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 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 with 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, the Western and Communist democracies of the East, which were still suffering from dictatorial regimes, to bring 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, although incomparable to the countries of the East, willingly or unwillingly, would join the Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Europe (OSCE).
Continued from the previous issue
Release from Burrell Prison, February 6, 1991
I was reunited with Luke at Burrell Prison on June 30, 1973. We were released from Burrell Prison on February 6, 1991, when the overly tired communist system collapsed across the European continent. In Albania, only the way of governing changed. International pressure forced the communist clique in Albania to turn the centralized economy into a market economy, to allow private property, to allow the right to religious belief, to create a system of political pluralism, but the overthrow of communist ideology and the restoration of the rule of law, the morality of truth…!
The crimes of the previous regime were not punished as in other former communist countries. They continued to rule the same people who had waged the class war and defended the ideology of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But already left beard and wore new suit with bow ties…! The main perpetrators of the ruthless genocide perpetrated for several decades, through class warfare, were not punished. State Security people who had arrested innocent people and forced them to accept what they had never intended to do through inhuman torture were released from their inhumane and anti-national activities.
Some of the top leaders of the communist leadership were imprisoned, but none were convicted of the crimes committed. They were convicted mainly of “Abuse of Duty”, they probably drank more coffee than was required by law. The economy was liberalized, but agriculture remained centralized, as agricultural land was not rightfully returned to its rightful owners, distributed to cooperative peasants per capita, before political pluralism was allowed. For this distribution of lands, the Assembly approved the law 7501, with the motto: “Land belongs to the one who works”, which, even after 30 years of pluralism, has not yet been abrogated. That law achieved two goals:
- The rightful owners remain as they were during the dictatorship, without property.
- The rulers, dressed in Western costumes, maintained in every way the continuity of their strategy, to get rich and to escape the punishment of democratic laws…!
It was the last months in our long prison, when Lucia and I were very happy for his children and his wife, who, taking advantage of the turmoil caused in Albania, by the collapse of the “Berlin Wall” and the collapse of the socialist camp in Europe, on July 2, one thousand nine hundred and ninety, like many other Albanians, they entered the German embassy, from where they gained political asylum in Germany. Immediately, he and I started knitting our projects, if we were to be released from Burrell Prison both, in one day…! The thought started to solve our way of life when we were outside the prison walls…!
We talked again and again, until we decided that, when we were released, Lucia would live in my house, in the village, until the opportunity arose to reunite with my wife and children in Germany. My mother, who was waiting for me impatiently, with the break-up of the cooperative and the “ramistic herds”, according to the information sent to us by Çaushi, released a few months ago with the first groups, informed us that: “Moma had acquired a cow named “Baliska, which gave up to 25 liters of milk a day.” This was a big thing for us, because, calculating the daily expenses for Baliska and the amount of milk we would get from her, we managed to get a good salary each month, enough to live four people, me, Lukia, mother and Çaushi.
The day we were released, according to the agreement between the criminal clique of Albania and the West, regarding the release of political prisoners, the bus full of “caterpillars” of Burrel prison, where Lukia and I were lucky enough to be, to our surprise, stopped in Milot, near the train station. The driver and the police officers who accompanied us said with regret that they were ordered to leave us right in the middle of Milot’s “Four Roads”, to disperse themselves by train or by random car.
Who would have thought in those early years of freedom of speech and free movement of people, inside and outside the country, to feel sorry for my concern? Realistically speaking, it was the time when people lost sight of their feet, to enjoy personal or family life, without worrying about not hearing Albanian spoken around them…!
There was insistence from some people close to the government that I should be transferred from the Police Station in Fier, to Tirana, to the General Administration of Prisons, after I had made a radical reform in the capacity of chief of staff-organization. The institution of the Directorate of Prisons had just passed under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. It was 1994.
The Administration of Prisons, under the Ministry of Interior, was the only institution inherited from the dictatorship, unchanged in structure and number of employees. It definitely needed a big upset in the most problematic institution of the state…!
I was offered the position of Deputy General Manager and I think the reasons may have been different, but I will list just a few. Certainly, the lack of specialists prepared according to European standards, to run the prison institution, should have been the reason for the “insistence” that I be, by all means, in the position of the number two leader of the new administration. First, I was in the third year of legal studies; second, I came from a life full of savage, inhuman experience in the prisons of dictatorship. Undoubtedly I would be the most interested and idealized man to do the best possible in improving the lives of the convicts and to correctly apply the human laws of the democratic state, regardless of the motives with which they were serving their sentences. Given by the courts of dictatorship.
Prisons with people convicted of ordinary acts have been and will be in all democratic countries of the world. But what forced me to accept the conditions for the creation of a new administration was my desire to be as close as possible to those who were still suffering in prison, why in the extreme poverty of the previous regime, they were forced to steal corn, wheat or materials from state property, to provide the bread or money necessary to feed the family and educate their children.
Another drive that made me want to be in the Prison Administration, I say without fear, was an internal impulse to face, in prison conditions, the leaders of the party and the government of the Hoxha dictatorship, Ramiz Alia, Nexhmie Hoxha , former Prime Minister Fatos Nano and a member of the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Albanian Labor Party, despite the ordinary motive with which they were imprisoned.
The great curiosity, without wanting to hide it, surprisingly, was added to me by the chief prosecutor of the state prosecution of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Aranit Çela. The only man in Albania, in forty-five years who signed only imprisonments, shootings and hanging on the ropes of tens of thousands of patriotic and anti-communist Albanians, clerics of all four religions in Albania, whose fault was only because they did not want the communist regime, no wanted to surrender their property or why preach the will of God on earth and religious dogmas that contradicted the atheistic ideology of communism…!
A few months later, due to the “circulation” of high-ranking people, the Director General of the Prison Administration left and the Minister of Justice, Kudret Çela, commanded me in his place, indefinitely. I was in the position of General Manager when, one day, my office phone rang and I heard a voice.
He told me he was putting me to the test if I could intuitively find one of the former accomplices in Burrell Prison, who was currently with him. However, the labi safi accent of the one who was speaking to me embarrassed me, as I had many friends and accomplices of that famous province in the fight against communism. Even though I said some names that came to my mind, he did not accept any… ?! /Memorie.al
Continues in the next issue