Memorie.al/publishes the unknown story of Tom Mërnaçaj, originally from Selca e Vermoshit and born in Tuz, Montenegro, where the family of his father, Gjek Mërnaçaj, had settled since 1948, after they had fled Albania for to escape the persecution of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime, which had declared their family a ‘reactionary family’. The rare testimony of 68-year-old Tom Mërnaçaj, starting with the history of his anti-communist family, the circumstances of the acquaintance with Avdul Banushi in the United States of America, his invitation and the reason why he agreed to come with a secret mission to communist Albania Enver Hoxha, the concrete tasks he would perform, the itinerary of his travels with Banushi in different European countries, the incident with the border police in the Port of Dubrovnik, where they were seized the propaganda material of the organization ‘Albanian Anti-Stalinist Resistance Front’, the trip to Greece and their stay in Igoumenitsa and Ioannina, in the luxury villas of Nikola Plasoti and Lufter Guveli, where Banushi was received with honors and was like a man of the house, the failure of the first mission to enter Albania, on November 28 ’74, the return to the USA and the train incident in Skopje, where the Yugoslav police seized their bags with weapons, the second secret mission to come back to Albania, the physical conflict with Banushi, near the clone near Hani i Hotit, the arrest by the Albanian border guards and their sending to Shkodra and then to Tirana, the investigation process, imprisonment and then leaving Albania again, until the vicissitudes of big wandering in different European countries, to arrive back in the US, after that crazy adventure ?!
After Avdul Banushi and I had failed in an attempt to enter Albania illegally in November 1974, the “comrades up there” of the “Albanian Anti-Stalinist Resistance Front” decided that we should go back to Albania in April. of 1975 and I accepted such a thing, thinking that I owed him a debt to repay him. After leaving the US by plane, we arrived in Greece, where we were supplied with weapons by Mr. Lefter Guveli, who was a close friend of Avdul Banushi. From Igoumenitsa where Lefter Guveli lived, we went to Athens where we took the train and went to Yugoslavia, from where we then traveled to Podgorica, where my family lived, my father, mother and brother. In the evening of April 6-7, 1975, after sleeping one night in my house, the next evening late, we crossed Tuz and set off towards the Albanian border, about two-three km. near him. There I told my father, Gjeka, to return home, as I more or less knew the place, since we were there near my uncle’s village, where I had spent my childhood. After my father returned, Avdul Banushi and I crossed the border and, under the sound of high voltage wires, sat down in the direction of Hani i Hotit. After walking about two or three km, we reached the clone. When I saw the clone, four meters high, I forgot the pride I had set off for and fear entered my heart. It is understood that at that time I was twenty years old and apart from hatred for communism inherited from my family, I had no other reason to enter Albania. There I told Avdul to return as we had returned a year ago and to keep secret our “entry” and “exit” from Albania, until the Albanian border guards catch us and kill us. At that moment, Avdulit, revolted and aimed his pistol muzzle at me. When I saw the pistol aimed at me, for a moment I was shocked, but I collected myself and reacted by… “!
This is how 68-year-old Tom Mërnacaj, who lives in the United States of America, recounts, among other things, that distant event and his crazy adventure, who tells the story of his family and his 1975 adventure, when he was starts with Avdul Banushi, from the USA, to cross the border and enter Albania illegally, with a secret mission, following the task and occasional instructions they had received in the committee of the organization “Albanian Anti-Stalinist Resistance Front” in New York.
Who is Tom Mërnaçi, what is his family’s past and why did his father and uncle escape from Albania in 1948 and settle in Tuz, Montenegro? What were the reasons for his escape from Yugoslavia to the US and how did he meet Avdul Banushi? Why did Toma agree to work with Avdul, and what is the history of their travels from the United States to Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia? What is the truth of their last trip in April 1975, when they left the US to enter Albania illegally with a secret mission? What was the itinerary they traversed during that trip, who were the people they met in Greece and where were they supplied with the weapons they would need with them when they entered Albania? What is Tom Mërnaçaj’s assessment of Avdul Banushi and why did he decide to speak publicly, giving his versions in this interview, which Memorie.al is publishing?
Continued from the previous issue
Mr. Mërnaçaj, how did you decide to come with Avdul Banushi on a mission in Albania?
At that time I was only 21 years old and after all that he told us, many of the emigrants from our district insisted that I come with him to Albania. Not only because of my friends’ insistence, but also because of Banushi’s prayers, I agreed to come with him to Albania. So it was Banush’s persistent proposal and the security he provided that made me embark on that adventure.
Specifically, what security did Banushi provide?
He spoke extensively and authoritatively about the circle and its acquaintances in American organs and their military bases around the world. He also said that he had connections with anti-communist bases in Albania, where among them there were people of the Albanian State Security, who were ready to undermine the regime of Enver Hoxha from within. These things filled my mind to start the adventure with Banush.
How many trips have you made with Avdul Banushi and on what itineraries?
I made two trips with Banushi, one in November 1974 and the other in April 1975, where we were both caught on the Albanian border.
What can you tell us about your first trip in November 1974?
After making the necessary preparations, in November 1974, Avdul Banushi and I flew from the United States to Albania.
What itinerary did you travel on?
We traveled from New York to Rome and then from Rome to Bari and from Bari to Dubrovnik. We made this diversion, because I had family in Yugoslavia and I had the opportunity to meet them. At the port of Dubrovnik, we had a very serious incident.
Specifically, what incident?
When we got off, I went ahead, while Avduli, who was behind, was caught by the service police. This came because he had in his hand the bag with the leaflets of FRASH (Albanian Anti-Stalinist Resistance Front) which the Yugoslav officer checked and saw the leaflets, where the Albanian eagle was clearly visible. The Yugoslav officer, thinking that they were propaganda leaflets for Kosovo, removed Avdul and took the documents along with his bag and put him in a room, from where Avdul fled and rejoined me.
What did you do next?
After we met Avdul, we took a taxi and went to Podgorica, where we stayed for a night or two, at my house, and then we went to Macedonia, to the Macedonian-Greek border, which we crossed illegally, since Avdul did not have a passport, because he was taken away by the police in Dubrovnik. After crossing the border, we entered Greece and went to a friend of Avdul’s in Igoumenitsa. His name was Nikola Plasoti and Avduli introduced me as a member of the “Albanian Anti-Stalinist Resistance Front”. Nikola was about 50 years old and was originally from Korça. He had fled to Greece, sometime in 1948-’50, and worked as a taxi driver in Igoumenitsa, where he also had a nice house. He was a highly respected man and had wonderful families.
How long did you stay with Nikola Plasoti?
We stayed there with Plesati’s family for about two or three weeks, because we had to wait for Avdul to get another passport from the USA. Otherwise, Avduli could not return to America.
What were Avduli’s connections with Nikola Plasoti and did Avduli come to that family in Greece other times?
Avduli had come to the family of Nikola Plasoti in Igoumenitsa other times, because he was well known, not only by the whole family of Nikola, but also by his neighbors. It seemed that they both had a relationship before, because Nikola Plasoti was a regular family member and in his family, Avdul Banushi enjoyed not only the generous hospitality, but also the opportunity to drive around, since Nikola was a taxi driver.
During your stay with the Plasoti family, did you meet any other acquaintances of Avdul?
During the time we stayed with that family, the other person that Avduli gave me the opportunity to meet was Mr. Lefter Guveli.
What was this person and where did he meet Avdul?
As far as I remember, Lefter Guveli was originally from Dropulli, or from a nearby village. He was of Greek origin and had fled Albania, while his family was interned in Shkodra. From the conversations we had with Mr. Guveli, at that time, I formed the full conviction, that he was a complete man of the Greeks and had close ties, both with the Greek Intelligence and with the Greek Orthodox Church, of that Vorio-Epiriot faction, which had territorial goals towards Albania.
Did Avdul tell these doubts or impressions that were created for Lefter Guvel?
No, no, I did not say that to Avdul Banushi, because they were only my suspicions, which I later became convinced of.
Where did Lefter Guveli live?
Mr. Lefter Guveli lived in Ioannina and had a very nice house, which was fenced and guarded with guard dogs. As far as I remember, there was only one maid in the house. One of the rooms of that house, Lefteri had turned into pockets (annex), where he carried some weapons, such as: pistols, automatic weapons, grenades, ammunition, etc.
What did Lefter need those weapons for?
I cannot say why Lefter needed those weapons, but I can say that all that arsenal of weapons was at the disposal of Avdul Banushi. /Memorie.al
Continues in the next issue