By Viktor Martini
Memorie.al / Viktor Martini were born in Shkodër in 1940. After the arrest of his father, an officer of King Zog, by the communist regime, political persecution also began against the Martini family. Victor and his brothers from a young age experienced the prisons of the communist dictatorship and the occasional arrests of family members, being accused of escape attempts and of agitation and propaganda against the people’s power. Victor has made a contribution to the anti-communist and democratic movements in Shkodër, such as the attempt to remove the bust of the dictator Stalin on January 13 and 14, 1990. He is also one of the founders and the leader of the first branch of the Association of former Political Prisoners and Persecuted of Albania in Shkodër and of the newspaper “Pishtari”. The disappointment he suffered was so great that he was forced to take political asylum in the USA. He is the author of the book “witness”, part of which we have selected to publish in this article.
THE HORROR OF JANUARY 13, 1990
From 7 o’clock in the evening I left the center of the square and headed home. At the “Jordan Misja” school, I met Dede Kasnec, who was the person who wholeheartedly dedicated himself to the demonstrations. I had met him a few days before and we had talked about the demonstration. Deda had shown me the opening thought through a speech.
We were hoping for Dom Simon Jubani…! I had also consulted with a friend of mine to appeal to all of Shkodra, as well as how we would lead those Shkodra people who spared nothing for freedom in throwing down the symbol of the dictatorship, the bust of Stalin…! Deda had noticed that they were following us when 2-3 days before I had accompanied her home by motorbike.
– Grandfather, – I told him, – if they arrest us, you have to say that I went to drink a glass of wine at Viktori’s, because it makes it good. You are known as the wonder of wines. Don’t believe anything in my address without checking…!
Deda had gone to all the neighborhoods of Shkodra, Serreq, Gjuhadol and others. It was more of a spontaneous electrification than an organization. It seemed that at that moment everyone was being called by the voice of conscience to overthrow Stalin’s bust. When I met Deda at the “Jordan Misja” school, he was a little worried that he was being followed everywhere…!
– I pray that some twenty young men are gathered, determined to die, and with God’s help, we will tear Stalin’s bust to pieces, – he told me.
– Grandfather, for God’s sake I will not leave you alone until then. And if no one else comes, I will open the speech myself, – I told him…!
As in many other Shkodra houses, the main topic of that dinner was the next day. This was the long awaited day. The time had come for us to remove the rope from our throats and that of the entire Albanian people and speak our word against the dictatorship of dictators.
The doorbell interrupted our conversation. I went to the gate and saw a familiar person, who worked in the Internal Branch of Shkodra.
– I wanted Victor Martin.
– I am, – I answered.
– We have a question to ask.
I approached the door. At his side stood a short, unknown civilian with a three-quarter length jacket. In the darkness, the features were indistinguishable.
– You will come with us to Dega. We have a few questions to ask you.
– I’m putting on the jacket, – I told them.
– No, – said the stranger, – you should not turn back.
There they immediately grabbed me by the arms and took me to the end of the street, where the Police minibus was waiting. We went inside and left for Dega. We went down to the pine yard that I knew as well as my own backyard. When we got to the second floor, the stranger knocked on the door and we went inside. At the head of the table stood the chairman, Naim Lezha.
– In the name of the people, you are under arrest, – said the stranger suddenly and quickly took out the irons from his pocket and, tightening them, looked at me as if he wanted to eat me alive. His face resembled a hungry beast…!
– I am convinced that it will be some misunderstanding and you have no reason to keep me here – I told him.
– We’ll show you the reason…!
He kicked me as hard as he could with his left leg. He took out a rubber stick from his belt and before starting the “physical education” he said to me:
– You will show what you will do tomorrow or I will take out your mother’s milk.
– I don’t understand what you are talking about! – I said, trying to defend myself.
I hadn’t even finished speaking when the rubber club slammed into my back, which was only protected by a thin T-shirt. Then they sat me down in a chair with my hands back. Thus began the merciless beating. The stick rose up and fell without rest on my shoulders and chest…!
– Huh, you’re going to tell or not?
– What should I tell you?
After about an hour of torture, my body had turned blue. Another stranger came in, came closer and after taking my shirt and rower I noticed the blue color of the body.
– Why did you decide to die as a hero? – He laughed ironically and then added, – Go on, go on… – and went out the door again.
The vice president also came out with him. Now the beast and the prey were alone. Again the rubber stick began its task. The stranger forced me to my feet, kicking me mercilessly on my buttocks. My body started to tremble, but as time went by, I no longer felt the pains like in the beginning.
I prayed to God to give me strength and felt proud that I was enduring the torture. The officers of the Branch began to come in turn to watch, as if they were Nero’s spectators when he tortured the Christian Romans. At one point when the cat kicked me in the wooden prosthesis, I turned to him:
– This leg where it hits does not feel pain, it is made of wood. Bring from the other, that God has given him the power to withstand two rations…!
– How? – He asked surprised. – Wooden leg? – And looked at his friends around. Almost everyone lowered their heads.
– Why do you take yourself in the neck, all your friends have told, but not you – a voice was heard.
– I have no idea what friends you are talking about and why you are torturing me like this.
– Don’t beat yourself up. Show better – intervened a Shkodran officer, sampist.
– What should I tell you? You will understand that I am completely innocent and you will release me. You will be ashamed to look me in the eyes one day.
– Well, why did you put Dede Kasneci on the motorcycle? What did you talk about? Where did you go and what have you prepared for tomorrow?
– I met him in the square. Almost drunk and begged me to rent it with house wine. I didn’t like it, so I took it home. He drank almost a bottle of wine and left drunk. What could I talk to a drunk? Tell me, please, didn’t he break anything, didn’t he kill anyone?
– He has experience, – said one of them, – they are Martin, they have a rock head.
These words seemed to point the sampist towards incompetence and began to hit me mercilessly. Then he put his hands on my shoulders near my neck and with his nails he started to pull my flesh. I clenched my muscles in defense. We were staring at each other like two mortal enemies. He gritted his teeth and said:
– Christian! – As if you were Nero himself.
…They threatened to take me to the iron walrus. Çapajev Taçi himself entered as if furious and putting the revolver to my head said:
– We will shoot you, we do not leave the power in the hands of the enemies, – and going out the door he added, – Krbaç!
The sampist hit me on the back of the head with a stick. I lost my mind, I lost my sight, but I didn’t fall. As if through a fog, I could hear the calls of the sampist
– Speak speak!
– I don’t see, – I answered instinctively.
They grabbed me by the arms and put me on the chair. I decided to sit as if in a bracket to rest a bit and through slightly open eyelashes I tried to see what was happening in the room. Naim Lezha took a needle from the table and began to pierce my body to see that I was not pretending. It was not difficult for me to cope with the fact that the body no longer felt pain, it was swollen beyond measure.
After a bucket of water was thrown in my face, I started to recover, but soon started to vomit. They brought me a bucket, untied my hands and didn’t bother me anymore. I was shaking all over. The light was starting to come out. Pavlin Merdja, thought he was smarter than the others and entered to do his test.
– If I’m not mistaken, – he said, – you are originally from Hoti, and so am I. If I give you Hoti’s oath, tell me the truth and I will release you and go home.
– Do you really release me if I tell you the truth? Do you believe me?
– Yes, – he said and immediately extended his hand to me.
I extended my hand to him too. Everyone looked at each other wondering how he managed to achieve his goal.
– By faith, – I told him, – I don’t know anything, nor have I heard anything. You are falling on my neck for nothing.
When he heard these words, he let go of my hand and immediately started cursing with the vocabulary of a streetwalker. The others turned their heads to the side and laughed at Paul’s attempt at cleverness!
Then they started making fun of me, how can uneducated children play with a madman in the street. There were blood stains on the floor. I noticed that blood was flowing from my leg.
– Where did you do that, did you fall off your motorcycle?
– Yes, with a motorbike.
– You see, he is smart, he knows how to answer.
By ten o’clock in the morning, only I and the vice president were left in the room, which, from time to time, looked at the clock. I kept my ears up so as not to hear the voices of the demonstrators and at the same time I thought what they would think at home about my not coming back. Of course they will be worried. Do you think they will have notified these damned? Around twelve o’clock, there was a thud and the sound of cars that could be heard from time to time.
There was noise in the corridors. At half past one they handed me over to the interrogator and slammed me into the cell. It was easier for me to stand up than to lie on the floor because of the pain in my body. From ten o’clock in the evening I was taken to the investigator’s room. The body was shivering. The teeth were chattering partly from the pain and partly from the January cold. The investigator told me to sit on the chair. Then he took some papers, lit a fire in the stove, and began his craft.
– Who have you met in the last few days?
I counted people who had nothing to do with this issue. He asked me about Ded Kasnec and I gave him the same answer that I had given to others. He didn’t hold me long and they took me back to the cell. The next night, in addition to the investigator, there was also the chief investigator Gjergj, who started a psychological war and mocked the religion of Christ.
– How do you think Christ was? – He asked me.
I was ashamed to hide my opinion, but this was not the moment to preach among these atheists that they would be badly enraged, and I answered him indirectly.
– Some, – I said naively, – believe him as a cosmonaut who came from other planets, some believe him as a wise man and some believe him as God himself.
– What do you think?
– I believe in God, because I am a Christian with conviction.
– What do you Christians think, what are your beliefs?
– We think like Christ, we hate violence, contempt and have mercy on those who torture us…!
I wasn’t done yet, when my face was filled with spit and my ears with curses. I have never been more physically crushed in my life and at the same time I have never been more proud. They took me to the cell and didn’t bother me anymore. I huddled under the blanket and tried to warm myself with my breath.
After five days they took me out of the cell and put me in an ambulance. They squeezed my hands terribly. After a while they brought Ndoc Liqejza, Gjovalin Rolbe, Pjerin Veli, Paulin Shtjefni, Gjovalin Zefi. Two policemen entered the car with us. After three hours we were at hospital no. 2, in Tirana. They took off our clothes and put on hospital clothes. When I was taking off my sweater and the boat full of blood, everyone let out a “woo-woo-woo, they’ve drowned you”. I approached Pjerin Veli and asked him:
– Did the demonstration take place, or did it fail?
– That’s right, – he said, – almost our people from Shkodra took part, but you stay calm and take care of your wounds.
– You healed my wounds, – I told him.
After taking a bath, we were taken to the rooms. They took Ndoci and Pjerin together. I was left with the others in a four room. The room had beds and sheets washed. Now, – I thought to myself, whatever happens, at least I’m with people. An officer came and told us that we were not under arrest and that if we had money we could buy cigarettes and food. It turned out that I had some money and bought cigarettes and food for everyone. The day flew by. At dinner, after eating, we fell asleep. I fell asleep immediately without thinking about what would happen…! Seventeen days, almost the same, passed very quickly.
One day we heard loud footsteps in the corridor. They brought us our clothes through the rooms and told us to get ready very quickly, but they didn’t tell us anything about it. They were all civilians, young, powerful guys. We passed through the narrow corridors of the hospital and went out into the courtyard. The iron door opened and behind the door was an ambulance in which we all entered. They didn’t handcuff us and gave us everything we had when we were arrested.
The civilians got into the car with us. We were all worried about where they were taking us. After passing through the center, the car took the road to Elbasan. Civilians were quiet, more willing to ask and listen. One of us would answer, but I wanted to listen. My mind was just too bad for me. Where and for how long would this work go?
The car stopped in front of the psychiatric hospital of Elbasan. They brought us inside the ward to the doctor’s room. As soon as we entered the faces of the civilians who had accompanied us, the confusion began to be clearly seen. A nurse in a white blouse was holding a filled syringe. Three Sambists grabbed me by the legs and arms and threw me into the place where the sick were visited, with my chest down. One ordered the nurse:
– Quickly make the needle!
The nurse obeyed the order. I made up my mind that this needle was deadly. It seemed clear to me that they were killing us without trial and were going to bury us without a trace.
Oh God, give me strength so that I don’t let go of the curse because of fear that these stinkers will be satisfied, – I said to myself. Then again I said to myself that prayer that must be said before death, “the work of repentance”. My tongue started to thicken and I was no longer able to control my limbs. They grabbed me by the arms and slammed me onto a bed in the corner of a large room. I was thirsty, I called as hard as I could to bring me water, but no one answered.
* * *
… February passed and we were approaching the end of March. The director of the hospital, through Dr. Bashkimi, had informed us that at the end of March we would be released from this isolation. It was about an order of the Ministry of the Interior. The institution of psychiatry this time too, as in many other cases, was dependent on the Ministry of the Interior.
In the meantime, I had called Liza to bring me the clothes. On March 30, Liza and her nephew came from Tirana with the hope that we would all return together. But no. When Liza and Mondi were presented to Dr. Union, the head of the pavilion had told them that the order was canceled directly by the Minister of the Interior. Oh God! Liza’s horror and tears shook the hospital and the surrounding area. We had already given up hope that they would let me out of this place alive, where the creatures of disaster lived…!
* * *
On the morning of April 1, around nine o’clock in the morning, Dr. Bashkimi called us to his room and told us that we were free and could run away to our homes. I was extremely happy…! After getting dressed in our clothes, we made our way to the center. I went to the post office and told them to wait for me at dinner at the train.
…Mondi, Liza’s nephew, met me at the train in Shkodër. Although there is an age difference with Mondi, the events of life, especially those of January ’90, had connected us and made us friends. All the people of the house were overjoyed at my sudden return. Leri had not yet recovered from the tortures of the night of January 13, in which the Minister of the Interior himself had participated…!
But the city had taken on a sad look, people gathered early at home. Outside in the streets of Shkodra, there was a silence like in the desert. Only military shoes could be heard at night on the sidewalks and alleys…! Memorie.al