Fond memories of a communist dictator
Nexhmije Hoxha, the 81-year-old widow of Albania’s former leader Enver Hoxha, who ruled his country for over 40 years, spends her time writing books about her life with Hoxha and her adventures since the fall of the Communist regime. She watches events from afar, declaring herself to be proud «of what we achieved over so many years.» Hoxha lives in a humble apartment in Liapraka, on the outskirts of Tirana near the airport, where there were once poultry farms during the Communist regime. She does not own her home. «I’m the only one to whom the democrats refuse to give a home, as they have to everyone else,» she said, adding that she survives on a pension of $80 a month and help from her children. The once all-powerful Nexhmije Hoxha now lives in a converted warehouse her daughter gave her, and where she lives with her late husband’s older sister and the memories of an entire era. For some, that time was the worst in Albanian history, but for her it marked the rebirth of the Albanian people. We visited her early one evening after a heavy downpour that turned the dark road to her house into mud. Hoxha opened the door with a smile and offered us the traditional Albanian raki and coffee. «In our time these things never happened. Drains were cleared and there were channels for rainwater to run into; we never had this mess,» she commented. Her small living room is filled with photographs of her late husband, the bookshelves filled with his works. There is a romantic photograph of Enver and Nexhmije by the lake at Pogradec, another of them with their three children and their grandchildren, a huge picture of her late husband at one of the party’s holiday resorts, a large painting by a local artist showing her and her husband with other partisans at the historic Conference of Peza in 1941 when the anti-fascist front was formed. «These are just a few of the personal things we managed to save. They took the rest and are holding on to them: my husband’s personal archive, photographs, personal gifts and 25,000 of his books. I’m not saying they should give back any state property, but I want back my personal things and family heirlooms they are keeping.» Nexhmije Hoxha was arrested right after the fall of the regime and was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment on a charge – wasting public money on an overconsumption of coffee – that led to an international outcry. «After my husband’s funeral in 1985, thousands of people came by our home to offer their sympathy. In accordance with Albanian tradition, we offered them coffee. That is what was considered an abuse of funds and they locked me up in prison,» she said. She spent five years in prison alongside hardened criminals, spending long periods in isolation in dark cells with no bed or heating. But as she said, she never faltered. Wrongdoers «After so long in prison, did you ever think of the thousands of people who had rotted in those same cells simply because of their political differences with the Hoxha regime?» we asked. «Of course I did but I am not responsible for what those people had done, since they must have done something wrong, they had violated state laws,» she replied, adding: «If I had been imprisoned for political reasons I would have accepted it, but not for the coffee. Both I and my family were in complete isolation and living under conditions of political persecution. My son Ilir wrote an article defending his father and they threw him in prison. Why should I pay for what happened in Albania over so many years? Some say that I don’t want to apologize for the past. I say that I can apologize to the people if that is what they want. But I cannot declare repentance to those who have destroyed Albania, destroyed the foundations of industry, knocked down factories, and plunged the people into insecurity and uncertainty. I don’t feel I can do that.» Words flow out of her in a flood when she wants to defend the regime imposed by Hoxha. «I can’t say whether socialism or communism failed because we didn’t have time to establish socialism. We were still in the first phase. Some mistakes may have been made, but we know what we had found and where we were going. We took over an Albania that was still in the Middle Ages, with primitive agriculture, 95 percent illiteracy, epidemics and famine. We set up a people’s republic. Now they are building more beautiful buildings and roads, there is freedom of speech. But the people that we made, this is something they cannot do. Pride, sincerity, trust, besa, the humanity that was typical of Albanians then, that has gone. I am proud of what we achieved over so many years.» Nexhmije Hoxha was a member of the party’s central committee, she worked for the «people’s republic» in various posts. Many claim that she exercised great influence over her husband and some even say that in the final years of his life, when he was very ill from the effects of diabetes, it was his wife who pulled the strings in Albania. «That is a myth,» she declared. «Right until the end it was he who made the decisions, reading and signing documents. Let me give you just one example. A few days before he died he asked me to read him something because he could no longer see very well. It was a speech by Constantine Karamanlis. I read it to him almost mechanically, but he insisted I read some of the paragraphs again so that he could understand properly what the Greek politician was saying.» After about two hours with Nexhmije Hoxha, who still retains an incredible memory, we asked her why she did not leave her humble abode for a more comfortable home now that her children have done well financially and can help her. «Because I have decided not to give in. I have the right to a house from the state, like all Albanians, particularly veterans, and I demand they give me one,» she replied. Showing us out, she mentioned how much her husband loved the Greek people, and declared her own unlimited admiration and respect for Greek politician Manolis Glezos.