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Film: Sytë e Shpirtit (Eyes of the Soul)

by Stuart Notholt



In 1991, Paul Luijf, a Dutch optician, was reading the newspaper at his home when he came across an article, "Forgotten prisoners", telling the story of an Albanian man he had never heard of, Osman Kazazi.

 

Already being compared to Nelson Mandela, his example was one of fortitude and compassion. As the chairman of the Association of the Politically Persecuted of Albania in the 1990s, he worked to build the fledging Albanian democracy as a system based on moral and civil values. During his years of imprisonment he had been a beacon of hope to fellow prisoners. He even managed to maintain a political network both within and between Albanian’s prisons during those long dark days. The camaraderie and sense of purpose this invoked undoubtedly rescued lives that would otherwise have been lost to despair and suicide.


This story touched Luijf so deeply that he immediately told his wife Eliane: “I want to go to Albania; I want to hear from this man who has suffered so much, what he has to say to the world”.

 

This was to be the start of a remarkable “father and son” relationship between two men from very different backgrounds and life experiences. The story is now told in a docudrama, Sytë e Shpirtit (Eyes of the Soul).


Sytë e Shpirtit tells how Kazazi’s example of self-sacrifice inspired Luijf to visit Albania regularly during the 1990s-2000s, helping as many people as he could. He started by visiting former political prisoners with sight problems (often through years of maltreatment in prison) and donating treatment and glasses to them. Kazazi’s house was turned into a clinic where he received his patients, and later he started traveling to villages, schools and orphanages all over the country.


Luijf also financed the installation of a bust (made by the artist Niko Thana) near the main square in Tirana, to honour the suffering and endurance of all those who, like Kazazi, dreamed of freedom and democracy.

 

Sytë e Shpirtit came about at the instigation of Janneke Geurts, a Dutch psychologist specializing in intergenerational trauma who has lived in Albania since 2020. The more she learned about the interwoven stories of Osman Kazazi and Paul Luijf, the more she saw it emerge as a film in front of her eyes.

 

The film was made with the assistance of www.kujto.al, an NGO consisting of journalists who are building an online archive with testimonials about the communist period. The script is by journalist Blerina Gjoka from the Kujto foundation. “Osman Kazazi is the hero I discovered today,” said Gjoka at the film’s launch in November 2023. “He was an intellectual, a freedom fighter, a humanist. He is one of the emblematic figures of the anti-Communist resistance.”

 

The film also includes the testimonies of the Dutch journalist Joop Holthausen, who has written extensively about Albania, and of the well-known Dutch singer Stef Bos, who, inspired by the story, comes to Tirana for the unveiling ceremony of the commemorative bust of Kazazi, and composes the song "Liberty", as a tribute to Kazazi’s life.

 

Osman Kazazi passed away exactly 25 years ago, in March 1999. Sytë e Shpirtit is a tribute to a remarkable man and to the people who, a quarter of a century later, he continues to inspire.


Paul Luijf and Osman Kazazi


You can watch Sytë e Shpirtit on YouTube at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gEVFZYSYaqY

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