By Thanas L. Gjika
Memorie.al / The history of our people, since the old times, are filled with acts of bravery of idealistic people, who did not spare their lives, for the benefit of society and the homeland. Thanks to them, our people have gained freedom from foreign yokes and moved towards progress. There were such people even during the years of the communist dictatorship. They dared to express their opinions in a different way, even to oppose the party-state line, but that regime arrested them, sentenced them with its trials, without a defense lawyer and declared them; “enemies of the people” and tortured them in prisons and labor camps. When they managed to get out of prisons, or return alive to their homes, state propaganda covered them with such epithets, so that the people would abandon and hate them, until they died out and were forgotten as worthless beings. Today’s time demands that such people should not be forgotten, but should be studied and appreciated, because their lives and deeds have regenerative values for the nation. We too, like any nation, need such torches of freedom and democracy. One such person was Thanas Ilo Qeleshi who, in his early youth, was conquered by communist ideas and joined the Communist Party, but when he saw some unjust actions of its politics, he dared to show his disapproval and to create a party cell, opposed to PPSh. To the life and achievements of this idealist, we dedicate this short essay, based on some documents and memories, that his son, Mihallaq Th. Cell, which I met here in the US.
Continues from the previous issue
During the years 1953-1963, Thanasi was a dissatisfied person who closed in on himself, who did not dare to open up to anyone. In 1963, his wife’s illness worsened and she went to the camp. Thanasi, in order to be near his sick wife, asked to leave education and after receiving the approval of the request, he started working at the Repair Services Company in Korça, as a shoemaker, the trades that his father had taught him in his youth.
By working persistently, to achieve and exceed the norm, he managed to create some innovations in collaboration with old craftsmen, for the creation of women’s bags, for the creation of shoelaces, etc. But despite the persistent work, the income did not increase, because the rates were constantly increasing.
When he realized that two of his friends, the shoemaker Engjëll Fidani and the teacher Dhimitër Zguro, were also unhappy, Thanasi started from discussions to unify the thoughts and dissatisfactions. The romanticism of the first youth, to deal with agitation and propaganda, against the injustices of the foreign Italian-German conqueror, was quickly reborn in this 34-year-old.
His brother, the martyr Gaqo, recruited in that house as communists, some young people from the neighborhood, while Thanasi, started the agitation with mature men, to create a cell of a new party, opposition to the ALP. During conversations with communists and non-communists, he heard and understood that there were plenty of dissatisfied people, but fear prevailed in all of them.
In the city of Korça, the Party Committee in 1972 created a core of trusted people, who were given works of Marxism-Leninism, to discuss them and prepare materials that were to be used by the leaders of the forms of education. , in enterprises and schools. In that group, Dhimitër Zguro, a teacher with a high school degree, for History-Geography, Thanas Qeleshi, a distinguished former teacher, Gaqo Peci (Language and Literature teacher), Kiço Venediku (head of the city’s Music Band) and Jani Gjino (teacher).
During various discussions with the colleagues of this group, Thanasi noticed that his old friend, Dhimitër Zgurua, was prepared, but also dissatisfied and courageous. Then he further strengthened his friendship with her. Dhimitri, born on October 18, 1939, was ten years younger and well versed in Marxist-Leninist theory. Also, in the Repair-Services Enterprise, where Thanasi worked, he met a distinguished worker, who once expressed opinions against the party’s policy.
His name was Angel Fidani, who was also unhappy and brave. The three gathered at Thanasi’s house and there they openly discussed the political situation, various distortions in the party line, the fact that the people were unhappy, but did not dare to open their mouths, etc. The discussions were simple. Thanasi took the plate of bread and in front of his friends weighed it in the trap of the house (brass scales) and showed it to his friends. The scale showed 1 kilogram and 600 grams.
– “Look at this loaf of bread, we pay for it for two kilograms, but it is 400 grams short. So the state is openly stealing from us”.
Dhimitër Zguro, as a connoisseur of Lenin’s works, said:
– “Lenin wrote that women should not work in the third shift, but for us women, they are getting exhausted, working at night, in the third shift”.
– “Whoever works with rates, like Angel and I, sees that as soon as a rate is achieved, it is raised, and the worker has to work more and more to get the same amount of money. This is also called theft…”!
With such examples and others from practical life, these idealists concluded that the party that ran the country was not a real communist party, that another party should be created to properly implement the Marxist-Leninist theory. They failed to understand that Marxism-Leninism itself was a theory that had evil inside, in the mechanism of the communist dictatorship, which did not allow discussions otherwise, required blind obedience and gave the party leader absolute power, etc. .
These three idealists formed the first cell of a new party, which they baptized with the name ‘True Marxist-Leninist Party’, to show that the ruling party was not what it was called.
From time to time, in the city of Korça, this cell wrote some slogans on the walls and attached some tracts. Tracts were also distributed by hand. Thanasi distributed them to the Mborje-Drenovë Mine and to the Executive Committee of the city; Engjëll Fidani distributed them to the Party Committee; Dhimitër Zgurua, in the Knitting Company.
The members of the basic cell were people with good biographies; Thanas was a family martyr, war activist, responsible in the Service Repair Company, Dhimitër Zguro, was a teacher of Marxism-Leninism and Engjëll Fidani, was a distinguished upholsterer. This was a friend of the policemen of the City Security, because he made them revolver holsters and car linings.
The first two were persons responsible for the discussion of theoretical literature, to create discussion materials for forms of education. This was one of the reasons why these people were not quickly discovered by the Security.
The brochure “Human Rights and Freedoms”, published by the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights, was a real help in expanding the theme of the new party. This brochure was translated and published in Albanian in Yugoslavia, for the Albanians there and in Albania, brought by a Kosovar driver who brought bricks by truck.
By chance one evening, Engjëll Fidani stepped in front of the Yugoslav barge, not realizing that it was a foreign car, and asked him to get on as a passenger, at the exit of Pgradec, to go to Korça. The Kosovar driver picked him up and started asking him about the economic situation, etc.
When he noticed that the passenger had reservations and did not speak enthusiastically about the situation in the country, he informed him about the decisions of Helsinki regarding human rights and freedoms and gave him a copy of the brochure he had with him. The angel brought it to his friends and after his cell studied it, he copied it by hand in two copies and shared it with the other two cells.
The distribution of this brochure and the discussions about its content created a heated atmosphere in the city of Korça. The security bodies were intensively tracked and managed to capture the initial trio: Qeleshi-Zguro-Fidani. They arrested them, at different times and places. Dhimitri was arrested on November 9, 1974 in Tirana, where he had gone with his sister Tefta for a visit. Thanas and Angel were arrested on November 24, 1974, at their places of work, to incite terror and panic in the people.
Chief Investigator Reshat Leskaj tortured them in the Investigator, keeping them hanging upside down, as well as with other forms of inhumane torture. Mihallaq Ziçishti, the first secretary of the APS of the district, went to them every day and pressured them to reveal their collaborators, but none of the arrested persons revealed who they had talked to and collaborated with.
Each presented the activity as his individual work. This manly attitude saved the other members of this activity. On April 23, 1975, the “Special Trial” was organized, where the sentencing decisions were given for the trio named; “The group that wanted to conquer Radio Korça”.
Thanas Qeleshi was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment and denial of decorations and medals previously awarded.
Dhimitër Zguro, with 25 years of imprisonment.
Engjëll Fidani, with 22 years of imprisonment.
Before leaving the courtroom, the prosecutor told Thanas:
– “Shame on you, you are also a martyr’s family.”
Thanas cut him off:
– “If the martyrs knew, how you would destroy the party, you wouldn’t have any martyrs there at the cemetery”.
The three convicts were sent to different prisons.
After the arrest and conviction of the founding trio, the activity of the new party ceased. But even though the activity as a party organization ceased, the agitation against the politics of the state party continued in individual ways, which after some time caused the arrest and punishment (according to the article; “For agitation and propaganda”) of Gaqo Peci, Kiço Venedik, Jani Gjinos, etc.
Thanasi, when he went from the investigation to the trial, was very weakened by torture, his red beads had reached 1,200. He also had a cerebral hemorrhage, which caused him to lose his memory. Before they sent him to prison, they sent him for treatment to the Psychiatric Hospital of Elbasan, where they gave him several electric shocks.
When he was sent to Ballshit Prison, Thanasi befriended oil engineer Minella Çani, who took care of him for months, until he passed away. Jani Gjinua was also sent to Ballsh, so Thanasi, having these two friends by his side, as well as Nuro Hoti, a convicted lawyer, began to feel good, in terms of his mood and health.
The devastating consequences that the arrest and sentence brought to the Qeleshi family
After the arrest of Thanas, his wife Marika suffered a psychic trauma and was admitted to the Psychiatric Hospital of Elbasan. The 14-year-old girl Katerina was forced to live with her grandparents by her mother. Son Mihallaq, a student at the Faculty of Medicine, after his father’s conviction, was expelled from school and became a manual worker. The house was nationalized. The families of Dhimitër Zguro and Angjël Fidan also suffered such devastating consequences.
Their wives became manual workers, their children were expelled from the higher schools where they studied, or were not allowed to continue their higher studies. “As sons of the enemies of the party and the state”, these children had to be manual workers all their lives.
Tefta Zguro, the only Albanian mountaineer who had climbed the top of Mount Everest, as Dhimitri’s sister, was fired from her job as a lecturer at the Party High School in Tirana. They returned him to Korça, where they gave him menial jobs.
The people of the tribe, as communists who were “explained” to Mihallaq, that he, like everyone else, had to accept the punishment that the party gave to his father, Thanas, and that he had to sever all ties with him, so as not to punishment fell, even on him. So the 19-year-old boy, out of conscience, severed all ties with his father.
– “Me,” says Mihallaqi, “who since 1999 has found political refuge in Auburn MA.” USA, – I was expelled from school. At first I became a manual worker at the State Construction Enterprise, then they took me as a soldier, where I did my military service, in the labor departments with a shovel in my hand. After completing my military service, I worked in the Rëhova mine, in the Copper Enrichment Factory in Rubik, in the Nickel-Silicate factory, near Korça, etc.”
Thanas himself, after a few years, sent a message to a prisoner who was released: “Mihallaq and Katerina, I’m fine, but you should never come to see me.”
It is understood that he sent this message to the children to protect them, not because he did not love them. In the prison of Ballshi, former teacher Thanas and director Viktor Stratobërdha, no one went to meet them. At that time, these two convicts spent their next meetings together, once every two weeks, they met in the meeting room and exchanged a short conversation, telling jokes about what had happened to them, during their life in prison, or before imprisonment. Memories had to be reproduced, to keep the memory alive.
Viktor Stratobërdha, had been a partisan of the First Assault Brigade, but was deeply disappointed by the dictatorship. He repeated as a popular saying, one of his thoughts:
– We partisans fought selflessly against the Nazi-fascist dictatorships, but we created a dictatorship worse than the first ones! I am a convict of conscience and I do not ask for mercy from the party”! Mihallaq’s meetings with his father sentenced to prison are touching, for the emotions experienced by that son and especially, for the inflexibility of Thanas Qeleshi.
In September 1979, Mihallaqi was sent into action, to help the village of Pulahë in Gora, for the collection of corn. In the same village, the girl Femie Kulla was also sent, with a group of young people from the Leather-Shoes Enterprise. The child (later baptized, Eftimi, Efi for short), had been a classmate of Katerina, Mihallaq’s sister. She had been in and out of their house and had sympathy for this boy.
During the month of the action, the two young people began to feel for each other, feelings stronger than those of an ordinary society. They stayed together in their free time and expressed their feelings of love to each other. They decided that when they returned to Korça, they would get married. However, the girl’s parents were communists and did not want their daughter to marry a boy whose father was in prison. Then the two young men solved the problem themselves, got married by kidnapping, without a wedding ceremony.
In 1989, when the communist dictatorship in Albania showed some signs of softening, Mihallaqi and his bride decided to go to meet Thanas in prison. They left together and went first to the Burrel prison. There they were told that Thanas Qeleshi’s name did not appear in the lists of prisoners.
They went to the prison of Qafë-Bar and Spaçi, he was not there either. They went down to Durrës, where the prisoners were doing construction work, at the leadership’s villas on the beach.
When the guard called the name of Thanas Qeleshi, instead of this convict coming out, Ali Çenua, the former head of the group of guards of Mehmet Shehu, the murdered former prime minister, came out.
He went and said:
– “Are you looking for Thanas Qeleshin”?
“Yes”, – they answered and waited for clarifications, why Thanasi did not come out.
– “Thanas Qeleshi, does not serve his sentence here, but in the prison of Gjirokastra”.
Ali clarified and added:
– “It is an honor that you are the sons of that brave father who is determined in his ideas. To be proud of your father is a rare man”!
– “To be honest, I was touched by the words of Ali Çeno, this man, whom I had known, only through newspapers and television, as a loyal guard of Enver Hoxha and then of Mehmet Shehu. Ali, without knowing me, was praising my father, a prisoner, for his firm, anti-dictatorship stance.
Then, when I read how Ali was processed and forced to slander Mehmet Shehu’s agent activity, I understand that he regretted his shameful submission, so he admired me for not submitting to the indignities of the Security.
We returned to the hotel. There we decided to return to Korça first and then leave for Gjirokastër.
In Korça, the husband of Mihallaq’s sister, Agron Malollari, after hearing about the vicissitudes of the trip, asked him to accompany Mihallaq. So they both set off. When they arrived at the prison, they asked for a meeting with the prison commander, who explained that this was the first meeting after 15 years, so they asked him to be careful.
The director went and ordered Thanas to arrange the special meeting room, then took the two visitors and led them into the room. Before, he put in there, two police officers, with machine guns side by side. The prison commander said to Thanas:
– “You and you, uncle Thanas, are two good people who have come to see you”, and escorting the visitors and the prisoner to the door, he added: – “Enter and leave”. Memorie.al
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