'MY FATHER,ENVER HOXHA'

THE EXHUMATION

 

Before I describe my feelings about the exhumation of my father's body, which was the most painful event in my life, I must first write briefly about my father's death and funeral.

On 9 April, around nine o'clock in the morning, Father suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma. Mother, who lived as always close by, immediately summoned the doctors. They came within moments, since they were already prepared because of the serious state of Father's health. They were able to restore the funcioning of his heart, but he did not emerge from the coma.

I was at work. They informed me and I went home immediately. I found him in bed, surrounded by medical apparatus. A lump came to my throat. I sroked his head, and said:

"Dad, it's Lilo!"

The hours passed, but his condition did not improve and I began to lose hope. I sat near his bed, held his hand and said to myself:

"Perhaps he is aware of my presence, feels that I am near".

I talked to him in the hope that he heard me, even though he did not reply. This state of affairs lasted until the 11th April, about two o'clock in the morning, when his heart finally ceased to beat. I had fallen asleep, fully dressed, on a bed in another room, since I had been two days without sleep. I got up immediately and went to his room. I kissed him in farewell greeting.

I returned to my room and wept in an effort to ease the great pain I felt, but I had to pull myself together to speak to my children, who were small -- ten and six years old, while Besmir was only three months and could not understand what was happening. It was a heavy blow for them too. Their grandfather, who loved them and had done so much for them, was no more.

In the morning, everyone gathered outside the front door. Then Father left his house for the last time, but now not for the office but for the morgue.

Later everything was public -- the ceremony in the People's Assembly, where a long queue of people stood for some days to say their farewells in silence and in tears, before the coffin, which lay on a gun-carriage covered by the national flag; the ceremony in Skanderbeg Square and finally the burial in the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation.

The people accompanied Enver Hoxha to his last resting-place in pain, knowing that he had worked all his life for them.

One day in early May 1992, at nine o'clock in the evening, there was a knock at the door of my house. I opened it. A person unknown to me handed me an envelope and then disappeared. I closed the door and opened the envelope. Inside was a notification that the next day, at six o'clock in the morning, the family were invited to the public cemetery at Sharra where the burial would take place of 'Mr. Enver Hoxha'.

How was this possible? That we should be told at nine o'clock at night to be present at six o'clock in the morning, before sunrise, to attend something so shattering. How was it possible that an exhumation should have taken place secretly, at night, without the presence of members of the family concerned?

It was a difficult time for our family. They had taken my seventy-year-old mother away to prison. Perhaps she would be told of the 'event' there, alone in her cell.

I informed my brother and my brother-in-law Klem. We found a car and set off immediately for the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation. But the police had blocked the entrance to the cemetery and would not allow anyone to pass.

"We have orders from the highest authority not to allow anyone in", they said.

I replied:

"No one can prevent me from being present when my father's body is exhumed".

They reported to their superiors and, in face of our insistence, told us to go home, where they would inform us when the exhumation was taking place. But our place that night was not at home, but with our father, and we spent the night at the gates of the cemetery. Then, under searchlights, the grim work began. We heard the sound of pneumatic drills. They were working in haste to finish the task before sunrise. This kind of work needed to be done secretly, at night, away from the eyes of people.

At last they had finished, and we were allowed to approach the exhumed coffin. There were doctors there to certify that Enver Hoxha was really dead. It was eleven o'clock. They bore the coffin away and we were allowed to follow. They reburied it, directly in the earth, in the People's Cemetery.

The next day, and every day after that, veteran ex-partisans came to stand guard over their commander's grave.

President (now ex-President) Sali Berisha would decorate criminals who killed women and children, He would honour Pjetr Arbnori, the son of a fascist who fought the partisans! He would honour Rnt Aleksandr Meksi, the former Prime Minister who brought Albania to the verge of total destruction! But Enver Hoxha he would dishonour! What hypocrisy!

But the plan miscarried. At the place where the grave of Enver Hoxha once stood, young people have placed bunches of flowers and a large national flag.

I had thought that, at least, the new grave would be 'more personal'.But no! Many people went there, to lay flowers and light candles at this simple grave, which was now the grave of Enver Hoxha.

A BLOCK OF MARBLE

Shortly after the Berisha regime had disinterred my father's body from the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation, I was passing one day though the park in Tirana with its artificial lake when I noticed a memorial carved out of red marble.

I recognised it immediately as the gravestone which formerly marked my father's grave in the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation. It still bore the holes from the mountings of the letters of his name. But in place of the former inscription 'ENVER HOXHA (1908-1985)' was now written: '1939-1945: IN MEMORY OF BRITISH SOLDIERS WHO FELL IN ALBANIA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR'.

As if it was not enough that these soldiers of the Second World War should be buried far from their homeland and their families, now they must bear the weight of the gravestone of Enver Hoxha!

A state which steals the gravestone of the man who led the country's war of national liberation in order to transform it into a memorial for foreign soldiers is a state totally lacking in any semblance of dignity. On the other hand it is an insult to the kingdom of Great Britain. At least, that is what I think.

MY MOTHER'S PRISON

After this event, visitors to our family greatly increased. People came whom we did not know, young and old people, veterans and others.

The young visitors were simple people, but with character. Kosovars were among them, many without proper papers who had come through the mountains at night to reach their Albania, their mother country.

Albania's days of terror brought my mother to court. The propaganda directed against our family was intense, but most people realised that the aim of the proceedings against her was to discredit Enver Hoxha.

State television featured every session of the trial, but people quickly came to see the absurdity of the charges. that she had embezzled the sum of 300 dollars! For this she was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. Immediately after the passing of the sentence, my mother wrote to us from her cell:

"My chidren:

Do not be upset by my sentence. My only concern was not to discredit Enver, my husband and your father, and this was achieved. It was really we who won in court. I embrace you".

After spending more than two years in solitary confinemnt, in the cold cells of Tirana prison, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, she was transferred to the high security prison at Tepelena, where she spent about a year. It was a prison for men, and Mother was the only woman prisoner.

Together with my wife Teuta and our eldest son, Ermal, I went many times to Tepelena to see her. Sometimes we also took the two other children.

I do not want to go into details of the difficulties which were put in the way to visiting my mother, for she will cover these matters in her own memoirs. I will deal only very briefly with one thing which has remained in my mind.

One day they brought her from her cell to tell her that, on the anniversary of the foundation of the 'Democratic Party', Berisha was willing to shorten her sentence by two years if she made application. Revolted, she had told the official:

"I will not ask for any favours. Take me back to my cell".

Similarly, I remember another incident, when she was in prison in Tepelena. During one meeting, she asked me to bring her some books of memoirs by Enver Hoxha. But the police told me that 'it is not permitted to bring the books of Enver Hoxha into the prison'. I replied:

"I am bringing her not the books of Enver Hoxha, but memories of her husband and my father. These are personal things, in spite of the fact that they have been published".

She spent more than five years in prison, but now she is free, writing her memoirs. Despite her advanced age, her ordeal in prison neither demoralised her, nor weakened her spirit. She faced it with high morale, because it was an unjust and purely

vindictive punishment.

MY ARREST

The imprisonment of my mother miscarried. Protests from many organisations abroad multiplied and pressure for her release grew. It was shameful that she, an anti-fascist, should be in prison for political reasons.

As her sentence neared its end, those who plotted behind the scenes felt it necessary to find another member of the Hoxha family to put in prison. They found the pretext in an interview I gave in which I spoke about my father. It was really nothing more than a son's impressions of his father, but my arrest gave events a new direction.

On the eve of 11 April 1995, the anniversary of my father's death, a journalist from Modeste' asked to interview me. I told him to put in writing the questions he wished to ask and name a meeting-place. I worked through the night on the answers and gave them to him when we met. The reader will find a record of the interview later in the book.

After publication of the interview, many people congratulated me on it, because until then the views of our family had not appeared in print, since the Albanian newspapers were not interested in presenting our views. .

It was 17 April. I reached home at about eight o'clock in the evening. Home was a ruined and abandoned building on the outskirts of Tirana allotted to us by the authorities.

Five minutes later there was a knock at the door. Our little son went to see who it was, and frightened, called back to Teuta:

13

"Mummy, it's the police!".

Teuta went to the door, where a group of police and two civilians were waiting. They asked for me, and Teuta called me. When I came, they handed me a letter and said I must go with them to the procurator's office to answer some questions.

"One minute", I said, "while I get my coat".

I went back into the house.

"What do they want?", Teuta asked me uneasily.

"They want to qustion me at the procurator's office".

"The bastards are going to arrest you!".

The children were following my actions without speaking. I dressed warmly because, although it was April, the weather was cold, and it would be very cold in a prison cell.

I embraced the children and my wife, and said to the youngest :

"Don't worry, darling, You're a big boy now, and you must be brave. Daddy will be back".

To the eldest boy, Ermal, I said:

 

"You must look after Mummy while I'm away. and you, Shklzen, must help Mummy to look after your little brother".

I had no time to discuss things with my wife, but we both knew that the cause of my arrest was my interview.

As I descended the steps, I thought of my seventy-four-year-

old mother in prison and said to myself:

"If she can stand it at her age, I should be able to at my age".

At the bottom of the steps a police-van was waiting. I was, it seems, regarded by the Berisha regime as much too dangerous to be transported in an ordinary police car. Berisha himself had described us to Frau von Kohl, the representative in Vienna of the International Federation for Human Rights as a 'criminal family', when she had asked 'why the family of Enver Hoxha was being persecuted. And she had answered:

"In a democracy there is no such thing as a criminal family, only individual criminals. As President you should know that".

After this incident, Frau von Kohl had come no more to Albania.

I climbed into the police-van, and greeted the policemen, who were all young.

When we reached the procuracy, a procurator named Genc Gjokutaj read me the charge. I was accused of 'inciting hatred among the nationalities and races !

By the time my interrogation began, it was past ten o'clock. But despite the lateness of the hour, Teuta went that night to tell her sister of my arrest. There some friends informed the newspaper 'Our Time' about my arrest, and the next day this published an 'exclusive report' of my arrest.

Naturally, I wondered if my mother knew of my arrest. In fact, the next day she had, as always, listened to the BBC News, which she regarded as more objective than that put out by the stations controlled by the Berisha regime.

"Last night", the BBC report began, Ilir Hoxha, the son of the ex-dictator of Albania, Enver Hoxha, was arrested". The news came as a bombshell to her and she heard nothing more. She was convinced that my arrest was political. It was only later that she read the interview, and wrote to me:

"You have manoeuvred well in a sea full of concealed rocks".

Many other people told me that the interview had been a trap. I disagreed and said that, as far I was concerned, I did not care whether the journalist had come to me of his own accord or had been sent. What mattered for me was that he had given me an opportunity to express my thoughts to the world, and had published them accurately.

The next day, Teuta went to see Mother in prison and told her in detail what had happened.

TRIAL

The period before my trial was one of intensive work preparing my defence. I was allowed to appoint a lawyer and a young man named Arben Ristani, whom I did not know but whose father, a photographer, was known to me, was recommended. He came to the prison and we talked for a long time. He would prepare my defence from the juridical aspect -- something he did very competently, destroying one after another the arguments of the prosecution.

Meanwhile Teuta visited all the embassies of the states who were members of international human rights organisations, such as the Council of Europe, and wrote to friends inside and outside the country.

Preparing my defence was not an easy task, because the relevant documents had to be translated, typed and distributed as press communiques. However, under difficult conditions, Teuta helped me to do what was necessary.

The day of the trial arrived. The courtroom was full to overflowing with comrades and friends, as well as journalists. Seeing Teuta, Ermal and Shklzen in the front row of the court, I waved to them to show that I was all right, and they smiled back.

In such difficult conditions, family unity -- that kernel of society, as it has been called -- was of indispensable value.

The verdict of 'guilty' was a foregone conclusion, and the court sentenced me to a year's imprisonment.

We appealed at two levels, but our appeals were dismissed.

A number of international bodies concerned with human rights sent protests about the obvious dependence of the courts on political masters. Such protests were sent to Berisha, the People's Assembly, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, etc., and characterised me as a prisoner of conscience. But the authorities were interested in human rights only to trample on them. But at least it was clear to honest people throughout the world that the courts in Albania were being misused to take revenge on the family of Enver Hoxha.

BEHIND PRISON BARS

I was confined at first in the Tirana Prison, where, by a coincidence, I found myself in same cell in which my mother had been been kept.

I found life in prison very boring and frustrating, and was impatient to have a visit from Teuta and learn how the children were bearing up. Two days after my arrival, a warder came and told me to prepare for the meeting. He warned me that I should have to wear handcuffs, because the regulations required this. But he did not lock them properly and they fell to the ground. He winked at me. We understood each another.

That first meeting in prison was very emotional. We embraced and began to tell our news to each other. Just seeing each other gave us courage. But the meeting ended all too soon and we had to part again.

Alone again in my cell, the days passed slowly and monotonously. My cell was very small, furnished only with a mattress on the floor. A small window with bars provided the only light and air. It was impossible to see out of it, for it was set high in the wall. Food could not be left on the ground, for there were large cockroaches, who came out of holes in the wall. There were also large mice, but they did not venture into the cell.

It was very hot, and the sweat poured off me. However, in the recreation room there was a large window through which one could see a courtyard and, in the distance, the state archives. I would walk for half an hour in the recreation room before being returned to my cell. The day of my meeting with Teuta and the following day I was able to eat tasty food she had prepared. The dishes she used to prepare at home were always fine, but in the cell they soon went off with the heat and it took some time before she learned to prepare food which would last for a week, until her next visit. The prison food was as follows: no breakfast; for lunch, we had soup, which was relatively good and which I usually took; while for dinner, there was macaroni, which I avoided beause it looked so revolting.

After four months here, a guard came to my cell one day and told me to get ready as I was being moved to another prison. Within five minutes I had got together the two or three possessions I had with me, and got into a police van with a boy who had been convicted of theft. The van sounded its siren and we moved off in the direction of Durrës.

At Kavaja we turned to the right and I realised that we were going to the prison at Bardhora. The road was very bad, full of pot-holes, and I realised that this would make it very difficult for Teuta and the children to make their weekly visits to me, for the journey needed a vehicle with four-wheel drive. Indeed, I wondered if my family would be told of my move.

And so it was. Only after they had waited for two hours in the queue outside Tirana prison were they told that I had been transferred to Bardhora, near Kavaja. Teuta and the two boys set off at once in the direction of Bardhora, thumbing lifts in lorries to get there.

I waited that day for many hours in the exercise-yard of the prison, and at last I was filled with joy to see them coming up the track towards the prison. After they had gone through the formalities required of visitors, we met and embraced.

"You found me!", was all I could say.

Bardhora was a completely ruined prison-camp. The international organisations who visited the Albanian prisons categorised it as 'completely uninhabitable'. It had formerly been a prison-camp for prisoners engaged on gathering laurel sown by the nearby cooperative farm. But this no longer existed, and the laurels had all been pulled up. The camp had formerly received its water by tanker; now it drank water polluted with lime. There were no showers, and the prisoners made showers out of holes in the ground which were also used as latrines, The kitchen was ten metres away, and the food was covered in flies by the time it reached us.

The whitewash had completely flaked off the walls of the dining-hall. The prisoners slept in dormitories which were more than fifty years old -- four in all -- in hammocks, The windows were without glass. In summer there were bugs everywhere. In winter the wind blew a gale. When it rained, the whole camp became a sea of mud. There were around 250 prisoners, the majority convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery with violence.

When it became known who I was, despite their varied political views, they treated me with kindness and friendliness, saying 'everyone has the right to stand up for his father!". This did not please the governor.

The family always brought me newspapers and gradually everyone came to read them. We did the cross-words together. At one end of the dormitory a television had been placed, and when the news came on and the announcer began to say "The Commissariat of Police announces . . . ", everyone came over to hear who had been arrested. They all seemed to know each other.

The days of my sentence eventually came to an end. All prisoners dream of this day. It was good when my family was united once more. But the reunion was only partial, for while I had been in prison, my eldest boy had been forced to emigrate to support the family. He came and told me in prison, and I gave him what advice I could. Now my second son, Shkëlzen, became Teuta's right hand.

On the night before my release, I could not sleep. I had collected all my belongings together. My second son was waiting outside the camp. I could not wait to get home. They suggested that we should stop for coffee on the way, but I felt this would be wasted time. At home Teuta, my second son and other members of the family were waiting. I said to my son:

"You see that Daddy has come back"

Then I spoke with my eldest son on the telephone.

The following day I went to see Mother in prison, and afterwards I went to place flowers on Father's grave. I touched his grave with pride.


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