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

Albanian Elections

I have refrained from commenting on the political situation in Albania because I know that no matter what I write it will be viewed as against one party or the other. The first thing I want to make clear is that I am not a member of any political party in Albania. I am just a citizen watching and listening to what is going on and what has been going on the past year. But I cannot sit idly by any longer, quietly.

First and foremost in my mind is the fact that no country can call itself ‘democratic’ which does not allow elections to be held. The fact that the opposition revoked their mandates, subsequently leaving no ‘opposition’ in parliament and therefore no candidates available for the ballots, is not a reason to withhold elections. The fact is that the opposition revoked their mandates leaving a huge gap in parliament and thereby leaving their constituents without a voice. This is a fact! The fact is that what the opposition did is to blatantly remove any voice of the people who voted for them. Whether they felt it was a strategic move to make the PM step down during a period of relative prosperity in the country, relative being the key word, they took it upon themselves to decide to vacate their parliamentary duties and begin a period of protests with the sole purpose of making the PM step down. How was that going to work? Why would he when he was lawfully elected?

Is the country without problems? No, of course not. Corruption, drug trafficking, judicial reform, unemployment, election fraud, these are all very real issues. But did they start with this government? Really? Perhaps it has gotten worse, but some things have gotten better. Of course it depends on who you ask and those of one party will each tell you their version of it. I am not here to answer those questions or point fingers.

As a whole Albania has many, many problems, the least of which is dealing with human rights and property rights. I personally have many issues dealing with property rights and restitution of property but I am not blaming this government or that government, I blame all, past and present. Some of our properties were returned in 1994, during the early days of the ‘democratic’ government. Some of our properties in 2011 were sold out to government concessions without our permission under the elected ‘democratic government’ at the time. Some of our properties are still being denied registration in the Property Office under the current ‘socialist’ government. And so on, therefore, they are all to blame. The oligarchs of the past, since the fall of communism, are still in power today, so you see not much has changed.

The government should be for the people, by the people. What these politicians have forgotten, or maybe they just don’t care, is that Albania is not theirs to do with what they please. Albania is for all Albanians. Albania belongs to the people. They are representatives of the people who elected their party based on their promises. Promises, which, from what I can see, have barely been kept.

In May of 2019 Lulzim Basha, leader of the opposition Democrat Party said: “We are here with a mission, to liberate Albania from crime and corruption, to make Albania like the rest of Europe”. I hate to break it to him but Europe will never accept a country that does not allow its citizens to vote. Europe will never accept a country without a fully functional democracy. Europe will never accept a country with parties making decisions for the people without a mandate, without their voices being heard.

The way to liberate Albania from crime and corruption and make it like the rest of Europe is through a vote! Through the voice of the people, not Mr. Basha or Mr. Rama or Ms. Kryemadhi.

If these parties, the Democrat Party and the Party of Justice and Integration, really cared for their country, or its people, they would not have revoked their mandates in February 2019. This move greatly undermined democracy and created a highly combustible situation, which will lead to so much more chaos and disarray than ever if the elections are not held next week, by order of the President. They should have rather used their time, since the last election in 2017, to debate in Parliament; bring people to the table; call attention to all the issues facing the nation by engaging representatives from the EU and the USA; discuss in a professional and intellectual manner all the concerns and try, together, to resolve some of these very important issues before the next election in 2019.

Civil discourse is the key to resolving issues that affect a country and a people who feel they have been unjustly represented and treated. Discussion, mediation, understanding, and ultimately voting! What you have today is near anarchy. You have a population divided more than ever. Demands for a PM to step down when he was lawfully elected under the watchful eye of the EU, 3,000 independent election monitors deployed across the country, and with a deal struck giving the opposition key ministerial posts in the run-up.

What you have today, one week before the elections, is not democracy at work but the wants and needs of a party who is not willing to come to the table in a mature way and try to solve the problems of the country they say they love so much. The people need their politicians to work together through hard times, work together to resolve issues, work together for the common good, not burn mandates and walk out of the room like spoiled children!

I encourage all politicians to take a minute to refresh their memories of what the Albanian Constitution stands for and what they swore to uphold!

We, the people of Albania proud and aware of our history, with responsibility for the future, and with faith in God and/or other universal values,

with determination to build a social and democratic state based on the rule of law, and to guarantee the fundamental human rights and freedoms,

with a spirit of religious coexistence and tolerance,

with a pledge to protect human dignity and person hood, as well as for the prosperity of the whole nation, for peace, well-being, culture and social solidarity,

with the centuries-old aspiration of the Albanian people for national identity and unity, with a deep conviction that justice, peace, harmony and cooperation between nations are among the highest values of humanity,

we establish this Constitution

Article 1

3. Governance is based on a system of elections that are free, equal, general and periodic.

Article 2

1. Sovereignty in the Republic of Albania belongs to the people.

2. The people exercise sovereignty through their representatives or directly.

God Bless Albania!

Bianca Gjomarkaj-Nakovics