Three Letters of Mehmet Shehu: Reflections of His Character
A discussion in the Political Bureau of the Party of Labour of Albania took place in December 1981 following the engagement of the son of Mehmet Shehu, a leading party and state figure, to a girl from a family in which there were 6 to 7 war criminals. This precipitated the suicide of Mehmet Shehu and led to a deeper investigation of his political career. In the tenth chapter of his book ‘The Titoites’, (The ‘8 Nentori’ Publishing House, Tirana, 1982), Enver Hoxha summarised the results of these inquiries. Nexhmije Hoxha, after the restoration of capitalism in Albania in 1991 and her release from gaol where she had been sent on trumped-up charges has written her memoirs. The following excerpt from her latest book narrates some of the early post-war experiences that the PLA had of Mehmet Shehu. It is an honour for us that the author selected this journal for the publication of the first English-language excerpt of her memoirs, which deals with the relations between Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu.
During the war Enver kept in frequent contact with his comrades who worked in different towns and military units, such as Nako Spiru, Gogo Nushi, Hysni Kapo, Ramadan Citaku along with many others. He expressed his options and gave them advice along with criticisms, about their war and various other matters.
He addressed letters to Mehmet Shehu or to Mehmet’s military headquarters which contained criticisms and advice.
While all his other collaborators mentioned above wrote to Enver, giving him information, accepting or rejecting his criticism and also giving their own opinions, Mehmet Shehu never wrote directly to Enver, whether personally or officially as either Political Secretary or as General Commander of the war.
On the contrary, Mehmet Shehu sent letters to his comrades where he vented anger about the General Command and the National Liberation Front.
But those which show the real character of Mehmet Shehu are the letters sent to Dushan Mugosha, the Soviet Major Ivanov and Koci Xoxe on the eve of National Liberation.
A letter to Dushan Mugosha
On January 29 1944 Mehmet Shehu wrote ‘I would like to explain to your why I disagree with the creation of the Common Headquarters to lead the three brigades or other sectors of the war. I also disagree with people like Islam (Radovicka) and Bedri (Spahiut). On the other hand, I absolutely agree with the participation of Baca in the command…..’ In order to avoid doubt about what he meant, he goes on: ‘You may misinterpret me; you may think that I object because of my ambition to be the leader of the three brigades. Here I will explain my view: I have many bourgeois flaws but I am not and never have been ambitious. I fought for 6 months, on the front-line, in Spain as an ordinary solider, always satisfied, and later on I was given some responsibility. I did not become Brigade Commander without passing, not once, but many times through the eye of a needle.
It can be seen from letter written by Mehmet Shehu, that he did not do anything without asking Dushan Mugosha’s opinion. He held himself high above his comrades and the members of the General Command. Showing to others his bigheaded and arrogance to a brutal extent. When he addressed Dushan Mugosha he showed a strange servility.
In one of his letters he wrote; ‘I am shocked by the phrase you used in the letter you sent me, because you doubt the fact you might be misunderstood, I am shocked Sali (Dushon) because I never had any suspicion about you and Halim (M. Popovici). In whom should I be suspicious, in the Party? May death be upon me if I am to be suspicious.
In February 1944, two weeks after Dushan Mugosha had left the brigade I, Mehmet Shehu wrote ‘Your departure from the Brigade was felt immediately, it is as if we are orphans! Your help, my comrade, has been great for us now we can see. When you were here we did not understand, now we understand.
When Dushan Mugosha left Albania even some of our comrades wrote to him, only because Koci Xoxes asked them : ‘Write him a letter of greeting….. because when he left he was worried, as he was greatly tied to Albania. In our letters that Yugoslavia publicised after we split with them, after 1948, we valued his work but we didn’t receive letters from him and we did not wish to write obsequious letters like Mehmet Shehu.
‘The letter that you sent was a consolation to me and I will preserve it…. The whole letter advises me, helps me and teaches me (!) This is an indication of the bonds that tie us, comrade, a long way from detestation, contempt and destructive criticism. I am keeping the letter which serves as a reflection and recollection of you (!) ………’
‘…… Write about anything you want as Brigade 1 is ready to fulfil your wishes. Ah Sali! If you deserted and came back we would hold you as an outlaw.’
‘Brigade 1 gives its word to do everything that can be done to be proletarian, as soon as possible but requires from you to hold the proletarian colours.’ (!?)
‘Mehmeti i Brigades 1’
Letter to Soviet Major Ivanov
In August 1944, a Soviet allied mission led by Major Ivanov came to Albania. Mehmet Shehu, in order to win the sympathy of the powerful country that Ivanov represented, wrote a report in which he made clear his opinions of Enver Hoxha and the friends that supported him. ‘In Albania there were no communists like Tito in Yugoslavia and we were in great need of immediate and direct help from the Communist International or from the Yugoslav Party.’ The ‘volunteer of information’ does not forget to complain to the head of this mission, about the injustices that he had suffered, about the way he feels spiritually.
Below we give some extracts from his letter:
……. I feel it is my duty to express my opinion about what I see and to give my thoughts about these things.
I know very well that my view is against the organisational tendencies of the Party, but I trust you,…. Taking the responsibility not to speculate. I take the responsibility to address you directly.’
‘The conference…. (the First Conference of the Communist Party of Albania – Labinot, March 1943. My note N.H.) was all schematic and the opinion of some elements, such as ‘Kapo’ urged on by Miladin and Dushan, predominated. What impressed me was that Miladin drew my attention to the fact that I insisted on interfering in the discussions about the organisational report. ‘As our Party, addressing the poor strata and mainly the proletariat we want to be proletarians.’ ‘Miladin kept notes and told me not to insist too much about this.’
My answer was precise. ‘This is what I learned in Spain.’
Everything is being monopolised in the hands of a few: – Enver, Liria, Boca. A tyranny is arising from inside the Party, woe betide him who dares to contradict Mladin and Dushan or their favourites(!) Most of the members were led by conformism and this was a Napoleonic way of accepting members. The Party was now sailing blindly towards an ‘unknown fate.’
I take the responsibility to say, that one of the most terrible wounds of our Party is the ABSENCE OF A FAIR POLICY ABOUT PERSONNEL (words in capitals are as in the original – NH). This wound has been, and still is in danger of gangrene. About five or six months ago the Party became a phantom, and became threatening to many members of the party. Some members paid with their lives for not having good relations with CLIQUE OF THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE., I was persecuted, thereatened and humiliated by Liri Gega….. at times I have felt so terrible, that on three occasions I drew my pistol to kill myself!... (emphasised by NH).
After writing his biography he says ‘only a ray of hope has saved me: – All this is a temporary obstacle as the development of history will lead unavoidably to the FINAL VICTORY OF INTERNATIONAL COMMUNISM. I live with this hope, and tell myself, as a communist, suicide means BETRAYING communism.’
I am a candidate for the Central Committee. It is strange, isn’t it?! But it is a reality here in Albania……
‘In the summer of 1943, the General Headquarters was created in order to lead the military operations in Albania. How it happened I do not know. As commander of this headquarters, there was appointed a former mayor of the fascist army (now the leader of this headquarters and a member of the Party) [he means Spiro Moisiu]. (emphasized by NH). Enver Hoxha was chosen as a commissar and the other members were selected by Maladin. Most of them had not even once fought the enemy. The General Headquarters has never functioned up to the Liberation of Albania. Considering the fact that our operations have been successful, it is thanks to the lower commanders who were far from the central headquarters. And they had sufficient experience in the military struggles…..’
‘The Congress of Permet was characterised by an artificial style of management by Maladin and faithfully put into practice by members of the Central Committee especially Enver and Liri. At the Congress formulas tabled by Maladin and presented by Enver and his circle were not challenged, or as I call them the ‘CLIQUE’. They were appointed ministers, commanders and executives in a very mechanical way. Maladin’s intention was to copy the plan used in the state organisation in Yugoslavia. This scheme was drafted on paper but was not objectively adopted. Circumstances in Yugoslavia area very different from those in Albania. Firstly, in Yugoslavia there is a communist Party from which we are far away. Secondly, they have Tito, who is not a great leader but an internationally recognised statesman. Enver Hoxha is not even a little Tito. Thirdly, Yugoslavia has well qualified personnel whilst in Albania we do not have personnel to whom we entrust great responsibilities. Here responsibility should be distributed as soon as possible and at the same time we need to maintain centralism for overall control.
At the Congress there was considerable exaggeration by key members to gain popularity but did not conform to our principles. Tito has become popular through his concrete and positive devotion and because he has created a Communist Party of the Stalinist type in Yugoslavia and his influence can be seen everywhere in the anti-fascist world. He has gained the respect of our enemies. Thus, our comrade Enver should become popular not in, an artificial way, but through his work, following Tito’s steps.
Everyone wants to abandon their responsibilities and leave things to Dushan and Maladin. Responsibility lies especially on all the members of the Central Headquarters mainly Maladin, Dushan together with Enver, Liri and Bacen who cannot be parted from this contradiction, look at the differences between me and other comrades…..
Decisive change in Berat has not been and would be difficult to achieve if the Central Headquarters follow this path.
In my opinion we need a ‘total revolution’ in our Party in order to change. Our comrades believe that to make any change in the Party, it would be enough to expel 2-3 members of the party and then to offer ‘charity’ jobs to them…… but ‘charity’ does not solve the problem of starvation.
We have been shown as weak towards reactionaries and we have not considered their strength and reactionaries live from our hands.
To our Allies (English and American) we have shown weakness and at the same time arrogance.
Comrade Velo (Velimir Stojnic, Chief of the Yugoslav mission) is doing all he can. I have talked with him about these problems. He interferes. It is necessary to have a procedure to put things in the right place.
CONCLUSIONS; AMONG THE ALBANIAN COMMUNISTS THERE IS NO MAN LIKE TITO LEADING WITHOUT HELP. FOR THE TIME BEING WE ARE WEAK POLITICALLY AND FROM AN ORGANISATIONAL POINT OF VIEW. WE ARE A COMMUNIST PARTY OF ‘ALBANIANS’ BUT NOT OF ‘ALBANIA’. THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE IS NOT PROLETARIAN. IN ORDER TO MAKE PROGRESS WE NEED IMMEDIATE HELP FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST PARTY OR FROM THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF YUGOSLAVIA. THIS IS VERY URGENT AND WE ARE HAVING VERY DIFFICULT PROBLEMS.
Mehmet Shehu Writes to Koci Xoxe
As is known, on November 23, 1944 the 2nd Plenary Session of the Central Communist Party was held in Berat. Because of brutal Yugoslav interference in the internal affairs of our Party the proceedings took the wrong course by distorting the war of our country and the leadership of Enver Hoxha. Mehmet Shehu did not participate as he was engaged at the front. When Shehu was informed about the Plenary Session, he thought the time had come to strike against Enver Hoxha and to climb the steps as he had always dreamt. On December 10th he sent a letter to the Central Committee but was actually addressed to Koci Xoxe, an agent of the Yugoslavs, who was the inspiration of the conspiracy of Berat. He speaks about Enver Hoxha in the 3rd person.
‘….. I have recently heard, but not in detail, that our Party is taking a drastic turn…… if our Party had not recognised its directional mistake, and rectified its faults in time (I only heard about these changes), we could have headed into disaster…..’
The content of the letter is full of accusations against the Central Committee with Enver Hoxha at it’s head, identical to those of the plot by the Yugoslavs in the conspiracy of Berat. He pretends to direct his accusations at Liri Gega, who was severely censured for the plenum of Berat. Nevertheless, he adds:
‘I believe that all her Liri’s work is within the framework of the party.’
In his criticism of the Party he reveals himself to be more restrained, than those behind the scenes in Berat.
He writes ‘the work of the Party is characterised by:- a monopoly of responsible comrades, closing the door to criticism, self-criticism, sectarianism, parochialism, (building up cliques inside the Party) persecution of the membership, suppressing initiative – stamping their foot on the foundation of the Party – democratic centralism, this is distorted by a centralist policy, responsibility leaders who could have personal hatred towards some members of the Party, and not to put those in place who could do much more.’
In this letter Mehmet Shehu expresses the opinion that it was a mistake by Koci Xoxe to exclude him from the Berat Plenum and expresses his readiness to be at his disposal. He even assures him, he writes ‘For me personally, I am, I assure you totally free of this appalling situation which preoccupied and restrained me from head to toe a month ago.
After mentioning the ‘unjust’ criticism he received from the Party he equates that with the slander and propaganda of the enemy against him. ‘The propaganda, which has portrayed me as a frightening creature in front of the people. This appalling propaganda has had influence, even many of our friends who, instead of resisting it have embraced it…. Persecution by friends, persecution by the enemy, persecution by members of the party……..’
In order to justify his closencess to Dushan who was criticised by the Yugoslav leadership and removed from the Berat Plenum and Albania. Mehmet Shehu, in a letter addressed to Koce Xoxe writes:- ‘Dushan is always imposed upon. On one occasion Mehmet Shehu told him ‘you ought to shut your mouth once and for all’.
This sounds like a ‘strange’ kind of protection, keeping in mind the letters he sent to Dushan.
In the letter to Koce Xoxe he is constantly eaten away by fear and doubt:
‘From the Congress of Permet until now I have had a terrible internal battle ….. twice I took my gun to put an end to my life, shamefully.’
It is well-known that at Permet he was strongly criticised, especially about the operation of the 1st Brigade in the north of Shkumbin. This criticism troubled him a lot. ‘At Permet, comrades of the central committee instead of helping me to express myself freely on the contrary my comrades tortured me spiritually….. threw me back to the hell I came from’(!!) Elsewhere he complains: ‘The Party does not want my presence, I am being isolated, I am alone, without friends, persecuted, scorned.’
All this presents as spiritual anguish in difficult moments, but in fact this has nothing to do with criticism but is linked to the fears of discovery. So strong were his doubts and fear, he decided to take a risk and draw attention and gave grounds to others to suspect a ‘betrayal’. He expressed in a letter: ‘When I realised that an American envoy had been sent near me I become convinced that somebody wanted to entrap me, and I have given the first signs of the betrayal. (To throw myself in with the Americans, with Fulci?), in other words my betrayal is desired……Oh! What torture!’
A question arises why all this fear? Why all these doubts? How is it possible that a man who portrays himself as a resolute communist and loyal to the party, a brave fighter who did not fear for his own life, in the liberation of his country, then turns the criticism into such doubts, a hair’s breadth separated him from suicide more than once?!
Note: Fulci is Harry Fultz who was an American agent named in the book ‘The Anglo-American Threat to Albania’ by Enver Hoxha.
Nexhmije Hoxha, ‘Miqësi e tradhtuar (in Albanian), ‘Betrayed Friendship, Historical Notes and Memories on the Relationship between Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu’, Tirana, 2004, pp. 37-49.
With acknowledgements to Nexhmije Hoxha, Laver Stroka and Nebih Graca.
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