The Strange Death of Mehmet Shehu

Jon Halliday

On 18 December 1981, Tirana Radio announced that Albania’s long-time premier Mehmet Shehu had committed suicide the previous night ‘in a moment of nervous crisis’. Although suicide is generally frowned on in the Communist countries – who, after all, could possibly wish to depart from paradise? – the radio referred to Shehu as ‘comrade’ and gave him his full ritual titles. Nearly one year later Albania’s paramount leader, Enver Hoxha, claimed that Shehu had been a multiple foreign agent: of the Gestapo, the SIM (Italian Intelligence), Yugoslavia, the KGB, the USA – and Britain. These allegations were widely greeted with derision as a figment of Hoxha’s paranoia. The credibility of his accusations was hardly enhanced by the fact that he claimed that Shehu had killed himself after being strongly criticised for arranging the betrothal of his son to a woman whose family allegedly contained ‘six to seven war criminals’, and thus attempting to create a scandal which would undermine the Albanian regime. Finally, a few weeks before Hoxha himself died in April 1985, the Albanian party daily said Shehu had been ‘liquidated’ – although a spokesman later denied that this meant executed (given the hyperbole of brutality, such expressions are hard to decode).

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