Friday, April 20, 2007

Comrade Loulou and the Fun Factory chapter 4: Soul Force

(by Cali Ruchala)

Chapter Four: Soul Force

Never the trusting sort, Enver took so many positions in the government for himself that the introductions at a state dinner - if he had any - would have required a naptime. His official name and title was now "Comrade-Chairman-Prime Minister-Foreign-Minister-Minister of War-Commander-in-Chief of the People's Army Enver Hoxha". Later he would add the word "Supreme" in front of "Comrade" and adopt atrocious epithets such as "Great Teacher" and the more mysterious handle of "Sole Force".

In those years after the war, almost forgotten today by new, more pressing tragedies (and never learned in America to begin with - World War II was about fighting Nazis, right?), East and West were balancing on a precipice above a landscape devastated by war. In Italy and Austria, Yugoslav Communists were fighting the kind of battle that men with brass on their chests define as a "low-level insurgency", taking on Allied troops and Italian partisans. The battle for the Italian city of Trieste, which Tito stubbornly refused to let go of, was especially ominous for a continent still smothered in ashes, though it was to be the amateur architecture in Berlin that got all the attention.

Sole Force wasted no time in making new enemies. The only "imperialists" in the Balkans at the time were the British who had been refused access to Albania. They settled instead on the Greek island of Corfu which lies just a few kilometers off Albania's southern coastline. Hoxha repeatedly warned against Allied incursions into Albanian territorial waters. He then mined the waters off the coast of Corfu and a British vessel was sunk.

After this international incident, the Brits and the Americans finally paid attention. Albania had scant importance to anyone during the war; about the only people who paid her any mind had been Tito and Mussolini, two leaders obsessed with prestige more than strategy, and both of these jackals merely wanted to annex it. At the Allied conferences in Tehran and Yalta, Albania was not even mentioned. Stalin himself - later to become Hoxha's greatest role model - advocated the country's outright disappearance by absorption into Yugoslavia. In 1946, Stalin asked a Yugoslav delegation in Moscow, "And what about Hoxha, what is he like in your opinion?" When they answered evasively, Koba winked. "He is a petty bourgeois, inclined towards nationalism? Yes, we think so too."

In 1946, with the Cold War "cooling up", the United States Senate passed a resolution recognizing Greek claims to southern Albania, including Hoxha's birthplace in Gjirokaster. Hoxha would eventually come to fear Greek claims on Albanian territory so much that he would make it illegal to name a child Christos, Nicholas or Alexander.

Later in the same year, the British for the first time met with the deposed King Zog and began training some of his supporters on the island of Cyprus. They were soon joined in their drills by refugees and broken Balli Kombetar fighters who forced a massive exodus below the folds of the descending Iron Curtain.

In 1947, a small group of these exiles, supported by American weaponry and intelligence, made their first incursion into Albania with the goal of sabotaging the Communist Party - and assassinating the multi-portfolio'ed Comrade, Enver Hoxha, if the opportunity presented itself.

In all, seven landings were made by Albanian anti-Communists. Each time, the party was immediately apprehended, tortured and executed. The infiltration programme had been compromised by a British double agent working in the Pentagon named Kim Philby. He passed on sensitive information about the landing sites, the composition of the parties and their ETAs to his Soviet paymasters, who in turn informed Loulou.

All this did nothing to assuage the persecution complex recognized by Nako Spiru in 1943. We cannot say what Hoxha would have been like without this agitation, but it certainly didn't help. Certifiably insane or at least blinding drunk on a cocktail of white-hot ideology and paranoia, he began to transform the country into a gigantic army bunker. The next few years were spent sealing the cracks.

In honour of his hero Uncle Joe, the state that Hoxha began to build had its inspiration in the Stalinized Soviet Union. As such Albania reaped a few of the benefits of Communism and centralized control. Hoxha undertook a massive literacy campaign and after forty years, Albania had a 90% literacy rate (identical to the United States). Life expectancy for males in 1939 was thirty-eight years old. Hoxha immediately banned the gjakmarrje or blood feud which would devour entire communities over the most trivial disagreements, and the life expectancy jumped to a high point of seventy-three years during the last years of Loulou's life. He also banned the medieval Canon of Lek, a code of unwritten laws which essentially relegated women to a status lower than that of a healthy steer and regulated the violence of feuding. In the new Albania, everyone would be healthy steer subject to regulated violence, man and women alike. That's called equality.

Of course, not even the indefatigable Comrade Loulou could hurl Albania into the 20th century in all respects. Nepotism and Communism go together like shit on a shoe. In the case of the Albanian Communist Party, it was very much a "family business", moreso than any other state, including Romania. The following description of the blood ties between members of the Party comes from Moscow, broadcast during a relatively poor time in the two countries' relations. While it is easily identifiable as propaganda, the sad part is that it was also true:

Half or more of the 53 members of the Central Committee of the Albanian Party of Labour [the Communist Party] are related. First, we have four couples: Enver Hoxha and his wife Nexhmije Hoxha; Mehmet Shehu and his wife Fiqrete Shehu; Hysni Kopo and his wife Vito Kopo; and Josif Pashko with his wife Eleni Terezi. The wives of Manush Myftiu, Politburo member, and of Pilo Peristeri, candidate-member of the Politburo, are sisters. Kadri Hasbiu, candidate-member of the Politburo and Interior Minister, is the husband of Mehmet Shehu's sister. The brother of Hysni Kopo's wife is Piro Kondi, also a member of the Central Committee.

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