Musine Kokalari (1917 -1983) was a writer and political activistduring one of the most important periods of political developments in Albania and the Western Balkans, before, during and after World War II. She was a founder and the main figure of the first Social Democratic Party of Albania, which was, at the same time,one of the first significant political bodies opposing the Enverist regime. Consequently, Musine spent most of her lifeas a political prisoner and tortured due to her social democratic beliefs, from which she never backed down.
Thus, in history, Musine was one of the first intellectuals who sacrificed her comfort for the benefit of democracy, as a woman who refused to submit to the iron and manly regime. What is more, Musine wasone of the first and rarestto oppose and categorically reject conformism, conservatism and totalitarianism. She stood up to the hegemony and monopoly of the party-state, a party that insisted on uniform thinking and one-dimensional political activism, according to party dictates, and under a top-down conception of theway homeland, patriotism and the general good are perceived.
When she was arrested on January 23rd, 1946 byEnver Hoxha’s regime and sentenced as a “saboteur and enemy of the people” by the Tirana Military Court to 30 years in prison (July 2nd,1946), which was later reduced to 20, Musine Kokalari held the followingstand:
“I do not need to be a communist to love my country! I love my country even though I am not a communist. I want its progress. Even though you won the war, even though you won the elections, you cannot persecute those who hold different political views from you. I think differently from you, but I love my country. I do not apologize because I haven’t done anything wrong”.
In Musine’scharacter we find three basic features of political activity and human freedom intertwined: intellectuality, determination, and sustainability. She said (wrote) what she believed, acted as she was convinced, and inspired as she spoke. Thus, she thought freely, engaged freely and lived freely.
She was born on February 10th, 1917 in Adana, Turkey.In 1921, Musine Kokalari, together with her family, returned to Gjirokastra, the city of family ancestry. From a young age, Musine showed a special passion for literature and folklore.
Originally educated in Tirana, she studied at the Faculty of Modern Literature at La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. Musine Kokalari published her literary work titled “As My Old Woman Says” in 1941, which addressed women’s issues and the patriarchal society.
In addition to her own literary work, she also undertook important publicity initiatives. Throughout 1942, Musine Kokalari’s name was included in the Italian Encyclopedia as a talented writer with high literary potential. As part of the anti-fascist initiative in Albania, in June 1943she contributed to the publication of “The Albanian Woman” magazine under the nickname “Tacitta”. In 1944, Musine published her two works titled “Around Homeland” and “How Life Shook“.
From the beginning of 1942, Musine Kokalari was engaged in anti-fascist and anti-communist movements in Rome. In 1943, she was one of the main founders and inspirers of the Social Democratic Party. As part of this political project, on January 1st, 1944 she published the first issue of “The Voice of Freedom” newspaperas the official newspaper of the Social Democratic Party.
In February 1944, Musine published the program of the Social Democratic Party, calling for political freedom, the right of every citizen to practice freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom tovote: “The main reason for the restriction of political freedom is [the lack of] social justice”. Kokalari supported the idea of a Balkan Confederation, which appeared at the beginning of the 20thcentury, by most of the social democratic parties of the Balkan Peninsula.
Her brothers, Muntaz and Veysim Kokalari, were shot without trial on November 12th, 1944. Persecutedfrom the shooting of the brothers, and being a founder of the Social Democratic Party and “The Voice of Freedom” press body, Musine Kokalari was arrested twiceduring November 13-28, 1945. During the same month, she was engaged in an intellectual and political movement which she called “The Democratic Coalition”. This movementrepresented all opposition groups demanding the postponement of the December 2nd, 1945 elections, where not a single party, except for the communist one, could register with their candidates and platforms. In”The Democratic Coalition”, Musine was the only representative of the Social Democratic Party, and at the same time, the main political figure of this coalition. This demand meant the development of the first pluralistic elections in Albania. All the signatories of the first note were arrested on January 1946.
At that time, Musine Kokalari was arrested to be held in prison for a long time, where she faced terrible tortures of the regime. In 1964, after 16 years of imprisonment in the notorious prison of Burrel, isolated and under the strict surveillance of security agents, Musine Kokalari spent another 19 years of her life in internment in Rreshen, from where she retired with a half salary. She worked as a streetsweeper for 11 years in the construction enterprise, among bricks, mortar and concrete.
Despite constant persecution and a lack of minimum conditions, Musine Kokalari managed to finish her book, in hiding, titled “How the Social Democratic Party was Born” where she explained her progressive and democratic alternative.
Musine Kokalari was one of the first 30 imprisoned writers to be recorded in 1960 by the Troika Committee (the PEN Club precursor).
In 1980, Musine Kokalari was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was refused treatment at the state oncology hospital. Failure to cure the disease, and the many pains and sufferings under persecution caused her death in complete isolation in August 1983. She was reburied in 1991 in Shish – Tufina.
In 1993, Musine Kokalari was declared “Martyr of Democracy” by the President of the Republic of Albania.