Published in 2016
Enver Hoxha was the Albanian communist dictator who ruled the country from 1944 until his death in 1985. During the 41 years, most of his opponents would lose their lives and countless more would spend their lives in the country’s 39 prisons and 70 labor camps. In the wake of of the dissolution of the Iron Curtain, the Albanian Communist government fell in 1992. Hoxha was one of the European leaders who has been in power the longest. He was also one of the few dictators who has not been deposed and severely punished for the suffering he inflicted on his people. Hoxha’s wife, Nexhmije, died in Albania in the spring of 2020, at the age of 99.
HOXHA’S WAY TO POWER. Hoxha was born into a Muslim family in Albania in 1908. At that time, the country was an obscure province of the Ottoman Empire. Hoxha attended a French school in Albania and later studied in France. In 1936 he moved home to Albania to work as a teacher for a few years before joining the Albanian Communist Party, CPA, in 1941. In 1944, at the end of World War II, Hoxha and the CPA took control of Albania and two years later the country was proclaimed the People’s Republic of Albania. Immediately afterwards, Hoxha killed 400 of his strongest opponents.
COLLECTIVIZATION & PROHIBITION OF RELIGION. Once the power was secured, the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Defense Minister and Commander-in-Chief Enver Hoxha introduced a collectivization of cars, real estate, land and other assets. Those who opposed were arrested and many later died in prison. Hoxha banned religion and Albania’s state religion became atheism. After the collectivization, poverty was severe. The population lived in constant terror and the country was totally isolated. Exile was punishable by death and thousands were put in labor camps.
A PROUD STALINIST. In 1947, Hoxha meets his role model Stalin and concludes an alliance with the Soviet Union. An alliance that means massive financial support for poor Albania. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Stalinism ceased to exist in most of Eastern Europe, and after the Khrushchev reforms of 1956, only Albania remained. There Stalinism was stronger than ever and Stalin’s death was honored with 13 days of national mourning – longer than in the Soviet Union. During Khrushchev’s visit to Albania in 1959, relations between him and Hoxha were very tense. The following year, 81 of the world’s communist parties met in Moscow, and in the event of a dispute between China and the Soviet Union, Hoxha sided with Mao. In 1961, Albania broke with the Soviet Union and Hoxha instead looked to China for new collaborations.
A CULTURE REVOLUTION IN ALBANIA. The new cooperation provided Albania with much-needed financial support. But the collaboration also introduced the infamous Cultural Revolution that wiped out the Albanian middle class, deepened the country’s isolation and intensified Hoxha’s xenophobic paranoia. In connection with this, Hoxha had 750,000 bunkers built around the country to defend himself from a foreign invasion (he was worried that the Warsaw Pact together with NATO would invade Albania). The country’s borders had long been closed with barbed wire and electric fences and 64% of the coast was declared a “military zone”. Powerful interference devices were installed around the country to prevent Italian and Yugoslav radio or television from entering the country.
SAFE IN BLLOK – THE KREML OF TIRANA. Not only did Hoxha never leave Albania after 1960, he almost never left the safety of his “Bllok” headquarters. Centrally located in Tirana, Bllok was home to the country’s leaders and families. The neighborhood was heavily guarded and contained enough amenities so that the elite would theoretically never have to leave the area. The inhabitants of the area seldom married anyone from outside but strengthened their political alliances through marriage within Bllok. Almost no one in the Politburo had ever had a higher education. Politicians and soldiers with strong influence were executed or put in labor camps. Hoxha allowed only weak yes-sayers to hold high positions.
BREAKS WITH CHINA. In 1976, Mao died and with Deng’s accession in 1978, ties between China and the United States were strengthened. This was too much for the Western-hating Hoxha who completely broke with China. The next 12 years were to be Albania’s most isolated – and poorest – period of time, with almost no contact with the outside world.
WROTE HIS OWN HISTORY. Hoxha wrote a total of 71 memoirs about himself and the party. The total number of pages exceeded 7,000. He also started a media institute whose task was to maintain his personality cult and build an image of him as an infallible and good-natured leader. All photos of him would be reviewed and modified until they created a perfect image. His pictures always radiated euphoria and enthusiasm. If a former party colleague was executed, he immediately had the person manipulated away from any photos or documents in which he was present.
THE THIRD POOREST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. At Hoxha’s death in 1985, Albania’s GDP per capita was $180 and the population was kept alive through food rationing. In some places, a family could share one kilogram of meat per month. Private property was illegal and farmers were not allowed to have their own chickens, sheep or cattle. In the poorest villages, people lived on a diet of cornbread with a few drops of olive oil and a pinch of salt. There were only a thousand cars in the country and the agricultural machinery was from the 1920s.