Source: The Guardian Archive
Europe’s last surviving war-time leader, Mr Enver Hoxha, of Albania, died yesterday after 40 years of iron rule over the small Communist Balkan state which he turned into one of the world’s most isolated and secretive countries.
Mr Hoxha, aged 76, had been ill for the past year and the conduct of affairs appeared already to have passed into the hands of his chosen successor, the titular head of state, Mr Ramiz Alia.
The official death announcement named Mr Alia as chairman of the committee to organise the funeral – the usual first function of a new leader in a Communist country – and said Mr Hoxha died after a heart attack suffered earlier this week. It revealed that he had been partially paralysed since a stroke last year.
Mr Alia, reputedly the most liberal member of the present Albanian leadership, is expected to continue and perhaps to speed up the so far gradual opening of Albania to the outside world which began two years ago.
The son of a poor Muslim family (the religion of most Albanians before Mr Hoxha outlawed all churches), Mr Alia joined the Albanian fascist organisation, Youth of Lictor, at the age of 19 but soon turned to communism.
Aged 59, he has been at Mr Hoxha’s side for more than three decades. He was made education minister at the age of 30 and has been a member of the ruling Albanian Party of Labour’s politburo for nearly a quarter of a century. He became head of state in November 1982 a year after the apparent murder of Mr Hoxha’s long-time second-in-command, Mr Mehmet Shehu, the then prime minister.
Amid complaints in the official press about inefficiency and absenteeism, Mr Alia has called recently for modernisation and greater foreign contacts. But after 40 years of Mr Hoxha’s Stalinist rule and personality cult he will have to proceed slowly with any liberalisation.
There are reported to be several thousand political prisoners among Albania’s three million people. One recent estimate puts the figure as high as 40,000, including priests and others who refused to bow to Mr Hoxha’s version of Socialist purity.
Exiled groups are active in the US and in neighbouring Greece and ex-King Leka, the seven-foot foot-tall monarch deposed when only a few days old, seeks the restoration of the monarchy.
Albania’s valuable agricultural and mineral resources, including oil and chrome, mean that the economy has not suffered severely from the country’s increased isolation since Mr Hoxha broke with his main ally, China, in 1978.
However, trade and cultural agreements signed with Western European countries, including Greece, Italy, West Germany, Austria and Turkey in recent months have attempted to ease the situation.
The first signs of relaxation in foreign Policy under Mr Alia may come in improved relations with Britain and France.
Relations with London are deadlocked over Britain’s refusal to return Albanian gold captured from Mussolini and Albania’s sinking of two British destroyers off Corfu in 1946. But Mr Alia has said, “such difficulties can be overcome through joint effort.”