The widow of Albania’s Stalinist dictator – who follows international affairs by watching satellite television and reading Le Monde – says she hopes the country will receive an invitation to join Nato at its summit that starts Wednesay in Bucharest.

Nexhmije Hoxha’s u-turn, though belated, is remarkable for a woman who as president of Tirana’s Marxist-Leninist Institute was fiercely supportive of her husband’s extremist policies.

After breaking ideological grounds with the Soviet Union and later China, Albania remained isolated during much of Enver Hoxha’s 40-year regime, considered one of the harshest in eastern Europe.

At 88, Mrs Hoxha’s voice is thin and high-pitched, but the message is clear.

“My experience has shown that it’s hard for small countries to survive. Whether you want it or not, you have to accept the support of big powers,” she said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“Albania has to move in a western direction, towards Nato and the European Union,” she said. “I think we deserve an invitation, and I have no doubt we will be a reliable ally.”

Mrs Hoxha lives in a rundown Tirana apartment block allocated as social housing for nomenklatura members after they fled their villas in the city centre. Her sitting-room is filled with mementoes of her husband.

A ceiling-high bookcase running the length of one wall contains his publications in several languages. Among them is the “The Anglo-American Threat”, an Albanian best-seller in the 1970s.

Together with Ramiz Alia, her husband’s hand-picked successor, Mrs Hoxha eventually oversaw a peaceful transition to democracy in 1991-1992.

She then spent five years in prison – two in solitary confinement - after being convicted of embezzling funds from the Marxist-Leninist institute.

Her current monthly pension amounts to Lek 2,000 (€155), including a top-up of Lek300 for having fought as a partisan in the second world war.

Calling Kosovo’s declaration of independence “a dream come true for every Albanian,” Mrs Hoxha endorsed the EU’s role in the former Yugoslav province.

“Kosovo has a long struggle ahead,” she said. “In my opinion the EU will provide an umbrella for development, although only Nato can guarantee its security.”

Once feared for her power to make or break a party member’s career, she complains of being isolated by the current political establishment.

Yet Mrs Hoxha is hardly a “non-person” in capitalist Albania. Her three volumes of memoirs sell steadily and she appears occasionally on television on political chat-shows.

She makes no apology for the Stalinist regime, which industrialised Albania but left it Europe’s poorest country.

Her husband retained control by banning foreign travel, executing and imprisoning so-called “enemies of the people,” and sending thousands of families to internal exile in remote regions.

However, Mrs Hoxha admits there were “some exaggerations” of policy – such as the decision to build 700,000 concrete bunkers around the country as a protection against a perceived threat from the western alliance.

“Possibly there were some things we could have done differently,” she says.

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