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Enver Hoxha

Last modified 1 November 2012.

First published 2 March 2005

Country: Albania.

Kill tally: No reliable figures available, but probably in the thousands.

Background: The history of Albania traces back to around 2000 BCE, when the Balkan Peninsula is occupied by the ancient Illyrian people, the non-Slavic, non-Turkic forebears of modern-day Albanians. Subsequent historical developments are moulded by a tribal social system and overlaid with the impact of successive foreign occupations.

At the end of the 14th Century the Ottoman Empire establishes a reign over Albania that will last about 500 years and see about two-thirds of the population convert from Christianity to Islam.

An Albanian nationalist movement begins to emerge towards the end of the 19th Century, with uprisings against Ottoman rule breaking out in the early years of the 20th Century. On 28 November 1912 Albanian leaders declare their country an independent state. Albania's independence is confirmed by the major world powers following the First World War.

The newly independent Albania 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 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 Gjirokastër Hoxha attends the Albania's best college-preparatory school, the National Lycée in Korçë, 80 km northwest of Gjirokastër. Later he attends the American Technical School in Tiranë, the country's capital.

Hoxha's uncle is a political activist involved in the declaration of Albania as an independent state on 28 November 1912. Hoxha is exposed to communist ideology while studying in Korçë.

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.

However, Zogu, backed by 1,000-strong mercenary army of Yugoslav regulars, retakes power at the end of the year, capturing Tiranë 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 - On 31 January Zogu is elected president for a seven-year term.

Meanwhile, Italy under the rule of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini seeks to extend influence over Albania as the first step in creating a new Roman Empire. Initially Albania grants Italy the right to exploit its mineral resources. Italians then found the Albanian National Bank, which acts as Albania's treasury. Italian shipping companies are also granted a monopoly on freight and passenger transport to and from Albania.

By the end of the year Italy is funding much of the economic development within Albania. Over the coming years Albania and Italy will enter into a formal defensive alliance under which Italy trains and arms the Albanian military and the Italian navy is allowed access to Albanian ports.

1928 - Zogu further entrenches his control of Albania. The country is turned in a kingdom ruled by Zogu, who takes the name Zog I, 'King of the Albanians'.

1930s - At the start of the decade relations with Italy begin to sour. When Italy demands further concessions after Albania defaults on loan repayments, Zog refuses and turns to Yugoslavia and Greece for economic support. Mussolini relents, relations are steadied, and Italy resumes its infiltration of the Albanian society and economy.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union attempts to establish communist cells within Albania. The attempt is largely unsuccessful.

In Germany, the fascist dictator Adolf Hitler comes to power. Germany under Hitler will form a political and military alliance with Italy, and the two will come to be collectively known as the Axis powers.

1930 - Hoxha wins an Albanian state scholarship to study in 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 also helps publish the communist journal 'Humanité', writing for the journal under the pseudonym 'Loulou Malessori'.

From this experience Hoxha emerges as a committed adherent of orthodox Marxism-Leninism 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 Korçë and joins a communist cell based in the town.

1939 - When Germany occupies Czechoslovakia in March Mussolini decides to complete the slow 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.

Zog 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.

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

On 29 November he moves to Tiranë, where he opens a tobacco store that will subsequently become 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. The following month Axis hands control of Kosovo to the Albanians.

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.

At the same time, the Balli Kombetar (National Union), a Western-oriented and anticommunist resistance group, also emerges.

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

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's battle against the rival partisan factions 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 will subsequently be executed.

Future dissent will be crushed by the Sigurimi secret police. It is estimated that by the time the communist regime finally falls, one in three Albanians will 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 will be 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 will be placed under state management and all citizens between the ages of 12 and 40 who are illiterate will be required to attend classes in reading and writing.

By the late 1980s the level of illiteracy will have 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 will become the most closed and isolated society in Europe. Travel to and from the country is severely restricted and will remain so for the next 50 years.

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

1946 - Stalinist-style central planning of the economy begins. All industries are nationalised, the government takes over trade, and 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. As well about 25% of the party's members are expelled.

Meanwhile, already shaky relations with Western powers deteriorate. Britain and the US respond by launching covert attempts to bring down the regime. Responding in turn, 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.

1950s - More Stalinist economic policies are implemented within Albania, 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 and education systems are improved, leading to a decline in infant mortality and the level of illiteracy.

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 - In May Albania becomes a founding member of the Warsaw Pact (Warsaw Treaty Organisation), an alliance between communist states set up by the Soviet Union as a 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 will continue 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 Tiranë.

1960 - After Albania begins to receive large amounts of aid from China Hoxha and Shehu decide to draw the country away from the influence of the Soviets. 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, and 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, and 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.

Meanwhile, in December 1976 Albania becomes a people's socialist republic with a new constitution that 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 Christian 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 policy will be 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.

Following Shehu's death, Hoxha purges members of Shehu's family and his supporters within 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 - With his health impaired by diabetes, Hoxha goes into semi-retirement following a minor stroke. He suffers another minor stroke in 1984.

1985 - On the morning of 9 April Hoxha has a heart attack at his home in Tiranë and falls into a coma. 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 Tiranë.

Genuinely grieved by the death of the only leader most of them have ever known, Albanians mourn their loss.

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

Postscript

1990 - Following large demonstrations, strikes, and the exodus of thousands of Albanians to Italy and Greece, Alia introduces democratic reforms, including a multiparty political system.

1991 - Albania's first multiparty elections since the 1920s are held in March and April. 98.9% of the country's eligible voters participate. The Albanian Party of Labour wins over 67% of vote for People's Assembly seats. The Albanian Democratic Party wins about 30%. Alia is reelected for a new term as president.

However, following a general strike by thousands of workers, the government resigns. It is replaced by a coalition of communists, democrats, republicans, and social democrats.

In April the country's name is changed from the People's Republic of Albania to the Republic of Albania.

In June the Albanian Party of Labour is renamed the Socialist Party of Albania (SPA).

The following month the Sigurimi secret police force is abolished and replaced by the National Information Service.

Meanwhile, as the Albanian economy crumbles, demonstrations increase and thousands of Albanians illegally cross the Adriatic Sea to seek asylum in Italy. Most are turned back.

When the coalition government collapses in December an interim administration is appointed.

New elections are set to be held in March 1992.

1992 - The Albanian Democratic Party wins a general election held on 22 March, receiving about 62 percent of the vote. Sali Berisha becomes Albania's first democratically elected president in 70 years.

In September 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 will be sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Meanwhile, 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.

1995 - In April Hoxha's son Ilir is arrested and charged with "inciting hatred among the nationalities and races." He is sentenced to a year in jail.

Present-day - 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 is 16%, and 30% of the population lives 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 near to the point of lifelessness. His isolationist policies turned Albania into a hermit state jealously guarding its backwardness while literally only kilometres away neighbours developed and, to differing degrees, prospered.

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."