By Shefki Hysa
I might have been in the fourth or fifth grade classroom of my birthplace, I remember it vaguely, when I have read a fragment of Bilal Xhaferri’s tales for the first time …The tale was entitled “You are a partisan”, if I am not wrong… A life has gone by and I can’t forget the deep impression it left to me… (I had in my hands the book with Bilal Xhaferri’s tales “New people, ancient land” in the summer of 1982. My friend, the poet Agim Mato, with whom I used to discuss about my first creations and my future as a passionate guy descending from a family that the communist regime didn’t like, gave it to me). Since then I began to be interested for Bilal Xhaferri and his creativeness that I don’t know why used to attract me surprisingly so much… It seemed as if I had experienced once somewhere, in another life all those reflections of his creativeness, or as if we had come together at the same conclusion for all that we didn’t know each-other and had never met before, as it happens sometimes to some scientists, researchers or artists who discover at the same time the same law, make the same invention, propound the same thesis or hypothesis or realize works which give the same universal messages, knowing nothing about each other’s existence… And I don’t why this kind of telepathic result used to make me think, induce me toward a meditative philosophy that used to remind me that somewhere there is an invisible godlike power, the God himself who dictates the run of our thoughts and feelings and so vaguely it seems as if it arouses the existence feeling of twin hearts who are inclined toward each other in an unknowable way, although they float lonely through the endless spaces of Universe…
And I learned whispery that we were from the same region. He was born on November 3, 1935, in Ninat (Konispol), an area of Chameria region and he was descendant in the well-known polymath Hoxhë Hasan Tahsin’s family. A mountain used to separate Shalës, my village, from Ninat…
Thus, I was at the same time so near and so far with Bilal. He had emigrated in February 1969 or more precisely “had escaped” from Albania, according to the terminology of the Communist Regime period, pronounced “enemy” of the Country whereas I was lost in the oblivion bewilderment, that mental desert that communism served us…
Enemy of the Country!… Imagine what kind of absurdity!… The creator of “Cham ballad”- enemy of the Country!… Is there any human logic that believes this despite that logic that invented it, monsters’ logic?!…
That’s enough!… Far away from labyrinths… Far away from monsters…
But which are some of the main characteristics of poet, prosator and dissident publicist Bilal Xhaferri’s life?…
When he was eight his mother died and when he was ten, the communist power shot his nationalist father and he remained fatherless with tree sisters, under Ferik Hoxha’s care, his grandfather. After he finished the elementary school in his birthplace, taking two grades in a year, in 1948 he went away to find a job in Saranda, since they have no living means, especially when his grandfather was pronounced “a rich countryman” and he was expropriated. He found an ordinary job in Saranda; he had to load and unload cobbles in small ships but being skillful and wise he was employed as courier in the telegraph post-office situated in the building where the Renaissance poet Naim Frashëri had worked as customs official. He ensconced oneself in his aunt’s family that used to live in a single room and this is why he used to sleep often in the sea-line garden. Once a month, when he had to take tokens, he used to go in Ninat to see his sisters, walking tens of kilometers. Because of the biographical problems, in 1952 he left Saranda, got into a hold, went away and was located in Durrës. In 1954-1955 he lived with his small sister, Antika, in a room in Sukth (Durrës). It was there where they followed the seven-year school, his sister during the day and Bilal at night because he had to work as an employee who establishes and controls the norms. Since then he began to write the first poetries in pieces of paper.
Meantime he finished a technical school for construction and was employed in construction yards, at bridge-street in Kruja, at Ulza hydro central etc. In 1962-1963 he was able to publish the first poetries and tales in “Youth’s voice” (“Zëri i rinisë”), “The light” (“Drita”), “November” (“Nëntori”), “The star” (“Ylli”) etc. A lot of writers and artists approached, supported and helped him, so his prominent talent wouldn’t lose under the weight of “bad biography” consequences.
The peak of his creativity was during 1965-1968 when his tale volume “New people, ancient land” (1966) was published while the poetic volume “The red clearing” was impeded by the communist censure before its circulation and it was converted in cartoon dough. In this period he wrote the novel “Krastakraus” (1967), which was propounded by him to be published.
In 1968, in a meeting at the League of Albanian Writers and Artists, where Ismail Kadare’s novel “The wedding” was being presented, Bilal criticized harshly this work described by the critique of that time as “Arc of Triumph” of the Method of Socialistic Realism, a thing that aroused the party censors’ grudge who confronted him immediately, not only by reminding him the shooting of his father but even by threatening him with the destiny that all the class’ enemies were expecting. Thereafter he was expelled from the League, he lost the publication right, and the distribution of his books was prohibited. His book “New people, ancient land” was taken away from the libraries and the bookstores, his writings from the newspapers and magazine collections were ripped, the novel “Krastakraus” was archived in the archives of “Naim Frashëri” Publishing House, while Bilal, constantly supervised, was interned in the village of Hamallë (Durrës), where he carried out handiwork in agriculture, threatened everyday to be arrested.
He was kept for about six months at the refugee camp in Janine (Greece), and then he went in USA, invited by the Cham patriots Skënder Xhelua and Rexhep Hoxha.
In these difficult conditions, on August 1969, together with his brother-in-law, Selfo Hoxha, he went away from Albania, from his birthplace to Greece. He had some manuscripts with himself, meantime some works of his creativiness: poetries, tales, novels, film scripts etc., were consigned to journalist Ballkiz Halili and poet Namik Mane. Before going away, he wrote a letter that was directed to his followers and victimizers.
He worked for about two years in the Albanian newspaper “The sun” (“Dielli”), but because of the different views with its editors, he was obliged to leave it. In 1971, he sent for publication from Boston to Pristine, to “Renaissance”(“Rilindja”) Publishing Enterprise the second version of the novel “Krastakraus”, entitled “Berat ceded”, which was published by “R “Renaissance” only in 1995, together with the poetic volume “Come on sadness” and the tale-volume “New people, ancient land”, where are included even other tales published in Albania and USA. In the accompanying letter of the novel manuscript is written: “In my nearby literary efforts I have thought about tales-miscellanea from Kosovar people today’s life. To collect the materials I need to write this book, I hope I can pay a visit to Kosovo next year”. In USA, Bilal became for many years the pivot of the expatriated Albanians’ union, especially of the Cham emigrants, who were organized by him in the Cham League organization, centered in Chicago, renewing in this way the prior tradition.
In Chicago, on October 1974, he created “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”), which was baptized, directed, prepared and published by him till the end of life. He published many publicistic articles, poetries, tales, fragments of the novel “Opposite sidewalks” (1975), fragments of the novel “The moon of the yards” (1977), skits for Albanian language courses, published his drawings and caricatures, artistic photos and short films made by him. Even in USA he wrote movie scripts. In the magazine number where a fragment of the novel “The moon of the yards” was published for the first time, it was announced that Bilal was preparing from this novel a scenario for a feature –length film with the title adapted into “The moon of the Countryside” and a company from Hollywood was going to film it.
Through “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”) he could set up relations with a lot of patriots in USA, Canada, Europe, Turkey and elsewhere, with newspapers and magazines of Diaspora and through it and its activity he influenced the approach and the collaboration between Albanians of all lands, inclinations, political parties and political organizations. “Eagle’s wing” was converted in a national magazine, kept with the emigrants’ writings and it was addressed to all Albanians.
It had a big brotherly, moral and material support from the Albanians of Kosovo and Montenegro, from parties and their national organizations, even some of his friends and collaborators were there. In a thank-you note in the magazine he writes: “During this summer (1981) I stayed some months in Detroit. Among many friends, whom I sincerely thank for their brotherly welcome, I want to mention especially Prof. Prenk Gruda.
I will keep in mind as a beautiful memory the time I spent at his home. Prenka expressed the Albanian characteristic nobility simply with a genuine heartiness when he arrived at the hotel where I was staying and invited me to reside at his home, saying to me: “You should come as you are coming to your home. You don’t have to stay at this hotel. You can save the money you could spend here and use them for the magazine. He gave me a spare key of his beautiful home in suburb of Detroit. During the time I stayed at that home I felt as at my home”. (“Eagle’s wing”, 1981)
But this patriot who used to write frequently about the national issue in “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”), who used to have exchange of letters with Bilal Xhaferri, has been near him on other occasions, has encouraged and has offered unstinting help to him. In a letter (1985) he writes to him: “I hope you are safe and sound, as your heart wishes. To say the truth, we miss you. One of ours has been in Chicago and has asked someone about you, but they didn’t say good words. They told him that you are jobless, homeless, you are at loss; you don’t have a place to eat and to pass the night. I can’t believe anyway that works are going so badly; I said to the one who brought these words from Chicago not to speak with someone else about this, because this is a disaster and incredible. But I know my friend that those malicious mouths and enemies speak what their teeth utter. My brother, you are welcome as to your brothers.
I am sending to you the translations of some German newspapers, an article from “Business walk” and another from “New York Times” because maybe you haven’t seen them.
Write us some words man, just to know how you are or please call us. (“Eagle’s wing”, May 1985)
But, even in America, the country of big freedom, someone was victimizing and punishing him to kill him and his work too. So, in 1978 he was wounded. “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”) has written about this horrible episode: “Bilal Xhaferri, editor of “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”), was assaulted in darkness by three unknown people while he was going in a meeting for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Prizren League. The friends that were waiting for him in the meeting, worried from this delay, went out to look for him and found him in the street, wounded in the head and face and with a knife cutting in the rib. The police that was informed and came immediately brought him to the hospital”. (“Eagle’s wing” 1985, May)
Once upon a time, maybe for intimidation, a heinous gossip was diffused, as if Kadri Hazbiu had expressed himself that we will bring back here Bilal Xhaferri dead or alive. And indeed, Albanian state security neither left him alone in America, as his friends tell.
A crushing strike for Bilal was in 1981, when the editorial office caught fire, for which he has written in “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”): “A fire burnt down the building where “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”) was located, burnt down all the files and the collections. This was a personal tragedy for Bilal Xhaferri, who lost his books and his manuscripts, thorough literary volumes, studies, scientific researches, translations, political notes, letters, pictures, photos, works and efforts of ten difficult years in exile” (“Eagle’s wing”, January-February, 1981).
In September 1986, one morning, suddenly Bilal lost consciousness. He was taken urgently to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a head tumor. He was operated but some days after the operation he died at Chicago hospital, in October 14, 1986.
His compatriots, known and unknown people, Albanian and foreign friends and the migration press too, accompanied him with big honors.
The novel “Krastakraus”, presented for publication in 1967, was published only in 1993, in Tirana from “Bilal Xhaferri” Publishing House (Shtëpia Botuese “Bilal Xhaferri”).
In May 3, 1995 the President of the Republic decorated him with the “Martyr of Democracy” medal, with the below motivation “For his service as publicist and politician in the war against communism and dictatorship, for his deeply national and democratic aspirations”.
In May 6, 1995, as director of the Cultural Association “Bilal Xhaferri” (“Shoqata Kulturore “Bilal Xhaferri”), in collaboration with the Albanian Government, I initiated and organized the ceremony for the return of the well known dissident poet, prosator and publicist Bilal Xhaferri’s bones in his Homeland and now he reposes in the birthplace, in Saranda. In that year, for the honor of Bilal Xhaferri, I began to publish in Tirana “Eagle’s wing” magazine (“Krahu i shqiponjës”), as an organ of “Bilal Xhaferri” Cultural Association (Shoqata Kulturore “Bilal Xhaferri”) otherwise called Cultural Community of Chameria (Komuniteti Kulturor i Çamërisë), a magazine that has been esteemed even by personalities such as Ismail Kadare and Dr. Haim Reitan.
As conclusion, the noted writer Sabri Hamiti, my friend from Kosova, describes briefly this personality’s profile:
“Bilal Xhaferri was a writer of the roots of ethnicity in the 60s, when Albanian literature either used to glorify the ideas of socialism or the victory in the Second War, simplifying this in the ideological absolute of development. In this aspect, Xhaferri seems lonesome for the time, seems related to prewar literature but he doesn’t see the past on the style of an hymn and praise, as a support for actual problems, but exactly by taking an invocatory an critical attitude to catch essences despite the momentary situation. In this regard, the literary search of Bilal Xhaferri in the past, in the ethnic roots, is not made as spreading and attraction with the past, but exactly as search to make possible the intercommunication of times”… (Sabri Hamiti) in “The accursed poet: Bilal Xhaferri”.