Nga Vasil Qesari
Memorie.al/ The overthrow of the great totalitarian edifice in Albania would leave behind, not only the change of the system, accompanied by lots of hopes, mirages and cries of happiness but, unfortunately, also many wounds, dramas, victims, dust, milk and disappointments from the most different. Ten years and more after that event, which deeply shook society, completely overturning many previous codes, rules and concepts, people still continue to ask themselves such questions as: What really happened in society Albanian, during the last 50 years of the dictatorship? How was it possible that the system managed to warp everything? Why did people accept it? What was the totalitarian logic of the transformation of society and the individual? How were the structures of totalitarian mechanisms conceived and functioning: propaganda, secret police and the exercise of the ideology of terror? How did it happen that among all the communist countries of Eastern Europe, Albania was considered an exception or a special case? Why did Enver Hoxha remain blindly, fanatically loyal to Stalin until the end, turning the country into a prison where violence, fear and purges continued until the end of the 80s? Why was the country so insanely isolated, locking people up between bunkers and barbed wire? Why, then, did all the above phenomena happen…?! The book “Post-scriptum for Dictatorship” does not claim to provide definitive answers to the above questions, or the complexity of the reasons that brought and maintained the totalitarian power in Albania. Nor is it a complete, deep and comprehensive fresco of the life and suffering that people experienced during that system. Its author, perhaps, has the merit that together with the retrospective view of the totalitarian period as well as the zeal of a passionate analyst, he has tried to turn his head back once again, to give not only his personal memories and opinions, but also to return once again to the vision of that era with the simple philosophy of preserving the Memory and supporting the Appeal to never forget the well-known maxim, that…the corpse’s nails and hair continue to grow even after death! Ten years or more after the great revolution, the book in question has current value and we hope it will be appreciated by the reader because, as an Albanian researcher also says… the greatest evil that can happen to a people comes when he fails to analyze his own past. An amnesic people are forced to be constantly neuropathic and repeat their painful experiences…!
SENTENCED TO DEATH!
Reona Peterson, a girl from New Zealand, an ardent lover of the Bible and Jesus, was first introduced to the name of Albania during an Evangelists’ Conference in Switzerland in 1970.
“…I was horrified when I learned that, in that country, the communist regime had destroyed all the cult objects and people were violently prohibited from any kind of religious activity” – she says, in her book “Even if I had to die” , published in Lausanne in 1976 – After that, I began to pray to God every day for that completely unknown place, and I decided to go there to carry the message of His Word”.
Of course, such an idea was crazy, considering the absolute impossibility of entering Albania, and even worse, of carrying out such a dangerous mission. But Reona Peterson was determined. She was ready to make any kind of sacrifice for the realization of her mission.
In the summer of 1973, through the intervention of a relative, a member of a Maoist group from Sweden, she and her close friend, Evey Muggleton, managed to join a group of young French Marxist-Leninists who, in cooperation with Albturizm would make a two-week trip to Albania.
The two friends hid in a bag with a double bottom, 50 Bibles published in small format, in the Albanian language. Fortunately, while entering the border, they were able to escape the checks at the Albanian customs, miraculously passing their precious treasure.
Since the first days of their stay in Tirana, wherever they went, on the park benches in front of the “Dajti” Hotel, on the steps of the Palace of Culture, on the railings of the Et’hem Beu mosque, they inadvertently “forgot”, from a copy of the Bible. Everything seemed to be going wonderfully, until that day when, after a night spent at the “Adriatik” Hotel in Durrës, the unexpected happened.
Reona Peterson says: “That night I couldn’t close my eyes because of some strong pains in my stomach. In the morning I was convinced that I was not able to go on the two-day excursion that had been organized to visit Berat and Saranda. However, I thought I’d wait a little longer, hoping that I could get better. But unfortunately, the spasms started again. Then, my friend Evey, went to the head of the group and told her that it would be better for me to stay in the hotel.
At eight o’clock the group left, while I tried to sleep a little to make up for the lost sleep time. There, around noon, I heard a knock at the gate. So, sleepy as I was, I answered in a low voice: Enter…! A man entered the room, who, in bad French, told me that I had to get out of bed and come with him. To go with him…?!
I told him that I was sick and could not make it. He clearly repeated that he was waiting for me outside until I got dressed and followed him. I didn’t object. I put on the dress, took off my shoes. Walking along the corridor, I tried to guess what might have happened, but it seemed impossible. The man stopped in front of gate 201 and told me to go inside.
The room was dark, with closed curtains, full of cigarette smoke. Five people were inside it. Someone handed me a chair and invited me to sit. As I learned later, one of them was a translator, the other a representative of Albturism and the other three, of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tirana. The investigation began with the familiar questions: name, surname, nationality, profession…!
Then, a gray-haired man, who appeared to be the leader of the group, took out a copy of the Bible from his bag and placed it on the table. The translator asked me if I knew that book. I told him that I had seen one like that, but it wasn’t mine. Then, the boss, calmly, answered me: “Miss! It’s useless to deny it. This is your book!
I categorically objected. Then, he could not contain himself and shouted: “We will not allow you to play theater with us! Because we have proof that this book is yours…”! Then, seeing that I remained silent, he changed tactics. He suggested that if I was honest, there would be no consequences and they would let me go free.
During the investigations, they were especially interested in knowing where these types of books came from, where they were published and how they entered Albania. With those indirect questions, they thought I would fall into a trap. But I always remained silent and avoided provocative questions.
Then, the boss couldn’t stand it, but, angry, hit the table with his fist, shouting again: “Fraudulent! Liar! You don’t talk, huh?! Then, here we will keep them! Don’t think that you will leave this room without telling…!
The hours passed and I could barely stand. Two of the investigators came out. Maybe to raise something. After they returned, the other three came out. The investigation resumed. Why had I come to Albania? Who had sent me on a mission? Did I know that the Bible was banned there? That Albania was the only atheist country in the world…?!
Someone knocked on the door. A photographer entered the room loaded with some out-of-date cameras and flashes. Obeying orders, he photographed me sitting, walking, facing and in profile. After the photographer left, the door opened again and someone let in two poorly dressed, shy and scared men.
After exchanging a few words with them, the boss asked pointing something in my direction. They nodded in agreement. Then, he asked me if I knew those people. When I answered in the negative, he burst out again: “I didn’t see it!” These are the witnesses of your crime! You will be punished, exactly, on the basis of their depositions…”!
Meanwhile, it was getting late in the evening and everyone was showing signs of fatigue. One of the investigators ordered a glass of water to be brought to me. The boss approached me again and asked if my parents were alive. I answered yes.
Then he shouted again: “Okay, then! Know! You will never see them again…! Because you are an enemy of the People’s Republic of Albania. In our country, people like you are shot! Tomorrow, at nine o’clock, we will come again…”!
I knew you meant it, but I didn’t show my shock. The boss continued again: “You got it, what did I tell you…”?!. I gathered myself and answered: Yes, sir! You said that, tomorrow, you will come to shoot me…! Silence. No one spoke. It’s one o’clock in the morning. I had spent a full 13 hours without putting anything in my mouth. There, in a small room with stifling air, terrorized by five unknown men.
Then, they took me to my room and there, in front of my eyes, they checked everything in detail. They removed the bed sheets, pillowcases, dresser drawers, tore the lining of the bag and took out all the Bibles they found inside.
After they finished work, before they left the room, the boss said to me: “We know that you are an agent of the Vatican, but we want to hear this from your own mouth…! So think carefully. Tomorrow we will come again. I didn’t open my mouth…”! Why were they accusing me of being an agent? I had nothing to do with the Vatican.
I spent a night full of bad dreams. At 9 am I was taken back to room 201. Amazingly, that morning the boss had changed his mind about me being a Vatican agent. He presented me with another version of the accusation: “We knew from the beginning that you are not an agent of the Vatican. In fact, you work for another foreign service, which has tasked you with collecting secret information about our country.”
That “excuse” seemed so ridiculous to me that I pursed my lips with contempt and irony. My reaction didn’t escape the boss and he turned to me full of nervousness: If you don’t tell the truth, then we will sentence you to life imprisonment…! A shiver ran through my body from my feet to my head. Life imprisonment? In Albania?! Oh, no!… I’d rather be shot…
The next day at noon, just after the group returned from the two-day excursion, I was ordered down to the hotel lobby. A large table was placed there, where my investigators, the Albanian translator and another person, who introduced himself as the General Prosecutor of Albania, had taken their place.
In front, lined up in a semi-circle, all the members of the group were sitting in chairs, before them, in the center, I and my friend, Evey, took a seat.
First, the prosecutor took the floor, who, with a very serious and solemn look, expressed his displeasure that, precisely among a group of foreigners that his country considered “friends”, two “criminals”, who were carrying out espionage activities, had penetrated to the detriment of Socialist Albania.
At the end of the speech, the prosecutor ordered: The two criminals to stand up! We immediately obeyed the order. He began to read the indictment. In it, it was said that we had smuggled religious publications into Albania and distributed them in public places, thus committing a serious crime.
In the end, the prosecutor addressed us with these words: We have thought for a long time to decide on the amount of punishment. According to the evidence we have, you are completely guilty and deserve imprisonment. But considering your young age, we’ve decided to let them go. From this moment on, you are considered “persona non grata” and, within 12 hours, you must leave the territory of the country.
After half an hour, together with Eveyn, they put us in a police car and drove us towards the Albanian border…! Memorie.al