In Rreziku anglo-amerikan për Shqipërinë, Enver Hoxha accused Evangelical workers of being spies:
Zogu u hapi dyert agjentëve të spiunazhit amerikan, të cilit vinin si misionerë, siç ishte Kenedi, si filantropë dhe edukatorë si Erikson dhe Herri Fulc, drejtor i Shkollës Teknike në Tiranë, kuadër me rëndësi i shërbimit informativ amerikan … Të gjithë këta dhe të tjerë jo vetëm bënin punën e informatorit, por … kishin përgatitur njerëzit të tyre që të punonin në të ardhmen, hapur e nën rrogoz, kundër popullit shqiptar dhe pushtetit popullor që ai do të ngrinte (Tirana: Shtëpia botuese “8 Nëntori”, 1982, p. 12).
[Zog opened the door to agents of American espionage, who came as missionaries, such as Kennedy, as philanthropists and educators such as Erickson, and Harry Fultz, director of the Technical School in Tirana, significant personnel in the American information service … All these and others not only worked as informers, but … prepared their people to work in the future, openly and in secret, against the Albanian people and the people’s power which they would set up.]
Similarly, the Albanian Academy of Sciences accused other religions and their clergy of being subversive, publishing in The History of the Socialist construction of Albania that:
The three religions professed in Albania … and their respective clergy had always been used by the foreign rulers and exploiting classes as a means to divide and oppress the people. … The movement against religion and backward customs was among the more important directions of the ideological and cultural revolution. It strengthened the national unity further. (Tirana, 1988, p. 255–57).
In 1969 Viron Koka, writing in Studica Albanica No. 1, in a piece entitled “L’Idéologie réactionnaire du clergé dans les années 30 du XXie siècle”, portrayed religion in Albania in a similar light:
Les clercs, tout comme antérieurement, continuaient à mettre les intérêts de la religion au-dessus des intérêts nationaux et à lutter avec acharnement contre toutes les manifestations progressistes et démocratiques, contre l’indépendence même, du peuple albanais (Université d’Etat de Tirana, Institut d’histoire et de linguistique. pp. 21-42).
[The clergy, just as before, continued to put the interests of religion above national interests and to fight relentlessly against all progressive and democratic manifestations, even against the independence, of the Albanian people.]
It is beyond the scope of this article to explore the extent to which the clergy or members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Moslem communities may have supported foreign oppressors. Rather the article focuses on the Protestant movement. Accusations such as those quoted above can be made easily but they carry little weight without supporting evidence. This writer is not aware of any evidence that Evangelicals in Albania have engaged in espionage against Albania.
Nonetheless, it is true that at least two Albanian believers operated as spies within Albania. Nikolla Çeno, a believer of the Evangelical church in Korçë, knew German from his time studying at the St. Andrea Bible School near Villach, Austria (maintained by the Bible Lands Mission Aid Society, London). During the German occupation in the Second World War, Albanian patriots asked him to serve as a double agent with the Germans. By seeming to collaborate with them, he learned when they had intercepted plans for partisans to visit their families in the city, and he was able to warn the partisans to flee the city before troops surrounded the house and captured them. But this dangerous, patriotic work had to be undertaken in extreme secrecy. When the Germans withdrew, local citizens, unaware of the true and patriotic purpose of his work among the Germans, lined up the collaborators for execution, Çeno among them. Thus he was killed on June 15, 1945. His wife moved to Tirana with their daughter and lived with her parents. Stojna Çeno, his mother, died in great poverty, but remained a believer till the end.
Nikolla Çeno was posthumously exonerated by the Albanian Parliament in 1993 and declared a martyr for democracy. An article was published about him in the newspaper Korça Demokratike in July 1993. It reported that …
Gjykatësi Nevzat Haznejdari e dënoi pa iu dridhur zëri Niko Çenon me vdekje për bashkëpunim me gjermanët … E vetmja fatkeqësi e këtij intelektuali ishte se dinte gjermanisht dhe njihej si i vetmi njeri në atë kohë në Korçë. Për gati pesëdhjet vjet familja e tij jetoi nën dramën e përbuzjes pa kërkuar as të drejtat më elementare njerëzore, sepse ndëshkohej egërsisht nga shoqëria komuniste. Vajza e tij u privua nga e drejta për të bashkëjetuar me burrin e saj, durim i pafund që mund të të çojë dhe në çmenduri … Ai mbetet i varrosur në një vend të panjohur për të vetmin faj se dinte gjermanisht.
[Judge Nevzat Haznejdari, without so much as a quiver in his voice, condemned Niko Çeno to death for collaboration with the Germans … The only misfortune of this intellectual was that he knew German and was known as the only person in Korçë at that time … For almost fifty years, his family lived under the drama of scorn without seeking even the most elementary human rights, because they were cruelly punished by the Communist society. His daughter was deprived of the right to live with her husband, an endless suffering which can drive you to insanity… He himself remains buried in an unknown location, for the only fault that he knew German.]
Enver Hoxha was partially correct, however, concerning foreign missionaries who joined the church founded and led in the late nineteenth century by Gjerasim Qiriazi (and which continued under the leadership of Grigor Tsilka). Hoxha wrote that the foreign missionaries prepared their people to work in the future (“kishin përgatitur njerëzit të tyre që të punonin në të ardhmen”). When World War II reached Albania it was believed that there were about one hundred Albanian Evangelical believers. Only about thirty-five—the most committed—continued to attend services; others feared that attendance might bring the disfavour of the Italian authorities. Nonetheless, during the Italian occupation, which began on Good Friday, 1939, the Evangelical mission in Korcha held a leadership training group on Sunday evenings. Edwin Jacques, the last missionary to leave (in 1940), was also involved in training a small group of men and women to continue the meetings. These were not spies, and Çeno was not the only Evangelical believer to work against the occupying forces. Edwin Jacques reported that a number of Evangelical young men died in the mountains with the partisans.
The photograph below shows the believers who were being trained to lead the continuation of the church’s meetings on Sunday evenings in an improvised meeting place, after the Italian occupiers requisitioned the mission building. Their names are listed below, as identified from memory by the late Edwin Jacques.
From left to right they are:
- Back Row: Nasi Lubonja, Kristaq Treska, [?]
- Middle Row: Marika Çina (Ligor’s sister), Ligor Çina, Pandi Sovjani (also known as “Pandi Liosi”), Koci Lubonja, [?], Keli Mitro Prifti
- Front Row: Olga Frashëri, Stojna Çeno, Bajram Bektashi (in military clothing and who died at the Battle of Crete attempting to reach the British).
Christians are not perfect and the church will always have those of whom it must confess its shame. When Communism came, a number turned away from the faith. One deserted the church, became a Communist, and spied upon those who had been his fellow believers, and perhaps on other Korçars as well. He became despised by the citizenry and after he died 1968, local people defiled his grave.
David M. Young