Musine Kokalari: The Dissident Who Never Gave Up

The stories of brave women are abundant among us, and without a doubt, Musine Kokalari is one of them.

Musine Kokalari was the first Albanian woman writer, a feminist, a dissident of the communist regime, and a political activist during one of the most critical periods of political developments in Albania and the Western Balkans – before, during, and after the Second World War.

“Musine Kokalari was one of the most brilliant women that Albania had. In her young age, she was one of the most emancipated girls in Albania, a writer with immense charm. She was someone whom, when she emerged, was seen as the sun that would illuminate Albanian society. However, communism arrested her, and she was thrown into prison,” states publicist Blendi Fevziu. In his book about Enver Hoxha, he dedicates a significant portion to Musine Kokalari and her family.


She vehemently rejected and combated totalitarianism, boldly standing against the monopoly and hegemony of the one-party state. This party insisted on uniform thinking and a one-dimensional approach to political activism, all in line with the directives of the ruling party.

When she was arrested on January 23, 1946, by Enver Hoxha’s regime and subsequently convicted as a “saboteur and enemy of the people” by the Military Court of Tirana, with a 30-year prison sentence that was later reduced to 20, Musine Kokalari steadfastly maintained her position:

“I don’t need to be a communist to love my country! I love my country even though I am not a communist. I support its progress. Even though you won the war, even though you won the election, you cannot persecute those who hold different political opinions from yours. I think differently than you, but I love my country. You are condemning me for my ideas. I do not ask for forgiveness because I have not done anything wrong!”

With her unwavering self-defense and resolute stance, she staunchly opposed communism, standing up against violence, the absence of freedom, and injustice, steadfastly saying no throughout her life.

Born on February 10, 1917, in Adana, Turkey, Musine Kokalari and her family returned to Gjirokastër, their ancestral city, in 1921. From a young age, Musine displayed a profound passion for literature and folklore.

Initially educated in Tirana, she later pursued her studies at the Faculty of Modern Literature at “La Sapienza” University in Rome, Italy. In 1941, Musine Kokalari published her literary work titled “As the Old Woman Tells Me,” addressing issues related to women and patriarchal society.

In addition to her own literary endeavors, Musine Kokalari undertook significant initiatives in the field of publishing. By 1942, her name had earned recognition in the Italian Encyclopedia as a talented writer with immense literary potential. As part of the anti-fascist movement in Albania, she played a vital role in the publication of the magazine “Gruaja Shqiptare” in June 1943, using the pseudonym “Tacitta.”

In 1944, Musine published two works titled “Rreth Vatrës” and “Sa u tunt Jeta.”

Starting from early 1942, Musine Kokalari actively engaged in anti-fascist and anti-communist movements in Rome. In 1943, she emerged as one of the founders and main inspirers of the Social-Democratic Party. As part of this political initiative, on January 1, 1944, she launched the inaugural issue of the newspaper “Voice of Freedom,” serving as the official newspaper of the Social-Democratic Party.

In 1946, Musine Kokalari was arrested once again, this time subjected to brutal torture by the regime and detained for an extended period. In 1964, after enduring 16 years of imprisonment in the notorious Burrel prison, where she was isolated and closely monitored by security agents, Musine Kokalari spent the remaining 19 years of her life in exile in Rrëshen. During this time, she lived on a reduced pension, working as a sweeper for a period and later for 11 years in a construction company.

Despite enduring constant persecution and working under challenging conditions, Musine Kokalari managed to complete her book in secret, titled “How the Social-Democratic Party Was Born,” wherein she outlined her progressive and democratic vision as an alternative.

In recognition of her plight and literary contributions, Musine Kokalari was among the initial 30 imprisoned writers documented in 1960 by the Committee of Three, a precursor to the PEN Club.

In 1980, Musine Kokalari received a diagnosis of breast cancer. Tragically, she was denied treatment at the state oncology hospital. Her illness, coupled with the numerous pains and sufferings she endured throughout years of persecution, led to her passing in complete isolation in August 1983. She was later reburied in 1991 in Shish – Tufina.

In 1993, Musine Kokalari was posthumously proclaimed a “Martyr of Democracy” by the President of the Republic of Albania, a recognition of her unwavering dedication to democratic ideals and her sacrifices in the pursuit of freedom and justice.