By Maksim Rakipaj
– Excerpt from the book “Alive after the sinking of the ship”, by the publicist, translator and writer Maksim Rakipaj, former officer of the Merchant Navy, who suffered in the prisons of the communist regime, as a political prisoner-
Continues from last issue
Memorie.al / September-October ’79. I have been in Spaç for over three months. I continue with great effort the heavy work of the miner. The work becomes even more difficult because from the 7-8 atmospheres that should be the air pressure that must come to the hammer, it never reaches more than 4 atmospheres and baromina, it only makes noise and dust and does not open the holes in the rock. Surprisingly, I like to work on fronts where the hardness of the rock is very high. I have to sit for 4 hours in the dust of the hammer to barely complete the work cycle. I look forward to the end of the shift with great pleasure, wash with cold water inside the gallery, get dressed and go down with the brigade to enter the camp. I made many new friends here, from all over Albania. They come from different professions; teachers, such as: Ron Çobani and Visar Zhiti, writers such as Halil Laze, painters, etc. With different political beliefs: there are Eurocommunists (!), Ballistas, Zozistas, pro-Russians, pro-Americans, as far as I know. From all walks of life. There are some of them who were born in exile, who continue the family tradition in communist prisons, grandfather-father-son…!
There is also high communist nomenclature, not as many as in Ballsh, but there are also here. There is also my job that I don’t know where to line up…!? My father started the war as a ballistician and ended it as a partisan wounded twice.
After the war, an officer in the artillery, then in the genio (after my father, my grandfather, was declared a kulak, and one brother was sentenced and the other was shot without trial in prison). Working as an officer in the engineering, working with “declassed” soldiers, always kept him under tension.
The fear of mentioning the biography made him work harder than others. He stood out as an outstanding and “high” organizer; they had a good eye on him. Acquaintances and former partisanship played a large role. In 1960, he was demobilized from the army when we were living in Saranda and my father was working in the construction of the Bistrica hydropower plant.
The intervention of Rrahman Hanku as Deputy Minister of Construction saved him from the risk of being expelled from the party. Getting to know Dashnor Mamaqi and several others also helped. We were transferred to Shkozet.
We were accommodated in some buildings that were originally designed for storage and we had the toilets outside the apartment. Father was sent as site director for reclamation of the swamp around Lezha. “For one year, Xhafer, then we will settle you near the family in Durrës”, – …one more year, one more year… it was a full 13 years away from the family! The anonymous letters that came to the Party Committees, covering the area where my father worked, never stopped…!
“How it is possible that the son of a kulak and the brother of a political convict, with 17 years in prison and with his brother shot runs an enterprise”!? “Does the Party know that…”? However, in 1976, he was expelled from the party with the motivation: “He softened the class struggle; he continuously helped elements with a bad biography.
The family background of Xhafer Rakipaj also influenced this”. Wounds received in war and selfless work did not count. The biography was the first, which sometimes the Party pretended not to know…!
The party knew, but cases like mine were not few in Albania in those years. “We are two million people, we are all cousins to each other…” – a friend of yours told your father that you had received an order to find four construction engineers for a special office in Tirana.
They had to be skilled and experienced engineers, but (above all) with clear biographies…! “I couldn’t find anyone to do; I don’t know how to report up there, big trouble…”!
I had it easier in Spaç; I didn’t choose people according to their political beliefs, but according to their character. I patiently listened to their explanations and learned from them. By hearing stories of people who lived through the war, I learned to judge differently than I had learned in school.
Talking with Ahmet Kolgjin, Murat Kalaveri, etc., I began to see the Monarchy period with a different eye, the reasons for the Monarchy’s birth at that time, the complex personality of King Ahmet Zog I.
No more with the hatred we were fed at school. Not even with worship, but with the respect we should have for the creator of the modern Albanian state, who tried to maneuver in turbulent times, without allies, only with enemies, with collaborators who had no problem at all selling to foreigners. But I will not dwell on it, although there is much to say.
…I received a letter from the family. I went to get it when the camp bellman called my name. I read the letter sadly, when, as soon as I put it in my pocket, someone I didn’t know approached me. Around the forties, he had tied a white rope around his brown prison coat and it made him look like a Franciscan monk…!
– I’m sorry for the inconvenience, sir, but I can’t go on without you…! I denied that you received a letter with the surname Ragipaj…?! Do you know Xhafer Ragipaj?
– Yes – I told him – Xhafer Rakipaj is my father…!
– Don’t! I just found the deserted Xhafer… with a son in prison.
– Xhaferi is at home – I told him – I am in prison, not him…!
– I don’t know why you went to prison, sir, I don’t care anymore and I don’t know you. But let me introduce myself… my last name is Hardhia. All the men of our tribe, they are shot, they are in prisons, and their families work for the afternoon and evening in the cooperative…!
They didn’t accept us in state work, except when Xhaferri came to reclamation. He gave up and took us to work. There was a lot of fighting from above, but he stayed, he protected us…! They do my job, that’s why I keep them…! Xhaferri is gone from the reclamation of Lezha, the sun has gone out for us…!
Many, many thanks to Mr. Xhaferr… from the tribe of Vines; I tell you, she remembers us. I felt good, I felt really good. I felt warmer, more “accepted” in Spaç.
But I felt the love of Lezhians for me more strongly, after my release. More people from Lezha than from Durrës have come to congratulate us at home, without denying the warmth that my Shkozeti offered us. Memorie.al