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Enver Hoxha, 76, Ruler of Albania for 41 Years, Dies

April 12, 1985|HARRY TRIMBORN | Times Staff Writer

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."

Religion Abolished

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.

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