Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania by Blendi Fevziu, edited by Robert Elsie, and translated by Majlinda Nishku is perhaps the first English-language biography of the Albanian dictator. Fevziu is an Albanian journalist, writer, and host of the TV talk show Opinion. He graduated in literature and Albanian language at the University of Tirana in 1991 and in 1989, he was part of the staff of the Student newspaper of the University. In December 1990 and February 1991 he was an active participant in the students’ movement that brought the change of regime in Albania. On 5 January 1991, he was the co-founder of the “RD” (Democratic Renaissance) newspaper, the first free newspaper after almost 70 years of independent media blackout in Albania.
Albania was mostly a forgotten country in the West. It was a communist country and a member of the Warsaw Pact but seemingly a quiet partner. Erich Honecker, Nicolae Ceausescu, and Soviet premiers were all well known, but few would recognize Enver Hoxha. What was know about Albania was little, too. It was portrayed as an agrarian country that used rather primitive technology. I remember reading and seeing a new tractor that was a design from decades ago. Hoxha, himself, never finished his college education. In fact, he dropped out of a few schools. In an early “trial” after the Germans fled Albania, Hoxha appointed a judge whose highest education was elementary school. The Hoxha regime was as undereducated as it was lasting.
Hoxha did have a hero and that was Josef Stalin. He shared many traits with the Soviet dictator. They both dropped out of religious training –Stalin Russian Orthodox and Hoxha Islam. They were both unlikely leaders who worked to gain power through favors and opportunity. Hoxha had little interest in politics until he found himself in it. Like Stalin, after gaining power Hoxha eliminated all his competition and ended all competition for power. Stalin’s purges hit the military and Hoxha purges the educated. There are plenty of similarities between Hoxha and Stalin both personal and governmental.
Hoxha, like he made his country, was quite isolated. After WWII, he never set foot in a free country. His last visit to a communist country was in 1970. He lived in an area called the block, heavily guarded area of the city with limited access. Hoxha was paranoid. That is what kept him in the country in seclusion. His last visit to Khrushchev’s Soviet Union, he would only eat food from the Albanian Embassy prepared from ingredients collected from several small markets. He has refused to fly out of the Soviet Union and took a train to Austria before flying into Albania. He never trusted Kruschev or the Chinese let alone any Western country. Albania as a nation ranked as the third poorest in the world. Not Europe, but the world.
Enver Hoxha: The Iron Fist of Albania is a detailed look at the man who ruled Albania for over forty years. This book would have been better if it could have provided more details of the country itself. Although not published to be a country study, it would help western readers understand the country that was hidden by its own iron curtain. It is interesting how we have better histories of North Korea than we do of Albania.