Obituary: Dervish Duma

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The Independent Online
DERVISH DUMA was one of the last survivors from the world of pre-war diplomacy and for 60 years a pre-eminent servant of the Albanian people, as diplomatic representative, wartime broadcaster and unofficial leader of the expatriate Albanian community in Britain.

He was born into a land-owning family in the southern coastal village of Borsh in 1908. On 28 November 1912 Albania, the last remaining province of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, declared independence from Turkish rule. Her Balkan neighbours, however, had other plans for the territory and in 1913 Borsh was attacked and razed by Greek troops.

The family moved to the port of Vlore, where Dervish was enrolled in an Italian school. In 1920 he was transferred as one of the first year's intake to the new American Technical College in Tirana. English-speaking liberally educated Albanians were in short supply, and at the age of 20 he was appointed General Secretary of the Royal Albanian Gendarmerie, then under British command. The CO, Major-General Sir Jocelyn Percy, recognised Duma's potential and arranged for him to go to England to study public administration at the LSE from 1933 to 1935.

On his return to Albania, Duma entered the diplomatic service and was given the dual appointment of First Secretary to the Albanian Delegation to the League of Nations in Geneva and Second Secretary to the Albanian Legation in London.

Given that of his two colleagues in London the minister, Lee Kurti, was blind and did not speak English and the First Secretary was the notorious playboy Chatin Saraci, Duma's presence there was valued. Early in 1939 he was made charge d'affaires. However, on Good Friday of that year Mussolini invaded Albania, declaring it Italy's Second Overseas Province (the First being Ethiopia). The military logistics of this operation were considerably facilitated by the fact that the Albanian army was being run by Italian advisers.

Duma was recalled to Tirana but elected to stay in Britain, where Sir Eric Bowater offered him a job with the paper corporation. He had a long and successful career with Bowaters where his charm, diplomacy and affability were put to good use, particular in developing relationships with American publishers.

In 1940 he inaugurated the BBC's Albanian service. Through his nightly broadcasts he became the voice of hope and freedom for his oppressed countrymen. During the Second World War he also acted as minder to the deposed Albanian ruler, King Zog, who had arrived in London via Greece and Egypt in 1941 and taken up residence in the Ritz Hotel with his wife and entourage of five unmarried sisters. Zog spoke no English and was unaccustomed to Western ways. Duma once rescued him trying to buy a packet of cigarettes in Bond Street with a pounds 50 note - over pounds 1,000 in today's money.

After the war Duma became a leader of the Albanian community in Britain, and through annual visits maintained contact with the sizeable groups that had emigrated to America in the 1920s. At his death he was Chairman of the Anglo-Albanian Association; he had served on its committee for 62 years.

The misery wrought upon Albania under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha brought Duma much anguish, and he enjoyed a new lease of life after the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. He was visited in Surrey by Pjeter Arbnori, Speaker of the Albanian parliament, and the moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova; he saw his son, Alexander, installed as Honorary Consul in 1992, and was invited to reinaugurate the BBC's Albanian service - it had been closed down under Harold Wilson's government for a paltry yearly saving of pounds 12,000.

Urbane, dapper and immensely charming, Dervish Duma was a witty conversationalist and an accomplished raconteur. His Italian, though little used since 1920, remained perfectly pronounced though of limited vocabulary. He was flattered to be taken for a native speaker of the language on a recent visit to Rome. He was a stickler for correct usage in English and Albanian and leaves a body of poetry in both languages.

Dervish Duma, diplomatist, broadcaster, businessman and community leader: born Borsh, Albania 4 July 1908; married 1936 Naftali Andoni (died 1966; one son); died West Horsley, Surrey 6 May 1998.

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