Authoritarianism with a capital A

Albania is a small European country tucked away in the Balkans but for forty odd years from the end of the Second World War its people suffered under one of the most brutal regimes in modern history.

Liberals cherish freedom and liberty, if you want to look for an example of the opposite authoritarianism with a capital A it could be found in Enver Hoxha’s Albania.

In his excellent book Blendi Fevziu paints a graphic picture of a nation in the grip of fear.

Hoxha’s rise to power was in many way accidental, he was handpicked to lead by a representative of the Yugoslav Communists sent to assist the Albanian partisans in the fight against the Axis powers.

Once secure Hoxha stayed at the top by using terror in all its forms.

Torture, execution and murder were used against anyone seen to be an ‘enemy of the people.’

Internal exile was another favoured method of persecution.

Periodic purges of the ruling Communist party were also carried out, so even those who thought they were on the inside were not safe.

Their families were also targetted for persecution.

As years went by the regime became totally isolated following disputes with first Yugoslavia, then the USSR and finally China.

The coup de grace was a declaration in 1967 that Albania was officially an atheist state meaning more repression of a population already firmly held in check by fear.

Hoxha was helped by the fact that his country was one that the major powers were not bothered about.

British and American troops based there at the end of World War Two departed at the seccession of hostilities  leaving the field clear for the Communists.

Albania was not even mentioned let alone discussed at Yalta. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had bigger fish to fry.

When he died in 1985 Hoxha left an impoverished country totally sealed off from the outside world.

The regime collapsed in the early 1990s after the fall of the Berlin wall and a more democratic nation has slowly emerged.

Fevziu’s book is a difficult read at times because it pulls no punches in its description of what was a nightmare period for Albania.

I will keep it on my bookshelf as a constant reminder of how frightening Stalinist rule actually was in practice.

More importantly I will continue to do everything I can to protect and enhance the freedoms we often take for granted.

Enver Hoxha The Iron Fist Of Albania by Blendi Fevziu is available here.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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21 Comments

  • I will buy the book, and then maybe I won’t think Brexit is so bad.

  • Neil Sandison 27th Feb '18 - 10:45am

    David Warren .Authoritarianism is a creeping cancer of intolerance ,prejudice ,nationalism and right and left wing state control .As internationalist liberals must continue to stand up for liberty and freedom for where ever we see peoples oppressed by their own governments ruling elites .You have given some good examples from history of how power can be abused. but it still continues today that is why Liberal Democrats should never be afraid of standing up for both personal and peoples rights and bear witness and speak out against state repression of minorities.

  • David Warren 27th Feb '18 - 11:27am

    @Neil Sandison

    Absolutely.

    Liberty is always under threat particularly when you have dominant political parties which are authoritarian in nature.

  • Peter Martin 27th Feb '18 - 12:06pm

    Tony Benn used to ask these five questions about people like Enver Hoxha.

    ” If one meets a powerful person, ask them five questions:

    1) What power have you got?
    2) Where did you get it from?
    3) In whose interests do you exercise it?
    4) To whom are you accountable?
    5) And how can we get rid of you?

    If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system. ”

    So on the basis that “Liberals cherish freedom and liberty” it could well be argued that Tony Benn was a Liberal too!

  • The First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania, Comrade Enver Hoxha, to give the guy his correct title.

    During the 1970s and 1980s, Albania broadcast a shortwave propaganda channel in English. Some of us listened to it for amusement as a way of passing the time when we were bored.

    As a master of torturing language, Hoxha was unsurpassed. My favourite is: “The American imperialists, the Soviet and Chinese social imperialists, Titoite, Euro-communist and other modern revisionists, the international capitalist bourgeoisie and reaction.” That was from a talk entitled “‘Imperialism and the Revolution’ and Comrade Enver Hoxha’s scientific doctrine.”

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Feb '18 - 1:36pm

    David

    Terrific piece as often from your god self.

    Neil

    As usual a very strong response

    Peter

    As an ex Labour party man who met and heard Benn many times, his father , we should realise, was a Liberal mp who went Labour

    Benn had a lot in him that was social liberal.

    As with the current Labour leadership it would be more credible if at all consistent.

    Benn never said a word against Castro and yet that was one of the few regimes that were definitely authoritarian, he defended.

    Corbyn is terrific in defending human rights in the western countries and very capitalist or right wing foreign ones, Saudi Arabia, Chile, pre Apartheid SA.

    He is a full blown and absurd defender of regimes, from Cuba and Venezuela , to complacent and sycophantic on Iran , Syria, Russia.

    And he rarely said anything but good things about the Irish republican extremists, nor much critical on the Eastern communists, that was when he was not on holiday there on a bike…

    The nastiness of the farthest left and right make me angry that the centre ground or moderate centre left , of great leaders like JFK, and others not great but good, is decried

  • David Warren 27th Feb '18 - 2:19pm

    @Peter Martin

    Tony Benn’s father was a Liberal MP in the 1920s before joining Labour.

    Tony himself was I feel a democrat but like Corbyn today he was a believer in a big state.

    The Liberals in parliament crossed swords with him during the Lib/Lab pact because of his resistance to meaningful worker participation.

    He also had a bit of a blind spot where the Eastern bloc was concerned.

  • Hoxha’s Radio Tirana came across loud and clear.

  • Here is an example

  • While Britain is, thank god, a long long way from what Albania was, I have some fears over freedom of speech which seems to be under increasing pressure – in terms of racist, sexist etc. etc. language being increasingly criminalised or wanting to be criminalised.

    There are several problems about making any speech criminal
    1. Someone has to stand in judgement
    2. It draws the boundaries so that people becoming increasingly circumspect on what they say so that they don’t cross the line.
    3. Freedom of speech in of itself is a “good”. Speech that was punished in the past for example Galileo is now seen to be correct.
    4. Our language and therefore our thoughts and politics can become increasingly “Orwellian” newspeak.
    5. Those with religious views on dare I say – LGBT sex or abortion can be hounded
    6. We can have increasing trial by media

    On 6. – we need to be careful – “conviction” by the media and not by a proper judicial process is wrong and is just as wrong as by a dictator. Christopher Jefferies was very nearly pronounced “guilty” of the Bristol murder by the media and there is a lot of doubt as to whether he could have had a fair trial if the real murderer hadn’t been caught. Judicial and quasi-judicial processes such as the parole process of Warboys and judgements around asylum seekers have come under immense pressure – while of course allowing freedom of speech over these processes!

    The pursuit of people over sexual harassment – many of whom are justifiably “hounded” – borders on a witch-hunt – either they apologise which is seen as something of a confession or they are criticised for not offering an apology. In the witch-hunts, either a witch drowned or she didn’t which proved she was a witch! Many of course got away with terrible behaviour for many years and scrutiny has brought them to book but media scrutiny may cost people their living and their livelihood and it is not a proper process. For my money I don’t see that either Michael Fallon or Damian Green behaved in such a way as to justify losing their jobs.

    I am not saying that these issues are easy and trenchant criticism of people and processes is itself part of free speech. And I don’t have the answers. We just need to be careful how we “balance” these issues – because if we are not – all of us – on the guard against totalitarian and authoritarian tendencies then we are at risk of getting a dictatorship of one kind or another.

  • David Warren 27th Feb '18 - 6:40pm

    @Manfarang

    Thanks for sharing that.

    The old pro Albanian Communist Party here in Britain still exists under its original name the CPBML.

  • David Warren this is so interesting. At the LSE in the 80s there was a pro-Hoxha group of students and they weren’t being ironic. Hard to believe now.

    Michael 1 – to borrow the Swinson question to Matthew Parris have you any idea how frightening it is to experience an unwanted, completely unannounced lunge or grope? Not sure a thoughtful thread about the nature of dictatorship is the place to call on us to feel the pain of the “handsy”.

  • David Warren
    I knew some Malaysian Chinese students who were members of the CPB-ML back in the early 1970s.

  • We don’t have dictators like this on the Good Ship Albion.
    We have camera’s every two yards and things like the People’s Court of Twitter where public, as well as not so public, figures can be judged on social gaffs or off the cuff remarks (even ones from decades ago) , so that their resignation can be demanded by social commentators in our wonderful newspapers after a tearful apology/retraction is issued. There’s probably other stuff as well. But it’s for our own good because there are some jolly bad sorts out there who we need to be protected from and that may include ourselves! And anyway we’ve all kind of sanctioned these social trials without jury or evidence to some extent or other based on our obliviously flawless moral certainty and righteous indignation.

  • @ David Warren “Tony Benn’s father was a Liberal MP in the 1920s before joining Labour” is a bit of an understatement.

    Air Commodore William Wedgwood Benn DSO DFC, was elected as a Liberal MP in 1906, and was a Whip in the Asquith government. He was a Liberal MP until 1927. He resigned his seat to join the Labour Party – as did a number of radical Liberal MP’s after 1918. He was Secretary of State for India in the MacDonald Government and Secretary of State for Air in the Attlee Government.

    He had a distinguished flying career in both World Wars and was the oldest air gunner in WW2 to fly over Germany. His eldest son was killed as a pilot in WW2 and Tony Benn too was a pilot in WW2.

    As for participatory democracy, the Liberal Peer and historian Vernon Bogdanor recently gave a fascinating Gresham Lecture :

    Tony Benn and the Idea of Participation – Professor Vernon Bogdanor …
    Video for tony benn vernon bogdaner▶ 50:26

  • suzanne Fletcher 28th Feb '18 - 9:52am

    awful problems in Albania right now. I have an asylum seeker friend from there, and her story is on the LD4SOS website, but in addition there is an influx of Albanian asylum seekers, and I met a number the other day. I don’t know why they are here, but they are frightened of anything or anyone in authority (I was at pains to explain I wasn’t) to the extent of putting up with some bad conditions rather than have them reported.

  • Excellent post and a great thread reminding us of the excesses of both left and right when it comes to authoritarianism. Sadly the cancer of authoritarianism is sweeping across society today and has strangely been enhanced by social media and technology. Authoritarian creep as I like to call it has also emerged within elements of our own party. It may be very well- intentioned intolerance of intolerance but it is a sort of Scandinavian style of social democratic authoritarianism which grates with liberals within our ranks. You don’t win arguments and progress to a more liberal world by closing down debate. We should be concerned about how our own subtle lurch to authoritarianism from time to time.

  • Kirsten johnson 28th Feb '18 - 10:25am

    I wrote my doctoral thesis on Albanian piano music. In the research, I interviewed many composers and musicians oppressed by Hoxha’s regime. Some were sent to labour camps. All were limited in what they were allowed to compose. Music had to be ‘by the people and for the people.’ In spite of these restrictions, some amazing piano music was composed. I’ve visited Albania four times and have recorded two discs of Albanian piano music. More info on the music here: http://www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com/recordings/the-albania-project/

  • Thanks Kirsten – that’s my Mothers’ Day gift sorted! x

  • Simon Banks 20th Mar '18 - 7:54pm

    Milovan Djilas (a leading Yugoslav Communist in the Second World War and for a while in government under Tito before falling out with him) wrote that Stalin, meeting Tito and himself in (I think) 1945, said it was OK with him if Yugoslavia gobbled up Albania. The idealistic Djilas was shocked. It didn’t happen, perhaps because Tito calculated it would be more trouble than it was worth.

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