-Are you done? – He asked me. – Your coffee is ready. Come on, the boy is just getting bored. I went to the kitchen. I sat in the minder near Artan.
– Did you see the movie? – I asked her.
-I saw it.
– Was he beautiful?
-I did not understand. You didn’t mind the movie.
– Where did you have it?
Silence. Long silence. Silence that kills, when the heart beats irregularly. Artani broke the silence.
– Dad, why are you angry these days? What’s wrong with you that you don’t tell me? But my friends told me…!
– What did your friends say?
– They didn’t tell me anything, they just asked me: “What did your father do?” What will they do to your father?” You haven’t told me anything. How can I tell them tomorrow?
I cried. I coughed hard, unkindly, as a reason to go to the bathroom, to rinse my eyes, which could not contain the tears. After a while I came back calm. No, not quiet, but a little quieter.
– Artan, tonight we have a job. We have nowhere to put all those books we have. Some of them are useless, we don’t need them at all, let’s burn them. You like the flame in the stove. And tomorrow we will talk about everything.
Artan was silent. He sat as if frozen, Artani, who cannot sit for two minutes without speaking or moving.
I went, and Artani followed me. From the other room, we brought those “enemy” items that needed to be burned to the kitchen.
Violeta said to me in a low voice:
-Light a fire in the middle of summer? Don’t let anyone see the smoke and bright lights in our apartment at one o’clock in the morning…!
-Our fireplace is in the middle of the terrace and the night is moonless, nothing is visible.
In front of the open door of the stove, the three of us sat down on the couch. Artani in the middle. The burning began. The books were torn, “dismantled”, to burn better and faster.
Silence, gloomy silence. The three of us could see the flame from the open door of the stove, consuming sheets filled with events, thoughts, feelings.
Artani broke the silence again:
– And this dad too?
Artani held in his hand a book of Italian fairy tales, which he kept as a precious thing. “Godete fanciulli” was the title of the book and there were many beautiful illustrations.
A few years ago, you could watch Italian TV channels in Tirana through Dajti’s repeater, and Artani would stare at the screen for hours to learn Italian. “Godete fanciulli” was the first Italian book he had read. “Godete fanciulli” was for him the primer of Italian. Primer is always loved.
– This too, dad?
– What do you want, my son, you have read this a hundred times.
Artan’s lower lip trembled and tears escaped. I understood that Artan felt a scratch in his heart.
– Dad, if you had Gianpaolo’s horse, would you burn it tonight?
This was not an empty phrase, it was not a question. That was a slap my son gave me.
I had told Artan that when I was little, six or seven years old, I had a close friend, Paolo. An Italian engineer, Bonfiliori was his name, had come with his whole family to Korça, and called by a company, as a reclamation specialist.
They had rented a house opposite the house where my family lived. Bonfiliori’s lady became friends with mine, while I became friends with their son, my pier Paolo. But from 1937 to 1938, Bonfiliori left Albania./Memorie.al
The next issue follows