Hoxha's shadow book cover

"Offers an intriguing snapshot of a country still scarred by the legacy of its brutal dictator. . . Readers will find that this book may move Albania up a few notches in their 'to-visit' list, to capture the feeling and flavour of the country’s coastline, old fortresses, villages and cities – while such uniqueness still beckons.’—BalkanInsight

Enver Hoxha’s Long Shadow

Travels in Albania

John Watkins

Foreword by Miranda Vickers

“Watkins is a knowledgeable, clear-sighted fellow-traveller of the ideologically unrestricted variety, and there is nothing else like his book on the market.”—Studies in Travel Writing

“A stimulating overview of a changing society complete with all its future uncertainties.” — New Eastern Europe

Communist Albania was unlike any other European nation. It was a “hermit state” ruled by a dictator, Enver Hoxha, who presided over a repressive Stalinist regime. When John Watkins visited Albania in the late 1980s, he saw peasants toiling in the fields and enormous state-owned factories scarred the landscape. 

In 1991, the old regime was overthrown. Hoxha’s statues were pulled down and his books burned. But reminders of his Albania were everywhere: in the monotonous apartment blocks and derelict factories; in the old collective farms and irrigation channels; in the thousands of bunkers that still dotted the landscape. But how much deeper did Hoxha’s influence go? What marks had he left on the political system and on the nation’s psyche?         

To answer these questions, the author returned to the places he had visited in the 1980s. He started in Shkodër and travelled south through Durrës and Tirana to Sarandë. He had taken photos on those first tours. He wanted to find the exact spots where he had taken them, so he could use them as a barometer of change.        

But the real power of the images lay not just in their evocation of the past, but in the connections they allowed him to make in the present. Through the photos, he was able to talk to Albanians from different generations and walks of life. For those born after 1991, they were revelatory, images of a world they knew little about. For older people, they were a key that unlocked memories, both good and bad.           

These exchanges, together with eyewitness research over thirty years, have given the author an in-depth insight into how Albanians are coping with the transition from dictatorship to an often-chaotic free market economy. As Albania emerges as a modern democratic state, this book reveals that it is still struggling with the legacy of its traumatic past. 

Enver Hoxha’s Long Shadow, a colourful account of this enigmatic country’s landscapes and people, is essential reading for anyone wanting a fuller understanding of contemporary Albania.

John Watkins worked for many years as a BBC radio producer. He has made programmes about Albania and written travel articles for the Independent. He currently edits the Anglo-Albanian Gazette, the online journal for the Anglo-Albanian Association. 

£14.99 pb

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40 illus
November 2023
ISBN: 9781838463090