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.

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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.