Chapter One: Introduction
Somewhere on the outskirts, between Stalinville and Mao Valley, there is a special place in hell reserved for Enver Hoxha.
It’s not exactly prime real estate, to be sure. He has a modest house there, perhaps a duplex. Down the block lives Todor Zhivkov. Around the corner are Nick and Elena Ceausescu. Janos Kadar and Ho Chi Minh are frequent dinner guests; sometimes they get a little tipsy and swap wives. Together, they form a special club: inherently evil, they lacked the power, resources and sheer numbers of potential victims to commit murder on a truly genocidal scale. They are abandoned by scholars who flock to the statistical sexiness of Stalin and Mao.
Unable to top Auschwitz or the Gulag Archipelago, all that is left of them now is half-forgotten memories of the more bizarre aspects of their rule. Ceausescu forbade private ownership of typewriters, and held back colour television until the early 1980s for fear the little pictures would be too much distraction to the exhausted Romanian proles. Zhivkov is chiefly remembered for asking Leonid Brezhnev if Bulgaria could join the Soviet Union. Enver Hoxha banned bearded visitors, Americans and God.
This is the little hell made for little men, little dictators of tin-pot kingdoms. While Chairman Mao and Uncle Joe sip blood at the right hand of the beastmaster, Satan sees the residents of dreary Hoxhatown as boorish, uninvited houseguests. There’s little he can learn from them, unless he has a taste for really kick-ass goulash.
Such is the fate of mass murderers with few morals but even fewer bodies. These dictators are like British cops: they snarl and sneer but everyone knows they don’t carry guns. All they can do is go home at the end of the day and take out their frustrations on the wife, kids, and any small animals that get in their way.
Chapter Two: The Geek
The reign of Enver Hoxha over Albania is distinguished by only two things: its length and its oddities. He was, any way you cut it, a very strange man even by Communist standards, obsessed with invisible enemies, poison germs and the facial hair of mysterious visitors. He never had any impact outside of the Balkans, and even there it’d be stretching it to call him influential. Surrounded by larger powers, he could only turn inward, and take out his frustrations on his own people.
Enver’s reign of weirdness lasted forty years – longer than any other comrade in Europe, and behind only Kim Il-Sung of North Korea and Fidel Castro in the world. The next closest is Hoxha’s next-door neighbour and former mentor, Tito of Yugoslavia, who held his title as the South Slavic Dapper Don for thirty-five years.
Albania under Enver Hoxha was a state based upon a rigorously-enforced ideology with brutal consequences for subversion. However, it doesn’t pay to look at him as a Marxist ideologue, or even a dictator at all. If one pulls away the shielding cobwebs of his hardcore isolationism, his manner of statecraft seems closer to a game of treehouse. It’s almost as if a simpering, lonely child were given a chance to make a reality out of his delusions of grandeur, take vengeance on his tormentors and put into place a schizophrenic plan to remake an entire nation in his own, pathetic image. His accomplishments – once given grudging respect by even Western commentators, and which have taken on a nearly mythic, though completely untrue, stature – are roughly that which one can expect from a five-year old sissyboy placed in charge of the Gestapo. Not one part of Albania escaped from this deranged “renewal” project – the people, the cities, even the physical shape of the land bore the paranoid and sterile stamp of Enver Hoxha. He made himself God in a godless land, demanding human sacrifice and taking away what would not be voluntarily surrendered.
Somehow, despite his brazen brutality and avarice, the destruction he wrought on his beloved subjects was either downplayed or buried beneath trivia about improved literacy rates and net electricity supplies by historians who really should know better. At least today they can see for themselves the true legacy of Enver Hoxha. After ninety days and ten thousand sorties flown by NATO jets, the average yearly wage of a Serbian worker in Belgrade is still twice that of his Albanian counterpart in Tirane.
* * *
Enver Hoxha was born on October 16, 1908 in Gjirokaster, the pre-eminent city of the Albanian interior. His father was a cloth merchant and landowner, though it would later be a treasonable offense to insinuate that he was anything but a tough-as-nails working-class Hercules. The Gjirokaster Hoxhas already had a formidable reputation: Enver’s uncle Hyen was a prominent politician, landowner and Gjirokaster’s representative at the 1912 assembly that proclaimed Albania’s independence from the Ottoman Turks.
Despite being such a righteously impoverished proletarian scrub, the elder Hoxha had the means to send his son to the French School in Korce. Albania at the time had no national educational system and zero universities. A few years later, his father sent him – and his doctrinaire biographers had a really hard time explaining this one – to the American School in the Albanian capital, Tirane. It would appear that his father was preparing him for service in the class-enemy royal government of the almost-as-strange-as-Enver monarch of Albania and namesake of that extraterrestrial supervillian from Krypton, King Zog.
For his post-secondary education, Hoxha took a national scholarship in Natural Sciences to continue his studies in France. At Montpellier, he was an uninspiring student and boring to the point of invisibility. Years later, when following some leads for a newspaper article on the New Stalinist on the Bloc, a French journalist named Jean-Louis Franchot was faced with a biographer’s nightmare: none of Enver Hoxha’s classmates could remember him. When pressed, they invoked a student who sat quietly, never spoke (possibly for fear of mockery of his rustic accent) and kept his nose buried in his books. We can be certain that, like the Unabomber, he remembered each and every one of his classmates. His student days, so filled with alienation and other attributes of a 1930s science geek, had no shortage of hatred either. It began to incubate in the black earth of his being, fertilized a few years later by a political philosophy that has so often become the very incarnation of hate.
After his year-long scholarship to Montpellier expired, Enver moved to Paris. Having discovered the universal truth that science nerds don’t get chicks, he moved on to the Sorbonne where he studied philosophy. We can assume that this is the period in which he developed a fondness for a fashion sense later forced upon millions of Albanians called “Beatnik chic”.
It was in Paris, though, that Hoxha met an otherwise useless rake named Valliant Couturier. The Frenchman was editor for a Communist journal with the ironic title of l’Humanité. He took young Enver under his wing. Never before and not again until Pol Pot bit into his first croissant would Western assistance be so malevolent. Couturier thoroughly indoctrinated Enver in the 69th variety of Marx’s ideas, called Stalinism. The ideas of sweeping terror and the cult of the leader meshed well with Enver’s personality. He soon began writing in the name of Stalinist Humanity under the unlikely pseudonym of “Loulou”.
Like most children of the bourgeoisie who discover radical thinking, Loulou retained a certain ambition which caused him to keep to the old class habit of social climbing. After wasting a year reading Marx, Lenin and Stalin and smoking clove cigarettes, he boarded a train for Brussels, where he took a job as secretary to King Zog’s ambassador to Belgium. One can imagine the sluggard of the Parisian brothels in that environment of discipline and protocol, making desultory comments about the Philistines around him and their bourgeois obsession with concepts like work and time. One day the Philistine in Chief found Enver’s stack of forbidden Communist literature. Like a father who’s happened across his son’s stash of nudie pictures, the Consul General gave Enver a severe lecture on the dangers of proletarian revolution (especially for a country like Albania, which had no proletariat) and fired him.
For the first time in his life, Enver’s wish of being a persecuted minority (geeks and bohemians don’t count) had finally come true. Fortunately for the Consul General, Hoxha didn’t yet command a clique of thugs in a Red Star ensemble behind him to act out his fantasies of revenge. Instead he sulked home, returning to Albania for the first time in six years. There he took a job as a teacher at his old school in Korce.
Chapter Three: King of the Stone Eaters
The Albania that Hoxha returned to had been occupied by Fascist Italy. Though the Hoxhaists would later claim that their master had returned from Belgium to lead the political struggle against Italian rule, he did nothing of the sort. He lived a lackluster life in the provincial city (by scale and size, Korce was little more than a village), regaling bored youths with his tales of bohemian adventures. It was only when the newly formed Albanian Fascist Party demanded that teachers swear an oath of loyalty to Italian duce Benito Mussolini that Hoxha showed the first signs of developing a backbone. Enver refused and, again, was fired on the spot.
At the end of his second broken career, Enver moved to the capital of Tirane. Almost immediately after arriving, he opened “Flora”, a retail tobacco shop. It is uncertain if he financed the store with his father’s money or with funds from the Communist International. The former is more likely, as the Albanian Communist Party was then considered a lost cause by the internationalists of the Comintern. It was fractured into a dozen factions, none of them very large and most were more hostile to each other than to the Italians. It was not until 1941 that a genuine Albanian Communist Party came into being. Tito of Yugoslavia sent emissaries to Albania in order to coordinate the reorganization and consolidation of the party. He did so both for long term reasons (the eventual incorporation of Albania into either post-war Yugoslavia or an ambiguously defined Balkan Confederation), and to open another front in the guerrilla war against the Germans.
Albanians were ornery subjects to the Italians. The first uprising against Fascist rule in Europe took place in Albania on November 28, 1939, supported by a desperate strike of factory and transport workers in Tirane. They demanded the Italians leave the country and take Sefqet bej Verlaci, the Italians’ puppet in Albania and the country’s largest slumlord, with them. A year later, the southern and eastern countryside were in full revolt against extraordinary Italian requisitions of grain – food being the most precious resource in the mountainous Balkan state. The rebels were joined by cast-offs and deserters who had fought with the Italians in Greece and Yugoslavia.
Hoxha in his tobacco shop had little connection with these developments. Instead, he held secret Communist Party cell meetings behind the shuttered windows. Verlaci’s bloodhounds sniffed out the secret behind the mild-mannered tobacconist and his shop. It was shut down in mid-1941. Hoxha’s adventures through the bordellos and union halls of Paris enhanced his reputation as a revolutionary, and he soon become locked in a dispute for party leadership with Mehmet Shehu, a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War who returned to Albania at about the same time Hoxha was fired in Brussels. They formed an alliance, tenuous until after the war was over and the irrepressible Loulou showed him who was boss. For the time being, the Albanian Communist Party followed the ostentatious Yugoslav “advice” and put Enver Hoxha in charge in spite of his total lack of organizational experience. Shortly after his discovery by the police, Hoxha set out for the Albanian highlands to make a revolution.
The rank-and-file of the Albanian Communist Party was made up largely of students and other city-dwellers, so the image of Hoxha roughing it with other Albanian partisans wasn’t too incongruous. However, his transformation from biology nerd to simpering bohemian to Stalinist welterweight contender wasn’t yet complete. Nako Spiru, a prominent Albanian Communist versed in, of all things, economics, painted this picture of the new party leader:
Enver Hoxha. Average intelligence. Average attainment both as a student abroad, and later as a teacher. In the period before the formation of the CPA [the Albanian Communist Party] he led a desultory life. He is sectarian within the party. He fancies himself. He has an inferiority complex. The people have no idea who he is, and those who know him do not think highly of him. The party has tried everything to make him popular. But the people are not convinced of his qualities.
This brief note, which Spiru sent to the Yugoslav Party’s central committee, is as penetrating as the famed and much more voluminous “Mussolini Dossier” compiled by the Italian secret police before the duce seized power. Here, before any of his outward manifestations of paranoia, persecution, and alienation made themselves known, Spiru shapes a portrait of the future Supreme Comrade in few words but full colour. It shows that the bizarre personality and intense, almost hallucinatory paranoia which characterized Enver Hoxha’s forty years of terror were already quite apparent to those around him. It is quite safe to assume that Nako Spiru was not exaggerating Hoxha’s faults and judge his motivations above reproach. An ardent nationalist as well as a Communist, he frequently clashed with the fraternal Yugoslav “advisors” Hoxha welcomed, and committed suicide in 1947 when as minister in charge of Albania’s economy, he found himself powerless to resist Yugoslav domination of his country.
Hoxha’s flight to the highlands was probably the best thing that ever happened to him, which is the worst thing that ever happened to his country. That’s even taking into account Albania’s enormously sad history, in addition to recent events. Up in the mountains, he found a few hundred ardent Communists already encamped. Their ranks swelled following the entreaties of Dusan Mugosa, Tito’s envoy, to unite all factions of the party against the Fascists. By the end of 1941, the Italian high command estimated that Hoxha had 3,000 troops behind him.
But factionalism dies hard in the Balkans, and in Albania in particular. Following Stalin’s orders and Tito’s example, the Albanian Communists formed a coalition with other groups fighting the Italians, gathered together under the banner of the LNC, or National Liberation Movement. The LNC was under Communist control but had a few non-Marxists placed in prominent positions as window dressing. Although officially a part of the LNC, groups such as the republican and anti-Communist force called Balli Kombetar continued to fight against their Leninist “allies”. As in Yugoslavia, within days of agreeing to fight together, the two factions were at each other’s throats. Balli Kombetar fought sometimes with the Communists against the foreigners, sometimes with the foreigners against the Communists. Their leader, Mithat Frasheri, even signed an agreement with the commander of Italian forces in Albania to coordinate their activities against Hoxha’s LNC forces.
All of it, we can say today, had little effect. For all his conspiring, Frasheri only proved the obvious: that proletarians kick white bread ass. His troops fought disastrously, pining in vain for an American or British invasion to save them from their unenviable fate.
* * *
Like Pol Pot, whose sinful thoughts took on the concentrated power of Clorox Bleach when forced to subsist on lizards in the jungles of Cambodia – crawling around on his belly and eating boiled gravel for three years did horrible things to Enver Hoxha’s already warped personality. The Germans replaced the Italians in Albania after Mussolini was deposed in 1943, but the gravel-eaters were becoming terrific guerrilla fighters. In fact, the Germans had to delay their deployment in Albania because Hoxha’s troops had seized Tirane’s main airfield, preventing their landing. An entire division of Italian troops defected to the Albanian side, forming the Antonio Gramsci Battalion, named after the imprisoned chief of the Italian Communist Party.
By 1944, after a failed attempt by the Nazis to crush the LNC in a vicious campaign through the countryside, the partisans expanded the territory under their control to almost 75% of the country. They worked closely with both Tito’s Yugoslav partisans as well as the Greek Popular Liberation Army (ELAS), coordinating their activities to smash the Aryan balls on the Balkan anvil. On November 29, 1944, the last Fascist soldier had withdrawn. The LNC marched into Tirane with Hoxha at their head.
Enver followed Stalin’s advice and Tito’s lead again when he legitimized his power with horrible farcical elections in December 1945. Former leaders from the Italian occupation, followers of King Zog — even those who were believed to be potential rivals — were arrested and given a predictably fatal sentence in Stalinist show trials. In a personal touch to rub elbows with the People, the show trials were presided over not by a pedantic prosecutor but by the Interior Minister himself, the gleeful hangman Koci Xoxe. All parties outside of the Democratic Front (the successor to the LNC) were outlawed. In this environment, it’s almost incredible that 7% of the population didn’t vote for the Communists. Loulou was congratulated by his inner-circle, and Albania was declared a People’s Republic the very next day.
It was a glorious moment in the history of nerds, and a touchstone for every embittered beatnik languishing away in the obscurity of flophouses and getting roughed up in alleys behind working class taverns. With no training, little experience and a bourgeois past, Enver Hoxha had created a whole new identity for himself as Albania’s very own Supreme Comrade.
Chapter Four: Soul Force
Never the trusting sort, Enver took so many positions in the government for himself that the introductions at a state dinner – if he had any – would have required a naptime. His official name and title was now “Comrade-Chairman-Prime Minister-Foreign-Minister-Minister of War-Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Army Enver Hoxha”. Later he would add the word “Supreme” in front of “Comrade” and adopt atrocious epithets such as “Great Teacher” and the more mysterious handle of “Sole Force”.
In those years after the war, almost forgotten today by new, more pressing tragedies (and never learned in America to begin with – World War II was about fighting Nazis, right?), East and West were balancing on a precipice above a landscape devastated by war. In Italy and Austria, Yugoslav Communists were fighting the kind of battle that men with brass on their chests define as a “low-level insurgency”, taking on Allied troops and Italian partisans. The battle for the Italian city of Trieste, which Tito stubbornly refused to let go of, was especially ominous for a continent still smothered in ashes, though it was to be the amateur architecture in Berlin that got all the attention.
Sole Force wasted no time in making new enemies. The only “imperialists” in the Balkans at the time were the British who had been refused access to Albania. They settled instead on the Greek island of Corfu which lies just a few kilometers off Albania’s southern coastline. Hoxha repeatedly warned against Allied incursions into Albanian territorial waters. He then mined the waters off the coast of Corfu and a British vessel was sunk.
After this international incident, the Brits and the Americans finally paid attention. Albania had scant importance to anyone during the war; about the only people who paid her any mind had been Tito and Mussolini, two leaders obsessed with prestige more than strategy, and both of these jackals merely wanted to annex it. At the Allied conferences in Tehran and Yalta, Albania was not even mentioned. Stalin himself – later to become Hoxha’s greatest role model – advocated the country’s outright disappearance by absorption into Yugoslavia. In 1946, Stalin asked a Yugoslav delegation in Moscow, “And what about Hoxha, what is he like in your opinion?” When they answered evasively, Koba winked. “He is a petty bourgeois, inclined towards nationalism? Yes, we think so too.”
In 1946, with the Cold War “cooling up”, the United States Senate passed a resolution recognizing Greek claims to southern Albania, including Hoxha’s birthplace in Gjirokaster. Hoxha would eventually come to fear Greek claims on Albanian territory so much that he would make it illegal to name a child Christos, Nicholas or Alexander.
Later in the same year, the British for the first time met with the deposed King Zog and began training some of his supporters on the island of Cyprus. They were soon joined in their drills by refugees and broken Balli Kombetar fighters who forced a massive exodus below the folds of the descending Iron Curtain.
In 1947, a small group of these exiles, supported by American weaponry and intelligence, made their first incursion into Albania with the goal of sabotaging the Communist Party – and assassinating the multi-portfolio’ed Comrade, Enver Hoxha, if the opportunity presented itself.
In all, seven landings were made by Albanian anti-Communists. Each time, the party was immediately apprehended, tortured and executed. The infiltration programme had been compromised by a British double agent working in the Pentagon named Kim Philby. He passed on sensitive information about the landing sites, the composition of the parties and their ETAs to his Soviet paymasters, who in turn informed Loulou.
All this did nothing to assuage the persecution complex recognized by Nako Spiru in 1943. We cannot say what Hoxha would have been like without this agitation, but it certainly didn’t help. Certifiably insane or at least blinding drunk on a cocktail of white-hot ideology and paranoia, he began to transform the country into a gigantic army bunker. The next few years were spent sealing the cracks.
In honour of his hero Uncle Joe, the state that Hoxha began to build had its inspiration in the Stalinized Soviet Union. As such Albania reaped a few of the benefits of Communism and centralized control. Hoxha undertook a massive literacy campaign and after forty years, Albania had a 90% literacy rate (identical to the United States). Life expectancy for males in 1939 was thirty-eight years old. Hoxha immediately banned the gjakmarrje or blood feud which would devour entire communities over the most trivial disagreements, and the life expectancy jumped to a high point of seventy-three years during the last years of Loulou’s life. He also banned the medieval Canon of Lek, a code of unwritten laws which essentially relegated women to a status lower than that of a healthy steer and regulated the violence of feuding. In the new Albania, everyone would be healthy steer subject to regulated violence, men and women alike. That’s called equality.
Of course, not even the indefatigable Comrade Loulou could hurl Albania into the 20th century in all respects. Nepotism and Communism go together like shit on a shoe. In the case of the Albanian Communist Party, it was very much a “family business”, moreso than any other state, including Romania. The following description of the blood ties between members of the Party comes from Moscow, broadcast during a relatively poor time in the two countries’ relations. While it is easily identifiable as propaganda, the sad part is that it was also true:
Half or more of the 53 members of the Central Committee of the Albanian Party of Labour [the Communist Party] are related. First, we have four couples: Enver Hoxha and his wife Nexhmije Hoxha; Mehmet Shehu and his wife Fiqrete Shehu; Hysni Kopo and his wife Vito Kopo; and Josif Pashko with his wife Eleni Terezi. The wives of Manush Myftiu, Politburo member, and of Pilo Peristeri, candidate-member of the Politburo, are sisters. Kadri Hasbiu, candidate-member of the Politburo and Interior Minister, is the husband of Mehmet Shehu’s sister. The brother of Hysni Kopo’s wife is Piro Kondi, also a member of the Central Committee.
Chapter Five: The Anti-Beardist Revolution
One of the first unusual laws enacted was a complete ban on automobiles. No one without a permit was allowed to own one, and only two permits were ever issued outside of the Party. Public transportation was existent, though hardly extensive. On the one hand, bizarre laws prohibiting common things kept people from longing for consumer goods that Hoxha and the Party couldn’t possibly provide. On the other, the poor communications structure (and with no cars, there wasn’t much use in keeping roads smooth and repaired) necessitated a mastodon of a police state to keep an eye on everyone. The Sigurimi thus came into being.
The Sigurimi is one of the most shadowy secret police organizations in Eastern European history. They had little presence outside of the country (except in the doomed land of Kosovo), but so thoroughly did they penetrate Albanian society, no one could be sure that even your kindly grandfather wasn’t filing reports over your preference for Barbie over Kobi, Official Doll of the Albanian Revolution™. After 1993, the Sigurimi made the transition from secret police force to mafia faster than any other organization of its kind, including the prodigious boys of the KGB. They are still implicated in frequent contract killings, and those who tried to furiously stomp out the fires of the gjakmarrje are the greatest agents of its revival.
The Sigurimi were not long in waiting for an opportunity to strut their stuff. In 1948, the Tito-Stalin break occurred, and Yugoslavia was thrown out of the Eastern Bloc. Albania, which had previously been little more than a client state of Yugoslavia, fell into the Stalinist line. Hoxha’s parakeet press cursed the plague of Titoism and the Sigurimi swept down on all suspected Yugoslav sympathizers. Koci Xoxe, who as Interior Minister had lived up to his epithet as the Butcher of the Bourgeoisie, was the first to fall. In 1949 he was tried for treason and executed. Former “nationalist Communists” who had been removed at Tito’s insistence for their supposed anti-Yugoslav leanings, such as Hoxha’s former rival and collaborator Mehmet Shehu, were rehabilitated. Nako Spiru, whose suicide in 1947 has already been described, was rehabilitated posthumously as a national martyr. His widow Liri Belishova, who had been expelled from the Party for no other reason than that her husband killed himself, was given a position in the Politburo. All the excesses and “errors” of the post-war period were dumped upon the shoulders of Koci Xoxe and his evil puppeteer, Tito.
The infamous scribes of the Tirane Marxist-Leninist Institute, headed by First Lady Nexhmije Hoxha (kind of a Red Hillary Clinton when you think about it. “I didn’t vote for a co-dictatorship!”) went overboard attempting to disassociate themselves from Tito. They were hard put to eliminate the fawning statements from Enver’s pen, such as this ditty published just after the war:
I’ve never felt stronger in my life before, when I saw beside me a Yugoslav brother, a comrade, prepared to sacrifice his own life like a hero for the sake of my own people.
Two new Commandments in the Canon of Enver were born after the break with Yugoslavia. The first was the national myth mentioned earlier – the idealization of Hoxha as a romantic, fiercely independent leader willing to die before he ceded an inch of his country’s sovereignty to a foreign aggressor.
The second (not unrelated) part of the Catechism of Loulou was the pattern which Hoxha would use to prolong his existence far beyond most speculations. He balanced one power off of another, and broke with one completely just in time to reap maximum benefit. He broke with Italy and Greece (Albania’s natural partners) for the Yugoslavs; sacrificed the Yugoslavs for the Soviets; and denounced the Soviets in favour of the Chinese.
Though even his opponents would laud his accomplishments in preserving the borders from allegedly hostile, aggressive neighbours, not a single imperialist bent on crushing Albanian “independence” ever fell in this forty-year battle. The Sigurimi never shot an enemy soldier. They did shoot many, many Albanians, thousands more than could by any stretch of principles be considered “necessary” for the country’s centralization and survival. Hoxha used these constant upheavals in his country’s foreign policy to eliminate rivals, purge the Party (Liri Belishova and Mehmet Shehu had the notable distinction of being purged twice, the second time fatally) and consolidate power in the hands of the Hoxha Family. Except for the break with Tito, all of these foreign confrontations could have been avoided, as they had much more to do with peculiar Communist fetishes than any really threatening actions. The smoke from the secret incinerators in Sigurimi headquarters was black and thick with the fumes of dead bodies, billowing with a greater profusion with each radical realignment in foreign relations. Proportionately, the slaughter was enormous, though with only three million rather wretched subjects to harvest corpses from, the prisons in the mountains would never challenge Siberia or Auschwitz (or even Goli Otok, Tito’s floating gulag on the Adriatic) as a metaphor for man’s capacity for satanic crime.
* * *
An extreme, amusing yet tragic example of the value of the ordinary Albanian to Comrade Loulou was the saga of one Ali Raxhedi. Ali was born under a bad sign and suffered from an incurable malady: he was a dead ringer, physically, for Enver Hoxha. It was humourous to some, and Ali liked to play practical jokes by donning the Maoist cap worn by Hoxha and making surprise “inspections” at local facilities. It was mostly harmless fun, and he never reaped any benefit from his genealogical accident.
One day the Sigurimi abducted Ali and demanded that he answer for his crimes. He was guaranteed a better life if he simply confessed to aping the Supreme Comrade. He did, and the Sigurimi delivered on their promise: he was not thrown in jail or executed. Instead, he was taken to Tirane, given powerful anesthesia and wheeled into an operating room. He woke up to discover that his face had been surgically altered to make his resemblance to Enver Hoxha into an exact likeness. He spent the next ten years living like a troll in a dungeon of the presidential palace. Hoxha’s plan was to keep Ali around in case of an invasion, whereby he would be sacrificed to enemy soldiers. Hoxha would then retreat to the mountains to relive his glory days of partisan warfare.
But it was during his alignment with China that Hoxha’s true derangement bloomed in full flower. Following Mao’s lead, Albania in 1967 – on the eve of the great uprisings of 1968 when Europe burned like a torch – began a great Cultural Revolution. The party ranks were purged for the umpteenth time. Young intellectuals were dragged from their beds and forced to undergo a humiliating public “self-criticism”. Some were merely abducted by the young red mobs and denounced to the Sigurimi. Children who informed on their parents were championed in newspapers. Hoxha smiled contentedly as his “grandchildren” performed every act of crime and blasphemy. The whole programme, he said, had been put forth by students at a school he visited in the city of Durres. It was not his idea, but the grand plan of the Socialist Youth, untainted by their parents’ capitalist history.
As a part of the Cultural Revolution, Hoxha made all foreign travel illegal. Albania from this point forward became an enormous penal colony. Huge iron gates with the double-headed eagle of Skanderbeg were lengthened until they stretched into the sky. Only with government permission, and only when guarded by several trench-coated agents of the Sigurimi, would people be allowed to leave the country.
But the proclamation of 1967 which earned Enver Hoxha his own miserable dacha in Hell was the decree with the seemingly banal title of “The Religion of Albania is Albanianism”.
The Supreme Comrade was unable to sleep at night, plagued by the suspicion that even his most loyal subjects swore an oath to One even greater than himself. Said Supreme Comrade thus adopted the rather capitalistic strategy of eliminating the competition. He informed Albania and the world that the opiate of the masses, God Himself, was now illegal. While the Soviet Union had confiscated church property, shut down monasteries, harassed clerics and made a very prominent show of recording each and every person to enter a church, synagogue or mosque, no state in the world had gone so far as to ban a belief in a power higher than the infallible Supreme Comrade. High-ranking priests were attacked and tortured until they either renounced their belief in God or were broken. Mosques, cathedrals, and village churches (Albania, though predominantly Islamic, still has considerable Catholic and Orthodox Christian minorities) were sometimes demolished, but more often turned into barns or warehouses. Young proletarians armed with hammers and chisels disappeared inside ancient buildings and didn’t emerge until all medieval frescoes on the church walls – in some respects the only evidence that Albanians lived here at all in those times – were blown away by the wind. It’s shocking to think that at this very moment, Czechs were dying in Wenceslas Square, and young students elsewhere in Europe were rising against the politics of their fathers. In Albania, meanwhile, they were attempting to demolish the one facet of life that Enver Hoxha couldn’t regiment: Hope.
The Albanian Cultural Revolution didn’t wind down for several long years. In 1973, Albanians rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and awoke to a fractured landscape, bleak as anything that could be imagined. The whole country and everyone in it had become Ali Raxhedi. Every vestige of pre-Enver history had been erased. The void was filled with an intense Cult of Loulou, the likes of which one would have to go to North Korea to emulate.
A futuristic, ziggurat-like structure known as the Enver Hoxha Museum opened for business, and the media proclaimed it a landmark which rivaled the Sphinx among the glories of human civilization. Gigantic statues of Enver were everywhere, including a settlement called Stalin City. In an obvious though unintentional nod to Orwell, it was impossible to escape the disapproving gaze of Enver Hoxha. Where Albania’s mountainous geography prevented his likeness from being erected, just his name was sufficient. From the city of Berat one looked out at a skyline of ENVER! crafted from stone and stretching across the peaks like a pep rally banner for a high school football team, or a crude parody of Hollywood.
The changes were not just aesthetic in nature. During the Cultural Revolution, Hoxha had become convinced that Albania would be the place where the battle between Good and Evil would be fought. To prepare his hunk of rock on the fringes of Europe for the final conflagration, he ordered the construction of a great multitude of enormous and ugly concrete bunkers built throughout the country. No one is sure exactly how many of these bunkers exist, but the estimate of about 300,000 is usually cited. Inside was room for about twenty soldiers, and the structure peeked above ground a few feet like a cement mushroom, with a slit for a carbine to slide through and mow down the imperialist enemies.
Chapter Six: Paradise
After the break with China in 1978 and the accompanying purge, Hoxha entered into a sort of semi-retirement. He emulated the paternalism of the hated Tito, whose grandfatherly demeanor was holding his country together and keeping the young from complaining too much. Before anointing a successor (and thus guaranteeing that the country would continue to develop in his own image – a Stalinist afterlife, you could say), he took care of some unfinished business.
The first item on the agenda was Mehmet Shehu. As old as Hoxha (who was then 73), Shehu had been his second-in-command since his rehabilitation in 1948. The rumoured story (and it is impossible to verify) has it that Hoxha and Shehu were having a drink of cognac when the chief of the Sigurimi and two burly lieutenants burst in. The thugs held Shehu down, but the chief refused to pull the trigger on a man who was an icon deferential only to Stalin and Hoxha himself. Thus Hoxha was the one who pulled the trigger on the closest thing to a friend this cloistered troll could ever have.
Dreaming of one last grasp for glory in his twilight, Hoxha gave serious consideration to a plan to invade Yugoslavia and take Kosovo and other lands inhabited by Albanians. It would have required an invasion force of about a million men (a full third of the total population), his Chief-of-Staff Veri Llakaj estimated. It was madness, but no more than any of the other ornaments and slogans of Hoxha’s megalomania. Eventually, though, he got cold feet. The plan was scrapped, and Llakaj was thrown in jail for having the audacity to know about it.
With Shehu out of the way, Hoxha spent his last few years in seclusion. There was almost no doubt who was in charge, but he liked to give the impression that he had sacrificed his life for his country and now wanted to spend his dotage reliving his youth. The former bohemian thus surrounded himself with lackeys and secretaries and began outlining the Holy Commandments of Hoxhaism in book form. Indeed, he left guiding instructions on just about every facet of Albanian life and wise statecraft, not unlike Marlon Brando giving Superman advice from beyond the grave long after the destruction of Krypton. He began with a denunciation of Titoism in Yugoslav Capitalism: Theory and Practice and The Titoists. To those with questions about his other former friends, there was Reflections on China, With Stalin, and The Khrushchevites (Loulou fondly remembered Koba as “warm and generous”; Khrushchev as a “manipulating blackmailer” and “blackguard for the bourgeoisie”). Enver then moved into a more geopolitical mood with Reflections on the Middle East and The Superpowers. He left a final warning to his xenophobic kingdom with the masterpiece, The Dangers of Anglo-Americans in Albania, which “recommended” to the new leaders that all men with beards be prohibited from entering the country, as beards were crafty devices the clever American and British agents used to conceal their shiftiness.
Ramiz Alia, Hoxha’s hand-picked successor, approved this law and added it to the others. He had grown up in the wacky world of Comrade Loulou and the Fun Factory as the chief of ideology from the 1960s onward, overseeing most aspects of the Cultural Revolution. While the old man was alive, Alia was as meek as a sheep.
No reliable record is available of Hoxha’s last hours. The Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies put out a touching story of his serenity and confidence in the fidelity of his children to the Hoxhaist Way. In any case, on April 11, 1985, Enver Hoxha breathed his last. The Party issued a press release announcing that the Great Teacher had passed and invited the Albanian people to share in the loss. Long lines formed outside the Enver Hoxha Museum, weeping openly and saluting the memory of the only leader most of them had ever known.
* * *
Ramiz Alia attempted to keep a steady hand on the prow, but events soon spiraled out of his control. There was that Berlin Wall thing, sure, but more than that, the tightly controlled society that Hoxha had built as a shrine to his ego was disintegrating. The economy was collapsing, shrinking by roughly 50% from 1985 to 1990. Wages were set at $300 to $700 per year but were quickly falling. The lek currency was untradable on any foreign exchange, and the country had no foreign export markets to speak of. In addition, for the first time in forty years there were street demonstrations. The Sigurimi reacted brutally, beating protesters savagely, killing several and chasing the rest over the walls of foreign embassies in Tirane which Alia, in an unprecedented concession, had allowed to open just a few months before.
The inevitable collapse of Loulou’s Utopia would not take long, especially since Alia was proving far less bloodthirsty than his predecessor. Eight years after Hoxha become wormfood, more extensive and sophisticated protests forced Alia out of power in favour of Enver’s former physician, Sali Berisha. Albanians, so grateful to Hoxha for having preserved their Albanianness, celebrated not by dancing in the streets but by trying to escape from his devastated Elysium. They constructed homemade rafts like so many Cubans, which proved more sea-worthy than the sinking ship of their country. Thousands washed up on the beaches of Greece and Italy in the largest exodus in Europe since the closing days of World War II.
Hoxha’s descendants did not make out well in the Brave New Enverless World. His widow, Nexhmije, was arrested for having done an Imelda Marcos with the resources of the country. Their daughter’s spouse Klement Kolaneci was also arrested for corruption, accused of having stored millions of dollars laundered by corrupt Sigurimi in his home. All in all, it wasn’t much by Marcos or Ceausescu standards, but the Hoxhas didn’t have a very fallow field to pilfer from.
Enver himself didn’t do much better than his heirs. His tomb in Gjirokaster was a prestigious joke in the Socialist Realist manner. In early summer, 1992, it was destroyed. Newly planted grass now marks the spot where the grandest of the stone Envers looked down sternly from on high. His body was disinterred and buried in a commoner’s grave with the downtrodden masses he so loved.
The Kombinat, the industrial quarter of Tirane, such a symbol of one of Enver’s few successes, is in ruins. Power plants throughout the country are collapsing for lack of obsolete Chinese parts. The power plant in the Kombinat is inhabited by squatters more miserable than any seen on late-night infomercials. They live by selling copper filaments and whatever else they can scavenge from the wreckage around them. They too are grateful for having been saved from the Titoists, Khrushchevites and the decadent Gang of Four.
Hoxha’s mushroom bunkers still cause problems in the countryside. For the nation to become self-sufficient in foodstuffs, it needs more grazing lands, and the bunkers take up a whopping 10% of all arable land. The transportation infrastructure is falling apart, not only the roads but also the ports on Albania’s extensive coastline, used now mainly for the country’s main export of desperate human beings.
But there’s no greater symbol of Enver’s destroyed legacy than the hideous Enver Hoxha Museum in Tirane. The catastrophic poverty of the country and the desperation of its citizens made the New Sphinx a hot commodity in certain industries, and a new tenant appeared immediately after Alia’s fall from power.
Yes, this hideous landmark dedicated to Enver Hoxha’s megalomania is now the local headquarters for the United States Department of Aid and Internal Development, providing handouts to the people Comrade Loulou raised to self-sufficiency.
~ Cali Ruchala, Degenerate, No.5, 2002 [Published by Diacritica Press, 1998–2006] | The political legacy of Supreme Comrade-Chairman-Prime Minister-Foreign-Minister-Minister of War-Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Army Enver Hoxha lives on in the work of the International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations (Hoxhaist). Hoxhaist organisations include:
- 1. Revolutionary Communist Party of Brazil PCR
2. Chilean Communist Party (Proletarian Action) PC (AP)
3. Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist)
4. Communist Party of the Workers of Denmark APK
5. Communist Party of Labor of the Dominican Republic
6. Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador
7. Communist Party of the Workers of France
8. Communist Party of Germany KPD
9. Party of Labor of Iran PTI Toufan
10. Communist Party of Mexico (Marxist-Leninist)
11. Communist Party of Spain (Marxist Leninist)
12. Communist Party of the Workers of Tunisia
13. Revolutionary Communist Party of Turkey
14. Revolutionary Communist Party of Volta
Helpfully, there is another organisational network — International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations — which is Maoist, and to be confused with the former. Its work is carried out in:
- 1. Afghanistan: Marxist-Leninist Organization from Afghanistan
2. Argentina: Partido Comunista Revolucionario * PCR
3. Bangladesh: Workers’ Party of Bangladesh * WP
4. Bolivia: Partido Comunista (Marxista-Leninista-Maoista) de Bolivia * PC (M-L)
5. Colombia: Partido Comunista de Colombia – Maoista * PCC-M
6. Congo, D.R.: Revolutionary Organization from the D.R. of Congo
7. France: Organisation Communiste Marxiste-Leniniste – Voie proletarienne * OCML-VP
8. Germany: Marxistisch-Leninistische Partei Deutschlands * MLPD
9. Greece: Communist Organization of Greece * KOE
10. India: Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) PCC * CPI (ML) PCC
11. Iran: Toilers’ Party of Iran * Ranjbaran
12. Italy: Comitati di Appoggio alla Resistenza – per il Comunismo * CARC
13. Luxembourg: Kommunistische Organisation Luxembourgs * KOL
14. Netherlands: Groep van Marxisten-Leninisten/Rode Morgen * GML/Rode Morgen
15. Panama: Partido Comunista (Marxista-Leninista) * PC (M-L)
16. Peru: Partido Comunista del Peru (Marxista-Leninista) * PCdelP (M-L)
17. Philippines: Communist Party of the Philippines * CPP
18. Serbia: Partija Rada * PR
19. South Africa: Communist Party of South Africa (Marxist-Leninist) * CPSA (M-L)
20. Turkey: Bolsevik Partisi (Kuzey Kurdistan-Turkiye) * BP (KK-T)
21. Turkey: Turkiye Komunist Partisi/Marksist-Leninist * TKP/ML
22. Uruguay: Partido Comunista Revolucionario * PCR
23. USA: Ray O. Light Group * ROL