Repatriation of Mid’hat Frashëri’s remains

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s speech at state ceremony on repatriation and reburial of the remains of the prominent personality of Albanian literature and national culture, Mid’hat Frashëri:

“If I am to die with no regrets left behind,

I would wish for it at sunset happen, with glory over bed and at sleep unfolding,

Telling me about homeland…”

This is how a young man called Charles de Gaulle used to write 110 years ago, who later in life would contribute a lot to the cause of freedom, resistance to its enemies and the nations’ self-determination. Right when these verses were written, another young man named Mid’hat Bey Frashëri would find a piece of motherland in Manastir, where he chaired the first Pan-Albanian national congress on standardizing a single Albanian alphabet.

The following is what it was written about this milestone event in our history on the newspaper “Liria” (Freedom) that Mid’hat Frashëri himself published in Thessaloniki:

“Let me state this meeting’s goal. The Albanian books published to date have been all printed in a certain alphabet. In whole Tosk region and in many areas of Gheg region, anywhere Albanian is spoken and by everyone who wishes to use his mother tongue, the alphabet we also use to publish our newspaper has come to be known as the Istanbul alphabet, which emerged around 30 years ago. On the other part, in Shkodra, three alphabets are used: the alphabet of Jesuits, that of the Union Society (Bashkimi) and the society Dawn (Agimi). The first one is used for over 300 years; that of the Union came into existence around 10 years ago, whereas that of Dawn appeared five years ago. The Congress due to convene in Manastir will seek to standardize one single alphabet and leave the others aside. We are strongly confident that by good will and unbiased thinking, the Congress will achieve its goal and produce its fruits.”

Mid’hat Frashëri was picked and invited to preside the Congress by 32 delegates representing all Albanian territories and colonies, including Mjeda, Luigj Gurakuqi, Bajo Topulli, Fehim Zavalani, Shefqet Frashëri, Gjergj Qiriazi, Shahin Kolonja, Thoma Avrami, all begging the young lad to leave Istanbul, join them and assume the throne of honour, which everyone deserved, even might have aspired.

How come this young boy turned into the figure of consensus among those great and famous men and why, when he agreed to assume that burden, the Congress’ foremost ones came together to extend him a decent welcome and honours usually offered to the head of nations?

Who was this young man who would later enter the history of Albanians as spirit of wisdom and a man of all knowledge with a double identity, one as Lumo Skendo for the temple of Albanian literature, and as Mid’hat Frashëri with the prestige of a statesman behind the mantle of the politician with a flaw in his biography, who would be laid to rest as a stranger in a foreign land after being denied the right to be laid to rest in the soil of his Albanian homeland for over seven decades?

To begin with, he was the only son survived by Abdyl Toska, as Fishta calls Abdyl Frasheri in his Highland Lute (Lahuta e Malcis), one of the three wonderful brothers of the history of the Albanians. Frashëri brothers were known as “ulema”, or learned men in Albania’s most prominent town of Frasher, equally important and sacred like Arabia’s Mecca and Christianity’s Betlehem, according to Grameno.

In Frasher of unique inter-religious brethren and unprecedented kinship osmosis, this Abdyl’s son, under the glow of light that new no West back then, was fed the first milk of the universal knowledge and national consciousness.

“Since in my childhood, – Mid’hat writes – “as early as I can remember, I have heard words over Albania, I mean, talks about its rights, speeches based on the principle of the cult of the motherland, which originated from love for Albania and the duties of every Albanian for their homeland.

This is what I listened from my mother and grandfather when I uttered first words and when I was two-years-old in Frasher and then in Ioannina. When we went to Istanbul, this sort of talk continued by my uncles.

I was five on the day I first met my father upon his release from prison, but he was forced into exile. My father spoke eloquently and liked very much to talk.

So, bit by bit, my homeland took the form of a God and its cult was for me a religion. Along with his worship, every corner of Albania, which seemed to me to be a living body, was inseparable part of it.

The publicist and the politician, who wrote thousands of pages with his calligraphy, among those pages has left behind a truly unique chronicle of manhood.

On 29th of May, 1898, at the age of 18, he worded a memorandum on learning, reading and intellectual development since he was only ten.

It was the year when first edition of the yearly almanac “National Calendar”. This memorandum or journal, I believe, is not only a memoir monument, but also the key to his broad, diverse and interdisciplinary knowledge.

“Since we had settled in Eren-Qoj, i.e. since November to the day I am writing these lines, i.e. today, on 29th of May 1898, I have been taught Arabic grammar by Sami Bey, while I taught myself physics, three small chemistry books, geology, botanic, zoology, the Count of Monte Cristo in French, various science disciplines, four volumes of anatomy, mineralogy, cosmography-mechanics. Three or four weeks ago I am being taught algebra by an army officer called Rushdi Bey.”

“At the age of 12 to 13, within the first year since we settled in Këzëll Toprak, my late father told me General Geography, including two volumes of the Geography of Asia and Africa.

At the age of 13, I attended the Friars school for eight months. There I was taught grammar, literary reading, arithmetic and history of religion.

Then Merjem entered this school too. Winter had begun and together we were taught by a muezzin wearing a turban.

I have a wide vocabulary and strong command on French. I understand Persian and Arabic. I can read German and Greek.

I have been overwhelmed by a great passion for studying, but I worry that this prurient is somehow stumbles me over in-depth studies.”

These were more or less, or few lines from this journal, quite impressive and dazzling in terms of sincerity of a child who grows up and matures amid the passions of youth while strongly pursuing a vocation, a call he has seemingly devoted his life: the studies.

The true studies, not merely for the sake of affirmation of an individuality, but for the sake of his duty to serve, to serve his original and inseparable love of the heart, the motherland.

Mid’hat Frashëri read and studied the world’s main languages and alphabets of that time; he absorbed the most sophisticated cultures, attended the then top professors of every origin, worshiped his father and Albanian uncles, admired his Turkish and Greek tutors, nurtured the filial affection of a disciple towards the turban-wearing imams and Jesuit fathers, while building up true unfettered patriotism through the heart, as he writes.

“Nothing can be achieved through envy and hatred. Everything to meet the eye and everything we like, every good and pleasant thing is done with love. The soul, heart, and mind must cherish with love and compassion.”

Paging through the book “Ashes and Embers” (Hi dhe shpuzë), this anthology of crumbs of memory, through the lines dedicated Venus and Milos, we figure out also a child of the beauty:

“The happy Fidias, happier than God!

For your mind bore the immortal beauty, the eternally desired, but never found woman.”

Though many have been honoured and awarded titles, Mid’hat bey, very sparingly and guardedly has used only one of so many, the titled that didn’t feet anyone else; exactly the title of the nation’s servant.

He uses rarely this self-designation as a groan of despair, while taking notice of loneliness in thoughts and actions that begin to besiege him to complete solitude as he neared the end of life.

Lumo Skëndo wonders:

“What about us, we the forgotten of the world, or even worse, the forgotten of ourselves, is there a little place for this general relaxation? Shall we also taste this good supper that brings together all nations of the world?”

While Mid’hat Frashëri writes down somewhere that “Europe ends in Budapest and Orient starts in Brusë and Kalip; the vileness of the West and the East flow through this area.”

It was the year 1908. Albania was still languishing in an abyss of ambiguity and, together with the empire that had ruled it for centuries, the country saw itself banished and trapped in a hopeless quarantine of the history. The fratricidal divisions and the weak character of indecisive elites of the Albanian environment were to Mid’hat the greatest threat to the compactness and credibility of his national vision.

In the Albanian Effort magazine published by Branko Merxhani we find the following lines written by Mid’hat Frashëri alias Lumo Skëndo:

“Shouldn’t the elite aim at improving itself, build up virtue, character and knowledge? Is it possible that man, this creature, who thinks about himself to be mindful, be dragged down in material circumstances from the blind hand of events, without feeling, without manifesting any reaction, no strain, without defending himself? Can a man live, or, better say, can we all live without understanding, looking, thinking, judging and working? Those who stand even just two fingers above an ordinary level should grasp their responsibility.”

Firmly convinced of the unification as a matter of urgency, Mid’hat Frashëri doesn’t hesitate to make way for the alphabet of “Unification” association that was compiled by the Shkodra Franciscans.

In order for Europe not to end in Budapest, but start, or at least end in Albania, the Albanians had to show all together that they wanted to speak a single Albanian and a European Albanian.

“This was what the Congress of Manastir decided – he recalls years later, in 1937, – and this was how the Albanians parted with the unforgettable memory of those ten days always being in their hearts, joining in a celebration like never before.”

His fixed idea of unification under a single alphabet and flag for the common good brought Mid’hat Frashëri to the table of the Independence signers as a delegate to Vlora Assembly, representing three significant ancestral regions, namely Peja, Elbasan and Përmet.

“The movement for Kosovo’s freedom and independence is nothing else but a logical continuation of the Albanian League of Prizren. We shall give nothing away from the tiny body of our homeland,” he wrote, who entered the state-building politics and efforts in Albania through the great door of the most supreme ambitions for his nation and homeland.

“Let’s try and keep Albanians away from the political life of coffee houses and instead urge them to study and worry about everything concerning and belonging to Albania, because should we fail in stir a cult and admiration for everything belonging to our nation and land, then we will have neither Albania, nor Albanians.”

Exceptionally smart and markedly stylish and elegant man in the then Albania, even in his early youth he was also physically a sign of contradiction to his time. Stuttering, as he himself used to write down, a physical defect great orators sometimes suffer from, turns indeed into an asset of elegance and, what it even more admirable that Mit’hat Frashëri dabbles in and challenges self-deprecating at the highest refinement and greatest finesse and it is no coincidence he was the most popular among the then most acclaimed personalities.

With a tendency of politically and socially suicidal, Mit’hat Frashëri doesn’t negotiate his convictions. While in Vlora, he lived in isolation. He was even kicked out of house, as he himself acknowledges, completely broke and owns only two cellulose collared shirts, an English jacket and two pairs of clothes. It was exactly him, who, by a prophetic anachronism, depicts Haxhi Qamili’s uprising as an early sign of the Bolshevik movement in Europe and it was him again who raised the alarm, becoming one of the forerunners of the efforts to preserve cultural heritage in the face of risk of losing our national values.

“Every man who thinks and cares about the existence of this poor country wishes to see even those few things that have survived from fire and the people’s hostility not end up in the mouse’ teeth and moisture.”

Three decades later, it was him again, who, regardless the exhaustion while in exile, sets a condition – and it is good that those who have dragged his name through the mud for seven decades and today raise their eyebrows in ignorance should listen this – he sets the condition to purge any compromised individual for collaboration with the Nazi-fascist invaders of any political support and activity against the then communist regime of Tirana.

Mit’hat Frashëri was the personification and embodiment of the servant of the homeland, doing it in his own way. Whenever certain domestic or foreign circles urged and lured certain social, religious or political groups to sow divisions in Albania, he immediately emerged as their natural enemy.

It was him highlighting more than anyone else the major and essential role of the Orthodox clergy elite in the struggle for Independence in two pamphlets, namely the Population of Epirus, and the Issue of Epirus”, whereas other authors, equally prominent but sharing not same ideal, distorted reality to facilitate the country’s partition.

His position to show the civilized world the drama and tragedy of the Muslim and Albanian populations of Chameri, stripped off and denied any fundamental, human and material right, just because of ethnicity and their faith, is absolutely breath-taking.

His reports as a plenipotentiary minister in Athens and his legal and political struggle in the League of Nations for the protection of these rights do not only show Mit’hat Frashëri as defender of the Albanian element that is abused outside the borders but also as a fervent flag holder of the minority rights, human dignity and fundamental freedoms, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of religion.

Really poignant – again I want those who waxed their eyes, noise, mouth and ears with the mocking propaganda for over 70 years listen to this today – is his tribute to the Albanian youth and their war against the enemy, as well as his homage to the nation’s 30 000 martyrs, although, according to him, Albania’s freedom was usurped following the war.

This is what, exactly him, the very leader of the “Balli Kombetar” (National Front), points out in the article titled “The Struggle of Albania”, published in newspaper “Flamuri”: “Indeed, more than 400 villages and many urban neighbourhoods were left in ruins. Thousands of people remained homeless and without future. The ruins, destruction and the graves of the fallen are to be found even today from Peja and Gjakove to Shkoder, Tirana, Elbasan and the whole southern part of the country. Around 30 000 fallen fighters and victims will no longer see their families and their homeland. They were sacrificed for a free Albania!”

Even if it was for nothing else, Mit’hat Frashëri deserves our most genuine gratitude for being the bearer of intellectual honesty in the assertion of his own truths, regardless their cost.

Many might have seen arrogance in Mit’hat Frashëri’s determination; in his steadfast drive for clarity, and stubbornness; in his humility and loneliness; in his patriotism, irredentism; cautiousness and restraint, conservatism; in the credence to natural alliances with the “Great American Republic” as he called it, covenant-breaking when it comes to the nation’s survival interests.

His verified virtues or guessed deficiencies, weaknesses, or theories, all make Mit’hat Frasheri indeed a unique personality like no one else in the history of generally unstable Albanian elites.

This was Mit’hat Frashëri, whose remains arrived here today after a winter day, around a year ago, professor Uran Butka and “Lumo Skëndo” institute made the request to repatriate his remains.

The repatriation of his remains is indeed an obligation to someone, and I avail myself the opportunity to tell something to all those who feel unsettled because of this repatriation.

Mit’hat Frashëri gave to Albania whatever he had and whatever he could.

He dreamed and worked tirelessly for this country. He made a mistake? Of course he also made a mistake, but he never committed, or incited a crime.

Therefore, whoever sees his coffin as a provocation to a history that was written by the victorious it would be advisable for them to bow their head and recall how many crimes were committed by those who wrote and forcefully told us the half-truth, the other half of Lumo Skëndo’s history.

Likewise, on the other hand, whoever wrongfully see this coffin and my presence here as elected Prime Minister, not as an exiled PM like Mr Mit’hat was, as a symbolical act of vengeance against the victorious as we bid farewell and lay to rest this a multi-dimensional figure of the history of Albania, who was also the leader of the National Front – they should bow the head and remember the unforgivable guilt for what many followers of that organization did by not only siding with bloodthirsty enemies of the people, but they also lined up against Mit’hat Frashëri himself, who wrote to the Free Albania Committee as following: “We should not accept in our ranks people who have shed blood and have cooperated with the invaders.”

So this act of this government wrongly assumed by disruptive people as a practice of a party against another old party, perhaps can also serve as a reflection.

Stop judging and prejudging people in absentia. Here there are the remains of a man judged and sentenced in absentia. Not by a court of law, but by the endless and exhausting trial of the history written by the victors to humiliate the defeated.

Stop making stuff up and defamations without reasoning and judging honestly and conscience.

Stop the use and misuse of those who are no longer with us, by attributing and quoting everything they have never said, and even have never thought.

The repatriation of the remains of Mit’hat Frashëri takes no one’s share of history, let alone our ability of reasoning or judgment.

A grave doesn’t always buries a dead man.

Often, the true spiritual life begins right with the last breath.

Mit’hat Frashëri remains a living example while many of those who referred him as an example against other living beings are today all dead.

May Mit’hat Bey rests in peace in the soil of his Albanian motherland and may time further cleans the mud that honourable Albanian intellectual first and me did whatever we could and started cleaning it today.