As is the case in many towns and villages in the UK (and also in Western Europe) where it’s common to come across a war memorial (originally for the war of 1914-18/9, the ‘War to end all wars’ but which became only Part 1) this is also the case in Albania. At the time of the National Liberation War from 1939-44 the population of the country was a little more than a million and so it’s no surprise that the ‘Martyrs’ (as they are known in Albania) came from even the smallest places. Progër is no different in that case. What makes the village different is the substantial lapidar commemorating the First Communist Party Cells. This small village, off the main road, also has a Monument to the First School and a Martyrs’ Lapidar.
Monument to the First School
This is located in what would have been the centre of activity in the village at a place that is the closest to a square the village boasts. I say ‘was’ as what appear to be community buildings looked derelict and unused on my visit in May 2015. It’s almost at the top of the village, sitting just above a road that links the community hall, the Communist Party of Albania lapidar (and the Party headquarters) as well as the school. As a consequence of the counter-revolution of the 1990s at the northern end of this road is a mosque.
It’s not a particularly complicated lapidar but even so it has its unique features. There are certain themes that reappear throughout the country but there’s always a slight variation so, in effect, every lapidar is different.
This monument commemorates the opening of the first school in 1908. There are a number of monuments to the pre-liberation struggle for education and the Albanian language throughout the country, probably the most impressive being that in Gjirokaster, but there is also another interesting example in Shkoder. There’s even a post-Socialist sculpture in Korçë, located outside the Museum of Education.
You approach via a flight of stone steps and there are two elements. Sitting on a concrete block at the left hand side and balanced on the lowest stone of the pillar at the right is a concrete representation of an open book roughly 2 metres by 4. On the left hand page are the letters A, B and C (in script) running diagonally down the page from the top left to bottom right. The letters seem to be made out of iron, the weather and time having their effect and underneath each there’s a yellowish stain. Unlike many lapidars in different parts of the country there has been no recent attempt at ‘restoration’.
In the centre of the right hand page is a large marble plaque. On this are the words:
‘Në këtë vend në vitin 1908 u hap shkolla e parë shqipe’.
This translates as:
‘In this location, in 1908, the first Albanian school was opened’.
The words are surrounded by a number of children’s stick on tattoos as well as a little bit of graffiti but there’s no actual damage. What is interesting, when you look a little closer, is the fact that this is not the original as there is another plaque underneath. This also looks like it’s made of marble, but a thinner piece, and all that can be seen are a few centimetres sticking out on both the left and right sides of the present plaque. I’ve come across similar incidences in other places but the exact reason why I haven’t been able to ascertain. Perhaps the original was damaged, either accidentally or due to political vandalism, and it was less intrusive to the monument to place a new one on top of the old. Although I understand (but don’t like) the conscious alteration of some monuments I don’t understand why a monument to an event long before the period of Socialism, and especially when it is linked to education, should be a political ‘target’. I am as bemused by this case as I am about the ‘missing’ red book on the mosaic on the façade of the Historical Museum in Tirana.
The second element is a pillar, which is about twice the height of the book. Although I have seen similar pillars this one is different in that it is constructed of large blocks of stone rather than being made of concrete. It’s slightly wider at the bottom but the majority is of a uniform circumference until just before the last two layer. Here the stones are larger and protrude out towards the right of the monument. These stones have been shaped but not smoothed on the visible edges. This is the opposite to what they represent.
For this pillar represents the barrel of a rifle and the protrusions are the front sight. Though not a common image in Albanian lapidars it is not unknown. Two major examples are the Mushqete Monument in Berzhite (where the rifle barrel is held in a huge hand) and the lapidar on the outskirts of Korçë, at the junction of the road heading towards Bilisht.
The symbol of the gun is a statement that any gains made by the people, in whatever field it might be, whether it be educational, social or economic, can only be really achieved, and more importantly maintained, by the preparedness to use force against all those who seek to re-establish the old order.
Although not as grand as the Education Monument in Gjirokaster the example in Progër is, nonetheless, another unique example of how Albanian sculptors sought to represent the history of their country. It’s also a statement about the importance that education had in the construction of Socialism.
40° 41′ 42.2051” N
20° 56′ 22.8156” E
Lapidar to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War
The lapidar commemorating the Martyrs of the National Liberation War is about 50m to the north of that to the First School but on the opposite side of the road and down some steps. It’s a relatively simple affair constructed of worked, smoothed rectangular blocks of local stone in a neoclassical style.
This consists of a number of stages. At the bottom of the steps from the road there’s a large, rectangular concrete area with the lapidar sitting in the middle. To get on this level there are three small stone steps on the either side of which there is a very small column on top of which there’s a square capital, with a shallow pyramid carved into the top. At the bottom of the lapidar itself is a plinth constructed of individual blocks of stone. They have been worked to provide a simple decoration, with a gentle curve between the bottom and top flat planes. On this sits a pedestal, slightly smaller in width, two courses high, above which is a narrower curved course. On top of this is a column eleven courses high, again narrower than the section below. It’s not exactly square as the two levels behind the facade are offset progressively on both the left and right sides by a matter of a few centimetres so that the rear is wider that the front.
In the centre of the facade, two courses from the top, there’s a bronze star below which, curving upwards, are (on the right) the leaves of a laurel and (on the left) the berries from the same shrub. The star represents, as always on Albanian lapidars, Communism and the laurel a mixture of glory to the victors, although here to those who did not survive to see the victory, as well as the idea of immortality. Throughout the ages the meaning of the laurel in art has taken on slightly different meanings although all related in one way or another.
One course of stone below the laurel leaves there are two marble slabs, following the same central line downwards. At the top are the words;
‘Lavdi dëshmorëve të Luftës Nacional Çlirimtare’
‘Glory to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War’
Underneath that are the names of ten of those from the village killed in the war. All the lettering on these plaques is in bronze. In a way a bit of a surprise as on many of the more modest lapidars the bronze has been looted for scrap but here there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to steal them. Immediately below the marble plaques is a small, rectangular piece of iron on which there are two further names. This looks though it’s been there for some time as the iron is very much rusted.
This addition of names is not unknown and there are a few reasons for this, depending mainly upon when they were added. In the tradition of commemorating the fallen sometimes the names would be attached to a lapidar at the place of their death and/or their place of birth – sometimes both. But things were not totally organised and names could have been presumed to have been marked in one place when, in actuality, they weren’t anywhere. Locally these omitted names would be added to an existing monument. This would have been the situation pre-1990. If after that date names were added this would normally mean they were the names of other Albanians who had died in the National Liberation War but it isn’t always clear on which side they were fighting. Now the pro-Monarchists are in power they could have been considered ‘martyrs’ even though they might well have been collaborators of the occupying fascists.
The general area around the lapidar is more or less clean although the trees on the right are starting to encroach on the monument’s space. At the very top there looks like there was a terracotta tiled roof, though that’s not completely intact, a few broken tiles and empty spaces visible from below.
One of the most interesting things about the lapidar is its location. I have no idea what was surrounding the monument when it was first constructed – I would have thought a public park, but I can’t say for certain. Presently there’s a gate at the side of the road and when I visited that gate was locked so I had to around and enter – via the entrance to the mosque. Because immediately north of the lapidar is a relatively new mosque. Recently, when writing about the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Korçë, I suggested the positioning of Christian and Muslim symbols and buildings in post-Socialist Albania was very similar to the attitude and activities of the Catholic Church in Latin America after the invasion of 1492, that is the ‘extirpation of ideology’.
Here we have another example of that. The mosque is obviously much larger than a humble war memorial but by placing it so close to a symbol of the Socialist period of Albania’s past it’s making a political statement – we are now in charge. Another example of this can be seen in the centre of Shkoder where a lapidar to the 27th Brigade is within the enclosed grounds of the Ebu Bakr mosque.
40° 41′ 43.0044” N
20° 56′ 19.5000” E