By Eugjen Merlika
A life under dictatorship
Memories of a “class enemy”
MIXING Literary, Social, Historical and Human.
“Here is the oil and the sadness
It is already felt among the leaders
This is where the sound is felt
Of my bars
The grief of a deserter
“The sea waves are falling.”
Continued from the previous issue
Surprisingly, after “hearing” from foreign newspapers and radios the presence of methods of extermination in the daily practice of the camp, the officers of the Ministry of Interior, who came to communicate its demolition, as worthy spokesmen of the masters of they expressed “surprise” at what had happened. The criminal hypocrisy went so far as to hold the victims accountable, as “they had not complained above”, a dirty and cynical way of hiding those who had planned in detail the crime and who were directing the fate of the country. It was a daring attempt to save the “washed face” of leaders, for whom “man is the most precious capital.” It is surprising that even today, there are people who conscientiously say that “water comes from above, but is disturbed from below”, that the Government thought about the people, but the cadres below acted according to their wishes. What naivety to find the explanation of so many evils!
Following the strategy of exterminating the Tepelena camp, the leadership designed a new system for the mass of people representing the “opposition” to socialism. Stalin had died and the foundations of his work had begun to shake in his place; preparing for the Geneva meeting of the Big Four, Nikita Khrushchev began talking about a new course. The Albanian Stalinist leadership thought that mass terror, exercised for ten years, was no longer useful. His examples are compelling and numerous facts. Suffice it to recall Beden, Orman-Pojan, Vloçisht, Vlashuk, and other forced labor camps, where hundreds of political prisoners died, where the man was buried alive in the mud of the canal by a police boot. Let us remember all those who were shot for the bomb dropped in the yard of the Soviet Embassy, the unprecedented repression of the people of Mirdita, after the assassination of Bardhok Biba and other cruel demonstrations of the communist dictatorship, in those horrible years.
Now the tactics had to be changed. The internment took another form and the place of its implementation was assigned Lushnja, a city in the center of Albania, near the Tërbuf swamp. A new farm was to be built there and labor was needed. Most of the internees, gathered in different camps, gathered here. Here I too joined my grandmother, mother, and uncle who had served his prison sentence.
Living conditions improved compared to Tepelena. Families were housed in separate huts and rooms, with a minimum of comfort and extreme poverty. But the internees put their chests to work in agriculture and, with their sweat, began to feed off the cauldron of oatmeal. With hard work and sacrifice, they established the largest farm sectors in Albania. Thanks to their work, Lushnja became the barn of the Country. The people of Lushnja, in spite of the constant psychological pressure and the savage party propaganda, which presented the “internees” as enemies, did not treat us badly. The vast majority of Lushnja residents realized that we were innocent victims. Unlike the hostile attitude of the people of Tepelena, they showed towards us understanding and in many cases sympathy and friendship.
My whole life is connected with Lushnja, from the age of ten onwards. There I attended seven-year school and later high school in the gymnasium that opened in 1956, where I was lucky enough to attend the first graduation. School time, her memories, is probably the most beautiful part of a teenager’s life. Too bad this time was always conditioned by social position, the “fate” of being born with a certain surname, the fact of being the son of a prisoner and an internee. And the breathing narrowed, when every day hung over his head, like the sword of Damocles, the expression “do you know who you are” ?! This is how my friends and I grew up, without pretensions, without dreams, spiritually truncated, content with a piece of bread with cottage cheese or sugar, shy to tell the truth of our lives.
We lived among people; at school we had relationships with teachers and students. In front of the memory screen all pass and a good portion of them revive me deep respect and consideration. How can I forget my teachers, who did not discriminate against me in their conscience, who gave me the grade I deserved, who did not immediately put before my eyes the walls of the class war, who showed understanding, compassion, consideration, kindness, and when you were asked and pressured to the contrary?
The names of the director Llazar Prifti, the teachers Thoma Papa, Liri Kazazi, Pirro Risilia, Rexhep Ballhysa, Shefqet Karaj, Niko Deda, Hajro Babameto, Pëllumb Omari, Myfit Juka etc., I remember with kindness and today, after thirty one years of finishing school. Some of them are no more, may their memory be honored, some are retired and someone continues his work. After so many years they probably do not remember me, but I remember them and wish they had remained as I knew them, not to have become ideological robots of a policy that conflicts so much with their noble profession. It was a fortune for me to have to deal with those teachers, most of the older generation, because I have also seen modern-day teachers, for whom the job of police officer or Security officer would have been more appropriate.
Relationships with schoolmates, especially classmates, have been, with rare exceptions, very good. I do not know what they said in their youth meetings, where I never attended, where various lecturers were constantly preaching the deepening of the class struggle, that is, the separation from us, but with me they were always polite and humane. The years that followed put our society to the test even stronger. For some of them like Goni, Xheni, Berti, Halili, Lakja and other classmates and schoolmates, I wish I could ever be able to reward their friendship, as they deserve it and as I wish.
It has been three decades since graduating from high school. We are all approaching or in our fifties. Everyone has their own family and personal problems, but we continue to care for each other; what a beautiful thing! Our paths in life have been different. Mine and some like me were uphill knives, with horrible hones on the side, but that of my friends with “good biography”, was not a field of flowers. There were some of them who made a career and, from her height, there were cases when she did not even bother to let me know, because I was interned, or maybe she was afraid that someone might hold her accountable for having “connections” with enemies. But there were also those I mentioned above who showed signs of friendship in the most difficult days for me, who quietly challenged the dictatorship, letting her, know that human feelings could not be shackled by its hated principles.
Meanwhile, the odyssey of migrations from one sector to another continued, both according to the needs of the farm and the desire of the leaders of the Lushnja Branch of Internal Affairs. Until 1957, for four years, we stayed in a single room in the Plug. We slept on the floor because we had no beds. The tail lit up, a small candle, until our relatives brought us a kerosene lamp. We warmed ourselves in the flames of cotton wool or pruned olive branches, which my mother brought on her back, having worked all day in the field. In spite of great material difficulties, we were held high by the morality of kindness to one another, the idea of common suffering, of resisting the evil that was imposed on us.
Remember the New Year’s nights that celebrated twenty or thirty people together. The greetings were made with half a glass of wine and accompanied by some candy or at best with some apples or oranges. We waited until midnight singing and telling anecdotes to laugh. We had no radio, no music, no electric lights, no desks, but we were comforted with each other and with the dreams that each of us wove for better days.
In 1957 we stayed in Savër for almost a year, but in 1958 the Gradishta sector was opened. A total of five or six families were assigned, starting with the red pencil, as the then Branch President, Nuçi Tira, sincerely expressed. Two barracks and two houses, without water, without light and without roads; this was the new sector that would be erected in the middle of the former Tërbuf swamp. The swamp was said by the prisoners, including my father. But on the centuries-old peat of the swamp, a new farm had to be erected. This was the mission assigned to the internees. The first ones had to be sacrificed, as political prisoners had to work in all the “great deeds” of socialism, which the regime trumpeted loudly, all the time as “achievements” of the working class. These achievements were built on the life, sweat, blood, hunger of hundreds of thousands of people, the modern slaves of a society, whose mission was “the elimination of human exploitation by man” …!
A policeman, a brigadier, an agronomist, these were the leaders of the new sector, the all-powerful masters, who dictated daily life from morning to evening. Bread came every day in a cart, sometimes and late in the evening, and the desolate carter, Uncle Hidajeti, suffered in the mud road and road. One night he did not return … The canal that brought out his drowned body was named the Hidajet Canal…!
Gradually the population of Gradisht increased, the internees of Kuçi of Kurvelesh came there. There were real intellectuals among them, with universities graduated abroad, with the baggage of western culture, with some foreign languages. There were clergymen among them, the first future Cardinal of the Albanian Catholic Church, Dom Mikel Koliqi, Dom Nikoll Mazrreku (satirist Nikë Barcolla), Father Mark Harapi (translator of Manxoni into Albanian), publicists like Mitat Aranitasi, lawyers like Ibrahim Sokoli or Mark Temali, professors like Guljelm Deda, (Albanian translator of the monumental poem “Crazy Orlandi”), or Nedim Kokona, academic officers like Ali Erebara or Valentin Përvizi. Their arrival enlivened camp life. These were a small part of the anti-communist opposition; they had all been in prisons. After serving their sentences, they were deported by administrative decisions and placed under the direct subordination of a police officer who could barely read their names twice a day. How “generous” was the dictatorship with intelligence…!
I learned many things from them; I sat and discussed with them, I was thirsty for knowledge and I sucked what I could from them. I really liked literature; I read everything, from the Greek classics to the writers of the time. Above all I adored Shakespeare, read and re-read him from time to time. In the tragedy of Hamlet, part of which I had memorized, it seemed to me that I was finding something of myself. Conversations with those wise and cultured men gave me much more knowledge than my newly graduated teachers at the University of Tirana. Those good people, who loved me as their child, taught me how to value art, talked to me about Emerson and Dostoevsky, about De Sanktis and Freud, Emil Ludwig and Lajos Zilah, and many other cultural personalities and world art, which the ruling ideology deliberately left out of our knowledge…!
The memory of those people, especially Ibrahim Sokol, will always remain alive for me, being eternally grateful for what they taught me at that young age, when I had so much desire to expand the horizon of knowledge. He also talked to me about our poets of the pre-war generation, whom he had known closely, about Migjen who I liked very much, about Gaspër Palin, Qemal Stafa. One day he told me about another name that stuck in my mind: Qemal Draçini. He had been a rare talent in the field of criticism, but unfortunately he had a terrible end at his best age. He was arrested and it is not well known how, he died in prison or was shot without trial, in those early years of communist rule, when the struggle to eradicate our nationalist intelligence had taken on the dimensions of genocide piloted by Belgrade.
I was in the last year of high school and I was forced to live in a worker’ barracks in Pluk and, once a week I went home to Gradihtëte. Eat as much as you can, in the canteen or restaurant. My daily quota was 50 ALL. I had to eat breakfast and lunch with them. From that money, I had to save to buy movie tickets and books, which I was in love with. That year, 1959-1960, was the year of the flood of new Soviet films. They felt the new spirit in dealing with the theme of war through de-heroism, but also screened great works of classical Russian literature, for which I had much sympathy. Films from other countries, Italian-French, Egyptian, Mexican, etc. productions began to come. Cinema was for my generation, at that time, the most beautiful entertainment. But the movies, once every two days, eat me up all afternoon. When I got back to the barracks I could not learn because people were talking and joking with each other and, in that noise, it was impossible to concentrate on studying. Then I would get up early in the morning and complete the lesson.
In these conditions I finished high school with good results and with a magical dream in my brain: to continue my higher studies. In the summer of 1960, I had some illusions that I could go on to high school in Mathematics. A number of factors rocked into my cradle the most beautiful dream of my life, a dream that was nurtured by the adolescent’s naiveté for social justice. But August, with the student lists announced, barbarically killed him. As the drowned man who seeks a hair to escape, I used the tool that was and remains a very disappointing illusion for anyone seeking to find as little justice as possible, letters to the highest party and state authorities. Thus, for a whole year, I turned to Manush Mufti, Mehmet Shehu, Enver Hoxha, hoping that one of them could perform the “miracle”, to give me a right to study, at a time when it was said that children should not pay the parents’s faults”! The answers were the same stereotypes: “Address the competent authorities”, a mixture of cynicism and ridicule, an answer that many of my generation believe I have had the opportunity to take it myself, in how many requests.
I could not reconcile myself with this wall in front of me, I crawled with my nails and teeth to overcome it, but I fell down and again I started climbing the stone at the top of the mountain like Sisyphus. I was only sixteen years old and I felt like Hamlet in his proverbial dilemma “To live or not to live”. Everything seemed useless to me, and life itself was colorless, as if a heavy weight were weighing on my shoulders and soul that, from one moment to the next, could take my breath away. No one had the power to help me to fulfill the desire, as righteous as it is human, to study the knowledge I would receive to serve my people. I was a small part of him, but I was denied affiliation because my grandfather had been Prime Minister during the war, when I was not born. I was sentenced from birth, to be just a slave; this was the criminal logic of the leaders of the ALP, who determined in detail the course of my life. This was the sword of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which penetrated deep into our dreams, killed them, massacred them, even if a quote from Lenin, “We must dream”, was written in large letters on school stands. .!
It was a deep pain even for my long-suffering parents, who had once talked at length about where they would take me to study, at Oxford or the Sorbonne. That year I was reunited with my father, who, after fourteen years in prison, had returned home. He had left me two years old and found me a graduate, with great desires to open the way of life, but unable to do anything for him. My fate was the fate of many others who, in conditions similar to mine, were forced to submit to the illusions lost in the desert of injustice that was destroying everything that had been placed on the pedestal of power.
The following year, my father’s uncle, who took my children from the Tepelena camp, made another attempt. He took me to Korça and registered me in the last year of the Pedagogical school “P. N. Luarasi ”. I stayed in that school until November 10, 1961. I can say with conviction that those two and a half months were the most beautiful days of my life to date. It seemed to take my weight off my shoulders, I felt equal to my schoolmates, who quickly became friends with me, probably because they did not know my story well. They also wanted to make me a member of the youth organization. It seemed to me that I found an oasis of greenery in the desert; on the horizon loomed the noble task of a teacher in a village, certainly remote, but I was determined to face any difficulty, it was enough not to detach myself from the books.
During the break, after two hours of teaching on November 10, the principal called me to his office. There I found an officer and a policeman. The officer told me that the decision of the Internment-Deportation Commission was to return to my family in Gradishtë, Lushnja. That communication was like a sharp ax waiting for the newly opened buds of my hopes for the future. I was last greeted by those schoolmates I met there. The car with two policemen was waiting for me in the front yard and I got in it to go home. It was the last time that I violated the yard of a school as a student; it was the last day that I held school books in my hands…!
At home, amid the tears of despair of my second parents, who loved me so much, I took my belongings and books to re-enter the “Gaz” that took me to the Korça Branch of Internal Affairs. That same day I left for Lushnja, ending that night in Savër with the mother of my uncle’s wife, with whom I had stayed, to complete the third year of high school. She was an unfortunate highland woman whose husband had been killed by the communist dictatorship and had been sent to internment camps with three small children since 1945. I sincerely loved that simple but stoic old woman who generously laid me down and how many times her sofa that went burning with longing for the boy, who escaped twenty years ago and whom he never saw again…! The next day, on a rainy day, I set off for Gradishta on foot, amid the mud of the field. The rain continued, the gray sky was beautifully synthesized with my state of mind. Already my life was defined. She could not flow anywhere except in her internment camp bed. There was no force in the world to change this course…! Memorie.al
The next issue follows