Mehmet Shehu

Mehmet Ismail Shehu (January 10, 1913 – December 17, 1981) was an Albanian communist politician who served as the 23rd Prime Minister of Albania from 1954 to 1981. As an acknowledged military tactician, without whose leadership the communist partisans may well have failed in their battle to win Albania for the Marxist-Leninist cause, Shehu exhibited an ideological understanding and work ethic that singled him out for rapid promotion in the communist party.[1] Mehmet Shehu shared power with Enver Hoxha from the end of the Second World War. According to official Albanian government sources, he committed suicide on December 17, 1981, after which the entire Shehu clan (his wife, Fiqirete Shehu Sanxhaktari, sons and other of his relatives) were arrested and imprisoned while Mehmet Shehu himself was denounced as "one of the most dangerous traitors and enemies of his country".[2] Persistent rumors remain, however, that Shehu was actually murdered on orders from Hoxha.

Mehmet Shehu
Mehmet Shehu (portret).jpeg
23rd Prime Minister of Albania
In office
July 20, 1954 – December 17, 1981
LeaderEnver Hoxha (First Secretary)
Preceded byEnver Hoxha
Succeeded byAdil Çarçani
Personal details
Born(1913-01-10)January 10, 1913
Çorrush, Albania
DiedDecember 17, 1981(1981-12-17) (aged 68)
Tirana, Albania
Political partyParty of Labour of Albania
Spouse(s)Fiqirete Sanxhaktari

Early yearsEdit

Shehu was born in Çorrush, Mallakastër District, southern Albania, in the family of a Tosk Muslim Imam. His father was known as "the fanatical sheikh" and participated in the 1914 peasant rebellion against the rule of prince Wilhelm of Wied, with peasant demanding a return of the Ottoman rule.[3]

Shehu graduated in 1932 at the Tirana Albanian Vocational High School funded by the American Red Cross. His focus was on agriculture. Unsuccessful in finding employment within the Ministry of Agriculture he managed to get a scholarship to attend the Nunziatella military academy of Naples, Italy. After being expelled from this school for his pro-Communist sympathies in 1936 he gained entry to the Tirana Officers School, but he left the following year after volunteering to fight for the republican side in the Spanish Civil War. He joined the Spanish Communist Party and was a machine-gunner[4] who rose to the command of the Fourth Battalion of the XIIth Garibaldi Brigade. After the defeat of the Republican forces he was arrested in France in early 1939 as he was retreating from Spain along with his friends. He was imprisoned in an internment camp in France and later was transferred to an Italian internment camp, where he joined the Italian Communist Party.[1]

Activity in World War IIEdit

Mehmet Shehu as a partisan, 1944

In 1942 he returned to Albania, which was under Italian occupation, where he immediately joined the Albanian Communist Party and the Albanian resistance. In 1943, he was elected as a candidate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In August 1943, due to his military experience, he rose swiftly to commander of the 1st Partisan Assault Brigade. Thereafter, he was the commander of 1st Partisan Assault Division of the National Liberation Army. From 1944 to 1945 he was a member of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation (the provisional government).

After WWIIEdit

After Albania was liberated from the German occupation in November 1944, Shehu became the deputy chief of the general staff and, after he studied in Moscow, became the chief of the general staff. Later, he was also a lieutenant general and a full general.

In 1948, Shehu "expurgated" from the party the element who "tried to separate Albania from the Soviet Union and lead her under Belgrade's influence". This made him the nearest person to Enver Hoxha and brought him high offices. After the purge of Koçi Xoxe, he took over the Ministry of Internal Affairs.[5] However, he remained in Hoxha's shadow.

From 1948, he was a member of the Central Committee and the Politburo of the Party of Labour of Albania, and, from 1948 to 1953, he was a secretary of the Central Committee. He lost the latter position on June 24 when Enver Hoxha gave up the posts of Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs while retaining the premiership. Hoxha was probably not willing to yield too much power to him. From 1948 to 1954 he was deputy prime minister (deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers) and Minister of Internal Affairs. The latter post made him commander of the secret police, the Sigurimi. In 1954, he succeeded Hoxha as Prime Minister. From 1974 he was also the Minister of People's Defence while from 1947 to his death he was a deputy of the People's Assembly.

Hard line manEdit

During the war, Shehu won a reputation for brutality. On his command most clan chiefs in the mountains of northern Albania were executed. In 1949, he ordered 14 Catholic tribesmen in the Mirdita region executed after underground fighters aligned with conservative Albanian political exiles working as Italian Navy espionage agents executed Bardhok Biba, a relative of Catholic tribal leader Gjon Markagjoni who had turned against the tribal system to become a ranking Communist district official. Mike Burke, the American spymaster who set up a 1950 paramilitary project to destabilize and oust the Albanian government, said in 1986 that Shehu was "one tough son of a bitch", whose security forces gave U.S. agents "a tough time".

At the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (October 1961) Anastas Mikoyan, one of the Soviet leaders, quoted Mehmet Shehu, who had said at an Albanian Party Congress: "Whoever disagrees with our leadership in any respect, will get spat in the face, punched on the chin, and, if necessary, a bullet in his head."

Last yearsEdit

Shehu was considered Enver Hoxha's right-hand man and the second most powerful man in Albania. For 40 years Hoxha was Shehu's friend and closest comrade. Shehu was one of those who prepared the Chinese-Albanian alliance and the break with the Soviet Union (December 1961). His relationship with Hoxha was damaged, however, when his son married a woman who had anti-Communist relations in the United States. This led to a meeting of the Politburo regarding his future.[6]

On December 17, 1981, he was found dead in his bedroom in Tirana with a bullet wound to his head. According to the official announcement on Radio Tirana, he committed suicide in a nervous breakdown.[7]

After his death, Shehu was claimed to have been a spy not only for Yugoslavia, but also the CIA and the KGB. In Hoxha's book Titoites (1982) several chapters are dedicated to Shehu's denunciation.[8] In 1982, the Party of Labour issued a second edition of its official history, removing all references to Shehu.[9][10]

Reportedly, Shehu had begun speaking out against Hoxha's isolationism. He had reached out to some western nations like Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany to see about making diplomatic ties.[7] Albanians speculated that Hoxha, who was in the last years of his life, wanted to secure his legacy and did not want a successor who might outshine him.[6] He was branded as a “people’s enemy” and was buried in a wasteland near the village of Ndroq near Tirana.

Shehu’s family was also punished. His widow, Fiqerete, (born Sanxhaktari) and two of his sons were arrested without any explanation and later imprisoned on different pretexts. One son committed suicide and his wife died in prison in 1988.[6] One of Shehu's surviving sons later launched a campaign to prove that his father had, in fact, been murdered. After the fall of Communism and his release from prison in 1991, Mehmet Shehu's younger son Bashkim started seeking his father's remains. On November 19, 2001, it was announced that Mehmet Shehu's remains had been found.

A fictionalised account of Mehmet Shehu's fall and death is the subject of Ismail Kadare's novel The Successor (2003).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Europe since 1945: an encyclopedia, Volume 1 Author Bernard A. Cook Publisher Taylor & Francis, 2001 ISBN 0-8153-4058-3, ISBN 978-0-8153-4058-4
  2. ^ Albania as dictatorship and democracy: from isolation to the Kosovo War, 1946-1998 Volume 3 of Albania in the Twentieth Century: A History, Owen Pearson Volume 3 of Albania and King Zog, Owen Pearson Author Owen Pearson Edition illustrated Publisher I.B.Tauris, 2006 ISBN 1-84511-105-2, ISBN 978-1-84511-105-2
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-31. Retrieved 2018-12-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Tremlett, Giles (2020). The International Brigades. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 531. ISBN 978 1 4088 5398 6.
  5. ^ Albert Lulushi (2014-06-13). "Operation Valuable Fiend: The CIA's First Paramilitary Strike Against the Iron Curtain". Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
  6. ^ a b c Fred C. Abrahams (2015-05-15). "Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe". NYU Press.
  7. ^ a b "Gen. Mehmet Shehu Dead at 68; Served Albania as Prime Minister". New York Times. 1981-12-19.
  8. ^ "Albanian Communist Leader Dies". Chicago Tribune. 1985-04-12.
  9. ^ Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies (1971). History of the Party of Labor of Albania. Tirana, Albania: Naim Frashëri Publishing House. p. 309. Having secured a footing in the Political Directorate, it concentrated its attacks on the General Staff of the Army and its Chief Comrade Mehmet Shehu who defended the correct line of the Party and the independence of the People’s Army.
  10. ^ Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies (1982). History of the Party of Labor of Albania (PDF) (2nd ed.). Tirana, Albania: 8 Nëntori Publishing House. p. 229. Having secured a footing in the Political Directorate, it concentrated its attacks on the correct line of the Party in the military domain and the independence of the People’s Army.


  • Shehu, Duro. Mehmet Shehu: Im vëlla, Tirana, Bota Shqiptare: 2008.
Political offices
Preceded by
Enver Hoxha
Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Albania
Succeeded by
Adil Çarçani