I have long been interested in the communist regime in Albania. Albania, along with North Korea, was one of the most repressive regimes in the world, and like the DPRK was a closed society. I looked for books on Albania when I went to university and had the Robarts collection at my disposal. Fortunately I was able to read some of them during the year after I graduated when all the homework I had was translation exercises. Thus I was interested when my own library acquired Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania by Blendi Fevziu, translated by Majlinda Nishku, published in 2016.
Fevziu and Nishku have written or translated a twentieth-century history of Albania that was a compelling read. This book will enhance the knowledge of those who are already familiar with contemporary Albanian history. The author, a popular Albanian journalist and talk show host, was able to interview key figures from Albania’s tumultuous Marxist-Leninist past–those from the government who weren’t purged from a seemingly endless cycle of enemy round-ups, show trials and mass executions. Although I knew of Hoxha’s paranoiac purges, I was sickened by the contents of such chapters such as “A Reign of Terror”, “The Great Purges” and “The Final Purges”, where Hoxha–who had sole authority to issue executions and documentary evidence showed that he authorized every single one of them and knew the names of those he was sentencing to death–fearlessly liquidated any opponent and generations of family members who were only guilty by genetic association:
“It had been a nightmare of tragic dimensions: in his 46 years of rule, 5,037 men and 450 women were executed; 16,788 men and 7,367 women were convicted and sentenced to three to 35 years of imprisonment, terms which were often extended by reconvictions in jail; 70,000 people were interned; and 354 foreign nationals were executed by firing squad, of whom 95 were Albanians from Kosovo.”
This made for depressing reading, and Enver Hoxha is indeed a sad book. About thirty years ago I met an Albanian refugee in Toronto. Albania was still under Marxist-Leninist rule but under President Ramiz Alia, Hoxha’s successor. This gentleman, nearly in tears, told me about fleeing from the Sigurimi, the Albanian secret police. He escaped with his life. Fevziu told how ruthless the Sigurimi operated and how the government ensured they were infiltrated in every stratum of Albanian society. In Hoxha’s Albania everyone was a suspect counterrevolutionary and no one was immune from arrest or purge. Hoxha even had his brother-in-law executed, as well as the Director of the Sigurimi and his own Prime Minister. In fact, every Minister of the Interior over the course of Hoxha’s four decades of rule was either executed or imprisoned. Hoxha ruled by instilling fear in everyone. It was saddest of all to read of his torture and murder of Catholic priests–this nearly two decades before he declared Albania officially an atheist state. His denial of entry to none other than Mother Teresa–an Albanian by birth–so that she could be with her dying mother was heartbreaking.
After reading this book I felt that Hoxha’s Albania was worse than the DPRK under any of the Kims. The book I am reading now–by and about North Korean defectors–backs me up on this assessment.