Books

Enver Hoxha: Stalin’s devilish disciple

Blendi Fevziu describes how after 40 years’ rule ‘Uncle Enver’ left Albania the third poorest country in the world

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania Blendi Fevziu, translated by Majlinda Nishku

I.B. Tauris, pp.312, £25, ISBN: 9781784534851

In his final public appearance, the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha addressed a Tirana crowd to commemorate the capital’s liberation from German invaders on the 28 November 1944. The Hoxha who had entered the city as a communist partisan was now a weak old man. He was often confined to a wheelchair, had to be hoisted on to his podium using a custom-built lift and was only prevented from falling by camouflaged safety rails. The dictator was deeply vulnerable but still formidably powerful.

In a characteristically rousing sign-off, lip-synced over a pre-recorded speech, he urged those gathered to

safeguard all that we have achieved like the apple of our eye and take these achievements even further, so that future generations will inherit a stronger Albania, a Red Albania, red like the eternal fire burning in partisan and communist ideals, an Albania that will live and prosper for centuries to come.

This Albania was not a real place, but Hoxha’s delusions had nothing to do with senility. As Fevziu writes,

The Albania Hoxha had promised 40 years earlier did not exist. It was never achieved. What the Albanian people were left with was best described as a nightmarish caricature of Stalin’s Soviet Union, a carbon copy of Stalinist oppression, crammed within the borders of a small country.

When Hoxha died on the 11 April 1985, Albania was the third poorest country in the world, with a per capita income of $15 per month. During his 41 years at Albania’s helm Hoxha had declared 64 per cent of the coast a military zone. Beaches were wreathed in barbed wire and land borders sealed with electric fences. Albania’s population was literally captive. Over four decades of totalitarian rule, Fevziu estimates that 5,487 were executed, 24,155 imprisoned and 70,000 displaced. Hoxha’s secret police recruited 200,000 informants. The Sigurimi held one million files detailing political sympathies and sexual preferences. The purges were comparable in severity only to Stalin’s — and inflicted upon only three million people.


Born in the southern Albanian city of Gjirokastër in 1908, Hoxha studied at the French lycée in Korçë before winning a government scholarship to the University of Montpellier. Outwardly, this bright start suggests diligence and intelligence. In reality, Hoxha won both these early benedictions, and practically every advantage there-after, through networking. When he flunked Montpellier, nepotism got him board and lodgings with a wealthy friend of a friend called Hasan Jero (whom he later sentenced to 35 years in prison).

The same sort of inflence won him a job at the Albanian embassy in Brussels, when the foreign minister to the Kingdom of Albania, Eqrem Libohova, put Hoxha forward for the position. Libohova also found Hoxha a teaching assistant position in Korçë when he returned home in 1936. It’s even arguable that networking got Hoxha the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Albania in 1943 — and national leadership after the German defeat in 1944.

In the postwar years, he was credited with at least some successes. His 1948 split from neighbouring Yugoslavia would later prove disastrous, but adopting Stalin’s principles of industrialisation and collectivisation improved literacy and gender equality. Yet Stalin’s death in 1953 led Albania, and Hoxha, toward political and personal isolation. Hoxha, now calling himself ‘Uncle Enver’, had adored Stalin; though Uncle Joe never reciprocated. In 1960 he denounced Khrushchev’s policies at the Communist and Workers Parties Meeting in Moscow, then fled. Time called Hoxha ‘The Red Boss’, a title he’d probably have enjoyed, and an alliance began with Mao’s China. By 1978, even this relationship had ruptured — leaving Hoxha with none of the financial resources needed to maintain his Stalinist Disneyland. The final seven years of his rule were the most painful for his people.

The man at the centre of Fevziu’s puzzle may be the most frightening despot to have escaped historical analysis up till now. Hoxha enjoyed detective stories, and specifically the work of Agatha Christie. He declared Albania the world’s first officially atheist country in 1967, but possessed a large number of theological texts. He read vampire fiction, carpeted his home using wares bought from Italian budget supermarkets and spent evenings watching the torture and murder of his opponents on video cassettes — as his daughter-in-law Liljana later revealed.

He left behind 13 volumes of memoirs, edited by his wife Nexhmije. These works still litter Tirana’s bookstalls, occasionally sell in English translation to tourists and provide a steady source of kindling. But they tell us little about who Hoxha was. As Fevziu puts it, they

portray the man that Hoxha would like to have been. He, more than anyone else, understood Wilde’s words: ‘No one is rich enough to buy back his past.’

In this admirably balanced, clearly sourced, lyrical and compassionate analysis of a tyrant, Blendi Fevziu subjects Hoxha to the scrutiny his victims never could.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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  • Hegelman

    Westerners are very good at telling us all the worst about any country that resists them – while concealing the horrors of their own history.

    Hoxha was a bad type. What about his contemporary Churchill?

    Hoxha sounds like British capitalism in India. 25 million Indians perished in the nineteenth century in famines the British refused to alleviate on grounds of relying on market forces; one third
    of the province of Orissa. Read Mike Davis’ well-known book, “Late Victorian Holocausts”.

    Hoxha was not as great a killer in proportion to population as your Winston Churchill.

    In 1943, he refused with foul abuse to alleviate until too late for millions a famine in the Indian state of Bengal. One tenth of the population perished.

    This famine in Bengal in 1943 (British rule in India was replete with famines each killing millions, so one has to specify the place and year) killed about 3 million people.

    Despite desperate pleas for famine relief from the British Viceroy in India, Lord Wavell, Churchill refused aid until millions were dead. This was after he had been draining food from India for years,
    and when millions of Indians were fighting on the side of Britain.

    What is more, Churchill forbade the US and Australia to send famine relief to Bengal either, as they offered to do. So Australian ships filled with grain by-passed a starving Bengal whose fields and
    roads were lined with the dead and dying.

    In the Whites Only clubs of Calcutta the British ate and drank without stint, as did Churchill at home. (One of his ministers, Lord Reith, seeing the food bill for a Churchill-Roosevelt summit,
    commented,”I wonder how much Roosevelt got.”)

    Wavell wondered in his published diaries if the Churchill Cabinet was not the most contemptible Britain had ever had. (See “The Viceroy’s Memoirs”, London, 1970).

    Other colleagues of Churchill were disgusted by his Bengal famine policy, too. Lord Alanbrooke, his Chief Military Adviser, remarked, “Winston seems content to starve India while using it as a military
    base.” See Patrick French’s well known book on India’s transition to Independence, “Liberty or Death”.

    Desperate famine victims thronged the streets of Calcutta while the British were feasting in their clubs and hotels; some tried to get into the hospitals but were thrown out by British staff who pointed out that they weren’t ill but merely starving. A distinction that would have pleased Iain Duncan Smith.

    Churchill forbade India to use its own ships and money to bring in food; later British rulers stopped India from applying to the UN for famine aid; so Indian contributions to the UN went to feed Europeans while Indians starved.

    A highly praised history of this appalling episode in the life of Britain’s supposed greatest man is Madhusree Mukerjee’s “Churchill’s Secret War”. It has been lauded by the leading Churchill authority, Sir Max Hastings. His review of the book is in the The Sunday Times.

    Even in the 1950s tens of thousands of Kikuyus in Kenya were slaughtered, concentration camped and brutally tortured by a Churchill government. In proportion to population that was a worse crime than those of Stalin, let alone Hoxha.

    • Typical response- “I know you are but what am I?”

    • alfredo

      This merely illustrates what protracted whataboutery can do to someone: they can end up in all seriousness proclaiming that Churchill was a worse human being than Hoxha (enter men in white coats carrying a hypodermic syringe). Have you thought of asking a few Albanians what they think about that?

      • Hegelman

        You missed my point:

        “Westerners are very good at telling us all the worst about any country that resists them – while concealing the horrors of their own history.”

        “Churchill was a worse human being than Hoxha”. He certainly was to the one tenth of all Bengalis who perished in a famine he refused to alleviate until too late for them.

        “Even in the 1950s tens of thousands of Kikuyus in Kenya were slaughtered, concentration camped and brutally tortured by a Churchill government. In proportion to population that was a worse crime than those of Stalin, let alone Hoxha.”

        We cannot compartmentalise moral judgement. Those who seek to do so merely display their bad faith. Comparisons have to made to reach a historical judgement making allowance for the standards of morality of the time. Have you or The Spectator thought of asking Bengalis and Kikuyus what they think of the monster Churchill worshiped in Britain?

        • Numpty McTumshie

          You don’t need to bother asking the Bengalis, you only need to ask the Irish, or the Welsh for that matter.

    • Sanctimony

      Fatty Soames obviously inherited his grandfather’s appetite and gluttony… though, sadly, not his intellect or other gifts….

      Fatty Soames’ own father, Lord Christopher… a renowned fornicator and bon viveur… troughed his way through the British Embassy in Paris, before betraying all the inhabitants of Rhodesia by cosying up to that human abyss, Robert Mugabe and condemning a once great country to ruin and damnation.

      Soames (Fatty) flaunts his patrimony as though it endows him with some sort of atavistic justification of his own, sloth, pride and repulsive arrogance.

      Hopefully this recreation of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote will explode or self-combust very publicly and gruesomely and leave us all a memorable testament of the less pleasant members of the Marlborough tribe.

    • grammarschoolman

      Yes, yes, we get it. You hate him for having defeated Hitler. Just admit it without the spurious reasoning.

  • Sargon the bone crusher

    Anyone who knows Albania knows what this bloody madman did.

    • Hegelman

      Anybody who knows Bengal or the Kikuyu region of Kenya knows that the bloody madman called Churchill savagely decimated the populations of both.

      • Sargon the bone crusher

        You know that for good order fuzzies were kept in order. Not like the chaos, bloodshed and corruption there now.

      • UKSteve

        Whereas many of the African slave traders were……native Africans.

  • chatnoir50

    I lived in Albania in 1999/2000 – The ordinary Albanians hated their
    country and all that is was … because of Hoxha. No relativity, just
    hated for everything that it was. But they were proud of
    their history before him.

    • Hegelman

      I lived in Britain in the 1980s and that is exactly what a huge number of Brits felt about Margaret Thatcher.

      • HJ777

        Yet she was re-elected.

        Was Hoxha?

      • Sargon the bone crusher

        They were the idiots. She was MAGNIFICENT.

      • UKSteve

        No it wasn’t. I’ve seen your posts before, and type the most incredible excrescences – the one about Churchill, above, is absolutely hilarious. So he killed more than 20 million (Stalin’s count of Russians) Bengalis?

        “In proportion to population he was a worse killer than Stalin.” What does this crassly stupid statement even mean?

        Under Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Party membership reached 718,000 – I was one of them. It was the largest membership of any political party in British history, because people adored her for rescuing the country form Labour bankruptcy (again).

        Back to your Batman comics.

        • Hegelman

          I hate Stalin as much as anyone has ever done, but it has to be said that after the Soviet archives became available after the Soviet collapse
          historians in the West have had to drastically cut down estimates of those who perished under his regime. It was nowhere near the 20 or 30 millions claimed by Cold War propagandists.

          A very anti-Soviet historian in the US, Timothy Snyder, estimates that between 2 and 3 million people perished in the Gulag and in Siberian
          deportation and a high proportion of those were Old Guard Bolsheviks
          fanatically loyal to the Soviet Union whom Stalin hated and feared the
          most.

          See Snyder’s article in the New York Review of Books: google under his name and the title, Who Was Worse, Hitler or Stalin?

          I have been reading “A Concise History of the Russian Revolution” by the
          very anti-Soviet US historian Richard Pipes. He records that the number
          killed in the Red Terror amounted to some scores of thousands – between
          50,000 and 140,000. Many more were slaughtered in the White Terror:
          200,000 Jews in the Ukraine alone.

          The Red Terror was smaller in scale even in comparison with Winston Churchill’s killings in Kenya in the 1950s.

          Pipes notes that Soviet concentration camps were on a very small scale in Lenin’s time: 315 camps with 70, 000 prisoners. In a country as large as Soviet Russia that is not a big level of incarceration. Today’s US has far, far, far larger scale imprisonment.

          The British invented concentration camps and prison conditions under them were everywhere in the colonies utterly inhuman. .

          There were daily lynchings of blacks in the US during Lenin’s time. The famous journalist John Gunther notes in his book “Inside USA” that butcher shops in Tennessee kept on their display counters the cut off fingers of lynching victims.

          • chatnoir50

            With an alias of Hegel, I’d not expect anything lower from you.

          • UKSteve

            Wildly disparate and deranged accusations; tedious and turgid tripe not worth reading, to say nothing of being completely off-topic.

          • Athelstane

            Its impressive to see Soviet apologetics at this level of passion and dedication now, 27 years after its collapse.

        • Hegelman

          ” “In proportion to population he was a worse killer than Stalin.” What does this crassly stupid statement even mean?”

          I explained that in my post here about Churchill and the 1943 Bengal Famine.

          “In 1943, he refused with foul abuse to alleviate until too late for millions a famine in the Indian state of Bengal. One tenth of the population perished.

          This famine in Bengal in 1943 (British rule in India was replete with famines each killing millions, so one has to specify the place and year) killed about 3 million people.

          Despitedesperate pleas for famine relief from the British Viceroy in India,
          Lord Wavell, Churchill refused aid until millions were dead. This was after he had been draining food from India for years, and when millions of Indians were fighting on the side of Britain.

          Whatis more, Churchill forbade the US and Australia to send famine relief
          to Bengal either, as they offered to do. So Australian ships filled with grain by-passed a starving Bengal whose fields and roads were lined with the dead and dying.

          In the Whites Only clubs of Calcutta the British ate and drank without
          stint, as did Churchill at home. (One of his ministers, Lord Reith, seeing the food bill for a Churchill-Roosevelt summit, commented,”I wonder how much Roosevelt got.”)

          Wavell wondered in his published diaries if the Churchill Cabinet was not the most contemptible Britain had ever had. (See “The Viceroy’s Memoirs”,
          London, 1970).

          Other colleagues of Churchill were disgusted by his Bengal famine policy, too. Lord Alanbrooke, his Chief Military Adviser,remarked, “Winston seems content to starve India while using it as a military base.” See Patrick French’s well known book on India’s transition to Independence, “Liberty or Death”.

          Desperate famine victims thronged the streets of Calcutta while the British were feasting in their clubs and hotels; some tried to get into the hospitals
          but were thrown out by British staff who pointed out that they weren’t
          ill but merely starving. A distinction that would have pleased Iain
          Duncan Smith.

          Churchill forbade India to use its own ships and money to bring in food; later British rulers stopped India from applying to the UN for famine aid; so Indian contributions to the UN went to feed Europeans while Indians starved.

          A highly praised history of this appalling episode in the life of Britain’s supposed greatest man is Madhusree Mukerjee’s “Churchill’s Secret War”. It has been lauded by the leading Churchill authority, Sir Max Hastings. His review of the book is in the The Sunday Times.”

          • grammarschoolman

            I think you’ll find that both he and British shipping had better things to do in 1943.

      • grammarschoolman

        Then perhaps they should have voted against her and stopped her getting a huge popular mandate three times running. Nobody voted for Hoxha except the few he had allowed to.

        That’s the vital difference between them, which people on your side always wilfully ignore.

  • Hegelman

    There is OFFICIAL silence in the UK about Churchill’s starving to death of one tenth of all Bengalis.

    In proportion to population he was a worse killer than Stalin. This is not acknowledged.

    The point is not that Churchill did not get some things right or was not a hero of the anti-Nazi war. The point is that we have to stop seeing important historical characters in simple good-bad terms. He was also an appalling, wicked, mass murderer, with a whole sheaf of grisly crimes to his credit. Bengal was only one. He launched the murderous Blacks and Tans on Ireland and caused the deaths of many innocent Irish people: he is hated in Ireland for this to this day. He armed and funded the anti-Semitic armies in South Russia in the Russian Civil War which massacred hundreds of thousand of Jews – a vast crime especially when you consider the small number of the Jewish populace. He was PM in the 1950s when tens of thousands of Kikuyus were snatched off the streets of Nairobi, concentration camped, brutally tortured and murdered in the thousands.

    These are crimes that make him worse in proportion to population than Stalin.

    He was a hero, but a criminal too. Other heroes have dubious deeds to their name: I think of Lenin and Trotsky. The Western historians note the crimes of these men. They elide over those of Churchill. That is my point.

    Be honest about history. Tell it like it was.”

    We can find out about the criminality of Churchill, sure. But only by looking hard.

  • Polly Radical

    The word ‘Albania’ comes from the same root as ‘Albion.’

  • enoch arden

    The discussion of who is bad and who is good among the foreign leaders is rather pointless. Good for whom? Whether a leader is good for his own people is decided by the people.

    Take China. The Chinese regard Mao as good. They are satisfied by the results of his empire building. They don’t give a damn $hit about what anyone in the West thinks about it. Thus the Western lamenting about Mao’s brutal methods are as meaningless as discussing politics in a distant galaxy.

    It is another matter when we discuss whether or not a leader of a foreign country is good for us. “He is a SOB, but he is our SOB”. Hitler was loved by the Germans, but he was an enemy. Stalin was loved by the Soviet population and he was a vitally important ally.

    Speaking about Albania: who cares? What is the significance, besides the illegal immigration of Albanian criminals?

    • Numpty McTumshie

      Have you ever been there? ManyChinese may well defend Mr Xi to the hilt and wholly and naively buy CCP propaganda about Taiwan, but few are under any illusions about Mao these days.

  • “Albania was the third poorest country in the world, with a per capita income of $15 per month”

    Even in 1985, living on $15 a month — 50 cents a day — was impossible. In reality, people’s incomes were significantly greater, through numerous dodges, grafts, extortions, thefts and smugglings. But nobody was going to reveal his true income or the government — the biggest criminals of the lot — would have it in the name of socialist equality.

    If you want a quick example, look up Albania on Google Earth. Notice how much greener Albania’s neighbours are. There’s no trees in Albania — the people sold them all for firewood years ago, but of course, nobody was going to tell the government about their illegal firewood earnings. And the police weren’t going to investigate, unless they wanted a cut. It may well have been the local policeman chopping down the trees, because they were only officially earning $15 a month too.

    • chatnoir50

      On on the Albanian side of the border with Greece … Hoxha’s men had all the trees cut down so that the gun emplacements had a clear line of sight to shoot the serfs, if they tried to escape.

  • MikeF

    If he had lived a bit longer he might have met the same fate as Ceaucescu. Still saved the cost of a bullet.

  • Antoine Bisset

    His book of speeches is eminently useful. Ten minutes at bedtime and gently fall asleep…

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