Ending Stalin Cult Easy; Not So Enver Hoxha’s With AM-Albania, Bjt, and AM-Struggling Albania
TIRANA, Albania (AP) _ The communist government removed public statues of Josef Stalin in December, but it took an outburst of popular anger to destroy monuments to Enver Hoxha, the Soviet dictator’s Albanian disciple.
On Wednesday, anti-communist protesters pulled down the giant bronze Hoxha that towered over Tirana’s central Skanderbeg Square. Similar likenesses were felled in Durres, on the Adriatic, and Korca, a southeastern city.
Emerging political rifts between town and country, young and old, were mirrored in public debate about Hoxha that preceded the mob actions.
″Stalin was easy; he was a foreigner,″ an official journalist said recently. ″But old folks and people from the countryside identify with Hoxha. The government thinks there could be bloodshed if people tried to demolish his statues.″
Blood was spilled two days after the giant statue crashed down, with opposition figures claiming pro-Hoxha officers fired at demonstrators outside the Tirana military academy and the government alleging the demonstrators fired first. Four people were killed and 80 reported wounded.
President Ramiz Alia subsequently appealed to both factions to end the Hoxha strife. He said on national TV Saturday that Hoxha ″remained in the heart of the people,″ even after desctruction of the statue.
Hoxha founded communist Albania after centuries of rule by the Ottoman Turks and domination by fascist Italy. He disposed of all rivals and imprisoned thousands of dissidents in his 41-year dictatorship.
Born in 1908 in Gjirokastra, southern Albania, Hoxha studied in France and wrote for the French communist newspaper L’Humanite. He returned home to direct the partisan fight against Italian occupation and entered Tirana triumphantly in 1944.
His regime dismantled an ancient feudal system, dramatically increased literacy and, in 1970, completed electrification of the small, mountainous country - accomplishments that made him a hero to many.
In the freer atmosphere of the past year, however, students and opposition groups pointed increasingly to cruel repression, the deaths and torture of thousands of dissidents.
Alia, Hoxha’s successor, initially kept the lid on anti-communist violence by making concessions to a fledgling opposition born of student protests in December.
Then came a fast by about 700 students and faculty who demanded the dictator’s name be removed from Tirana’s university, followed by the assaults on the monuments.
″This means the dismantling of Hoxha’s cult; it means we have won,″ Gramoz Pashko, a co-founder of the Democratic Party, said after the statues came down.
Alia criticized the ″acts of vandalism,″ however, and said: ″They want to trample everything we have built. They are even ready to desecrate the graves of their ancestors.″
His government had retired Hoxha’s widow, Nexhmije, from her remaining party posts, but issued a decree Jan. 22 that described her husband as a ″brilliant figure of history.″
″Every action aimed at damaging, destroying or changing,″ his grave, statues, busts and other memorials is punishable by up to six years in prison, the decree said.
It angered students and seemed to galvanize them into smashing the physical evidence of Hoxha’s personality cult.
Police tried to stop the destruction of the statue in Tirana, but some were fraternizing with the protesters before it was over. Others blocked the road past a pyramid-shaped museum where 700 exhibits present the official view of Hoxha’s life and the history of communist Albania.
On Friday, the government closed the museum. But the backlash wasn’t long in coming.
In Gjirokastra, Hoxha’s hometown, a crowd replaced a bust of Hoxha at a local institute that had been removed by students, television reported Friday.
More than 700 students declared they would go on a hunger strike if Hoxha’s statue in Tirana is not put back up by Monday, said the broadcast. A group of officers threatened to re-erect the giant Hoxha statue. Pro and anti Hoxha supporters clashed in Fier, about 40 kilometers south of Tirana Saturday.
Still, graffiti artists now daub ″Enver Hitler 3/8″ Such open criticism used to be suicidal.
In Shkodra, northern Albania, protesters dynamited the city’s Hoxha statue in December and urinated on the remains. Courts tried 60 people, imposing prison sentences of up to 20 years.