I first came across The Artful Albanian: Memoirs of Enver Hoxha while at university over thirty years ago. Back then I had no time to read anything except the materials on my reading lists, and I remember reading passages from this book, which was published just one year after Hoxha’s death. (I may not have perused it in 1986, however.) I found certain passages from Hoxha’s memoirs to be quite funny in their no-holds-barred frankness, and although it was a can’t-put-down read I really had to put it down in order to concentrate on my course materials. I eventually bought a second-hand copy on-line many years ago, yet only read it cover-to-cover just now.
When I first perused the book I did so by picking the most interesting chapters. However if I decided to read the book cover-to-cover I might have not considered buying it later, because the first part, about Albania in WWII, does drag on. All figures who pass through Hoxha’s political sphere become objects of his paranoia. Neither Hoxha nor I could keep track of whom he regarded as loyal and who were plotting behind his back as secret foreign agents. I had to reread several pages to make sure I knew which side each person was on, or at least which side at the time, depending on Hoxha’s fluctuating state of paranoia.
The text relied on the official English translations of Hoxha’s memoirs, many of which I own, and I commend the unnamed translators for creating entertaining political literature. No doubt the Albanian originals were full of similar vitriol and name-calling. Hoxha’s memoirs were filled with lengthy sentences and in spite of my praise I often had to stop midway to review what I had just read, thinking that I had glanced over the verb. I realized that Hoxha was just stringing the reader along with a series of prepositional phrases and relative clauses–he hadn’t even gotten to the main verb yet. As a translator I would have tried to shorten his sentences or, to maintain the original long-windedness, inserted appropriate punctuation.
By far the most interesting part of the memoirs were Hoxha’s fights with the Soviet Union. Hoxha regarded his political ideology, Marxism-Leninism, as pure and unalterable. States such as the USSR or the People’s Republic of China who adopted more revisionist or capitalist ways (however subtle) were the object of his wrath. Albania was the political mouse that roared from the 1950’s on, unafraid to taunt and condemn Khrushchev until he broke off diplomatic relations and sided with PR China. Such an ideological honeymoon did not last long, however, as the Chinese often frustrated Hoxha with their utter lack of communication and ignorance. Likewise the chapter on PR China dragged on as Hoxha tried repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to get more aid from them. The reader could see what Hoxha couldn’t: the Chinese looked at Albania as a pest, a little child who wanted to play with the big boys but was so easy to brush aside and be told “Not now”.
The editor Jon Halliday inserted his own commentaries and endnotes yet for the most part, this is a collection of Hoxha’s own words. I recorded the most candid and shocking parts of the memoirs. They are classic examples of a paranoid, xenophobic leader, and when one already knew of Albania’s break with the Soviet Union, it isn’t hard to see that a break with the People’s Republic of China wouldn’t be too long in coming.
“In his memoirs, Khrushchev has bitter words for the Albanian leaders, especially Hoxha, premier Shehu and Defence Minister Balluku, describing them as ‘worse than beasts–they’re monsters’. Khrushchev states, with much justification, that: ‘The rift which developed between the Soviet Union and Albania stemmed mainly from the Albanians’ fear of democratisation.’ This is the crux of the matter–which Hoxha refuses to acknowledge (if Khrushchev’s concept of democracy leaves much to be desired, Hoxha’s leaves even more).”
“The description of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) at the time of the 8th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party rings true. Hoxha particularly emphasises Mao’s habit of interrupting, or not listening to everything his interlocutor had to say–which clearly annoyed Hoxha.”
“My conclusion from this meeting was unpleasant. I saw that the leadership of the Soviet Union was ill-disposed towards our country. The arrogant way they behaved during the meeting, their refusal to give those few things that we sought, and their slanderous attack on the cadres of our army were not good signs.”
“Those 3 or 4 days of our visit to Mongolia passed almost unnoticed. We travelled for hours on end to reach some inhabited centre and everywhere the landscape was the same: vast, bare, monotonous, boring. Tsedenbal, who bounced around us as mobile as a rubber ball, harped on the sole theme–livestock farming. So many million sheep, so many mares, so many horses, so many camels, … We drank mare’s milk, wished one another success and parted.”
“We exchanged greetings with them [= the Chinese], wished them success in the congress, … and could hardly cope with their stereotyped expressions: «great honour», «great assistance», «brothers from the distant front of Europe», «please, offer us your criticism», etc., etc., expressions with which, in a few years’ time, we would be full up to our necks.”
“But let us give him [Brezhnev] his due: he is a comedian only in his eyebrows, while his work is tragic from start to finish.”
“Li Hsien-nien came and will depart as dumb as a fish. He did not open up even the very slightest political conversation with our comrades. We thought he would say something in the meeting he had with me, but he said nothing, although I gave the conversation a political and very friendly turn.”
“Ceausescu went to China at the head of a delegation of … 80 people. Not even the cook was missing!
“…Mao received Ceausescu. Hsinhua reported only that he said to him: «Russian comrades, we should unite to bring down imperialism.» As if Ceausescu and company are to bring down imperialism!! If the world waits for the Ceausescus to do such a thing, imperialism will live for tens of thousands of years …”
The «Chinese Pope» gave his blessing to the «Yugoslav-Albanian friendship» with a base revisionist Confucian parable. It is hard to know whether he said this from stupidity or because he was carried away in the «flood» of stereotyped formulas which they use, or because he wanted to tell the Yugoslavs: «We have a hand in this policy and approve it» …”
“Naturally, during the talk we raised some problems. As always, the Chinese ambassador used the well-known platitudes and slogans, in other words, «baloney».”
“The dictator Marcos and his beautiful wife, with her dress cut so low that her tits almost hung out, were received two or three times in audience by Mao. They were praised and congratulated by him …”