The Dallas Express had the privilege of interviewing Dallas area resident and Albanian immigrant Elida Dakoli. What follows is her story.
Dr. Elida Dakoli is an accomplished pianist who has played on some of the world’s grandest stages. She holds a prestigious degree and teaches at a respected college in Texas. She is also a founder and the first chairperson of a victims’ rights advocacy group.
For all her success, it nearly never happened. Dr. Dakoli grew up in Albania during that country’s dangerous 40-year experiment with Communism.
Dr. Dakoli grew up knowing very little about her family history. It wasn’t until years later that she learned her great-grandfather, Hysen Myshketa, was a founding member of the National Council and was killed by Communist assassins.
He was shot in the streets, then poisoned to death while in the hospital. His involvement with pro-Democratic sympathizers led him to be named an “enemy of the people,” and the family became designated as having a “bad biography.”
“I didn’t know,” Dr. Dakoli said. “I thought people were putting me on the side or being rejected from things other kids were doing, and my parents couldn’t tell me because we had that bad biography.”
That “bad biography” caused her family to live in near-constant fear of persecution and led to countless instances of discrimination and subjugation at the hands of the Communist regime.
Under Communist rule, fundamental freedoms were stripped from families deemed tainted, and the opportunities to be successful were heavily restricted.
Her family believed that the Communist regime would not last in Albania and declined to flee when the party took control. It was a fateful decision.
“What the Communists did is what the Communists are good at -they eliminated the elite of the country, and this included my paternal grandfather as well,” Dr. Dakoli said. “They took him out of his house, imprisoned him. He was basically a slave building roads in the mountains and so on until they didn’t need him anymore, so they killed him.”
Her grandmother found out about her husband’s death only when guards at the prison turned her away when bringing him food. Dr. Dakoli said that her family’s suffering began there. The Communists confiscated the family’s property, even taking jewelry before putting them out in the streets.
At a young age, Dr. Dakoli found a love for music, but under the rule of Communism, the chance she would become a professional musician was slim. Private property, things like a piano, were not available to anyone but the ruling elite.
To get admission to school in Albania, Dr. Dakoli had to undergo a series of tests.
“First, you had to recite a poem, usually they wanted one for the party, and then you had to sing a song, also one for the party, dedicated to our leader, the man who actually killed my family members,” Dr. Dakoli said.
She was also required to pass other tests, including having a pitch-perfect ear for music before being accepted.
She was assigned to study violin, an instrument Dr. Dakoli recalls disliking. A near-family relation was arranged so that Dr. Dakoli could learn piano.
Since pianos were not permitted to the public, she made a piano out of paper, using it regularly for two years before she began getting time on a real piano to perfect her growing skills.
Dr. Dakoli encountered many struggles in her early education. Her father did not have a car, and Dr. Dakoli can remember riding on his bicycle early in the morning down dark, dirt roads to get to school.
“I would get to school at six a.m. and start practicing until school started at eight,” Dr. Dakoli said. She was seven years old at the time. By the time she was eight, she had practiced until after 8 p.m. during the week and walked home alone.
Regularly, she would find her practice area sabotaged –lightbulbs removed from the sockets or windows broken– other times, she was refused time to practice.
“Every day there was some issue, the piano is being tuned, or there’s no electricity or anything. It was a challenge every single day,” Dr. Dakoli said. “I felt that perhaps this is my luck, maybe they think that I am not that good, that’s how I always felt. I guess I’m not worth it, not worth the attention.”
Later, she found out that the acts of sabotage were not because she wasn’t good. They were because of her family history and their “bad biography.”
By 1991, Communism in Albania was faltering. The conservative Democratic Party defeated the Socialist party resoundingly in the nation’s first free elections, but better times were still far off.
The government struggled to finance the country and turned to a series of pyramid schemes that began to collapse in 1996. The Albanian Civil War erupted in 1997.
After Communism collapsed, Dr. Dakoli got an opportunity to apply to the only music college in Albania. Her parents did not want her to apply, as only four players were chosen from the entire country each year.
“I got in, and it was a wonderful experience for me,” Dr. Dakoli said.
Upon graduation, the music department head offered her a job teaching and connected her with a series of classes in Austria. She studied in Vienna.
In 2003, Dr. Dakoli entered Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to pursue a Master’s Degree in Piano Performance. She graduated from the program in 2005. She received her Doctor of Music in 2017 from Louisiana State University.
Her skills with the piano have taken her to Carnegie Hall and on international tours. She even became the face of PianoDisk, a self-playing interactive piano program from Mason-Hamlin.
Dr. Dakoli has made the Dallas region her home and is raising her three children in Texas. She is a music teacher at Dallas Baptist University.
She credits her family and their ability to shield her from the worst of life under a brutal communist regime. One of her goals in life is to do all she can to ensure that no child has to be raised under Communism again.
She is the first chairperson of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Dallas Commission, an advocacy group that seeks to help families.
The Foundation notes that even though the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Communism remains today in China, Laos, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam, with millions of citizens suffering under the yoke of authoritarian socialist and communist governments. Even in the U.S., Socialism has gained popularity among college students and liberal political thinkers.
Dr. Dakoli warns that the promises of socialism are nothing more than an attempt to gloss over the system’s inherent problems. It is one of the reasons she has decided to dedicate herself to human rights causes.
“The number one priority of the foundation is to educate the younger generation about the atrocities and the dangers that socialism and communism brings,” Dr. Dakoli said. “It’s become the new thing, a new fashion, the new style, that socialism is this new great addition to society or the best new thing. It’s not true, it’s just a cover-up.”
She said that many people today don’t understand the reality of socialism and Communism.
“People cannot be equal, you cannot think equally, you cannot act equally (under Communism), it’s a perfectionism that does not exist. Trying to achieve that perfection, people end up doing things that are beyond believable, particularly to people here in America.”
Dr. Dakoli thinks a step Americans should take is to teach the true history of socialism and Communism –and the effects these systems have on the lives of the ordinary people who suffer under them.
“Right now, that is non-existent,” Dr. Dakoli said.
Albania may forever wear the scars of its Communist past and the blemish of the civil war that followed. Still, for Albanians like Elida Dakoli, the lessons will never be lost. She thinks it is up to everyone to ensure that people know the truth of what happens to humankind under a Communist regime.