Fatos Lubonja: Albania's Vaclav Havel?
When the famous Albanian activist, Fatos Lubonja, visited Boston to give a lecture at Boston University, my wife, Jane, and I had the good fortune of arranging a dinner party in his honor at our residence in Brookline, Massachusetts. Notwithstanding Fatos Lubonja's long and unjust prison confinemment (see below) by a brutal communist regime, we all found him to be warm and outgoing and showing no visible bitterness about his long imprisonment, and quite pleased to respond - frequently at great length - to the many questions that were asked of him by our guests that evening. We all agreed that Fatos Lubonja is a remarkable human being as you will learn when you read the two articles about him below!
Fatos Lubonja: Albania's Vaclav Havel?
Few have done more to struggle for and constructively criticize Albania's democracy than Fatos Lubonja, writer, editor of the quarterly journal Përpjekja, and now representative of the Forum for Democracy, that is attempting to replace confrontation with dialogue in Albania's political life. In his 1995 writing, Lubonja presciently analyzed what he calls "the vicious circle of depotism and defence" which he blames for the difficulty in implanting civic freedoms in Albanian society: "It is precisely because of the Albanian individual, being at the beck and call of the patriach and the clan, has little scope for expression, that he has often displayed either compliance, which has created a closed society, or been prone to violent outbreaks in the shape of devastating acts of parricide..."
Lubonja's judgement is backed with the moral authority of 17 years in communist prisons, and a family history of intellectual resistance. His father, Todi, for many years general director of Albanian Radio-Television, was imprisoned on 1973 following a clampdown by Enver Hoxha on "liberalism" in the arts. Fatos's mother, Liri, was interned in a remote village while her husband and son were in prison, and she too has written a book about her exile, Far Away, Among People, which portrays the wretched life of the Albanian peasantry.
At age 23, Fatos was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment for "agitation and propaganda" after police found his diaries, which contained criticisms of Hoxha, in his uncle's attic. He began serving his sentence in the copper mine of Spaç. In 1979, while still incarcerated, Lubonja faced a second accusation, this time of having created a "counterrevolutionary organization" alongside nine other prisoners, and was sentenced to a further 25 years. He has described his trial and the circumstances surrounding it in a documentary novel called The Second Sentence, published in Tirana in 1996. Like all Lubonja's prison writings, The Second Sentence is remarkably free of bitterness and resentment. It is a memorial to Lubonja's fellow defendants, three of whom were shot, and records a fearful journey through the moral labyrinth of the totalitarian world.
Following his release from prison in 1991, Lubonja became involved in human rights, and went on to found the quarterly journal “Përpjekja” (Endeavor) in 1994. The journal, Lubonja says, "aims to bring a critical spirit into Albanian culture, and conceives culture not to be a closed archive, but a means of understanding reality."
( Përpjekja carries short stories, poetry, literary and cultural criticism, and articles critical of Albanian political developments, and has fast earned a reputation as the foremost Albanian cultural review. A book-length English-language anthology of Përpjekja, entitled "Endeavor" was published in Tirana in May, containing work by Lubonja and leading intellectuals from Albania and Kosova, including Bashkim Shehu, Edi Rama, Ardian Klosi, and Shkëlzen Maliqi.
In January 1997, public fury rose when popular pyramid investment schemes collapsed devastating the Albanian economy. Lubonja and other intellectuals published a memorandum calling for free elections, and warned, "A people who are not allowed to correct the institutions of the state by a free ballot and through their opposition will do so with fire" With two other former political prisoners, Lubonja bcame a representative of the Forum of Democracy calling for peaceful dialogue in Albania's increasingly polarized political climate. The Forum's attempts to organize peaceful demonstrations in February, under the slogan, "Flowers instead of stones" has several times led to the detainment of Lubonja and other coalition leaders. "These", Lubonja writes, "are the times when a person must consume extraordinary quantities of spiritual energy to preserve himself and not to surrender to negative emotions such as fear and terror, which not only cost him his clarity of mind but also his dignity, and make him give way to evil." -- Excerpted from the article "Leading the Endeavor" by John Hodgson, Transitions, June, 1997
Albania, the Nation Without Heroes / Why Its Own Vaclav Havel Is an Intellectual Ignored
If most Westerners had to choose one person to symbolize Eastern Europe's emergence from Communism, it would be Vaclav Havel, one of a generation of Western-oriented intellectuals and writers who were dissidents and political prisoners under Communism and then continued to provide moral and sometimes political guidance after Communism fell. Then there is Albania, and Fatos Lubonja. He is the author of two novels, numerous essays and a diary and stories from prison. He uses his prison experiences -- the murder of a cellmate's cat, the joy of a prisoner released from shackles into the relative liberty of solitary confinement -- to write about freedom and dignity ... he has helped found Albania's first human rights group. In Endeavor, the remarkable journal he edits, he argues for a more critical, tolerant and European Albania. Mr. Lubonja is all the more isolated because most of Albania's intellectuals now live in America, France, and Italy. Some left to make a living they cannot make in Albania, others to be free of Mr. Berisha's thugs. Mr. Lubonja stays because he thinks intellectuals must build a European political culture and show Albanians that not everyone in public life is there to get rich. -- Excerpted from Editorial Notebook by Tina Rosenberg, New York Times, December 13, 1997