From Kolec Gjergji
Memorie.al / Kolec Gjergji, or as he is otherwise known by the surname Vistari, was born in 1941, in the village of Xhan in the Dukagjin area of Shkodra, where his family originated from. His father was executed by the communists in the early years, after the end of the war, and he was left an orphan, after finishing primary school in his hometown, Koleci, he changed his last name and went to Tirana to finish high school and to escape, in somehow, political persecution. After finishing high school, he began his higher studies in the Chemistry department at the University of Tirana, but while he was preparing for the second year exams, his family “origin” was discovered at the faculty. Based on this, he is immediately expelled from the university and from that time he would not be able to escape the “class war”. In 1969, on the day he was getting married, Koleci was arrested by the State Security and accused that together with his brother, Ndoc, they were accused of “blowing up the bust of Stalin, in the center of the capital”. Although he did not accept that charge at trial, he was sentenced to 13 years of political imprisonment, all of which he served in various camps and prisons. After the collapse of the communist regime and the establishment of pluralism in Albania, at the beginning of the 90s, Koleci returned to his passion, literature. He also wrote several books, mainly on the subject of the crimes of communism, where he told his life and that of his co-sufferers, during the years of the dictatorial regime of Enver Hoxha. Kolec Gjergji Vistari, is the father of Rozana Gjergji, the well-known chess player and national champion, for whom in the mid-80s, from the former Kinostudio “Shqipëria e Re” the movie “Dy korto mat” was made, but since due to family biographical problems, her name was not mentioned until the fall of the communist regime and she was not allowed to compete abroad in international meets. Gjergji passed away in 2008, and the part we are publishing is excerpted from his memories of prison life.
A WINTER NIGHT’S DREAM
…The silos, where almost two hundred people slept, were some fabrications calculated to torture the convicts. Some old clothes of boards where the wind of the cold came in as it wanted. Sometimes during the night, 4-5 cm of snow would fall on top of our blankets, driven by the wind through all kinds of cracks as well as the ceiling from where we counted the stars at night.
While in the summer, strict measures were taken to thicken the surrounding system and to cover the roof well so that we would not benefit from fresh air, otherwise it would not increase as in the incubator by ten or twenty times, the number of bedbugs that held the boards and that were made for us heavier than the irons and batons that the police used during the day.
The bedbugs seemed to us as if they were messengers of the command and we often thought “we are not attacking the command if we kill them”, therefore, based on a practice that had been used by the convicts before us, we also learned to escape from them, getting into some long sacks.
We tied these bags to our heads and then lay down, making it possible to cover ourselves completely. Until we got used to that cruelty that blackened above the sheets, looking to drink blood from us, it was not easy to fall asleep. It took some time for us to feel sure that these “envoys of the command” have nothing to do with us.
The command, for its part, occasionally issued orders prohibiting bagging because, according to them, it was not easy to identify what might be inside the bag. It could happen that the bag was filled with something else and the convict could get out, not realizing that he was preparing to escape from prison. Thus, the convicts were often interested in winter coming as soon as possible, to sleep without these troubles…
…Our command and its entire administration knew from a hundred written and spoken sources that, if the convicts were given the slightest chance to be connected to freedom, it was realized only through dreams. Convicts, all day with their minds on freedom, imagining them outside the wire every moment, and in that effort not to believe the evil that had found them, all night long their brains replayed, like in those replays that are found in television programs…!
That’s why the convicts, as soon as it was time to sleep, ran to cover their heads, even wishing each other to see as many good dreams as possible. The winter nights were tails, as they say, because as early as five o’clock in the afternoon, it was forbidden to stay outside dressed, and until the daylight came out, you were forced to stay closed, to avoid the “danger of escape” that, as says a popular saying, “it is better where it is, than where it was lost…”!
…Twelve to fourteen hours, hundreds of searchlights were on…so much energy was spent on lighting that, perhaps, it would be enough to consume an entire city…! Many a mountain-top villager, whose houses were still lighted by candles or pines, might have envied our surroundings, almost eternal days, but their simple towers looked like ivory to us, and we would be ready, each of us, to exchange that environment for the most miserable hut…!
… Unlike some whom, in exchange for a sum or a premeditated thing that led to the loss of their freedom, political prisoners were arbitrarily deprived of their freedom. Just as it often happens that a love for a parent, for a child or something else, as the old women say, is snatched by the evil eye, so with these convicts it happened that they lost their freedom, precisely because they loved it so much.
The convicts, as well as the fingers, differed from each other. There were among them as soon as it dawned and until the day went down they were moving, walking, running… making so many roads that they would almost have to go to the end of the world, remembering, perhaps, that they were going to seize freedom…!
…In search of freedom, which was seen to be enjoyed by the mouse and the fly, the dog and the donkey, the bird and the hen, even the murderers and the kidnappers of freedom, the convicts thought so much about it that they preferred it to come to them lie form. The one who said: “we will be forgiven, because there is amnesty”, “that the political prisons will be opened”, lied more than the others, but he was sacred to the convicts and much sought after by them.
Yes, freedom was just a dream, which started as soon as you covered your head until the wake-up call. God had thanked him for this work during the long winter nights. It’s surprising how quickly the silence was restored after entering the dormitory: someone made the cross, some said hurrays or chanted the eye, except when they fell asleep, in that blessed half-death.
Only a minority here and there, sitting with their heads between their hands, it was not known what made them not lie down immediately, until midnight, as if they were guarding others instead of angels. They had to hear the snoring of their friends after the fatigue of the day, and even the conversations in their sleep and the chatter of someone who seemed to be eating dinner at the table laid out with all the good things for friends and friends.
“Be careful, you’ll break my glass”, someone was heard saying in a dream to his tablemate, with whom he seemed to be drinking. “Happy freedom, and the past and not forgotten” – that was the last word they heard from him. Then he left, sitting like that, laughing with his eyes wide open, scratching his head, as if to say: “now let’s walk”! He searched under the pillow and across the mattress, and so, somnambulistic, he put only his hat on his head, put his clothes in a pillowcase, and began, talking to himself, to go down two or three stairs, which were used to go upstairs, to the bed the woods.
Wandering through the nearly 60-meter-long silo, between two rows of beds, on which he leaned from time to time, with a pillow at his side, he seemed to be falling to the streets of his city, which were greeting his release. some of the convicts awoke, half rose, threw their jackets over their arms, put their hats on their shaven heads, and took care not to make a sound, lest this, perhaps, would seriously injure the fellow, who threw his legs disorderly, as in some unlearned dance, opened he closed his eyes in a strange way, he moved almost as if his spine did not work. The cellar guard closed the door in advance and, frightened for himself, climbed into the bed of a wise man.
– Happy freedom – said our somnambul friend – the dictatorship fell.
This last word made people close their ears.
-…Brothers, if you lose your freedom again, it is forbidden for you…! Gather in the square, swear that you will love each other and together we will build high walls so that no dictatorship will enter between us anymore… – and he walked, sometimes turning back, as if not to lose the bed where it was warmer than along in the corridor, half naked, still he was tempted by freedom and returned…!
Work for yourself, because we worked a lot for the devil…! Poor Albania has become like a trunk, which seems to have nothing of the bride price inside…!
Meanwhile, some told the guard in a low voice: play a little, because even his bed is getting cold and he won’t be able to warm it anymore…! The guard, full of fear, approached him a little from above and tried with a light touch to turn him back, but he pushed him, saying: do not touch me, I am free, go and ask God to forgive you for what you have done…!
The guard told him again fearfully and better that, these cases end badly, but he grew even stronger, and seemed to get so much into the flow that he seemed to be aware of what he was saying.
– It’s good that you’re afraid – he told the guard – but I don’t take revenge, don’t steal from me except to steal! – And he sat down to take the pillow that fell from his hand. – If you take anything from me, I will count them all… – and he scratched his head and saw it from the bed.
As soon as the convicts came, they woke up and were half taken away. A friend of his let his guard down and approached him to do his own thing, but it wasn’t easy.
– Go home, friends and brothers; there is no nest to warm you…! Down with the dictator! – he raised his voice – Now we are free, we have a time to meet, so let’s go… and he started to hurry. Even holding it by hand didn’t work anymore; he had a power to throw it away like a rag.
“I have a wise seat that it should be, I have enough power for seven” he cried, but he could not open the door, and he turned again as if to get the key. He looked for it in the pillowcase until he fell asleep and saw himself surrounded by many convicts, who helped him get back to bed, and covered him with their covers to stop the shivers that had caught him.
Meanwhile, the internal guard, accompanied by a soldier and a policeman, rushed into the dormitory and demanded to know what had happened, until they were escorted with the explanation that a frightened patient in his sleep woke up the others.
The next day, many of those in command entered the camp, who investigated the event to the end and, after calling many witnesses, of whom one said what the other did not, decided to transfer him to the investigative bodies, to given to the trial and to be sentenced again, for “agitation and propaganda against the popular power”. Memorie.al