By Albert Zholi/Albanian Free Press
He dedicated all of his life to communism. He first heard about communism since he was a child. This was Rita Marko, former member of the Politburo, who passed away three weeks ago, on 15 June 2018 at the age of 98. This was a man who was very fond of manuscripts. Until the moment of his death, Rita used to read, take walks and write his memoirs, in an effort to preserve a strong memory. Today, Albanian Free Press starts the publication of these memoirs, after they were handed in by his daughter, Shpresa Marko. These memoirs shed light on three particular periods for Albania: the National Liberation War, the communist system and the arrival of democracy.
In this part of the manuscript, Rita Marko talks about the beginnings of communism in the country:
“The first time I heard the word ‘bolshevism’, I was only 12. One day, while I was learning to ride the bike at the airfield, I got near the airplane’s steps and with a red pencil I wrote ‘Long live Bolshevism’. I was afraid that the gendarmerie or the paramilitary would come to know about this. They would give me a good beating if they found out it was me. I started to work since I was little. The hard work and my family’s poverty left deep impressions within me. I started to mend shoes. Despite the hardships and poverty, cobblers lived an active political and social life. These people were patriots and revolutionaries. All of this had a great effect on me. I was filled with the desire to read the newspapers and listen to the news; to be involved in political discussions and to follow the Anti-Fascist War which was taking place in Spain.
The first contact with revolutionary ideas
Marko’s confessions continue with the way he saw life in the years before the war in Albania:
When I was part of the cobblers’ guild, I made my first contact with revolutionary ideas of the working class. This was also the first time, I felt hate for the regime which was exploiting workers. This guild operated under the instructions issued by the Communist Group of Korça and it defended workers’ rights. It demanded higher salaries and fewer working hours. The guild had its own rulebook and the members paid a monthly fee. I have good recollections of the Big Hunger Demonstration which took place in Korça in 1936. The cobblers’ guild played a crucial role in this demonstration. This demonstration expressed the anger of the masses against oppression and exploitation of the ruling classes and Zog’s regime. People were starving and prices were very high. Poverty was everywhere, in cities and villages alike.
Refusal to join military service
Having strong communist convictions, Marko refuses to join the military service.
It had been a while that I had close ties with the communists. My duty, as a communist and patriot, was to fight fascism and the regime and not to join their military service. I fled, but they caught me in Elbasan, as I was making my way to Korça. It was the start of June 1942, when I told my mother that I had decided to flee and join the partisan forces. My decision would have consequences for the whole family, but this did not scare my mother at all.
Distributing the Party’s leaflets
The beginning of massive protests, Rita Marko recalls the big demonstration carried out in Korça:
On 8 November 1941, a big anti-fascist demonstration was organized in Korça. I and several other friends of mine were part of this protest. In front of the monument of Themistokli Germenji, police forces opened fire on demonstrators. This is where our friend, Koçi Bako was killed. In one of those nights, as I was sleeping, I felt someone touch me on the front. Instinctively I reached for my gun under the pillow, but the person who had touched me had left the room. It was Qemal Stafa. This was an extraordinary meeting for me. Afterwards I met Kristo Themelko, Beqir Ndou, Sotir Vullkani, Niazi Demi, Ali Demi, Ramize Gjebrea and other friends. Later on, comrade Qemal introduced me to other comrades of the Anti-Fascist War. The meetings and what I saw in Tirana, convinced me even more about the journey that I had embarked on. That’s where I heard about Enver Hoxha for the first time.
Who was Rita Marko?
Rita Marko was born on 17 February 1920 in Dishnica, Korça. In 1936 he partook in a strike of petroleum workers organized by the Puna (Work) trade union in the area, which was associated with the Korça Communist Group. He joined the resistance forces after the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939 and joined the Communist Party of Albania in 1942. During the war he served in secession as company and later battalion commissar of the Fourth Partisan Brigade, commissar of the Twelfth Partisan Brigade, commissar of the Eighth People's Defense Brigade and up to 1948 regimental commissar in the Security Forces with the rank of Major.
He became a deputy to the People's Assembly in 1950 and a member of its Presidium in 1952. From 1956-58 he served as Chairman of the Assembly and Vice-Chairman from 1966-76. From July 1950 to March 1951 he served as Minister of Industry. In 1952 he became a member of the General Council of the Trade Unions of Albania and served as its Chairman from 1970-82.
In April 1950 he became a candidate member of the Central Committee of the PLA, full member at the Second Party Congress in 1952 and a member of the Politburo at the Third Congress in 1956. He served as First Secretary of the Party committee in Korça district from 1949–50 and of the Durrës Party committee from 1966-70. In March 1951 he became Secretary of the Party's Central Committee.
In December 1991 he was arrested and put on trial in July 1994 alongside some other prominent PLA leaders, being sentenced to eight years in prison after being accused of abuse of power. He was released in July 1995 and passed away on 15 June 2018, at the age of 98.