“TRUE STORIES FROM RED ALBANIA”

Dear readers,

 This December Albania will commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the launch of the democratic movement which led to the establishment of political pluralism and market  economy.

On this jubilee, among other  articles and publications that echo those historic events, ARGUMENTUM will also publish with a few abbreviations the  book “ True Stories from Red Albania” written by  Jorgji KOTE.

There are two major reasons for this specific choice: unlike other publications in this field, it depicts in less than 120 pages the life in Albania during the fifty years of the communist dictatorship in all its facets. Moreover, it is written by an eye-witness who has lived 38 years under that system.

Dr. Jorgji Kote was born in March 1952 in Tirana; he is a graduate in English language& literature and Industrial Economy from the University of Tirana. He was also  trained in Vienna on international relations, in Nebraska - USA on business management, in Greece and in Cairo  on media and communication and elsewhere. In the 1970s, apart from working as a teacher, he was also a youth activist and he has served as a tourist guide and interpreter with different political and business delegations. He has worked for 15 years in the former Ministry of Foreign Trade as an expert and Director.

From 1997 - 2017  he has served as Counsellor and Minister Counsellor in the Embassies of Albania in Brussels and Berlin, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and again in the Embassy of Albania in Brussels until his retirement in April 2017.

H is Member of the Council of Albanian Ambassadors and independent diplomatic analyst.  He has written nearly 300 articles in the Albanian daily press, mainly in “ Gazeta Shqiptare”  “ in “ Koha Jonë” and in  “ARGUMENTUM”

In the last 11 years  Dr Jorgji Kote has published five other books in Albanian: Berlini pa mure ( Berlin without walls), Phrasal Glossary on Diplomacy,  Në Vetrrethim ( In Self-Encirclement)  and Diplomacia për të gjithë ( Diplomacy for everyone).

“ True Stories from Red Albania” published in November 2016 produced a great deal of attention, echo and interest in the Albanian media  and abroad, especially among the youth and students.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="381"] The Autor Dr. Jorgji KOTE[/caption]

Before inviting you to read the book in the next issue, below there is an article published at “ Brussels Times”  and some selected comments on this book expressed on the occasion of its launch in The Tirana International Book Fair on 10 November 2016, in the International Book Fair in Brussels ( February 2017- and Luxembourg( March 2017)  and in different events in the Brussels Free University, University in Ghent and elsewhere:

The article at the daily “ Brussels Times” Brussels

Brussels-based veteran diplomat publishes book about Albania under communist rule

Sunday, 29 January 2017 10:16

A new book on life in Albania under Communist rule by Brussels-based diplomat Jorgji Kote reveals how people managed to survive despite all the hardships under communist rule.

“True Stories from Red Albania” (Toena Publishing House, Tirana, 2016) describes Albania in 1945 – 1990. The book includes a preface by British journalist Kate Holman.
Albania, once an isolated country in the Balkans suffering under one of the most severe Communist dictatorships after WWII, is now a member of NATO and a candidate for membership in the European Union. The country still needs to implement reforms but is on the right track to get its application to open accession negotiations approved in the near future.

The dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled Albania after the defeat of Nazi-Germany until his death in 1985, was responsible for a system where Albania was placed in self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world, even from other Communist countries, with strong internal suppression. It would take another five years until 1990 when democracy was established in Albania.

The author of “True stories from Red Albania”, Dr Jorgji Kote, currently works as a diplomat at the Albanian Embassy in Brussels. Born in Tirana in 1952, he grew up in an extremely poor country under a totalitarian system. He studied English and economy which enabled him to pursue a career as a civil servant and diplomat.
Thanks to his experiences as a youth activist, teacher, tourist guide and interpreter, he got an insight in Albanian society and is the right person to describe this period in Albania’s history. Kote stresses that his book is a personal account and list friends and people he admires in the Albanian “diaspora”, among others in Brussels, whose flourishing Albanian community dates to the 50s.
Ironically, even Hoxha was exposed to the West when he studied in France in the 30s and became the personal secretary of an Albanian diplomat in Brussels.
Through his anecdotes and personal experiences, the author manages to describe in a colourful way the life of both children and adults in Albania during in those years. The major moments of the period are captured and serve as a reminder of compulsory atheism, forced volunteering, person cult, poverty and isolation in a one-party state. Hoxha himself is hardly mentioned in the book but his spirit seems floating around.
During the sixties, a moderate liberty breeze was blowing, especially in the field of arts and literature, and sports also became popular. This might have helped people to cope with the economic difficulties. Following a speech by Hoxha in February 1967, an anti-religious fire broke out which led to over 2,000 churches, mosques, and shrines being pulled down or burnt. Albania officially became an atheist country.
“Christ’s disciples were replaced by the 12 members of the politburo – one could see their portraits everywhere, with Hoxha at the head,” Kote writes. Schools became “revolutionized” and teachers were obliged to start lessons with a reference to Marxism-Leninism.

Despite or because the political oppression, people used humour to make fun about their situation and preferred to laugh and not to cry. The book gives many examples of these jokes. Long hair and beards were forbidden for example, even for tourists - Karl Marx himself would not have been allowed to enter the country. Or that time when an official questioned a lecturer about the statement “Forests are green gold” in the party literature. The lecturer replied: “Well, dear comrade, when crude oil is like black gold for our country, why on earth can’t the forests with the wood be green gold?”
A concrete memory from the Communist period is the hundreds of thousands of bunkers which were built against alleged enemies and foreign threat. Today the bunkers have become tourist sights. Judging by the difficulties that Albania has faced in its transition to a market-oriented democracy, fit to join EU, the Communist period also left other scars on Albanian society.
Many Albanians were forced into exile during the Communist period and hundreds of thousands fled the country as soon as it was possible. But the Albanian people survived the Communist period and can look forward to a better future. As Kote writes in his charming little book, the resilience of the Albanian people was nourished by strong family bonds and a reliance on its cultural heritage”.

Comments by the editor, the British - Belgian journalist, Mrs. Kate Holman:

Dr Jorgji Kote’s account in this book of life in ‘red Albania’ is an intriguing insight into another world, which nonetheless existed so nearby, so recently. They comprise a historical record offering foreign readers a better understanding of the country, and young Albanians an insight into the tribulations of earlier generations. He tells his stories with characteristic humour and little trace of bitterness…Yet, Jorgji’s perspective is always constructive and hopeful, and this bodes well for the future”.

 Mrs. Nadia Ernzer, Deputy Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry of Luxembourg and its Ambassador for Albania:

“I was absolutely thrilled. This book is a great reading. The author has an elegant and interesting way of writing, it is a real pleasure to travel back in time this way and get to know the recent past of your country.

 Serge Derycke, Counselor at the Belgian Federal Parliament:

“ Reading this book was very impressive especially the part on the youth and the “alien manifestations” . I have visited other communist countries and despite similarities, Albania was quite different”. “True stories from Red Albania” from Jorgji Kote reads like a fairy tale. A black fairy tale, but a tale with – fortunately – a happy ending: democracy at the beginning of the Nineties of the XX Century. After having been occupied by the Nazis throughout World War II, Albania entered a new era. An era in which the dream of ending exploitation from man by man, as Karl Marx intended, soon became a nightmare. Was it because Albania was on Stalin’s side of the Iron Curtain ? Or because it had political leaders like Enver Hoxha who knew how to seize power and keep it for four decades?

Radio Tirana became for a whole generation both within and outside Albania the true voice of Marxism - Leninism. Moral conservatism – tourists with beards or mustaches entering the country, for instance, had to be shaven at the airport – and political repression would become the hallmark of Red Albania. How would Karl Marx himself, with long hair and a big beard, have been able to enter the country if he had still been living ? Jorgji Kote shows how men survive when they are stripped of their fundamental liberties: by telling jokes. When a gardener sent to the embassy in Rome comes back to his fatherland, he has to tell his listeners that Rome is full of beggars, that strikes are very frequent and even that there are no flowers. The communist dream implied presenting the unknown outside world as nightmarish, as if one could drew satisfaction from this.

Jorgji Kote, who as a diplomat has lived both in his country of birth and outside of it, spends a great deal writing about the Albanian diaspora. Albanians have shown that they are able to thrive in other societies as their own and realize their dreams despite the nightmare they themselves or their family have lived in.

The Belgian intelectual and Albania’s well-wisher, Mr. Daniel Wiame :

“To be able to understand this book and its stories, it is necessary to ago back to the history of your nation, your people, your struggle for freedom, opening to the outside world and to have some basics knowledge's of what '' communism '' in its dark sides can badly bring to humans, men and women.

But, freedom and free entrepreneurship cannot be kept for so long strictly tied.

One day, they come up!

Apart from the interest on Albania’s history, my brilliant contacts with a large number of foreigners, great families and Albanians in Brussels have helped me a lot understand and appreciate all that is described in this book.

As I do frequently tell to others, your country and nation have made  tremendous progress; they are moving gradually forward, so that even those who used to have a negative opinion on Albania and Albanians now acknowledge your pozitive example and progress.

The structures an chapters in the book have been well arranged in their proper place. Meanwhile, accompanying them with short true stories has also made it possible to expand the book into a series of comic situations. 

The text is  pleasant and once you start reading it, the curiosity to see what comes next pushes you to go to the end. Excellent!

 Mr. Vito Cassone: Honorary Counsel of Albania in Luxembourg:

 “I have just finished reading the book and I have been shocked with all sort of helpful details about daily life of courageous Albanian people.

I have no words after having read this book, living for some hours, with your people hard and unbelievable crazy obsessions of a regressive Politburo.

I hope for Albania a lot of democracy and acceding soon to EU and sit well with all Member States.

The Head of the Department of Slavistic Studies and eastern Europe at the Ghent University, Prof. Dr. Rozita Dimova, after summarizing the  values and specifics of the book has said:

“ I have rarely seen such a book which describes the everyday life of Albanians under communism, which we need so much to show it to the students”

 Sebastien Vilmot, a French citizen from Marseille, Manager at OMEGA in Paris, who is also writing a book on Albania’s history came from Paris to Brussels to meet the author:

 “You describe those terrible years with a sense of positivism and a an amazing realism”

 Ms. Era Hajdari - A young Albanian living and working as  product manager in a company in Antwerpen:

“It is fascinating to read this book. It conveys nostalgia for a bygone time, as if you have gone through it by yourself. Often, it makes a subtle contrast with today’s life, not only in material, but also in spiritual terms….a changing world with the author’s narrative  as a bridge.”

Mr. Eshref Ymeri, a prominent and veteran Professor of foreign languages and Former Head of Department at Tirana University living in California in a long article in Albanian newspapers in Tirana, Prishtina and USA concludes by saying the following:

« Dr. Jorgji Kote’s  writing style is impressive. His language is sweet, he has carved the words with a great deal of caution and the  events are described with an astounding genuineness. The truthfulness and intelectual impartiality with which Dr. Kote describes the events in his book, bring back to memory a very nice expression  by the Canadian drama player, writer, critic and journalist Wiliam Robertson Davies ( 1913-1995):“I have tried to treat the issue without shielding my view neither with the rose-coloured glasses of trust nor with the green glasses of science »

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