ALBANIA UNDER HOXHA
Before continuing my story, it might help to give a little background, as not a lot is known about Hoxha's rule in Albania. From the seizure of power by the communist party in 1945 until 1967, Albania followed the general policy of most communist countries of marginalising the churches and religious organizations, with a view to their eventual “withering away” as Marx had predicted. This was achieved by a mixture of legal restrictions, imprisonment of the more independent and vociferous clerics, infiltration of the religious hierarchies by people sympathetic to the Party and atheist propaganda in schools. This was bad enough but, in 1967, the government initiated an all-out war on religion in an ambitious attempt at the complete abolition of all religious practices and beliefs in the country. The aim was to create, in Hoxha's words, “the world's first completely atheist state.”
Over the next 18 years, all 2,169 churches, monasteries and mosques were closed, 1608 of which were Orthodox. According to estimates from religious leaders, 95% of the buildings were demolished or completely gutted. The latter were converted to secular use such as factories, warehouses, stables, cinemas or nightclubs. The Orthodox Cathedral in Tiranë, for example, was converted to a gym. Because of their design, many of the monasteries were turned into army barracks. A very few religious buildings were preserved as ‘cultural monuments’ if they were of historical or architectural interest, including the beautiful Ethem Bey mosque in Tiranë. Nobody was allowed to pray in the mosque, however, except for foreign Muslim dignitaries on state visits.
Among all faiths, the vast majority of clergy were imprisoned, exiled, forced to seek other work, executed or starved to death. The number of Roman Catholic priests in Albania fell from 300 in 1945 to 30 in 1985, most of them in prison, while by 1990, not a single Orthodox bishop and less than 20 Orthodox priests survived. The conducting of religious services could result in twenty-five years in prison, while even the possession of a Bible or Q'uran meant ten years hard labour!
I will be telling the full story of this extraordinary period in the book I am working on now. You will find it extremely hard to believe!