TRUE STORIES FROM RED ALBANIA -PART II: "Walls in Berlin, Bunkers in Tirana"       

(Abbreviated version of the book: True Stories from Red Albania by Dr. Jorgji KOTE)

CHAPTER III

The school and the revolutionary triangle

The third major political move which engulfed us directly, without our grasping its real meaning and amplitude, was the ‘Further Revolutionalisation of our School’. It led to the adoption of the relevant law in spring 1969. In the framework of the great popular discussion which preceded that law, the most important issue was ‘the ideological axis or backbone’ which would run like a red thread though the whole teaching and educational activity, both at school and elsewhere. Pursuant to this principle, the underlying foundation of the whole teaching process in all school cycles was the M-L ideology, the history of the Party of Labour of Albania ( PLA), dialectical and historical materialism. In practical terms, ‘the ideological axis or backbone’ meant that every class, in every theme and subject, math, physics, engineering, should start with the quotations from the PLA, teachings from Enver Hoxha, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. But this was really overdone, and it became a subject of many jokes and anecdotes. I was a teacher in the countryside in 1975-1978 and, believe me, it was so boring and painstaking. You had to think every morning about a quotation for each subject, even mathematics or natural sciences, and every day this had to be proved and set down in writing! I remember that a colleague of mine, while explaining forests, started the lesson by saying that “during the war, many partisans fighting against enemies passed through this forest near our school”.

 The black and the green gold 

One of the funniest stories during those years related to a seminar on forests in the picturesque village of Voskopoja, in south-eastern Albania. Following the rules concerning the ‘ ideological axes’ the lecturer started his discourse with an alleged quotation from Lenin: “Forests are green gold”. A party official who heard about this had studied in the Higher Party School in Moscow. He knew Lenin’s works by heart. But he had never come across such a quotation. Hence, deeply concerned, he tried and after two weeks met with the lecturer and asked him which of Lenin’s works this quotation came from, since he had never seen it during his five years of studies in Moscow! The lecturer, who was also Chairman of that Commune, found himself in a difficult position; first he was taken aback, but then he pulled himself together and addressed the poor Party official more or less in the following ironic way:

Lecturer: “I thought you were a smart person, but it seems you are dull!”

Party official: “Why on the earth are you talking like this? You had better tell me from which of Lenin’s works and pages you took the quotation that ‘forests are green gold’, if indeed that is the case.”

Lecturer: “First, my dear friend, not everything that comrade Lenin said can be found in his numerous works. Secondly and most importantly, didn’t comrade Lenin say that ‘crude oil is black gold’?”

Party official: “Oh, yes, certainly”! And he mentioned the name of the work and the page of this quotation. ( in fact, much later we could verify that many quotations allegedly invented by Lenin were wrongly attributed to him).

Lecturer: “Well, then, dear comrade, when crude oil is like black gold for our country, why on earth can’t the forests with the woods be green gold?”  Then, both burst into laughter at such an original explanation.

The most important and critical aspect of this popular discussion was the establishment of the whole educational pyramid under the pillars of the so-called ‘Revolutionary Triangle – studying, productive labour, military training’. Together with the ideological axis, this revolutionary triangle would be the future ‘backbone’ of our ‘new socialist school’.  The basic idea here was that following the main political slogan of that time: “with the pick in one hand and the rifle in the other”, the pupils and students would be ready not only to study well, but also work hard physically to build socialism and at the same time defend it from numerous enemies. It goes beyond doubt that the Chinese experience had a great impact on this aspect; the ‘school revolutionalisation’ in Albania coincided with the outbreak of the Great Cultural Revolution in China in 1966 as well as with the political needs of the regime at that time. Accordingly, it was decided that in the school curricula of the 8th grade school, secondary and higher education, apart from eight months of studying, two months would be necessarily productive or physical labour and one-month military training in a military unit. The physical labour was done in the youth projects and mainly in railway construction or elsewhere. In 1968 I was a volunteer in the construction of the Rrogozhinw - Fier Railway, in 1969 on the Elbasan – Përrenjas Railway, in 1970 building terraces on the southern coastline and in 1973 back on the Elbasan – Përrenjas Railway. For us, the pupils and students of Tirana, the military training took place in the anti-air force units surrounding the capital. Thus, in 1969, at the end of the ‘great popular discussion’, these two vital components became obligatory. This practice went on until 1990. Not only that, but if one underrated their importance, they were assessed with negative marks, which caused the loss of the teaching year! Besides, it became a major political issue in every sort of meeting. In the framework of the fight against bureaucratisation and better links with the rank-and-file masses, even public administration officials were obliged to spend 1-2 months as workers in factories, farms, cooperatives and elsewhere. In addition, after higher graduation, we were obliged to do 3-5 months of military training, and three months more every five years.

In the end, I should emphasise that despite the above-mentioned negative occurrences and the extreme politicisation, thanks to intensive and consolidated teaching curricula especially in natural and technical sciences, where politicisation was less intense, the commitment and professionalism of our prominent teachers and professors and the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of pupils and students, a great number of well-known politicians, experts, artists and scientists have graduated from these schools and universities. Many of them were later trained and employed abroad, with brilliant careers in public and private international institutions and organisations.

                          Nice Memories and Many Celebrities

A concrete example in this regard is the Secondary School and Faculty of Foreign Languages, where I studied from 1967-1974. Now, 50 years on, one may say with pride that its students have contributed in areas much wider than teaching, translation and interpretation. Thanks to their will and passion to go beyond languages, important as they are, many of them have become celebrities in journalism, music, literature, but also in politics, parliament and diplomacy. This applies both to the period before and after 1990. Among them are three Foreign Ministers – Mrs Arta Dade, currently Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Foreign Committee, Mr Besnik Mustafaj, Chairman of the Alliance for Civilization Foundation, and Mr Edmond Haxhinasto, until September 2016 Minister of Transports. This ministerial list continues with Mrs Mirela Kumbaro, Minister of Culture, and Mr Arben Ahmetaj, Minister of Finances and Mr. Sokol Dervishaj, former Deputy Foreign Minister and now Minister of Transports. Let me also highlight here a radiating personality, former Deputy Foreign Minister and Ambassador, prominent historian Prof. Dr. Pëllumb Xhufi.

Graduates from this school have also become ambassadors and successful   diplomats of career. I should like to start with my class mates for seven unforgettable years – Fatos Reka, our Ambassador in Skopie, Mrs. Tatjana Gjonaj, Ambassador in Brazil and  Mr. Viktor Kalemi, former Ambassador in Cairo; my  good and close school mates more or less of the same generation - Mr. Qemal Minxhozi, former MP and now  Ambassador in Kosovo; Mr. Eduard Sulo, former Secretary General and now Ambasador in Cairo, Mr. Zef Mazi, former Ambassador and in the recent years employed by International Atomic Agency in Vienna, Mr. Islam Lauka, former Director General and Ambassador; Mr. Bashkim Rama, Ambassador and Director until his retirement; Mr. Sokol Gjoka, former Ambassador in Russia and Poland, now Director of International Organizations, who is very keen and a promotor of public and cultural diplomacy; then Mr. Ilir Gjoni, former MP and Minister, now ambassador in Switzerland; then representatives of the younger generations: Mr. Arben Cici, former Ambassador and Chief of Protocol at the Assembly, Mrs. Anila Bitri, former Director and now ambassador in Rome; Mr. Ridi Kurtezi, former Director of Protocol and now ambassador in Spain, Mrs. Elida Petoshati, former Ambassador in  Canada and now Director for Regional Relations, Mr. Dritan Tola, our Ambasador in France and others. I may also add here my good long – time colleagues and friends, Guri Selmani and Naim Mandri up to the youngest one in the Press Department, Ms. Ira Salataj and others.

I was also privileged to work closely with my previous ambassadors in Brussels: Mr Ferit Hoxha, currently Director General at the MFA, former Secretary General and from 1998 onwards Ambassador in Brussels, Paris and New York; given his bright and multi-faceted career, noticeable pragmatism and flexibility, his commation skills, including the excellent command of English, French and Italian, he ranks among our best Ambassadors for the last 25 years. Then, Mr Ilir Tepelena, who has naturally climbed the diplomatic hierarchy step by step – first diplomat in Tirana, moving later on to Paris, Madrid and Rome; then Director and Director General in the Foreign Ministry, from 2010 – 2014 Ambassador in Brussels and currently in Bucharest.

There are also prominent journalists graduated from this school, both in Albania and abroad. Let me mention only three of them here: Rezar Xhaxhiu, a former diplomat and Ilir Babaramo; their evening programmes “ A night with Xhaxhiu” and “ Five questions from Babaramo” are  very educational and watched by a large cultivated audience. Apart from the high level of professionalism, this is also thanks to their genuine and positive attitude, which the Albanian society needs so much currently. It was 25 years ago that  Arben Xhixho started his work in Washington in the “ Voice of America”. He has had a successful career ever since and in the recent years was promoted as Chief of the Albanian Section. 

But to be fair, the credit for such a positive record goes first and foremost to our brilliant professors, both in the secondary languages school and especially in the Faculty of Foreign Languages. Apart from being our teachers and professors, they were also like our parents, brothers, sisters and friends. This list is rather long, but let me mention just a few, starting with some of the best English professors of international standards, Muhamed Kapllani, Drita Draçini, Ilo Stefanllari, Refik Kadia, Gëzim Hado, Maja Luarasi, Shpresa Shamblli, Mira Blushi, the French professor and my predecessor here at the embassy, Thoma Haxhi, the favourite professor and friend Edmond Tupe and others.

From the Russian chair, among others, I have to mention Prof. Eshref Ymeri, who in the last 25 years has been living in USA; rarely have I seen such an active person, a real authority in the field of languages and translation who has never stopped working and publishing books and dictionaries in Russian, but also in Italian and English. I wonder if there is any remaining issue or point which Prof. Eshref Ymeri has not exhausted with his numerous publications in the field of teaching, translation, interpreting and others.

  Heroism - ‘Political Fashion’ 

The ground where this ‘revolutionalisation of the life’ was taking place was extremely fertile with heroes and inspiring events at that time. The first convincing hero was Adem Reka, who in November 1966, only one week after the historical 6th PLA Congress, was hit by waves during a severe storm in the largest port of Durrës in an effort to save other ships with his 120 tonne floating crane, the biggest at that time, which later on bore his name. He became the symbol of self-denial, heroism and of the ‘new socialist man’, one of the major themes of the 6th PLA Congress. He was awarded the highest title: Hero of Socialist Labour. During the years that followed, Durrës and its port, the biggest in the country, with its floating crane, became a true place of pilgrimage from all over Albania, for young people in particular. Dozens of songs, shows and even a movie were dedicated to Adem Reka, and were awarded top prizes at different artistic events and festivals.

Then, in February 1967, a 15-year-old girl from the remote northern area of Shkurte Pal Vata died while working near the town of Lushnja for the construction of the railway to Fier. She was digging in the ground and was suddenly covered with a heap of earth.  Shkurte Vata became the second most telling example of heroism: this time, a symbol of young peasant girls who come to work voluntarily from remote areas. This was a special case, since at that time a nation-wide movement was launched for the emancipation of women and girls, who were suffering from religious prejudices and other negative phenomena. Young girls, for instance, were not allowed to leave their villages and were married in their childhood through an unknown go-between. Therefore, Shkurte Vata became the symbol of the emancipation of young girls and women, which in fact had a wide influence on the public. Under the slogan “One falls down, thousands rise up”, many brigades with young girls from her region and elsewhere volunteered to replace her, including her father, Pal Vata, and other family members. Following this political trend, on the eve of the New Year 1968, another hero laid down his life amidst a snowstorm, in order to re-establish the phone connection high in the snow-covered mountains. His name was Pjetër Llesh Doda. Then, it was the turn of the educational system, the largest one in the country to have its own hero. This time, it was teacher Ismat Sali Bruçaj who lost his life trying to make his way to the village school where his beloved pupils were waiting for him.

However, the propaganda machine felt that the country and the people also needed live heroes as a sublime source of inspiration, who could be seen and met by the people and the youth, in particular. They did in fact found put  many of them who are known for the Albanian public of that time. As pupils and students, we have been present in different meetings with some of them.

    Forced volunteering

During those years, there were also a series of events which galvanised this revolutionary spirit. Thus, at the end of November 1967 an exceptional earthquake shook the north-western districts of Dibra and Librazhdi. Over 100,000 houses, streets, roads, social and educational centres were either seriously damaged or destroyed. Thousands of volunteers 'invaded' these two districts, together with journalists, writers, artists, experts, party and state leaders. The bold decision was made to build everything new within only one month, without any aid from abroad. The saying was that “earthquakes shake mountains, but not our hearts”. True human solidarity achieved its zenith.

Following this example, three months later in February 1968 the first so-called 'undertaking with concentrated efforts' took place in Dibra, building within one single day a 17 km-long channel, with the participation of thousands of peasants from each village of this district. In this great undertaking, which marked the beginning of a new method of constructing socialism that would go on for two decades, a young couple was present, whose wedding ceremony was scheduled for 17 February 1968, i.e. the same day with the above-mentioned undertaking. The groom has  said in a special TV broadcast in 2008 that it was an accidental event. The Party and government leaders in that district had decided to launch such an undertaking, but when they heard about the wedding on exactly the same day, they feared that according to the tradition of these remote villages, and being the first time, the level of participation at this very first undertaking could be low because the people would go and attend the wedding ceremony. Thus, a deal was made that the new couple would come to the undertaking for an hour, and then continue with the wedding. And this was the case, leading to wide-ranging coverage in the media and the press of that time.

A lot of fuss was made about the first ever 'undertaking with concentrated efforts' as a new creative method of solving different problems and not waiting for everything from the state, using the newly married couple to reinforce this message. This also gave birth to the 'new socialist weddings', as well as the organisation of such undertakings every Sunday to solve practical needs and problems, but which later on became unbearable, especially for women. After this event, every week we were sent to the countryside on Sundays, the only day off, to help the peasants, workers and so on. After 20 years it became really boring and intolerable and then it was reduced a little. Imagine not only the youth, but also elderly people and mothers with kids getting up early on Sundays to go to work, and coming back at 14:00 hours. What could they do in a single free Sunday afternoon, when there were no washing machines, refrigerators and other facilities! All this in the name of the revolutionary spirit and volunteering! It did not matter if one had to go to visit a friend to congratulate him or her, to a wedding, a funeral or to other events.

At the National Folklore Festival of Gjirokastra in 1973, a folklore ensemble from the village of Lapardha in Berat turned this situation into art, dedicating a song entitled The new bridegroom, which went as follows: “On Saturday, at work/on Sunday married/ on Monday again at work/ej, you new bridegroom/in harvest campaign/ there is no honeymoon/”

Without denying the spirit in principle and some useful values and benefits,  these actions, and volunteering as a whole besides their binding nature were exaggerated; to the extent that besides lacking common sense and economic benefits, they gave birth to absurd practices. Besides, these undertakings or actions, as they were called, became our co-travellers everywhere, even in music, arts, movies, painting, opera and ballet! Everywhere in the country one could see the pick and the rifle, the symbol of our new socialist life, folks singing and dancing with these tools in their hands.

Take the sheep back, but  stop that song!

By the end of 1960, in the context of the revolutionary initiatives and solidarity with the backward areas in the north, the shepherds from the southern areas 'volunteered' to give 6,000 sheep and goats as a gift to shepherds in Shkodra. This initiative was accompanied by noisy propaganda, including songs. A folk musical group from a village in Gjirokastra improvised the song entitled 6,000 sheep and goats. It became famous overnight and was broadcast on the radio several times each day and week at the request of listeners. With its prolonged polyphonic refrain repeating '6,000 sheep and goats' it became really embarrassing for the folks who received them, and even offensive for the inhabitants of the north. As they say: ‘enough is enough’. The problem was solved when a great comic actor from Shkodra, in a comedy sketch, told the folk group and Radio Tirana that they were ready to give back the 6,000 sheep and goats but that song must not be broadcast anymore! Thus, this song started to be repeated very rarely, until finally it was erased from the programme.

  CHAPTER IV

Anti-Youth Conservatism

Until 1970, in the countryside in particular, old and backward customs and traditions prevailed. They were a serious hurdle for the emancipation of the youth, and young girls, in particular. New living standards were being introduced with many difficulties. Besides, there were very few radio receivers and there could be no talk about TV. The schools and some sanitary workers played an important role, but still it was extremely difficult to cope with that major issue. Therefore, during the period 1969-1972, multiple efforts were made to improve the situation. During those years, the cinema, theatre, opera and ballet gave fine performances, thanks to an excellent cast of actors and artists, but their range of themes was very poor and limited. People could only hear about our national hero Scanderbej, mythic figures, heroes, partisans, the achievements under the Party leadership and other pieces inspired by revolutionary events. With regard to music, it was the folk style which prevailed on all radio, TV programmes and concerts. There was very little modern Albanian music for young people. After 1967 even the songs in festivals became more and more political and everywhere one could hear and see the common words and slogans: “Party, Enver! farms, factories, the pick and rifle, tractor driver, textile workers, miners, soldiers, enemies, industrial works, steel” and such like. Besides, the years 1965-1975 were also marked by the construction of many huge industrial projects and facilities. To each of them, a special song, poem, painting or movie was dedicated. It is quite interesting to mention that these songs won first prizes, while even the best youth songs with modern music were always awarded either the second or the third prizes! Very little was done for youth entertainment and recreation.

All this was at a time when literature, arts and music worldwide had experienced a new breakthrough. This cultural boom was seen also in neighbouring Italy. We were so eager to hear at that time the famous Canzonissima, the San Remo Festival as well as the great Italian singers and entertainers: Adriano Çelentano, Raffaella Carrà, Gianni Morandi, Nicola Di Bari, Albano Carrisi, Little Tony, Loretta Goggi and many others. But most of us had to go to our cousins or friends, who had a TV set, to watch them. At the same time, we were dying to hear world music legends like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Abba and other famous bands and artists. Although they were officially seen as the incarnation of bourgeois degeneration, we were talking secretly and even trying to imitate them at evening parties. Going abroad or accompanying foreign delegations was a great chance to sing their songs. If there were any critical remarks or even charges against us, it was quite easy to find the justification: it was just a bit of fun to satisfy our foreign guests who live in such a society! And to compensate for that error, we would also sing partisan and revolutionary songs with them!! I was amazed many years ago to see Tom Jones, my favourite youth legend, on stage, for the first time on the TV abroad. The same could be said for famous French and Belgian singers, like Jacques Brel, Claude François, Joe Dassin, Barbara, Johnny Hallyday and many others.

Meanwhile, an excessive control, tutelage and sectarianism was found in the functioning of the youth organisations. All young people at that time were recruited into youth organisations, just as trade unions, women and others were part of the so-called 'mass organisations'. They were considered, as Lenin put it, to be “transmission belts between the Party and the people”. The problem was that we were asked more and more to follow the same organisational style and rules of the Party fora! Could you imagine young folks of 18-20 years having to be like our parents and talk all day long at meetings about initiatives, rules and so on?  This was not simply a moral, but also an administrative and even a penal responsibility. There were many instances when a school or a factory director was fired and even put in prison when cases of failure of duty were detected, so as to serve as a lesson for others.

    'Tricks' for more evening parties!

But we were young and wanted also to attend concerts, make fun and have parties. The latter were very few indeed and very hard to organise, since we needed the laissez passer - i.e. permission from the school management for them. Otherwise we could not have the keys to the relevant hall or rooms.

In fact, they were called 'thematic/entertainment evenings'. This meant that they were organised only when there were special occasions, i.e. celebrations, anniversaries, the beginning and the end of the school year, or for the best pupils; but only on Saturday or Sunday evening. These evening parties could not last more than three hours, from 20:00-23:00 punctually. There was no question of drinks, not even lemonade, because there was no money for them as we had to pay for the orchestra ourselves. Beer and wine were strictly prohibited. I remember quite well the long and boring procedures we had to pass through in order to make these events possible. After receiving permission from the caretaker teacher, we had to confirm it with the School Management, on the basis of school results. If they were unsatisfactory, there could be no talk of such evening parties. After the permission was given, a special organising committee was set up, which found the most suitable date and set the programme.  Then, an orchestra had to be found with 'good guys' to play good Albanian music: traditional or on exceptional occasions some modern music, but always Albanian.

At that time, there were few celebration days: seven or eight for the whole year, too little. They were New Year, the 1st of May, the Teachers and Mothers’ Day, the Party Day. So, in order to have such parties every week if possible, we invented different tricks and reasons: the school achievements, birthdays of friends with good results, a new revolutionary initiative and others. Given the above-mentioned hurdles and procedures, these parties gave us a lot of fun and pleasure. Our class and school mates could hardly wait to finish the obligatory five-minute speech before the 'show master' announced that the girls had to choose their partners. Then we devised some other formats – separate parties on a class, course and school basis, parties organized from girls who also invited boys, and other options. We also established links with different youth organisations at factories and military units. Since our school had many girls, it was linked to the well-known Army Variety Group. Thanks to these bonds, we had the opportunity to multiply the parties outside school and in much better venues.

      Walls in Berlin, Bunkers in Tirana

However, during the early 1970s, the population and youth in particular were enjoying some fruits of a certain cautious liberalism. There was a relaxation of strict rules, more fun and entertainment, more space and place for cultivated and modern music, permitting even foreign singers on radio programmes. There were more Italian, French, German and British songs. The theatre, artistic ensembles, music and cultural institutions were thinking and doing more for the youth. The newly established Albanian Television had started some interesting broadcasts specifically tailored for young people, music contests and other events all over the country. The context and format of musical activities became more pleasant and less politicised. The credit for this went to our talented poets, composers, actors and painters, some of whom continue their activity even nowadays. The practice of having periodic song contests on a local basis and especially at university level started with modern songs and forms of interpretation; they were welcomed by the youth in particular. This period also marked the starting point for some musical bands from the famous General Secondary School - Petro Nini Luarasi (1972) who became very well-known as the Beatles of Albania. This was important since that was the school where the sons and daughters of the major party leaders also studied; thus the hope and expectation was there that something was moving in the right liberal direction. It was in this environment of an expected liberal spring that the traditional 11th National Festival of Light Songs took place in December 1972 in Tirana. But to our bad luck, this Festival marked a turning point for the worse, not only in music and arts, but in all walks of life. Musicians and artists became the first scapegoats for the future gloomy intentions of the regime.

The period on the eve of this Festival was very lively, despite the cold winter. It was largely expected and even predicted that everything there would be different from the previous festivals - the dresses, the music, the instruments, its presentation by our two most popular actors, everything. In a word, that Festival would be a San Remo in Tirana. In fact, this glamorous Festival did not disappoint the youth. It seemed that a new era was coming.  The song awarded with the first prize was entitled Erdh pranvera - Spring has come by the best composer, Pjetër Gaci, interpreted with unparalleled talent by the best male singer of that time Tonin Tërshana. The song Kafeteria Flora won the second prize. There was another song in the American style Natën vonë – Late at night sung with exceptional talent by our best legendary singer of all times Vaçe Zela and others.

Funny stories from the tragic Festival!

Then, the tragic news broke out. We were shocked to hear in early January 1973 that our 'great leader' had denounced the 11th Festival as “the greatest shame, a betrayal and symbol of degeneration for youth”. To justify such accusations, almost all the songs were outlawed. Even the winning song, “ Spring has come” which sounded quite normal with no 'alien manifestation' and based on our best folk motifs was condemned and even banned, since it had a “religious and church touch”. Another strong reason was that the song speaks of a young man who sees the flowers and leaves on the trees signalling the coming of spring, but he does not believe it. He believes spring is coming only when he sees the blonde girl he loves, appearing with a white blouse and a lemon-like flavour on her lips. Here was the implied remark from conservative folks: “Why on earth is there such a lack of trust? Why did he not believe that spring had in fact come in 1944, when the country was liberated and the Party brought the spring, and not that song?”

My school mate and neighbour during childhood, Dorian Nini (who passed away a few years ago), also sang a very nice song with typical folk lyrics Erdhi djali i fshatit tonë (A guy from our village came).  It was banned only because the song said that a young man from a neighbouring village had gone and taken away his girl, since her parents did not allow their love. It was known that at that time there were many prejudices and obsolete customs that hindered young girls from marrying the one they really loved. Under such conditions, there were cases when young boys came during the night or when the parents were not at home and 'kidnapped' their girl. Thus their love won and was supported by the public, by and large.

Another telling example relates to one of the most favourite singers at that time, Francesk Radi. Some of his songs are fresh and pleasant to hear even today. For that Festival he had composed a song in favour of the heroic Vietnamese people fighting against the US Army. He accompanied that song with his guitar. This became a target of severe criticism of his song; “how is it possible that a song for the Vietnamese people could be accompanied with the American guitar, a US imperialist musical instrument!” But in fact the guitar was used only 30 years before by Albanian partisans during the Second World War; we had seen it in one of the touching songs from the movie Victory over death dedicated to two heroines who were beheaded by the German Nazis in the southern town of Gjirokastra in July 1943. The film producer, a well-known writer Theodor Laço, has said in public that the Chinese Red Guards in the 1970s wanted to destroy the guitar together with other capitalist musical instruments. But suddenly, one of them who had seen this movie in China a few weeks earlier told them to stop, since the guitar was not necessarily capitalist. It was also used much earlier by the Albanian brother partisans during World War II. Thus, the guitar escaped the Great Chinese Cultural revolution but not the censorship of this Festival!

Political Move or Earthquake?

It became clear that the short-lived liberalism was coming to its end.  On 16 March 1973, in the morning, the youth leaders of all schools and factories were told to go to the Party Committee of Tirana to hear a very important speech delivered just a day before, on 15 March, by Enver Hoxha. Well, in the Party protocol of those times, whenever he delivered a speech, the press and media quoted it as “an important speech”. But when mention was made of a “very important speech”, then it was something extremely serious. That was the case indeed with this speech. The atmosphere during the several successive meetings where they read it repeatedly was very tense and gloomy. One could see only dark faces in grey with no words.  However, on that day we did not have the time to think over the serious consequences that speech would have for many years to come. We realised that later, and saw that this speech entitled “How to understand and fight against the imperialist and revisionist encirclement” with its not more than 30 pages, was the political 'Hiroshima' against the youth, arts, and intelligentsia, that ruled the near future of the country and its destiny. 15 March 1973 was the terrible prelude of all evils that were to come until the collapse of communism in Albania in December 1990.

The question arises: Was Albania really under imperialist encirclement (isolation) as was claimed during that time and later? Was there any real and serious danger or any political or military indication of ‘imperialist/revisionist aggression’? Let us make the following brief review on that.

Despite the Cold War, a detente during those years could be clearly seen everywhere in the world. The Soviet-American talks were underway on the limitation of strategic nuclear weapons SALT. In 1971 US President Nixon made his historic visit to China, opening up new prospects for peace and stability. Talks had begun in 1973 on the European Conference on Security and Stability, which ended in 1975 with the signature of the Helsinki Final Act in July that year. Only Albania refused to be part of that Conference, labelling it as the Conference of Insecurity in Europe, since allegedly it was the US and Soviet Union that threatened peace and security in Europe. In the same period, the USA drew back from its war in Vietnam, which opened up a new chapter in international relations, leading to a detente in that region. Even Albania had considerably improved its situation and in 1973 it established diplomatic relations with Greece. There were no more bands of diversionists and plotters as in the 1960s. In other states of Central and Eastern Europe, by the end of the 1960s a new wave of reforms had started and their relations with the EU and other major international organisations were strengthened. Ost Politik launched by legendary Nobel Prize winner Willy Brandt had charted new prospects in the relaxing of relations between East and West and in boosting the friendly relations between them. In the field of culture and music those were the years when famous artists like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and others had rocked the world with their hits. These modern trends were also noted in other genres of arts, painting, cinema and other areas. In short, isolation and encirclement were to be seen nowhere.

Our famous writer, Ismail Kadare, in his novels, as well as others like Dritëro Agolli, Xhevahir Spahiu, were breaking with the clichés, crafting a new artistic realism. This was also visible in music, theatre and sculpture. These trends were supported by a few liberal communist leaders of that time like Fadil Paçrami and Todi Lubonja, former members of the Central Committee of PLA for culture and arts. Likewise, the youth was seeking more ground, life and liberty, although the politicisation of that time was again cross-legged' in Albania. These trends were also to be seen in the fields of economy, industry, agriculture and foreign trade, with important Politburo members at the head of these progressive processes.

( to be continued)

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