Presenting Pogradec: The Doctor with the Golden Hands
Presenting Pogradec: The Doctor with the Golden Hands
Feb 17, 2023
If you have visited Pogradec, you have not missed walking through the pedestrian zone in the Old Town. Both sides of this traditional street paved with cobblestones, where the renovated facades try to resemble the original ones built after the 1911 earthquake, guide the visitors to another age. On both sides of the street, you can find houses of the Shkurti family. And located right here is house and the dental clinics of Doctor Tasi Shkurti - known as “the doctor with the golden hands.”
Born in the city of Pogradec, Albania, on February 15, 1911, in turbulent times when Ottoman invasion suffocated the life of people. Son of one of the most distinguished patriots of the city, who was the leader of the local revolutionaries. One of the men who raised national Albanian flag of independence along with Ismail Qemali. It was in this patriotic and education loving family that Tasi Shkurti was raised.
After elementary school in his hometown, Tasi studied at the French Lycee in Korce, at the same time as the future leader and one of the most famous dictators of communist regimes, Enver Hoxha. Tasi graduated from the Lycee in 1932 .
The graduating class at the French Lycee, in Korce in 1932.
Almost all the students in this photo would later be convicted by Enver Hoxha’s communist regime.
Below are the graduated students who later became well-known personalities persecuted by the communist regime:
1. Tasi Shkurti - convicted for being a reactionary and saboteur of the regime.
2. Sedat Asllani (the cousin of Enver Hoxha) – convicted by the regime.
3. Zaudin Kodra from Dibra – the only person in this photo who was not convicted by the regime.
4. Son of a rich merchant – capital punishment (execution by firing squad)
5. Enver Hoxha, the Albanian Leader during the communist regime (1944-1985)
- (The descendants of other students can contribute with their stories.)
Prior to the dissolution of the monarchy under the leadership of King Zog 1st, there was a drive to better educate the population and graduates like Tasi were encouraged to become teachers. Initially he went to teach in villages of the Mokër and Gjirokastër region. Thereafter, Tasi was awarded a scholarship by the Albanian government to study dentistry at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece for four years.
Tasi Shkurti was linguistically proficient, not only his mother language, but also French, Italian, Latin and Greek. During his studies in Greece he developed several ideas he wanted to implement when he returned to Albania when his studies finished in 1942 to improve the health care situation in the very poor Albania.
When he returned as a graduated dentist Albania had very few intellectuals. The political situation was much different to the country he left in 1938. By 1942 the monarchy had come to an end and the country was governed by the Communist Party Albania, whose First Minister was Tasi’s former classmate at French Lycee, Enver Hoxha. Till his death Hoxha created one of the most rigid dictatorships of the Eastern Europe, and maintained with an iron hand. The means to achieve the predominance included the elimination of all educated intellectuals of those times as being considered as a threat for the supremacy. The dictatorial regime did all it could to stamp out everything that Tasi and his contemporaries stood for – individual freedom and anti-conformist ideas.
On his return from Greece, Tasi set up a dentistry in his parents’ home in an effort to help the National Liberation War that would see Albania regain its freedom from Nazi-fascist occupation.
After he come back in Albania, Tasi performed ambulatory service in various villages around the city.
Doctor Tasi was constructing the new dentistry clinics when the unmerciful hand of the communist regime sentenced him to two years of imprisonment at the notorious Vloçisht prison camp for being a reactionary and saboteur. The accusations were all fake, the same as for all other intellectuals who were seen as a threat for the dictatorship. The main reason was to eliminate the people who could oppose the dictatorship.
Upon his release from prison, Dr. Tasi’s problems did not stop and instead of being allowed to open his own dental clinic, he was made to work as a dentist in a state-owned clinic where he was also forced to share his home with tenants. The authoritarian regime was such that people were no longer allowed to live the way they wanted, they had to live the way the government wanted, and it would be like that until the day Tasi died.
Later he was transferred to the City of Gjirokastra where he worked as a dentist under the surveillance of state police.
Photo taken at the clinic in the city of Gjirokastra.
He returned to Pogradec in 1951, where he worked as a dentist until he retired in 1971.
Fortunately, despite the fact that Tasi was under surveillance virtually day and night, he was able to establish a wonderful network of prominent personalities from the fields of science, literature, the arts and politics. He managed to compile a magnificent library of publications mailed to him from all four corners of the globe, and especially publications from fellow dentists. Beyond that Tasi also became closely connected to several prominent Albanians, fellow doctors and intellectuals like Dr. Jovan Basho, Dr. Lito, Dr. Polena and Dr. Zhustin, Prof. Ziaudin Kodra and Manol Konomi (Minister of Justice 1944-1951) etc.
What made Dr. Tasi so special, was that he was the only dentist in the Pogradec region for many decades and the only one who had graduated abroad, and persecuted from the communist regime. He never neglected any patient day or night, his golden hands and professionalism, his character and general knowledge had left a mark in the memory of his patients. Being the brother of my grandmother, I feel as if I have lived those times, although Dr. Tasi died far before I was born.
One of the stories that made the biggest impression on me was from one of the former patients of the doctor. It recalls a time when a patient of Dr. Tasi from Pogradec, Mr. Gjorgji Ziko was a student in the former Soviet Union. He had to visit a dental clinic for an emergency treatment during his studies in Moscow. The doctor inquired as to who had been treated and filled his teeth. Gjorgji replied that it was at Dr. Shkurti’s clinic in Pogradec, in Albania. The doctor then summoned all of his students to inspect the fillings in Gjorgji’s teeth, declaring that they were truly beautiful fillings. Gjorgji confessed to brimming with pride at the praise given to Dr. Tasi Shkurti.
While this poem comes from a special moment of inspiration of the poet Lasgush Pogradeci, this is how he writes for his fellow and doctor. As I would not dare to translate the Lasgush poetry, more or less the great poet expressed his respect and gratitude to doctor Tasi Shkurti this way:
The acknowledgement of the poet!
Who thought of it first?
to set the human's teeth?
Here they were bathed in gold
not only the hands but also the feet!
Tasi Shkurti you`re the best
among Albanians you`re the prime!
With gold and jewels indeed,
I have to wash out your feet.
Original handwriting of Lasgush Poradeci, year 1963!
Doctor Tasi Shkurti passed away on April 1, 1974 and his memory is still vivid among his former patients and generations as an example of generosity, kindness, intellect. Today, he is remembered with love by his two sons Pirro and Bardhi and their families who live in the United States.
Dr. Tasi’s family, Photo taken before he died on April 1, 1974.
Written by Engjellushe Icka