Albania During COVID-19

Day fourteen of the pandemic and here we are, at home; like hopefully the rest of the world. I noticed that many people like to share what they are doing during the day, how they are spending time with their families, so I want to share how we are doing here in Shkodra.

The lock-down started on March 13, we are going on three weeks now. I can’t say it’s been fabulous but I can’t complain about it either. For one thing the air is much cleaner. There is no traffic noise. No cars parked in front of our door. For the most part it’s quiet, peaceful. We are lucky to have a yard that we can walk around in and the dogs can run in, but even if we didn’t have that, a balcony, like most people in the country have, would suffice. You know why? Because we don’t have the Virus. We are healthy. We wake up every day, have our coffee, watch the news, catch up with FB friends and news. Then I usually go out within my allotted hour to buy some groceries. Come home, make lunch, usually accompanied by some wine. Watch some more tv, skype with some friends, maybe take a nap and so on. I would say we are pretty lucky. The government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis was swift and it seems to be working. How can you complain about that?

This will all be over in a month maybe two, then we will all be going back to the way it was; polluted air, traffic noise, cars illegally parking, the trials and tribulations of every day life and we will be thinking how great it was to be isolated, even if for a little while.

So for those of you who have not contracted the virus, enjoy your quietness, your family, your pets, your house. You are lucky to find yourself healthy in a time untouched by the atrocities of a real war, a war where people were being rounded up and mass murdered, a war where food was scarce and tv, internet, cell phones were unheard of. Count your blessings every day and patiently wait for the time where you can go back to a normal daily routine. Follow the regulations imposed by your local government and enjoy LIFE!

Bianca Gjomarkaj-Nakovics

Still No Closure After 74 Years!

 

 

There were over 100,000 Albanians who were murdered during the communist regime (1944-1991) at the hands of Enver Hoxha. Of those, upwards of  5,087 bodies are still missing. Their remains have never been found, or returned to their families.

Among these 5,087 were Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku and his brother Llesh Gjon Marku, both killed in 1946 and 1947, respectively.

Mark’s body, after it was found in Perlatit-Këthel, on June 14, 1946, was taken and dragged through the streets of Shkodra and placed in front of City Hall for everyone to see. Afterward it was buried in a mass grave with other murdered nationalists, or so the story goes, but nobody is sure. To this day the family has no idea where their brother, father, uncle’s body is.

One year later, his brother Llesh (Sander) Gjon Marku was also murdered in an ambush in Mungje, on 9 August, 1947. There is no trace of his body or knowledge of where it was disposed.

As of today, not only this family, but all the families of all the victims of crimes committed under the regime have yet to receive an apology from the government. The families of the murdered have yet to receive any kind of information as to where the bodies of their loved ones are. Families have yet to receive full compensation for the murders of their loved ones. On the contrary, the funds allocated as compensation for the families of the victims have been trickling down over the last 20 years in dribs and drabs.

In 1995, then Prime Minister Sali Berisha, signed a decree stripping all honors and titles awarded to the high ranking members of the communist dictatorship due to “Criminal Acts of Genocide Committed Against the Albanian People”, thereby confirming that such acts did indeed occur. However, that’s where the ceremonial decrees or public display of repentance stopped.

Here we are 76 years after the takeover of communism in Albania; 29 years after the fall of communism and still, families have been left in the dark about the whereabouts of the remains of their loved ones. Left helpless in the quest to find them and put them to rest once and for all.

No apologies. No reconciliation. Not a whisper. Business as usual!

Bianca Gjomarkaj

“Tre Vete Ne Nje Varke” by Stefan Cepaliku

As the rain fell throughout Shkoder yesterday evening, December 12, I was inside the Migjeni Theater at the grand opening of the play “Tre Vete Ne Nje Varke” (Three Lives and One Boat), written and adapted by Stefan Capaliku, noted Albanian scholar, professor and writer.

The story could have been applied to any number of Albanian families throughout the country during the communist regime, but it was centered on a family in the city of Shkodra. Three brothers: Gjon, Mark, Luka and their mother Marije, living under the rule of communism; always watched, spied on, surveilled, thus living precariously from one day to the next for fear of being denounced for some meaningless action or word.

As the story opens, c.1950’s, it shows the love shared between mother and sons who, although living with the barest of means provided, show that their love for each other is insurmountable. The three young men have a strong desire to escape to the west and plan on building a boat that would hopefully take them across lake Shkoder to freedom. As doubts and fears begin to settle in their mother reassures them that they must go and start a new life, free from oppression. They must study, find meaningful work and live freely.

In the second act the raw truth settles in when they are caught by way of a family friend who reported them. They are taken into custody and sent to trial, where they are each condemned to years in prison and thus their dreams destroyed. As if that was not enough, their mother, distraught over the turn of events, loses all senses and despairs over the fate of her sons, ultimately dying of a broken heart.

The last act has the three, now old men, living in their house struggling with their fate and their wish to still leave the country now under ‘democracy’. The three brothers reminisce about their life, at the same time facing legal battles to settle their legal issues through innumerable court appearances and having to deal with the corrupt legal system. Ultimately they give up and begin work on rebuilding ‘the boat’.

Mr. Cepaliku did an excellent job through his script in expressing the angst of a mother at the prospect losing her three sons forever or being caught by the authorities, yet at the same time showing a mother’s true love for her children by supporting their decision to leave and be free. I also felt the sons’ feelings of oppression and strong desire to leave, combined with their uncertainty of leaving their mother alone, was very well communicated.

I am not a theater critic by any means and my Albanian is not fluent, however I left the theater feeling a sense of familiarity with the people who lived through that horrible period. I don’t think the language was a barrier for understanding the essence of the play and feeling somehow connected to it, even though I didn’t grow up here. The story is one too familiar with almost all Albanians. For me personally it is something my family lived through. I had two uncles killed during the resistance fighting. One uncle who managed to escape after five years in the worst internment camp in Albania, in Tepelene and go on to join his brother, my father and his father, ultimately building a family and living to be 90 years old. My other family members; great-grandmother, grandmother, two aunts, one uncle and three cousins all lived and some died in concentration camps. The survivors returning to their family home in 1991, bent but not broken. Never broken, never subjugated by the regime and never, ever denying their faith and name.

If you are in Shkodra and want to experience a bit of Albanian ‘flavor’ in the way of theater and history I would recommend seeing this play. It is running through December 15.Mr.  Stefan Cepaliku (playwright) with Bianca Gjomarkaj-Nakovics

THE MARKAGJONI FAMILY – FOUNDATION OF TRADITION

This article deals with the current legal issues facing the Markagjoni family. Issues which are directly related to the question of property and the corruption within the Albanian legal system, which is allowing injustices in relation to ownership. Until the day when Albania is truly free of corruption within their justice system citizens throughout Albania will feel its consequences and will have be dealing with restitution. Ours is just one of the many stories, however because of the history of this family and the long traditions to which it adhered in the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, it makes the story that much more intriguing. This is just a brief glimpse into our story. A follow up will be published in the future.

Elections Aftermath

What this country saw today, in the aftermath of a one party election, was democracy. Democracy because the election moved forward free and without major incidents. What the country didn’t see today was democracy as we know it; a democracy where more than one party is included in the elections; a democracy where there is discussion among the parties; a democracy of transparency; a democracy of inclusion. We must ask ourselves why? What has brought us to this point?

Everyone knows there is corruption, on both sides. Everyone knows there are drug trafficking problems, on both sides. Everyone knows there is election fraud, on both sides. Everyone knows about the day to day issues involving Albanians in Albania ie: low income, health, unemployment, ecc. But does anyone really, really care? I have listened to the PD for the last 8 months about PM Rama and how he needs to step down. Maybe. But what I didn’t hear from the PD is how they are going to change the country. What are their goals? How are they going to implement them?

Instead of working toward real change they decided to ‘give up’, burn their mandates, thereby leaving the door open for the PS to take over the country. Did they really think that by having protest after protest and chanting ‘Rama Go’ the problem was just going to go away. Of course not. This is not Venezuela. This country is close to opening negotiations with the EU. This country has free trade and travel. This country has tourism. Aside from all the problems we face we also have some good things.

The PD has lost touch. This is not the party of hope anymore. They destroyed any chance they had to maintain their Mayors in cities where they were a stronghold, like Shkodra. Now all cities in Albania have Mayors from the Socialist Party. Every stronghold in the country is Socialist. The only hope left is the Constitutional Court which hasn’t been formed yet, and even in that there is little hope for now.

The PD really needs to take a look at their agenda. Their strategy backfired big time. They never should have burned their mandates. It was a gamble which turned out to be catastrophic as it didn’t leave any voice in Parliament to speak for their constituents and it didn’t leave any choice at the election booth for their followers. They left them out in the cold. Unrepresented. Is this what the Democrat Party is? A party with no message? A party who disenfranchised half the population?

It is time to move forward now and look ahead. It is time for new leadership. It is time to set goals and express what those goals are and how they plan on achieving them. Stop the rhetoric. Stop the slogans. Look to 2021 with open eyes and fresh ideas, new leadership, inclusion and transparency. All democrats out there should demand these things of their party, not just sheepishly follow. Challenge your leaders! Demand a change! Demand new leadership! You will never move forward unless real change is made with real achievable goals. It’s going to be a long two years, and you will most likely have to start from scratch, but you can do it. If you, the Albanian people, set your mind to it you can do anything. This was a setback but it’s not one that can’t be fixed. Together you need to rise up and take charge of your party, take back your country. This is YOUR party, not Basha’s or Berisha’s, YOURS! Make your voices heard! Good or bad this is your country. Don’t let 2021 slip you by!

Bianca Gjomarkaj-Nakovics