Ismail Kadare, the award-winning Albanian writer, was born in Gjirokastra in 1936. Translated into over 30 languages his books have an international appeal. He has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature and was a winner of the 2005 Man Booker International Prize. Two of Kadare’s works are exclusively about Gjirokastra: “Kronikë në Gur” (Chronicle in Stone) and “Çështje të marrëzisë” (Matters of Madness). Both books are available in English, French and other languages.
Kadare’s childhood home was in the Palorto Quarter in the heart of the Old Town close to the Bazaar. The area was recently badly damaged by fire and is currently being restored by the Albanian Institute of Monuments.
In 1990, before the collapse of the Albanian communist regime, Kadare travelled to France where he successfully applied for political asylum, at the time he is quoted as saying “dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible... The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship." A member of the French Academy and a Knight of the Legion of Honour, he also holds the most important Albanian medal: Honour of the Nation.
The history of Albania in the 20th century is dominated by Enver Hoxha. He was born in Gjirokastra in 1908 to a middle class family of merchants on the site of what is now the Ethnographic Museum. Hoxha was a founding member of the Albanian Communist Party and during the war became its leader. After the war the communists took power making all other political parties illegal, as party chairman, Enver Hoxha became the absolute ruler of Albania.
During Hoxha’s ruthless premiership, Albania underwent intensive industrialisation using the Stalinist economic model with foreign aid from the Soviet Union. Hoxha's regime confiscated privately owned farmland and established collective farms, as well as engaging in massive land reclamation projects to increase arable land and boost food production. All this was done in the context of an internal class struggle that sanctioned the repression by imprisonment or execution of anyone who was opposed to the regime.
After breaking with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, Hoxha allied the country with China, which provided development aid and inspired further repressions similar to Mao’s Cultural Revolution. China and Albania broke relations in 1978. After this Hoxha became determined to make tiny Albania self-sufficient, while still retaining the old Stalinist methods, a policy that ruined Albania’s economy.
Like Stalin, Hoxha used a combination of nationalism and charisma to unite the disparate elements of the Albanian people; meanwhile his secret police spied on the population and eliminated Hoxha’s perceived or actual enemies. However, his regime did improve living standards for many Albanians through improved access to education and the provision of utilities, such as electricity, to rural areas. Hoxha was paranoid of opposition from outside of Albania and constructed hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers to provide a first line of defence should invasion threaten. More damaging was the failed attempt at total self-sufficiency that hastened the fall of the regime after Hoxha’s death in 1985.
Today, Enver Hoxha is a controversial figure in Albania, towering in his impact but enigmatic in many ways, he is difficult to appraise objectively. Albania continues to struggle with his legacy and will do so for many years to come.