By Rafaela Prifti/
Three Albanian women who are collaborating onamanuscript titled “Even Walls Have Ears” shared their personal journey and vision with VATRAin a virtual meeting on Saturday. In reversing the metaphor of the walls, the project aims to be a platform to share the accounts of the persecuted in Albania, honor their legacy and pave the road to justice.
The founder of the projectEven Walls Have Ears,KristaleIvezajRama, is a Detroit native and first generation Albanian-American, who felt compelled to tell the story of her family’s persecution by the authoritarian regime. In the course of this mission, Kristale said she embarked on a personal inquiry into her own family’s suffering. Sheestablished a website by the same name. The official pageindicates that it is designed with “the sole purpose of recording and preserving the narratives of Albania’s persecuted under communism 1933-1992. The 4M GroupCommunications Director travelled to Albania for the first time two years ago. She fully credits Albanian artists AlketaXhafa-Mripa, film director Ervin Kotoriand several professionals who collaborated in the production of theart installations consisting oflight-projectionsofexpressionsby Albania’s formerly persecuted individuals and the documentary titled “Even Walls Have Ears”. Displayed prominently in six Albanian cities in May 2018, the project carried a lot of symbolism starting with its name “From sunset to sunrise” and the use of the metaphor of walls, in reverse semantic: from walls that could hear to the ones that speak through the visuals. In the communist past, the thousands of families were subjected to harsh treatment and fear of being heard anywhere they went. The expression only served as a reminder to go through the suffering in silence. Decades later, the walls are the chosen medium that speaks the horrible truths of the survivors. The design of the daunting project included three parts: thelight installation, a documentary and the publishing of a book. Towards that last goal,Kristaleand two Albanian women professionals have joined forces. EdliraShero, who brings the legal expertise, is a recent JD Law School graduate who also comes from an ex-persecuted family. HajrijeKolimja, an Education Research Assistant with the project, is a Fulbright recipient, who founded QeSHA Literacy Project, Laugh – The American Writing Center in Albania.
While working on the manuscript, the trio identified the gaps in Albania’s education system and acknowledged the old-fashioned style of teaching in schools around the country. With the goal of including the subject of political persecutions under communism in Albania, a partnership was born between QeSHA and Even Walls Have Ears.In the call, Kristalesaid that she appreciates having more partners that share the same philosophy and drive. She addressed specific points such as the need for the curriculum, an official public apology to the survivors and family members, the naming or designating a public holiday to honor the legacy of the victims of communist persecution. Mrs. Ivezaj-Rama, whocommunicated in English during her presentation, commented onhow past injustices often beget injustices, and howthe trauma is passed down generation after generation and the families of formerly persecuted continue to pay the price of mistreatment.
The team said that they are a grass roots group with no politicalagenda or party affiliations who have committed their time and resources towards this independent project. For the three of them it is important to begin by opening the conversation on the topic of how remembrance serves to acknowledge the deprivation of freedoms and civil liberties that the families of persecuted still carry with them. Yet, these stories and experiences are so removed when it comes to the millennials and young adults in the 21stcentury Albania, they said. Speaking for the group, Kristale said that “the project pays homage to the stories of politically persecuted. Yet, it goes beyond remembrance.” Then,with a more sober tone, she added: “It is a responsibility!”
“The approach of the manuscript,”Kristale explained, “is anthropological.” So far, they have collected about sixty interviews and have lined up some of Vatra members and their families to participate. The interviews are conducted with an open mind and a caring heart. Each interview takesfrom two to eight hours a day. Questionnaires have been signed off by psychologists and in consultation with trauma specialists. Mrs. Ivezaj-Rama said she is mindful of the sensitive matter and very protective of the interviewee’s rights. Asked about the validity of each case and a reliable database, the architect of the project said that she works closely with the Authority of the Ex-State Security Files.
President of the Pan-Albanian Federation of America VATRA,ElmiBerishaand Members of the Executive Council and Board of Directorswho joined the online meeting expressed support and congratulated the group for the initiative. Among them,LekeMirakaj, Dine Dineetc. have suffered in Albania’s prisons for decades and have first- hand accounts of the horrors that went on in these places. VATRA, as a well-respected organization has long been a staunch promoter of books on topics of denouncing communism and focusing attention on the politically persecuted class. Researcher and journalist SokolPaja highlighted the importance of the new project and related some of the data that he has come across in his work. The length of the exposure to communism, “the communist footprint”, he said, “affects the individual’s behavior and mindset.” VATRA Secretary,NazoVeliu,addressed the plight of the ex-persecuted families and was critical of thepresent-day administrationof Albania that still mistreats them when it comes to education and employment. On Saturday, VATRA Deputy Chairman for Innovation, Integration and Youth, Ervin Dine, who has been supportive of the project since the early stages, initiated the meeting with VATRAofficials and guests online. Following the call, Dielli’s English Editorasked the three members of the team how they see the project in the long run. Each answer identifies a unique feature and clear targetsthat are part of their mission for justice and eventually healing. Here are their responses:
“In my time as a research assistant for Even Walls Have Ears (from Feb. 2020 – June 2020), I have seen the ways in which Kristalé dedicates herself to being a vessel for the stories of the survivors of persecution. Her energy and passion are infectious, and anyone with whom she speaks on the matter is instantly captivated. This is not to say there is no resistance, that the work of EWHE is easy. However, the outpour of support and messages that EWHE receives is a sure sign of a movement, whether they come from survivors, artists, intellectuals, or everyday citizens. This momentum makes EWHE’s work all the more important. As the founder of the literacy project, QeShA: Qendra e ShkrimtarisëAmerikane, it is important for me to encourage the telling and listening of the stories of all Albanians–especially those that come from painful histories (such as persecution). While QeShA’s goal is to increase critical literacy skills, confidence, and open dialogue through the power and love of the written word, it also seeks to serve as a model for future education in Albanian-speaking communities. If EWHE and QeShA are able to successfully collaborate with educators in Albania to spread the stories of survivors and enhance workshop-based curriculum, we hope to see our stories and methodologies scatter throughout all Albanian communities. This is why a project like EWHE is valuable in collaboration with QeShA. Giving voice to and spreading stories about great pain will encourage healing in all forms in the Albanian-speaking communities; once someone witnesses the bravery of another, they will feel motivated to follow their lead. Herein is located the movement of EWHE and QeShA. No longer will Albanian voices be taboo. They will be heard.”
– HajrijeKolimja, Founder of QeShA
“EWHE is a movement in pursuit of social justice and remembrance. We hope this movement will be a catalyst for institutional change in Albania and a form of healing for those who were punished and then silenced.”
– EdliraShero, JD Law
“Remembrance in Albania continues to be a humanitarian crisis, and it’s the responsibility of the diaspora, and every Albanian to acknowledge the injustice experienced by thousands of families. The anger and pain is still felt by thousands more born from persecuted families and who hear the trigger word “dictatorship.” It is the source of our division, and does not allow the continued corruption to be challenged for what it is.It is what divides and further polarizes us as a nation. The current political, economic, and social predicament in Albania is the legacy of our Communist past. Albanians must confront this past to enact institutional change.
EWHE hopes to inspire more Albanian youth and non-Albanians to understand 47 years of the dictatorship through the experiences and perspectives of survivors and their families, as well as by encouraging more creatives to take part in this conversation.
The movement has begun as EWHE has already had writers, photographers, and many other peoples reach out to offer help to the project, and it looks forward to getting many more a part of this movement. Its new collaboration with the QeShA literacy project will ensure an open-dialogue approach to education around Albania’s Communist past.
We also need more film makers, song writers, educators, artists, therapists, architects, more creatives to aid in the process of remembrance through their various mediums, and to do so genuinely, away from the political debate of the past, and the political interests of the future. We need intelligent, empathetic humans as part of this movement, people who sincerely care about the health and progress of our community!”