By Taisa Batkina Pine
Memorie.al/ publishes the unknown story of the Russian Taisa Batkina (Pine), originally from Tula, Russia, the third child of a very poor rural family, who was left an orphan at a very young age, after her father lost his life while working in one of the coal galleries on the outskirts of Tula, where he worked as a miner (shortly after escaping arrest, accused of “supporting the enemies of the people”) and she grew up with difficulty great economic, as their city continued to be under the bombardment of German forces, which had reached as far as near Kursk. Taisa graduated from the Faculty of Chemistry, near the ‘Lomonosov’ University of Moscow, where she met and married the Albanian student, Gaqo Pisha, originally from the city of Korça, who at that time was studying at the Faculty of Philosophy in Moscow and both together in 1957, they returned to Albania, together with their newborn son, Sasha, and began life in the city of Tirana, where Taisa was appointed as a professor of Chemistry at the State University of Tirana, while Gaqo, in the chair of Marxism- where they worked until 1976, when the State Security arrested Taisa Batkina on fabricated charges, accusing her of being a “Soviet KGB agent” and sentencing her to 16 years in political prison, which she suffered. in the “Women’s Prison” in the city “Stalin”, from where she was released in 1986, while her husband, Gaqo Pisha, had died in 1983, from a serious illness. The tragic story of Taisa Batkina (Pine), in the inhuman camps and prisons of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime, where she spent a decade of her life, along with many compatriots from the former Soviet Union, or other Eastern European countries, comes through her memories, published in a book entitled “We hoped and survived”, memories which, her son, Aleksandër Pisha, kindly offered her for publication, in Memorie.al
We hoped and survived
I dedicate it to the bright memory of my husband, GAQO PISHA
This is a book of memories. In it I want to tell about my life and that of my friends, Soviet women, who tried prison for several years just because they got the courage and got married and linked their fate with that of Albanian students. The prison was part of the great GULAG in the small Balkan country, Albania, where for many years the bloody communist regime of Enver Hoxha ruled, who was a loyal student of Stalin and a follower of his cause.
Through this book I would like everyone to learn about the inhuman trials we experienced and the horrible years we spent in Albanian prisons, just because we… fell in love! And let no one ever forget what totalitarianism, despotism is and what the consequences of this system are.
Continued from the previous issue
However, compared to the plethora of lies and nonsense with which investigators filled our indictment, this report resembled a harmless joke. The confrontation left a deep impression on me. I had the opportunity to convince once again that I was convicted, everything was well thought out and invented beforehand. Nothing could save me. Mandin, who was barely playing with his legs, with his hands handcuffed, was brought as a witness to our trial, where instead, another person read the testimony; he was unable to speak. Mandi spent 12 years in prison, fell ill and died shortly after his release. We had half an hour of walking a day. Sometimes we enjoyed this right; they took us out, to get some air. For the walk, the flat roof of the building was divided into small cages with a 2 meter high wall. On that wall, we hung clothes to dry when we were given the opportunity to wash them. One day, almost 6 months after my arrest, I recognized Vola’s dress hanging on the wall. My soul was crushed: “O God, they have arrested Vola, what can I do? Too bad! “They want to create an espionage group; they will do with us, as they did with Nadja, Nina and Zoja.” Vola was my closest friend in Albania. She graduated from the Faculty of Geology at Moscow State University; she also studied for a postgraduate degree. When she came to Albania in 1955, she was the only specialist in the field of geology laboratories. Vola set up a geology laboratory in Albania, defended his PhD dissertation in the Soviet Union and trained new staff. Relevant analyzes were made in this laboratory for all constructions in Albania, from residential houses to dams and hydropower plants. Until 1976, Vola was a necessary and valuable cadre, and in ’76 it became necessary for… prison!
The investigation was very serious, for many months he did not accept anything, he denied the entire broccoli that the investigators said. However, the loneliness, the calls to the investigators in the middle of the night, the beatings these all these led him to such a state, where he signed every protocol without reading it, even white sheets. Meanwhile, I was also accused of espionage. From that moment on, the heaviest part of the investigation began. Investigators relied on the fact that when the Russian embassy was still there, we went there to meet with the consul. That was true, we were extending passport deadlines, getting visas and invitations for our people… so on. What espionage?! At the embassy we were called traitors who had left the homeland. But no one even wanted to hear my objections. We have recruited a consul! And, when I told them, why does the Soviet Union need spies like me, who know neither the military nor comrades in charge; what data can I give, when I know about Albania only what the newspapers write, the investigators laughed and told me that there, in the Soviet Union, everyone is our enemy, for them every data is valuable. The questions were in vain than the other: “Why didn’t he leave when the embassy left? You stayed on duty, huh? Who are the people whose names you mentioned in your letters? Why did you go to the Czech embassy? And they did not accept any of my answers. When I told them that we were going to the embassy to extend the validity of passports, one of the investigators slapped me and shouted: “Lie”! This work was not over. I thought there was a greater possibility that the relevant Soviet authorities would have recruited agents among the Albanians, among those who could do the work for them. But these agents must be caught, unmasked, and here… he catches some poor women, mothers, wives, bursts in jail, do so that they do not have the strength to resist and… here you have the spies! Easy and simple! And there is no need to seek, to find, to seize. You can kill several birds at once; shows the world that the Soviet Union does its best to harm Albania, that Soviet people (in our case Soviet women) are bad people, worthless, spies, who have betrayed their families. And, finally, hang on the chest decorations, high ranks for excellent work.
I do not remember exactly how many months after the day of my arrest and after I was accused of espionage, which I completely denied, they filed another lawsuit against me. One day, out of the ordinary, in solitude, the door opened and I was taken to the investigators. They started with the usual request, to tell them about my espionage activity. I replied again that I had nothing to say. Then the investigators seemed to forget me and started arguing among themselves. This happened often, it was one of the ways of interrogation. I sat with my head down. Suddenly, like a slap in the face, Fatos’s savage shout whispered in my ear: “And why do you insist, we know, that you are not only a spy, but also a saboteur”! I remained speechless. “O God,” it occurred to me, “what is this sabotage, what do they demand of me after all these baseless accusations?” “What sabotage”?! – I shouted, as much as I had in my head. “Go to the cell, think hard and come and tell us everything,” Fatosi shouted and called the guard. My strength was exhausted after so many months of loneliness, torture, ridicule. I barely reached the cell, sat on the dirty mattress. “What sabotage”?! I thought about all my work in Albania. I knew that I had worked with all my strength, honestly, I had devoted everything to the work, all my knowledge, I had tried to bring as much benefit as possible. “Where could they have been caught, what else could they have invented?” – I asked myself. But I could not find an answer. A couple of days later, late in the evening, they called me. “Hey, did you remember”? “I have nothing to remember.” Fejzo tried to hit me, but stopped. “Get up! You will stand on your feet until you remember! ” “What do I remember?” “I have never done anything wrong.” “Well, you will spend the night on foot”!
I stayed. My legs ached, my veins swelled. I was fainting. I held on to the table. “Do not rely”! I stayed. I do not know how many hours. Investigators muttered, swapping each other. I was finally taken to the cell. I fell powerlessly to the floor and immediately fell asleep. At 6 o’clock he woke up. They did not let me lie down anymore. This torture was repeated several times. I was once told that my wrongdoing took place at the Wood Factory, where I worked for the last five years. I thought of everything I had done in the combine, all the tasks. I had worked in the paper and cardboard factory, I equipped the laboratory there, I became its manager, I was responsible for the quality of the production. I worked in the technology bureau, where I dealt with all the problems of the combine related to chemistry; we produced a new, synthetic adhesive, I got into painting, varnishing and imitating wood for furniture production and other problems. “What did they invent?” The next time I was questioned, the investigator read to me the report written by an associate of mine, an engineer (I am not mentioning his name), on my subversive activity, which became the basis for the accusation of “sabotage”. To make it clearer where the accusation was based, I am writing about this in more detail. The paper produced in our factory was of a very low quality. We decided to improve the quality of the paper and tried to introduce a complementary processing method, impregnation. I gathered the necessary literature, elaborated the methodology. But our work did not bring the desired results, equipment was lacking, paper quality did not improve and we decided to give up this work.
Now he was blaming me for sabotage! As if I had deliberately hindered it, intentionally it, I had not increased the quality of the paper, I had damaged the production. The blame was stupid. I revolted and desperately desperately. If you blame the person for something like this, you can accuse him of whatever else you want. I told investigators that this accusation is stupid from beginning to end. I started telling them how we worked, what literature we used. I asked other specialists to ask. At first they refused to listen to me, shouted at me, threatened me, and then asked me to write all my depositions on the matter. (Apparently, they had ordered me to drop this charge from above). I wrote it all down in detail and after a week, I was told that this charge has dropped. I was shown the conclusions of the engineer Petro Dishnica, where he rejected all the data placed on the basis of the crazy charge. He called them empty and unfounded. I breathed a sigh of relief. That same month full of war and effort cost me dearly, I was terribly tired, I lost the ability to reason and resist. After the work of “sabotage” came to naught, they started to kill the espionage version from the beginning. Endless interrogations, sleepless nights, scream, insults, beatings… The prosecutor often came to take an active part in the investigation; even at night, on Sundays and on public holidays. He demanded, shouted, threatened.
I was threatened with being shot, 25 years in prison, the arrest of my relatives and their deportation. And he constantly demanded, demanded, that I sign the lie fabricated by him and the investigators. I do not know if the law allowed the prosecutor to participate in the investigation. My prosecutor, he had permission! My investigation took place under the “supervision of the prosecutor”. But the supervision of the prosecutor did not see how our investigation was conducted, how they mocked us, how they made fun of us, how they tortured us; did not want to see how they forced us to sign interrogation protocols without reading them, even white sheets. Not only did he not see them, but he also intervened in the investigation process himself. Every 3 months, the prosecutor increased the term of the investigation, which for me lasted almost a year and a half. In my soul I felt very bad; complete isolation, constant concern for children and sick husband! It was also a consequence of the lies I had to sign. In the next interrogation, I stated that everything I had signed, regarding the espionage activity, was a lie from beginning to end. I asked for a sheet of paper where I wrote that I deny everything previously signed. Immediately after that, the screams and threats started. I was sent back to my cell. A few days passed and one Sunday, when I was more or less calm (usually on Sundays very rarely questioned), the door suddenly opened. “Get up! Come on! ” ordered the gritted teeth, the guardian. We walked down the hall, but instead of the usual path to the investigator, they led me to a window. “Look,” my sick husband, who could barely stand, caught my eye in the prison yard. He was talking to the investigator. I do not know what the two of them were talking about, when suddenly a terrible thought came to my mind: “My husband in prison! They arrested him”! But he looked normal, had no handcuffs on his hands. “No, they did not arrest him,” I reassured myself.
A minute later, someone stabbed me in the back and I heard a voice: “Walk”! I could barely hold back the tears. The prosecutor was sitting in the investigator’s office. He started yelling at me to sign all the protocols and not dare to deny, for espionage work. This work lasted several hours. Finally, the prosecutor shouted wearily: “Did you see your husband? Look! Just so you know… we have the order signed for the expulsion of your family from Tirana. Sign up! Otherwise, within 24 hours, they will be in the most lost village”! I imagined my sick husband and my exiled sons. (In Albania, internment was worse than imprisonment). I could not stand this. This was a rather difficult period of investigation. A legend had to be made up; my depositions had to be copied with those of Vola. Vola had not accepted anything. They had thrown some bullets in the cell… as if they were from me. They falsified the investigators. Vola for a long time did not trust the compasses, denied everything. But we were just weak, tormented, hungry women. The police car was much stronger than us. At that time I learned in horror that another friend of ours, Mina, had been included in our group. I did not know he had been arrested. I later learned that her husband, the director of a large construction department, had also been arrested. I do not know why they had to include Mina in our accusation. I do not know how to explain. Mina did not accept anything and the investigators decided that they could try him even without accepting. And they did that in court.
In early August 1977, the urgent preparation of our file for trial began. Investigators were in a hurry, but could not determine exactly whether we were Soviet or Albanian citizens. The indictment was rewritten several times, they did not know how to say “which homeland we had betrayed”, in which article of the Criminal Code to include us! Most of all, the prosecutor tried and behaved around him. From September 1, 1977, the new Criminal Code came into force, in which the confiscation of property was annulled. Of course, occurring in complete isolation, we could not have known this. The prosecutor was in a hurry to close the investigation and take us to court before September 1, to confiscate even the few clothes left in the house. The prosecutor not only carried out the order, but was glad he could make fun of us a little more. During the investigation, from the word that escaped someone, I learned that the prosecutor had studied in the Soviet Union. Now his whole being was filled with animal fear, that he would not be fired, that he would not be expelled, that he would not be arrested, that he would not suffer the fate of thousands of others, who had little to do with the Soviet Union, hatred towards us, self-humiliation, which multiplied this hatred. After nearly a year of loneliness, after fear, torture, humiliation and the unknown, I did not feel better mentally; I had completely lost the ability to resist, nor did I want to know under what article I would be judged and how many years I would be given. From the first day of my arrest, I was clear that our destinies were set… up, that they would not let us go without judging us. Tortured, weak, gray, I eagerly awaited the trial. I knew that the judgment would be cruel, merciless, and unjust to us, that no good should be expected of him, but he was inevitable. I hoped that after the trial they would allow me a meeting with my family.
I could hardly wait for the moment when I would get out of the cell, go to the camp, and be among the people. In August we were informed of the indictment and ordered to memorize the legend of the lawsuit. Everything there was fabricated and now I cannot remember any details. We (me Vola and Mina) were accused of two articles: “agitation and propaganda” and “espionage in the service of a foreign state”. The day of judgment has come. We were escorted there, each by three overseers, but without handcuffs. The guards took care that we did not exchange a word with each other. And the trial began, which I would fearlessly call comedy, if it were not for the terrible tragedy for us. The trial was closed. Only our investigators and guards were in the hall. The presiding judge was not an ordinary judge, but the presiding judge of the Tirana Court (for the trial to take on special importance). The other two members, the most loyal and the. Thickest. I am reminded of their glassy eyes, without a point of expression, and their pigeon face. The accusatory speech of the prosecutor contained ordinary slogans of that time: “Our people, under the far-sighted leadership of the ALP, led by comrade Enver Hoxha, have achieved excellent victories. These victories made Albania the only socialist country in the world, which holds the flag of Marxism-Leninism unblemished. The enemies inside and outside the country, do what is possible, to liquidate our achievements, to annihilate the popular power… etc, etc ”! Slogans mixed with “facts of our espionage activity”. The prosecutor did not blush because he had no facts, no witnesses, and no activity. He tried to humiliate us as much as possible. He not only carried out the order, but experienced pleasure that could humiliate us, judge us, give us as long prison terms as possible.
An atmosphere of fear and violence reigned in the courtroom. After the prosecutor’s speech, we, frightened, stammered our plea deposits. Some of our friends had been brought from the prison to the courtroom, who testified about some worthless conversations, which they took as evidence of “agitation and propaganda”. That’s it! No witnesses or evidence for espionage activities. The fabricated legends were just ridiculous. It was clear that we did not know any secrets, so we had nothing to give. We were told that we had been recruited to the Soviet embassy and made reports there, but the embassy had been away for 15 years. Where were the glorious Albanian security guards, during all these years, why hadn’t they caught us before?! There were many such absurdities and these accusations could easily be refuted by a simple lawyer. That is why there were no lawyers in Albania. This was a very similar trial to many others in Albania and, of course, in the Soviet Union. Albanian bodies and courts worked according to the concept developed in the Soviet Union of the ‘30s. In 1937 Vishinski, the Prosecutor General of the USSR said that absolute truth is in principle impossible to find, so we must be content with the relative. This universal law is also for investigators. No time should be wasted on finding absolute evidence and reliable witnesses. The investigator can prove guilt only by relying on his own mind and party scent. Meanwhile, the “queen of evidence” was announced the statement of the defendant. How these allegations were made is not difficult to understand. The task of the investigation and the court was not to find justice, but to prove the charge, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. I found out much later that our investigators and the prosecutor were very afraid that we would deny our depositions, but we were done on time. Fear, loneliness, hunger had taken over. The decision was announced at the next session. I was sentenced to 16 years in prison, Vola 15, and Mina 14.
I tried nothing but complete emptiness and heedlessness. A few days later Gaqoja and Kosta came to meet me. They told me that Sasha had been taken as a soldier. They both cried, and I tried not to shed tears. They knew about the court decision and were in a very serious condition. I waited for them to come to the meeting again, but no one appeared. I was worried, asked for an appointment with the investigator and asked him how things were at home. After a few days Gaqoja came to the meeting alone, without Costa. He told me that Costa was sick. Later, after many years, Costa told me how he had cried that day, after the first meeting, and that he did not find the strength to come to prison a second time. At that meeting, Gaqoja told me that they were asking him to share with me. Otherwise, both he and the boys would suffer. What can I say? And I could not hold back the tears. Gaqoja put his hand in his pocket, took out some money and handed it to me. “No,” said the guard, “you can only send money to the camp by post.” I was sent back to prison. Two days later I was taken to a shared cell, where I met Vola. She told me that her family had been forced to deny her and no one came to the meeting, no one helped her. Throughout her years in prison, as long as she had the strength, she worked in the field. In prison we had a common economy; we honestly shared everything we had. That helped us survive. Vola had a hard time even after his release from prison, because we were not rehabilitated, we were just released on amnesty. The children were afraid to communicate with him and help him. In 1988, she was able to go to Moscow…! /Memorie.al
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