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A Journey through Visar Zhitis Inferno

Visar Zhiti and Ervin Dine

By Ervin Dine

Growing up in the concentration camps of Albania did not make an early impression on me, I was a child and didn’t really understand the circumstances around me.  My father was in prison at the time and I did not know why, every one was afraid to talk.  Now having had open conversations and studied history I know that I grew up behind the Iron curtain and Albania had even thicker iron on that curtain then most other nations.  My father had the privilege of serving his time in prison with one of our nations best writers and poet.  At that time he was not allowed to showcase his talent, but now we have the fortune to read the history of Albania’s prisons as if we were there.  The Albanian American Freedom House organization recently held a promotion for both of Zhiti’s Books The Trails of Hell and Hell Broken.  Many of the speakers not only praised these important pieces of our history but also made clear that Zhiti is at the top of present day Albanian literature. He is the true dissident.

Times were tough the party was trying to set examples and Mr. Zhiti was one of the many victims that were persecuted and thrown into what we would consider today subhuman conditions.  What is more amazing is that he tells his story in a way where he tries to find the good in every one and everything.  In an interview on top channel a few months ago when asked if his persecutors were just uneducated animals, he responded, “no on the contrary they were well educated and knew and understood world literature, but according to them they did not allow it to skew their thought and get in the way of the party’s agenda.”  Most people would look at and despise these persecutors especially when they treated humans in the manner in which Visar explains in his first chapter.  “I sleep on the floor of the cell, I cover myself with my coat.  One blanket they gave me, I don’t want to use, its dirty, full of dust, and it has filled my face with pimples.”  This is just one of the instances in a book full of pain and tragedy, through Zhiti here we relive his trial or show trial, because the decision had already been made become a spy or end up in prison.

During the book promotion called the Trial of New York one of the speakers Mergim Korca very eloquently spoke of the books and their importance.  Mr. Korca the son of another Albanian patriot and anticommunist martyr made clear that Zhiti is one of the best writers of our time, his book is not only a great read but our history as well.  Like my father his father was imprisoned as well, not because he did anything wrong but simply because of his intellectual abilities.  Albania’s regime at the time saw intellect as a threat to its existence and people like Xhevat Korca, Visar Zhiti, Lek Mirakaj and many others were better off in prison.  That prison to this day has not had a concrete documentation of its horror and terror.  As Mergim mentioned that terror is narrated by Visar Zhiti in such an artistic fashion that puts you in the story.  When reading it I feel like I am reading the story of my father and grandfather and the many courageous souls who lived through that Inferno.

Finally while many have suffered and pained through a regime that was not only physically and emotionally abusive but it ruined lives and whole families.  We as Albanians need to not only be proud that we have someone like Visar Zhiti to tell that story, but we need to understand that this story needs to become known to the world. To this day many foreigners including intellectuals are not aware of  what was actually going on in Hoxha’s regime.   Foreigners know that we were a communist nation enclosed to the rest of the world but they don’t realize just how gruesome that regime was.  As Edmond Burk said  “those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  If we don’t keep in mind what happened to many people in our nation we will continue on the same path.  Mr. Zhiti should be considered a national treasure, but in Albania those in power are members of the old regime and books like these are not very interesting to them.  Instead writers that were regime collaborators are now considered dissidents and are millionaires.  Mr. Zhiti and his outstanding talent is still left to hold an everyday job in Albania just to make ends meat.  During his speech at the New York promotion Visar mentioned something that has still stuck with me, “a few weeks ago I received a call from a former operative inviting me to celebrate the opening of his new business.”  Someone that considered him an enemy and that was probably one of the people that was responsible for his imprisonment is now celebrating a new business in democratic Albania.  We need to be mindful of our past and ask ourselves are we transitioning towards democracy, or will Albania go back to relive Visar Zhiti”s Inferno.

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