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Afrim Krasniqi

Control through fear - The enemy at the gates: The case of Albania

13 Feburary 2019
  • totalitarianism
  • Albania
  • Hoxha
  • communist regime
  • persecution
  • control through fear


One of the main features of the communist regime in Albania (1944–90) was the rule through intimidation and the psychosis of the ‘enemy at the gates’. More than two generations grew up and lived under such psychosis. Over the years they took such a situation for granted, by making it an essential part of their language, lifestyle, thought and vision for the future. The system of collective intimidation, ‘the enemy at the gates’ turned into a system of the rule of law. It was anchored in laws and punishments used against any critical form of resistance to the regime. In such society happiness, sovereignty, survival and success were only considered possible in a closed, isolated system guarded by vigilantes who monitored and rejected of any kind of external influence. This paper analyses the evolution of the concept of the ‘enemy’ and the system of establishing a feeling of permanent fear emanating from the top (systemic authorities) towards the bottom (citizens), through official political discourse. It looks at how these notions ‘succeeded’ and how they influenced the political formation of society. It discusses the dynamics of the creation of a collective consciousness based on the primacy of survival.


A large part of Albania’s modern political history (1945–90) unfolded under the heavy shadow of one-party rule, marked by the uncontested control of a sole leader over the party. Albanian politics of that period showed markedly totalitarian traits, shaped by the syndrome of perpetual anxiety over perceived internal and external threats. The regime built up a system capable of using violence and triggering fear, able to eradicate potential threats identified among suspect groups and individuals.

The relationship between state and citizen was built on a widely shared understanding of the state as an all-powerful entity, ultimately embodied in the dictator and his inner circle. It was able to claim and ultimately wield total control over society as a whole and on individual citizens who had no role to play in decision-making and a sacred duty to accept orders, guidance and instructions. The fear-instilling system was functional and effective. It was anchored in the constitution through severe limitations on civil rights, through complementary legislation on surveillance, through state propaganda and through a far-reaching control over an individual’s private life, family, community, workplace, career advancement and religious beliefs.

As Arendt wrote, ‘totalitarian ideologies aim to transform human nature itself, since the human condition of plurality is the greatest obstacle standing in the way of the realization of an ideologically consistent universe [...] since tyranny destroys the public realm of politics and is therefore anti-political by definition’ (Arendt 2002). Nevertheless, the state of ‘isolation’ and ‘impotence’ experienced by the individual in tyrannical forms of government springs from the destruction of the public realm of politics whereas the mobilization of the ‘overwhelming, combined power of all others against its own’ does not eliminate entirely a minimum of human contact in the non-political spheres of social intercourse and private life. Thus, if the fearguided actions of the subject of tyrannical rule are bereft of the capacity to establish relations of power between individuals acting and speaking together in a public realm of politics, the ‘isolation’ of the political subject does not entail the destruction of his social and private relations. Therefore, in all nontotalitarian forms of government, the body politic is in constant motion within set boundaries of a stable political order, although tyranny destroys the public space of political action (Ngjela, 2003, 21).

No other state in the socialist bloc was able to conceive and apply such extreme measures as in Albania, and none was as effective in eliminating dissidence, in prohibiting religion in the Constitution, and in ultimately cutting itself off from both East and West. Two generations were born and lived under this psychotic regime. As the years went by, the nature of the regime was taken for granted. Its existence and functioning was internalized. It became part of the way people lived, spoke and thought about the past, present and future.

The ‘enemy at the gates’ system of collective control through fear evolved into a method of ruling through pervasive violence that was sanctioned inlegal acts and practical measures targeting each and every form of possible and actual dissidence against the regime. Under such a system, the quest for personal happiness was overridden by the need for survival: a personal life was only possible inside a closed shell that refused to be influenced by the outside world. The fall of the regime in 1990 and the establishment of the multi-party system were understood as a departure from the regime of fear, where people could meet and speak openly.

The old concept of ‘the enemy’, as mostly associated with Western Democracy, was then superseded by the concept of ally, friend, partner and unconditional supporter of the Euro-Atlantic integration process.

‘The enemy’ as a constitutional principle and as a basis of legitimacy

Communist Albania’s prevailing concept of ‘the enemy’ was related first and foremost with the relationship between the individual and the Party1 and with the connection between the individual, state and society. The only official Albanian dictionary of that time (dictionary of today’s standard Albanian [FGJSH], 1980, 53)) describes the entry ‘enemy’ as ‘the person who stands against the interests of the class, party, motherland and socialism, by fighting and acting against them’.2

This definition is to be also found in previous academic and official papers and documents, in the official media, in public discourse and in the notes and documents of the Political Bureau, Albania’s Communist Party’s highest decision-making body from 1948 to 1990. The Communist Party’s sources mention several types of ‘enemies’, among the most notable we can list are ‘the enemy of the party’, ‘the enemy of the people’, ‘the class enemy’, ‘enemy of the people’s rule’. Marking individuals as ultimate enemies, should they engage in activities marked as harmful to ‘the interest of the [working] class and of the party’, is indicative of the core philosophy that sustained Albania’s communist system.

Under charges of ‘hostile activity’, implying acts or opinions and perceptions opposed to the Party, the communist regime executed 5,157 citizens; 9,052 more citizens died in prison; 17,990 citizens underwent prolonged imprisonment sentences; and 30,383 citizens were exiled in conditions similar to labour camps, bringing the total number of people subjected to political persecution to 65,582. With an effective population of just 1.1 million inhabitants, this resulted in 5.9 per cent of the population or 10.2 per cent ofcitizens over eighteen years of age being subjected to political persecution. Officially Albania had twenty-three political prisons and forty-eight labour camps for political detainees.

The ascent to power of the communists in Albania was later exemplified in the Constitution of 1945. It was consolidated in the Constitutions of 1950 and 1976, and supported by several pieces of secondary legislation. According to the political programme of Albania’s Communist Party of 1948, and to the Constitution of the Republic of Albania of 1950:

“in the present historical era, the Communist Party (of Albania) mobilizes and guides the working class, the peasants, and all of the country’s workmen, in their struggle against the remainders of the fascism, feudalism, bourgeoisie and reactionaries, to uphold the country’s independence and territorial integrity, to advance democracy and the people’s rule, to rebuild and to industrialize the country, to build up its electrical power grid, to develop the state sector and the cooperatives to raise the economic, cultural and technical level of knowledge of the working class and of the whole population (Labour Party of Albania [LPA] 1950)“.

The Statute of the Communist Party stated the following basic criterion with regard to its members: ‘to protect the party and its unity from the attacks of internal and external foes’ (LPA 1948, 520).

This definition creates a relationship of interdependence between the concept of the struggle against the ‘internal enemies’, including the ‘bourgeois’ identified as the urban middle and upper class, the ‘remainders of feudalism’ consisting of the landed gentry, ‘the reactionaries’ implying religious communities in general and Roman Catholics in particular, and ‘the remainders of fascism’, consisting of the individuals and the families of those directly or indirectly involved with the state administration under the German and Italian occupation in the period 1939–44.

The total war waged against the above categories, which back in 1948 represented the most educated strata of Albanian society, was justified with the struggle ‘to preserve national independence and territorial integrity’ and ‘rebuild the country’. Further to punishing or disciplining critics of theregime, the party would argue that it had ‘eliminated’ enemies of Albania’s independence and progress. This alibi seemed to work well during Albania’s post-Second World War state of exception that saw the final establishment and consolidation of communist rule further to the total eradication and suppression of any effective threat to the new regime. After that, it seemed to have been accepted without any reservation, as all dissenting voices were already effectively suppressed.

The concept of the enemy as a hallmark of ‘class struggle’, in the sense of boundless class warfare waged against all those holding differing opinions, was sanctioned in the Constitution with the following wording (Constitution ... 1976): ‘The Socialist Republic of Albania is a country ruled by the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the expression of the interests of all workers’; ‘the leading ideology being Marxism–Leninism’; ‘poised to continuously advance the revolution, the class struggle, towards the final victory of socialism over capitalism, and towards the ultimate establishment of and communism.’

Article 55 of the Constitution prohibits the establishment ‘of any organization of fascist, anti-democratic, religious or anti-socialist nature. Fascist activity, any type of anti-democratic and religious propaganda, and the instigation of racial and national hatred shall be prohibited.’

The Constitution and the Criminal Code entailed over seventy articles sanctioning the death penalty over several criminal offenses (Repishti 2017). Offences such as ‘activity directed against the party’, ‘emigration from the country’, ‘economic sabotage’, ‘religious practices’ and the establishment of organizations outside the Labour (Communist) Party were subject to harsh sanctions, further detailed in secondary legislation and in other specific measures, such as the unifying decision of 1968 to suppress the Ministry of Justice. The decision remained in force until spring 1990, leaving Albania without a Ministry of Justice for twenty-two years.

The execution of these extreme political and ideological decisions was entrusted to an extended network of informers built around the secret police, also known as Sigurimi – State Security. The State Security as approved by the Political Bureau (Decision no. 30 1954) aimed to create a system of total surveillance of Albania’s citizens, including low profile enemies of the Party, for the purpose of protecting the leader and the party ‘from internal and external enemies’.

The surveillance was carried out by the departments of the Ministry of Interior in conjunction with ‘voluntary cooperation groups’, consisting of party loyalists and members of its auxiliary organizations. The structure had a vertical line of command and a horizontal extension, covering all inhabited areas and production facilities. It controlled all mailing services, all correspondence between citizens, especially the correspondence of families with convicted and exiled members. Over one third of the Albanian citizens were covered by personal surveillance files.

‘The enemy’ as a mechanism of persecution and control

The concept of social class, entailing a regime ‘of workmen and countrymen’ in charge of ruling over the rest of the social classes is found in different forms in the Soviet models and in the ideologies of other socialist countries all over the Eastern Bloc. In Albania the class concept was at the very foundation of the country’s legal framework and at the heart of public discourse. It was the source of all legal and administrative acts. The classification of citizens into two large categories – party loyalists and enemies – marked the line of division between a totalitarian regime and the alternatives to it. The singularity of Albania’s communist regime has been widely debated, also with regard to the question whether ‘class struggle’ was ‘properly’ borrowed as a system of reference from the October Revolution, or whether it was mostly adapted to the social reality where the Albanian communists had to operate.

The critical thesis maintains that ‘class struggle’ was ‘misused as an alibi for paying lip service to the totalitarian structure’, therefore ‘the destructive war waged against the individual in Albania was wrongly referred to as class struggle ... the very definition of class struggle is an expression coming from a totalitarian mind set ... there was no class struggle in Albania, rather a war of all against all’ (Klosi 1993, 57).

As discussed by Lefort, ‘the attack against the enemies of the people was launched in the manner of a disease prevention campaign: the integrity of the body depends on the elimination of the parasites feasting upon it’ (Lefort 1994, 115). The communist regime came into being precisely through the quest for the total elimination of all potential resistance. In 1944 and 1945 Albania’s communists undertook extreme measures (arrests, executions and long sentences of imprisonment of twenty to a hundred years) against all individuals with a potential to provide political representation. Theyindiscriminately attacked high-profile political opponents, minor political associations, influential local religious leaders and the whole of the liberal elite of their time. In 1945 the communists embarked upon a far-reaching ‘agrarian reform’ that wiped out the well-to-do farmers, and created a loyal social group of peasants entitled to the use of land, totally dependent on the decisions taken by the regime. In 1948 Albania passed a law on the forced expropriation of all cattle stock (Law no. 598 1948). That law paved the way to the establishment of farming cooperatives. Those who resisted its implementation, or those found to have hidden the cattle subject to expropriation, were considered as ‘saboteurs and reactionaries’, liable to be sentenced to up to ten years’ imprisonment.

The same approach was followed with the law on the confiscation of agricultural products, with the adoption of the system of extraordinary taxation for retail traders and with the decision to confiscate monetary values saved outside financial institutions. The professed goal of the regime was ‘to crush the resistance of political opponents, to expropriate the upper class ... to safeguard the victories of the revolution’ (Omari 1977, 119). A decision of the Political Bureau identified eighteen cases that qualified an individual as ‘a hostile kulak’, liable to be put under surveillance, have their possessions confiscated and be deprived of freedom.

The description of ‘kulaks’ includes the following: ‘he/she has a nice house and extensive property’, ‘he is very active in the bazaar’, ‘he used to lend money at interest’, ‘he was connected to the regime of [King] Zog’, ‘he is opposed to the modernization of agriculture’, ‘he acted as if he were the most important and the most intelligent man in the village’, ‘he is a doublecrosser’, ‘he has family connections with rich families’, ‘he opposes womens’ participation in social life’. The same methods of classification applied to other types of enemies: religious enemies, enemies in the fields of arts and culture, enemies in the fields of sport, economy, army and so on.

The branding as an enemy affected all leaders of religious communities, urban elites, important landowners in northern Albania, and those individuals with connections in Western Europe. This ecletic mix of individuals fell into the category of ‘enemy of the people’. This category was periodically expanded to include persons holding public functions, subsequently denounced as ‘saboteurs’ and ‘collaborationists’, especially if they failed to achieve the objectives set by the central planning committee. When theworks to drain the Maliq swamp failed to be completed in 1946 within the given deadline, the communist regime arranged a ten-day trial that served to execute all the technical experts of the project, including a pregnant woman. They were accused of ‘sabotage’ and of being ‘US and British spies’. Over seventy former students of the Harry Fultz College in Albania met tragic deaths, imprisonment and confinement.

A unique case is given by the arrest, trial, sentencing and execution within the timeframe of only seventy-two hours of twenty-two well-known intellectuals in February 1951, accused of ‘hostile acts’ and ‘involvement with foreign espionage’. The review of their files in 1991 showed that the Political Bureau had decided to set an example, and to this end, it brought together and evaluated a list consisting of 170 intellectuals from different locations. At the end of the meeting, the Bureau set apart twenty-two people to be killed, and the decision was passed to the secret service, the Prosecutor’s Office and to the state police for immediate execution. Such acts of terror were meant to establish and perpetuate a climate of fear, in which every single individual would sense that his life and his survival were out of his control.

The politically motivated attack against the concept of the independence of the individual was only the first ring in a long chain of measures geared towards conditioning him, his family, friends and colleagues. If a person were to be sentenced on political charges, he would automatically relinquish his rights of citizenship including the right to vote. His family would be included in the list of those to be possibly sent to exile, in conditions very similar to the Soviet Gulags or to the Nazi labour camps. Their property could be seized at any time. The very fact of being a family member, a friend or a relative of a person found to be an enemy of the people would automatically make them guilty.

The courts decided which individual was guilty, while the decision to send his family into exile was taken by a select committee of the Ministry of Interior. Often no prior consultations with those affected were deemed necessary.

The concept of wholesale persecution and collective punishment was adequately anchored in the legal framework of that time. The legal practice of sending persons into exile started in 1949 with the first decree issued against the families of political opponents (Decree no. 649, 1949, art. 3). In 1979 the law on exile was supplemented with additional elements, laid outin a decree of the Presidium of the People’s Assembly (Decree no. 5912, 1979). More concretely: ‘The punishment by exile as an administrative measure can be given against Albanian citizens, foreign citizens and stateless persons of more than 14 years of age, have the capacity to act and are dangerous to the social order of the Republic of Albania ... exiling may be also applied against the relatives of the persons who have escaped abroad’. The law further established that ‘relatives’ are the ‘spouses, children, parents, brothers and sisters, and other persons living together with the person or who were under his custody’.

‘The enemy’ as an alibi for personal power

The justification for committing crimes ‘for public interest’ and ‘in the name of the people’ was widely in line with the regime’s Bolshevik model, which taught that ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat was to be considered as similar to a terrorist formation. The Bolsheviks considered themselves as chosen by God to bring about peace, development and equality in a world dominated by crime, therefore crime was to be fought by crime, yet crime was to be perpetrated only for a higher purpose’ (Ngjela 2011, 193). In line with these teachings, dictator Enver Hoxha was keen on acting resolutely against ‘the enemy’.

He ordered the imprisonment and execution of seventeen high-level politicians and maximum sentences against seventy important statesmen, founders of Albanian independence in 1912, former prime ministers, ministers and intellectuals, including the spouse of his own sister, Bahri Omari. The execution of Hoxha’s brother-in-law was not linked to any specific accusation or crime. It is to be rather understood as an attempt to show to everybody that the same standard applied to everyone, including the close relatives of the high party officials, who dared to criticize the dictator.

In the period 1944–48 Albania entered into a preferential relationship with Yugoslavia. As a result of this, hundreds of individuals, including high party officials, critical of the political control wielded by the Yugoslavs, were prosecuted and found guilty as internal enemies. From 1948 to 1961 upon severing its links to Yugoslavia, Albania aligned itself to the USSR. The rule remained the same: whoever was found to be a critic of the Soviets was sentenced to from four to seven years of imprisonment. After the interruption of the relationship with the USSR, and further to Albania’s alignment with Communist China (1966–75), the rule was applied once again: whoever wasfound to be critical of China was to be punished, those who were considered to be pro-Russian or trained in Moscow were prosecuted and punished.

After the interruption of the relations with China (after 1975), those who made a career during Albania’s Chinese alignment had to pay a high price. Some ministers were executed, including the ministers of defence, economy and industry. The highest profile case was related to the forced suicide of the communist Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu in 1981. He was declared as an enemy of the state after his death. The engagement of Shehu’s son with a girl from a family with a ‘bad political biography’ was used by the communist regime to ‘prove’ that Prime Minister Shehu had passed over to the enemy camp. Further to Shehu’s suicide and to the execution of several ministers, including the minister of interior and the minister of health, their families were arrested or exiled, and some of the close relatives, including the wife of the former prime minister were executed, on charges related to ‘treason’ against the party and the people. Each of the waves of massive retribution relied on the same official justification: the need to punish the enemies of the people, spies and traitors.

The punishments were followed by hefty propaganda campaigns aimed at proving the treason of those punished and at providing information on their alleged efforts ‘to overthrow the rule of the people and to eliminate the highest leaders of the state’ (Pipa 2010, 98). A wealth of archived documents and research studies of this period seems to prove the thesis that there was no actual involvement of Albanian politicians or political groupings with foreign governments. Their punishment mostly came as a result of the dictator’s fear of possible contacts between his high officials with important allied states (Yugoslavia, USSR, China etc.) that might threaten his leadership. It is clear that the war against such ‘enemies’ was instrumentalized by the dictator, always looking for ways to ensure his personal and unilateral grip on power. This also explains the system of fluid alliances and Albania’s subsequent self-isolation from both the East and the West, and the escalation of the periodic campaigns of ‘class struggle’ against ‘the enemy’.

This thesis is corroborated by the increased number of sentences after the early fifties, a period in which virtually no actual ‘enemies’ were left. Precisely in this timeframe, a new wave of punishments against all types of perceived enemies (informers, rival political formations, intellectuals critical of the regimes, dissidents, agents coming from outside Albania) was launched.

According to the official figures, from 1949 to 1953, 2,611 people escaped from Albania, or 0.3 per cent of the total population (Xhafer 2013, 187). After 1954, when Albania was able to almost fully seal its borders, it started to send growing numbers of its ‘enemies’ to exile inside its territory. In the period 1954 to 1957, the average number of families sent to exile was 300 to 500. After the break in relations with the USSR, in the period 1954 to 1957, the number of families sent to exile increased considerably, reaching 1,200 to 1,300 families per year. The same situation repeated itself after the break with China in the seventies.

Control through fear in Albania

When Dictator Hoxha died in April 1985, his obituary noted that under his leadership ‘Albania was safe’, implying that his death might turn Albania into an unsafe place. Far from being an intentionally made hint, this deliberation was closely related to a mentality created in the course of many years, according to which Albania was permanently being threatened by an impending invasion by its foes. The key slogans from this isolationist period were: ‘We build socialism with a pickaxe in the one hand and with a gun in the other’, ‘We dance on the face of danger’, ‘The enemy holds us at gunpoint, but we aim at him with a cannon’. In his memoirs, author Agim Mero mentions that in the mid-sixties, after the break with the Soviet Union, Albania’s communist regime started to bring into circulation slogans such as: ‘We will pour molten lead into the mouths of those who dare rise up against us’, or ‘We will eat grass rather than surrender’ (Mero 1997, 65). Both slogans seem to confirm the ‘enemy at the gates’ thesis, as they appeal to the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle against the enemy.

During the second half of the seventies, the Albanian communist regime built over 700,000 bunkers, as an extreme measure of protection against ‘the enemy’. The construction of the concrete pillboxes was treated as a matter of absolute priority. The pressure on the technicians and on the engineers was extreme. Quality was ‘an absolute requirement, and that was ensured to the detriment of other projects’ (Mero 1997, 129). The coastline was viewed as a potential landing area for enemy forces. Special bunkers were constructed along the whole of it. The dictator stopped all major infrastructural projects, because highways might eventually be used as airstrips for invading US armies.

In addition to fortifying its defences against its external foes, Albania waged an internal war against its religious institutions. The Labour Party was proudof its ‘systematic struggle against religion, which is a reactionary ideology and opium for the people’.3 It boasted that under its leadership, ‘people rose up in towns and in the countryside, asking for the final removal of all churches, mosques and all holy places’. The religious structures were forced to relinquish their functions, and most of the religious buildings were converted into ‘Cultural Centres’. The madness of extreme isolation was in parallel with the establishment of a system of permanent vigilance, to which all citizens were called to contribute. The former secretary of the Communist Youth in the mid-seventies, and later himself a victim of the purges made by the system, Agim Mero noted that ‘under the slogan “one citizen – one soldier” all eligible Albanians had to toil in permanent military drills. Women had to perform military drills with wooden rifles and to train in hand-to-hand combat’ (Mero 1997, 129).

All students, workers and intellectuals had to perform obligatory biannual military drills. Most of the academic staff were sent to work for periods ranging from one to three years in the agriculture or industry sector, so as to strengthen their revolutionary ties with the peasants and the working class. Albania refused to have contact with most Western democracies. Albania’s football teams refused to play against certain Western teams, and had to pay the penalties imposed by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

The system of control through fear was as brutal as it was effective. The regime undertook some steps to ease its controls in 1990. It passed legislation that changed the sanctions in force against migration from the death penalty to prison terms from three to seven years. Nonetheless, thirty-three citizens, mostly young, were killed at the border by army units and state security service. In some cases the bodies of those killed at the border were paraded across city centres so as to strike terror and fear into the population, especially among those hoping to leave the country. The relatives of the victims were not allowed to organize their burials, and their friends were prosecuted.

The system was both forthright and pervasive. Mero writes: ‘the regime was a huge and intricate machine, structured in parallel state and party structures ... a small leadership is at the top, but around and below there were many smaller pyramids of power extending down to the smallest village. Theyreached out from the ministries down to the most minuscule production units, from the army’s chief of staff down to the women’s military unit of the neighbourhood, from the central committee of the party down to the kindergartens which had their own children’s units. Guidance and instructions were passed down from the very top to the lowest structure; everybody was held accountable for their implementation’ (Mero 1997, 127). Children in the kindergartens were frequently asked what their parents talked about at home. Potentially sensitive information was passed to the security service for further investigation that could lead to arrests and imprisonments.

The security service applied similar methods in primary and high schools. For a period stretching over forty-six years, university studies were considered a political prerogative and were not linked to the talents and capacities of the applicants. No students were admitted from the families marked by the regime with ‘bad biography’. Weekly ‘political updates’ were held in all state institutions, factories, universities, schools and farms. Voluntary surveillance groups were established everywhere, in addition to combat teams, to be activated in case of invasion. All correspondence, especially all letters addressed to relatives living abroad were screened by the security services. The mail could go through only after a special clearance was issued by a special office. The lack of means of communication (personal computers, private or public phones, private cars, etc.) prevented citizens from accessing information from the outside world. That made official propaganda the only access point for the information coming in from outside the Albanian communist bubble.

At present post-communist Albania can only draw on a limited number of studies of the communist period, and even less so regarding the system of control through fear of that time. Presiding over a small country with a tiny population, highly incriminated by long years of collusion with the communist regime, Albania’s elite choose to adopt a conciliatory approach best described by its new slogan: ‘everyone suffered – everyone was guilty.’ This served to ease the tensions between the victims and their persecutors. There exist highly diverging views regarding the nature of the communist regimes around the world, and to the concepts laid out by Arendt and Huntington in this regard. It can be maintained that the definition of the key feature of a personal dictatorship as ‘the system that locates the source of power in the vicinity to the leader and to those having his trust and support’ is well suitedfor Albania (Huntington 2011, 72). Nonetheless, most researchers describe the Albanian system as an advanced model of totalitarian rule, by arguing that the key to totalitarianism is to be found in fear rather than in brute force’ (Danaj 2012). The Albanian version of 20th-century totalitarianism is best seen as a violent political regime of a single political party incapable and unwilling to accept any form of organized opposition and/or dissent, whereby the state controls the totality of societal space.

Old tyrannies only succeeded in destroying the political and organizational capacities of their opponents; they were not able to seek and destroy the networks of personal and private relationships. They did not invalidate the ‘personal self ’, in the sense of the personality of each individual, which is exactly what happened under the totalitarian experience. Arendt’s description is evocative of another rendering of the Albanian model of totalitarianism, under which the party fully identified with the state ‘as a demon that numbed the minds and souls of the people, by convincing them that it would never leave. It stretched over everything, took control of the remote corners of private lives, through surveillance and pressure, through tension and fear that reached out to everyone’ (Ngjela 2013, 21).

‘The enemy’ as an obstacle to reform

Albania was the only European country that refused to sign the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 because of its constant guard against the Western and Eastern ‘enemy’. Back in 1948 Albania had refused to publish the UN Human Rights Charter of 1948 for its citizens. Not until 1991 did Albania became a member of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), sign the Helsinki Final Act and publish the UN Human Rights Charter.

As the continent’s only atheist and anti-religious country, Albania adopted a system of propaganda that denigrated each and every element, symbol and memory of religious association. A very striking example is the treatment Albania reserved for Mother Teresa. Albanians inside Albania only learned about her winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 in the late 1980s. She was considered persona non grata by the regime because she belonged to a Christian denomination, wore religious dress and was supported by governments on unfriendly terms with the Albanian communist regime. At the close of the 1980s Albania’s political agenda remained the same, despite the initiation of several Euro-Atlantic processes aimed at changing the economies and politics of the countries of the Eastern Bloc. The endeavours of someWestern European countries to re-establish relations with Albania were met by an opaque wall of hostility of communist officials, who argued that the country’s constitution prohibited political and economic relations with the enemy.

The fall of the Berlin Wall amplified the pressure felt by the Tirana government. Nonetheless it continued not to confront the inevitability of the change to come. Its best alibi continued as before: ‘the external enemy’, the danger to which Albania would be exposed if it were to open itself, even partially, to the wider world. The regime held Albania to be ‘the world’s only truly free country, independent of US imperialism and Soviet socialimperialism, free from the Treaty of Warsaw and free from NATO ... so we should continue to be watchful so as to retain and protect our victories’ (Alia 2010). The regime considered any demand for political pluralism as a hostile act. It described pluralism as a threat to the state and to its identity, since ‘Albania’s independence and freedom are perpetually threatened. Hence, the difference of opinion and opinions directed against those of the Labour Party threaten the future of the motherland, its very freedom and independence’ (Alia 2010, 364).

In a meeting held with Albanian intellectuals only four months prior to the change of the political regime, the communist leader Ramiz Alia reiterated that Albania was ‘a special case’, compared to other Eastern Europe countries. He precluded the request for the introduction of changes in the system, by maintaining this to be a demand stemming from the enemies of Albania.


Control through fear, resulting in systematically applied pressure made up of continuous threats stood at the very foundation of communist regime in Albania. Two generations of Albanians were the helpless victims of an arbitrary despotic system that considered human life as state property. The system of control through fear managed to eradicate all potential for internal resistance. Through total self-isolation it avoided any possible external influences. Differently from the rest of the Eastern European countries, especially from the East German system of ‘the exchange of prisoners for hard currency’, or the Polish model of religious faith and Solidarity, the Albanian model constitutes the most extreme model of isolation and state violence.

Class struggle, a war against God, the fight against external influences and isolation from the possible permanent dangers coming from Western, and then later Eastern, enemies triggered a psychosis for survival among Albanians, exposed to the permanent struggle against the ‘enemy at the gates’. This study refers to the constitution, the legal framework of Albania’s communist era and to the most typical traits of the political decision-making of the regime to argue that the concept of the enemy was instrumentalized to legitimize a highly personalized type of one-man, one-party rule, highly hostile to the very idea of openness towards the outside world.

The ‘enemy at the gates’ and the ‘enemy inside us’ were prime instruments of psychological terror – they were primary mechanisms of control and also the means for providing alibies to eliminate all potential criticism towards the party and its leading clique. These concepts dominated political discourse and guided the deliberations of official propaganda. They were the primary source of reference for the slogans crafted for wide public dissemination and instrumental in distorting the people’s collective historical memory. When Albanians parted ways with communism, they also parted ways with the system of control through fear.



Professor Afrim Krasniqi is an academic researcher at the Albanian Institute of History, professor of political science at the University of Tirana and executive director of the Albanian Institute for Political Studies in Tirana. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Tirana. He was political adviser to two Albanian presidents, and is a columnist for some important Albanian media. He has published twelve books about political parties, history, civil society, elections and democracy in Albania and in the countries of South Eastern Europe (SEE).



1 The Labour Party of Albania was, as enshrined in the Constitution, ‘the only leading force for the state and society’ from 1944 to 1990.

2 Academy of Sciences of the Socialist Peoples’ Republic of Albania (2014). Dictionary of Contemporary Albanian Language, Tirana, Albania.

3 Joint Declaration of the Central Committee of the People’s Labour Party and of the Council of Ministers of the Peoples’ Republic of Albania, 29 April 1967.



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