Through a Glass, Darkly: The Foreign Office and the Soviet-Albanian Split, 1961–62

Balázs Szalontai
Department of Korean Unification, Diplomacy and Security, Korea University, Sejong City, Republic of Korea

In 1960–61, the outbreak of an increasingly acrimonious dispute between Nikita Khrushchev's Soviet Union and Enver Hoxha's Albania caught most foreign observers by surprise, all the more so because the nuclear superpower proved utterly unable to bring its smallest and poorest East European satellite to heel. From the global perspective of the Sino-Soviet rift, the Soviet-Albanian quarrel seemed only a somewhat ridiculous sideshow, inspiring countless jokes in the other "people's democracies." (Hungarian citizens, recalling how Stalinist propaganda had branded Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito a "chained dog of imperialism," quipped that the Albanians earned the title of "chained mice.")[1] However, Albania's neighbors (Italy, Greece, and Yugoslavia) quickly realized the strategic implications of Tirana's break with Moscow. The Kremlin's decision to withdraw its submarines from the Pashaliman base put an end to the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean, and created a power vacuum that faraway China could only partially fill. Sooner or later, each of the three neighboring states started making efforts to exploit the Soviet-Albanian rift and seek a modus vivendi with Hoxha, not the least because they were eager to outcompete each other.

The British Foreign Office (F.O.) was monitoring these developments from the sidelines, largely devoid of the excitement that the Soviet-Albanian rift aroused in Belgrade, Athens, Rome, and, to a lesser extent, in Paris and Ankara. The F.O. officials did recognize that the dispute in general, and the withdrawal of the Soviet submarines in particular, was advantageous to NATO's interests, but they saw little reason to revise London's passive and detached attitude toward Tirana. On the contrary, they repeatedly cautioned their European allies against making any "rash move." Concurring with the U.S. Department of State, they adopted the position that Western inactivity might actually be a more effective way to "keep Albania and the Soviet Union apart" than "taking any initiative openly designed to help the Albanians."[2]

This peculiar attitude was rooted in the fact that the United Kingdom – unlike France, Italy, and Turkey but similarly to the United States – had no diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of Albania (P.R.A.). Since the 1946 Corfu Channel incident (when two British destroyers struck mines laid by the Albanians), London and Tirana had been at loggerheads. As long as Albania refused to pay the compensation awarded by the International Court of Justice, the British government remained unwilling to establish diplomatic relations, and blocked the return of the Albanian gold reserves which, having been looted by the Third Reich, were held in trust by a British-American-French commission. Both sides stuck to their guns so stubbornly that the dispute would persist until the very end of the Cold War. Diplomatic ties were re-established only in May 1991 (two months after the restoration of US-Albanian relations), and it took five more years to arrange the gold-for-compensation swap.[3]

The absence of British diplomatic representation in Tirana was not simply an obstacle to rapprochement; it also greatly hindered the F.O. in gaining adequate information about Albanian domestic and external policies. The notoriously secretive Hoxha regime constituted a hard intelligence target anyway, but British diplomatic analysts labored under even more serious disadvantages than their French, Italian, Turkish, or Yugoslav counterparts who received regular reports from their missions in Tirana. In March 1961, an F.O. official pointedly remarked that his department had to rely on the B.B.C. for information on a recently held Albanian party congress, because "none of us can read" Zëri i Popullit (the Albanian party newspaper), and "Soviet and Satellite reporting on the IVth Congress has not helped us at all."[4] In January 1962, by which time the Soviet-Albanian dispute had attracted considerable international attention, the Northern Department still had reason to lament that "almost our only sources are published ones such as the press and the Summaries of World Broadcasts prepared by the B.B.C. Monitoring Service."[5]

The F.O.'s reliance on the B.B.C. (which regularly monitored the announcements of Radio Tirana and the Albanian Telegraphic Agency) was not altogether a disadvantage. F.O. officials were largely disinclined to engage in such fanciful speculations about Albania that occasionally cropped up in the reports of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and in the press articles written by Victor Zorza, Lajos Lederer, and other "Eastern Europe hands." (One particularly persistent rumor was that Hoxha was on a collision course with his second-in-command, Mehmet Shehu, or even in danger of being overthrown by Shehu – a claim that a F.O. official found rather unconvincing.)[6] Nonetheless, the F.O.'s focus on what the Albanian leaders publicly said about the U.S.S.R. seems to have played a role in that British diplomatic analysts, familiar as they were with the fact that Albania had "remained largely Stalinist in outlook and a bitter critic of Yugoslav 'revisionism',"[7] did not become aware of Hoxha's growing resentment toward Khrushchev until he decided to confront the Soviet leader in a public forum. In July 1961, a draft intel written by E. J. W. Barnes of the Foreign Office Southern Department expressed the view that "the first sign that all was not well between Tirana and Moscow was manifested at the Bucharest Conference of Bloc and foreign Communist Parties in June 1960."[8]

To be sure, the British observers were by no means alone in overlooking Hoxha's brewing dissatisfaction with Soviet policies. In May 1958, a draft paper prepared by the U.S. Department of State's Policy Planning Staff concluded that in both Bulgaria and Albania, "tendencies toward independence or antagonism toward the USSR are intrinsically weaker than in other satellites."[9] Even the Soviet bloc diplomats accredited to Tirana, who ostensibly had more insight into local conditions than their Western colleagues, failed to contextualize the veiled signs of Albanian hostility, and took the public statements of their hosts at face value. For instance, in June 1958 Hungarian Ambassador Nándor Zsatkulák happily informed his superiors that he was able to discuss "any problem with any of the leaders (including Comrade Enver) at any time," and evidently did not assume that the odd conduct of lower-level Albanian officials (such as the extremely uncooperative and "malicious" attitude that the Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Corps Supply Directorate adopted toward each and every "fraternal" embassy whenever the latter needed any sort of technical assistance) reflected the deeper feelings of the party elite.[10]

Still, the F.O. officials increasingly realized that some of the other NATO states were better informed about the Albanian situation than Britain. In January 1962, J. L. Bullard, of the Foreign Office Northern Department,[11] frankly admitted that "our sources of information on Albania are not good, and we do not pretend to any special expertise on the subject." Accordingly, he advised the British delegation to NATO that "those members of NATO who watch Albanian events closely and have missions in Tirana (i.e., especially the Italians, Greeks and Turks, and also of course the French), should be encouraged to take the lead in your discussion of this subject."[12] In the same vein, the Northern Department instructed a total of twenty British missions on four continents to coax information out of the "officials of friendly governments which maintain Missions in Tirana, or which have representatives accredited there."[13]

Thanks to the fairly cordial relationship between London and Belgrade, British diplomats could also rely on Yugoslav sources for information on Albania. In the spring of 1961, when Hoxha outwardly reverted to a friendlier attitude toward Moscow but continued his public campaign against "Yugoslav revisionism," the Yugoslavs retaliated by drawing attention to the anti-Soviet aspects of the dictator's newest intra-party purge. In May, a diplomat of the Yugoslav embassy informed R. L. Joseph, of the Foreign Office Central Department, about a show trial being held in Tirana, and pointedly remarked that "one of the charges against the accused was the fact that they had studied 'abroad'. The implication was that the Albanians were going out of their way to irritate the Russians, since those concerned had studied in the Soviet Union."[14] In July, the Research Department of the F.O.'s East European Section also cited Yugoslav sources when it concluded that the trial was "directed against the Soviet Union," despite its ostensible focus on Yugoslavia, Greece, and the U.S. Sixth Fleet.[15] In November 1961, a F.O. brief for the visit of the Lord Privy Seal (Edward Heath) to Yugoslavia noted that, "the Yugoslavs consider themselves experts on Albania and in view of Mr. Khrushchev's slashing attack on General Hoxha at the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Party, they will almost certainly raise the subject during the tour d'horizon. If they do not themselves volunteer their views, the Lord Privy Seal may care to solicit them, since they will be flattered by the request."[16]

This is not to say that F.O. officials were always in agreement with the evaluations and suggestions proffered by the same foreign diplomats whom they pressed for factual information on Albania. On the contrary, they repeatedly expressed doubts about the plausibility of the claims made by their NATO partners. For instance, in November 1961 the French Military Attaché in Belgrade informed the Canadian ambassador about his recent visit in Tirana, and ventured the opinion that "the Chinese might starve the Albanians and provoke a change of government in favour of the West, as he thought that such a development in Albania might, in the Chinese view, be sufficient to bring about the downfall of Khrushchev." In a handwritten comment on the outer cover of the file, Joseph remarked that this speculation was "well off the beam."[17]

Similarly, British diplomats emphatically dismissed the rumors that Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Averoff heard about an alleged Soviet plan to secure Yugoslav and Greek cooperation against Hoxha by dangling the promise of territorial adjustments in front of them. "The Russian objective must surely be to bring Albania back into line, since it was bad for Soviet prestige that there should be a dissident member of the Soviet bloc," E. E. Tomkins, Head of the Foreign Office's Western Department, wrote to Roger Allen, the British ambassador to Athens. "They would hardly achieve this objective by threatening to detach chunks of Albanian territory."."[18] The F.O.'s skepticism was quite justified, all the more so because this particular rumor seems to have been hatched by no one else but the Albanian leadership. In May 1961, the Hungarian embassy in Tirana indignantly reported that Albanian intra-party propaganda accused Khrushchev of plotting with Belgrade and Athens against Albania's territorial integrity.."[19]

Despite their cautious attitude, the F.O. officials were not wholly immune to the virus of disinformation. While they scornfully dismissed the "patently absurd accusations" that the May 1961 show trial raised against Yugoslavia, Greece, and the U.S.,[20] they nevertheless believed that the defendants must have been involved in some sort of conspiracy. In Barnes' opinion, the Albanian leadership had been "divided into two factions, those who inclined to Moscow on the one hand and the pro-Chinese faction headed by Hoxha and Shehu on the other," and eventually "an anti-Hoxha coup was attempted led by the Pro-Russian Naval Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Teme Sejko. It is not impossible that the attempted coup was engineered by Moscow, but in any case we now think that those responsible were in sympathy with the Russians."[21] However, the currently available archival evidence indicates that this binary model of factional struggle was too simplified to accurately describe the real situation within the Albanian party leadership. For one thing, Sejko and the other victims of the May 1961 trial seem not to have been closely linked to those two high-ranking party leaders (Liri Belishova and Koço Tashko) whom Hoxha purged in September 1960 on the grounds that they harbored pro-Soviet sentiments; instead, many of them belonged to a distinct sub-ethnic group, the Çams, and thus it has been suspected that their elimination was at least partly motivated by a policy of collective discrimination.[22] Second, Belishova's pro-Soviet sentiments were intertwined with an extremely strong antipathy toward Yugoslavia, a peculiar combination based on the fact that in 1947, her husband (Nako Spiru) had been eliminated by the pro-Yugoslav Koçi Xoxe, and she could regain her political influence only after Hoxha sided with Stalin against Tito.[23] Third, in early June 1960 Hoxha was still disinclined to openly support China vis-à-vis the U.S.S.R., and he personally instructed Belishova (who attended a meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions in Beijing) to avoid involvement in the Sino-Soviet dispute and to "emphasize the decisive role of the Soviet Union."[24] Having received such guidelines, Belishova thought it quite natural to inform the Soviet charge d'affaires in Beijing about what the Chinese delegates had said about the USSR at the WFTU meeting, only to suffer an unexpected backlash when Hoxha accused her of having revealed confidential information without the authorization of the party leadership. As Ana Lalaj put it, Hoxha's "break with the Soviets demanded a sacrifice."[25]

The F.O. officials, hindered as they were by their limited insight into the Albanian intra-party disputes, drew a more or less accurate picture about the factors which induced Hoxha to confront Khrushchev. "It seems odd that Albania should deliberately embark on a course of anti-Soviet policies," Barnes mused in July 1961. "She has always been heavily dependent on Soviet aid and such a course of action must seem to aim at killing the golden goose."[26] Actually, Tirana did not regard Soviet aid as "generous" as Barnes saw it; both the Hungarian diplomats and a C.I.A. study dated June 1962 noted that during his 1959 visit in Albania, Khrushchev had urged the displeased Albanian leaders to exert greater efforts to stand on their own feet.[27] Still, Barnes correctly observed that "the marked improvement in relations between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union since 1955 has no doubt caused the Albanian leaders to fear that a genuine Yugoslav-Soviet rapprochement might take place at the expense of Albania." Furthermore, "the Soviet Union has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Albania to discuss the Northern Epirus problem with Greece." In a handwritten comment on Barnes' paper, Richard K. Kindersley carried this conclusion one step further, laying a stronger emphasis on Albanian security concerns about Yugoslavia and Greece than on the Soviet factor: "The Russians seems [sic] to me to be rather overestimated as a motive in Albanian behaviour. In general I think that they are driven far more by political and territorial fears than by economics or ideology."[28] In this respect, British diplomatic analysts were more in agreement with their Italian and West German colleagues (who said that "if the Soviets had moved to the left, the Albanians would have moved to the right" and that Albania's ideologically expressed divergence from the U.S.S.R. had "a concrete nationalist basis") than with those Turkish diplomats who focused on the ideological aspects of the conflict ("The Turks believe that in explaining Yugoslav-Albanian relations, one must, in the final analysis, look not to Belgrade and Tirana, but to Moscow and Peking").[29]

British diplomatic analysts correctly predicted that the Albanian leadership would be able to withstand Soviet pressure. The Hoxha regime's formidable repressive capabilities precluded any sort of externally engineered coup d'état, while Chinese aid blunted the impact of Soviet economic sanctions. "Without a common frontier, Russia's ability to apply pressure is limited," a F.O. draft intel dated July 1961 observed. "Overt intervention, which would presumably have to be organised by air transport, would arouse memories of Hungary and would no doubt be strongly opposed by China."[30]

For these reasons, the F.O. officials considered any sort of Soviet military action unlikely.[31] J. Bullard remarked that Stalin had not been able to bring Yugoslavia to heel, and "Albania is an even harder nut to crack."[32] Despite their virulent dislike for Hoxha, the Yugoslavs concurred with this assessment. In November 1961, Mirko Sardelić, a departmental head of the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry, directly compared "the present Albanian situation with that of Yugoslavia in 1948" to explain why he thought that Albania "would and could" survive Soviet pressure. "The Albanian Communist Party," Sardelić stressed, "was like the Yugoslav Party, an indigenous organisation which had won its own victories."[33]

Actually, the memory of the Stalin-Tito conflict made the Yugoslav leaders positively disinclined to support a Soviet invasion of Albania, their aversion to Hoxha notwithstanding. In June 1961, Tomkins reassured Allen that Greek anxieties about a Soviet-Yugoslav complot against Tirana were groundless: "No doubt the Yugoslavs would dearly love to see changes in Albania but […] they would hardly want to see a régime installed there entirely subservient to Moscow."[34] The U.K. diplomats in Belgrade discounted the rumors of Soviet military preparations against Albania (which their U.S. colleagues took quite seriously) on the grounds that Yugoslavia would never permit another country to attack Albania through its territory – an assessment with which both Bullard and Joseph heartily agreed. As the Yugoslavs put it, "there is nothing that the Soviet Union or anyone else can do about the present regime there, which will be left to rot."[35] In a certain sense, the Yugoslav leaders wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, they took advantage of the fact that the Soviet-Albanian conflict induced Khrushchev to step up his efforts to please Belgrade, a trend manifested in the visits of high-ranking Soviet leaders (e.g., Leonid Brezhnev's in September–October 1962).[36] On the other hand, they adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Albania, presumably in the hope that the loss of Soviet support might eventually compel Hoxha to relax his hostility toward Yugoslavia. This required quite a bit of patience. In June 1963, the U.K. embassy in Belgrade reported that Yugoslavia continued to ignore Albanian media attacks,[37] while in December 1965, the Italian delegation to NATO noted that Albanian-Yugoslav relations "remained bad; but the Yugoslavs appeared to accept the situation with some detachment and were content to await an evolution towards greater liberalism" in Tirana.[38] In the end, the Yugoslav leaders had to wait until 1968, when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia – an act that both Belgrade and Tirana sharply condemned – created an opportunity for Yugoslav-Albanian rapprochement.[39]

Yugoslav warnings against any external "meddling" in Albanian affairs were not directed solely against the U.S.S.R. but also against Italy and Greece, two neighboring states which had long competed with Belgrade for dominance over Albania.[40] Indeed, both Rome and Athens sought to take advantage of the Soviet-Albanian split, and the Albanian leaders adopted a less hostile attitude toward them than toward Yugoslavia. The first tentative signs of rapprochement appeared in Italian-Albanian relations. As early as November 1960, the Soviet bloc diplomats in Tirana noticed a growing cordiality between the Albanian officials and the Italian legation.[41] Later they also found it very conspicuous that the May 1961 show trial, directed as it was against Yugoslavia, Greece, and the U.S., made no accusations against Italy.[42]

By September 1961, the F.O. had also become aware of the ongoing process of Italian-Albanian rapprochement, as the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided the British embassy with some data on Italy's recent economic deals with Tirana.[43] On January 4, 1962, Italian Ambassador Pietro Quaroni informed Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Joseph Godber that:

Albania was now very dependent on China in financial and economic matters and said that his Government felt there might be advantage in making some positive arrangements in the field of trade with the hope of assisting Albania in freeing herself from Russian support.

When the ambassador hinted that Albania might also be interested in restoring its relations with Britain, Godber flatly rebuffed his suggestion on the grounds that:

while we might welcome Albania's separation from Russia if it were on the Yugoslavian model, we found it in no way so attractive if it was based on support of Red China. I said that the impression I had at the moment was that Albania was little more than an outpost of China in Europe and as such did not deserve much encouragement from us.[44]

Quaroni was visibly abashed by Godber's rebuke, and a few days later, another Italian diplomat (Count Riccardi) visited the Northern Department to dispel British suspicions about Rome's intentions. Riccardi argued that, "it was better on balance to have Albania under Chinese influence than under Russian – because China was further away and therefore presumably less of a menace." To reassure the distrustful F.O., he emphasized that the Italian government "did not want to make any overtures towards Albania," but acknowledged that the volume of Italian-Albanian trade was on the increase.[45] Two officials of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Salleo and Borromeo, were far more outspoken. In January 1962, Salleo:

summed up Italian policy towards Albania as being to safeguard its territorial integrity. The Italians thought that the present situation suited Italy and the Western world very well. They saw virtue in keeping the Hoxha regime alive and were willing to give limited amounts of aid to secure this. As Hoxha, however, was undoubtedly anti-Western, it was not the Italian intention to strengthen him in any way. They merely wished to see him continue, as at present, in his present difficulties. If the Italians were to give help it would be 'drop by drop'.[46]

In December 1962, Borromeo told C. L. Booth, a diplomat of the U.K. embassy, that "the Italians were of course interested in keeping the Hoxha regime going and had been trying to find relatively harmless ways of helping with this."[47]

If the British diplomats were distrustful of Italy's engagement policy toward Albania, this was doubly true for their Greek colleagues. In January 1962, Salleo told the U.K. embassy in Rome that "the Greeks were at present jealous and suspicious of Italian influence and intentions in Albania." The Greek government press, he complained:

accused the Italians of harbouring old Imperial ambitions and of wishing to establish a position of supremacy in Albania. The Greeks said that if any Western country were to help the present Albanian regime, they would prefer it to be France and cited as a reason for this Hoxha's French training and outlook![48]

The Greek leaders were similarly mistrustful of Belgrade's designs on Albania. As early as December 1961, a diplomat of the Greek embassy in London told K. D. Jamieson that:

it was in the interests of Greece that there should be no change in the situation in Albania. If there was an internal revolution the result would be worse than the present situation, since the new government would be pro-Russian and pro-Yugoslav. They therefore thought that Hoxha should be discreetly helped to maintain his position.[49]

In 1962, Khrushchev's efforts to seek rapprochement with Tito further aroused Greek suspicions about a Soviet-Yugoslav complot against Albania. In January 1962, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the U.K. embassy in Paris that in the opinion of the Greek ambassador, "the West should respond rapidly to any Albanian requests for assistance. Otherwise Albania might slip back into the Soviet camp or be taken over by Yugoslavia."[50] At the same time, the British embassy in Athens reported that Greece's growing interest in reaching a modus vivendi with Tirana was mirrored by the Albanian government's decision to release some Greek hostages.[51] In June 1962, Averoff openly told British Ambassador Sir Ralph Murray that "Greece had a role to play" in Albania, "because whereas the Albanians hated the Yugoslavs, the historical ties and the existence of substantial minorities of Albanian origin in Greece were a foundation on which a much more significant relationship might be built up than with any other country."[52]

Once again, the British diplomats and their U.S. colleagues expressed doubts about the wisdom of engaging Hoxha. In January 1962, John N. O. Curle, a counsellor at the U.K. embassy to Athens, reported that Averoff had discussed Albania with U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who advised him that "Albania should be left to stew in her own juice."[53] "We gather from the Americans that the Greeks have indicated to them their wish to take a 'more forward' policy towards Albania and that the Americans have counselled them against any rash adventure," Curle wrote. "I assume of course that you would also wish me to discourage the Greeks from any rash move if they should consult me."[54] In June 1962, Murray informed Tomkins about Greek intentions to re-establish diplomatic relations with Tirana, whereupon Joseph scribbled the following on the outer cover of the file: "If the Greeks do anything rash, this will exacerbate the Yugoslavs and upset the comparative calm of the Balkans."[55]

Notably, British efforts to curb Italian and Greek overtures toward Tirana were not motivated by the same competitive logic that pitted Belgrade, Athens, and Rome against each other. That is, the F.O. showed no interest in gaining a foothold in Albania, nor did it consider it necessary to develop new policies in response to the Soviet-Albanian split. The British government consistently emphasized that "diplomatic relations will not be resumed unless Albania agrees to pay at least some of the £800,000 damages awarded/against her by the International Court in the Corfu Channel case."[56] Since Tirana was unlikely to fulfill this demand, the dispute reached deadlock. Nonetheless, it seems that British passivity was not motivated solely by legal considerations. In January 1962, a F.O. official emphatically told Italian Ambassador Quaroni that, "even if the Albanian Government were to settle this claim we would not thereby be committed to open relations. At the same time if this debt were met we would no doubt be ready to reconsider the matter without commitment."[57] In all probability, the U.K. simply did not attribute as much importance to faraway Albania as the three neighboring states. The Italian, Greek, and Yugoslav leaders, aware as they were of Hoxha's unsavory reputation, felt it imperative to reach a modus vivendi with the dictator next door (even if this required some legal flexibility), but the British government could easily afford to ignore Albania. In December 1961, the Northern and Central Departments initiated a discussion about "the pros and cons of trying to encourage Albanian independence from Moscow by economic means" but the idea generated little enthusiasm among F.O. officials. "If we cannot afford a loan to Sierra Leone, we cannot let Albania have one," Bullard scribbled on the file.[58]

This is not to say that British diplomatic analysts overlooked the strategic implications of the Soviet-Albanian split. In June 1961, J. N. Henderson remarked that the withdrawal of Soviet submarines from Albania "involves a radical change in the relative naval power position of the Russians and Americans in the Mediterranean. It means a considerable reduction in the Soviet threat to the U.S. Sixth Fleet."[59] Still, the F.O. was of the opinion that the U.K. could benefit from these strategic changes without getting directly involved in the Soviet-Albanian dispute. In November 1961, R. L. Joseph summarized the F.O.'s official position by stating that the conflict was "an internal matter of the Soviet bloc and not therefore the direct concern of H.M.G."[60] In December 1961, following the severance of Soviet-Albanian diplomatic relations, Roberts, the British ambassador to Moscow, observed that it was "a Western interest that the Albanians should maintain their independence of the Soviet Union," since their successful defiance would weaken the cohesion of the Warsaw Pact. Nevertheless, he argued that any sort of direct Western assistance to Tirana would be counterproductive, because it would discredit both the Albanian regime and the Western powers ("supporting such an odious and tyrannical régime merely because it was temporarily anti-Soviet would undo our efforts to convince non-aligned opinion that the West stands for higher values than the Soviet bloc"), and entangle Britain in Albania's disputes with Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy. Therefore, he concluded that "the West should not make any offers of support to the Albanians but should respond favourably to any requests for help (although these seem highly unlikely) which can be justified on humanitarian grounds, particularly for food and medicine."[61] In January 1962, a F.O. minute adopted a position largely similar to Roberts' recommendations. The U.K. government was to refrain from making any initiative toward Albania, nor should it provide economic aid to Tirana or conclude an intergovernmental trade agreement. Instead, the acceptable course of action was to increase the volume of trade within the framework of an unofficial trade agreement.[62]

The F.O.'s standpoint had much in common with that of the U.S. Department of State, not the least because Washington also lacked a diplomatic relationship with Tirana. In April 1962, Bullard prepared a brief on Albania for Harold Macmillan's visit to Washington, in which he mentioned that:

the British and United States' views are basically in harmony, though the Americans are inclined to be slightly more cautious than we are. We are both agreed […] that the present position of Albania as an apple of discord in the bloc suits us very well, and we should at all costs avoid disturbing it.[63]

Doyle Martin, a Department of State official in charge of Albanian affairs, expressed this opinion in an even more explicit form. "Any Western intervention or offers of Western sympathy would be unproductive at the present time," Martin argued. Instead, "it would be better to let the pot simmer for a while: though the split between Tirana and Moscow was obviously significant for long-term Western interests, the direction of the Albanian deviation itself offered no comfort to the West."[64] This joint U.S.-British opposition to an engagement policy seems to have played a major role in that the Dutch government gave a negative reply to an Albanian proposal to establish diplomatic relations.[65]

Still, the fact that Hoxha's Albania could reach only a marginal rapprochement with the West should not be attributed solely to British and American opposition. The Albanian leaders were fairly quick to approach the capitalist countries (Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Norway, and the Netherlands), but the extreme backwardness of the Albanian economy, combined with the regime's ideological extremism, discouraged even those Western governments and private companies that were initially interested in cooperating with Tirana. For instance, Borromeo ruefully remarked that Italian-Albanian economic relations showed little progress, "the main problem being that no one in Italy was prepared to buy bad Albanian tobacco, inferior oil, or stinking hides." He also complained that reciprocal flights between Alitalia and the Albanian airlines were greatly hindered by the technical problems of Albania's single Ilyushin Il-14 plane. On one occasion, Rome Airport "refused it permission to land on the ground that the Ilyushin was a danger to other aircraft, to the airport, and to its own crew."[66] Unlike Tito's Yugoslavia, Hoxha's Albania did not undergo a process of political liberalization and economic reform after its break with the Kremlin. On the contrary, the dictator continued to rule with an iron fist until his death in 1985, by which time Albania had become one of the most isolated countries in the world.[67] Under such conditions, British policymakers had little reason to regret that in 1961–62, they had resisted the temptation to engage this "odious and tyrannical regime."


[1] For an overview of the Soviet-Albanian split, see James S. O'Donnell, A Coming of Age: Albania under Enver Hoxha (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 46–59; Miranda Vickers, The Albanians: A Modern History (London: I.B. Tauris, 2001), 185–190.

[2] Telegram by the U.K. Ambassador to Moscow (Sir Frank Roberts) to the Foreign Office, December 14, 1961. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[3] For an overview, see Ana Lalaj, "Burning Secrets of the Corfu Channel Incident," Cold War International History Project Working Paper #70 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2014).

[4] PRO FO 371 160179 001.

[5] Letter from the Foreign Office (Northern Department) to 20 Chanceries, January 1962. PRO FO 371 165801 001.

[6] As an example of such rumors, see Central Intelligence Agency, "Hoxha-Shehu Power Struggle," Information Report, October 1, 1955, CIA-RDP80S01540R006800130005-4, in C.I.A. Electronic Reading Room (C.E.R.R.). For the F.O.'s doubts about a Hoxha-Shehu rift, see PRO FO 371 160177 001.

[7] Foreign Office Draft Intel No. 97, July 21, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[8] Foreign Office Draft Intel (E. J. W. Barnes), July 12, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[9] "Considerations of Policy toward Albania and Bulgaria," Draft Paper Prepared by N. Spencer Barnes of the Policy Planning Staff, May 19, 1958, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960. Eastern Europe; Finland; Greece; Turkey, vol. X, part 2 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958–1960), 73.

[10] Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Memorandum, July 17, 1958, Hungarian National Archives (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár, M.N.L.), XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 1. doboz, 1/a, 002618/2/1958.

[11] In early 1962, responsibility for Albanian matters was transferred from the Foreign Office Central Department to the Northern Department, therefore files from both departments are cited in this essay.

[12] Foreign Office Minute (J. L. Bullard), January 8, 1962. PRO FO 371 160349 001.

[13] Letter from the Foreign Office (Northern Department) to 20 Chanceries, January 1962. PRO FO 371 165801 001.

[14] Foreign Office Minute (R. L. Joseph), May 25, 1961. PRO FO 371 160346 001.

[15] Foreign Office Note (B. Sparrow), July 13, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[16] Foreign Office Brief, November 16, 1961. PRO FO 371 160341 001.

[17] Despatch by the Canadian Ambassador in Belgrade, November 14, 1961 (comment by R. L. Joseph on the outer cover of the file). PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[18] The Foreign Office (E. E. Tomkins) to the U.K. Ambassador to Athens (Sir Roger Allen), June 1, 1961. PRO FO 371 160341 001.

[19] The Hungarian Embassy to Tirana to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, May 29, 1961, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 12. doboz, 30/c, 004781/1961.

[20] Foreign Office Brief, February 1961. PRO FO 371 160177 001.

[21] Foreign Office Draft Intel (E. J. W. Barnes), July 12, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[22] The Hungarian Embassy to Tirana to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, August 24, 1960, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 12. doboz, 30/c, 0034/RT/1960; Georgia Kretsi, Verfolgung und Gedächtnis in Albanien. Eine Analyse postsozialistischer Erinnerungstrategien. Balkanologische Veröffentlichungen, Band 44 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007), 62–64.

[23] The Hungarian Embassy to Tirana to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, October 20, 1960, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 4. doboz, 5/b, 0048/RT/1960; The Hungarian Embassy in Pyongyang to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, March 1, 1961, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 12. doboz, 27/f, 0028/RT/1961.

[24] Ylber Marku, "Sino-Albanian Relations during the Cold War, 1949–1978: An Albanian Perspective" (PhD diss., Lingnan University, Hong Kong, 2017), 66–69.

[25] Ana Lalaj, "China: The last ally of communist Albania. New insights from Albanian Archives," in Huang Lifu, Péter Vámos, and Li Rui (eds.), New Sources, New Findings: The Relationships between China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Press, 2014), 332–334.

[26] Foreign Office Draft Intel (E. J. W. Barnes), July 12, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[27] The Hungarian Embassy to Tirana to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, October 14, 1960, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 3. doboz, 5/b, 007059/1960; Central Intelligence Agency, "Soviet-Albanian Relations, 1940–1960," Current Intelligence Staff Study, June 22, 1962, ESAU XIX-62, in C.E.R.R.

[28] Foreign Office Draft Intel (E. J. W. Barnes), July 12, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[29] The U.K. Embassy in Ankara to the Foreign Office, June 17, 1961. PRO FO 371 160341 001; The U.K. Embassy in Bonn to the Foreign Office, June 22, 1961. PRO FO 371 160341 001; The U.K. Delegation to NATO (F. S. Tomlinson) to the Foreign Office (R. H. Mason), June 15, 1961. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[30] Foreign Office Draft Intel No. 97, July 21, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[31] Foreign Office Brief for the Visit of the Greek Prime Minister to the U.K., February 1961. PRO FO 371 160178 001.

[32] U.K. Delegation to NATO (F. S. Tomlinson) to the Foreign Office (R. H. Mason), June 15, 1961 (J. L. Bullard's comments on the outer cover of the file). PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[33] The First Secretary of the U.K. Embassy to Belgrade (M. H. Morgan) to the Foreign Office (R. L. Joseph), November 15, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[34] The Foreign Office (E. E. Tomkins) to the U.K. Ambassador to Athens (Sir Roger Allen), June 1, 1961. PRO FO 371 160341 001.

[35] Telegram by the U.K. Ambassador to Belgrade (Sir Michael Creswell) to the Foreign Office, December 30, 1961. PRO FO 371 165801 001.

[36] Foreign Office Minute (Egerton), October 29, 1962. PRO FO 371 165802 001.

[37] The U.K. Embassy to Belgrade (M. H. Morgan) to the Foreign Office (O. B. Alexander), June 19, 1963. PRO FO 371 171561 001.

[38] The U.K. Delegation to NATO (W. Marsden) to the Foreign Office (P. A. Rhodes), December 13, 1965. PRO FO 371 182532 001.

[39] Ana Lalaj, "1968: The Prague Spring and the Albanian 'Castle'," in Kevin McDermott and Matthew Stibbe (eds.), Eastern Europe in 1968: Responses to the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact Invasion (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 245–251; Vickers, The Albanians, 197.

[40] The U.K. Embassy in Belgrade (T. W. Garvey) to the Foreign Office (K. D. Jamieson), January 24, 1962. PRO FO 371 165806 001.;

[41] Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Memorandum, December 16, 1960, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 3. doboz, 5/b, 008050/1960.

[42] The Hungarian Embassy in Prague to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, October 17, 1961, M.N.L., XIX-J-1-j Albania, 1945–1964, 4. doboz, 5/bd, 0078/RT/1961.

[43] The U.K. Embassy in Rome (W. N. Hugh-Jones) to the Foreign Office (K. B. Jamieson), September 20, 1961. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[44] Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Joseph Godber) to the Foreign Office, January 4, 1962. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[45] Foreign Office memo from R.H. Mason to the Ambassador to Italy (Sir Ashley Clarke), 12 January 1962. PRO FO 371 165804 001.

[46] The U.K. Embassy in Rome (W. N. Hugh-Jones) to the Foreign Office (J. N. Henderson), January 26, 1962. PRO FO 371 165802.001.

[47] The U.K. Embassy in Rome (C. L. Booth) to the Foreign Office (S. L. Egerton), December 21, 1962. PRO FO 371 165801 001. For an overview, see also Etleva Smaçi, "Overview of Italian Government's Stance on Albania's Withdrawal from Warsaw Treaty de Facto in 1961 and de Jure in 1968," Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 8, no. 2 (2017): 155–159.

[48] The U.K. Embassy in Rome (W. N. Hugh-Jones) to the Foreign Office (J. N. Henderson), January 26, 1962. PRO FO 371 165802 001.

[49] Foreign Office Minute (K. D. Jamieson), December 29, 1961. PRO FO 371 165801 001.

[50] The U.K. Embassy in Paris (M. D. Butler) to the Foreign Office (J. N. Henderson), January 17, 1962. PRO FO 371 165807 001.

[51] The U.K. Embassy in Athens (J. N. O. Curle) to the Foreign Office (E. E. Tomkins), January 3, 1962. PRO FO 371 165803 001.

[52] The U.K. Embassy in Athens (Sir Ralph Murray) to the Foreign Office (E. E. Tomkins), June 4, 1962. PRO FO 371 165803 001. For an overview, see also Beqir Meta, Albania and Greece, 1949-1990: The Elusive Peace (Tirana: Academy of Sciences of Albania, Institute of History, 2007).

[53] The U.K. Embassy in Athens (J. N. O. Curle) to the Foreign Office (K. D. Jamieson), January 9, 1962. PRO FO 371 165803 001.

[54] The U.K. Embassy in Athens (J. N. O. Curle) to the Foreign Office (E. E. Tomkins), January 3, 1962. PRO FO 371 165803 001.

[55] The U.K. Embassy in Athens (Sir Ralph Murray) to the Foreign Office (E. E. Tomkins), June 4, 1962. PRO FO 371 165803 001.

[56] Foreign Office Draft Intel (E. J. W. Barnes), July 12, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[57] Foreign Office Minute, January 5, 1962. PRO FO 371 165804 001.

[58] Foreign Office Minute (J. L. Bullard), December 21, 1961. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[59] The Foreign Office (J. N. Henderson) to the U.K. Embassy in Paris (M. D. Butler), June 8, 1961. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[60] Foreign Office Minute (R. L. Joseph), November 30, 1961. PRO FO 371 160340 001.

[61] Telegram by the U.K. Ambassador to Moscow (Sir Frank Roberts) to the Foreign Office, December 14, 1961. PRO FO 371 160345 001.

[62] Foreign Office Guidance No. 43, January 30, 1962. PRO FO 371 165807 001.

[63] Foreign Office Defensive Brief No. 2 (J. L. Bullard), April 12, 1962. PRO FO 371 165802 001.

[64] The Canadian Embassy to Washington, DC, to the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, January 3, 1962. PRO FO 371 165801 001.

[65] Foreign Office Defensive Brief No. 2 (J. L. Bullard), April 12, 1962. PRO FO 371 165802 001.

[66] The U.K. Embassy in Rome (C. L. Booth) to the Foreign Office (S. L. Egerton), December 21, 1962. PRO FO 371 165801 001.

[67] Vickers, The Albanians, 201–209.

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