The first shots in Albania’s National Liberation War (although it wasn’t called that at the time) were fired on 7th April 1939 when the Italian Fascist forces invaded the port city of Durrës (as well as other locations along the coast). For years the country, ruled by the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog I (even before he was dead he was planning a dynasty!) had been a puppet state of the Italian Fascists and when the invasion did take place no official structure was in existence to defy the invaders. It was therefore left to brave individuals, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, to take up the banner of resistance. His sacrifice is commemorated by a monument close to the coast where the invasion took place.
(The white building on the hill was the palace that Zogu left in a hurry on being informed of the imminent Italian Fascist invasion.)
The statue has the figure of Mujo (although it doesn’t look much like him from the available photos) standing with three-quarters of his body outside of some fortified structure. He’s not wearing a uniform – which might be a bit strange as he was a member of the Royal Border Guard, a branch of the Royal Albanian Army – but is in civilian dress.
However, there’s a political statement here. If Mujo was in his officer’s uniform it would give the impression, to the casual observer years after the event, that there was some sort of organised resistance to the Italian invasion. In fact, the head of that very ‘Royal’ Albanian Army was running as fast as his little feet (or more accurately, someone else’s little feet) could carry him to safety. As soon as he was aware of the invasion instead of standing at the head of his army and preparing to meet his death he decided on the cowards option and was spirited out of the country, eventually ending up in Britain, and having a very nice war indeed, thank you very much, in a large country house a long way even from the bombs raining down on London let alone the destruction being inflicted on ‘his’ country.
The statue represents an idealised representation of the action that Mujo took on that Friday. Armed only with a machine gun he fought until he was killed. He never left his post. It was reported that he had killed and wounded dozens of Italian soldiers with his machine gun.
Mujo’s loose jacket is thrown out behind him in his animation. He has his right arm fully extended, pointing in the direction of the sea and the invading forces. He is looking back to others of his countrymen (but not at that time countrywomen, they would only be involved when the Communist led National Liberation Front was established after the Conference of Peze) to see why they are not with him, to see why they are holding back when their country is under such a dire threat. Some did join him at that time, but not that many. It took, again, Communist organisation to rally Albanians in their thousands to fight the invader in an organised manner in order to defeat them.
In his left hand, the arm fully extended due to the weight, he holds a heavy machine gun. By all reports that was all he had to face the invader. He just dug in and kept firing until a shell from one of the Italian warships eventually destroyed him and his position.
This stance is repeated many times on the lapidars throughout the country. This idea of rallying the masses to the cause, to bring as many people to the battle front as is possible, holding back is no choice as it will lead to oppression and exploitation – a call that is as valid in the construction of Socialism as it is in the opposition to a foreign invading force. This image can be seen in such lapidars as diverse as the magnificent Arch of Drashovice and the sadly neglected lapidar at Sqepur, amongst others.
Mujo Ulqinaku died on the 7th April 1939 but so did many others. At one time this sacrifice by equally brave Albanians was recognised on the column upon which the bronze sculpture stands. However, for reasons I am not aware, when the monument was given a new look it was decided that these other Albanian heroes would have to go.
Originally the wording on the column was as follows:
Lavdi deshmorëve të atdheut q[ë ra]në më 7 prill 1939
Glory to the martyrs of the fatherland who fell on 7 April 1939
This was then followed by what exists now, i.e., the name of Mujo Ulqinaku and People’s Hero, and then the list of seven other fighters who lost their lives in the battle against the Italian invasion. Those who gave their lives between 1939 and 1944 from Durrës (or the region) are also commemorated in the Durrës Martyrs Cemetery.
Up to the end of 2011 it was still possible to see the marks of where the names of the other martyrs were attached to the column. However, by 2014 there had been some ‘restoration’ work and unless you know what you’re looking for it’s not possible to tell that there has been an alteration.
Presumably at the same time a plaque with the same information was fixed to the wall of the Venetian Tower, across the road to the south of the monument. This ancient monument is now a private cafe. Sometimes the manner in which the Albanians have allowed their cultural heritage to be taken over by private, commercial interests surprises even me – when I thought I was almost immune to the stupidity of people world-wide when it comes to the theft of public assets.
The new plaque on the wall has:
Të rënët e 7 prillit (The fallen of April 7th)
Mujo Ulqinaku, Heroi i Popullit (People’s Hero)
In an artistic sense, when looking at other lapidars in Durrës, we can see that the monument (within sight of, and no more than 50 metres away from, Mujo) is a much larger monument to the Partisan, a monument that looks more and more neglected as the years go by. The monument to the collective is sacrificed to that to the individual.
The monument is located at the junction of Rruga Taulantia (which runs parallel to the coast) and Rruga Anastas Durrsaku. This is only a few metres from the seashore and very close to where the conflict in April 1939 would have taken place. Therefore an obvious location for the statue.
41º 18′ 34.74” N
19º 26′ 47.472” E