By Kristale Ivezaj Rama
The first part
Memorie.al / A detailed description of the largest uprising that ever happened in the communist prisons of Albania, “a confrontation with the state: where on one side crime spoke, on the other side freedom was defended”. Shkëlqim Abazi tells about his five years of sentence, from 16 to 21 years old, that he spent in Reps and in Spaç, where he witnessed the revolt of 1973. The Spaç revolt ended with the shooting of four convicts and the sentencing of dozens of others, some of whom had no role in its outbreak. In order to break the convicts spiritually, their dearest friend, Tartarin, was executed. Repsi and Spaci.
Mr. Abazi, when were you arrested?
On August 11, 1968, at the age of 16 years and 8 months. I think I haven’t done anything wrong. I think, maybe for them I was guilty of being born to parents I shouldn’t have been born to, I should have chosen my parents before I was born, but I didn’t have this chance because I think no one has this chance: to choose the parents. So I was born to the wrong parents for that regime. Genetically, I belonged there. Like thousands of others, not just me.
What were you accused of?
When asked about guilt, one must feel that one has done a wrongful act. I have not done anything illegal. I was with a friend of mine at the beach, beaching in Spile of Himara. There, they came, they arrested us. Now, what could I have done? I don’t know, it’s not forbidden, it wasn’t forbidden at that time either, not today, not now: it wasn’t forbidden to go to the beach in Spile i Himara, you didn’t need a permit from the police, nor a permit from the Department of Internal.
I had to come to Butrint, I could, but not to Himare. And this is a reality. After I finished school, I got that school exam pass. I didn’t use it for exams; I used it for the beach. This is all. They arrested us there. Me and my friend. They also accused us: “escape attempt”. I don’t believe that anyone can escape from Himara, to Corfu, by swimming…! Just some world champion. Neither I nor that friend of mine have ever been world champions. This has been…!
Where did you start serving your sentence?
First, they took us to Vlora prison. The first day in the dungeons of Vlora. The next day, they took us from there and took us to the dungeons of Durrës and the day after, they took us to the dungeons of Shkodra. There, the investigation continued for about 4 months with the chief investigator of Shkodra, Llambi Gegeni, but he was not the only one taken, he had the main task, that for example the disability I have today, was not caused by Llambi alone. Shyqyri Çoku caused me, with a stick from behind my back.
In fact, the episode was like this: It was September 23, 1968. That day, we were both called to the investigator, me and that friend, but of course separately. I didn’t know what my friend had said, because I had no way of knowing, but I understood one thing: that something was wrong that day, but from the beginning they made one thing clear to me: “Today, we have on the last day. We will close the documents to take you to court, because we cut the suit”. Thoma Tutulani told me these words.
“O patriot,” he told me, “we have cut the suit. A ten with a star, but put a drop on that signature, because it’s a procedure.” I said: What should I sign, when I haven’t done anything? “But why are we so stupid,” he said, “that we let you do it yourself, and then let you in? But we know what you have in mind, what you grind in that enemy brains, even we cut the bridges without catching fire. Let’s put in a ten this time and then, we’ll see if we can do it, but you’ll tell me that you’re under 18 years old, so it will take 5 this time, but next time we’ll put it right”.
“Ore, I haven’t done anything this time, you wait for the next time. What is this?” “Well, we know that as soon as you get out of that place there, you will deal with that job. We know what the enemy has in mind.” Of us. This was more or less the introduction. But Llambi tells me: “Don’t throw away that signature flower here, you.” That he was a thief. “Because we don’t want to waste time with you, we have other things to do.” But I, with that boyish opinion of mine, naturally too young to understand, thought that if you didn’t sign, even if you killed someone, no one would punish you. Not me anymore, I couldn’t kill a fly. Even with that in mind, I said: No. But what did they do now?
One was holding my hand; pen in hand, the other was holding my hand here: Sign! And today, my finger moves like this. Look how it moves. I mean, he broke my finger. I heard that he cut his finger, but at that moment, I was very tense and I didn’t pay much attention to it, it hurt. Later I saw the finger moving like this and it was no longer a finger. However, Shyqyri Çoku enters at that time. As soon as he enters the door, he says: “What did this thief steal?” Llambi says to him: “If he was a thief, bring him here! We are easy with the clothes, they are ours. But what can we do to him that this is not an enemy, it is an enemy. He wanted to go to Germany, to Federal Germany”.
“What?” he said. “Bo, after my son, I drowned him with these hands, and I threw him into Buna, to be eaten by the fish. You betrayed the Party, this coward,” he said. Even at this time, I did not see him, but something moved back and he had taken a tail of the chair, but it was four-legged that, I saw him when I came to; he also shoots me from behind, here, in the forehead. That’s where the sign is, even today. At the moment, I didn’t feel anything, I just felt a powerful, terrible pain in my head, and I fell off the bench.
I remember when I came to my senses, that prosecutor said to him: “Oh, you killed my patriot.” “Come on,” he said, “one less enemy.” “If we bring him to court once, then give him the bullet that this dog is the son of a dog. His father was a terrible ballist. You don’t know him because you have no way of knowing him, but I I have it from my side, – he said. – If we bring him to court once, we will scare others.”
What were the consequences of the blow?
Here are the consequences I still have today: I have a defective eye and a defective ear, because I was not treated. They left me without treatment, because they already tore me, they crippled me, and today, here it is, today I have a missing eye and a missing ear, plus the finger as you can see, but also all the ribs that did not occupy the armpit, broken. I am convinced of this because for over a month, I could not catch my breath. Although I told them: “Treat me”, no one treated me, except the internal policeman, who went and got an ambulance package, and he did it out of pity that he was beratas.
Even, a strange case, a certain Jonuz Sharavolli, was a policeman in Shkodër. The wildest policeman I have ever seen in the dungeons of Shkodra. But maybe because of his age, he was very old, he was on the verge of retirement, maybe out of pity, or to help a patriot in another country, I don’t know how to explain it, he was sorry and treated me. Of course, as much as a policeman could administer. He tied my head with a bandage and I stayed like that for about two weeks.
In which prison did you start your sentence?
Then, they took us on November 23…! Now for the 23rd…as if this is providence for me. I was born on the 23rd. They split my head open on the 23rd. They took me from the dungeons to the Repsi camp, on the 23rd. They took me, on the 23rd again, of course not for a month, but always this date, from Repsi to Spaç . Again on the 23rd, four of my friends were shot. In 23…, this providence 23, continued until four or five years ago, when the Socialist Party came to power: I was also removed from my job and replaced with the Operative of the Burrel prison.
I, the political prisoner, was dismissed from my job, by order, I don’t remember the number now, I have it at home, but it was dated the 23rd, and I was replaced by the Operative of the Burrel prison, with my friend Qenan Trega, who continues to live even today. In other words, the former operative of the Burrel prison replaced a former political prisoner. So they took us to the 23rd of November 1968, they took us to the Reps camp. There were 6 of us. They put us in a car-jail. They tied our hands. In addition to the irons that we were tied two by two, we were also tied with a chain.
But the car-jail, only the one who rode in the car-jail knows because no one else can imagine what the car-jail is! The car-prison is an ordinary car, a “ZIS”, on the body of which, they had put a metal cabin with a door at the back, with iron latches of course, and a grill, let’s say 20 by 25 cm., with some irons welded, grill type, as thick as the knuckles of the hands, where air was introduced, but you could not see anything. So, with this, we were transported from the prison of Shkodra, to the Reps of Mirdita.
Where will they take us now? One said: “in Spaç”, the other: “in Reps”, no one could imagine where. Are we far away? – I said. “Hey,” said one of them, because we didn’t look at each other’s faces, we only knew that we were connected and that was it. But think now, the road to the auto-prison was very difficult. Eventually, we arrived at Reps, around noon. But winter day, short day.
As we went, it started to get dark; they put us inside a gate surrounded by wire, double wire. Get off! We couldn’t get down because our legs were numb from the trip. It was very cold. We were hit by that wind immediately, even after the journey, we couldn’t get down. One mounted above those who accompanied us, threw us as we were, with all our clothes. They said: Get off because you left us here. Those who were waiting for us, said: Come on, man, do you know where you have come from? So one threw, the other waited, we found ourselves under the rubber sticks, without entering the camp at all. I also ate two or three sticks on my back. Without entering the camp at all. But after spending some 4 months in the dungeons, we now knew what awaited us.
There was only one thing we didn’t know: that they would cut us with sticks from the beginning, no. Of us. Those who accompanied us made a record quickly. They signed, they signed and they greeted us: “Here you throw the bones, don’t take the head out of the prison!” I had never heard a more savage curse, that to curse a man here he licks his bones and never takes his head out, that’s all they did. They ran away. These others took us. They put us in what they called an office, but it didn’t look like an office.
It was an alcove, two meters long, two meters wide, with a table with 3 legs, one leg of which was broken, because I accidentally put my hand on it, and the table fell on me. They slapped me a couple of times because I knocked over their table, broke their table. There was also a charcoal barrel burning like a stove, but that charcoal smell was very heavy. We came from the dungeons, it was four months since we had seen neither fire, nor heat, and even we had never washed: four months without washing the body, without taking a bath.
We got that heat, I almost fainted. “Strip naked! Strip!” But I looked at those friends now, what would we undress? “Shit on the floor,” he said. The pieces on the floor were what we had. “No, no,” he said, “body issues.” I saw those friends who got undressed, I got undressed too. “No, not this too”, he said. Mind the panties. I was having a hard time. A policeman from behind, pyp, took them from me. What would we do? Then they did a check on us, as if their friends hadn’t checked us, and opened the door: Come in now.
But before they opened the door, they advised us: “Have you ever been in prison?” – No. “And you have a ken’?” – No. “What about you or chun?” – One of them said to me. – Now you see what awaits you in there”, gulp, he reached his hands and grabbed me by the throat. As much as I want, tired of the dungeon, if I were to return to him, I would cut him to pieces, he 1 m. he was 50, but he was a policeman. “Now you see, when you get inside, don’t get too close to those old prisoners, because we noticed that you get too close to them, we will rot you in the dungeon because they are dangerous enemies”.
That is, we were treated as friends by them. Anyway. Then I created an idea that their enemies are inside, with my mind. When I faced them for the first few seconds, they were all dressed in a uniform, with shaved heads, with some white hats on their heads, with big mustaches, just like the commies of Turkey. In fact, one went to give me the clothes and they grabbed my clothes, the layers, the covers.
When he left, I took a defensive position because I remembered that he was not attacking me. His face was so wild. But when he got closer, he got another mimic, with a smile, with some yellow mustaches, up to his ears. I say: Where are you taking my clothes? “There in the shed, follow me, back.” Eventually, he went to a silo and his sidekick, I think: an old Dibran and another old man from Korça.
Dibrani was called Esheref Zaimi, while this one was called Atte Raqka. He had been a priest. Orthodox priest. They put me there. I climbed up a pair of wooden steps. And here began the life of the camp, which lasted five years. Life in the camp lasted five years, because I am still in prison today. Unfortunately, until the 1990s, all Albanians were in prison even after prison, it was worse than prison, but I think that even today, we prisoners are in a moral prison, now more so.
At what age did you start working in the mine?
I was sentenced, or arrested, to 16 years and 8 months. Before I turned 17, I was taken to the camp. Exactly one month later, on December 23, my prison mates gave me a surprise. I am saying friends, but they were not my friends. They were my grandparents, not my fathers. Even my fathers were not of the same age because the youngest of them was 70 years old and these were: these old men I had by my side, a Daut Runa from Nivica.
Daut Runa was a friend of my grandfather, Sulo Gorica from Berat, he was a friend of my father, Muharrem Duli and Riza Duli, again from Berat, were friends of my father, Dervish Gumeni and Izet Gumeni, from the villages of Tepelena, were also friends and on December 23, as soon as I came back from work, one of these old men who lived next door told me: come on, take the spoon in your belt and we’ll go to uncle Dauti because uncle Dauti has invited us.
I thought that Uncle Dauti’s family had come to meet him, even “go ahead”, that it had become a custom when the family came to meet, a meal of bread was made with the relatives. But when I found myself among them, I felt very appreciated because it was a very great appreciation to be invited by someone for a meal of bread. A meal of bread there was equal to a day of life. When I was there I found 4-5 others waiting, with a pot of beans with a couple of clean slices, this was a great luxury. Having that much in prison was a luxury, because we never had enough.
Since I was very hungry, I felt like feeding them with a pot, not a spoon, but I was ashamed that I was waiting for others. When I tried to say to him: “How did you get them from the family?”, it seems the old man realized that I was chewing and said to me: “Congratulations to the wedding and may God make it easy, let’s get dressed as soon as possible 100 more”!
Then I stopped, because I didn’t expect someone in prison to remember me, to celebrate my birthday, because I didn’t even remember that it was my birthday. However, my friend, who was sentenced with me, Vladimir Shena, was remembered for his birthday. Since the court process, it was fixed that I turn 17 on December 23; he had told them and they gave me this surprise. Very special thing!
To think of celebrating your birthday in prison, they did it to me! Yes, I had birthdays and then. But that 17th birthday celebrated by those people who had nothing else to give me, only to give me their heart, is very, very special. And that menu that was beans and two strings, numbered, pure, I have not come across even in the best restaurants of the world that I have wandered now after the ’90s.
I wouldn’t even compare it to a restaurant menu; it left such an impression on me. Of course, none of them are alive today, but I have thanked them a million times and I continue to thank them today, their souls, where they are. So, to answer the question: I started prison before turning 17 years old and working in prison before turning 17 years old.
How long did you stay at Reps?
We were kept at Reps until September 23, 1970, when the Reps plant was nearing completion. However, they could not let us enjoy holidays because they had based their 5-year plans and directives on the arms of slaves. Then they took us away. They filled up two cars and drove us to Spaç. The date 23 comes out again.
So on September 23, I ended up in Spaç, along with many others, about 60 people. I never had a chance to get out of the mine; even twice I had an accident in the mine: once a stone fell on my shoulder and another time I was caught in the pyrite mine and my friends pulled me out and I suffered several fractures, again just removing the plaster, straight to the mine!
What did you do in the mine?
In the mine, there were two jobs: o you would load the wagon, o you would make beer. But since I was a little physically weak, they let me load the wagons. They tied me up with barbed wire four times, for not fulfilling the norm. Because they were clear: you will do the norm, or you will die.
Why did you find it difficult to achieve the norm?
Look now, to be realistic, we had rebellion in our souls: nobody wanted to work willingly and nobody wanted to contribute to socialism. Since we’re on the subject…! A friend of mine, who I used to eat bread, is an emblematic prisoner in Albania, Tomorr Allajbeu from Peshtani in Berat, grandson of Abaz Ermenji, decided not to work and did not work, with the idea that: I don’t work, Nexhmija eats, but he added a suffix to the back, which all the prisoners who were at that time know.
English at all: eat Nexhmije, where are you, I don’t work. And he is probably one of the only political prisoners who spent 4 years in prison, went out one day, and went in one month. After the Spaci revolt, it became a prison. The prison itself was imprisoned; no one hoped that he would be released. The day before, the cartelist of the camp called me and said: Look, tomorrow you will be released, gets ready. However, during that month I had earned 1.70 days, so I had to be released two days before and the cartelist tells me: get ready tomorrow because you can be released.
I told my friends. “Thank you”, they said. What would I go out with, what would I wear? They didn’t like me going out in prison clothes because they would say: “here, abandoned man”, so what did they do? The friends went one brought a shirt, one a pair of pants, because it was the middle of July, but I told them: it’s time to go out barefoot, just get out of this door. Memorie.al
The next issue follows