The other side of Mitrush Kuteli

The other side of Mitrush Kuteli

Sep 26, 2022

Who was Mitrush Kuteli, and what did he do for Albania? The Pogradec-born polymath is best known today for his contributions to Albanian literature as a writer and folklorist. By profession and training, he was a banker. Like many talented young Albanians today, he lived abroad for a while, and came home to help build a strong, economically independent Albania in alignment with Europe. During his years with the Albanian National Bank, he saved the last vestiges of Albania’s cash reserves from Nazi occupiers and fought to preserve Albania’s economic independence after the war.

Kuteli earned his PhD (Diplomam Magnam cum Laude) in banking at the Commercial Academy of Bucharest, Romania in 1934. With his knowledge of the different banking systems within Europe, he quickly rose to positions of leadership in Romanian banks in Cerneuc and Bucharest. When he returned to Albania in 1941, he became co-director of the Banka Kombëtare Shqiptare (National Albanian Bank.) He was eager to bring his knowledge of banking systems to the service of his homeland. Following the model of Czech bank governor Vilhelm Pospisil, he believed that “a strong national bank is the foundation of independence for any state.” The banking system he came to manage when he returned home in 1941 was plagued by an array of problems.

The Banka Kombëtare Shqiptare (National Albanian Bank) was established in 1925 by agreement between the Albanian government and an Italian financial group and owned in majority by non-Albanian shareholders. As Kuteli explained in an article he published while still in Romania, having majority non-Albanian shareholders enjoy the profits of the bank compromised Albania’s economic independence and reduced the availability of funds in Albania. He faulted the lack of small currency under this arrangement, as it made it harder for ordinary Albanians to access money at all. Further, the Ottoman legacy of corruption was at odds with European norms for sound financial management.

Working for the Banka Kombëtare Shqiptare during wartime, when Albania was occupied by the Italians and then the Germans, Kuteli witnessed with outrage how the Italians took the Albanian gold reserves held in Rome and sent them to Berlin when they invaded Albania. As Kuteli noted in his diary in November, 1943, “Bad news! Germans have taken from Rome the plates [for making money] of the National Bank and sent to Berlin. Have taken also our gold....A diplomatic note will be prepared!” Occupation forces also took everything they could find in the banks in Tirana and kept asking for more Albanian money to support the invasion of Albania. One day, the German representatives insisted upon seeing the banknote reserves—some of the last Albanian money that remained at this point.

Kuteli, who was the Albanian director of the bank, launched into a lengthy discussion to create a distraction while bank employees concealed packets of banknotes in hiding places in the corridor. By the time the Germans made it to the treasury, the room was empty. When the Gestapo came to arrest Kuteli for this deception, he managed to escape by way of a side door. The money rescued that day seeded the new Banka e Shtetit Shqiptar (Bank of Albanian State) after liberation in 1944.

Kuteli became Chancellor of the new national bank after liberation. He and his team drafted laws restructuring the banking and fiscal systems, and for a time the Albanian Franc was the only money in the Balkans with a healthy monetary value, exchangeable into gold. Yugoslavia at that time wielded an outsized influence on the new Albanian government and issued a new currency for Albania with an artificially low value, to collect the francs of the Kosovar Albanians and to strip the Albanian state of its resources. Kuteli fought to maintain the exchange rate, and thus the financial independence of the Albanian people, but ultimately was forced to resign in 1946 and was sent to a hard labor camp near Korca from 1947-49.

That was the end of Kuteli’s career as a banker. He would spend his remaining years translating foreign literature, like his friend Lasgush Poradeci, and he died in poverty in 1967, the year Albania became an officially atheist state.

Nehemiah Gateway University is proud to honor the memory of Mitrush Kuteli, both artist and banker, through scholarships for Albanian students. We hope to inspire new generations to excel, especially in the fields of banking and economics.