Enver Hoxha of Albania, whose 41 1/2-year reign over Europe's isolated Marxist nation made him the world's longest-ruling Communist leader, died Thursday at age 76.
The Albanian government news agency ATA, in a communique monitored in Vienna, said he died of heart failure brought on by diabetes. The news agency, which did not disclose where Hoxha died, said a "funeral meeting" will be held Monday.
For more than four decades, the Communist Party leader struggled with ruthless determination to transform the region's most backward nation into a modern, industrialized state that he hoped would serve as a political and social ideal for the rest of the world.
The World War II partisan leader sought to achieve his goals by clinging to a vision of Communist ideological purity that he felt was betrayed, in turn, by his nation's allies--Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and China. Domestic opponents of his vision were condemned as "deviationists" and were quickly purged and punished.
His singlemindedness and the iron grip he maintained on his country's 2.75 million inhabitants made Albania a curiosity. He and his party locked a tiny country no bigger than the state of Maryland in isolation as deep and inaccessible as some of the remote valleys of its mountainous terrain.
A successor to Hoxha has not been announced. However, most signs point to the naming of Ramiz Alia, the chairman of the Presidium of the People's Assembly and the nominal head of state.
A French doctor who had been Hoxha's principal consulting physician since 1963 said Thursday the Albanian leader had been "perfectly conscious" of his illness. "He told me that his succession was ready and that he could die peacefully for his country," Dr. Paul Milliez told a reporter in Paris.
However, other sources predicted that the succession will not be peaceful, claiming that Hoxha made little active effort to groom a successor.
Albania lies at the entrance of the Adriatic Sea, opposite--and within sight of--the heel of the Italian peninsula. The 11,100-square-mile country is bordered on the north and east by Yugoslavia and on the south and east by Greece, both troublesome neighbors.
Its strategic location has made Albania important to both the Communist Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Under Hoxha's leadership, Albania became the most rigidly controlled nation in Europe, if not the world. Its highly centralized regime controls virtually all aspects of national life, even to the extent of prohibiting private cars on roads.
Family and social life is condemned as the "last stronghold of feudalism and bourgeois individualism and ideology."
With the exception of Afghanistan, Albania is the only country with a Muslim heritage--a legacy of five centuries of Turkish rule that ended with Albanian independence in 1912--to be ruled by Communists.
It is the only state in Europe to have installed a Communist regime without the direct intervention of Soviet troops and the only European state not to participate in the 35-nation conference that led to the Helsinki accords on European security in 1975.
Hoxha maintained Albania as the last stronghold of Stalinism in Europe. Statutes of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin stand in towns throughout the country.
Stalin, Hoxha once wrote, "was a great man, a great revolutionary, and so he will remain through the centuries. The mistakes of Stalin, if they exist, are minor ones."
Albania abolished religion in 1976, proclaiming itself to be "the first atheist country in the world."
"The only religion for an Albanian is Albanianism," Hoxha once proclaimed, a remark that reveals a major contradiction in his country's postwar development.
Hoxha, as shown by his breaks with erstwhile allies, clung to the Marxist-Leninist concept of internationalism and world revolution as the only means for purifying the world's ills. Yet, at the same time, he remained a fierce nationalist in a country that had struggled through the centuries to preserve its identity and traditions under foreign conquerors and the threat of partition.
Hoxha's grip on the nation, his opposition to religion and his fervent nationalism is shown in a 1975 party directive. It stated: "Citizens who have inappropriate names and surnames from a political, ideological and moral viewpoint are obliged to change them."
The move was seen as an attempt to eliminate names rooted in the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic religions, which are nominally embraced by about 30% of the population, the remainder being followers of Islam.
The edict, however, did not affect Hoxha. His name (pronounced "HOD-ja") means "priest" in Turkish.
Hoxha was not only a rough-hewn partisan fighter whose struggle against Italian and German occupation forces propelled him to prominence and power. Biographers described him as tall and handsome in appearance and dignified, knowledgeable and impressive in manner. One biographer, writing in the late 1940s, called him flamboyant and self-assertive and a "resourceful organizer who can think in terms of planning and development."
Educated in the West, and at one time a liberal arts college professor, Hoxha was "well informed about literature, the theater, and philosophy, particularly the philosophy of education," a biographer wrote. He was fluent in French and also spoke Russian, English, Italian and Serbo-Croatian.
Hoxha was born Oct. 16, 1908, in the southern Albanian town of Gjirokaster, the son of an impoverished Muslim cloth merchant. A bright student, he was educated at a French lycee at Koritza and later reportedly attended the American Technical School in Tirana, Albania's capital.
In 1930, he went to France to study natural science at the University of Montpellier on a scholarship granted by the Albanian government, then ruled by King Zog I.
While in France, Hoxha wrote articles for L'Humanite, the French Communist party publication, in which he denounced Albania's monarchical government. In 1934, he was appointed a secretary in the Albanian consulate in Brussels where, at the same time, he took law courses at the Brussels University while continuing to write for L'Humanite.
The Albanian regime's discovery of his writings led to his dismissal. He was called home, where he took a position as a professor of French at the Koritza school.
Arrested in 1939
In January, 1939, he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy and served a brief prison term. The following April, Italy, under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded Albania, and King Zog, who had ruled since 1925, fled the country.
The new Italian authorities dismissed Hoxha from his teaching post for his anti-Fascist views, and he began organizing underground activities, using a tobacco shop as a front. Italy later sentenced him to death in absentia for his underground activities.
As head of a coalition of partisan forces that included Communists, nationalists and monarchists, Hoxha, operating out of mountain hideaways, battled first the Italian occupiers, then Nazi troops after the Italians withdrew from Albania in September, 1943. The next year, he founded the Albanian Communist Party, now known as the Albanian Party of Labor.
Besides fighting Germans and Italians, Hoxha's partisans battled each other to see who would take control of the country after its liberation.
Hoxha's supporters won the struggle. In October, 1944, a provisional government was established, with Hoxha named as premier and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Thus began his long tenure as Albania's ruler and his long struggle to pull the nation into the 20th Century.
He faced a daunting task. The country was afflicted by considerable war damage and crushing poverty, mass illiteracy and diseases, especially malaria and syphilis. It was torn by clan disputes and blood feuds that had made the Balkans the tinderbox of Europe for centuries. Its society was dominated by a tyrannical puritanism and a virulent male chauvinism that left women as little more than chattel to be bargained away by their fathers to prospective husbands.
One of Hoxha's chief aims was to eliminate discrimination against women, not only among the population generally but also within the ranks of the Communist Party.
On the international scene, Albania was the first nation to be allied with neighboring Yugoslavia, which had conducted its own partisan struggle in the war, from 1944 until 1948. Then, Albania joined the Soviet Union and other Communist states in denouncing Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito's break with the Kremlin.
Hoxha's break with the Soviet Union came in 1961, after Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Soviet Communist Party Congress in 1956 and the Kremlin's moves to seek "peaceful coexistence" with the West. Coexistence, Hoxha maintained, was impossible between Communist and capitalist systems, and he denounced all arms-control agreements between Washington and Moscow.
Twelve years later, Albania left the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact after its invasion of Czechoslovakia. It also left the Soviet-led economic grouping, known as Comecon.
Albania turned to China in 1961 as the only foreign disciple of Communist purity. China, locked in ideological warfare with the Kremlin, poured large amounts of aid into Albania, just as the Soviets had done before the Soviet-Albanian break.
But then, Albania felt that China, too, was betraying the Communist ideals in a series of moves that began with President Richard M. Nixon's historic trip to Peking in 1972. Albania severed relations with China in 1977.
In his diary, Hoxha called China's Deng Xiaoping "a filthy Fascist."
Since that break, Albania has remained isolated on the international scene despite diplomatic ties with many countries. Hoxha sought to recoup from the loss of Soviet and Chinese aid by broadening economic contacts with the West. Yet, such moves were hesitant and did not indicate that Albania, too, was slipping away from Marxist-Leninist purity.
Hoxha stuck to his ideological views by adopting a plague-on-both-your-houses attitude.
He maintained the view that American "imperialism" and Soviet "modern revisionism" are equally evil sources of the the world's ills.
Despite his failures on the international scene, Hoxha spearheaded many successful changes in the challenges that he faced when he assumed power in 1944. Non-Communist sources reported that Albania has succeeded in abolishing nearly all traces of its feudal past. Illiteracy has been wiped out among those under 40, and women have made remarkable strides in their struggle against discrimination.