By Roland Qafoku
The villa which is currently occupied by the Vatican embassy, was occupied in the summer of 1944 by the Albanian Foreign Minister under German occupation, Eqrem bey Vlora. During a hot day of July, something worthy of a Hollywood picture took place. Eqrem bey had invited a German officer with whom he was having lunch, while in his basement, he was hiding a British liaison officer. For three hours, the German officer remained on the second floor by having lunch with the host, while the British officer was in the basement, hiding from the Germans, but also informing the base on whatever was happening in Tirana.
Ironically, the German officer and the British officer met in an international conference in Stockholm. Without knowing each other, both of them confessed this event from the position where they were standing during those hours in the villa of the Albanian: The German was telling him about the hospitality of the Albanian politician while the British was telling about the support that the Albanian politician had shown although he formally backed the Germans.
Both of them laughed at this situation, but also with the fact that an Albanian politician had collaborated with both of them. The British officer was saying that at a given moment, he was thinking to take the German’s weapon, which the latter had left in the hall, enter the room where he was having lunch and kill him while he was eating. But he changed his mind when he thought of the consequences that Eqrem bey Vlora would suffer. Thus, on one hand, the Albanian invited the German to his home and on the other, he was also offering shelter to the British officer. This unknown fact comes after so many decades by the German protagonist through his memoirs which are expected to be published soon.
More than being a tragic and comic episode, this mise en scene also shows the situation with the establishment and the political class in Albania during the Second World War. They didn’t have much choice and by acting in such way, they have thought on doing their best.
After Albania’s liberation, Eqrem bey Vlora has been considered as a quisling, a traitor and he has been given all sorts of negative names. His name was in on the list of war criminals. His family was denigrated, sent into exile and killed, while the properties along with the famous library were looted and destroyed.
As a man pretending in a modest way to know the figure of Eqrem bey Vlora, I have had so many dilemmas on his position during the Second World War, that I had to choose between the hero and the traitor, the good guy and the bad guy, what he did and what he should have done. What caused this big dilemma was a photograph by Eqrem bey Vlora kneeling in front of Viceroy Francesco Jacomoni, while exerting the duty of the head of the cabinet of an occupying force. But better late than never. The history of Eqrem bey Vlora with the British officer hiding in the basement of his him at the center of Tirana is significant and helps in solving this dilemma. Now I am clear about the reasons why Eqrem bey formally collaborated with the occupiers.
Eqrem bey Vlora had no strength to oppose the Italian or German occupation, but being an anti-communist, he was not strong enough to join the resistance, which at that time was only being made by communists. In this point of view, he became part of the Albanian administration and under Italian and German occupation, he held high positions as Foreign Minister and Minister of Liberated Lands. But one question comes to the mind of every man: How come such an illuminated man allowed to be labeled as a quisling?
But judging by this history, we see that his resistance has been even more heroic than that of the illegal communists. To shelter at his home in the center of Tirana a British liaison officer who reported on everything the Germans did, meant death. This was dangerous even if Eqrem bey Vlora had gone in the mountain as partisan.
So, formally, Eqrem bey was a “deutche kultor” and collaborator with the Nazis. But in his heart, he had “British culture”. He was a collaborator with his allies who won the war and whom Albania joined.
But nobody knew of his sacrifice. Neither the family that he left in Albania ever learned this. Neither did Ali bey Kelcyra, his close friend of exile, in which they both died. Neither did Hena Kelcyra, Ali’s daughter, who served to Eqrem bey in Vienna until he died. We had to wait more than half a century since his death in order to discover that Eqrem bey was part of the resistance, being an accidental quisling and a supporter of the resistance in his own way: By sheltering at the basement of his home the British officer.
Now I can understand Artan Shkreli, Prime Minister’s Rama advisor and good expert of the history of that period, when three years ago, while he was invited in the TV show that I moderate “Debate on Channel One”, said “had I lived during the Second World War, I would have become a minister under the Italian and German occupation”. At the end of the day, he had no other choice, the same as Eqrem bey Vlora.
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