In the letter below, Nikoll Gjomarkaj related to his father the economic and social situation in Albania, eight years after the takeover of communism in 1944. The parallels are uncanny.
Sixty-eight years after the writing of this letter it is important to note the comparisons between the state of affairs in Albania then with today’s climate.
In a time when the people of Albania suffered tremendously under the iron hand of Enver Hoxha there was scarcely food for the population. Jobs were extinct. Clothing was lacking and inadequate. But most of all the human spirit was destroyed. As detailed in this letter there was no escape from the brutality of everyday life, from the oppression and torture.
Those who were not killed were encamped. Those who were not encamped but left to their own devices were barely surviving. Those who had some land to call their own were not entitled to work it or profit from it; on the contrary , they had to submit to the will of the regime and turn over most of their meager products, leaving them with barely enough to feed themselves and their families. Those who refused were immediately incarcerated, encamped or killed. There was no way out. They didn’t have the means to fight the regime as a whole, although there were resistance groups who, with the help of those nationalists who managed to escaped, did put up a good fight. Alas it was not enough.
The account in this letter shows how brutal life was for the simple man trying to live in Albania during that time. Imagine having hardly any grain to feed the family. Imagine not being able to buy clothes for your family and keep them warm during the cold winter months. Imagine not having any freedom at all: to speak, to pray, to move about, always under surveillance by the regime, not trusting even your own family members for fear of being turned over to the government. Yes, family member against family member! That was the reality. When people are so desperate, so hungry, so despaired, they will do anything to find comfort and so it happened all over Albania: brother against brother, sister against sister.
The parallels to today’s Albania are not very far fetched. The situation is a sad one. Yes, so called democracy arrived in 1991 but to what end. We are now in 2020 and people are still struggling to work their land. Many who lost their properties to the government during the regime have a hard time reclaiming it. On the contrary, after the fall of communism new laws were enacted that allowed anyone to squat on empty land and after 20 years claim it as theirs! People to this day occupy land of others, live on it and cultivate it as if it was always their own and the original owners have to spend thousands of dollars and years fighting in the corrupt legal system trying and reclaim it.
The letter speaks about ‘bayonets and adverse forces laying in wait for the moment to eliminate the people’. Today there may not be bayonets but there absolutely are adverse forces, still laying in wait to pounce on anyone who publicly speaks out, who does not agree with their new ‘laws’. There are forces in every corner of the government waiting to abate, through the legal system, anyone who lawfully tries to recover their lost land. This is spoken from personal experience.
To this day, 68 years later, my family, among others, is still fighting to take back what is legally theirs and each new chapter of the legal battle is deliberately crushed by the inner workings of a corrupt government. A government which does not want to restitute property but wants to exploit it for their own gain, through false ideas and narratives, all with the ultimate goal of filling their pockets with millions of euros and enrich their own life, while the average individual is left fighting and spending all their savings trying to reclaim something which was theirs to begin with.
The population in Albania is rapidly falling. The lack of job opportunities in a non-existent market, which lacks infrastructure and industry, has driven roughly 70,000 Albanians to flee the country for better lives elsewhere since the year 20101, a great number considering the country has a population of roughly 2.8 million. Half of the current population lives in the rural areas and is struggling every day with social and economic issues.
This letter, written 68 years ago, is a heartbreaking reminder and an all to real insight into what this country was during the regime compared to what it is today. As of 2019 Albania is listed as one of the poorest countries in Europe among 40. It ranks as number 37 with a GDP of $14,143.2
No, my friends, times have not changed that much. It is troubling to see that some countries still have not learned from their past and are unwilling to move forward in a productive, truly democratic way, thereby repeating their mistakes. In many ways it is worst today because we, as a people, should know better. We have the freedom and resources available to stop this system from moving forward and create real change. We as Albanians worldwide can make a difference if united!
For those of us who still hope in a truly free Albania; a truly democratic Albania; an Albania who thrives in the world market; an Albania proud to be part of this new world and who truly sees herself as part of the EU; an Albania free of corruption; an Albania who cares about its social issues and its people, to those of us who hope for all these things I say “keep hope alive because right now that is all we have!”
The original letter, written in Albanian, was intercepted and translated by the Italian Secret Service. At that time Italy was under a center-right government and many inside the government were very worried about the rise of communism. The Italian government often intercepted documents and letters from Yugoslavia or Albania, addressed to Gjon Markagjoni and Ndue Gjomarkaj, before delivery and translated them for their own records.
Rome 13, November 1952
Nikoll Gjomarkaj, from Mitrovica (Yugoslavia) on 29 August 1952 writes to his father Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni and his brother Ndue:
In this letter I want to briefly summarize the general situation of our country. The news is very recent, because in the last few months more people have arrived who for many years have had the misfortune to suffer the situation of our homeland. I can therefore speak to you of the news received on the political, economic and military situation in our region.
As for political rights we can say that they do not exist at all, as the population has no right other than the continuous atrocities to which it must be subjected. For the population of Mirdita it can be said that today it is fully armed and it is understood that this took place at the behest of the population itself while reality it is quite different. What could be done with respect to the bayonets and the adverse forces that lay in wait for the moment to eliminate the entire population? We can assert that all of Albania was mobilized as Mirdita and you yourself can understand why very well. For sustenance, the government has not only spent the weapons received and under the control of the army but as well pursuing fugitives everywhere and using every vile method of overwhelming the people.
As I said above, the people have no support, no wages and have to find a way to provide clothes for themselves as well as its maintenance.
There would be too much to say regarding the extremes reached by that population, but what else can it do but fall victim to its own situation. It keeps its spirits up and is ready for any eventuality (to rebel) if the ‘knots reach the comb’.
As for the economic situation, the people have never been accustomed to such famine which is gradually slaughtering them. Food is not worth mentioning because it doesn’t exist, let’s just say it’s a way for people to try and stay alive. Corn is very expensive, up to 200lek (Lire 1400) per kg. and only if smuggled since it does not exist in the free market and if someone succeeds in buying it, he would have to think hard about it beforehand running the risk of being arrested and subjected to a sentence without excluding the death penalty, an an example to others. Everyone who is in the service of the government receives 7 kg of rye a month for the family, while others nothing. As soon as the ripening of cereals begins, a Control Commission goes to each house and proceeds to estimate the quantity of the production of the land. The owner shows up thinking only of the useless effort of the job ahead as it is not remunerative, for example; if the land produces 20-25 quintals (1quintal=100kg) all is taken leaving the owner only 1 quintal available.
This is therefore the system that is adopted for the population regarding the production of grains. Now I am going to expose the system with which the government is compensated for the articles made compulsory according to the plan it established. Everyone who owns, we suppose, 1 dynym (land unit of measurement corresponding to 1000m2 of surface) must pay: 120 grams of wool, 3 kg of meat, 8 eggs, 30 kg of cereals.
These systems have stripped the people. Most feed on herbs and fruit (if any). At the co-operatives you cannot buy anything with money, even if there is display of goods in significant quantities, but only the exchange of general food and wool is allowed. In this case you have the right to 1 or 2 meters of canvas or something else. Try to imagine to what state the people is reduced.
My dear ones, today I received the letter sent from where you are on vacation and I am pleased that you are in good health. We have written to you of the arrival of Pjeter Kimeza with 10 people and among whom also Don Zef Oroshi and any news that we will come to know, do not worry about it, we will communicate it to you, whether good or bad, even if its bad it doesn’t make an impression on us any longer.
About Hil Shllaku, of whom you asked, has returned from the long journey he had undertaken (in Albania) and his health is very good.
We are fine but we get bored somewhat and God willing you will cheer us with some good news.
Hence there is nothing else, hugging you with much nostalgia I am your
P.S. Many greetings from Ndue Melyshi