Enver Hoxha, a former French teacher and longtime Albanian communist, became chairman of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation, an arm of the Albanian National Liberation Front, in January 1944. By May 1944 he was also the supreme commander of the National Liberation Army (NLA). With the aid of British arms and Allied air cover, in October 1944 the NLA moved north and captured the capital of Tirana. Hoxha was then named prime minister, and in December 1944 he repaid Tito for his help by sending Albanian forces to fight alongside Yugoslavian communist forces to defeat ethnic Albanian forces in Kosovo.
During the early years of the Cold War, Hoxha systematically consolidated his power and took on the added posts of foreign minister, defense minister, and army commander in chief. He and his second-in-command, Mehmet Shehu, terrorized remnant nationalist holdouts, stamped out any potential opposition, and established a totalitarian communist government that was among the most oppressive in the world. By mid-1946, all Albanian industries had been nationalized. The Agrarian Reform Law led to the seizure of the lands of large landowners and their redistribution to the peasants, and the economy was fully centralized.
In July 1946 Albania signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Yugoslavia, but within a year the alliance collapsed in part because of Hoxha's fear that his nation would be annexed by Yugoslavia. When the Soviet-controlled Cominform expelled Yugoslavia in June 1948 because of Tito's independent streak, the Hoxha regime became rabidly Stalinist and turned to the Soviet Union for economic assistance. At the same time, Albanian relations with the West deteriorated, especially after two British ships struck Albanian mines in the channel between Albania and Corfu in October 1946. Britain and the United States spent the next seven years trying in vain to overthrow the Hoxha regime. These efforts only increased Albanian xenophobia and convinced Hoxha that the West was not to be trusted.
In February 1949 Albania joined Comecon and began to trade exclusively with Eastern bloc nations. Following the Soviet Union's lead, Hoxha initiated a series of Five-Year Plans designed to take advantage of Albania's abundant natural resources, including oil, copper, and coal. The plans also included an ambitious program to modernize the country's electrical and transportation infrastructure.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's speech of February 1956, in which he denounced Stalin and his policies, further deepened Albania's distrust of the outside world. Hoxha and Shehu condemned Khrushchev's concept of peaceful coexistence, choosing to maintain their strict Stalinist stance. At the same time, Albania condemned Tito's overtures to the West, and state-sanctioned political repression increased with the establishment by 1961 of some fourteen gulag-style camps for political prisoners. Many of the prisoners were used as slave laborers in nearby mines and industrial centers, leading one historian to dub Albania "the Mediterranean Gulag."
Between 1958 and 1960 Albania further ostracized itself by becoming a player in the emerging Sino-Soviet split. Albania tilted toward the People's Republic of China (PRC) and again condemned the notions of peaceful coexistence, de-Stalinization, and Titoism. At the November 1960 Moscow conference of world communist representatives, Hoxha verbally attacked the Soviet Union's policies. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets ended their technical and economic support of Albania. The PRC then stepped in and became Albania's new patron.
True to form, Albania followed China's lead when Chinese leader Mao Zedong announced the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In 1965 Hoxha initiated his own Cultural and Ideological Revolution. The already-oppressive nature of Albanian life became even more entrenched as government authorities sought to eliminate "professionalism" in the nation's bureaucracies, including the army, and forcibly transfer white-collar workers to the industrial and agricultural sectors. In 1967 the government prohibited all aspects of religion in the public sphere. As a result, mosques and churches were seized and transformed into warehouses and workshops as the Hoxha regime declared Albania "the world's first atheistic nation." Meanwhile, Hoxha's portrait and alleged writings were plastered throughout Albania, mimicking Stalin's and Mao's cults of personality. In 1968, after the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Albania cut its last remaining ties with the Soviets by withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact.
China's diplomatic overtures to the United States, which began in 1971, led to a decrease in U.S. commitments to Albania. When U.S. President Richard M. Nixon made his historic visit to China in February 1972, Albania pointedly refused to publicize it. To compensate for its faltering relations with China, Hoxha then revived relations with Yugoslavia and Greece. During 1972–1975, Albania strengthened its commercial, diplomatic, and cultural ties to Western Europe. But Tirana showed the limits of this by refusing to participate in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Albania became the only European nation to boycott the Helsinki Conference on Human Rights of July 1975.
After Mao's death in 1976, Albania publicly condemned his successors, who responded by welcoming Tito with open arms during a 1977 state visit to China. They then cut off all aid to Albania a year later. As Hoxha continued to improve relations with Western Europe, he launched yet another series of purges, culminating in the alleged suicide of his right-hand man Shehu on 18 December 1981. Historians believe that Hoxha ordered Shehu killed, and in November 1982 Shehu was posthumously accused of being a spy for both the United States and the Soviet Union.
Hoxha's death in April 1985 brought his handpicked successor, Ramiz Alia, to power. Alia had been acting prime minister since 1983. Alia's image soon replaced Hoxha's on Albanian signs and buildings, and he continued Albania's self-imposed isolation even as he established official diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). By the time the Berlin Wall came down in the fall of 1989, Albania was in desperate financial and economic straits, with a repressed and paranoid population barely able to cope in the new era of post-totalitarian Eastern Europe.
O'Donnell, James S. A Coming of Age: Albania under Enver Hoxha. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1999.; Pipa, Arshi. Albanian Stalinism: Ideo-Political Aspects. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1990.; Zickel, Raymond E., and Walter R. Iwaskiw, eds. Albania: A Country Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.