Fear and Loathing in Tirana

Jon Halliday

Albania has distinguished itself for secretiveness even among secretive Communist governments, vouchsafing little information to either its own people or the outside world. Now, suddenly, out of this hermetically-sealed country has exploded a series of volumes unprecedented in the history of world Communism, more remarkable and much more revealing than Khrushchev’s Memoirs. Over several thousand pages, the Albanian leader, Enver Hoxha, vents his undying rage against ‘revisionism’, his wilfully blind adoration of Stalin, his fierce nationalism, in tones which are alternately aggrieved, suspicious and self-righteous. He is windy, vulgar and brutal. Yet within the rigid framework of 100 per cent Stalinism lurks a shrewd and lively observer who can quote hunks of Byron to visiting British Army officers during World War Two.

The paradoxes are many, not least that of the cultured brigand. Hoxha came from a Muslim family, studied law briefly at Montpellier University and lived several years in France and Belgium. Molotov is reported to have said of him: ‘He is very handsome and leaves a good impression. He is quite cultured but you sense Western influence in his upbringing.’ He has been described as a ‘garrulous charmer’. He was the main political leader in the Resistance and, at 73, is the longest-lasting non-hereditary political leader in the world, having been in power since the liberation in November 1944. Why did this self-disciplined man suddenly decide to reveal so much? And is his account reliable? My feeling is that there are two main reasons for publication, the first of which also relates to the question of authenticity. One is that Hoxha boiled over after decades of dreadful alliances with thuggish, boorish partners in Eastern Europe and China; the other is that, as he began to contemplate his own demise and what he regarded as failed transitions in other Communist countries, he thought it wise to leave a solid information base for future generations. This history of procrastination, secrecy, skulduggery and sabotage by Albania’s allies seems designed to prevent Hoxha’s successors ignoring his advice.

To judge from internal evidence, it was his experience with the Russians which led Hoxha to keep a diary during his alliance with China. With Stalin and The Khrushchevites are later narrative accounts, based on extensive notes; Reflections on China are selections from diaries written at the time. Hoxha seems to have suspected what he was getting into with the Chinese as early as 1956, and wanted to have a detailed record. He makes no attempt to disguise how infuriated he could get. Here he is on his first visit to Moscow after Stalin’s death, trying to tell the new leadership about the difficult situation in Albania: ‘I had been speaking for no more than twenty minutes, when I heard Beria, with his snake’s eyes, say to Malenkov, who was sitting listening to me as expressionless as a mummy: “Can’t we say what we have to say and put an end to this?” ... I was so annoyed I was ready to explode internally, but I preserved my aplomb.’ In 1964 Hoxha comments on a ‘scandalous performance of Chou En-lai’s’:

What a dirty feudal, fascist mentality! No bourgeois could speak in such a way. Even bourgeois dignity and standards do not permit such disgraceful arrogance. As is known, we immediately slapped back our reply, scorching their faces like a branding iron.

Aficionados of the bizarre, radical voyeurs and Albania freaks will be able to wallow in these volumes for many hours, but they do not make for happy reading. Hoxha is a genuine Stalinist: ‘We do not pat enemies on the head, but give them what they deserve,’ he tells Khrushchev. ‘ “You are like Stalin who killed people,” said Khrushchev. “Stalin killed traitors and we kill them, too,” I added.’ Hoxha berates the late Mikhail Suslov (of all people) for being soft on ‘counter-revolutionaries’ at the time of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. ‘Mine was a voice in the wilderness,’ laments Hoxha. Suslov met him in the Kremlin: ‘As usual, he welcomed me with those mannerisms of his, prancing like the ballerinas of the Bolshoi.’ But when Hoxha tried to set him straight about Hungary: ‘I noticed signs of discontent, boredom and anger in his eyes.’ Suslov began doodling.

There are lively vignettes of a vast range of Communist leaders: Tsedenbal of Mongolia, Zhivkov of Bulgaria, Kim Il Sung of North Korea (‘a pseudo-Marxist’ and a ‘vacillating, revisionist megalomaniac’), Rakosi and Brezhnev (‘he ... impressed me as a conceited, self-satisfied man ... But let us give him his due: he is a comedian only in his eyebrows, while his work is tragic from start to finish’). There is some new light on the death of Beria and rich material on discussions around the time of the Hungarian crisis. Hoxha also provides a fascinating guide to the leadership, political life, surveillance patterns, boredom and Philistinism of the various East European countries. Czechoslovakia comes out well ahead, Rumania easily bottom.

When Hoxha has nothing to kick against, he goes flat. With Stalin is a rather tedious account of his five visits to the USSR between 1947 and 1951. He and Stalin exchange long-winded platitudes. The one major revelation is an account of a meeting in January 1950 between the Albanians, Stalin and the Greek Communist leaders. Hoxha prefaces the volume with an article he wrote on the centenary of Stalin’s birth. Stalin was ‘no tyrant, no despot. He was a man of principle, he was just, modest and very kindly and considerate towards people, the cadres and his colleagues.’ Hoxha supports the show trials and claims: ‘It was the Khrushchevites who strangled the voice of the working class and filled the concentration camps with patriots; it was they who released the dregs of treachery from prison ... You never find in Stalin’s actions such Mafia-like methods as you find in the actions of the Soviet revisionist chiefs.’ When the Albanian delegation were given Khrushchev’s report on Stalin in Moscow in 1956 they gave it back! ‘We had no need for that package of filthy accusations which Khrushchev had concocted.’

Reflecting in 1964 on Mao’s ‘wobbly’ behaviour, Hoxha reaffirmed his affection for Stalin: ‘he tired himself on my behalf many times, taking the greatest care of me, even over the hat I should wear to avoid getting a cold, and going so far as ... to show me where the toilets were if I needed them’. But Hoxha never confronts the fact that Stalin seems to have been quite ready to let Yugoslavia take over Albania before the 1948 break, nor does he mention his own long-expunged denunciation of ‘Stalin’s grave crimes’ at the Third Congress of the Albanian Party of Labour in 1956. On his last visit to Moscow in 1960, Hoxha badly needed the toilet – which was the only room in the building where he was staying which had not been bugged. The Russians swiftly sent a man to put microphones in the loo, but a vigilant Albanian caught him. The last meeting broke up in comradely style:

When we told him [Khrushchev] openly of his mistakes and those of his men he jumped up: ‘You are spitting on me,’ he screamed. ‘It is impossible to talk to you. Only Macmillan has tried to speak to me like this.’

   ‘Comrade Enver is not Macmillan, so take back your words,’ both Mehmet [Shehu] and Hysni [Kapo] snapped back at him.

Whereupon the Albanians stormed out (though Shehu charged back for one last fling). After Hoxha delivered his famous denunciation of Khrushchev at the 1960 Moscow meeting of Communist Parties he and Shehu holed up in the Albanian Embassy in fear of their lives and took care to leave by train via Austria to minimise the possibilities of an ‘accident’ in the fraternal bloc. This was the last time Hoxha set foot outside Albania.

Albania then entered into what seemed to the outside world to be a close alliance with China, which lasted until 1977. In fact, it was anything but close. Hoxha could not get the Chinese to answer letters, or even to speak to him at times. In late 1975 he finally cornered the Chinese ambassador to Tirana, but, ‘as always, [he] used the well-known platitudes and slogans, in other words, “baloney”.’ By the end, Hoxha was reduced to watching Yugoslav television to try to find out what his allies were up to. He went to China only once. Mao tried to find out what he really thought about Stalin. ‘One cannot advance without mistakes,’ Mao told him: ‘Has your Party made mistakes?’

   ‘We cannot say that there have been no mistakes,’ I told him, ‘but the main thing is that we struggle to make as few mistakes as possible or none at all ...’ I was too ‘hasty’. The great philosopher was getting at something else: ‘It is necessary to make mistakes,’ he said.

The Albanians emerged ‘disappointed’. ‘To tell the truth, our impressions from this meeting were not what we had expected ... we did not learn anything constructive which would be of value to us.’ Worst of all: ‘We felt that the epidemic of modern revisionism had infected China, too.’ That was in 1956. By 1964 Hoxha is writing: ‘There is no trace of Marxist honesty, or political maturity, let alone ideological maturity, about the hidden aims of the actions which the Chinese have in mind. Such an immature, vacillating stand ... comes as no surprise to us.’

By the mid-1970s Hoxha is in despair about Chinese foreign policy: Mao has struck up close relationships with Pinochet, Edward Heath and Marcos. The break came partly over general foreign policy issues, but also because China, according to Hoxha, tried to force Albania into an alliance with Rumania and Yugoslavia against the USSR and perhaps urged the former Defence Minister, Beqir Balluku, to stage a coup against Hoxha.

Since 1977, Albania has been very much on its own, gradually seeking alternative trading partners after a complete break with China. Where does it go from here? The Constitution formally bans joint ventures and credits and Hoxha repeatedly refers to the dangers of getting into debt (‘Ceausescu’s Rumania is being sold at auction for credits. This means “death through credits” ’). Visitors arriving at the frontier in 1980 were met by the slogan: ‘Even if we have to go without bread, we Albanians do not violate principles; we do not betray Marxism-Leninism.’

Pollo and Puto’s History of Albania, by two professors at Tirana University, is an authorised version of events starting from prehistoric times. Most of the historical material is judiciously treated. Unfortunately it is rather unenlightening on what are probably the three most interesting aspects of modern Albania. First, the attempt to build a relatively comprehensive self-reliant economy in a very small country (the population in 1978 was 2,563,000). Second, the eradication of religion, which is totally and formally banned by the 1976 Constitution: Albania claims to be ‘the first country, and the only one in the world, without religious institutions’ – the more extraordinary since at the time of liberation it was over 70 per cent Muslim (and about 17 per cent Orthodox, 10 per cent Catholic). Third, the de-subordination of women, which, within the limits of socialist-type ‘emancipation’, seems to have been quite advanced – particularly for a predominantly Muslim society.

Some may dismiss Hoxha as paranoid, but it is not hard to feel that much of his overriding concern with security has a sound basis. During the Second World War Britain, Albania’s ostensible ally, would not even proclaim support for the country’s independence. Hoxha has just released The Anglo-American Threat to Albania, covering the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. The British and Americans hardly emerge better than Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Chou and Mao. Hoxha dealt with some rather ill-informed British envoys, keeping them off-balance in their strange surroundings with jokes about Much Ado About Nothing and engaging in discussion about Jerome K. Jerome. He shows rich contempt for right-wing emissaries like Julian Amery and Lt-Col. Neil (‘Bill’) McLean who were trying to restore something like the prewar Zog regime. He also dismisses (for the first time, to my knowledge) the notion, widespread in Whitehall, Langley, Virginia and the Kremlin, that Kim Philby saved Albania from the Anglo-American attempt to overthrow the regime in the early 1950s.

Of these volumes, it is probably those on China which will be most widely read. They are a rare glimpse of what it is really like trying to be a small ‘ally’ of China. But Hoxha’s books are more than just an exposé of the behaviour of some Communist leaders. They are also a vivid exposure of ‘actually existing socialism’. With his wide culture and Western education, his hard schooling in Moscow and Peking, Hoxha stands in two worlds. He is well-aware that Communism is often boring, even at the top (‘What did we do in Odessa? We were bored’: Hoxha was reduced to playing billiards with Soviet surveillance personnel and trying to get some reaction out of his host, General Yepishev, by complaining about the statue of Richelieu; he wasn’t even allowed to visit the Potemkin steps). Most of all, he exposes the hollowness of Communism’s main mode of demonstrating its attractiveness: ritual. As an old pro, Hoxha is constantly on the alert for the worthless official reception, the tedious banquet. ‘The Chinese and [North] Koreans brought out the people like a mob of sheep which gambolled and bleated’ (for Tito in 1977). Yet, while Hoxha knows that ‘This is the façade,’ he has no other way to demonstrate support for his own policies. When he wants to show the Russians how united the Albanians are in late 1960, the highly ritualistic performance he describes sounds indistinguishable from the sort of thing he terms a ‘masquerade’ when put on elsewhere in the Communist world. The Soviet delegate Yuri Andropov (later head of the KGB) even asks: ‘Why do the delegates cheer so much for Enver Hoxha?’ This gives Hoxha the chance to ramble on for several pages about the value of cheering.

Hoxha sees himself as the guardian of orthodoxy, fighting ‘revisionist’ foes from Belgrade to Pyongyang. By the end, he has the punch-drunk feistiness of a great survivor, who has travelled an amazing road – from Mohammed to Mao. He has helped transform his country: every mosque and church is closed. But with whom can he now converse about Jerome K. Jerome and Schiller? Life in the Communist bloc has been tough and boring; information is hard to come by. There is a Howard Hughes-like quality to Hoxha’s account of himself reduced to scrutinising the television of hated Yugoslavia and capitalist Italy to try to find out what is going on in the world. The collected, and unexpected, works of the aging charmer deserve the title ‘Fear and Loathing in Tirana’.

The books referred to by Jon Halliday are listed below. All those by Enver Hoxha are published by the ‘8 Nentori’ Publishing House (Tirana) and are available from the Albanian Society, 26 Cambridge Road, Ilford, Essex. Reflections on China, Vol. I, 1962-1972: Extracts from the Political Diary by Enver Hoxha. 783 pp., £3, 1979. Reflections on China, Vol. II, 1973-1977: Extracts from the Political Diary by Enver Hoxha. 810 pp., £3, 1979. With Stalin: Memoirs by Enver Hoxha. 224 pp., £1.50, 1979. The Khrushchevites: Memoirs by Enver Hoxha. 484 pp., £3, 1980. The Eurocommunism is anti-communism by Enver Hoxha. 291 pp., £1.50, 1980. The Anglo-American Threat to Albania: Memoirs of the National Liberation War by Enver Hoxha. 446 pp., £2.50, 1982. The History of Albania: From its Origins to the Present Day by Stefanaq Pollo and Arben Puto with the collaboration of Kristo Frasheri and Skender Anamali, translated by Carol Wiseman and Ginnie Hole. Routledge. 322pp., £18.95, 7 July 1981, 0 7100 0365 X.