When the ‘Dark Night’ for the Church of Albania Began

18 November 2019

During the years of the harsh dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, Albania became the first officially atheist state in the world, a fact of which all the government functionaries were inordinately proud.

Decree no. 4337 of November 13, 1967, marked the start of a dark period during which religious convictions were considered to be the opium of the people and were systematically attacked. Orthodoxy in particular was subjected to fierce persecution and its whole organization was totally destroyed.

The fundamental tool in the destruction of the Church was the well-known Albanian Party of Labor, which formed special committees which then declared a variety of anti-religious initiatives throughout the whole country.

These initiatives included the mass demolition of churches, setting fire to holy relics and treasures, the destruction of icons and so on. Great emphasis was also placed on atheist propaganda and the manner in which children were ‘educated’. 2,035 places of worship and religious institutions were wiped off the face of the earth, while some others were preserved as sites of cultural heritage. As well as this, all the movable and immovable property of the churches (Orthodox and Roman Catholic), Sufi lodges and Sunni mosques was confiscated and all state funding ceased.

As regards propaganda, special importance was given to this, with emphasis on the non-existence of God and on the fact that the time had come to do away entirely with any and every manifestation of religious sentiment. Through the process of making a mockery of the clergy, publishing outlandish lies and cartoons, showing films with an atheist content and other such tactics, the country descended into a veritable morass.

The country’s constitution categorically forbade the exercise of religious duties, and religious communities were officially obliged to make their clergy stop wearing their priestly vestments.

Two days after 13 November 1967, all the religious communities in Albania surrendered their places of worship as sites to be used for young people, thus publicly withdrawing from their duties. In December 1967, at the personal behest of Hoxha, all religious councils ceased to exist, so from then on Albania would be a non-religious country.

The office of the priesthood was discontinued and the remaining clerics were charged with a variety of offences and imprisoned, exiled to the country’s forced labor camps or executed. Some continued to work by practicing a trade or profession. Some clergymen accepted the reforms and submitted to the system. A few joined forces with the state against religion, but any who resisted were punished harshly, as an example to others.

The People’s Republic of Albania wasn’t content with the removal of the priests but wished in a way to imitate China as the country of political revolution. For this reason it shaved the priests in public and subjected them to other humiliations, by any means at its disposal.