Tuesday, 26 June 2007

FOOTSTEPS ON THE LIFE OF A WRITER


By Fatmir Terziu

With the weight of 79 years of age his footsteps look like the footsteps of a struggle, which starts in Verban of Kosovo and ends in Greenwich, where a tiny line divides the east from the west. In this struggle Tahir Berisha’s footsteps momentarily pause for his family, occasionally on the Albanian cause, on the cause of education, patriotism, society, nationalism and many more.

The large Sokoli family, which had moved to Verban of Viti from Pidiqi of Karadak of Gjilan, in the neighbourhood of the Karadaks of Verban, on the 31st July of 1928, were heard five gunshots. These gunshots, which according to Albanian tradition indicated a great joy, signalled the birth of a baby boy. Tahir Zeqë Berisha, the first child of mother Mihane after 16 years of marriage and the fourth son of patriot Zeqir Sejdë Sokoli, more popularly known as Zepë Verbani.

Tahir Zeqir Berisha, which after 79 years can be found in books, schools, wars, museums, meetings, and weddings still continues to do what he does best: writing and education, with which he hopes to leave a legacy to the new generations.

His long struggle first lest the signs of a footstep in his country of birth, where at the age of just two he sat with his father among the other men. This privilege traditionally was only given to the cleverest boys. At this age he was also of other activities. The privilege was enforced later when he started to read the newspapers and books aloud for the men, who respected him, not as a child, but as a talented and grown up boy. As he followed his life’s path being the nephew of a very respected person, and the son of a patriot who was loved by Albanians but hated by his enemies he became more optimistic, he was more respected and more confident. But this also caused him a lot of problems later in his life.

Mr. Berisha grew up and matured under occupation. He watched as bad things happened to his beloved nation and was eyewitness to tortures and the killings of many people by the occupation.
In the 9th of September of 1943, when he was just fourteen, his childhood ended. The Italian occupation killed his father on the doorstep of his house, as he was returning after doing his shopping in Ferizaj. During the attack by the armed Italians, one Italian marshal was killed and another one injured, while two innocent people died. And so the Bulgarian-Italian occupation left its mark on Verban, as the soldiers of Turgut Pasha had done.

Growing up ahead of his time, a new life started for Mr Berisha, a life full of problems and difficulties. A more serious life in fact, as he gradually became involved in the real world. After the death of his father he had to move to Mitrovica where his brother was working. There for the first time in his life Mr Berisha witnessed saw a heavy bombardment, as the city came under attack. He survived only by fleeing in the direction of Sitnica and Vushtria.
Having finished Primary School and with the desire for further education, but isolated in a place without the chance of learning in his mother tongue, Mr Berisha continued learning in the Serbian language. In a short period, he had completed two years, through private schooling.
The brutal behaviour of Bulgarian occupation, the killing of his father by the Italians, the arrest of his brother by the Nazi Germans and other tragic stories that happened in his life made him stronger and more grown-up.
Near the end of November of the year 1944 he was enlisted to the Kosovan Army, where he has one of the youngest soldiers. Later he was member of the first brigade of Krajishta, which followed the occupation into Bosnia-Herzegovina, to Mostar to Metkoviq to Sarajevo.
From Tërnava where he was in the army battalion’s command, Tahir Berisha was sent to Officer School as he was the best educated soldier, but was released entirely from the army after six months so that he could continue with his education. He was 17 years old at the time.
After a lot of problems, when war was finally over, Mr Berisha studied part-time at a College in the Albanian language, and after that went to study in the Skopje University, in Macedonia where he received his diploma from the Philosophy Department for the study of the history of Yugoslavian Literacy.

Mr Berisha again had confrontations during his time of school education. These confrontations were linked to the problems created for him by the Communist Committee Organisation in ex-Yugoslavia. In 1953 under the surveillance of the communist organisation secretary, Peter Borozan, and the secret police agency of his country UDB, started new accusations for Berisha’s family, not just for the past problems that were linked to Mr Berisha’s origin, but for new sophisticated accusations linked with his education and his activities of teaching poor people.
Communists and fraudulent nationalism offices of his country always fabricated these. While these fabrications were about Mr Berisha, and how clever person he was, it is so important just to mention that only after a studying in a short course for teachers qualifications, which lasted from 10th November 1945 until 9th February 1946 and which took places in Prizren city, Mr Berisha got a place as a teacher in Zarbinca village of Eastern Kosovo in the 13th March 1946, when he was only 18 years old. So he had a chance of opening the first school in the Zarbinca village. In the meantime in that village he always heard the phrase: “Even if he just a bit takes from his father, there is little chance that he would let us down, or let down our school or our children.” repeated. And he was more proud of his pathway, of his family origin and got more power and energy to teach and educate people from different ethnicities and different ages without any discrimination and full of desire and optimism.
His father, Zeqë Verbani, was well-known as brave at heart. He also contributed to the early education of his beloved people. When he was a Mayor of Sllatina, selected by the votes of his people, he was always interested in the schools well being and his people’s education. He sorted some problems and was an initiator for opening the first school in his birth place, Verban in 1943.
For the short period Mr Berisha did the same as his father had done before, and after he received praise for his job by the inspector of education, Mr. Gjevori. At the end of November 1946, he was transferred to a school in the centre of Prishtina.
Berisha’s footsteps never stopped. In Prishtina, he was the leader of the young people and a member of their department, when the Chair was Mr. Vokshi. On 28th November 1946, he started printing a local newspaper called “The Voice of the Young”, a newspaper which was printed for the first time in Albanian language, and he was selected as a columnist, editor and chief editor.
He was again faced with problems in his life. This time by more complex reasons: war, CO2 and zinc from his job in publishing the newspaper, his education and his job non-stop, and his poor living conditions and eating disorder, caused him a lot of problems, until he was placed in hospital, in Surolulica and Gollunikus’s sanatorium in Ozren, as he struggled with TBC. This lasted from 1949 to 1952 when he finally overcame this condition.
After he was released from the sanatorium in the June of 1952, he again went back to his job, to teach at the Infants school in his hometown of Verban, where his working conditions were slightly improved.
Later he worked in the Education and Culture department in Viti, but again under the surveillance of the communists and the Education Chiefs. He was considered a dangerous man even though while he was the High Inspector of Education in Kosovo, the schools grew like mushrooms after rain. While he was in danger everyday his friends advised him. He quotes: “I have never read or heard of somebody who contributes to opening schools as being a bad man, because for every school opened a prison is closed!”
The quote written in page 234 of the historian Dr Sulltane Kojcuni’s book –Ukaj relates to Mr Berisha’s experience.
Mr Berisha continued his education activity as a College teacher, later as a Headteacher in the School of Economy and Director of the Regional Education in Gjilan.
He did a good job in Gjilan from 1961-62, but this again cost him. He encouraged his pupils to write in the school newspaper called “Expression of the Young”, and there was nothing wrong with this. The inspectors even decided that he deserved praise for his job, but Mr Berisha left Gjilan for a job in Prishtina as he again faced accusations.
In the later years, from 1970-85 he worked as High Inspector of Kosovo’s Education and was the Chair of the Worker’s Union. In 1986, he again had a problem with the communists and the LNÇ and continued to have these problems until he turned to retirement.
For a period he was a lost person as he faced problems as bad as previous problems in his life, but he never even halted his stride along his life’s path.
His life was a life of education and teaching, a whole life dedicated against discrimination, at a time when Kosovo was wounded the most, robbed the most, but despite all this grew up the most.
Tahir Berisha never said that bad was good just because it was required of him, but held his head down and continued on his way. Though he rose his voice every time he said, “Nothing good will come of this hegemonism.”
Tahir Berisha never put down his pencil; he never stopped writing and became the author of many volumes of books. He is the author of “Trojet qe nuk Shuhen” printed and published in 1995, “Emra qe nuk harrohen – Arsimtar Veteranë (1941-1951)”, Volume One, which was printed in Prishtina in 1994, “Emra qe nuk harrohen – Arsimtar Veteranë (1941-1951)”, Volume Two, which was printed in 1996, “Rrëfime në veten e parë”, also published in Prishtina in 1998, “Shënime dhe ecajake në jetën e një refugjati nga Kosova”, printed in London in 2001, and has many more materials and books hoping to publish.
His books are promoted in Prishtina, Presheva, Skopje, Tirana, Elbasan, Glasgow and London, where many people have praised his books, his writing style and language. Some copies of his books can be found in the Library of Prishtina, The National Library of Tirana, and in the British Library.
Tahir Berisha is also praised for being the founder of the Veterans of Education movement, where he was selected as the secretary of the organisation.

Even though he is always criticised by his friends about his lack of time, he actually seems to manage time perfectly. Weather he plays with his grandsons and granddaughters, as he has many, thinks about the time he dedicated to bees, watches birds as he once used to, meditates to remember the time when he used to grow chicken in Prishtina, remembers his past life, or is held up in family problems and among friends, he never puts down his pens, his notebook, his books, his letters, his newspapers, and his radio, which has become precious and a sort of friend to him.

And his last problem came. Like many Albanians in the 5th April 1999, he was forced by armed forces to leave Kosovo. He had to endure Bllace, Stakofci, and had to go through two months in Gazi Osman Pasha Camp in Kirkareli, and in 19th June he applied for asylum in Britain.
Here he met his son Gazmend after many years. In Greenwich he left his will through a poem not just for his son, but for everyone who find it as a patiotic gesture.
He is still walking in his path, and is still lost in his writings and research. He walks quietly, modestly, competently and enthusiastically but all the time listening. Tahir Berisha never stops his advancement. His footsteps make the sound of a pencil that has a lot of writings to leave behind for others.
In the streets of UK he likes to meet with Albanians, English, historians, writers and anyone who knows anything about education and has done anything for its cause. He is also thankful to the English nation that came to the aid of his country when it needed it most. He also searches for something unusual about the past, the present, and the future.
As the sun now shines over Kosovo and the Albanian language is still spoken fearlessly in the land, Tahir Berisha still has a fear in his heart as he asks: “Have forgotten to do something for my nation?”
And here everything looks very quiet.
London: June-October 2006

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