Preface by Kate Holman – British-Belgian journalist
Dr Jorgji Kote’s account in this book of life in ‘red Albania’ is an intriguing insight into another world, which nonetheless existed so nearby, so recently. He tells his stories with characteristic humour and little trace of bitterness, which nevertheless cannot disguise the hardship of those days.
Since it came into being more than a century ago, Albania has faced more than its share of challenges. Jorgji has lived through some of the most turbulent times, and his career as youth activist, teacher, interpreter, civil servant and diplomat brought him into contact with many influential personalities. These True Stories from Red Albania reflect personal experiences, and illustrate vividly how a resourceful population drew on the strength of families and communities to confront formidable problems. At the same time, they comprise a historical record offering foreign readers a better understanding of the country, and young Albanians an insight into the tribulations of earlier generations. Yet Jorgji’s perspective is always constructive and hopeful, and this bodes well for the future.
Like millions of Europeans, in the 1970s and 1980s I knew nothing about Albania. I had visited China in 1979 when the borders were still closed to independent travellers, but then everyone had heard of Mao Tse Tung and his Red Army. Albania seemed infinitely more distant and mysterious, more unfathomable and intimidating.
In the 1990s came images of boats crossing the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, overflowing with thousands of desperate asylum-seekers – images that seemed more reminiscent of what we knew then as ‘the third world’ than of Europe.
And my knowledge of the country might have stopped there, had it not been for Brussels’ remarkable Albanian residents. A chance encounter, and I was hooked, astonished to discover that the community has existed here in Belgium since 1956, now numbers tens of thousands, and its members can be found in all walks of life. And yet everything Albanian still seemed so exotic, so dangerously foreign.
The sudden realisation 10 years ago that the country is, in fact, quite close and easily accessible, was like a bolt from the blue. Could I visit Albania? Yes, why ever not?!
In 2006 I took the plunge, with two close Calabrian friends. They were charmed, not only by magical Berat, the vertiginous descent from Llogara, Gjirokastra’s graceful Hotel Kalemi with its unique Ottoman room, swimming in Ksamili … but also by the best coffee outside southern Italy!
I had an ally. My cousin Sir Patrick Fairweather was British Ambassador in Rome when the regime collapsed, and was closely involved in setting up the British Embassy in Tirana. He fell in love with Albania, and for many years was a dedicated Director of the Butrint Foundation, receiving the Naim Frashëri medal for services to Albanian culture.
With his encouragement I arranged travel, car hire and hotels with surprising ease. It was a weird experience to walk along the promenade in Saranda and watch a film presentation about Butrint, featuring my cousin! When I visited the archaeological site again some years later, I was received by a young, enthusiastic female archaeologist. Albanians like her are now safeguarding the future of this world-renowned treasure – and that is as it should be.
In Jale, in 2006, I first realised how badly the international media misrepresented Albania and its people at that time. It was logical that I, as a journalist, should try to tell the truth. On my return to Brussels this led me into deeper research and a broadening network of Albanian friends, culminating in Genti Metaj’s invitation to get involved in the Konitza cultural association, which I accepted with pleasure. Since then, it has been a privilege to take part in many events organised at the Embassy by Albania’s official representatives in Brussels, and as a result to get to know Jorgji Kote.
In 1905, George Santayana famously wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Now Albania is in a new phase, with its place in Europe universally acknowledged, and its decision-makers will need to learn from past mistakes and make wise choices in order to steer the country towards a positive future. It is poised to open accession talks with the EU, and proud to see its young people looking outwards and forging their own lives across Europe and the rest of the world. But wherever they go, as Jorgji illustrates, Albania’s strong identity, language and culture will bind them proudly together throughout their lives.
From ”Hot Peace’ to ‘Cold War’
During the 1950s, the world was affected by many striking and far-reaching political events.
Abroad, almost 10 years after the end of the war, the world was living through a ‘hot peace’ It had to grapple with poverty, famine and the devastation of war. The peoples in both systems were hoping for a safer world in peace, security and solidarity. But in 1949, the ‘Iron Curtain’ divided Europe and Germany into two parts with diametrically opposed systems. To our bad luck, the Cold War became the co-traveller of my generation and part of the daily vocabulary for over four decades.
The US Marshall Plan helped the western countries leave behind the ruins of war, putting them on the track of development, modernisation and civil values. The West was drawing the proper lessons from the slaughter of World War II. It had restarted to evoke love instead hatred, justice instead of revenge, pluralist democracy instead of dictatorship, tolerance and multiculturalism instead of racism and xenophobia, integration instead of isolation, peaceful cooperation instead of military confrontation. Within less than 10 years, Western Germany had become a new social and economic world wonder. In response to the historic appeal by Robert Schuman, together with France its former traditional enemy, Italy and the three Benelux states, it laid down the foundations and in 1958 set up the European Union.
Totally the opposite was happening in the former socialist camp, after Stalin broke off with Tito in 1948, which also led to our break-up with Yugoslavia. 1953 marked the death of Stalin, the ‘Red Tsar’. He was replaced by Nikita Khrushchev, whose advent to power triggered other breaks and splits within the Warsaw Treaty. After the uprising in Berlin and Leipzig in 1953, in 1956 it was the turn of the Hungarian counter-revolution, which was repressed by Russian tanks, to shake Eastern Europe to its very foundations. In 1961, China broke off from the Soviet Union, deepening the large split within its own camp. Albania then split with the Soviet Union to gain a new great ally, China. On 13 August 1961, Berlin awoke to find itself barbarously divided by the gigantic Wall of Shame, 156 km long! Its construction coincided with the serious missile crisis in Cuba, which strained to breaking point the relations between the USA and the Soviet Union. The latter directly challenged the USA even in the space, reaching it first with Yuri Gagarin, our hero and idol at that time. Meanwhile, the USA in 1961 elected its 35th President, a brilliant representative of the new post-war generation. With the aspiration of the dream of Martin Luther King for a new world. Unfortunately, Kennedy’s reforming agenda was fatally disrupted after six months in Dallas. A little later, Khrushchev was forced to resign and the situation within the socialist camp became more and more worrying.
In Albania: Amid the enthusiasm and promise of a new life, the first signs of the new red totalitarianism were noted with the division from the big western allies, especially the USA and Great Britain. However, they seemed to be overshadowed by the dynamic pace and enthusiasm for the country’s reconstruction, with youth on the front line. Within a very short period of time, new roads and railways, factories and plants were built, schools, crèches, kindergartens and hospitals were opened up everywhere. A frontal campaign was launched all over the country against prevailing illiteracy. Today, it is impossible to imagine the exceptional backwardness in such a vital area as public education and health at that time. Hundreds and thousands of young folk were trained in ad hoc short-term courses to serve as teachers for elementary schools. True, the level and infrastructure in these schools cannot be compared at all with the current ones. Yet, as one can learn from several publications referring to that time, there was an unparalleled spirit, courage and motivation there.
Meanwhile, the persecution and condemnation of the intellectual elite, trained abroad and with prestigious public authority, was escalating. Those aspiring to a genuine pluralistic democracy, civil society, and free and fair elections were disappointed and cruelly eliminated. These ideas and principles were soon going to be replaced by the ‘socialist and proletarian democracy’, which was quite the opposite, in spirit and in letter. It brought serious consequences for the lives of thousands of such progressive intellectuals. At the same time, an intensive campaign of dispatching so-called bands of ‘armed groups of diversionists’ to Albania’s mountains to overthrow by force the communist regime continued until 1955; but they failed for well-known reasons, with the great service of Kim Philby. The well-known spy played an important role, informing the Albanian security forces of the plans made in Italy, Germany, Greece and elsewhere. In 1956, the notorious Party Conference of Tirana became the starting point for cleansing all pro-Soviet and Khrushchev elements from the Communist Party ranks (from 1948 it was called the Party of Labour of Albania – PLA). Enver Hoxha decided to stand by Stalin until the end and Albania became the staunchest Stalinist regime.
Well, this was the climate, the environment, the background we were born into at that time. That was the ‘the bread and butter’ with which all the party and state machinery started to nurture our hopes and expectations, together with our mothers’ breast milk, as well as the tales they never failed to lull us to sleep with every night.
Toys and Joys in Poverty
During those years, extreme poverty was translated into food rationing and food-buying card systems for almost all of us. Long queues for bread and milk very early in the morning, even 15 years after the liberation, had become a dreary routine for us all. During those years, to be able to eat a slice of bread spread with a little butter and marmalade was indeed a luxury: most of us could afford it only when going on an excursion or just once a week, as a reward for doing well at school. Usually, for many of us breakfast and dinner consisted of two slices of bread with sugar, with some drops of water and, if one was lucky, a few drops of olive oil. Others enjoyed bread with cheese and tomatoes or melon in the summer time. Our good parents saved their own portion of meat and milk for their little children, even though they were exhausted at work. In the countryside, until 1970, we had electricity and wheat-made bread only in summer time; while in winter it was maize bread. We had to study usually under the light of a candle, lamp or lantern. The situation became even worse with the beginning of the absurd process of extreme collectivisation of animals and even poultry. They became collective property. Each farmer was allowed to keep only five chickens and nothing else. Due to that, milk, cheese, butter and wool used to knit pullovers could be bought only in the shops, in the markets and later on only in towns. This was the root cause of the unprecedented food crisis in the 1980s, and the restoration of the rationing system for major food stuffs or ‘basket’ commodities, as they were called, which started in the early 1980s and continued throughout that decade.
In the 1970s, being in my twenties, I was not able to make an analysis of the ‘socialist nature’ of these drastic measures, which would very soon devastate the countryside and the Albanian economy. I have to underscore this, since unlike other countries, agriculture in Albania accounted for over 70 per cent of the population and GDP. I noted this in the very first year I went to my village to see my beloved and unforgettable grandparents in the south. They were deeply depressed without cows, sheep and goats; their life without animals at that time was unimaginable. They had to leave home early in the morning to go to the village centre to buy basic commodities – milk, cheese, butter and others. But the worst had yet to come in the 1980s when they were forced to go to the town to buy them
Our wonderful parents!
Our parents – mothers, in particular – made exceptional human sacrifices, by ’emptying their bellies out’ so that we never or rarely missed any meal or drink. The Albanian writer Elvira Dones is perfectly right when she mentions that to be able to survive for a period of 15 days (since salaries were mostly distributed twice a month) was the greatest human heroism of that time. One had to calculate every cent: as children we kept asking to buy candies, ice creams or baked chestnuts, although our demands cannot be compared in the least with the current consumer society. Thus, our generous parents were fighting with self-denial to accommodate both positions – satisfy our demands and at the same time keep the modest budget under control for every situation.
During that time, fixed phones were very rare. This meant that guests, friends and cousins could drop into our houses from remote districts at any time for different purposes, and they had to be welcomed according to the tradition. But our parents and the grand parents performed that with an indescribable delight. It was their greatest happiness to keep us safe and sound, happy and in perfect health, so that nothing should be lacking despite their poverty. Besides, despite the self-imposed isolation, they were surprisingly open-minded. Thus, when finishing 8th grade school, I had no idea about future studies. At that time, for boys it was customary to attend a school for mechanics. Even the range of aspirations at that time was very limited. It was mainly defined by the socialist actuality and propaganda. The favourite crafts or professions for boys were pilot, sailor (we were crazy about their uniforms), border patrol, tank driver, miner, or agronomist, whereas for the girls it was teacher, singer, engineer or especially doctor. However, while watching the few beautiful cars with diplomatic CD plates in Tirana, we boys were also driven by the desire to become diplomats, even though this seemed an unachievable dream. Well, I had no other wise relative to offer me any suggestion or advice on my future when I was only 14. But thank God it was my beloved and unforgettable mother, Katerina, who did that. She advised me to attend the special newly opened Foreign Languages School in Tirana, because after finishing it I could become an English teacher, translator or even a diplomat. Hence, as it was said at that time, I would be able to ‘travel and see the world’. Thanks to her useful advice, I completed secondary school and entered the Faculty for Foreign Languages. Then, my dream to become a diplomat came true.
My late father-in-law, Vesel Nova, a well-known teacher in the district of Kruja, was equally open-minded and cultivated. He worked for 27 years in the highlands, making an exceptional contribution to fighting illiteracy and spreading progressive living standards and customs there. Even now a few of his pupils are alive, just as many of their sons and daughters, and they never fail to remember and pay homage to his tremendous service from 1949 to 1976 when he retired. He studied hard by himself and had a perfect command of Italian. He could speak for hours on end about Rome, his favourite capital, and its civilization. The desire of his life was to spend at least some days in Rome! Unfortunately, this wise and beloved man, father and teacher, passed away just two years before the fall of the Iron Curtain, without being able to make his dream come true.
With good friends and neighbours
Good neighbours and sincere friendship were another vital factor, making our lives easier during those hard days. Under the unique circumstances that will be mentioned throughout this book, good neighbourhood and friendship were not a matter of human and social convenience only, but a real MUST for our survival. At that time, most of us were linked to one another with numerous threads: we were coming from the same town, village or region, we had relatives through marriage; our parents and families had worked together in business and professions both before and after the war; or they were together in different youth voluntary undertakings, as soldiers and so on. Thus, one day we found ourselves to be neighbours, school or work mates, and so on. Without the assistance, ideas and courage we gave to one another on both sunny and rainy days during our frequent gatherings at home, at events or even in a modest cafeteria or restaurant where we enjoyed everything to the full, it would not have been possible for us to overcome so many exceptional hardships and problems, stress and great poverty; or it could have come at a much higher cost for most of us. It is a very good thing to see that such old-style friendships continue even these days among us and our children, both in Albania and abroad. The more time passes, the more precious this time-tested friendship become
The Emblematic Palace of Pioneers
Despite the exceptional poverty, as children we did find opportunities for fun, entertainment and recreation. Beyond a doubt, the Palace of Pioneers in Tirana together with the Houses of Pioneers in each and every other district was the most favourite and beloved venue for the children and their parents. In this wonderful environment full of flowers and evergreen trees, movies and theatrical works were shown every day, and two or three days a week we could attend different groups or courses for mechanics, biology, flowers, singing and dancing, reciting, theatre and much else, all for free. Together with many others, most of our prominent and internationally recognized singers and dancers started their careers in this famous Palace of Pioneers. At the top of these celebrities is Mrs Ermonela Jaho, one of the best sopranos in the world. With her unique talent, Ermonela has taken by storm the greatest operas in Paris, Lyon, Brussels, Berlin, New York, Japan, Brazil and elsewhere! What makes her different from other prominent artists, apart from her extraordinary voice, is her humble, modest and genuine nature, love for her own land and fellow citizens, generosity and readiness to help and be close to those in need. On 15 May 2016 she was honoured with the International Opera Award, the ‘Oscar’ for this genre.
The famous tenor Saimir Pirgu is Jaho’s male equivalent, and they have performed together even at the Royal Opera in London and elsewhere; Pirgu was artistically ‘baptised’ by the great Maestro Pavarotti and dazzles everywhere just like Inva Mula, our famous soprano at the Paris National Opera. Inva used to be the best pioneer singer almost 40 years ago and an outstanding offspring of the Palace of Pioneers together with the prominent singer and TV show master, Ardit Gjebrea and many others!
The magic of arts and sports
During the years 1962-1969, a moderate liberty breeze was blowing, if we can call it that in retrospect, especially in the field of arts and literature. Apparently, after breaking off with the Soviets and allying with the Chinese, the regime perhaps felt safer. Hence, it wanted to direct young people’s attention towards other events and actions. Besides, the great poverty and the ‘numerous enemies’ that had grown up like mushrooms required some relaxation, detente, fun and entertainment. And who could accomplish that better than our writers, artists, and musicians, especially the cultivated and folk ones. They did indeed warm the hearts of folk in those bitter days. Our prominent singers and artists were like family members for all of us. Frequently, when I was abroad on business, or in interviews, and was asked about how we faced up to the oppression and dictatorship, I responded precisely that the burden of these sufferings and lack of freedom were made much easier for us by our great masters of arts and culture. The growing number of foreign classic movies, TV series and renown books which passed successfully the multiple regime filters had also its own bearing on our soul and spirit.
Sport in all its genres was another source of strength which enlivened us a lot, It also helped us keep a little distance from politicisation and too much ideology, with which we were bombarded during classes all day long. Today, it is perhaps hard to imagine what vigour and positive energies it unleashed for us! The world and Albanian sports and artists had a very peculiar place in our day to day lives. During the 60, the names of great superstars like Pele, Eusébio, Garrincha, the legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin and others to come were very common even to the children of that time, although we have never seen them! The victory, although officially it was a draw with West Germany, at that time World Vice-Champion team of Beckenbauer, Schulz, Overath, Netzer, Maier and others, in that unforgettable cold December 1967 has been deeply engraved in the memory and history of our football. During the service in our Embassy in Berlin, in March 2001 I had the chance to watch the match between our national team and Germany in Leverkusen. Germany won with a lot of difficulty 2:1 at the end, thanks to a goal scored by Klose, his first goal with the national team. In a reception on that occasion, in the presence of many stars of those historic teams of both countries, including our emblematic Panajot Pano as well as Berti Vogst and other german football stars, they remembered the bitter taste of that draw which disqualified them from the European finals.
Apart from football, as the most favourite sport, other genres were also widely spread including all ages. Thus, in volleyball, the legendary male team ‘Dinamo’ in 1972 ranked fourth in Europe; in the Olympic Games in München 1972 our champion Ymer Pampuri won the silver medal in weight lifting; likewise, in basketball, athletics, shooting, weight lifting, wrestling and chess Albania had some internationally recognized players, who unfortunately were not allowed to play for any foreign sport clubs.
But let me add an important point here; we were not simply crazy fans and viewers, but also very active participants at different cultural and sport events. Each school, factory, agricultural cooperative and other institutions had their own Ensemble of Folk and Light Songs, theatrical and variety groups as well as the various sport teams. They took part in a large number of local and national–wide festivals, contests, national Olympic Games and championships and on tours abroad. At the invitation of the University of Nebraska, inn November 1992 I stayed one month in USA together with 15 Albanians; during an excursion by bus to Kansas City, the US professors were surprised to see and hear us singing a large variety of songs from all parts of Albania. Whereas the driver thought that we were a genuine musical band! Well, this was not a single case but a wonderful and widely spread occurrence at that time.
While reflecting on that difficult but beautiful time for us, one has also to mention and express
the deepest homage and greatest gratitude to our doctors and physicians, whose presence and assistance in numerous cases of illness was a salvation for us all. We are talking of a period when in the countryside in particular, clinics and hospital centres were lacking or very rare and without the appropriate equipment. They lacked many necessities, starting with drinkable water and electricity. Only a few privileged people could go to hospitals abroad (Paris for Politburo members, Vienna for ministers and members of the Central Committee, Budapest for heroes and selected persons), and worries, overstress and various difficulties were overwhelming, indeed. It was precisely during those hard times that they made our life better and easier in each and every corner of the country. We have heard their names referred to in voices full of hope by our parents and relatives, whenever they or we the children fell ill or were not feeling well. I mentioned earlier our ballgames especially. However, apart from fun and entertainment, they also had their own costs to our health: injuring or even breaking a knee, hand, foot, and so on. Our quick healing process and treatment was ensured thanks to two of the best folk orthopaedics of that time, who did not ask a single cent for their services!!! Imagine, I remember myself when I was ten and then, 40 years later, returning with the ten-year-old son to the same folk doctor in Tirana!
The Dictatorship of Atheism
This was the case in our ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ after 1967. The anti-religious fire that broke out following the dictator’s speech on 6 February 1967, as part of a revolutionising movement, mercilessly destroyed the religious and faith traditions all over the country. Over 2,000 churches, mosques, shrines, teqes and cult centres were pulled down or burned. During that period, naturally with instructions from the top hierarchy, the pupils and teachers of the Naim Frashëri Secondary General School in the town of Durrës undertook a revolutionary initiative to do away with the old religious prejudices, shutting down all religious institutions and banning freedom of belief. Albania became the first and the only atheist country in the world, overtaking even the Soviet Union of Stalin’s time! Ironically enough, the communist propaganda even by the end of 1980 kept on claiming that “it was the people and youth who were against, since they had had no benefits but only harm from religion.” But this was far from being true. In fact, most of our parents, relatives, friends and others were and have remained, strong believers in God, practising their faith in churches, mosques and at other shrines. Although only 15 when religion was banned, I could also easily see that religion had positive effects on their lives and work: it warmed their spirits and reduced the stress of hard toil and numerous sacrifices. What happened at that time is something that seems even more horrible when we remember it today. Many of these religious holy places were turned into warehouses, kindergartens and houses of culture. Much luckier was a large mosque in Durrës, which was turned into a Palace of Youth Culture. Likewise, the largest Catholic Church in Shkodra was turned into a Sport Palace, and so on. Such reflections came to my mind much more vividly on 25 March 1997, when I accompanied Prime Minister Bashkim Fino in Rome and the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II received us with all honours. We, former atheists, during those moments bowed with the greatest respect in the seat of Catholicism, welcomed by this legendary Pope. This meeting, his blessing and the picture with him remain deep in my heart and mind.
From 1967 until 1990, Albanians and believers in particular went through the most difficult times, subject to arrests and persecutions. Even a small religious family celebration on the occasion of Christmas, Easter and others was very hard, not to say impossible to organise at home however secret. Because the authorities controlled even the consumption of sugar, rice, flour and other basic commodities, they were able to detect if this or that family had celebrated. As will be explained later, from 1967 there were no private shops. After 1980 it became even easier for the authorities, since due to terrible shortages, each family had the right to buy only a very limited amount of the basic consumer goods. Thus, the only possibility for believers was to start buying them gradually a long time ahead, but only if their financial situation permitted them to do so! Forced atheism was prevailing everywhere. Whereas religion was considered not simply as something undesirable and unacceptable, but also as a hostile activity. Even worse, for people found practising religious rites, there were also penal and administrative sanctions.
Belated Recognition of Mother Teresa
On the 4th of September 2016, almost all world televisions broadcasted live the exceptionally moving ceremony for the canonization of Mother Teresa by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Place in Rome. After watching those unforgettable sublime moments it is natural that our mind and memory would go back in time. When the above-mentioned anti-religious allergy escalated further, denouncing as reactionary even acts of charity and philanthropy. The philanthropists and charity workers were considered almost as enemies, since their actions ran contrary to the Party line and ideology. This is why Mother and now Saint Teresa was not recognised by the regime at that time and was not allowed to visit Albania. We did not even know of her existence. Why? Because to accept that Living Saint at that time would mean to undermine the above-mentioned theory. Besides, Catholicism was considered the worst and most dangerous religious faith! Finally, Mother Teresa got a visa to visit Albania only in 1989, on the eve of democratic change in Albania. She was also received by the widow of the dictator, but that was too late. Besides, it rejected with absurd arguments also her generous offer to send missionary sisters in Albania who would be at least spiritually very helpful and a great relief. The worst aspect was that Albanian communism became horribly orthodox for the country’s destiny and people. All this was occurring in Albania at a time when religion itself was becoming more flexible, more open and tolerant with the tendency to keep a distance from many dogmas of the past. It was clear that Albania intended to become the ‘Holy See of world communism’, even when China betrayed such a course.
The Party instead of GOD!
Apart from other aspects, especially after 1980, a question has intrigued many of us: “Why did the regime at that time, with so many troubles and headaches, with so many enemies and opponents, attempt in vain to challenge GOD and religion?” Why couldn’t they behave more properly and in the long run a little more interested in religion? True, there have been and still are negative examples of behaviour by various religious persons worldwide and in Albania and other religious exaggerations, just as there are numerous positive and inspiring examples in this context, both before and after World War II. Thus, we had our former Prime Minister, Fan Noli, founder of the Independent Albanian Church, an outstanding orator, historian and translator of world masterpieces who was also Prime Minister for a short time in 1924, and other prominent priests. The latter were assassinated by foreign occupiers for their patriotic activity. Likewise, almost all our traditional poets, writers, thinkers and leaders of the Albanian Renaissance period were ardent believers in God.
The general opinion is that the major factor contributing to such an unheard crimoinal attitude was the strategic goal of the regime ‘to mould the new revolutionary man’ with a Marxist-Leninist world outlook, different from any other socialist country. It was undoubtedly jealous and felt that religion was ‘a thorn in its flesh’ and a serious hurdle. Therefore, they made excessive use of Karl Marx’s statement that “religion is the opium of the people”, which would be seen everywhere. This anti-religious crusade, unprecedented in modern times, was designed above all to stop and even delete any references to God, faith and religion and replace them with faith in the Party, its ideology and leadership, in every respect. Here, it seems interesting to mention that regardless of the combat against religion, the communist regime went on and continued to use or refer to religious terminology in its own propaganda, in an effort to ‘own’ or rather to ‘communise’ it. To be more concrete, especially for young and foreign readers, it seems interesting to mention a large number of typical religious and holy words, phrases, expressions and practices, which at that time were replaced and used in a communist context. Here are some of them:
God created man The Party created the new man
God gave us life The Party gave us life
For the Lord’s ideal For the Party’s ideal
God’s works Party works
Glory and thanks to God Glory and thanks to the Party
Faith in Christ and Mohammed Faith in the Party and Comrade Enver
Religious consciousness Communist consciousness
The sacred cause of Christianity The sacred cause of communism
Pray and ask for God’s help Ask and seek help from the Party
God will punish someone The Party will punish someone
As the Lord Almighty says As our Great Party says
God’s 10 Commandments 10 qualities of the communist
Meanwhile, the religious saints were replaced with the four pillars or ‘ classics’ of Marxism-Leninism as they were referred to: Marks, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Christ’s disciples were replaced by the 12 members of the Politburo (even the number was the same) – one could see their portraits everywhere, in the most visible public places, especially during celebrations, with the portrait of Enver Hoxha at the head. God’s blessings and psalms were replaced with the Party teachings and directives. Religious liturgies in the churches and mosques were replaced with the Communist International, the song devoted to Enver Hoxha and other revolutionary songs.
However, the ‘communisation’ of these religious words would be only half of the evil. It went far deeper. Thus, religious doctrine was replaced with the ideological doctrine of socialism, religious puritanism with communist purity, religious taboos and dogmas with communist ones. While Marx’s quotation that “religion is the opium of the people” was being propagated everywhere, communism itself in Albania turned the whole Marxist theory of capital into a great holy dogma, to the extent that Karl Marx himself was turned into an ideological opium with horrible effects for freedom of belief and consciousness. The belief was that Marxist ideology and its idols could overtake Christianity, Islam and other prophets.
In the meantime, the propaganda of that time was working with the ordinary people to find ways and means to devalue the power of God, replacing it with the love and strength of the Party and its great leader in each and every situation, even private ones, including the birth of a baby. This kind of language was also noted in meetings of simple folks with foreigners at that time. Thus, during a visit by a foreign well-wisher to the large village of Derviçan in the Greek minority area in the south, his question was: “Why don’t you believe and why don’t you have a God?” Then a lady gave the following answer: “Yes, we do believe and we have a real God; it is our Party and Enver Hoxha. Why? Because many years ago, when we asked God to bring us water amidst a big drought, he failed to do so.” (Note how they regarded God as a communal service). “Then we asked the Party. It helped us work hard and now there is abundant water in the village, as you can see. Therefore, the Party is our God!!” This case was publicised and propagated so much that this reply became an example of behaviour towards foreigners to justify the arbitrary ban on religion and belief.
Loyal Believers and Genuine citizens
After release from prison in the 1990, Albania’s religious leaders and hundreds of thousands believers have constantly launched positive messages of forgiveness, love, solidarity, faithfulness to God and their believers. They have displayed these qualities on many occasions, both at home and abroad. On 11 January 2015 they joined the millions of peaceful marchers in Paris to show their strong solidarity with the French people after the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo. Their outstanding contribution and other historic factors have helped forge an exemplary cohabitation among the major religious faiths in Albania. This is a very positive and inspiring model in our modern times; especially now with the escalation of international terrorism and the radicalisation of certain society segments in western societies and youth in particular. After John Paul II in 1993, it was His Holy Father, Pope Francis who paid tribute to this remarkable tradition during the visit to Tirana in September 2015.
To be Continued…