Reshat Kripa: Unpunished Crime
| E Merkure, 29.09.2010, 08:30 PM |

Unpunished Crime

 

By Reshat Kripa

 

It was nearing mid-June in 1985. The summer was unusually cool that year, which seemed to coincide with the political climate of the time. The dictator had died, raising expectations for change in the hearts of the people. They awaited changes from his successor. The people were tired of the camps and prisons spread everywhere and of their lives within the large prison in which the entire population lived, that separated father from son, brother from brother. The Albanian people, who had been isolated for years, wanted to live like other nations of the world. Would this happen, or would it remain an illusion?

 

Sotir Nastua from Narta was a military soldier in Ravena of Karaburun. When he received three days off, he departed for his hometown. He went out to the street and after waiting a short while, got on a truck that took him to the city of Vlora. There he boarded the shuttle bus that went to his village. When he arrived, the sun was setting and with it, he could see the cooperative’s agricultural laborers returning from work in the numerous village vineyards. Among them, he caught sight of his mother whom he greeted and affectionately embraced. They went home together, but he did not stay for long. He washed, changed, and got ready to go out.

 

“What’s the rush son? You just got here. We have not yet seen enough of each other,” said his mother. But he acted as if he did not hear her. He went outside and headed for the center of the village. He definitely wanted to meet up with his best friend, Jorgo Shella. They shared a plan they kept secret. He went to his friend’s house, but did not find him there. He returned to the center of the village and entered a bar. There he saw Jorgo at a table talking to Aleks, a youth of the village, who was serving in the army as a soldier in Saranda. They greeted each other and Sotir sat down and ordered a glass of wine, like his friends. He wanted to talk to Jorgo, but Aleks’s presence prevented him. He couldn’t wait for Aleks to leave, when Jorgo suddenly whispered. “I spoke with Aleks about the plan. He is familiar with the place and is willing to help us.” Sotir was stunned. Jorgo’s act had shocked him. How could he open up to Aleks? How could he trust him with something so dangerous? But now this was a set fact and there was no way it could be reversed. “I would love to come with you,” said Aleks, “but you know my situation.” He was an only child and his mother was sick. They stayed there chatting until late in the evening, and decided to leave the country the next day. “Your conversation tonight is endless,” said the bartender, “Leave now, I have to close.” They looked around and noticed there was no one left. They got up, said goodbye to the bartender, and after strolling through the deserted streets of the village, each went home. The next day they awoke early in the morning and set off for Vlora.

“Poor me, son, I hardly saw you,” said Sotir’s mother, “why didn’t you tell me since last night so I could have baked you some bread rolls?”

“Don’t worry, Mother, we will find everything we need at the place we are going,” he replied as he left. In Vlora, they boarded the bus on the Saranda line. They arrived in the city of Saranda in the afternoon and began to wander the streets, waiting for the hour at which they were to go to the designated place.

 

Silence had fallen over Pavllo Shella’s home. Their son, Jorgo, had left three days before, along with Sotir and Aleks, and had not returned. Jorgo said he was going to his aunt in the city of Vlora. But no one had seen him there. Pavllo began to worry. He noticed that even the Village Council members seemed to avoid him. “Get up, husband, and go ask the police chief, because otherwise he will question why we have not reported,” said his wife with tears in her eyes. Then it was the custom in every similar case for one to inform the village police chief or the Department of the Interior.

“We will wait. If he does not return tonight, I will go first thing in the morning,” he responded, concerned. That night they heard loud raps at the gate of their home. Pavllo got up and opened it. It was Avni, the locale operative officer, accompanied by Jollanda, head of the United Village Council, and two policemen. “We have come to conduct a search,” they said to Pavllo.

“Why?” he asked, astonished. They did not reply. They pushed him aside and began to turn everything over. They searched everywhere. Pavllo and his wife stood still. When found nothing, they headed out once again. When Avni arrived at the gate’s threshold, he turned toward Pavllo and frigidly said,

“Your son betrayed his country and for traitors there is only one sentence. His body lies in the morgue of Saranda.” The old lady immediately fainted. Pavllo stood frozen stiff. He did not know what to do. Should he cry out? To whom? Should he yell? He did not have enough strength. Once he gathered himself he turned toward his wife and helped her regain consciousness by wetting her face with cold water. She screamed. The village heard her and the people began to come immediately, but when they learned the reason, they left as if there was an epidemic of cholera. Even the brother and sister of the old lady did not dare come. Only Pavllo’s sister and two or three others close to the family came, and tried to console the poor parents as best they could.

 

The same thing happened in Apostol Nastua’s home. The same search was conducted and the same news of death was given. The same grief erupted. People also began to distance themselves as though there was an outbreak of the plague. Mourning fell over both families. Apostol Nastua did not have the courage to pick up the body of his son. Fear of the consequences of this action forced him to hold his pain inside his soul. In his home they could not even dare cry for the dead. Sotir’s body was buried in Saranda by municipal workers.

 

Pavllo decided to take on all the consequences. What worse could happen to these two poor elders? The next day, he alone took the road to Saranda. His married niece lived there. She received him and told him the terrible story that rocked all of Saranda and would horrify anyone who listened to it.

 

“People say that they were betrayed by the friend accompanying them. When they arrived at the appointed place, they undressed and threw themselves into the sea to swim toward the island of Corfu. Their friend turned around and informed the Department of the Interior. The motor boat of the coastal border guard immediately set off, reaching them in international waters. Communist border guards could have caught and brought them back to Saranda to put them on trial. But they did not do this. They were wild and did not have any human feelings. The criminals, born to kill and massacre people, took out their machine guns and killed both of them. But even this was not enough. Their youthful blood heated the communist sharks even more. They began to hit the young men with the propeller of the motorboat while hurting and disfiguring them all the more. And as if this was not enough, the next day they tied their bodies to a Soviet truck, dragging them through the streets of Saranda to terrorize the people of the city and to scare those citizens who might imagine undertaking a similar heroic act. All this was done under the order of the head of the Department of the Interior. Be strong, Uncle! A dreadful scene awaits you tomorrow. You need to face it with dignity.”

“Yes, my niece, yes. Your uncle is strong and will know how to carry himself,” answered Pavllo, determined.

The next day they went to the city morgue. A horrific scene awaited them there. Pavllo did not recognize his son. The marks of seven bullets were visible on his body. He could identify his son only from the shorts he was wearing. Nearby, his son’s friend Sotir looked the same. Making the most of the kindness of the hospital workers, he washed the corpse and dressed it with clothing he bought in the street market. Then he placed him in a coffin, nailing it so it could not be opened, and left on the municipal van to the village. They arrived home late at night. There he found very few who where close to the family.

After unloading the corpse, the van left immediately.

Llazar, a member of the United Village Council, showed up the next day at the gate of Pavllo’s house. Without coming inside he called to him and warned, “You are not going to bury the dead body in the village cemetery. We do not allow a traitor to rest near the honorable people buried there. This is the decision of the Organization of the Communist Party.

“What should I do?” asked Pavllo, lost. “There lie the graves of my family members.”

“Bury him below in the jalli (a barren piece of salty land by the sea), and do not leave a trace of the grave. I believe you understand,” said Llazar in a commanding tone, and left.

Pavllo remained stone still near the gate. How was it possible for them not to allow any room for his son’s grave, those who just yesterday had greeted and warmly conversed with him? He returned to the room and broke the appalling news to the few people there. “We will complain to the Department of the Interior and if necessary, to the Party Committee,” said Andoni, Pavllo’s nephew.

He immediately set off for Vlora. But even at the Department of the Interior he received the same answer. He set toward the Party Committee, but no one received him there despite his insistence. Finally the man on duty at the gate told him, “Leave, son; don’t store up more trouble for yourself.”

 

The village atmosphere was tense. Most people remained locked in their homes to avoid appearing involved with this event. But some shameless others, such as the dentist Nastua or pensioner Apostol, called aloud for no one to attend the funeral ceremony because Pavllo’s son had died as a traitor.

The small cortege of mourners set off that afternoon for the jalli. The few people who happened to be on the street turned their backs to them. Worse, a shameless provocateur began to sing a song that sneered at what had happened. More painful events occurred in the following days. Spirua, a communist and sector supervisor, divorced his wife only because her father had attended the funeral. Whereas Pandeli Andoni, Pavllo’s brother-in-law, who would not consent to the Council’s dictate to divorce his wife, drank poison and ended his life because he could not resist the great pressure.

 

The year 1990 signaled the beginnings of a huge downfall. Dictators of Eastern Europe began to fall one after the other. Only ours remained. Pavllo thought it was time to bury his son’s remains by the family graves. He exhumed his son’s remains and headed toward the village cemetery. But on the way he was confronted by Jollanda and Antigoni, secretary of the Communist Party, who said, “We are not dead yet. No, no! We are alive and we will crush you. Send back the remains where they were because that is where they belong.” Pavllo was silent and headed back. The remains were placed once again in the jalli. Only after March 22 of 1992 were they able to rest in the village cemetery in their rightful place.

 

I met with the two elders one day in April of 1993, when I went to their home along with my friends, Mihal and Dino. You could read only mourning in their faces. With tears in their eyes they told the story I described above. They had a huge disappointment in their hearts. Would those who created this tragedy be punished? We searched for Jollanda, Antigoni, Avniu, Llazar and their other lackeys. We were told they had flown to Greece, where only God knows what they were doing and preparing, most definitely new tragedies, like that of the year 1997.

 

Pavllo had only one appeal. He wanted democracy to bring to justice those who massacred and disfigured his son. Under the pressure of the Political Persecuted People Association and public opinion, the arrest of the ex-head of the Department of Interior in Saranda was made possible. But the trial was a sham. He was convicted and received only three years of prison term for the abuse of public responsibility. Oh, irony of fate! Three years of prison term in exchange for the lives of two 20-year-old young men. Pavllo’s heart was once again let down. The crime was left yet unpunished.

 

Published in the collection “A story for my friend,” 2004

 

Translated from The Albanian by Hilda M. Xhepa

 


Për ZSH: Eduard M. Dilo

(Vota: 10 . Mesatare: 5/5)

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