Traditional Wedding Mural in Peshkopia

Traditional Wedding - Peshkopia

Traditional Wedding – Peshkopia

There’s a perception by some (normally the ignorant and anti-socialist) that any work of art created during the construction of Socialism is necessarily ‘Socialist Realist’ art. They don’t understand, or refuse to accept, that the construction of Socialism is a long task. When it comes to art this involves asking the people to challenge their view of what is going around them and to look at artistic works in a critical and thoughtful manner and that this involves the unmasking of the hidden messages in a painting, sculpture, film or any other creative endeavour. One such work that needs to be seen in this light is the Wedding Mural which covers one of the walls of the Korabi restaurant in the hotel of that name in the town of Peshkopia.

A bowl of flowers don’t become ‘socialist’ just because they appear in a painting made by an artist who lives in a society attempting to construct socialism. However, as in all periods, those flowers could have another meaning if placed in the context of a particular occasion. It’s also true that works of art created under socialism can contain reactionary ideas which might have been placed their consciously by the artist, as an attack upon the socialist ethic, or subconsciously as the artists has not considered thoroughly the images created. This is why in all ‘Cultural Revolutions’, whether they were in the erstwhile Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China or the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, what was created was constantly under review and subject to criticism concerning the message such works were giving out.

But the bourgeoisie don’t like the idea that such criticism should come from the mass of the people. They understand very well that certain works of art contain a political message but they want that analysis to be the domain of ‘specialists’, academically trained professionals who ‘criticise’ to more show off their ‘expertise’ than to seek to change the direction in which such works are heading. They want to perpetuate the myth of ‘art for art’s sake’ as this suits very well the capitalist system – it can even tolerate deviations as proof of their magnanimity, but only as long as it doesn’t get taken up as a political force. They want to maintain the myth that artists should be allowed to do whatever they wish as this perpetuates the idea of the individual as opposed to the collective and that the artist has no responsibility to the rest of society.

Albania’s Cultural Revolution was running out of steam by the mid 1980s. It had seen a burst of creativity in the various arts, seen most obviously to this day in the lapidars (the public monuments) that exist in all parts of the country, and in a film industry that was producing more films per head of population than probably any other country in the world. Enver Hoxha died in 1985 and the country lost the leadership that had a clear idea of what the building of socialism was all about and which had the ideological clarity to push this forward. (One issue that Communists have to understand, and for which they need to find an answer, is the problem that the movement in a country can be thrown into crisis with the death of a particular leader, sometimes having world-changing effects.) Art during the last five years of the socialist ‘experiment’ in Albania was returning to something that was more individual and which was less and less a tool of the working class for the construction of socialism.

The Wedding Mural, painted by J Droboniku was painted in 1986 in the restaurant of what was, at the time, the town of Peshkopia’s state-run tourist hotel. It’s a strange choice of topic for such a large work in a location where it would have been seen by many people on a daily basis. State run hotels weren’t luxurious places but were cheap and accessible for people who might have wanted to get into the fresh, cool air of the mountains and this would have included members of the Party of Labour of Albania. That being the case I don’t know why this painting wasn’t the subject of criticism at the time.

The painting depicts the arrival of the bride’s wedding party at the home of her husband-to-be in the 20s or 30s of the twentieth century. There’s nothing wrong with a work of art which takes as its subject events from the past, when the society was very different from what it had become in 1986, but as a commission for a state-run enterprise why this particular scene? And if an artist decides to depict the past it is incumbent upon her/him to make a comment about that past which is relevant to the present. There is a continuity from the past to the future but that’s all dependent upon how that past is seen in the present. I can see nothing that approaches that idea in this mural.

The mural is almost divided into two halves, but not quite, the home of the bridegroom being represented by a greater amount of people and activity, as well as symbols of wealth.

Bride-to-be on white stallion

Bride-to-be on white stallion

On the left hand side we have the bride’s party arriving prior to the wedding. This is obviously a young woman from a wealthy family. She is very well attired in intricately embroidered traditional dress, hers and the clothing of many of her party giving the impression that this family is not short of a few bob. She is also riding a fine-looking white horse, not a working horse but some prize-winning stallion. As well as that three others of her party, all men, are also riding horses.

Albania wasn’t a rich country before the defeat of the fascist invaders in 1944 but there would have been, as is still the case today in countries where the majority of people live in abject poverty, some who lived very well, basically from the stolen labour of others. So what we are being presented with here is a celebration of a rich woman’s wedding.

I know that weddings are those strange affairs where families can get into serious debt as they want to impress both the family they are marrying into as well as the general population amongst whom they live, fellow landowners and village members. But there’s no indication of that ‘renting’ here. What we are shown we have to take at face value.

The rich are only rich because the poor are poor. In modern society there is a group of people, those who are dubbed ‘celebrities’ who can make a lot of money from sport, from writing, from acting in the cinema but they are only a small proportion of the world’s wealthy. The people who control the 99% of the world’s wealth do so because they have stolen the labour from 99% of the world’s population.

So what we have here is a picture depicting the rich in a society that is seeking to eliminate such differences between people based upon the wealth they hold, not being critical about those differences when they are shown a number of times in the painting itself – and this is all justified by the fact that this is a painting showing events of the past and under the guise of celebrating ‘tradition’ a reactionary story is being propagated. Those things of the past don’t need to be ditched per se but if they are to be kept in a new society they have to be analysed to see what benefit, if any, such ideas have for the future.

Such an approach to the past is not the invention of socialism. All previous social systems have done the same with what they have inherited. It is only by taking what is useful, transforming it for the new social conditions that society moves forward at all. Not doing so would lead to torpor, stagnation and a moribund society that would eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. This is the fate of capitalism – though it has seen itself particularly resilient despite all its shortcomings and failure to live up to its promises in crisis after crisis and war after war.

As well as the class divide shown in this mural (which I’ll come back to) it is in his depiction of women that Droboniku really shows his reactionary credentials.

The young bride-to-be is dressed in fine clothes, sits upon a fine horse and is being fêted, in this scene literally being placed on a pedestal, but only for this moment. She is also being passed from the ownership of one male to that of another. Her father holds the reign of her horse (she can’t even arrive at her own wedding without the involvement of her father), he is shaking hands with the bridegroom and in that single act is passing ownership across from one generation to another. All he has to do is to pass the reigns to the young man, unclasp his hand and then the transfer has taken place without any break in continuity.

The Hand Over of the Bride

The Hand Over of the Bride

And she is playing her expected to role. Her future is being decided at this moment and she isn’t even looking at what is happening in front of her eyes. She merely plays a silent, non-participatory role. She is the object that is being exchanged and she isn’t expected to play an active part in something that was decided some time before and to which she only has to accede, either willingly or unwillingly. She is demure with her eyes downcast, what will happen will happen. This is what a ‘traditional’ Albanian wedding would have entailed.

The bride plays her role and so do many other women in the painting. From the bridegroom’s household we have three women rushing with trays of treats for the arriving guests. Two of them are carrying trays of small glasses of raki whilst the other has a pile of what in Britain is called ‘Turkish Delight’ in Albania is called ‘lokum’. The first is offered whenever a (male) guest arrives at a house, the second at times of an engagement or wedding to everyone. Both these traditions remaining to this day.

Now whether these are family members or servants it’s not possible to say exactly, although at that time a house of this size would almost certainly have had servants. Only one of them, the older of the three, is what you would say ‘dressed up’ for a wedding. Not only is she wearing intricately embroidered clothing she also sports a fair amount of jewellery. This could possibly be the groom’s mother as it would make sense that she would be part of the formal welcoming ceremony.

The groom's mother with raki

The groom’s mother with raki

However my point here is that it is the women who are running around serving the guests. It’s not even a significant point that this is what very much happens in present day Albania. On arrival at a house guests will be given something but it is almost invariably the task of the women to do this, the most the men do is to pour the raki (often). Why this matter becomes significant when discussing a painting created under the system of socialism is that, specifically during Albania’s cultural revolution, the stress was on depicting women in such a way as to get away from what was the traditional. By showing the women thus Droboniku perpetuates the stereotypes.

The Proposal?

The Proposal?

Other women play similar ‘traditional’ roles. Under the stairs there is a young couple, she with a small bunch of flowers in her hand and her head coyly inclined slightly to her right, towards her partner, there’s even an indication of a blush. Has she just been proposed to, he taking the opportunity of the nuptials to pop the question? Neither of them is richly dressed so they wouldn’t be under the same restrictions about who to marry as would the daughters of the house.

Young women dreaming of their day in the limelight

Young women dreaming of their day in the limelight

In and around the house other younger, single girls look wistfully on the scene unfolding below them as if they are wondering when they might be the centre of attention on their wedding day. Here we have the suggestion that young women only wait for the day when Prince Charming will come and whisk them away to a happier life. Again Droboniku perpetuating stereotypes.

The argument that the painter might make that this is a picture of what ‘was’ the situation wouldn’t hold water as here is no indication that this attitude of the past is being criticised or challenged in any way.

In other images it is the boys and the men who are the ones play-acting, dancing, making noise and music. The girls and the women either look on quietly and demurely, hold bunches of flowers to give to the arriving guests or serve.

Male dancers and musicians

Male dancers and musicians

Three of the men are shown armed, two of them firing into the air. Although in many ways women with guns firing at a traditional wedding would have been unlikely there is still a point to be made about women being armed in Albanian Socialist Realist art and how things seemed to change towards the latter works and that was the pictorial disarming of the women. Take their guns away that they had used so effectively during the National Liberation War and force them back into the roles they played before the war – roles of subservience and domesticity.

(This idea of women not being suitable for the carrying arms is one that exists throughout the world. The debate about the right to bear arms has been going on in the US for decades – and probably for decades to come if there’s no radical change in that society. Even there an armed woman is seen as threat. In the most recent version of the western ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (2016) there’s an incident almost at the end where the only women depicted as taking up arms and fighting against the bandits has her rifle taken out of her hands, by the person whose life she has just saved. This wordless gesture says a lot about society at the end of the 19th century as well as today. The crisis is over, now just go back and be a housewife, dirt farmer, or whatever she was before. Such tasks don’t need the woman to be armed.)

Whatever gains women made in the years between 1944 and 1990 in achieving ‘equality’ in society have been attacked and undermined. Notwithstanding that there might be women in positions of power within the political establishment this is not reflected in the majority of homes or even in public. Young women in Tirana might have the seeming freedom to do what they like (with many caveats) but this disappears in the rest of the country. As an example, in August this year I walked through the new part of Gjirokaster late at night. There were many males in the numerous bars I passed but I didn’t see one woman, as a customer or working.

Young woman with good luck charm?

Young woman with good luck charm?

There’s only one saving grace in this matter in the picture and that’s the young woman, dressed in more contemporary clothing who is a member of the bride’s visiting party. She’s running forward, her left arm raised in the air and what appears to be a yellow butterfly resting on the palm of her hand. I didn’t notice this when I was taking my photos and so don’t have a really good close up of the hand to determine exactly what’s there. I’ve also been unable to find any explanation for such a possible tradition at a wedding. Is it a sign of good luck? I don’t know.

It would be going to far to say she plays a revolutionary or progressive role but at least she’s doing something which doesn’t involve swooning or subservience.

Making noise at the wedding

Making noise at the wedding

Does the painting have any merits whatsoever? It’s good at depicting the traditional dress of the time as well as the antics of the musicians add dynamism at the right hand edge of the picture. Here there’s a man firing his pistol in the air so it’s noisy in this area whilst everything is very subdued in the centre and left hand side. (However, there’s another down side in this part of the painting with the very prominent name of the painter on one of the beams of the building.)

Even though not the everyday clothing for the overwhelming majority of the population during the period of socialism everyone would have been familiar with traditional dress, music and dance from all parts of Albania. There would have been countless opportunities to have experienced this during the year, culminating in the National Folklore Festival held in Gjirokaster. This used to take place every five years and involved people from the surrounding countries as well as all parts of Albania. The desire for all things foreign puts this public memory under threat although there are attempts to make Gjirokaster, once again, the centre for the celebration of traditional music and dance.

The mural also includes clues to exactly where the event is taking place, such indicators being seen elsewhere, including the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Durres and the bas-relief in Bajram Curri. The backdrop to the scene is the mountain range above the town of Peshkopia, which includes the Mount Korabi and a vista that would have been very familiar to local people.

Location:

The mural is on the left hand side wall as you enter the restaurant from the main street. The hotel is just across the road from what used to be the headquarters of the Party in Peskopia.

Lat/Long

N 41.68585

E 20.42689

DMS:

41° 41′ 9.06” N

20° 25′ 36.804” E

Radio Kukesi bas-relief

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi - 08

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi – 08

Socialist Albania was a colourful place in its time. Banners would decorate cities on anniversaries of important occasions, such as the Day of Liberation from Fascism, and when conferences and congresses were taking place banners and posters would celebrate these events. Slogans, often quotes from Marxist-Leninist leaders would call upon the people to work to build Socialism in opposition to a hostile world surrounding the small Balkan country. Many of these symbols of the building of a new society were temporary and would be replaced when another anniversary arose or a different meeting was taking place. However, there were a number of more permanent works of art transmitting this message and one of them is the bas-relief over the main entrance to the local Kukesi Radio Station in the eastern town of Kukes.

(Such decorations would be branded and dismissed as ‘propaganda’ in capitalist countries. They don’t seem to accept or recognise that the advertising hoardings and the signs that abound in city streets to encourage people to buy – often things they don’t really need and often with money they don’t really have – are that social system’s propaganda tools to ‘sell’ the consumer society that is a fundamental of the capitalist system.)

As with many socialist realist artistic creations there is a common theme running through them so images appear again and again with the slight change being determined by the context. Here the central figure is of a worker marching forward. He is dressed in his working clothes with his jacket loose and flowing behind him as he goes forward.

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi - 01

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi – 01

He is the personification of Albania as it confidently marches forward to a new future. He is fit and healthy and the muscles show on his bare arms. And he needs to be fit as he is carrying a flag pole to which is attached a large national flag – the red flag in the centre of which is a black double-headed eagle with a golden star above the two heads.

This flag is held high, over his right shoulder, with his right arm, slightly bent, as he grips the pole at the point where it meets the flag. His left hand is holding the bottom of the pole, the left arm being bent at 90 degrees across his chest. In this way he keeps the banner steady as it gets taken by the wind and streams out, from left to right, above his head.

So here we have Socialism, especially Socialist Albania, with the workers being the only class that can take society forward to a new society.

The bulk of the rest of the image puts this into the specific context of the radio station. In the top left hand corner there’s a large five-pointed star, the two right hand points being obscured by the body of the worker and the flag. From this star radiate the lines and the concentric circles that have been the international symbol of radio since the very first days.

To complete the original work the words ‘Radio Kukesi’ appear in stone, spanning the whole of the narrow edge of the rectangle which holds the bas-relief. It’s also good that those who have been in charge of the decoration of the building have expanded the idea of radio waves continuing to go outwards, with green arcs on a red background, getting gradually longer and thicker, as they move away from the bas-relief.

Originally we would have had the idea not only that the building is a radio station but also the idea that this is Communist truth that is being broadcast. Again, this would be called propaganda by the capitalist and imperialist countries something which they never broadcast, all news in their media being entirely balanced, objective and having no political context whatsoever.

And here, coincidently, we have an example where the different post-Socialist governments (which one exactly I don’t know) since 1990 have used art to distort the truth. Or better to say have distorted the original message by changing the elements on show.

If you look at the top left hand corner you’ll see that there’s a solid star within the bigger star. This seems strange and really you have to ask yourself why would the original artist would have included something redundant when it breaks up the clean and flowing lines of the rest of the bas-relief.

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi - 04

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi – 04

The answer is that this second star hides what was originally in the central circle of the main star.

It’s not immediately clear, and almost impossible to see with the naked eye from street level, but here there are the remains of two elements that were very important in Albanian Socialist iconography. Peaking out on the left hand side of the top point of this new star is the end of a rifle barrel. Needing a little bit more imagination, but obvious when you know what to look for, on the right hand side of this point you can see the end of the cutting edge of a pickaxe.

This is in reference to the revolutionary slogan of the Party of Labour of Albania, which was: ‘To build Socialism holding a pickaxe in one hand and a rifle in the other.’ This means that Socialism can/could only be built by the efforts of the workers through their labour but any advances would have to be defended by the gun if necessary. (This symbol is more evident on the neglected, but still existent, emblem over the erstwhile Party HQ in Peshkopia.)

This particular act of vandalism was done with some forethought, the texture of the new star in some ways mirroring that of the flag. A work that was done through ignorance but not with a total lack of intelligence.

(Reactionary attempts to alter history can, perhaps, be better understood if you consider the monstrosities that go under the name of art that have been placed in public spaces in Tirana (especially) in recent years or the travesty that seeks to honour a young female partisan, Liri Gero, in the town of Fier.)

I don’t know why the new capitalists in Albania do this, appropriating the past but in a vandalised form. Probably because they lack the imagination to put a real artistic alternative in its place. The problem for capitalism is that it cannot put symbols of its political position on such public display as it would only serve to remind the majority of people that they are missing out on something. And there’s only so many times you can place a Coca-cola bottle in such a location before even fans of the poisonous concoction get fed up.

This sort of vandalism is not unknown in ‘free’, capitalist Albania. The most glaring, and most criminal, example is the way the mosaic on the façade of the National Historical Museum has had part of its political message torn from view. That act of political, state sponsored vandalism only being surpassed by the present criminal neglect that sees more and more holes in, and damage to, the mosaic as time goes on.

Individual, mindless vandalism also take place and one example that springs to mind is the way that the name ‘Enver’ (from Enver Hoxha, the leader of the Party of Labour of Albania from its inception till his death in 1985) had been (partially) scratched away from the book in the arms of the young girl in the Bestrove mosaic, just outside the port town of Vlora.

I’d prefer that these examples of Socialist Realist Art were totally destroyed (as were the statues of Enver Hoxha) rather than the ‘new’ old capitalist society appropriating it for its own ‘benefit’. I believe that Albania has some wonderful examples of a new and vibrant art form that will be further developed in the future, if not first in Albania in some other country. But this new art form, and movement, can only benefit the working class when it’s in a position of power, without that power these images are devoid of meaning.

For reasons that are far too complex to go in to here Socialism in Albania failed because of a number of fundamental mistakes, similar but equally disastrous mistakes being also made in the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam. When that study is completed the role that art played in the past will be an important component in understanding those mistakes of the past to avoid making them again in the future.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, I don’t know exactly when this bas-relief was created or by whom. I only hope that the creator was not the one who vandalised his own work (as was the case in the mosaic in Tirana).

Location:

The Radio Station is at the bottom end of Rruga Dituria, the main street which leads to the bus station and the principal entrance of the town from the north and east.

GPS:

N 42.7845

E 20.41707

DMS:

N 42º 04.704

E 20º 25.048

 

Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery

Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery

Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery

Like many of its kind in Albania the Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery sits on a high location over the town. This is both to give due reverence to those who gave their lives in the National Liberation War as well as to reflect that the war itself was very much one that was won and (for the Fascists) lost in the mountains.

Here the idea was to commemorate the Partisans by installing a statue of two of them, a male and a female, and is the work of M Turkeshi and L Berhami. Although not common this idea was used on a number of occasions throughout the country, for example in Lushnje, Fier and Korça.

They stand close together on a marble faced plinth on a plateau which is reached by a flight of steps from the small road below. The idea of equality is expressed in the very similar manner in which they are presented. Apart from their gender the only significant difference in that presentation is the fact that the women is slightly shorter than the man.

ALS 34 - Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery - 03

ALS 34 – Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery – 03

The woman is on the left and is in full Communist Partisan uniform. This means that her cap bears a star at the front and she wear a scarf (which would have been red) around her neck. Although not all those who fought against first the Italian and then the German Fascist invaders were Communists a significant number of them were and this is the way to distinguish them in any artistic representation.

Over her chest, running from her right shoulder to her left hip, is a strap and around her waist she has a belt to which are attached ammunition pouches which completely fill the belt, there being more than a dozen – each one containing five bullets, so well prepared for action. Over the shins of her trousers are what looks like puttees and on her feet are a stout pair of shoes.

In a sense this is an idealised depiction of the Partisan uniform. By the end of the war some of the Partisans might have been dressed in such a formal manner but for the majority of the fighters their clothing would have been anything that was available. By its very nature a Partisan army is a guerrilla force and the constant change of circumstances and its role in that war meant that their clothing would reflect those developments.

Also here we have quite an austere, a very simple representation of the uniform. It is functional and has no other ornament nor imperfection. It’s the sort of uniform a fastidious sergeant major in the British imperialist army would be proud, all the creases in the right place.

She looks directly in front of her and her right hand is raised in a clenched fist, Communist salute, her hand touching the right side of her head. Her left arm hangs straight down and she holds her rifle between the firing mechanism and the butt so that it is horizontal and at 90 degrees to her body.

She is standing to attention in respect to her fallen comrades but also, by her preparedness, showing that she is ready for action at any time in the future.

The presence of the female was an important aspect of the statues and monuments created in the 1970s and 80’s. These works of art placed an emphasis on the role of women both in achieving the liberation of the country from the Fascists in the Second World War as well as in the task of building Socialism for a better future. The article by Ramiz Alia, on page 33 of Vol 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, goes into greater detail about the reasoning behind this decision.

Her male comrade is dressed in exactly the same manner, as is his stance, stressing the equality between them.

Behind them is one story building which curves behind the statue in a partial arc. This would have been the local museum to the Partisans but as in the overwhelming number of cases throughout the country these are now abandoned and derelict, and to a greater or lesser state of dereliction – at least here they are abandoned but not used a local rubbish dump.

On the border above the entrance gates to this building are the words ‘Lavdi Desmoreve’ meaning ‘Glory to the Martyrs’. These two words are in red but in a completely different font so I assume that at least one of them is not original. The letters look like they’ve been recently painted but I don’t understand why, if the cemetery is being looked after in a respectful manner, someone hasn’t realised that these two conflicting fonts look very strange.

ALS 34 - Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery - 09

ALS 34 – Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery – 09

On the plateau that this building creates sits a stone monolith. This is in two parts but sections which are joined together, the one on the right being slightly lower than that on the left. From the point where they join the stones curve away gently to form a pleasing variation on a straightforward monolith. Often such a monolith would have a red star placed at the top but the design of this one would mean that wherever a star was placed it would look in the wrong place.

A monolith is common in Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania and is both an indicator of the location of the cemetery as well as representing the soaring heights of the sacrifice of those commemorated.

On either side of the structure and the statue stands a palm tree. Palm trees appear in a number of other martyrs’ cemeteries including Lushnje and Elbasan. Over the centuries (and through many cultures) the symbolism of palm trees has come to represent – amongst others – values such as truth, honour, valour, freedom and victory, all which would make them appropriate here. The trees also often grow to be tall, soaring to the sky, just as the monoliths do in the cemeteries.

This is the arrangement now but it hasn’t always been like this. As with many lapidars the one at Librazhd has gone through an evolutionary process. Originally there was just one level and on that stood plaster versions of the existing bronze statues. These are dated to 1971, so some of the earliest statues of Albania’s Cultural Revolution. Close to and just behind the sculpture was a simple, tall monolith.

Librazhd Martyrs' Cemetery - 1971

Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery – 1971

At a date of which I am presently unaware there was a decision to rearrange the top of the cemetery and as well as building the museum the statue was cast in bronze.

The tombs of those from Librazhd are in rows in levels below that of the statue and the monolith. In general they are in a good state, as is the whole surrounding area, the only sign of neglect being that of the museum, which has probably now been empty and unused for a couple of decades.

Location:

The hill on which the Martyrs’ Cemetery is located is only a few minutes walk to the north-west of the town and is reached by taking a turn-off to the left from the main road heading towards Përrenjas.

GPS:

41.17833001

20.32066704

DMS:

41° 10′ 41.9880” N

20° 19′ 14.4013” E

Altitude:

299.3 m

In the centre of Librazhd is another lapidar that commemorates the Partisans who operated in the area and who were instrumental in the liberation of town in November 1944. Very recent buildings now surround this lapidar but originally it would have been much more prominent.

20th Brigade - Librazhd

20th Brigade – Librazhd

Up a flight of a dozen steps from the road a simple, tall, marble faced monolith is flanked by two concrete panels. On the left hand panel are two large X’s, now painted red. These are the Roman numerals for twenty, symbolising the 20th Brigade that was formed and would have often fought in the Librazhd region. On the right hand panel, inscribed on a rectangular piece of marble, are the names of 32 members of that brigade who died in the war.

The first, Qibra Sokoli, has the word ‘heroine’ written beside it, this means that she is officially considered a ‘People’s Heroine’, someone who went that extra distance and died as a consequence in the war against the Fascist invaders. (The more I write about Albanian lapidars the more I feel that this hierarchy in death is somewhat unnecessary. Surely ALL those who died, in whatever circumstances, as part of the partisan army are ‘People’s Heroes/Heroines’?)

Qibra Sokoli - 1924-1944

Qibra Sokoli – 1924-1944

Qibra (sometimes written Qybra) was born (1924) in Korça, a town to the south-east of Librazhd. Her father was killed by collaborators in 1942 and from that time she started to do clandestine work in support of the Partisans. At the end of that year she was accepted as a member of the Albanian Communist Youth. In January 1943 she joined the 20th Brigade and was appointed it’s Youth Secretary. She was killed on the front line, fighting against the Nazis, by a mortar that exploded close to her, in 1944.

The final name, Francesko Sula has the word ‘Italian’ written next to it. It is, perhaps, a little known fact that after the defeat of the Italian invaders in September 1943 a considerable number of the erstwhile invading troops stayed in Albania, joining the Partisans and fighting against the German Nazis. This is the first time I can remember seeing this being commemorated although I’m sure a closer look at the names on either plaques or tombs in other Martyrs’ Cemeteries in the country would uncover other internationalist fighters.

A plaque on the forward face of the monolith has the following inscribed:

‘Lavdi partizaneve trima te Brigades XXte S de luftuan me heroizem per Çlirimin e Librazhdit 10 Nentor 1944’

This translates as:

Glory to the brave partisans of the 20th S[ulmuese] (Guerrilla) Brigade who fought heroically for the Liberation of Librazhd, 10th November 1944

In November 1944 the German Nazi invaders were rapidly in retreat towards Tirana and then the coast. That meant that the towns along the road to Tirana were liberated in stages, that liberation speeding up after the important battle at Berzhite. The final liberation of Tirana being achieved on 29th November 1944.

Location:

GPS:

41.17860602

20.31470298

DMS:

41° 10′ 42.9817” N

20° 18′ 52.9307” E

Altitude:

259.4 m