From Liri Lubonja
The first part
Memorie.al / Liri Lubonja, is the wife of the former political prisoner, Todi Lubonja, former Director of the Albanian Radio-Television, beaten “for liberalism” by Enver Hoxha in 1973-74 (after the 11th Festival National Song in RTSH), ending up in Burrel prison from 1974 to 1987 and also she is the mother of the well-known writer, publicist and journalist Fatos Lubonja, also a political prisoner, from 1974 to in 1991. Liri Lubonja has skilfully narrated in the book “Far from the people”, the vicissitudes, sufferings and persecution of her and the entire Lubonja family, during the years of exile. A woman who testifies to the suffering of women in the socialist system, for which she herself had fought.
FRAGMENTS FROM THE BOOK “FAR AND AMONG PEOPLE”
(Memories of exile 1973-1990)
July 25, 1974. They knocked. I sleepily looked at the clock: it was 6:00 in the morning. Who could come so early?! Not without concern, I got dressed and went out to open the gate. It was a stranger who told me: “I wanted some Fatos”. – Who are you? – I asked him.. He answered that he came from the Internal Branch. I froze in place and the saliva in my mouth dried up. Fatosin? – I asked with surprise and trepidation. He said softly and slowly: “We just want to ask him about something.”
I went and woke up Fatos. Wearing the beige velvet pants and the shirt, he said: – “What happened”?! He ran his hands through his hair and left the gate. I was shocked. Although it seemed absurd to Todi and I didn’t want to accept it, I was mentally prepared for prison, even in Tirana, but it never occurred to me that they would lay hands on the boys as well. I couldn’t stand this. Fatosi in prison?! Even if I had thought of this, I would have had shivers and chills.
I had woven the most beautiful and best dreams for him. They were neither for wealth nor for office. They were completely intellectual, connected to some of his predispositions and a little to the dreams and desires that I had not managed to realize myself in life. In Fatosi, I found many things in common with my older brother, Fiqret, a true intellectual, who had always been a guide and inspiration for me.
We stayed at the doors of the Internal Branch. In the morning, the Vice President told us that he would come by the lunch train; when he didn’t come with him, he talked to us about dinner, and the next morning, nothing bad happened, he told us the truth: – “They kept him, arrested him”. It was the biggest blow I had ever suffered. We were poisoned, we all frowned. And what could be said to Ana, who was so attached to Fatos, who was constantly looking for her father?
We left Zanë with Gim and the girls for Tirana. We lived the pain for the boy, which for me was not the only one. Ominous thoughts, fears about Todd were not shared with me…but those two days I never spoke about them. Todd himself should have had it worse. We had forgotten that we had to eat, even though he was diabetic, but in an instant, with anger and revolt, I shouted: – We must survive, and I collected myself and laid out lunch.
On July 27, I went to work, like every day. At 12 o’clock, Abdullai gave me the card registration book, entry and exit slips and sent me home. He was doing this for the first time. Todd came as always after 3 o’clock, tired and exhausted from the heavy work he was doing and which had completely melted him. He was preparing to rest in bed when there was a knock at the door. It was Hysniu, an employee of his company, who told me that Todi was wanted by the director.
“Director at this hour”? – Todi asked with surprise and doubt and started to get dressed, while I went out to tell Hysni that Todi was leaving and to close the door. But no, it had to be open, so he asked me for a glass of water. I didn’t manage to get the glass when a whole “unit” entered. Hysniu had disappeared. He had done his job well.
The Head of the Branch, Mithat Bare, spoke loudly: – “Todi Lubonja, you are under arrest”! For that narrow apartment, the six men who arrived as well as a woman, the head of the City Council, were too many. A real invasion. The first brush with the chairman happened when I was packing Todd’s diabetes medicine and toothbrush in a letter. What naivety?!
And where was it allowed to equip the arrested person with such “luxury” tools! This is how this action of mine seemed to the mayor, because he got angry and scolded me. Todi, angry, while taking off his shoes, said angrily: – “Why are you talking to him like that”! The chairman was not used to being opposed, especially in such cases, that’s why it seems that the blood rushed to his head, he turned to me again and told me with all his nerves: – “Quickly put on your shoes, because you are coming with us”.
What was that? To give another blow, the third, to Todd, who was just taken, maybe they had arrested Fatos, or to instill fear in me? I understood that I was not being arrested; otherwise, when he entered the gate and “announced” the arrest of Todd, he would have felt greater satisfaction, if there were two. Why did I have to go with them, when there was no one else at home but them?
I learned the truth only when I went to Burrel, in prison and met Todd. During the investigation, Todi was told: “We have also arrested Liri.” A severe psychological pressure, a blow to the arrested person, who during the investigation is completely isolated, without any connection with the family. In Burrel, Todd told me how, when he was taken out of his cell, he secretly glanced at the women’s shoes, sandals, slippers, lined up in the corridor and tried to find mine among them.
I couldn’t even walk Todd to the gate. As I was putting on my shoes, they had taken it out. He was dressed in a very thin, old suit, in which he went to work there at the tiles. We did not have time to think that the cold cell even in summer wanted a warmer garment. It was not only a matter of time actually, but also of experience. Todi spent the winter in the cell with that suit. Accepting or not accepting clothes, as well as food, was part of the “strategy”, the pressure used on the prisoners.
I was thus left alone among those seven foreigners who had just started the operation. With a declamatory tone, which did not fit at all in those moments, the mayor addressed me: – “Liri Lubonja, under criminal responsibility, tells me if you have weapons, other material and yellow books at home”! Contracted by his whole demeanor, I replied: ‘I have none of this. Give me to sign and go’. He became even angrier: – “What did you say?! Let’s go…”?! He knew his job well, while I had never seen how arrests and house searches were made. I didn’t even know that you have to reveal everything: from the most intimate clothes, which were lifted one by one among all those men to the digging of flower pots on the balcony. Everything called paper that was found in drawers of nightstands, cupboards was passed through the hands.
Two pictures caught the attention of the one who took them first. From among them gazed two elderly, noble men – one with a beard and moustache. It seems that they were different in their clothes and appearance from those he was used to seeing, so to show his great zeal in the work he was doing, he passed it to the investigator Koço Josifi, who came from Tirana, who with the gesture that waved to them, it was understood that Konstandin Kristoforidhi and Bajram Curri did not constitute any compromising material.
I kept them on the dresser out of respect for Todd’s father, who had taken care to preserve those cards as long as he lived, adding a card to the back. Two vials of the drug “Viks” caught Hekuran’s attention, so he directed them again to the investigator, who, without further ado, motioned for him to leave them in place.
The mayor, who came to us to arrest Todi, after telling me that he was from Kuçi and asking me about my date of birth, thought for a while and said: – “I am a year younger than you and I went to war a year ago to you”. In the situation I was in, I remembered a friend of ours, when they worked with Todi at “Zzirin e Populli”, who once told me to tease me:- “Do you know why Fterra was separated from Vlora and has united with Saranda”? Every time they boarded the bus in Vlora, the Kuciotes said to the Fterriots: From the end, you fought less than us. The Fterriots could not stand this, so one day they asked to secede. Fterra was the village of their birth of my father and elder brother, Fiqret.
Until 1971, I had never seen it, but I loved this village. A distant thing, but I felt mine. Then we had laughed, but how could I do it now? To tell the mayor that I had participated in the war from the beginning, that in 1944 I had represented the youth of Tirana at the first Congress of Anti-Fascist Youth and that I was the holder of the Medal of Remembrance was not even worth it, but when he threatened me that even they were going to take my house, for the first time I also “knocked” on that “laby pit”, saying: – ‘To have a room to live in, I fought too’. You said that those who had not fought should not have. But at that moment it seemed to me that this was the language I should use with him.
Since the weapons were not found, he returned to the yellow books. I told them with conviction that we didn’t have any, and then I added: – What do you call yellow books, it depends. He shook his head angrily and added: – “Wow! You know well who the yellow book is.” I knew it very well, that’s why I asked. I had a history with the “yellow books” work. I was returning from the Soviet Union in September of 1955. Their employee at the Durrës customs, who was doing the check, found among my books “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in Italian.
I don’t know if it was the word “adventure” or the Italian language that made him doubt. He separated it from the others saying: – I will keep this, I will return it later. But instead of the book, he sent me the review: “Todi Lubonja’s wife reads yellow books” (?!) When Tom Sojeri was published in Albanian, I wanted to send him a copy with a small note. I don’t know how much this mayor of Lezha learned from literature, but it seems that I was angrier than I should have been in such cases, while the council president put her hand on my shoulder and advised me not to get angry.
While in the room where Gimi slept, they collected all the books, the Tirana investigators browsed everything they found in the bedroom, among the bedside tables: notebooks, notes, and letters. The money that Koçua found, he counted allegedly with indifference. There were 800 new ALL in total, which Fatosi had brought from some items we had sold in Tirana. In a couple of files (that’s how they were named in the minutes) they gathered those things that were apparently “compromising”, almost all mine, with the exception of a manuscript about Todd’s war years.
So they took with them: files of my work at the Institute of History covering the period from the League of Prizren, 1879 to the June Revolution 1924, a notebook with information about flowers (dosage of fertilizer, soil, soil, sand, etc.), a notebook with notes from the 1st Albanian Anti-Fascist Youth Congress on August 8, 1944 and some notes I had kept from October 1973, when I started working in the agricultural warehouse.
Florian Kolaneci, the other investigator from Tirana, seemed to find the “key” in these notes, so he almost kidnapped them. I had written them with great care and with a conviction that one day they would read them. Only I could read between the lines. They could only find in it a workers’ reality described as it was and how a person who lived it for the first time could see it directly, without sugarcoating it.
But the chief investigator Hasnedari, with that “wisdom”, his malice, his predisposition had “caught” an irony. That’s how he described, shaking his head threateningly and scowling at me, the part where I was talking about “the health savings campaign”. What should I do to the deputy director of the Lezha hospital who, when the problem of my admission to the Tirana hospital came up, for the diagnosis of a prolonged subphlebrility, said to me: – “You will not be admitted in Tirana, but in Shkodër, because the savings campaign caught you”. (?!)
Finally the check was over. They filled out a report and brought into Gim’s room, apart from all the books, photographs, written letters that we kept on the nightstands, also the most valuable furniture of the house that, apparently, should be confiscated, except for the washing machine. Then, with great solemnity, they “sealed” it with twine and wax. I say “sealed” in quotation marks, because later, when they took us out of the house, we found out that those from Dega had entered there as many times as they wanted.
During the inspection, behind the door of the room, on a nail, my apron was hanging. I had the newly finished film in her pocket. When they didn’t leave a pocket without returning to the clothes that were in the closet, I felt something like excitement in the dead soul. They wouldn’t find it; they wouldn’t take it and spoil the film with their inhumanity, their cruelty. Those pictures that who knows when we would take them again, like that together, would be saved. Even I was surprised by that special feeling that had taken over me, while the seven of them wandered around the house. I called it a revenge on them.
In the meantime, from the bathroom, it seems that the “division of work” had fallen to him – the Deputy Mayor was taking out, holding the kerosene furnace by one leg, which he dropped in the middle of the corridor. But what proof of guilt could she give them? I understood immediately: it was not clean and a spider had woven a web on it. This is the reason why he had taken it out. It had to prove that we, among others, did not even know what cleanliness was. I looked at him with indifference. No one else spoke and the Deputy Speaker led him back to the seat.
According to the chairman’s order, I left for the Branch. I wanted to put the key to the door, but no. The Vice President sat at home. A second (eighth) also came, which seems to have been needed to accompany him. Those who would come to us would be living with “leek in their hands”.
In that small room full of cigarette butts, designated for the reception of the people in Dega, you could breathe from the smell of stale tobacco, smoked during the day, so when I entered I wanted to open the window. But from outside I received an arrogant order to close it. That Florian was sitting on the edge of the flower garden in front of Dega with a man, to whom he was constantly talking. He didn’t stop at howling, but came to the window, continuing to call me.
It seemed to me that he wanted to take out his anger on me for a word I had said to him during the inspection. Together with Koço, they were checking the closet where he “discovered” those notes of mine. There, a small square box caught his eye. I don’t know why he hesitated to open it, but I, deliberately, to offend him, because his great zeal was unbearable, I took the box in my hand and said: – Don’t be afraid, it’s a TV remote control – and I started to open it . Koçua, engrossed in those things, raised his head, looked me in the eyes and laughed a little, while Florian, full of anger, answered me: – “I’m not afraid, no”.
I was waiting in that small room thinking about what had happened during the day and what Gimi would say on the phone at 8 o’clock. He had gone to Tirana to take an interest in Fatos. Would they let me go?
The “show” with me was over. After an hour they told me I could leave. I left for PTT. Gimi told me that as soon as he and Zana had arrived at Fatos’s apartment in Tirana, there was a check that overturned him. Todd’s brother and brother-in-law had been arrested. No news from Fatosi. I told him: “They also took my father today.” Memorie.al
To be continued from the next issue