By Afrim Imaj
Continues from last issue
Memorie.al / “When the trial of Beqir Balluk was taking place and in Tirana no one knew who, a foreign embassy, closely followed the trial sessions at the gate of 313” The rare testimony of Lirim Gjetaj, mostly shows the contours of an unsolved mystery and remains at the limits of an event that has not passed without leaving a trace…! Initially, the soldier from Lezha noticed him with disdain, but only for a few moments. The tension of the judging panel, after the shocking finding about the release of the secret and the suspicion of the regime’s leaders, about a possible link between the putschists and foreign agencies, has included it in the vortex of the nightmare. Lirim Gjeta remembers that he never found out which embassy belonged to the diplomats who closely followed the sensational court sessions, but he remembers that all the movements of the jury were followed “wheel by wheel” by a car with license plates CD.
Beyond this strange detail, the 20-year-old ex-judge reveals in his confession, enough of the circumstances of the confrontation with the crucified generals, as a “traitor and coup plotter”. After the explanations about how he was found in the arms of Aran Çela and the experiences from the contact with the indictment for the senior officials declared conspirators, Gjetaj, remembers the moments when he was forced to ask Beqir Balluk, about the idea of the military coup, first applied during an exercise at Shkoder. And how did the dialogue between the soldier-judge and the head of the army’s chief of staff…?!
“So, in the meeting with Nazar Berber, you remembered that you would be part of the group that the leadership of the ministry had set up to denounce the hostile activity of the generals…”?!
To be honest, that’s how I valued those moments. Being a member of the Party, I thought that I had been chosen from the ranks of the soldiers to clarify the generals’ hostile activity to the people. At that time, the organization of various groups was widely practiced to clarify the opinion about the problems raised by the Party. In this particular case, the task had a different purpose. I was selected to be part of the judging panel of Beqir Balluk and other generals. I found this out later…!
Did you know Beqir Balluk?
I had never seen him as a face. At that time, there was no television. I knew the duties he had as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and finally, like everyone else, I was familiar with the accusations of the high leadership of the Party against him as a traitorous element. Just that and nothing more. Likewise the other generals, some of whom I had not even heard the names of until then…!
What do you remember from the moments when the Deputy Minister of Defense communicated the duty of the judge in the process of the generals?
Nazar Berberi, first communicated the order to me that for some time I would be transferred from Zall Herri and I would be placed in the garrison of the city of Tirana. So, from that moment on, I would be stationed in the Military Police building (former garrison of Tirana) near the headquarters of the People’s Assembly. He told me that, during the entire time I would stay there, I should not communicate with anyone about the task I was going to perform. When I was going out, he asked me if I had any other uniform than the one I was wearing.
I told him I only had that. So, he went to the phone, dialed a number and with the receiver to his ear, ordered someone to get a new uniform ready immediately. They gave it to me as soon as I went to the garrison building, even the specialist of the Military Workshop who had brought it, took care of its appearance until the end. Deputy Minister Berberi told me that we would communicate together every day. I left his office, and the officer of the guard who was waiting for me at the door, gave me another document, addressing me to the garrison of the city.
There they settled me in a separate room and equipped me with everything. I remember that, all the time, I was directly looked after by the commander of the garrison. The next day, according to duty, I appeared in the Supreme Court. Nazar Berberi was waiting for me there, who, when we met, told me that we would go inside, to familiarize ourselves with the file of the coup plotters. As I said, this was the first contact with the new task…!
Nazar Berberi, gave the file of the process of the generals in the Supreme Court?
Nazar Berberi and I went to court together. There, as far as I could tell, he was on familiar ground. From the way he moved and communicated with her employees, he looked like home. At the end of a narrow corridor, he knocked on the secretary’s office and after introducing me to the employee who was there, told her to give me the file of the coup group.
I handed over the documents I had with me and sat down to read the materials that the investigation had prepared for Beqir Balluk and the other generals, already declared “traitors” and “enemies of the people”. It was an extremely voluminous file with dozens of bundles and thousands of pages. Just to read them, at least, it took months. However, I was there to familiarize myself with their content.
What had you heard before about the hostile activity of Beqir Balluku, Petri Dumas and Hito Çakos?
In the Party organization where I fought, we had been informed about this hostile activity, we had even discussed and expressed solidarity with the leadership’s attitude towards it. Earlier, we were familiar with the materials of the Plenum of the Central Committee, which strongly denounced the so-called: “treason of the top leaders of the Army”. Subsequently, we found out that Beqir Balluku, Petrit Dume and Hito Çako had been arrested and their punishment was expected.
So what had happened to them I had learned before. As far as I can remember, the public opinion knew this in a certain way. It was known that the generals had been brought to justice and their punishment was expected from moment to moment. The surprise in my case was related to the participation in the judging panel. I, a simple soldier, stood face to face with generals declared traitors…!
What do you remember from reading the file of Beqir Balluk?
To be honest, at first I concentrated to read it carefully, but the way the problems were laid out in it was completely impossible for me to navigate. However, every day, I had to go there, browse, take notes and go back to my room, to the Tirana garrison. For everything, I had to keep my mouth shut. Nazar Berberi was the only one I had to talk to for any ambiguity.
In a word, you clearly skipped reading the file in court…?!
I couldn’t read it any other way. First, due to the age and content of the issues, which were discussed in it, it was impossible for me to orient myself. The terms “counter-revolutionary organization”, “coup”, “military coup”, “conspiracy”, etc., with which every page of the file was filled, not only did I not know their meaning, but many of them were hearing them for the first time. So, even if I wanted to read her fascicles, I was still unable to understand their essence. And in this state, I never had to affirm that I was “out of the game”. After all, I was a party member, and then I was a soldier who had been summoned to a special military trial.
In short, I had to postpone it without feeling the conviction that there were others above me who would decide the fate of the process…!
What do you remember from the first day of the trial and facing the defendants?
The trial took place within the premises of ‘Prison 313’. Everything around was put under strict security measures. To get there, you had to go through three generations of armed men. Anti-aircraft guns were placed on the terraces of the buildings. On the sides of the entrance gate, there were two armored vehicles. It was said that, at the end of the building complex, a tank company was installed. The only ones crossing this armed cordon were us, the members of the jury, together with the prosecutor and a secretary. We left every morning from the Supreme Court, around 08:00 and returned at 13:30 or 14:00…!
Who were the members of the jury?
The chairman was Aranit Çela. As judges, Nazar Berberi, Hilmi Telegrafi, Tahir Minxhozi and me. The prosecutor who followed the process from beginning to end was Muharrem Kanani…!
Can you tell us something about the courtroom where the trial took place…?
It was not an ordinary hall, but a room of about 50 square meters, created by fitting one of the cells, with a part of the corridor…!
Besides the jury and the defendants, were there other participants during the sessions?
The judicial process against Beqir Balluk and other generals was held behind closed doors. It was a special trial, as they called it then. In addition to the defendants and the jury, the security forces, which were no more than ten armed policemen, took part in it. There were no guests, as usually happened in such processes.
Did the public know in those days that the trial of the army coup plotters was taking place?
Ordinary people, no, but not even the officials knew anything about the Beqir Balluk process. Court hearings were held in complete darkness and under strict security measures. Even the drivers with whom we made the way, from the Supreme Court to 313, did not know what it was about. Only a foreign embassy in Tirana was able to find out the calendar of the process.
How did you find out that a foreign embassy knew about the trial of Beqir Balluk?
We found this on the first day. As soon as we left the headquarters of the Supreme Court, to Prison 313, a CD player came up behind us. It was a maroon-colored car that escorted us to the turn at the entrance to the 313, almost next to our car. Every day when we came to start the session, she did the same thing.
He would stand at the entrance of the prison until the session was over, and when we left, he would come up behind us again. This was an episode that kept us in tension the whole time, especially the security forces. It became a problem as far as I can remember, but the sensitive nature of the diplomatic service greatly limited the response to them. However, until the last session this remained a serious concern…!
Let’s come to the confrontation with the defendants. How do you remember their reaction to the accusation prepared by the prosecutor?
As far as I remember in the prosecutor’s accusation, it was about a group, a military caste that would attack the Central Committee and eliminate Enver Hoxha. The defendants, initially, in the first confrontation, in summary, were reluctant to accept the charge. At least with conscience, as they claimed, in no case had they intended to overthrow the popular power and eliminate Enver…!
What do you remember from the attitude of the former member of the Political Bureau, Beqir Balluku, when faced with this accusation?
The truth is that Beqir Balluku contested the accusation of high treason against the country. Until those moments, the former Minister of Defense was only familiar with the problems that had arisen on the party line and, mainly, with the discussions that had taken place in the Central Committee, about the work of “theses in the army”. After the arrest of Beqir Balluk, an extended check was made in the Ministry of Defense, which had identified many other problems, such as those of translations of military literature, ideological, economic problems, etc.
Of course, Beqiri got to know them during the process. As far as I can remember, he categorically denied the accusation that he participated in a counter-revolutionary organization, but he admitted that mistakes had been made, maybe guilt, but not intentional. The former Minister of Defense assessed the accusation of agitation and propaganda against popular power as untrue. More or less, this was the general picture in the judicial confrontation…!
As a member of the jury, did you ask any questions of the defendants and what was their reaction?
I explained that my presence in the judging panel was, so to speak, for decorum. However, beyond this dimension, which had to do with form, the people directing the process took care that I did not remain in the position of a simple listener. At least externally. In the marathon of sessions, the chairman Aranit Çela gave me a letter, in which he had written two questions with his own hand, which I had to address to the defendants in the process. This was the most delicate moment for me…!
What was the content of these questions and how did the defendants receive them during the process?
In the first question, I asked the accused generals for explanations about the idea of an exercise, which was carried out in that period, in the area of Shkodra, through the dynamics of which the aim was to encircle with tanks and other weapons, the Committee of the Party of The circle. This was an issue that came up during the investigation process, where witnesses from the ranks of the Army denounced the commander of the Shkodra Corps and the General Staff that they wanted to eliminate this high party forum.
It was even said that after the trial with the Shkodra Party Committee, an exercise was prepared for the encirclement and annihilation of the Central Party Committee. The second question, as I recall, was related to the problem of ranks in the army. The generals were penalized by the accusation that, at the time the Party had removed the rank system from the army, they had, in one way or another, tried to sabotage this reform.
What answer did the defendants give in the courtroom?
As for the training in Shkodra, they claimed after each other that it had been a routine demonstration, where the forces of the Northern Corps carried out a training scenario, with the objective of protecting the District Party Committee, which was then considered as an object of particular importance, in the conditions of an aggression by foreign powers. The generals testified that such demonstrations had also taken place in other regions. So, according to them, everything was done in accordance with the constitutional mission of the army to ensure national sovereignty, where the preservation of strategic objects and those of special importance was a priority task.
At one point in the courtroom, two parties with diametrically opposite attitudes crystallized: On the one hand, the jury convinced that these demonstrations were evidence of an attempted coup d’état, and on the other hand, the defendants for whom everything had been an exercise training within the rules of time. I, there was no question that I could conceive anything from that impromptu debate, with my question borrowed from Aranit chela. As for the second question, which was related to ranks, I remember that the generals answered in general; at least that’s how it sounded to me, a 20-year-old judge with 20 days under uniform…/Memorie.al
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