Nga Artur Korriku
Memorie.al / At the beginning of the summer of 1982, word spread in Durrës that a prominent Durrës athlete had escaped to Yugoslavia by swimming from Lake Ohrid. For several days in a row, this was the news circulating in all public areas of Durrës. It was about the marathon runner from Durrës, Qemal Zaza, who was part of the national athletics team and since 1979, in the 4th National Spartakiad, in the marathon discipline, he had reached the time of 2 h 34’14’, a time which even today after 39 years, it has not yet been achieved.
But the biggest surprise for the citizens of Durrës came when, after a few days, they saw Qemali walking through the streets of the city, accompanied by his companions and friends. At first it was thought that the escape could have been something made up or a rumor, but later it was again said that he had escaped, but the truth remained shrouded in mystery again…!
Qemali has kept this event in his memory and what had really happened, he did not confess for 36 years in a row. He was known only to a small number of people, former investigators and employees of the Department of Internal Affairs at that time, his family members as well as his closest friend.
Only now Qemali has narrated his adventure as well as the reasons that led him to take such a decision. He says that he did not want to make his story public, despite the insistence of the media for years (that is, after 1990), that it was an attempt of desperation for the circumstances in which he was at that time, as well as for the fact that to anyone who listens, it will seem absurd to escape and repent, having just arrived on the other side.
But what could seem stranger is, the very denunciation in the Department of Internal Affairs of the escape, putting “outside the game” the forces of the Border, who “slipped under your nose”.
Qemali remembers that right after this event, a torpedo boat was sent from Durrës to the Pogradec Lake, because Enver Hoxha and his family were in Drilon for vacation those days. Therefore, security measures were strengthened in the lake and outside it.
This is how 62-year-old Qemal Zaza remembers this event:
“On June 21, 1982, I escaped by swimming from Lake Ohrid and as soon as I arrived on the other side, which at that time belonged to Yugoslavia, I turned back again, after a reflection I made on things while swimming in the waters of the lake. I swam for 4 hours and 40 minutes and covered a distance of 10 to 12 km.”
Why did you decide to run away?
“I made such a decision because things were not going well for me. Above all, they did not allow me to continue my studies at the Higher Institute of Physical Culture. I had been asking for the rates for the Institute for several years, but my request was not accepted. I had requested a meeting with the Minister of Education at that time, Tefta Cami, but she did not receive me and brought out the Deputy Minister Bardhyl Golemi, but to no avail. Moreover, I was a marathon athlete and a member of the national athletics team. In 1979, I had reached the time of 2h, 34’14”, in the 4th National Sports Spartakiad, in the marathon race in Tirana. To this day, this time has not yet been reached.
I remember that while I was running in that marathon, Bamir Topi followed me on a bicycle to encourage me. At that time I was working in the Railway, in the office, after I had finished the Industrial High School, this school is equivalent to the Polytechnic of Tirana (today “Harry Fultz”). Even though I had left this school with the fifth category, I was paid with the third category, even though I insisted that this injustice had to be fixed. They had put my picture on the honor board as a distinguished employee. One day I took the frame with the photograph and broke it on the ground, declaring that I am not distinguished, because they don’t allow me to go to school and they don’t give me the category.
Meanwhile, one of my uncles, Kapllan Gjuzi, was arrested and convicted for “agitation and propaganda”. He served his sentence in Qafë Bari prison. So, we, from a family connected to the War, were being treated as a declassified family, and this had very serious consequences at that time. Under these circumstances, I decided to escape and for this I made a plan with my mind. I told this decision of mine only to my closest friend, Jakup Pejzaku, who is currently in Italy”.
How did you escape?
“We were sent with services to the various railway stations throughout the country, to repair the defects of the trains because, at that time, the railway transport was very powerful. In June 1982, we were sent to the Guri i Kuq station in Pogradec. Vasillaq Patera, Novruz Saliu, Gani Aliu, Dilaver Bodlli and Jakup Pejzaku were also with me. The service was two weeks. This was also the occasion I was waiting for to carry out my escape plan. I started to implement this plan.
After work we went to bathe in the lake. I used to swim and go very far, almost to the middle of the lake. I didn’t feel tired because I was a long distance athlete and endurance was the secret of marathon discipline. So I was testing myself. One day, one of my friends jokingly told me that: you come out comfortably on the other side, with all this swimming you do. I also laughed at my friend’s joke. Meanwhile, for several nights in a row I went to the lake and measured the temperature of the water. It varied from 10 to 12 degrees. So at night the water was cold.
While I was making the escape plan, the World Cup of Football was taking place in Spain, which favored me because when the matches were played, vigilance dropped. I had noticed when I was bathing, that at some distance from the shore of the lake, there were always three motor boats, supposedly fishing. They were equipped at the end with powerful lights. There was no doubt that they worked for the inner branch and the border under the fishing cloak. After registering everything in my mind, I also took the corresponding measures. Enver Hoxha came to Pogradec with his family.
On June 21, three important matches of the World Championship were played, which started in the afternoon and ended late at night. That very night, I decided to run away.
While my friends watched football, I headed to the lake. I got undressed and put on some grease, to avoid the temperature of the lake water. It was a very good fat, which came from China. I was lifted from my knees to my neck. I didn’t have a waterproof watch, so I insulated it with cellophane paper. I got a mouthpiece as well as a pair of swimming paddles. I let the border unit patrolling on the ground pass. There was a captain with two soldiers and a dog, passing every half hour where I had decided to enter the water.
At 9:25 p.m., I entered the lake and headed for the shore that belonged to Yugoslavia at that time or today’s Macedonia. I swam slowly for over two hours. I had no problems and no water patrol vehicles moved. After swimming so long, I thought intensely about many things related to my escape. Meanwhile, I arrived at the other shore near Saint Naum. As I was going ashore, I spotted the Border Police post with Yugoslav characters, where I had to surrender. Calm there too. Apparently, they also watched football matches. For a moment, I stopped and was no longer moving forward. Everything in my plan was turned upside down and other things came to my head. I thought about the consequences my family would have. The dictatorship was still very strong. I turned back, after a short stop on the other side. I entered the lake and swam back to where I had come from. I decided to make another plan.
How did this story continue?
I swam another two and a half hours and at 02.5 minutes; I arrived at our shore again. On the way I came across three boats that were supposedly fishing. I ran away from them through the rubber band tube and they didn’t notice me.
As soon as I got ashore I went straight to the railway station inspector. There was a person called Çelik working in the office, but I don’t remember his last name. With him was the ROGL (Combat Readiness Operational Guard). I entered the office in underwear and greased. They both realized what was likely. I directed you to the phone and put my finger on the number of the Pogradec Internal Affairs Branch. I had decided to report myself. I thought that this way I would either win my rights or be punished.
The two service people told me: don’t do it or you will be punished. I took them both out and calmly called the duty officer at the Internal Affairs Branch of Pogradec. I told him there was a trespass. I then told him who I was and some other details related to my location and work. After half an hour, five cars of the Department of Internal Affairs came to the station. I was in a room that we used to wear work clothes and for other services.
They were scared because, they remembered that I am doing some wrong step and touching the electric wires. They were in no hurry. I used a gasoline can to remove the grease from the body. Then I washed and cleaned myself and after dressing I put myself at their disposal. While all this happened, the day had dawned. I rode in a “BÇ” car, which had come from China. It is understood that the destination was the Department of Internal Affairs.
The investigation in Pogradec lasted two days. The head of Pogradec’s Investigation, Lulo Ymeraj, was involved in this work. Meanwhile, an expert from Tirana, whose name was Berti, had also arrived. Bilbil Meta and Ylli Mando were with them. I told you how I escaped with all the details. They looked surprised. I told him briefly why I was unhappy. After two days, I was sent to Durrës. I stayed three days at the Internal Affairs Branch of Durrës. Same procedures there too.
I told him that they did not give me the right to give the rates for the Institute of Physical Education and other things. As far as I could tell, I was being treated like a penitent. After three days, I was sent to the police chief’s office. He told me that: you are free and you can go back to work. He ordered me to go out on the tour as much as possible. At that time, everyone was walking on the boulevard and the seafront. They also instructed me that: if they asked me what had happened, to answer them that there had been a misunderstanding.
How did the events unfold next?
With myself, I thought that after that I would meet Enver Hoxha and win the school. But it didn’t happen like that. They gave me the fifth category at work and that’s it.
Meanwhile, my name had become known in Enver Hoxha’s family because I managed to escape while he was on vacation, precisely in Pogradec.
It so happened that the measures taken for the safety of the lake was increased. A Kater-torpedo was sent from Durrës to Pogradec. The transport was carried out by the brigade led by the well-known driver Met Delvina. They put the floating vehicle on a “Tatra” truck and took it to Pogradec.
After many years…?
As I said, Enver Hoxha found out about the incident. Patrol vessels were added to the lake, including a Kater-torpedo. Commander Kateri was a young man. He had told a friend of mine that, that durrsak who passed across has opened up a lot of work for us, that we remained with non-stop service.
After many years, one night, if I’m not mistaken, it was the year 2007, I was invited to a banquet at the “Rogner” hotel. I was invited by the Libyan Embassy as they had a national holiday. In addition to the diplomatic corps, representatives of our government were also invited to this event. Members of the Hoxha family were also present at the meeting. For a moment, the ambassador of Libya in Tirana, at that time, Ali Al Ghadamsi, came to the table where I was.
He, after greeting us, said that he asks for permission from those present at the table, but they are looking for Qemali at that table and pointed to the place where Enver Hoxha’s son and his wife were, as well as his daughter and her husband. They wanted to meet me. But after thanking the ambassador, I declined the invitation and told him that it is already too late to meet with them. Their system had harmed me”.
Here ends our interview with Mr. Qemal Zaza and while he is narrating this event, when he walks, he has difficulty in one leg and when he goes to the beach, he notices a pretty sign of a wound. Qemali says that he had an accident at work, but his friends do not remember that he was ever injured at work or in training…?! Memorie.al