Jeremy Corbyn stunned attendees at Labour’s staff Christmas party by quoting Enver Hoxha, the Albanian dictator who served as chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces from 1944 until his death in 1985.
Dubbing Hoxha a “tough ruler”, Corbyn quoted Hoxha’s phrase that “this year will be tougher than last year”. Hoxha is believed to have imprisoned, tortured or executed at least 100,000 Albanians during his reign.
The party – thrown for both current staff and veterans of the 2015 election campaign – was stunned by the remarks, which will raise memories of John McDonnell’s decision to quote Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book in the House of Commons. One attendee described the reaction as “awkward laughter”. Others had to Google the autocrat, who is a relatively-obscure figure in Britain. The row over Mao overshadowed Conservative U-Turns on cuts to tax credits and the social security budget.
Others defended Corbyn, however. One staffer said that “he was trying his best to speak to a room of people who he will never like or trust and who will never like or trust him”. The remark is believed to have been in jest.
Simon Mirakaj, head of the Albanian Institute of Formerly Persecuted People, has been in touch with the New Statesman. Mirakaj, who was personally imprisoned for 44 years, described Hoxha as leaving an “unhealed wound” on Albanian society, who “filled the streets of Albania with tears and blood” and condemned the joke.
“In my family, the ‘tough leader’ sentenced us together to 950 years [in aggregate] of prison, forced labour camps and executions. [In Albania] there are 6000 people executed with and without a judicial process and we still haven’t found their graves, we have had 30,000 political prisoners and 200,000 people put in labour camps.”
That the remark was intended as a joke recieved short shrift from Mirakaj. He said: “In September 2014 our country was visited by Pope Francis. This was his first visit in Europe. He didn’t choose Albania as a developed country. He chose Albania for the reason this country suffered most during communism.”
“There is no bigger insult for the Catholic Church,” he added, “That in a Christmas party a name of a dictator such as Enver Hoxha is quoted.”
It remains Labour party policy not to comment on private gatherings.
I’m grateful to ABC’s Vincent Triest, who put Simon Mirakaj in touch with the New Statesman.