From Luan Rexha
The third part
– Memoirs of a retired journalist –
Memorie.al / Luan Rexha is a well-known journalist on the staff of the newspaper “Giornale di Sicilia” and “Ansa” in Italy. Despite his Italian education, in his heart there is a lot of longing for Albania. The book that is being presented to the reader contains a collection of articles that reflect the communist period in Albania in 1967. As the author himself claims, he was the first western journalist who was granted a visa to visit Albania and do a panorama of the country, related to the relations between Enver Hoxha’s communist Albania and the People’s Republic of China led by Mao Zedong. In these articles, there is no lack of autobiographical elements, which further enrich the framework of the events. They also appear in his novel known to the Albanian reader: “Death has blue eyes”, under the guise of journalist Michele Sermonti, in the role of the main character. The author left Albania in his mother’s arms, when he was only ten months old, to start a new life in Sicily and only in 1967, he was given the opportunity to return to Tirana, to meet his grandmother and his relatives, whom he had never seen before. His career is very diverse: At first as a journalist for “Giornale di Sicilia”, he had to describe Sicily in the Mafia period, the earthquake of 1967 and the Albanian experience. At the same time, his contribution also extends to the field of theater as the author of several pieces and musicals and cinema. This gives him the opportunity to be in contact with people of letters and art. These premises are left-oriented, but the influence on that of Italian communism, which is essentially Western and cannot be reconciled with the totalitarianism of real socialism, is evident. He has to face this during his stay in Albania. It describes the reality of an indoctrinated country where the media was censored. In fact, he notes that Albania had passed from feudalism to communism, without recognizing the bourgeois development. A special place is occupied by analyzes of the way communism is perceived by the Chinese and Albanians. The reality of everyday life appears before his eyes. He admires the work of the people who, although voluntarily, with difficulties and sacrifices, had built railways, etc. Even in the relationships with the people around him, the author has to face the slogans of the regime, which did not correspond to the truth as in the case of the lightning sheets. Also, one of the things that impressed the author is the physical culture of the morning, the funny way of forming lines and moving in harmony with the leaders. Luani cannot even agree with the rigid attitude of Albanian communism, towards religious freedom, objects of worship and beliefs, which is expressed in their closure and the impossibility of practicing religion. So, the picture of Albania is described in vivid colors by the author who has shared life with his compatriots in Albania for a period of several years.
Continues from last issue
Whoever talks about football is a traitor…!
A minister was kicked for a moral charge!
A closed Catholic church!
A bourgeois evening in the “footsteps” of Galeazzo Ciano.
Tirana, March 4
Take an ordinary Westerner, integrated into the civilization of consumption, a man who is full of bills to reach the electro-transistor nirvana of convenience, wake him up at six in the morning and bring him to the yard for half an hour of free body exercises in a cold so that he even curses in his mouth and then go and talk about Marxism-Leninism.
In Albania, along with dreams, the last and remote possibilities to find a common language die as soon as the sun rises. We are two worlds: we have nothing to do. From the point of view of ideological purity, some common point can probably be tried to be found, but with the dogma of forced physical culture we do not agree at all. For those of us who have impossible utopias like the movie club revolutionaries, a “created brain” that orders one-two-three doesn’t pass the test.
“Physical and moral degradation,” they say, but they are wrong. Swollen knuckles have nothing to do with it. In fact, these “mobilizations” of the muscles arouse doubts and bring to mind images of the past: the challenges in the Berlin of the Hitler youth, the debate on the superior race, the leaders, and perfect people in the circles of hell with rowers under the black shirt.
Then the sense of humor. If you look closely at the lines, red as peppers from trying to balance a firm and faded chest of fifty years, the unstoppable march of the proletariat, it is difficult indeed. However, I have tried and now I will tell you what an Italian’s day is like in March 1967, the first year of the Cultural Revolution from the miracle in Tirana, the “Chinese” capital of the Balkans.
At 6:00, all standing. The man who offers me hospitality was tight. He did not know how to explain to me the reason for the anxious awakening. I wander around the conversation a bit, and then the word fitness enters my still foggy brain, like the farewell of a woman who has decided not to stay any longer. I can’t believe it, but half an hour later, I go downstairs with the others to do unusual back pumps and twists.
Those who, like me, are lucky enough to fill their lungs with polar air for the party are old. From one dance to another, I ask the owner of the house for an opinion.
“Only pensioners do physical exercise in the backyard,” he answered in a half-voiced breath, “others must do the exercises in the workplace, in front of the office or in the factory, on the streets or in the squares, in the light of the sun, without exception, because friends know that there are no special treatments for anyone”.
My first convulsions took hold and the startled image of some Italian parliamentarians in shorts appeared before my eyes in front of the Montecitorio.
Finally, the “created brain” gave the “break the lines” sign. Only a hot shower can bring me to my senses, but in the apartments built by the party, there are no shower heaters and no showers. It comforts me when I think that the same problem appears before Comrade Secretary (Enver Hoxha). The houses are built with very strict economic criteria and differ only in the number of rooms.
And they cost very little (two thousand lire per month, equal to one-thirtieth of a worker’s basic salary) and no one is forced to live with the rent of a shared apartment. They are certainly not Hollywood apartments and that is why the Albanians are satisfied. “Before, we lived very badly. Stone houses are traditional before the eyes of tourists, but things change when you have to live inside them. Today, we also have electric light.”
We start from very different positions: what seems to us to be proof of a failure is to them proof of progress, and the reason lies with both sides. A comparative analysis is impossible. There are two realities that must be analyzed separately, choosing the right historical-economic parameters.
Later I took advantage of Zafi’s absence to see things with my own eyes. I walked. The first thing I discovered with some excitement is the sound of my footsteps. Here, the metallic hum of engines does not overshadow the physical presence of people. The air seems to be standing still, it’s a pleasure to talk, but those I meet…!
It’s a shame; we would have a lot to say. I look for foreign newspapers at a kiosk. Not for sale. There are only some Chinese magazines. Buy “Voice of the People”, the official daily, the voice of Enver Hoxha and the party. On the first page there is a letter published by the workers who work at the Durrës Shipyard.
It is a declaration of union with the Cultural Revolution “… we will join forces with those of the youth to eradicate the harmful influences of the past… we have decided to discuss in the plenary meeting, all the errors and prejudices that hold us still far from the Marxist-Leninist truth…”/! That’s enough.
In the exhibition hall of the Palace of Culture I met two Italians. We soon realized that we have the same passport with the same color in our pocket. They come from Fieri. They are engineers and work in the Montecatini (Azotic) factory built to order from the Chinese. We greeted each other and made the same jokes about women.
After hearing complaints about the “Sicilian” element of the Albanian police (“It’s not about free love! They’re looking for a husband”), I found out that a few days ago the “red guards” had closed a Catholic church. The three priests, who for years had resisted the threats of the communist regime, were exiled to an agricultural area.
“They set fire to the sacred furniture and said that the church will be turned into a technical institute. They have no mercy for anyone. Do you know how they justified it? Claiming that in a country where everyone works, it is immoral that there should be prayer professionals. Even your Lord, they add, commanded that you earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. Do you get that? Absurd things. An old believer who had tried to save a statue of St. Mary had yesterday a lot of problems. They were also angry with the son: he lost his job at the factory and they sent him to who knows where. Nothing is known about him anymore”.
It is the other face of the regime, harsh: there is no time to discuss it. The persuasive force has been replaced by the decisive order, the democratic dialectic of opposing views with the continuous elimination of the “incorrigibles”. At 12:00, ideological lectures in the committee. It is Misto Treska, the mayor, who welcomed us. He looks like Carlo Ponti and has two gold teeth: a weakness of the capitalist, which can also cost him exposure to censorship.
He talks about the great progress that Albania has made on the road to industrialization: “After a few years we will achieve economic independence. The country is rich in raw materials and we Albanians are few in number, not even two million inhabitants”.
Listing the regime’s successes, Treska perks up, smiles and shows off another gold tooth. In my moment of excitement, I let the word “freedom” slip. Without spoiling the blood, he lit a cigarette with strongly scented tobacco, crossed his legs and answered me with another question.
“Tell me, you Westerners believe you are free”? “We try to be.” “You believe, but you mess up…a high official steals? You denounce it in the newspapers; scandal breaks out; Parliament convenes and then? What’s happening? Nothing. Everything remains as before. Power is firmly held in the hands of your masters, and you are left with only the autonomy that is left to a dog, held by a tight chain: which barks.
“In addition to the chain, you have also muzzled the dog.” “That’s what you think.” “Do you know what lightning bolts are?” No? “Okay, I’ll explain with an example. If a factory worker has been treated badly by his manager. Once, twice, three times. When he is sure that the manager’s arrogance is not the result of a particular emotional state, but rather the result of excessive self-confidence, the worker writes his accusation and posts it where everyone can see it. The next morning, there is a public debate. When other workers consider the criticism contained in the posted sheet valid, the party is informed, which takes immediate measures.”
“What kind of measures?” “Remember: we kill nobody. In a case like this, the director taken as an example, moves to an agricultural area. He will tire himself for a few months working the land and give up his arrogance towards the working class. On the other hand, it is not a very severe punishment. In Albania, everyone has to do physical work for one month a year. Even Comrade Enver Hoxha and others who have the responsibility to govern us.
Even mostly them. Because listen, we have to live the life of the masses to understand the problems and needs and then because of equality: we cannot accept hierarchies between intellectuals, workers and peasants. Returning to the word “freedom”, I want to tell you a fact that in the West, many would not believe, but which happened a few days ago here in Tirana.
A minister has been accused by a citizen of using a state car for his personal purposes. The party has investigated and discovered that the minister in question often made long trips by car to meet his son at the State’s expense. It was immediately decided to remove the car and today he walks to work. For us, this is freedom and even more justice”.
An hour later, in front of the “Crimea” Bar, I remembered Treska’s discussion about the minister. There is a leaf-lightning. A certain Ali Madhi wrote in red letters: “The sportsmen who frequent this bar are dangerous traitors to Marxism-Ieninism: they waste time talking about football instead of working and producing for the State. The party must intervene. It must ‘stop these bastards corrupting our youth’.
I want to ask the chairman of the Committee (Misto Treska), if this is freedom, if it is right to see heresy everywhere, even in a harmless sphere made of leather. Who has ever heard of a Dominican friar called Torquemada who in the 16th century brought out a shocking collective game: the witch hunt. In the evening they prepared a surprise for me: after dinner I will go to the “tavern” of Hotel “Dajti”, the only big hotel in Tirana and the only bourgeois entertainment that the square offers.
Sitting in a salon full of mirrors and white lights, I am not surprised to learn that the hotel was built under the direction of Galeazzo Ciano. Now there are three pairs on the bright board. They are the happy people of Marxism-Leninism. Over a table full of bottles of wine from the coast, a group of Yugoslav diplomats make loud comments about the elegant line of ladies present. Those who dance have, according to the circumstances, an appearance that tends to be sad.
Is it perhaps the pity that they are taking precious minutes away from the needs of the party? And that’s why they shouldn’t feel guilty. After all, the party was there, among the gilded tapestries, in the gelled hair of the 40s-fashionable tenor, in the passionate violin “solos,” in the restless gaze of the drummer, who he knows he has an instrument in his hand that is best used with care because it is so American. Even the members of the complex are State officials.
One of the dancers approaches her, squeezes his partner and lifts her military-style suit jacket. They perform a “slow” dance with a strange rhythm from tarantella to slow motion. The woman is powerful, there is no doubt that she does not have make up and of course an excellent girl of the new Albania, but completely deprived of being sexy.
Pay without leaving a tip, otherwise it would be a very serious insult. It’s freezing outside and of course, not even a taxi can be seen. I started walking. The wind coming from the mountain spits snowflakes on the Government Palace, on the nameless flats where the Chinese specialists sleep, on the billboards weaving hymns to the revolution, on the lightning sheets of the Red Guards, on the trees that were planted by some peasant from Lercara Friddi , transformed into a legionnaire.
There are no people on the streets, not even policemen. Republic Square, which lacks the lights of the Palace of Culture, looks deserted. Now even the wind has a strong voice. The delicate structure of the minaret trembles. Even the moon is cold. Only the face of the Georgian dictator remains calm: in his always brilliant bronze, Comrade Stalin continues to smile.
Euros. Overview of European life. It was such a voice, from which it was understood that the throat of the man and the throat of the mountain for a long time, had agreed to eliminate the differences between them.
And after that he heard other voices always more distant, reaching as far as the groans of the stars. Besides, the voice and the words were such that they seemed to be used equally by the living and the dead…! Memorie.al
(Translated and prepared by: Alvin Saraçi)