Friday, August 26, 2011


This appeared in The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) in 1984

LONDON—A Frenchman made a fatal mistake this summer. He surrendered to an Albanian border patrol.
Jean-Marie Masselin, 29, an employee of the French Club Mediteranee on the island of Corfu, was on a fishing trip with two colleagues. They strayed into Albanian waters, and their inflatable dinghy with outboard motor soon came under fire by Albanian guards.
They dived into the water. Two of them swam off to a Greek boat nearby, but Mr. Masselin decided to take a chance with the border patrol and swam ashore. He climbed up some rocks and was apprehended by the Albanians. Simon Periatinos, a Greek eye-witness watched as Mr. Masselin was marched away.
Three days later, his body was discovered floating in the sea, a bullet wound in his head.
THE MOST surprising part of all this is that nobody is surprised—this is the sort of behavior the world has come to expect from the Albanians, not a people renowned for their tolerance of foreigners.
Albania is a country of 2 ½ million people. Some 25,000 Albanians, mostly descendants of Illyrian tribes, belong to the secret police.
The official language, an Indo-European tongue, contains Latin, Greek, Italian and Turkish words.
Albania is the only country in the world where the memory of Stalin is invoked with admiration. Enver Hoxha, Albania's iron-fisted leader for four decades, has written of the man under whose tyrannical rule millions perished: “Our beloved friend, the glorious leader, Stalin...”

RELATIONS between Albania and the Soviet Union stiffened considerably after Stalin's death in 1953. Mr. Hoxha staunchly disapproved of Nikita Khrushchev's “revisionism.”
When Khrushchev requested that Albania not spoil its seaside landscape with industry, Mr. Hoxha's reply was terse: “We have no intention of becoming a spa for Soviet functionaries.”
His opposition to the Soviet Union increased when, in 1960, Khrushchev broke with the Chinese Communists and demanded, at a party congress in Romania, that all Communist delegations offer their support.
Mr. Hoxha responded by allying Albania with Communist China, a relationship that remained until Mao Tse-tung's death, but terminated in 1978 when Mr. Hoxha decided that China, too, had become “revisionist.”
HIS LAST STRAW with Moscow came in 1968 when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia. He abruptly withdrew Albania from the Warsaw Pact, making it the only country to ever pull off such a maneuver.
Albanian soldiers were dispatched to take up positions in the mountains for fear of Soviet reprisals. Weapons were distributed to every village throughout the country as Albanians braced themselves for an invasion. The Soviets never came.
Villagers are still armed to the teeth, a policy encouraged by Mr. Hoxha. (One wonders how the Communist parties of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Poland would fare if its citizens were permitted weapons.)
Mr. Hoxha, 75, rules supreme in Tirana, the capital. His features adorn most public places, invoking a “Big Brother” style personality cult. His birthplace is a national shrine.
He was elected secretary-general of the Communist party in 1943. For many years he ruled through Mehmet Shehu, the prime minister, and Beqir Balluku, the defense minister.
Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs: “Hoxha and Shehu would sentence the accused to death. Balluku would personally carry out the execution.”
But Beqir Balluku was executed as part of a Hoxha-inspired purge in the mid-1970's, during which eight senior ministers vanished.
Mehmet Shehu suffered a similar, albeit more public, purge in a bizarre incident in 1982. Many eyebrows were raised when his “suicide” was announced. Sources say that a raging argument between him and Mr. Hoxha ended with cabinet-room shoot-out in which Mr. Shehu was gunned down. Known as “the butcher,” he was said to have shot and killed a colleague who dared argue with him during a 1950 cabinet meeting.

ALBANIA is the only country where Marxism truly works, the propaganda machine claims. Propagandists say Albanians are treated badly by both the western and Communist press because (1) the Pentagon doesn't want anyone to know that Marxism can work and (2) the Russians don't wish to acknowledge that Marxism doesn't work in the Soviet Union.
Albania is self-supporting in food. The staple diet consists of rice, bread, paprika and a little goat meat.
The country is also self-supporting in oil and is the fourth largest producer of chromium ore (900,000 tons per year). Natural resources include asphalt, coal, copper and iron.
There is no tax. Medical and dental services are free. Only a half percent of wages are paid in rent.
Churches and mosques were outlawed in 1967. So were beards.
A small travel agency in Britain offers “a chance to have a non-Christmas or non-Easter” in Albania.
There are no foreign books or newspapers.
The last time western countries attempted to interfere was in 1945. A Committee of Free Albanians was financed by the American and British intelligence services, and 300 “Free Albanians” parachuted into Albania and were never seen again. Kim Philby, the British spy, had betrayed the operation.