Enver Hoxha

Background

The history of Albania traces back to around 2000 BCE, when the Balkan Peninsula is occupied by the ancient Illyrian people, the Indo-European forebears of modern-day Albanians. At the end of the 14th Century the Ottoman Empire invades. The reign of the Ottomans lasts about 500 years. During this time about two-thirds of the Albanian population convert from Christianity to Islam.

An Albanian nationalist movement begins to emerge towards the end of the 19th Century. Independence is achieved after the First World War, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Independent Albania is faced with significant problems. It is one of the least developed countries in Europe. Its economy is semi-feudal and, due to the tribal nature of much of the society, large parts of the country are essentially ungovernable. Almost the entire population is illiterate. The country has Europe's highest birthrate and infant mortality rate. There is no banking system and little infrastructure or health care. Political instability is rife. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 16 October 1908 at Gjirokastra (Gjirokastër) in Albania's southern interior. Hoxha's father is a Muslim landowner and cloth merchant with experience of travelling to and working in the United States.

After receiving primary and secondary schooling at Gjirokastra, Hoxha attends Albania's best college-preparatory school, the National Lycee in Korce (Korçë), 80 km northwest of Gjirokastra. Later he attends the American Technical School in Tirana (Tiranë), the country's capital.

Hoxha's uncle is a political activist who represented Gjirokastra at the proclamation of Albania's independence on 28 November 1912. Hoxha is exposed to communist ideology while studying in Korce.

1922 - Ahmed Zogu, a conservative Muslim clan chief, becomes Albania's prime minister.

1924 - In July Zogu's government is forced out of power by a peasant-backed insurgency. Zogu flees to Yugoslavia. The Opposition Party of Democrats led by Fan Noli takes government and attempts to introduce a broad-ranging program of social reform.

Zogu, backed by 1,000-strong mercenary army of Yugoslav regulars, retakes power at the end of the year, capturing Tirana on Christmas eve. Noli and his supporters in the government flee to Italy.

Albania is proclaimed a republic and given a new constitution. Zogu is the supreme ruler with absolute power over the government and military. No opposition is permitted and the media is strictly censored.

1925 - Zogu is elected president on 31 January.

Meanwhile, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini seeks to extend Italy's influence over Albania as the first step in creating a new Roman Empire.

By the end of 1925 Italy is funding much of the economic development within Albania. In 1927 Albania and Italy enter into a formal defensive alliance.

1928 - Albania becomes a kingdom ruled by Zogu, who takes the name Zog I, King of the Albanians.

1930 - Hoxha wins an Albanian state scholarship to study natural sciences at the University of Montpellier in the south of France. While at Montpellier he attends meetings organised by the French Communist Party.

1931 - Hoxha leaves Montpellier and moves to Paris, where he studies philosophy at the Sorbonne. Along with other Albanian expatriates, he helps publish the communist journal 'Humanité', writing for the journal under the pseudonym Loulou Malessori.

Hoxha emerges from this experience as a committed Marxist-Leninist and a strong supporter of the policies of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

1934 - Hoxha moves to Belgium and works as a secretary at the Albanian consulate in Brussels. He also studies law at the University of Brussels. However, when his communist sympathies are uncovered Hoxha is dismissed from the consulate.

1936 - Hoxha returns to Albania. He teaches French at his former school in Korce and joins a communist cell based in the town.

Mussolini enters an agreement with German dictator Adolf Hitler informally linking Italy and Germany in the Rome-Berlin Axis.

1939 - When Germany occupies Czechoslovakia in March, Mussolini decides to complete the annexation of Albania. Italy invades on 7 April. The Italian-trained Albanian Army is soon overcome. On 12 April the Albanian parliament votes to unite the country with Italy.

Zogu and his family flee to Greece then London. The Italians install a new fascist government to oversee their Albanian colony.

In May, as Germany prepares for war, Mussolini and Hitler agree to a formal military alliance, the Pact of Steel.

German troops invade Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. The Second World War has begun.

Meanwhile, Hoxha is dismissed from his teaching post after refusing to join the newly formed Albanian Fascist Party.

On 29 November he moves to Tirana, where he opens a tobacco store that subsequently becomes a secret meeting place for Albanian communists.

1940 - Mussolini uses Albania to stage an abortive invasion of Greece. The Italians are turned back, forcing Germany to intervene in April 1941. Axis hands control of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo to the Albanians in May 1941.

1941 - When his tobacco shop is closed by the authorities in the middle of the year Hoxha escapes to the Albanian highlands to join the partisans. He is condemned to death in absentia by a fascist tribunal.

With the aid of the Communist Party of the Yugoslavia, Albania's communist factions are melded into a unified organisation, the Albanian Communist Party (ACP), on 8 November. Hoxha is chosen as secretary of the party's seven-member provisional central committee.

1942 - In September the ACP organises many of Albania's disparate resistance groups into the National Liberation Movement (NLM). Coordinated operations against the Italian occupational forces begin the next month.

In October the Balli Kombetar (National Union), a Western-oriented and anticommunist resistance group, also emerges.

1943 - Hoxha is formally appointed as the first secretary of the ACP at the party's first national conference held in February.

On 24 July Mussolini is removed from power in Italy. The Italian Government signs an armistice with the Allies on 3 September and declares war on Germany in October.

Albanian resistance fighters quickly overwhelm the Italian forces in Albania. However, their success is short-lived. German troops occupy Albania in September, scattering the partisans to the hills, where they begin to fight among themselves in a civil war that pits the communist-controlled NLM against the anticommunist National Union.

The NLM is spearheaded by the Sigurimi, or Directorate of State Security, later to become the feared secret police of Hoxha's communist regime.

1944 - By the end of July the NLM, now called the National Liberation Front (NLF), has prevailed in the civil war. The NLF selects an Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation to act as the country's governing body. Hoxha is made chairman of the council's executive committee and the National Liberation Army's supreme commander, with a military rank of colonel-general.

On 23 October the Anti-Fascist Council is transformed into the Provisional Democratic Government of Albania. Hoxha is prime minister.

By the end of November the Germans have left Albania.

1945 - The provisional government begins to implement communist policies including rural land reform and the nationalisation of resources, utilities and infrastructure. It also agrees to restore Kosovo to Yugoslavia as an autonomous province.

Elections are held for a unicameral People's Assembly (Kuvendi Popullor) in December but only candidates from the Democratic Front, as the National Liberation Front is now know, are allowed to stand.

The Assembly initially consists of both communists and noncommunists. However, the communists move quickly to consolidate their power.

Thousands of their opponents are branded as "war criminals" or "enemies of the people" and tried and executed. Thousands more are imprisoned in work camps and jails before being sent into internal exile on state farms. During the new government's first two weeks in power more than 600 social leaders are executed.

The property of political opponents in exile and anyone designated an "enemy of the people" is confiscated. Wealthy Albanians are made to pay a "war-profits tax". All German and Italian assets in Albania are confiscated and all foreign economic concessions revoked. All political parties except the Communist Party are banned.

By the end of 1946 all noncommunists have been purged from the government, giving the communists a monopoly on power. Those purged from the People's Assembly are subsequently executed.

Future dissent is crushed by the Sigurimi secret police. It is estimated that by the time the communist regime finally falls, one in three Albanians have either served time in labour camps or been interrogated by Sigurimi officers.

The new parliament annuls the monarchy and, on 11 January 1946, proclaims the People's Republic of Albania with a new Stalinist constitution.

Hoxha is named prime minister, foreign minister, defence minister and the army's commander in chief. He is also the Albanian Communist Party's first secretary.

A prime goal of the government is the improvement of the education system and the elimination of the country's high rate of illiteracy (it is estimated that in 1946 about 85 percent of Albanians are illiterate).

All schools are placed under state management and all citizens between the ages of 12 and 40 who are illiterate are required to attend classes in reading and writing.

By the late 1980s the level of illiteracy has been turned around, with the number of students in the country rising from fewer than 60,000 in 1939 to more than 750,000 by 1987. By 2000 only 15% of the adult population are illiterate.

Nevertheless, under communist rule, Albania becomes the most closed and isolated society in Europe. Travel to and from the country is severely restricted and remains so for the next 50 years.

A personality cult is developed around Hoxha. He is portrayed as the saviour and supreme commander of Albania and given epithets such as Great Teacher and Sole Force. A museum is dedicated to his life, placards and bulletin boards proclaiming his thoughts are displayed in towns and villages, and statues of the dictator are erected throughout the country.

1946 - Stalinist-style central planning of the economy begins. All industries are nationalised. The government takes over trade. Agricultural land is redistributed, with peasant smallholdings replacing large estates. At the same time, farm tools and draft animals are nationalised, rural land sales and transfers are banned, and peasants are required to obtain government permission to slaughter animals. Peasants are also encouraged to join collective farms.

Ties with Yugoslavia are strengthened prior to a planned integration of the economies of the two states. However, the relationship starts to deteriorate when the Albanians begin to accuse the Yugoslavs of exploiting Albania as a source of cheap raw materials and agricultural products.

Yugoslavia responds by attempting to buy support within the Albanian government with large loans and by accusing Hoxha of following "independent" policies and turning the Albanian people against Yugoslavia.

1947 - Despite having accepted US$26.3 million in aid from the United Nations (UN) Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and US$20.4 million from the US following the end of the Second World War, Albania refuses to participate in the US-sponsored Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of the European economy.

Hoxha meets with Stalin in July. Further meetings between the two occur in March-April 1949, November 1949, January 1950 and April 1951.

1948 - By the start of the year the Albanian communists are proposing a complete merger of the Albanian and Yugoslav economies and armed forces.

However, the situation turns on 28 June when Yugoslavia is expelled from Cominform (an organisation of Soviet, East European, Italian and French communist parties) because of it's unwillingness to accept all Soviet demands. Albania cancels all agreements with Yugoslavia, expels Yugoslav advisers and denounces Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.

Albania now turns to the Soviet Union, which quickly agrees to compensate Albania for the loss of Yugoslav aid.

In November, and on the suggestion of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the Albanian Communist Party renames itself the Albanian Party of Labour. The party is purged of Tito sympathisers, with 14 members of the 31-member Central Committee and 32 of the 109 People's Assembly deputies being executed. About 25% of the party's members are expelled.

Already shaky relations with Western powers deteriorate. Britain and the US respond by launching covert attempts to bring down the regime. Albania strengthens security measures. In September 1952 a new law is introduced requiring the death penalty for anyone over 11 years of age found guilty of conspiring against the state, damaging state property, or committing economic sabotage.

1949 - In January the government issues a Decree on Religious Communities that requires all religious orders to comply with "the laws of the state, law and order, and good customs". Religious orders based outside the country are told to cease all activities in Albania, religious institutions are banned from participating in the education, health and welfare systems, and all religious orders are prohibited from owning property.

More Stalinist economic policies are implemented in Albania during the 1950s, including the introduction of country's first five-year plan in 1951. The plan seeks to accelerate production in the industrial sector but is compromised by shortfalls in agricultural output and a lack of suitably trained workers.

At the same time, the health care system is improved, leading to a decline in infant mortality.

1953 - Hoxha relinquishes the foreign affairs and defence portfolios. In July 1954 he gives up his post as prime minister to his ally Mehmet Shehu. However, Hoxha remains as party first secretary, the most powerful position in the land.

Meanwhile, Stalin dies on 5 March.

1955 - Albania becomes a founding member of the Warsaw Pact (Warsaw Treaty Organisation), an alliance between the Soviet Union and its East European communist satellites. The pact is designed as a defensive balance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

1956 - When Stalin and his policies are denounced by Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, at the 20th party congress in February, Hoxha comes to the defence of the former Soviet dictator.

At the same time, Hoxha magnifies his rhetoric against Tito, a stance that, along with his criticism of the Soviet Union, continues for the remainder of the decade. Nevertheless, the Soviets continue to support Albania, cancelling about US$105 million in outstanding loans and providing about US$7.8 million in additional food assistance.

1957 - The Enver Hoxha University is founded at Tirana.

1960 - After Albania begins to receive large amounts of aid from China, Hoxha and Shehu decide to draw the country away from the Soviet Union. Albania sides with China when a split between the Soviets and the Chinese becomes public, an action that results in the Soviets cutting wheat shipments to Albania. The shortfall is made up by the Chinese.

Hoxha now amplifies his criticism of the Soviet Union, publicly attacking its leadership of the international communist movement during a conference of the world's 81 communist parties held in Moscow in November.

1961 - In the face of the ongoing criticism, the Soviet Union cancels aid programs and lines of credit to Albania. In December the Soviets finally break diplomatic relations. All Soviet economic advisers and technicians are withdrawn from Albania and shipments of supplies and spare parts are halted.

China again makes up the shortfall, although their intervention is not enough to prevent damage to Albania's already weak economy.

1962 - In the wake of the economic decline following the split with the Soviet Union an austerity program is introduced. Meanwhile, Albania becomes China's chief mouthpiece at the UN.

1966 - One year after Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung unleashes the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution on the people of China, Hoxha launches his own Cultural and Ideological Revolution.

The military is politicised. Salaries of white-collar workers are cut. Bureaucrats and technicians are sent for work experience in factories and on farms. Dissidents come under attack from the government and students. School curricula are further restricted. Farm collectivisation is widened. Foreign travel is banned. The country is turned more in on itself, with thousands of bunkers being built along Albania's borders and in its interior as a defence against invasion.

Hoxha calls for a regular rotation of managers to prevent "bureaucratic stagnation", "bureaucratism", "intellectualism", and "technocratism".

As cultural traditions are broken down women are given equal rights and encouraged to take up paid work. Hoxha declares that anyone who stands in the way of the extension of women's rights should be "hurled into the fire".

1967 - The suppression of religion intensifies. As part of the Cultural and Ideological Revolution, Hoxha calls on students to embark on a struggle against "religious superstition". He declares that "the Religion of Albania is Albanianism". By May over two thousand churches, mosques, monasteries and other religious institutions have been closed or converted to other uses.

Clerics of all faiths are imprisoned or forced to seek work in industry or agriculture. Decrees sanctioning organised religion are annulled.

Finally, Albanian proclaims itself as the world's first atheistic state.

1968 - Albania denounces the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and withdraws from the Warsaw Pact.

1970s - As China starts to wind back its aid, Albania begins to broaden its contact with foreign governments, opening trade negotiations with France, Italy, and Asian and African states. In 1971 relations are normalised with Yugoslavia and Greece.

Nevertheless, the fragile Albanian economy goes into decline, reportedly resulting is widespread purges.

1973 - Hoxha suffers a heart attack. He recovers, but with some impairment.

1976 - After Mao Tse-Tung dies on 9 September Hoxha becomes critical of the new Chinese regime and the developing rapprochement between China and the West. The Chinese respond by moving closer to Yugoslavia and, in July 1978, ending all assistance to Albania.

Now, with nowhere else in the communist world to turn to for support, Hoxha begins to stress the need for the country to become more self-reliant. At the same time he seeks to expand ties with Western Europe and the developing nations. However, when this results in some calls for greater openness, Hoxha launches a new series of purges.

A new constitution introduced in December changes the country's name to the People's Socialist Republic of Albania. The constitution formalises self-sufficiency (autarky) as a guiding principal of the regime, names Marxism-Leninism as the country's official ideology, and prohibits the government from entering into any financial dealing with capitalist or revisionist communist countries.

The constitution also bans all "fascist, religious, warmongerish, antisocialist activity and propaganda". In 1977, prison sentences of three to 10 years are introduced for "religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature".

Albanians with first names that do not conform to "the political, ideological, or moral standards of the state" are required to change them. Towns and villages with religious-based names also must be renamed.

The self-sufficiency (autarky) policy is a failure, with productivity falling throughout the 1980s, an outcome that is made worse by an attempt to extend the collectivisation of farms to include livestock.

1981 - Hoxha's long-time ally Mehmet Shehu dies on 18 December. Shehu, who had been refusing to step-aside for Hoxha's handpicked successor, Ramiz Alia, is reported to have committed suicide after being criticised by the party executive. Other reports claim that Hoxha had him killed.

Shehu's family members and supporters are purged from the police and military. In November 1982, Hoxha claims that Shehu had been plotting with US, British, Soviet and Yugoslav intelligence agencies to have him assassinated.

1983 - Hoxha goes into semi-retirement following a minor stroke. He suffers another minor stroke in 1984.

1985 - Hoxha has a heart attack at his home in Tirana and falls into a coma on the morning of 9 April. He dies in the early hours of 11 April. He is later interred in a tomb at the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation in Tirana.

Albanians are genuinely grieved by the loss of the only leader most of them have ever known.

Hoxha is succeeded by Ramiz Alia. Albania's Stalinist economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. The slow process of casting off the legacy of Hoxha and his regime now begins.

Postscript

1991 - Albania's first multiparty elections since the 1920s are held in March and April.

1992 - In early May, Hoxha is disinterred from his tomb at the Cemetery of the Martyrs of the Nation and reburied in a public cemetery. His former tomb is demolished.

In September Ramiz Alia and 18 other former communist officials, including Hoxha's widow, Nexhmije, are arrested and charged with corruption, abuse of power, and other offences. Nexhmije is sentenced to 11 years in jail.

2003 - Albania remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. According to the World Bank's November 2003 Poverty Assessment, average per capita income was US$1,230 in 2002. The official unemployment rate was 16%, and 30% of the population lived below the poverty line.

Comment

While Hoxha was only a small-time killer in comparison to most of the others featured on this site, he can be accused of suffocating an entire society to near the point of lifelessness. His isolationist policies turned Albania into a stagnant, hermit state.

The few unreconstructed Stalinists remaining in Europe argue that while Albanians under Hoxha may have been poor at least they had access to universal education and health care. They also point to the development of Albania's industrial sector achieved during Hoxha's reign.

But this was all illusory, as the collapse of the Albanian economy and attempts by massive numbers of Albanians to flee the country after the fall of communism testify.

It's like rich tourists from the West visiting an underdeveloped country and observing that the people "might be poor, but at least they seem happy".