By Eng. Viktor Mark Daragjati/
On September 21, 2014 Pope Francis will visit Albania, a nation that suffered heavily under the Marxist ideologies, one of the poorest in Europe, and yet, one that gave so many Martyrs in the uneven struggle to oppose communism. Pope Francis intends to honor the memory of the Albanian Clergy who suffered and died under the oppressive communist regime of Enver Hoxha and who accepted death, torture and imprisonment rather than bow to the atheistic, Theophobic dictates of one of the cruelest tyrants in Europe’s history. Along with the Albanian Catholic Clergy an estimated 80,000 Albanians, of all religious, social, cultural and economic cross sections, close to 10 per cent of the population, suffered annihilation.
However a disproportionate number of victims, resulting in a larger percentage, were Christian Catholics who were condemned solely because of their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Among the victims of this large scale and specifically targeted religious persecution there were many laics. They were descendants of Albanians who, during five long centuries of Turkish domination, had preserved and defended their Christianity, brought to them by the Apostle St. Paul.
Since unmemorable times Albanian Catholics, Muslims and Christian Orthodox lived peacefully and in the spirit of mutual respect.Albania is in fact a shining example to the world of a nation where people with diverse religions, traditions and dialects live together in peace and harmony. Even during theperiod of Ottoman rule, Albanians have displayed a unique and unparalleled spirit of tolerance and mutual respectfor shared human values. Albanians have shown a proud sense of common ethnicity even as they continued to practice their religions as emigrants to the free world.Abundant examples exist of interfaith cooperation.
Two most recent examples of such cooperation took place in our times. When the first Catholic Church outside of Albania, founded by Monsignor Zef Oroshi in the Bronx, NY was threatened with closure in 1978, in a remarkable display of ecumenical spirit, Muslim Albanian brothers came to make sure the church was overfilled with people. This helped dispel the Diocese’s concern that the Church was not adequately supported. Rather than close the church, which represented a humble but powerful challenge to the communist proclamation of Albania as the first atheist state in the world, Cardinal Terence Cook officially consecrated it under the nameof Our Lady of Good Counsel, also known as Our Lady of Shkodra. That humble Church was later succeeded by a beautiful Church located in Hartsdale which retained the name Our Lady of Shkodra. And again, in 1991, when Dom Simon Jubani took daring and unprecedented initiative in the communist era of celebrating the first open Christmas Mass in Shkodra, our Muslim Albanian brothers surrounded the crowd of Christian Faithful providing a protective shield between them and the communist security forces who had come to stop the ceremony.
The rage with which Enver Hoxha persecuted Christians, in numbers disproportionately large, hasno roots in the history and traditions of Albania. Yet, inexplicably, the newly founded democratic Albania is yet to condemn the horrors of Enverist Marxism and to rehabilitate the memory and the dignity of those who died and suffered because they opposed communism. Token signs of homage to Mother Theresa do not conceal the reluctance shown by successive Albanian administrations to condemn the horrors of communism in a way that not only rejects the sins of the past but also honors the figures of those who sacrificed their lives to oppose the, part Marxist part personal, tyranny of Enver Hoxha. The horrors of Enverist oppression were as exceptional as cruel, motivated by unexplainable and insatiable thirst for innocent blood. The lives of thousandsinnocent people were taken and those who survived were reduced to a painful level of existence. Many were imprisoned or enslaved in forced labor camps. Most were confined to cooperative farms,designed more to starvepeople than to produce food on a sustainable level. Enver Hoxha meant to erase any remnants of Christianity, destroying or desecrating churches to be converted to cinemas, theaters or basketball courts. The story of many innocent Martyrs, killed because they rejected communism, is not publicly known and their sacrifices are not appreciated at a broad national level. Against the backdrop of insane Marxist persecution and oppressive bondage manyindividual heroic figures can be found.
Their story should be told and documented, to restore their human identity to the honorable level they deserve, to celebrate their lives and the strength of their human spirit, invigorated by their unshakable faith in God, and as an example to generations to come.
Mark Daragjati could be considered as one of many such individuals. Mark was arrested on March 24, 1946 in the patriarchal residence located in the village of Daragjat, West of the ancient fortress of Shkodra. He had retired there after resigning from office. He was charged of conspiring against the Regime. The contrived accusation was presumably supported by the fact that an anticommunist leader, probably tortured to a pre formulated confession, had visited Mark once. Allegedly he was plotting to organize an insurrection. In vane Mark Daragjati rejected the accusation. The regime had no records of the alleged conversation and no witnesses to support the claim that he was scheming to organize an insurrection. In fact, as part of the communist conspiracy to round up innocent victims, Mark was asked to offer names of designated “co-conspirators”, with the promise to obtain a lighter sentence in return. Mark was condemned to thirty years of imprisonment on June 4, 1946.
After two and a half years of mistreatment and false offers of leniency in exchange for cooperation, Mark was subjected to severe beatings, isolation and starvation to break his spirit. When asked why he did not accept the offer of leniency he responded, according to his wife’s account, that he did not believe in people who did not believe in God. Finally Mark was confined in a deep hole that he himself had to excavate. He was left there to die while being taunted.“See if your God can get you out of there now,” the prison guards shouted. On September 4, 1948 that hole in the ground became Mark’s final, unmarked, resting place. He left a wife and a one year old son. When his brother Filip went to the prison of Burrell to ask for his body, he was pushed back. It was dishonorable for a family to give respect to the remains of an enemy of the people – he was told. Mark’s name became infamous and speaking of him was considered a crime. To this day the Albanian government will not admit to the cruel murder of an innocent man. He is not honored as a Martyr of Democracy, his grave location is unknown and is name is not marked on any memorial.
Even as a young man Mark, Daragjatibelieved in the future of his country and strived to help build it. He completed High School studies in Shkodra, followed by two years of studies at the Royal Albanian Academy. He then entered civil service, serving as municipal leaders in various towns and later as an official in the Prefecture of Shkodra. The performance of his duties was independent of political influences and orientations. The communists portrayed him as an enemy of the people. Is Mark Daragjati, instead, one of the Unknown Martyrs?
Many more like him, were executed and hastily buried on the side of the road, in the fields around prisons, left to rot naked on the floor of tiny frigid prison cells, scarred, mutilated and even blinded by communist henchmen. Their bodies were disposed of in unmarked graves and their names were forgotten or, worse yet, were even despised by the people whose freedom they died for.
To this day, those who survived the horrors of communism persecution are alienated from the mainstream life of the country and have not been reintegrated socially and economically. Will Albania continue to prefer to ignore and forget its past or will the archives of the State be opened to reveal the shining example of courage, the spirit of dedication and sacrifice of those who opposed communism. All freedom loving Albanians should be proud of the legacy of love for God and Country that our Known and Unknown Martyrs have left us in their most trying hours.
Our Country needs a deep cleansing and atonement and a lasting reconciliation with the truth based not on imposed, egoistic, and erratic values but on compassionate and forgiving Humane and Divine Justice. Just as post Hitler Germany, Poland and other Eastern European countries did, Albania should also apologize and ask forgiveness for the egregious human rights violations of its communist past. Why should Albania continue to be known and disrespected in the world for the crimes committed by Enver Hoxha? Why should it not be known and respected for the heroic courage and sacrifices of the Martyrs who stood up to the Marxist savagery of an atheistic dictator?
Pope Francis’ visit to Albania, his heartening recognition of 42 Martyrs who gave their lives in defense of Democracy and Religious Freedom, restores honor to our nation in a way that is long overdue. The September 21, 2014 celebration to come should open our minds and hearts to reconsider the notion that the greatest human achievements were made by unselfish people who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of mankind and not by dictators who sought to impose their errant will on oppressed people.
The solemn celebration of 42 Martyrs by the Roman Catholic church should mark a new beginning for Albania and a renewed opportunity to seek a sincere reconciliation with its past. When will the Albanian nation recognize and honor many Known and Unknown Martyrs who like my father Mark Daragjati, gave their lives in defense of freedom?
Foto: Mark Daragjati