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, Azemi, suffered 64 years in prison in the camps and prisons of the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, being released only in February 1991. Memories 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 at a 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, Western Democratic States and Eastern Communist States, which were still suffering from dictatorial regimes, to establish 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 with the countries of the East, would, willingly or unwillingly, join the Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Europe (OSCE).
Continued from the previous issue
Investigator in ‘Ward 313’, Tirana Prison
– Where can I find him to die for the flag…! Now that we did this against these, I die happy. I don’t even want to know about life anymore. I feel sorry for my parents, sisters and brothers…! But let them have my death medal medal! With those in power, as long as we are alive, we will only suffer…! Let’s keep a minute of silence for our heroes…! Eternal memory and their work! Glory to the martyrs of freedom and democracy! Long live Albania!
– Have you been alone so far?
– No, I was with Xhavit Lohja, from Shkodra…! I was surprised, I left him here when I was taken to the investigator. When I came back, I did not find it…! Ambush. They brought me another man, perhaps the best in the world, the charming Loche. Really, why call Loche? Who stuck to this paranoia…!
-Ija used to call me a pet beginning! My friends listened to me and did not share it with me, until everyone learned it, even at school…! I finished seven – year – old and fled with four friends to Yugoslavia…!
– I know, I know your story that he willingly returned from Italy …
– Leave it…! We are not forgiven…! Who would work in the Spaç mine?! Cute, three in Spaç we finished…! Me, Dauti and Simoni. As soon as he finished his sentence in Yugoslavia, he was sent back to Albania and straight to prison, for “treason”. God punished us…! He helped us to get to Italy, while we, child, went to our embassy and We said: “Amani, take us back to Albania because we miss Ijen!”. At least, we were not punished…!
– But this time why were you convicted?
– When we returned from Italy, I started working as an assistant painter. Two years and I became a master. I established my clientele and broke away from the journeyman. Hell, the daughter of a senior officer asked me to paint her bedroom, to her fiancé. We agreed. We determined the colors and I started work. One room was, I finished it in two days. The girl comes with her father and fiancé to see him and pay me for my work, but she had remarks about the color. “Aman,” he told me, “paint it again, can you?” Normal. I painted it once more with the paint she wanted. This time she came with her fiancé…!
– Wow … I did not like this either…! Wow, how hard it was for me to find the right color…?!
– Like that? It was difficult, eh…? Let me find the color you like this time, I told her
– Oh, how good…! Aman, did you call me?
– No worries.
They gone. I filled the pump with the paint I had, took off my pants and sat on the pump…! I inserted a dh … I mixed it well, I made it… at all…! Stink! Who knows what these people look like when they are in power. Her father had been a heron, a herd of cows and sheep. He became a partisan for a few months and, after finishing the party school, he was sent abroad for specialization as a senior officer … The pump in his arms, your brother and at home. She did not understand that I was wasting another four days with free work, for her pleasure…!
– Do you, my hats were sewn from behind…! The senior officer’s family was offended because I had smelled their couple’s room. Of course, they had complained and, surely, were waiting to find me a reason, to call me inside. But we knew the tyrants, especially the State Security horses, one thousand two hundred ALL, which had become like shopping dogs, after some bone. I tried to escape with the closest friend I had in my neighborhood, Qamil…!
He interrupted because someone opened the counter. He was watching carefully sometimes from me, sometimes from Loçja.
– You too, Loçe, raised the flag in Spaç…?! Why, or were you a better man, from Qamil?
– I’m definitely better than him…! I put sheet metal five ponces on my ass. And I am proud that I sang the Flag Hymn, in Spaç, without your slandered star…!
– There, in Spaç the bones will remain…!
– We do not know that, Mr. Florian Koloneci, who will have bones left in prison…!
He slammed the counter out of anger and ran with his tail between the saddles. I hugged Lochen.
-Happy! That…., I had heard this guy, but you did well to show him the place. to me it seemed conceited …!
– It has been like that since he was little. How many times have we beaten him while playing football…!
They brought us tea for dinner. This was a good sign: We were put in the organic food…! If we drank tea for the first time, we loved the dry throat so much, from the strong bread and the slandered jam…! Then they threw us from a blanket on the floor, transparent, like cigarette paper. Well done, when the Korçars say, at least we would have something for the pillow. The dungeon was made of parquet boards, our ribs were killed, but we would have a comfortable head! We went to bed faster than usual, wishing: “God willing, they will not take us to the interrogator at night!” God, that night, heard our prayer…! In the morning, on the way to the bathroom, we noticed that it was no longer the sambo wrestlers who had beaten us for three days and three nights, every 10-15 minutes. They were replaced by service police officers. Every morning, we saw the sambo wrestlers caught, leaning against the wall, exhausted, because the “enemies of the people”, guilty of “counter-revolution”, were being beaten all night, inside the prison (!) At around nine o’clock they took me to the interrogator. I was met by Koço Josifi and some investigators, whom I did not know. But, because Xhaviti told me that the investigator of his tribe had come from the Shkodra investigation, I realized that, with our arrival in Tirana, approximately eighty people, probably for this large load, had called investigators from the districts. Logic told me that they were curious to see, of course, the man who had admitted that he had raised the flag without a star, which, in the logic of the time, was awaited only by death … In fact, one of them reinforced this conviction, who, leaving in front of the others, said ironically: “But this one was our ace … of revolt…”?!
But, Koçoja lowered his head, as if he did not hear it at all…!
I wanted to give him an answer, but Koço’s gesture forced me not to prolong it…! After the “curious” left, Koçoja finished some notes in the work pad, pulled out the policemen, closed the door and, most likely, out of kindness, or a great desire to help me, said: – Listen here, Bedri Çoku…! He was talking upside down, with one hand under his chin – Not for nothing, but because we have known each other since the first investigation, as a parent, as a brother, take as much as you want, for a young age, I advise you to change your attitude regarding the pride which, perhaps, has overwhelmed you, for the act of raising the flag. Realistically, you have done an act that honors you, despite the fact that for us, our state, it is a very serious act. Take life at this young age, that you have ahead. Otherwise, no matter how much we sentence you to prison, one day you will be free, if you give up your stay der!
– Why is that, Mr. Koço?
-Since you have admitted the guilt yourself, it is a relief for you. But, if you will insist that you did this act to oppose the state and the Albanian Labor Party, you are bankrupt. Trots, deserves the lead…!
– In your opinion, Mr. Koço, how should I say that you should not shoot me?
– Yes…, you were not born before our Party took power, to be considered a sworn enemy…! You grew up in our age, with our children. We will reason, if you show remorse and say, for example: “I did this because I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and the friends who encouraged me to take part in this revolt. That’s it. Then, it is enough to tell us with whom you collaborated, to organize the revolt and its purpose and to raise the flag…”!
– Thus, as your lord explains, it is simple. I must admit that I do not like the flag of Skanderbeg and Ismail Qemali. But I love your flag, with the star of proletarian internationalism. I raised the other one by mistake, to forgive my life, right? On this occasion, it is up to me to get the communist party card … But in prison, am I going to rot while I am alive? That you will punish me for hostile activities, inside the prison, with or without witnesses, or is it not true…?!
Thank you, Mr. Koço, but if I were to bargain with you, I would have done it since the first investigation…! I want to remain who I am, with these thoughts and feelings completely opposite to yours, as I do not want to be part of an anti-democratic and anti-human state and government…! If it were that my life would hurt you, you would not have arrested me, the first time, together with my brother, just because we are the children of an anti-communist father, whom you sentenced to political prison, as an enemy and confiscated wealth, movable and immovable, just because he was rich and of national conviction. It is obligatory that you, his heirs, have put us in prison, not that we have done wrong to your popular power, for this you, yourself, are clearer like no one else, but you also know this: By your actions and inactions to our family, you are legally and morally to blame, therefore you are obliged not to let us, their children, raise our heads. Fight us with the fabricated theory of “class war”, as an excuse for the terror you have done to our middle and rich class, after you robbed us, imprisoned us, and even killed us unjustly…!
– We know your head well, but, anyway I will have so much patience to look forward to working with you…! I repeat, to save you from punishment me. with… death … Get away…! Get rid of it! And … listen! Think well…! Ask me only when you have changed your mind…! Otherwise, go to the asphalt, and enjoy the memorial stone, which future generations can raise for you, somewhere, as if for a hero … As soon as he came to the door, he shouted:
– Take the beast, you cop!
I neither informed him nor did they call me anymore…! I just went to sign the closure of the investigation. I was separated from Loçja, the day the bars were thrown at me, for trial…! Again, we were thrown into a military vehicle, with raincoat cover. I was surprised to see that, in front of me, in the car, were about twenty other accused of revolt. Some I barely knew, because they were too weak. But the same surprise was expressed, for me, by some of them. I nodded. I had been last because they closed the back spondy. As my companion, a military man, began to read the list of our names someone, someone photographed me from below. I do not know if what happened to me, had happened to others…?! The same photographer shot me before, as soon as I came out of the prison door, but even now when the military man read my name, the first on the list…! A thought crossed my mind that, he, not without purpose, fired two or more shots at me. Maybe commissioned, since, I could be sentenced to death. This suspicion, at the moment, saddened me, but, because I was prepared for this day, I passed it with a laugh, when I said to the photographer: “Do not forget to send me a pose for remembrance, from you…”!
Friends laughed at my joke. While the police and the accompanying military in the car, just looked a little confused…! But, the fact that Koço Josifi suddenly appeared at the turn of the yard, with his eyes fixed only on me, near the back spine, has remained in my memory, even today, as a fixed image on an enlarged screen: “I told you, you did not listen to me, continue your eternity…”, as if his presence on that corner a meant to tell me…?!
None of us, in the car, had any idea where they would take us and how many others were left in the investigator. I only knew about Loche, that I had left him in the dungeon. I had no idea even about my brother, where he was, what had been done to him during this time. So were others in the car, like me, who only knew about those with whom they had stayed in the dungeon…! We did not suffer much along the way because we had our hands tied in irons. No chains on the legs, no ropes around the body…!
Those who had cigarettes drank easily, as they had placed peace and spark in the place where they could use them handcuffed. Surely, the peace was brought to them by their families. I wondered why, neither me nor Loces, our families did not bring us food, as what had happened to other friends?! Maybe they had come, but the prison administration, by order from above, had not allowed food for us. There were many such cases…! I also knew from experience the truth of the non-introduction of economic aid during the investigation.
From Tirana to the Rrëshen Branch of Internal Affairs where the investigation of our group of 80 people participating in the revolt would take place It was one of the forms to deprive, as much as possible, of family economic assistance and spiritual ties with family people…! At the Rrëshen Internal Affairs Branch, we were amazed at how humanely the police treated us. We did not expect this. They had orders or they did it themselves, this remained to be studied: I thought that, despite the ideology of the communist state, the fact that such a shocking event for the dictatorial regime had taken place in the province of Mirdita, why not this one of the reasons? Why should not the locals be proud of that manly and anti-dictatorial resistance where, after thirty years of national humiliation, for the first time the Flag of Skanderbeg and Ismail Qemali was waved, whom the communists, treacherously, had made the star of proletarian internationalism, over the two eagle heads?
The province of Miridita was the only one in Albania, which was the last to be subjected to the savage communist violence, paying dearly with their blood the anti-communist resistance, with the best boys, men and women of its province…! They put us in the dungeons of the Internal Affairs Branch, according to a list compiled in Tirana. A prominent nationalist from Shkodra, Zef Ashta, was assigned to the dungeon with me. He had abandoned his military studies in Italy, to join the nationalist forces in Albania, in the fight for the liberation of the country from the Italian and German occupiers, as well as to prevent the Serbian-Albanian communist front, specially designed to establish communist power. in Albania. Maneuver of the Serbs that, through the Serbian-Albanian communist government, the annexation of the heroic Kosovo be done, in the appetite of the Serbs.
Small body, petite, with a pale and noble face, Zef Ashta gave birth to the impression of a Catholic priest. This is how the police officers of the Rrëshen Branch of Internal Affairs thought of him as a “priest”. Every time they came in contact with our dungeon, they called him, “Priest”! The sweet face of the “priest” captivated the police, obviously, because a good part of them were of the Catholic faith, instinctively approached our dungeon enough, and even, for some things, “confessed to the small priest”, as if they were in the secret of a church…! We learned from them that we were the first group in Rrëshen, after the group in Spaç prison, where through a “lightning” trial, four heroes were sentenced to death – shooting, out of twelve who were arrested that day…! /Memorie.al
Continues in the next issue