Enver Hoxha’s personality cult lives on in today’s Albania
Albania is changing fast in the 21st century. At the same time a dictator’s ghost seems near impossible to get rid of.
In March 1992 communism came to a violent end in Albania, the world’s most isolated communist state. Finally, three years after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the country set out on the road toward democracy. But the personality cult of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha (deceased 1985) continues unabated. The Socialist Party of Albania (PartiaSocialiste e Shqipërisë, PSSh) that was founded in June 1991 is nothing less than a latter-day reincarnation of communist Albania’s ruling Party of Labour (Partia e Punës e Shqipërisë, PPSH).
What changed was only one word in the name. Nothing else. This new-old party (PSSh) claims to be glad that the era of the dictatorship of proletariat is over, yet they continue to glorify the brutal decades of Albania’s Stalinist-style communism. Each year the party’s leaders attend anniversaries that celebrate communist partisan victories during the Second World War. The anti-communist guerrillas who also fought against Italian and German occupants are virtually ignored.
Communist legacy with a tight grip on politics
Meanwhile, three classical communist parties were established in post-communist Albania: the Communist Party of Albania (Partia Komuniste e Shqipërisë), the 8 November Communist Party of Albania (Partia Komuniste e Shqipërisë 8 Nëntori), and the Reorganised Party of Labour of Albania (Partia e Punës e Shqipërisë e Riorganizuar). Their ideological profile is shared by the pro-communist Union of War Veterans (Bashkimi i Veteranëve të Luftës), a hub for surviving communist partisans, their descendants and their sympathisers. The union and these three parties seize every occasion to demonstrate in the streets with portraits of Enver Hoxha held high. They never forget to commemorate the anniversaries of the dictator’s birth and death (16th October and 11th April, respectively), and the founding of the PSSh in 1941 (8 November).
On 16 September 1942 a conference was held near Tirana in the village of Pezë. The Conference of Peza (Pezë) was attended by all Albanian political and religious factions. They established a unified National Liberation Movement (Lëvizja Antifashiste Nacional-Çlirimtare, LANÇ) for fighting against Italian (and later German) occupants. With time, the PPSh, led by Enver Hoxha, seized effective control of the LANÇ. Together they took power after the war, forming the new People’s Socialist Republic according to Stalinist principles. Hoxha ruled for the vast majority of the state’s existence, until his death in 1985.
On 16th September 2018, the leaders of the three communist parties, along with the Union of War Veterans, turned the celebrations of the 76th anniversary of the Conference of Peza into a commemoration of dictator Enver Hoxha.
On the same September day, the inhabitants of Tepelena, a town in southern Albania, celebrated the 75th anniversary of their town’s liberation from German occupation. On this occasion, Tepelana’s mayor, Tërmet Peçi, alongside the members of the municipality board, publicly sang a communist anthem in praise of Hoxha. Immediately afterward, MP Tritan Shehu from the Democratic Party of Albania (Partia Demokratike e Shqipërisë, PDSh) protested and lodged a formal complaint with Prime Minister Edi Rama (who also leads the PSSh), requesting the mayor be summarily released from the post. A public procurator opened a legal case against Peçi. But it remains to be seen whether this mayor will face any repercussions, given that at present the Socialist Party (PSSh) rules Albania, and its members frequently venerate Hoxha in a rather blatant and unrestricted manner. It appears they have no sympathy or respect for the tens of thousands of victims of Hoxha’s murderous regime.
New ways to deal with the past
The Institute for Exploring the Crimes of Communism is working hard to make evidence of communist-era crimes public, but much work remains to be done.
Not long ago a group of young citizens founded the organization “Qendresa Qytetare” (Civil Resistance) which among others has produced an interesting documentary film called “Interview with Dictator”. The film presents the life of the former communist leader using modern cinematography. The cinema Millenium in the centre of Tirana was full of people for the premiere, most of them young.
It was a pity that national media was absent.
In the film the dictator answers questions, referring to official documents. Below is a translated and shorter transcript of this imagined interview.
Bardhyl Selimi is a retired teacher of mathematics, born in Kosovo in 1945. He has published articles about mathematics and its relation to philosophy. He is an activist of the Esperanto movement.
Interview with a dictator
Who are you? Why do people honour you?
My name is Enver Hoxha. I’m the person who brought
communism to Albania and have managed this country with a
steady hand for 40 years. Without my care, Albania ran the risk
of falling into the hands of democratic reactionaries, a sad fate
that befell many countries in Eastern Europe after the Second World War.
What was your childhood like?
I was born in the town of Gjirokaster. I had a modest childhood,
split between Gjirokastër and the small city of Korça, where I
went to school. At the age of 22 I was studying in France, but returned home
thanks to a scholarship offered to me by King Zog the First.a But
due to my poor grades, the state suspended my scholarship and I
could not finish university.
Later, once I was the one in power, I took my revenge. I kicked
out Zog and put a price on his head. I put the former minister of
education, an aged nationalist by the name of Mirash Ivanaj, in
prison, where he lived out his years.
What do you hate the most?
God! Communist materialism cannot accept religious
spiritualism. God and religion were serious
obstacles in the creation of the new, socialist people. The centre
of all should be I, leader of the Albanian
Communist Party, and to achieve it, we communists had to
adopt extreme measures!
My comrades and I declared Albanians nonreligious by law.
According to the Penal Code, everybody who makes the sign of
the cross or kneels to pray, even within his own home, is to be
condemned to ten years in prison.
What happened to religious objects built before then?
During our rule, we succeed in closing 2189 churches, mosques
and masjids. These objects have been returned to the people by
transforming them into culture houses, decorated with portraits
of Marx and Lenin. We use others as storehouses, depots or
prisons. We destroyed the rest.
What happened to the leaders of religion, priests and
I declared them enemies of the people. Since the year 1945 I
have been signing death sentences for the clerics. But the
resistance of these Servants of God has been incredible.
Needless to say, the most educated have already been executed.
Thousands of mullahs have been imprisoned, while others have
seen the light of reason and shaved off their beards.
Maintaining power is of course more important than
attaining it. How did you manage to keep going?
Very true! We succeed using the most effective political method
known: terror. Just after I took power in 1945, I founded the
State Security apparatus. This structure arrested 5021 citizens
that year. During its existence 958 people were killed without
trial. They have loyally oppressed all opposition in the country
and have persecuted anybody who did not accept my regime.
Every Albanian was registered and under surveillance at home
and at work. The state needed to know his thoughts, whether he
was content or had complaints about the way I was running the
country. We seized all the assets of the rich, and persecuted all
intellectuals and patriots who did not believe in
Did you try to keep Kosovo within the Albanian territory?
No. After Mukje, we understood that Kosovo was not to be on
our agenda. A few years later, in a meeting of our Party
Central Committee on December 1945, I spoke about the
Kosovo affair. I said that it was not progressive to pursue it any
further. On the contrary, we had to do all we could to encourage
brotherly love between the Kosovars and the Yugoslavs…
But in your final years your attention returned to Kosovo.
Not only to Kosovo. I was trying to develop my image as a
patriot. Patriotism was the only rallying cry left after we lost our
communist allies. I succeed. Many Albanians today really think
I was a patriot.
Many others honour you for the construction of Albania…
With an iron fist we got all our prisoners to work. Since we
didn’t have to pay them, we could achieve big things: dikes,
channels, factories, mills, airports, hospitals, farms and housing
blocs. It’s true that the credit is ultimately mine though, as I
came up with all the ideas.
In what manner did the prisoners build the country?
They had no choice of course. Enemies were punished and
imprisoned. Albania had 23 prisons and 48 prison-camps, which
employed enforced labor to power the most difficult sectors of
Why were Albanians so isolated under your rule?
Only traitors wanted to fly from Albania, those people who did
not want to build socialism, our holy aim. So anyone who
wanted to see the outside world was punished or executed.
Almost 6000 Albanians were executed at the border while they
tried to flee. We considered even those who watched foreign TV
channels to be traitors.
Last question: can you explain why most of your comrades
were also punished by your regime?
It is not difficult for me to answer. As Miladin Popovich said:
The Party strengthens itself by cleansing. When enemies are
missing, you cook up them.
Over my 40 years in power, I liked to spice things up with some
good cleansing. Ordinary citizens and party members alike. I
executed 9 ministers. In 1974 alone I cleaned up the chief
managers, headquarters, former war comrades, and
another 500 officers in the army.
In the economic sphere, in 1975 alone we arrested the chief
managers of the country. Their families were interned. We also
cleansed culture. I would like to highlight the arrests of artists
who contributed to eleventh Festival of Chanson.
On February 18, 1984 I incurred a cerebral ischaemia. It made it
difficult to run the country.
Adored as a God, on April 11th 1985, I died.
Through killings, violence, terror and isolation I was able to
dominate my people totally, for over 40 years!