Nexhmije Hoxha, widow of Albania's communist dictator Enver Hoxha (Photo by Gent SHKULLAKU / AFP) (Photo by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Murderess with no regrets

This lady makes Rose West look like a sentimental humanitarian

Compared with Nexhmije Xhuglini, who has just died aged 99, Rosemary West was a mere bumbling amateur, a sentimental humanitarian. 

Nexhmike Xhuglini was the wife and companion for forty-three years of the Albanian communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985. Although she sometimes posed as only his domestic helpmeet, and appeared several times without actually being named in a glossy photographic hagiography of her husband published shortly after his death, she was in fact a convinced, important and active communist who joined the Party very early in its history, rose in its ranks in her own right, and never shrank from her duty, as she conceived it, to co-operate in the elimination by murder of those her husband, a paranoid narcissist, deemed to be his enemies, which was the majority of those he associated with. Many, indeed astonishingly many, of those with whom she had once been friendly were executed; it was very dangerous to know or to have known Nexhmije Hoxha, née Xhulgini.   

She was born in 1921 in what is now Northern Macedonia and was then then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but her parents soon moved to Tirana in Albania, where we she was brought up and attended an elite girls’ school. By the age of 21, and in the year of its founding, she was fully engaged in work for the Party. 

This, of course, was during the war and the Italian occupation. It is said that Enver Hoxha experienced love for her at first sight at a Party meeting, and when he proposed to her a little while later, she replied ‘The resistance front has fallen. I surrender.’ She bore him three children, two sons and a daughter.

Remorse for what she had done was not in her psychological repertoire

Stories of her coldness and cruelty are legion and it is a moot point whether her ideological commitment caused her cruelty or her cruelty her ideological commitment. Certainly there was an elective affinity between the two. By the age of twenty-three she had become an accessory to the desired murder (on her future husband’s orders) of Anastas Plasari and other members of the resistance to the Italian occupation: 

 In relation to the purging of certain individuals [she wrote to him]

 I did communicate your instructions to the comrades…

which on this occasion the comrades failed to carry out, because they were not sure that she had relayed the message correctly. But the murder or incarceration in abominable conditions of those she had known and even been friendly with never caused her loss of sleep. She died with blood on her hands and a perfectly clear conscience: remorse for what she had done was not in her psychological repertoire.  

The house in which Hoxha proposed to her in 1942 had been rented for Hoxha by Syrja Selfo, a man who supported him very generously. In 1946, Selfo was sentenced to death and executed after a show trial.

The Hoxhas stayed for several months on and off in the house of Bahri Omari, Hoxha’s brother in law. He was executed by firing squad in 1945. 

Her friend, Drita Kosturi, was arrested in 1946, sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of being a British agent, and spent three months handcuffed in the condemned cell, The sentence later commuted to imprisonment for 13 years in terrible conditions.

Her best friend at school, Liri Belishova, herself an ardent and for a time prominent communist (her husband, also a communist, was either murdered or committed suicide in 1946), spent many years in prison and in 1981 was refused permission to visit her daughter, who was dying of cancer. Having known Nexhmije gave her no privileges, to say the least.

According to her daughter-in-law, Nexhmije Hoxha enjoyed watching the video of Mehmet Shehu, prime minister for 27 years and himself a man of exceptional brutality, being tortured shortly before he either committed suicide or was murdered on Hoxha’s orders.

By all accounts, Hoxha loved his wife dearly. In his diary he wrote ‘Nexhmije is unwell and when she is ill, I feel ill. When she is well, I feel well too.’ This devotion might have been touching in anyone other than an unscrupulous murderer writing about his willing accomplice. 

Although lacking in academic distinction, Mrs Hoxha was head of the Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies, whose main function was the publication of her husband’s voluminous writings, notable for their vituperation against everyone with who he had once been allied, except for Stalin who remained his veray parfit gentil knight. It is said that no work of his was published without her authorisation. 

When her husband died, she said ‘He’s left us, he’s gone to join the comrades.’ This was not strict orthodoxy for a regime that prided itself on having created the first fully atheist state in the world. Evidently, blind nature made exceptions for the comrades.

After the downfall of the regime, Nexhmije Hoxha was charged with embezzlement of funds – a mere peccadillo in the context of her life – and she spent six years in prison. She write two volumes of her memoirs and lived the rest of her life in undeserved but merciful peace.

She genuinely believed herself to have worked only for the betterment of her country

It is difficult to read of her life without a mixture of fascination and repulsion. Although she lived very well by Albanian standards (which were not high, to say the least) it was clear that the accumulation of wealth or riotous living did not motivate her – no doubt fewer people would have been killed with her agreement if they had motivated her. She lived many years with her husband in the utterly cut-off section of Tirana called the Bllok, closed to all mortals except the upper echelons of the Party who lived there in a state of permanent and justified terror.

The life of Nexhmije Hoxha is of interest to psychologists and moral philosophers. Despite the ruthlessness of her conduct in a cause that was responsible for untold misery and suffering, she genuinely believed herself to have worked only for the betterment of her country, if not of mankind, and believed this to the end of her very long life. It is unlikely that this belief was mere self-defence after the whirligig of time had brought in his revenges: her life was consistent and all of a piece. Students of self-deception will find much to ponder in her case, for self-deception could hardly be deeper or go further: but ultimately we shall never pluck out the heart of her mystery.

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