Albanian dictator Hoxha’s widow, his staunchest defender, dies at 99

By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters) – Nexhmije Hoxha, the widow of Albania’s Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, died on Tuesday aged 99, her son said, having fallen dramatically from grace following his death but remaining the staunchest defender of his isolationist regime.

Most Albanians view Hoxha’s 40-year rule, when the country was cut off from the world much as North Korea is now and a pervasive secret police clamped down violently on dissent, as a dark period in its history that caused widespread misery and triggered a massive exodus after communism collapsed.

But Nexhmije Hoxha, who was jailed for nine years for embezzlement soon after Albania became the last country to topple communism in 1990, stayed loyal to his memory.

“When the standard of living was compared to the West, it can be considered modest, but there was an egalitarian spirit,” she said in a 2008 interview.

Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985, banned private property and religion, ran a centralized economy, sealed off the country’s borders and dotted it with thousands of pillbox bunkers and millions of concrete posts topped with sharp spikes to deter the airbourne troops he feared would invade.

He allied with the Soviet Union and China only to split with them later while remaining an enemy of the West.

His wife died in her house in a bleak compound that was once used to rear battery chickens, surrounded by books and photos of her husband, children and grandchildren she had taken with her when she was evicted from their sprawling Communist-era villa.

She led his propaganda machine, a Marxism and Leninism institute and the Democratic Front, an umbrella organization that served as a tool of Communist Party control.

“The goal of my trial was political because I was the widow of Enver Hoxha,” she said, telling Reuters her conviction related to a sum of $360 spent on cups and glasses broken when mourners visited to pay condolences for her husband.

She said she did not recognize the streets when she came out of jail and admitted some things had improved since 1990.

She had recently published a book of memoirs that a representative of the association of former political prisoners jailed by Hoxha’s regime described as hate-filled.

“An executioner has departed Albanian society, who was …condemned … for spending money on coffee. A charade of postcommunist governments chose not to punish her (real) crimes,” Besim Ndregjoni told broadcaster News24 TV.

More than 6,000 people were executed as opponents of the regime under Enver Hoxha’s rule and more than 34,000 jailed, of whom around 1,000 died, while 59,009 were sent into internal exile, the association estimates.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka; editing by John Stonestreet)