By Aleksandr Ndoja
– An unusual confession by Mihal Pumo, about his life in Mirdita, after he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in political prison, his mother, Nina Pumo, professor of the University of Tirana…! –
Memorie.al / It were September 1977, when I started the fifth grade in the town of Rrëshen. We had a tutor teacher, Jolanda Bajramin, language and literature teacher. Most of the students were local, from the city and surrounding villages where there were no 8-year schools. But some of the students from the city came from other areas of the country, whose parents had come to Rrëshen with different jobs, such as doctors, agronomists, engineers, teachers, policemen, etc. In my class there were also two boys, one of whose parents was of foreign nationality, but the communist regime had declared them “enemies of the people” and had arrested them. They were my classmates, Mihal Pumo with a Russian mother, and Orest Kalaj, with a Greek father. Both were orphans, with living parents, but in prison!
Continues from last issue
Mihal, did you feel that you were being watched and how were you treated in Përlat. What about the common people, did anyone support you?
The survey in Upper Përlat was neither more nor less, like in Rrëshen. There was power, but there were also plenty of good people. The locals were mostly good and respectful people. There, in fact, I met one of the dearest friends I have to this day, Martin Sulejman, who was a barber there and we played chess all day.
I am proud that in those difficult times, I told him that; “Soon the day will come when all the people will be free and we will see another world with our eyes.” Honestly, from the age of 9, together with my brother and father, we listened to Elez Biberaj of “Voice of America”, – and the hope and hatred for that regime kept us alive…! As Nietzsche said – what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
When did you leave for the Soviet Union and how did you learn that communism was falling in Albania as well?
I left Albania with my father on October 4, 1990. So I had been in the Soviet Union for a few months, when the student revolts started…! To tell you the truth, when I saw the bust of “Koftalarg” (Dictator Enver Hoxha), fall, my heart cried that I was not there and, if possible, with a “Kalashnikov” in my hand…!
It’s hard to describe now…! Losing your freedom is everything, it doesn’t compare to hunger or disease, it’s much worse. You may remember Albano’s song “Liberta” on this occasion. The words in that text are very significant.
When did you move to freedom for the first time, and how do you remember leaving Prelati?
We were removed from exile, only at the end of April 1990! They opened the door for me that I intended to escape. For me, such a thing did not exist because, I owe a lot to my brother, that entire he did for all of us. And I would leave him?! Never!
When for the first time after the exile I boarded the train in Milot – it seemed strange to me that there were so many people around me, I had become like a savage, I could not get enough of the feeling of freedom, that I could move freely, that I no longer had to sign to the office of the cooperative…!
Where did you go first after leaving Prelati?
After Përlat, we went to Tirana where we temporarily stayed with my aunt. The first thing we did was again the request to leave the Soviet Union. We went to wait at the embassy of Czechoslovakia (which represented the interests of the Soviet Union, since we did not have diplomatic relations and they did not have an embassy in Tirana). We were welcomed by the ambassador himself who paid us all the respects and saying: -“If only you knew, how much we have been looking for you, and how much we have tried to release you…”?!
Then we started selling all the furniture and belongings we had to buy two tickets to Moscow since we were not allowed to buy tickets for our mother in the Soviet Union. It was painful to realize that all the sweat of the parents for almost three decades turned into two plane tickets…! But my ordeal did not end here…!
Why, what happened to you next?!
On July 8, 1990, I was walking with a friend on the hills of the lake in Tirana (it was the time of the embassies) – and we were approached by a police van…! They caught us without giving any explanation…! They were some State Security officers and a policeman who, it turned out, knew me well. It was from our neighborhood in New Tirana, a certain Ben Romano, who is behind my brother’s class. So the capture was no accident.
My friend was released after a while, while I was taken to Tirana prison. It is difficult even today to describe what happened there…! I remember a long corridor where, in every meter, there was a sampist who, with sticks and fists, shot every victim they brought…! After this hell, they took me to a torture chamber without a roof, the temperature was over 40 degrees, they pulled out my hair with their hands, piece by piece, they punched me in the face, just because I answered them why I have outer clothes, because, I have people outside.
Then, as I was tied to the chair, they hit me again and I fell with the whole chair and hit my head on the cement and passed out…! I thought that, and they might kill me that night…! I believe that they didn’t mind doing this, since we were already under the supervision of the Czech embassy, and there would be a fuss…! Late at night, half-dead, they dumped me near the lake, in some bushes. So, even after we got the visa to leave, the ordeal was not over…?
What happened to you after they left?
I don’t know how long I lay there, but I returned home at dawn. After that, I lost something I had always had… patience and prudence. I began to speak openly against the regime, which before, I did more cautiously. But even here, our “adventure” did not end….! We were approved to leave, we bought the tickets, we came to Rinas and where they told us that; we do not allow you to escape, because you are not on the list of the Ministry of the Interior…! It was clear that they were mocking and trying to break us…!
You were not allowed to leave Albania…?!
Although we had an open ticket, the plane left without us. A week later, the same thing again, bringing us obstacles…! Then about 20 minutes before the departure, those from the State Security say to the father: -“You can leave”! – The father replied that: I don’t go anywhere without my son. Another 10 minutes passed and finally, they tell us: – “Good, you can go…”!
I remember like now, that red alley leading to the plane…! I walked and closed my eyes, thinking – now they will empty the “Kalashnikov” on our backs…! Then we got on the plane – and when the plane took off – it was the phobia again – what if they crash it…! After an hour we were in Budapest. When we got off the plane, I instinctively turned my head back to make sure there were no State Security spies following us from behind…!
Only after that I took my mind off the ordeal that destroyed thousands of innocent people’s destinies. I lost in that hell all my childhood, the most beautiful years of my youth, but we survived! The rest of life would go on completely differently. I was free in the first place!
When did you meet your mother and brother and how do you remember that moment?
They were anxiously waiting for us at the Moscow airport. We arrived from Budapest, and I was impressed at the passport control, I happily greeted the passport control policeman. He didn’t even answer me back…! I was very impressed by that man, with the inappropriate behavior he showed towards me…! Then we got out of there and it was an indescribable joy! Mom, because she knew that I really liked sweets, had accumulated a drawer full of different chocolates…! After a week, I thought that the most slandered thing in the world is chocolates…! Man quickly gets used to the good…! Soon I started my studies at the University of Foreign Languages, which I have always had a passion for, an opportunity that was denied to me in Albania. I finished university with excellent grades.
Now, where do you live most and how do you keep in touch with Albania, with your relatives here?
Since I left until now, I live in Moscow. I have never severed ties with Albania. I even went back in 1993 and was extremely disappointed…! Those who had tortured and tormented us a lot were already removed as democrats…! I searched and found that policeman who was in the van at the time and asked him the names of those criminals who were in the van. He promised me that he would give it to me, but the next day he hid and was never seen again…!
After that, the desire to visit Albania often disappeared…! Another 17 years passed, when a friend of mine filled my mind again, to return to the Motherland. Fortunately, I did not lose my citizenship, despite the fact that when I left, it was mandatory to give up my Albanian citizenship. Perhaps with the chaos at the time, this was not applied and I regained my Albanian citizenship easily.
Now I come to Albania almost every year and I have a lot of friends (and of course also friends). I also have cousins that I meet myself. Moreover, I am a representative of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tirana, in Moscow. In this era, when politics prevails over the economy, I would very much like to contribute to the normal economic development between the two countries, with mutual interest, without referring to the political conjunctures.
What about in the Soviet Union, how was your mother, Nina Pumo, received when she arrived there in 1987 and was she treated more humanely after the suffering she had gone through here, under Albanian communism?
Mom was generally treated well, moreover, at that time, my grandfather (Mom’s father), who was a university professor in Moscow, was still living. We found our apartment almost where the parents still live today. The grandfather lived 96 years and managed to see the return of his only daughter to his homeland, while unfortunately, our grandmother (on the mother’s side), did not manage to see her daughter and grandchildren again, as she died when the mother was still in prison here in Albania…!
As far as I’m concerned, I want to say that I neither expected nor received any privilege. In the 90s in Russia, with the advent of democracy, there was also a kind of indifference to everything. For the sake of truth, with my mother’s efforts, it became possible for me to start my studies at the most prestigious university for foreign languages in Russia.
So, the Russian state did not approach you with any help or relief measures, given all the suffering and vicissitudes that your family had gone through in Albania?
Regarding the ordeal we went through in Albania, no privilege, no one, never wanted to know, here I mean the official representatives of that time. As it seems to them, we were just “ball fodder”…! In my personal opinion, the Soviet regime also has its responsibilities, for the horrors that their citizens went through in the countries where they were.
No one and never was interested in the black fate of Soviet women in Albania. For them, the main thing was that Albania was not with America…! Who cares about people…! Only in the era of Perestroika, things began to change somewhat. So did I, I started to build everything from scratch! But hey, I finally had the right to an education! Memorie.al