By Bedri Çoku
Memorie.al publishes the unknown testimonies of Bedri Çoku, originally from the village of Muçias in the district of Lushnja, who at the age of 19, while performing compulsory military service in the district of Gjirokastra, was arrested by two senior State Security officers and after a “unmasking” public trial with accusations mounted in the cinema of that city, he was convicted for agitation and propaganda together with his brother, Çaushi, for the only “fault” that their father had suffered several years as a prisoner in the forced labor camps from where he was released in 1959. The rare testimonies of Bedri Çoku who spent 24 years in the prisons of Spaç, Burrel and Qafë Barit and together with his two brothers, Esat and Çaushi and their father, Azem, suffered 64 years in prison in the camps and prisons of the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, being released only in February 1991. Memoirs of Bedri Çoku masterfully described in his book “The uprising that shook the dictatorship”, which where is mainly added to the Spaç Revolt in May 1973, where he as one of its main organizers, sheds light for the first time by making public some unknown events and facts from that revolt where the flag was raised without the red star of communism, and until his work as General Director of Camps and Prisons after the ’90s, where he “arrested” his close friend, the accomplice of the dictatorship’s camps and prisons and sent him to the cells of’ Prison 313 ‘. Tirana, where most of the former Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ALP headed by Ramiz Alia and Nexhmije Hoxha were serving their sentences.
The uprising that shook the dictatorship
(Based on a true story)
“To raise the flag, without the communist star, I expressed the opinion that, unable to find a red sheet, we would break our hands and, with our blood, paint the white cloth…! The first to cut his hand with a knife was my brother, Çaushi, the second Gëzim Medolli, Bedri Çoku, Gjet Kadeli, Ulsi Pashollari, and others… ”
We very much hoped for European Security and Cooperation which was being carried out at a dizzying speed under the special care of the United States of America. Rightly all mankind was eagerly awaiting the great historical moment. Signing for the Understanding of the Peoples of Europe, Western Democratic States and Eastern Communist States, which were still suffering from dictatorial regimes, to establish together a new order of peace and cooperation in the world. We hoped that Albania on this occasion as well. She would sign in Helsinki this Act for the Fates of Humanity, as a representative of this International Political Organization. We were convinced that our country, though incomparable to the countries of the East, would, by grace or by accident, join the Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Europe (OSCE).
Continued from the previous issue
The trial against the participants of the revolt, in the city of Rrëshen
Other groups of Spaç revolt were expected to come, which were being investigated in Tirana, to be punished den! We learned that we, the twenties, were called the “Flag Group”, from which it was thought that one or two of the leaders of the flag-raising, without the star on the double-headed eagle, could be sentenced to death by firing squad. This latest news saddened the prisoner Zef Ashta, condemned by the communist government, almost thirty years ago, as the “Enemy of the People”, who had fought bravely with a gun in his hand, alongside the nationalists of the National Front, against the occupiers and the communist front. , Serbo-Albanian, especially after learning that I was first on the list of this group of twenty people, accused of being the main author of the ideation, preparation and raising of the national flag, without the communist star…!
The day was beautiful and sunny, when, tied up, two by two, under the strict attention of a camp of police and civilians of the Secret Security, they forced us to climb the stairs of the People’s Court of Rrëshen, to the hall where to be tried behind closed doors. Undoubtedly, I was connected with one of the men that Albanian nationalism had as an exemplary soldier, until he died, a year later, in Spaç prison, from the day of this event that is being shown … The soul of Zef Ashta rest in peace and may God have mercy on him! Amen!
The courtroom in the People’s Court of Rrëshen seemed narrow, because in addition to us, the twenty defendants who were to be tried, we almost “occupied” half of it, counting two police officers sitting next to each defendant, tied up with the other defendant. At the entrance and around the hall space, there were standing candles, civilian and military, committed to ensuring the smooth running of the trial of the enemies of the people. Under the rule of a grave silence, everyone in the hall was aware that, from these weakened heads, with pale faces from the tortures of state savagery, because they had caused the event that occurred for the first time in the Albanian dictatorship, without any doubt that he was looking for his victims…!
The trial panel consisted of the presiding judge, Filip Lako; assistant judge, Gjin Pali; Assistant Judge, Pjetër Nikolli; assisted by the Secretary, Ndue Prendi and with the participation of the Prosecutor, Zef Deda. The presiding judge read the names of the defendants, according to the list compiled by the investigations conducted at the General Investigation, Tirana. Whoever heard the name, stood up, ready? I sat down by order of the chairman, after completing the formalities of the beginning of the session.
The list was:
1) Bedri Çoku 11) Jonuz Norja
2) Mersin Vlashi 12) Tomorr Allajbeu
3) Murat Mata 13) Pal Marku
4) Neim Pashaj 14) Haxhi Bena
5) Feti Kumanaku 15) Qemal Demiraj
6) Ndrec Çoku 16) Shuaip Ibrahimi
7) Hasan Ibro 17) Muho Curri
8) Elez Hoxha 18) Mërkur Babameto
9) Naim Uka 19) Gramoz Spahiu
10) Zef Ashta 20) Dervish Sulo
Prosecutor Zef Deda filed the indictment for the crimes committed, provided by Article 76, in combination with Article 72 and 73 / II – of the Criminal Code. Have organized and participated in an open hostile revolt in the re-education ward, Spaç, which aimed at undermining popular power. All the defendants, through their organized criminal activity, were able to attract other convicts in this hostile activity, hindering the normal activity of the government in that prison ward. Also, all these defendants, in order to achieve their hostile objectives, have openly carried out agitation and propaganda against the government, orally and in writing… being ready to oppose the rules of the prison command and to explode in a hostile rebellion.
The guilt for each defendant consists of:
The defendant Bedri Çoku took part in the revolt of Spaç and during the days of the rebellion he was one of the most active people in throwing hostile slogans against the government, saying: “Here is death, here is freedom”, “Down with communism”, “Down the communist government of Tirana ”,“ Long live the European Union ”etc. He took part in raising the Flag, being one of the most important people in its ideation, preparation and raising…! He strongly opposed the orders of the prison command, in order not to stabilize the situation in the prison camp. Approved the requests made to the government, in the meeting organized on dt. 22/05/1973. He refused to go to work, inspiring others with the slogans: “We do not work in the gallery”, “You use us as slaves”, etc., etc.
Presiding Judge: – Defendant, you are accused of organizing a revolt in the Spaç prison camp, what would you say about this accusation? Answer!
Me: I do not have to oppose it, I have been a participant and I have opposed every order of the command, regarding the inhuman treatment of us, political prisoners. There are many reasons, but I refer to an indisputable fact: The forced compulsion to work as slaves in the mine, even in a primitive mine, where the way of working is that of a few centuries ago. We work in three shifts to extract copper-enriched copper and pyrite from the underground for the Laç plant, which processes pyrite for sulfur poisons. Think, Mr. President, this poison production plant is mainly supplied by the production of pyrite that political prisoners extract from the Spaç mine, precisely by us who are today handcuffed in front of you and hundreds of other rebels for the same reason. We have been convicted as opponents of the regime, but not for being forced to work by the prison police, as if we were their slaves.
Do you have any idea, Mr. President, what we, who work violently in the underground, eat? With margarine-cooked leaves, like grease, we drink water with sulfuric acid coming from mountain streams through the entrances and exits of the copper and pyrite mine. If we do not fulfill the plan, the people in command ask for our genius. We are indeed doomed like your opponents, but remember that, we too have people outside the prison wires: We have parents, brothers, sisters, many of us are parents waiting for children, mothers of children, to see a day back home. We were sentenced to years in prison, but not to death in the mine. The remains of dozens of sons of mothers and fathers, or men, who are expecting their children, are being dug up in Spaç galleries, hoping that, after completing the sentence, they will
Return home. But they only receive the news of their death…! Even the corpses are not found in the gallery, but even if so, by law they are not returned to their parents or relatives…!
They are left without a grave and without any flowers, at the hands of children and relatives, if they had it…! Why? The only fault is why they do not agree with the dictatorship installed in Albania, with the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat. For over ten years, the Albanian government has not apologized to political prisoners and has released only ordinary convicts every year…! All the people of the Globe are eagerly awaiting the signing of the historic act of “European Security and Cooperation”, by all countries of this continent and beyond. The ruling clique of Albania has expressed, the only one in Europe, not to be a member of this pan-European body…! In these circumstances we have nothing left, as we lost even the last hope, but to sacrifice or gain the freedom to be together with all the peoples of Democratic Europe…!
The prosecutor fiercely interrupted me, threatening me that I was a sworn enemy of popular power and, regardless of my young age, would only demand the death penalty-shooting for me to join the first four shot in Spaç trial…!
Prosecutor – You will join Çupil, you, and others, like you…! Half of the ALL is waiting for you! (Çupili was Skender Daja, shot. But, because he was short, his accomplices called him “çupil”, compared to one of the reinforcements of the troops in the gallery, which did not exceed fifty centimeters).
I will be honored to die like them…!
Presiding Judge: Defendant, you admitted to the investigator that you were the one who conceived, prepared and raised the starless flag during the revolt. It’s true?
I yes. And I’m proud of that.
Presiding Judge: Why did you raise him?
Me: Only patriotic feelings!
Session Chair: Why not pick up a shoe, or other item?
Me: The shoes did not symbolize anything. Flag, yes.
Session Speaker – What does the starless flag symbolize for you?
Me: The blood of the nation’s martyrs, at all times.
Chair of the session: Why without a star?
Me: Ylli is the ideal of communist internationalism, not of Albanian patriots.
Chairman of the session: But why did you not raise it before, without a star, but precisely in revolt?
Me: Then I was given the opportunity.
Chair of the session: Ie. Will you raise it again if given the chance, the flag without a star?
Chairman of the session: Sit down!
He asked if there were witnesses against me or not? And he commanded their entry one by one. The first to enter the Spaç camp was a prison doctor, Muhamet Kosovrasti, and three police officers. The camp doctor, who was an eyewitness throughout the revolt, was asked by the Presiding Judge if he knew me, and if so, what he could say about my activity during the revolt. He turned his head from me and looking at me, without shame, said: “This, Mr. Chairman, together with his brother, Çaush Çoku, for me have been the first spark of revolt. I can tell you with full conviction that, the revolt started and ended, having a surprising organization. “But it is difficult for me to determine who led them, even though I have asked many convicts to find out even one of them.”
On the first day of the hearing, this procedure was followed by others, under pressure and threats from prosecutor Zef Deda, as well as against false witnesses, who had received orders from the ward operative, Fejzi Liço, to speak in the courtroom. Of the trial, against all defendants, recommended. The quarrel started with those witnesses who, because they had nothing concrete to say to the defendant, stated: “Yes, I saw him in the crowd.” Allegation, which was not even opposed by the trial panel, but was taken for granted…!
According to them, you should not be in the yard, where most of the protesters were sitting, but in the barracks, or in the rooms of the three-story palace, otherwise you were called a supporter of the revolt…! There were false witnesses, from the prisoners, who accused that, (they had probably seen and heard), while they were shy, out of fear, when the defendants cursed the government, or chanted slogans against the popular power…!
On the first day of the trial, almost a third of our group completed the confrontation phase with the prosecutor, the trial panel and the witnesses…! Although the closed-door session took place with psychological tension and terror, the return to the dungeons, nevertheless, had, more or less, a mental and spiritual relief for all…! Passed the first test, the most difficult…! The anxiety of unknown problems faded in the courtroom, where, usually, these problems appear during group sentences…!
Since I was defined as the ‘group leader’, I can modestly say that I felt and overcame the first difficulty in front of the court, focusing strongly, stoically on the fury of questions, provocative and arrogant threats of a prosecutor. Revolutionary, with a completely communist mentality, Zef Deda. But thanks to reading the Bible, in Spaç, in the secret of a Catholic believer, from Dukagjini, I found spiritual strength from the word of Christ, when he commanded his disciples: “Whenever you feel in difficulty to defend the righteous, do not forget “Through your mouth, I will speak.”
I think that what I said and presented before the court, my behavior and my words, I am convinced that they came to me from a divine inspiration, to line up facts and arguments in defense of the truth, even though mediocre people stood in front of and around us, of a dictatorial state, which did not follow the laws of constitutional law, but obeyed the orders of a ruling clique that came to power by force…! As soon as the police closed our dungeon, the “Priest” threw his arms around my neck and congratulated me on my stay during the hearing.
– Congratulations, he told me, – for the composure and the truths you said! Any of us would find it difficult, especially when such trials take place, in groups. The first always has difficulty. His attitude will be reflected in others, in the face of a formal tribunal, where political punishments are usually pre-determined by senior authority’s sees all ! In fact, today I knew who you are … I knew you as Bedri, as two brothers, that you are a model of anti-communist youth, from a patriotic family, but your maturity and intelligence, for your age, today, amazed me. Day to defend with dignity your actions and goals, but not only…! However, this thing makes me as happy as it makes me sad. Communists kill the good, the smart and the beautiful. Communists are without ideals, without god, without homeland. They, because they know you well, appreciate you, so they put you first on the list, with the intention of eliminating you…!
The cops opened the dungeon door to give us lunch. They filled our cups full of beans…! They even gave us bread from two rations…! This was the second surprise for us. What about this?
– Do not be surprised, “Priest” was explaining to me, historically well-wishers have been strong people, they have not agreed with any regime that violated their property, trust in God and independence. They swear more than anyone for the “Flag of the Fatherland”. Do not rely on the cops working in our terrible prisons. They are selected from poor families, economically and morally, especially in Good Days.
Rest assured, as I am, that these police officers working in the internal service would never agree to torture political prisoners in prisons. The counter lid was opened and one of the policemen invited the “Priest” to approach the counter. He gave her something wrapped in newspaper.
– One of your accomplices had a meeting and he gave me this for Bedri…! Memorie.al
Continues in the next issue