Friday, April 20, 2007

Comrade Loulou and the Fun Factory chapter 2: The Geek

(by Cali Ruchala)

Chapter Two: The Geek

The reign of Enver Hoxha over Albania is distinguished by only two things: its length and its oddities. He was, any way you cut it, a very strange man even by Communist standards, obsessed with invisible enemies, poison germs and the facial hair of mysterious visitors. He never had any impact outside of the Balkans, and even there it'd be stretching it to call him influential. Surrounded by larger powers, he could only turn inward, and take out his frustrations on his own people.

Enver's reign of weirdness lasted forty years - longer than any other comrade in Europe, and behind only to Kim Il-Sung of North Korea and Fidel Castro in the world. The next closest is Hoxha's next-door neighbour and former mentor, Tito of Yugoslavia, who held his title as the South Slavic Dapper Don for thirty-five years.

Albania under Enver Hoxha was a state based upon a rigorously-enforced ideology with brutal consequences for subversion. However, it doesn't pay to look at him as a Marxist ideologue, or even a dictator at all. If one pulls away the shielding cobwebs of his hardcore isolationism, his manner of statecraft seems closer to a game of treehouse. It's almost as if a simpering, lonely child were given a chance to make a reality out of his delusions of grandeur, take vengeance on his tormentors and put into place a schizophrenic plan to remake an entire nation in his own, pathetic image. His accomplishments - once given grudging respect by even Western commentators, and which have taken on a nearly mythic, though completely untrue, stature - are roughly that which one can expect from a five-year old sissyboy placed in charge of the Gestapo. Not one part of Albania escaped from this deranged "renewal" project - the people, the cities, even the physical shape of the land bore the paranoid and sterile stamp of Enver Hoxha. He made himself God in a godless land, demanding human sacrifice and taking away what would not be voluntarily surrendered.

Somehow, despite his brazen brutality and avarice, the destruction he wrought on his beloved subjects was either downplayed or buried beneath trivia about improved literacy rates and net electricity supplies by historians who really should know better. At least today they can see for themselves the true legacy of Enver Hoxha. After ninety days and ten thousand sorties flown by NATO jets, the average yearly wage of Serbian worker in Belgrade is still twice that of his Albanian counterpart in Tirane.

* * *

Enver Hoxha was born on October 16, 1908 in Gjirokaster, the pre-eminent city of the Albanian interior. His father was a cloth merchant and landowner, though it would later be a treasonable offense to insinuate that he was anything but a tough-as-nails working-class Hercules. The Gjirokaster Hoxhas already had a formidable reputation: Enver's uncle Hyen was a prominent politician, landowner and Gjirokaster's representative at the 1912 assembly that proclaimed Albania's independence from the Ottoman Turks.

Despite being such a righteously impoverished proletarian scrub, the elder Hoxha had the means to send his son to the French School in Korce. Albania at the time had no national educational system and zero universities. A few years later, his father sent him - and his doctrinaire biographers had a really hard time explaining this one - to the American School in the Albanian capital, Tirane. It would appear that his father was preparing him for service in the class-enemy royal government of the almost-as-strange-as-Enver monarch of Albania and namesake of that extraterrestrial supervillian from Krypton, King Zog.

For his post-secondary education, Hoxha took a national scholarship in Natural Sciences to continue his studies in France. At Montpellier, he was an uninspiring student and boring to the point of invisibility. Years later, when following some leads for a newspaper article on the New Stalinist on the Bloc, a French journalist named Jean-Louis Franchot was faced with a biographer's nightmare: none of Enver Hoxha's classmates could remember him. When pressed, they invoked a student who sat quietly, never spoke (possibly for fear of mockery of his rustic accent) and kept his nose buried in his books. We can be certain that, like the Unibomber, he remembered each and every one of his classmates. His student days, so filled with alienation and other attributes of a 1930s science geek, had no shortage of hatred either. It began to incubate in the black earth of his being, fertilized a few years later by a political philosophy that has so often become the very incarnation of hate.

After his year-long scholarship to Montpellier expired, Enver moved to Paris. Having discovered the universal truth that science nerds don't get chicks, he moved on to the Sorbonne where he studied philosophy. We can assume that this is the period in which he developed a fondness for a fashion sense later forced upon millions of Albanians called "Beatnik chic".

It was in Paris, though, that Hoxha met an otherwise useless rake named Valliant Couturier. The Frenchman was editor for a Communist journal with the ironic title of l'Humanité. He took young Enver under his wing. Never before and not again until Pol Pot bit into his first croissant would Western assistance be so malevolent. Couturier thoroughly indoctrinated Enver in the 69th variety of Marx's ideas, called Stalinism. The ideas of sweeping terror and the cult of the leader meshed well with Enver's personality. He soon began writing in the name of Stalinist Humanity under the unlikely pseudonym of "Loulou".

Like most children of the bourgeoisie who discover radical thinking, Loulou retained a certain ambition which caused him to keep to the old class habit of social climbing. After wasting a year reading Marx, Lenin and Stalin and smoking clove cigarettes, he boarded a train for Brussels, where he took a job as secretary to King Zog's ambassador to Belgium. One can imagine the sluggard of the Parisian brothels in that environment of discipline and protocol, making desultory comments about the Philistines around him and their bourgeois obsession with concepts like work and time. One day the Philistine in Chief found Enver's stack of forbidden Communist literature. Like a father who's happened across his son's stash of nudie pictures, the Consul General gave Enver a severe lecture on the dangers of proletarian revolution (especially for a country like Albania, which had no proletariat) and fired him.

For the first time in his life, Enver's wish of being a persecuted minority (geeks and bohemians don't count) had finally come true. Fortunately for the Consul General, Hoxha didn't yet command a clique of thugs in a Red Star ensemble behind him to act out his fantasies of revenge. Instead he sulked home, returning to Albania for the first time in six years. There he took a job as a teacher at his old school in Korce.

No comments: