Private Property Rights Albanian Style!

On May 25th I got a glimpse of what it is really like to live in a still Communist/Socialist country run by Communists and Socialists and it wasn’t pretty. This is my story! My family has owned property in the center of Shkodra for over 100 years. The house belonged to Princ Preng Bibe Dode and following his death to my grandfather, Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni #gjomarkajfamilyhistory. The house was stolen from us by the communist regime of Enver Hoxha in 1944, my family evacuated, imprisoned and interned for the next almost 50 years. After ‘democracy’ arrived in 1991 my family home was restituted, but the land had been divided, part of it in the back was now occupied by 2 buildings built during communism where now families lived. We have never been compensated for that portion of the property!

Back to the main house. This “Kulla” is roughly 2650sqmt and encompasses a house of 813sqmt. The back of the property was left ‘open’ since my family reoccupied it, for various reasons. This ‘lot’ is roughly 71sqmt. This is the crux of the problem. Now that I live here we have decided to finally clean up the lot and fence it in, thereby taking away the 30 year long ‘free parking’ for the residents in the back buildings. It took me almost 2 years of battling City Hall to get a permit to finally build a fence and close in the property but I finally got it despite all the obstacles thrown at me. The Vice Mayor of Shkodra, Dritan Meta, went on record saying that “a year ago the Municipality of Shkodra addressed the issue of the possibility for the urban retraining of this residential block and the municipality has planned the retraining of this square with an investment of 13 mln new and will be realized within half of 2018.” In the end, Meta made it clear that the Markagjoni family was asked to leave out two sections of their property to enable the movement of emergency vehicles.” This is what was ultimately approved in the permit: the full lot less the necessary footage for access by emergency vehicles, not so the ‘animals’ could freeload for the next 30 years off my land and graze like sheep. They did ask for more but we AGREED ON JUST WHAT IS ON THE PERMIT.

We went to start work on the property some months back and the contractor we had hired backed out at the last minute for ‘his own reasons’. I came to find out he got paid off! Ok…next plan was to have material for the project delivered to the site until I could find another suitable contractor, which by the way is turning out to be very hard because nobody wants to be ‘involved’ in the mess they know is coming. This month I finally found a contractor who would build me cement blocks and deliver them to the site for later. Everything was set up for this morning. We had to have the bailiff come on Monday with the police and topographer to stake out the property line and after some altercation with the ‘animals’ and I don’t use that term lightly because that is what they are, we finally staked it out. Well no sooner did night fall that the ‘animals’ in the back were either driving over the iron stakes to flatten them or tearing down our construction tape. Ok, no biggie.

  

On May 25th  we were ready to roll. The truck parked there the night before with the materials and all we were going to do was unload the material onto our property in designated spots according to the permit given to us by City Hall. The day started off fairly easy at about 6.30am, by 9.00am the ‘animals’ were out screaming and yelling like the wild dogs they are.

They called the police, ON US! The police by the way had signed off on the project on Monday and was supposed to come and endorse OUR order, not because some commie dwellers weren’t happy that they weren’t going to get anything for free any more. With that, at least not one or two but five police cars came: State Police, Road Police, Tax Police, Tax Commissioner, and some other useless state vehicle. Not to protect the owners of the property from these ‘animals’. The day went from bad to worse. The news channels came. The police took my cousin in for ‘questioning’. A stop order was put on the site. I spent all day running around from the mayor’s office to the police station to the site. In the end I was told by the head of the Permits at City Hall that we had ‘every right to deposit’ material on our property. I was told by the police that ‘they had no problem with us depositing material on our property’, yet when we tried for the second time, again the police didn’t come when we called five times within the hour, but came when ‘they’ called and promptly took my cousin back to the police station without reason.

In the end my friends, it was a very telling day and one that I will not forget. The corruption, the lies, the backstabbing, the venom coming out of people when they feel something is being taken from them, when they have no right to it, is abhorrent. I can see why everyone who lives here wants to leave. 10% of the country, roughly 3m people, desperately put in for a Visa Lottery to either America or Canada. It is a cesspool of corruption, greed and lawlessness. This story will not end here. I will fight it til I can but the world needs to know what the hell is going on here. My family’s contribution to this country, the sacrifices and love for it helped to maintain the North a Catholic region.  Without the Dera e Gjomarkut there wouldn’t be any Catholicism in this country and this is the THANKS WE GET! A spit in the face by the leftover commies in power, their underhandedness and deceit, their total disregard for private ownership and the list goes on. I am very, very, very glad that my father and his father did not see what a cesspool their beloved country has become!

These are photos taken of the police who came when called to come and remove cars parked illegally on the property. The came, they saw, they had coffee in the bar in the back and they left!

P.S. Since drafting this article on Thursday, May 25, I found out that one of the people involved in the ‘demonstration’ that day was the Head of the Socialist Party here in the City. This is just one of many articles that came out in the paper Shqiptarja.com yesterday. In the second photo you can see the head of the Socialist Party in Shkodra, Mr. Luan Heta. The Socialist Party has been the force behind all this malice and vicious attacks. The Socialist Party has interest in my property as do many others, however there are relatives of people in high levels within the Party who live in one of these buildings hence the circus. They claim that they don’t have enough space for emergency vehicles to get by when that is not correct. I negotiated with City Hall to leave enough room for emergency vehicles to reach the buildings. What I did not negotiate on is to leave a much larger piece of property for those residents to park their cars. At the end of the day I gave up square footage for the allowance we negotiated on, but that is not enough for these people. They want what’s not theirs and will go to any length to get it. Well I hope not to ANY length. Regardless, if their intention is to tire me out, wear me out, wait me out, they don’t know me very well. I will fight fire with fire as long as possible. I will not give up the fight for what’s rightfully, legally, historically and morally mine. So bring it on. My two questions to Mr. Rama are this “How do you propose to be received into the European Union #europeanunion, #privateproperty, #Albania, #edirama, #lulzimbasha, #jozefinatopalli, #saliberisha, #eduartndocaj, #albandaci, #bujarnishani, #donaldlu, #voltanaademi,#usembassytirana, #usstatedepartment, #whitehouse, when your government, your party in particular, is prohibiting its residents from utilizing THEIR OWN property AS THEY SEE FIT, not as you see fit?” and “Who exactly is in charge? The police? The elected officials?”

Article 11 of The Albanian Constitution guarantees that:
“2. Private and public property are equally protected by law”.
ARTICLE 1 of the ECHR (European Council of Human Rights):
Protection of property
“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.
Nobody had any answers on Thursday, all they knew how to do was look at each other when challenged with the question, “This is my property. You have no right to tell me I can’t unload materials here, who gave you that right? Where did the order come from?”

Mr. Rama, I don’t know you therefore my opinion of you is neutral and I don’t make any judgments without knowing an individual, but I do hope that you will look into this and put a stop to it now!

As Prime Minister and head of the Socialist Party, it is your responsibility to ensure that your representatives are not disrupting the law but rather work within it. In this case the interest of the residents of Shkoder, in Llagja Vasil Shanto, behind the Kulla Markagjoni has not been infringed upon but rather the interest of the property owners has! I’m asking as a member of a family who is part of this nation’s history. A family who sacrificed through the ages for a Free Albania. A family who never asked anything of her country but only loved it, fought for it and died for it! Put a stop to this now!

Mr. Luan Heta (far right), head of the Socialist Party in Shkoder, giving interviews to the media as to how ‘this constituents were being disenfranchised’ HA! Let us all go to his house and take over his yard!!!

By the way, the same media interviewed me for 5 minutes where I showed them all my documentation and told them my story but they decided not to run that portion of it! Free Press!!!!! It’s all being driven by the ruling political party, PS.

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Venerable Sister Maria Rosa Agostini of Loreto, Italy

This post does not regard Albania however, since I live here and travel to Italy often I thought I’d share it with you nonetheless.

Portrait of Sister Maria Rosa Agostini, oil on canvas, c.1800 (personal collection).

‘My nun’, that is what I call her. She was the Venerable Sister Maria Rosa Agostini, born in Loreto, Italy in 1722 and died there in 1768. She belonged to the order of the Third Dominicans and after her death was Beatified and Canonized by Decree from Pope Pius VI in 1791, after her 9 miracles were recorded and confirmed. Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name.

I grew up admiring her portrait, it was an inheritance from our maternal grandfather, Carlo Agostini. At times it frightened me, it is a darkly painted oil on canvas about 200 years old and as a little girl looking at this old oil painting of an austere yet serene image of Sister Maria Rosa it was kind of impressionable. However, as the time passed I came to appreciate it more, so much so that about 5 years ago I contacted the Santuario in Loreto and inquired about her. They were extremely helpful and aided me in collecting her background, ultimately sending me copies of writings from their monthly magazine, at the time called “Annali della Santa Casa di Loreto”, published in a series between 1931-1935, from their archives.

These documents detailed a story which in this day and age seems unthinkable. Her daily life as a devout follower of Christ was filled with love for Him and those around her. Reading her story I became more and more involved in it and finally decided to compile a book about her from the archived documents, and that’s what I did. I published the book in 2016. A great accomplishment. But it wasn’t enough. I now had to visit Loreto and see for myself where she was buried in the Santuario; where she lived and walk the streets she walked. It was something that just had to be done.

I went to Italy last week for various reasons and decided that this time I was going to finally make the journey to Loreto. I took the early train from Rome and arrived in Loreto around 11.30am. The taxi ride to the Pensione Piemonte was short, about 10 minutes. Loreto is not a very big city, about 12,000 inhabitants. I arrived at the Pensione, checked in and immediately made my way to the Santuario. The center of Loreto is within walls with two main streets linked to each other by way of short stairwells under porticos. There are about 4 of them which you can take from one street to the other parallel to it. I walked about 1 minute to one of the stairwells and on the other side another old street filled with shops awaited me. At the end of this street is the Santuario. It is a magnificent site, but I will let you read about that on your own. My mission was to find ‘my nun’. I went to the congregational shop and met with father Giuseppe who recognized me when I walked in, as I had sent him a copy of the book. He was very glad to meet me and escorted me to the Chapel of the Crucifix. This is the chapel where Sister Maria Rosa was ultimately interned, after having been relocated a couple of times. It was her wish before she died that she be buried in the chapel with ‘her’ crucifix. This crucifix was very special to her and she didn’t want to be far from it, neither in life nor in death.

          Chapel of the Crucifix

           

The chapel is stunning and the almost life size crucifix hangs above a small altar. To the right on the marble floor is the headstone for Sister Maria Rosa. She is there, buried where she wished, right near ‘her’ crucifix.  I somehow felt a little closer to her at that moment and felt as though she was happy that I had found her and that I am reviving her story. After seeing her resting place Father Giuseppe showed me where she had lived. Since the archival documents state that she lived in the ‘shadow of the House’ in the south-east corner where she could see the cupola an the Santuario, also as shown on an etching created by Pietro Leone Bombelli (1737-1809), it put her house right above what is now a souvenir shop. I stood there for a little while just admiring it and looking at the small windows, I could envision her there looking at the cupola of the Santuario, praying and wishing above all else to become a Sister of the order.

 

Pietro Leone Bombelli (1737-1809)

 

Sister Maria Rosa’s house. The view from the top floor was most likely the inspiration for the etching.

My stay was short, one day and a half. I returned to the chapel and sat with her for a little while. I wanted her to know she was not forgotten but rather admired for her life. It’s not every day someone has an ancestor who is so pure and full of love for her Saviour, an ancestor who was accredited nine miracles and one who was decreed Beatified and Canonized by a Pope. I feel very proud of her and know that I have very, very big shoes to fill!

The Beauty of Olive Wood in Art

Have you ever really, really looked at an Olive Tree? If you had you would see the absolute beauty of it; the gnarled trunk and the year round silvery green leaves, the small white feathery flowers and of course, the olives.

The Olive Tree is one of the oldest trees dating back to about 30 million years. It is native to the Mediterranean countries. Olive oil has long been considered sacred and the olive branch was often a symbol of abundance, glory and peace. The leafy branches of the olive tree were ritually offered to deities and powerful figures as emblems of benediction and purification, and they were used to crown the victors of friendly games and bloody wars. Today, olive oil is still used in many religious ceremonies. Over the years, the olive has been the symbol of peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power and purity.

Having said all that…I live in a country where the tree is plentiful. I love it! And now I found a local artist who loves it as much as I do; Muhamet Trepçi. Mr.Trepçi has found a way to transform olive wood into exquisite works of art. He sees images in the cut wood and transforms it into wall art and jewelry. It really something to be seen.

I met Mr.Trepçi  today and he gave me a guided tour of his art and his process, which was extremely insightful. The pieces he creates are original and absolutely stunning.

If you are visiting Shkodra I strongly recommend you visit his studio located on the corner of Rruga Jezuiteve and Rruga Edith Durham or you may contact him directly following this link Eco Art. Trust me it will be well worth your visit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Lady of Shkodra Church – Zoja e Shkodres

Our Lady of Shkodra Church

Today marks the 128th Anniversary of the re-opening of Our Lady of Shkodra church. The church is located just outside the center of the city in an area called Bachallek, it is situated in the shadow of Rozafa Castle. The church has a long history, going back through the centuries. However, in all the written histories of the church the fact that it was my great-grandfather, Kapidan Marka Gjoni of Mirdita, who was instrumental in having the church reopened and the first Holy Mass conducted there, after a 410 year period of darkness at the hands of the Turks, is never mentioned. This fact is also proven in the writings of Dom Nikole Kimeza as written in an essay sent to Pope John XXIII in July 1958: “Appunti Albanese, Mirdita e il suo Principe a sua Santita’ Giovanni XXIII”.

Below is a brief history of the church and the events leading up to the first Holy Mass conducted there in 1889.

In 1479 the Turks conquered Shkodra and in their infinite wisdom destroyed the Church of Our Good Council, which is situated between Rozafa Castle and the city of the time, from where the fresco of the image of the Lady of Our Good Council fled miraculously with two men from Shkodra and arrived in Genezzano, Italy on 26 April, 1467; 98 days after the death of Albania’s hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. Through the years numerous attempts were made to desecrate the remaining walls of the room where the fresco hung but all attempts were in vain, Our Holy Mother protected it and nothing could damage it further, nor human nor nature. In these holy walls the Turks never allowed another Holy Mass to be conducted.

At the request of some Catholics in Shkodra Kapidan Marka Gjoni, who was involved in activities against the Turks, expressed his opinion to Mons. Doci; to conjoin and reopen the church of “Our Lady of Shkodra” in Bachallek, which had remained closed since Shkodra fell in the hands of the Turks in 1479. Mons. Doci, after a slight hesitation based on good reason as he was being observed by the Turkish government for national activities since the time of the ‘League of Prizren’, for which he was interned, took into consideration the importance of this critical Catholic matter and accepted it.

Thus on April 26, 1889, (exactly 410 years later) he conducted the first Holy Mass. Abbat Doci administered the masterpiece as a religious mission by explaining: “Whenever and wherever it is requested from the people to give the Holy Mass, I, as a religious man, cannot decline.” It was a very important religious and political event of the time.

Marka Gjoni had the support of two people from Shkodra in this movement: Palok Kurti and Kole Deda, of the House of Dede Jakupvet, who was a considerable power among Catholics in Shkodra in the area of Qafe Hardhi, behind Rozafa castle. From there, Marka Gjoni was informed not to go toward the bazaar because a crowd of Muslims from Shkodra lied in ambush waiting for him and that he would be better off to pass via Qafe Hardhi.  They helped Marka Gjoni without shedding any blood.

However, Marka Gjoni did not stop his momentum and we see him again in 1890 leading the clergy and the people to the Church of St. Mark in the village of Vau Dejes, and there among the ruins, the Holy Mass was celebrated.

Subsequently ever since 1889 the Holy Mass is conducted at the Lady of Shkodra church on April 26, where worshipers from all over Albania gather in celebration.

To this date no mention of the importance of the this event, which took place in 1889 led by Kapidan Marka Gjoni and Abbat Doci, is mentioned nor written about nor whispered. It is a shame that Albania is still to this day trying to minimize the importance and influence that my family had in preserving Catholicism in the country, the risks they took and the ultimate sacrifices they suffered.

 Kapidan Marka Gjoni with his guards.

Kapida Marka Gjoni c.1900

King Zog I – His Summer Villa in Shiroke

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Time was when Albania had a king, King Zog I. He was a self proclaimed monarch and reigned as King from 1928-1939, you can read more on his history at the following link Zog_I_of_Albania.

Today I took a ride to Shiroke  to find his Villa. I heard about it since I have been here but never made the effort to find it. Well, find it I did, and let me just say it was both astonishingly beautiful and depressingly sad. Beautiful because I could envision it at its height, in its grandiose state in the 1920’s-1930’s, with the King and his family strolling the grounds, having tea on the balconies. Sad because of the state it has fallen into. Sad that the country has not restored it to its original state and make a park out of it, a tourist attraction for the world to see, something to preserve the history of her king and the magnificence of his residence. Even if one is not a monarchist this is still part of Albania’s history and should be restored, preserved and exposed to the world.

The grounds are reminiscent of Villa Borghese in Rome, although not as large or grandiose, but on a smaller scale. One could envision a time when the multi level tiers in the gardens were manicured to perfection and  the fountains pouring out their water gently, all the while the birds chirping in the trees. You can feel the nostalgia, the walls calling out to be resurrected once again, the windows to be dressed in flowing chiffon undulating in the wind. The breeze throughout the house is refreshing and welcoming. The balconies begging to serve as a resting spot after an afternoon stroll. Walking among the debris that is left inside one can’t help but wonder where is the humanity? Where is the pride? Where is the Cultural Monument Society? Why has this not been a priority on their projects’ list?

I supposed part of my nostalgia in walking the grounds, maybe, was because I had a short lived connection to Queen Geraldine of Albania. I had the pleasure to see the Queen in New York City in c.1975 at an event held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the anniversary of Albania’s Independence. My mother, Maria Teresa Gjomarkaj, was seated next to the Queen at the head table. It was a very exciting day and we felt very proud to have been in her presence as well as her son’s, King Leka.

queen
(left to right) Maria Teresa Gjomarkaj, Queen Geraldine, King Leka, Queen Susan and Albanian nationalist Mr. Ago Agaj.

It is a very sad thing to see. All this glamour and beauty just sitting there, rotting away for the vagrants to use and abuse. For the chickens to run around in and mess it up. For Albanians in the North not to have a monument as a reminder of a grander, gentler time; a memento of their King they can be proud of. The opportunities in restoring it are many. It could be a great tourist attraction, one that would certainly drive the tourism up in Shiroke and Shkoder. It would be a wonderful addition to an area which is trying to expand into the international tourist market, it would provide jobs and establish a great resource of income for the area. Albania…think about it!!!

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        Click on the photo for video.