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

 

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery

Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania have a statue of one or more Partisans to stress that those commemorated were those who died in the National Liberation War of 1939-44. Sometimes there’s just one male Partisan, as in Korcë or Ersekë, sometimes there will be both a male and a female, as in Librazhd, sometimes (though rarely) there’s a group of three, as in Pogradec but there are also times when the symbol of sacrifice is in the form of a single female, as in Saranda and Fier. There’s a certain commonality between many of these statues, having been constructed at a similar time, but the statue of the female Partisan at the Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery is quite unique in style and presentation.

The cemetery itself is built into the side of a small hill just a little way from the centre of town, on the northern edge of the main building concentration. The buildings close by are relatively new and when originally planned it would have been more or less in the countryside, but only a short distance from the main population centre.

There is a line of gates and fences at the bottom which guard two flights of steps, a narrow one on the left and a much wider one on the right. These sets of steps are separated by a line of six concrete containers in which a palm tree has been planted. Those on the left of the main steps are mirrored by smaller containers on the right hand side. This planting of palm trees in the martyrs’ cemeteries was quite common in those towns at lower elevations and would have created an avenue of trees for those visiting the cemetery. However, palm trees have to be trained to grow healthily and as some of the containers now only contain flowers I assume that the older trees have died off and haven’t been replaced.

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery - tombs

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery – tombs

The tombs of the fallen are on four levels, going off to the left of the steps, following the curve of the hill. All these are in a good condition and the majority have a red star alongside the name of the partisan commemorated.

The Museum

Half way up the steps, on the right hand side, and a few metres from them, is a one story building which was the museum. This is a smart, one storey building which is in a good physical condition – I’ve seen some that have been allowed to decay (especially the one at the Krujë Martyrs’ Cemetery). The building is faced in marble tiles and on the side facing the approach road are the words:

Lavdi Dëshmorëve

which translates as:

Glory to the Martyrs

These words appear at virtually all martyrs’ cemeteries in the country.

The words are in black, painted metal and look in a very good condition – too good a condition to have been the originals. This cemetery must have had a major clean up in recent times and it now has the aspect of a cemetery where the people respect those who died in the war. On my visit there were a couple of women tending to the gardens and this is something that has become more common over the last few years – after decades of neglect. On the top left hand corner of this facade, to the left of the letters the concrete has been designed so that a large star has been cut out of the mould and the recess painted red. Here the paint looks very bright and new so obviously part of the renovation. There are a number of such stars throughout the area, including one at the very top of the steps and a some on the levels beside the tombs.

The word ‘Muzeu – Museum’ is in similar, though smaller, metal letters to the right of the entrance door. Inside there’s no longer a museum as such. Virtually all of these small, one room museums were looted in the early 1990s, or at least the artefacts taken and protected somewhere awaiting a time when they can be returned for display. This is also clean and there’s a new banner which has a picture of the cemetery’s statue, together with a series of six red stars that appear to rush out of the background. Under those images are the words:

Lavdi Dëshmorëve të Lushnjës

meaning

Glory to Lushnje’s Martyrs

taking the national slogan and applying it to the locality.

The only other exhibits in the room are four display boards which contain the photographs and details of 216 partisans. From information gained from the town’s Historical Museum only 184 of these died during the National Liberation War. I assume that the remaining 32 were Partisans who survived the war but were added to the list when they eventually died. I must admit I didn’t realise this at the time of my visit so don’t know if any of those have been interred in the Martyrs’ Cemetery.

The Cemetery

As I’ve said the area looks clean, bright and cared for. The very nature of the stone used, light coloured sandstone (I think) and marble facing means that, on a sunny day, the cemetery takes on the character of a respectful place to remember the dead.

However, there’s a problem when studying Albanian lapidars. There was a constant changing, improvement, introduction of new concepts throughout the 1970s and 80s. That was OK as all the documentation was kept in different archives. However, after 1990 one of the most important locations for storing this information was in the locale of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists. This archive was just destroyed. This means trying to get information about the past is very difficult.

(I always think that the destruction of this building and all it contained to have been an instructive education on the aims of the reactionary forces whose hatred was directed then, and subsequently – either through mindless vandalism or sheer neglect – at the public representations of the Socialist system. If they, or even the rest of the population in general, would use such venom against the present system of corruption then the country might start to go forward in a meaningful manner.)

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery

Looking at the present monument there’s a number of things that don’t look right. Behind the present statue there’s a huge concrete wall, faced with marble tiles, separating the cemetery from the surrounding countryside with its evergreen oaks on the hillside. This wall curves around, in a protective manner, the rest of the area. It was constructed for a purpose. Yet nowadays there’s nothing there, it’s just a blank space. Well, not quite.

On the left there’s a large area which is indented slightly from the general plane. At the moment this is painted a bright red, almost certainly from the same can which have been used to highlight the stars. But this just goes to indicate that something is not quite right. A close look at the area shows that under the paint there’s a rough concrete facing. The paint is not obscuring anything it just accentuates the fact that something is missing. Was it a mosaic? That would make sense. This part looks like a cinema screen and such an image would be logical in this position. If not, what?

On the right hand side everything is flat but there are indications that some sort of slogan, statement, call to arms would have been there originally. There are the holes that are the result of fixing metal letters to the wall. There’s also the shadow of letters, whether from the removed metal – which always leaves some sort of stain as the metal weathers – or a later addition to fill a spot with of an image no longer considered ‘politically correct’. The fact that the palm trees, still in existence, in front of this wall indicates that this area was also an important part of the whole monumental arrangement, now lost to posterity.

So, now to the unique statue that, fortunately, does still exist. The statue is dated 1984 and is made of bronze.

The Statue

This female Partisan fighter is a link with past ideas of presenting the Liberation fighters (from the late 1960s and early 70s) but also introduces concepts that take a qualitative leap to something new and more progressive and is one of the latest to have been installed. The death of Enver Hoxha in April 1985 seems, to all intents and purposes, to have signalled the end of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’. This change in direction had serious consequences just over five years later.

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery - statue

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery – statue

She is about twice life-size, on a low plinth in the centre of the plateau at the top of the cemetery so that she looks down on the tombs below. As she’s on a low plinth it’s possible to appreciate the detail of the figure.

The links with the past are in the fact that she is in a full Partisan uniform, from head to toe, and she also displays all the aspects of a member of the Communist Party of Albania (later called the Party of Labour). On her head she wears a soft cap with her substantial head of hair spilling out at the sides and the back, over her neck. There’s a very obvious star fixed at the front. There’s a scarf tied around her neck and she’s dressed as if it were summer during the conflict, wearing a shirt that has the sleeves rolled up so that they end at her elbows. She is wearing the baggy, loose trousers of the Partisan, the bottoms of the legs tucked into long, woollen socks and on her feet a contemporary walking shoe.

This wearing of trousers must have caused a stir at the time. Before the invasion of the Italian Fascist forces in April 1939 the vast majority of women would have been wearing the clothing that Albanian women had been wearing for generations. This would have been challenged by the growing industrialisation, in such places as Durrës , where, for example, the Tobacco Factory would have provided employment for women, but would still not have been normal, especially in the countryside. The example of the 68 Girls from Fier leaving secretly at night to join the Partisans and the murder of young Liri Gero would, initially, have been a shock to many in such a traditional society, even in times of war.

As in virtually all such depictions she is armed, quite heavily. She has a bandolier diagonally across her chest, running down from her left shoulder, with eight ammunition pouches, each containing six bullets. Around her waist she wears seven such pouches. These are all to provide ready ammunition to her bolt-action rifle which is hanging behind her by way of a thick leather strap that rests on her left shoulder, close to the bandolier. She grips the end of the butt in her left hand, a pose not seen before.

It’s impossible to over-state the importance and relevance of such imagery. Having been born in a society where all women, but especially the young, were treated as second class citizens (or not even citizens at all) this young woman is making a statement that goes far beyond that of the feminist movement in the west from the 1960s onwards (with all its difficult and contentious history). By leaving home and actually fighting in a vicious war against a vicious enemy, by taking up arms and risking her life, by living and fighting amongst men unknown by her family, many of them ‘strangers’, she was challenging long-standing taboos, by wearing ‘men’s clothing’ and therefore being indistinguishable from her male comrades, by assuming positions of command and responsibility, by fighting for a cause that was greater than her own parochial and familial concerns but for all those who were poor and oppressed, she was, as were all the other women, literally ‘turning the world upside-down’.

It has to be remembered that by the time of victory at the end of November 1944 the women in the Albanian Partisan army had constituted around 16% of the total armed forces – and the majority of them were in combat roles and not just in ancillary and support roles. They were not given liberation they had fought for it, had suffered as much and had worked as hard as their male comrades. This accounts for their appearance in so many Albanian lapidars.

Compare this with war memorials in the west. On the monument I consider to be one of the finest in Britain, the Cenotaph on St George’s Plateau in the centre of Liverpool, ALL the fighters are male and the only depictions of a woman is as a sad, weak mourner, really a victim of war, without any ability to have a direct effect on the outcome of the conflict. This is a representation of the situation after the First World War but in the capitalist west this situation wasn’t significantly different twenty plus years later when the world went to war against Fascism.

But the Lushnjë Partisan says much more. Her stance is very different. Normally the Partisans are shown standing to attention or with a raised fist in the revolutionary salute. Here she is half kneeling with her left knee on the ground whilst her right foot is on the ground. This is to provide a platform for the other unique aspect of this statue. I said that she is a lone, female partisan, but she is not alone. Her bent right leg provides a space upon which a very young boy is standing.

This idea appears nowhere else, to the best of my knowledge. Here the Partisan takes on the role of ‘Mother Albania’. Not just a symbolic role as is the huge statue in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana. This ‘Mother Albania’ has given birth to the opportunity of a new future. By her actions and self-sacrifice the independent country has a chance it never had before. But that future is not guaranteed, the outcome not certain and the road a difficult one to follow.

It is the young boy, really little more than a toddler, who is taking that road. She is there to support him, as she is in the statue with her strong right hand gripping the boy just under his right armpit, as he takes his first, tentative steps. The fact that she is also dressed as a soldier and is fully armed indicates that this Mother Albania is prepared to fight to support this construction of a new society. I also believe that the connection between her weapon and the child provides another indication of this willingness, and necessity, to use force to create something new. This idea is also present in the statue of the Partisan and Child in Borovë as well as in the monumental mosaic in Bestrovë.

He is dressed in toddlers clothes, a light t-shirt, with an open shirt above that, and flimsy shorts. His right foot is firmly placed on the Partisan’s thigh but he is in the act of attempting to step forward with his left leg. His foot is a few inches above the thigh and his left arm is slightly outstretched as if getting his balance. His whole demeanour is tentative, lacking certainty, unsure whether to go ahead or not. He’s focused, looking straight ahead (as is the Partisan) so he knows where he wants to go, the uncertainty comes from not knowing how exactly to get there. Already he knows that the road towards Socialism has its twists and turns.

Bouquet of poppies and grain

Bouquet of poppies and grain

He is Albania, a young socialist nation, even though that socialism was 40 years old at the time of the casting of the bronze. We know he’s Albania because in his fully raised hand he holds a bouquet of poppies – the national flower of the country. He’s also Lushnjë as together with the flowers he holds two ears of grain. At the time of Socialism the town was in the centre of one of the grain-growing regions of the country. The first collective farm was established in Krutja, only a few kilometres to the south, and the whole area is criss-crossed with irrigation systems, allowing the fertile grounds of the coast to be used productively by the construction of huge systems of irrigation bringing water from the mountains – many parts of which have just been allowed to decay and rot as well as the collective land of all the people being privatised and divided into almost feudal strips. You can also appreciate the importance of agriculture in the area by the imagery on the huge monument, ‘Toke Jonë – Our Land’, in the centre of town.

Within six years of this statue being created the people of Albania decided that they no longer wanted to take that difficult road.

The statue is generally in a good condition. However there appears to be a quick and ready repair on the right hip, just below the ammunition belt, and something that looks like a small calibre bullet hole on her right thigh.

The Sculptor

We know the sculptor as he placed his name on the bronze plinth before casting. His name was Maksim S Bushi. He was born in 1948 and trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana, where he now works as an instructor as well as being a teacher in his home town of Lushnjë. He made a bust of Abraham Lincoln in 2004 and it now sits in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois in the United States. He has also supposed to have created other busts and sculptures throughout the country but I haven’t come across them myself. However, he surely hasn’t created anything as masterful as his allegory in the Lushnjë Martyrs’s Cemetery.

Location:

The cemetery can be found at the far end of Shetitorja e Palmave, about 1 kilometre from the centre, on the northern edge of the town.

GPS:

40.948445

19.69575802

DMS:

40° 56′ 54.4020” N

19° 41′ 44.7289” E

Altitude:

34.5 m

Qukës-Pishkash Star

Pishkash Star - Marco Mazzi - Albanian Lapidar Survey

Pishkash Star – Marco Mazzi – Albanian Lapidar Survey

There are some of the lapidars in Albania that can truly be called monumental in all meanings of the word. One of these is the massive and impressive Arch of Drashovice and another is the Qukës-Pishkash Star, to the side of the road from Librazhd to Përrenjas, just opposite one of the impressive viaducts of the, now, sadly neglected Albanian railway system. The sheer scale of the star can be appreciated when you look at the picture above which includes the team who catalogued the Albanian lapidars in the summer of 2014.

It’s constructed of blocks of local limestone and between the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015 it had undergone a certain level of ‘restoration’, basically it was painted white. In other circumstances I believe this has not changed significantly the aspect of the monuments, as in the Saranda Martyrs’ Cemetery, for example, but here the white-washing has masked the weathering that had given the original scheme a character of its own. In a sense, the painted monument appears somewhat bland.

It has to be remembered that in the vast majority of cases the lapidars were the colour of the materials with which they were constructed. It’s true that concrete and plaster can deteriorate with age, if not given regular tender loving care, as is the case with the statue at the entrance of the Universiteti Bujqësor i Tiranës (Tirana Agricultural University) in Kamez. However, natural stone weathers in a different way and often this would have been taken into account by the sculptor at the time of construction.

Strangely it’s only the part that faces the road that has been painted as the back of the star, which also has been worked, remains as it was originally.

This monument is officially called Përkujtimorja e Brigadë së Parë Sulmuese (Commemoration of the First Assault Brigade) and the star was both the symbol of the Partisans who fought in the National Liberation War as well as that of the Albanian Communist Party – later to be called the Party of Labour of Albania. It’s a symbol that appears on many lapidars.

There’s not a great deal of text on this lapidar but on the right hand side of the star, at the bottom and separate from the star itself, are the words:

Lavdi Brigades Pare Heroike Sulmuese

meaning

Glory to the Heroic First Assault (Guerrilla) Brigade

(The word ‘sulmuese’ might not directly translate into English as ‘guerrilla’ but it seems to me that this term is more understandable to English readers as this is what the Partisan Army was for most of its existence – groups that would hit the enemy hard and then disappear into the mountains. It was only towards the end of the conflict that these various groups would act in concert in a way similar to a conventional army, as they did in Berzhite on 14th November, 1944, only days before the liberation of Tirana.)

The star has its two lowest points resting on the ground and the carved images start, more or less, in the middle, where the figures are life-sized, and spread out to the left and the right, finally soaring to the highest part of the fifth point.

But we will start from the point of the star on the left and here we have a group of nine figures, very small at the extreme left but getting bigger as they get closer to the centre. Here we have Partisans coming to join the battle, or at least getting ready to join the conflict. This change in perspective gives both the impression of distance and the idea there are lots of people prepared to join the fight. The three figures at the extreme left are also running, which provides movement to the scene. The mountains are represented by the steps down which they are running. When considering the National Liberation War against Fascism it’s important to remember that the way the Partisans used the mountains was as important as the organisation of the Albanian forces themselves.

Many of those areas are not easily accessible today, in the 1940s much less so. The Fascists in such circumstances wouldn’t have been able to use the superiority in machinery that made them so successful in the invasions of Belgium, France and Poland. In fact, such superiority becomes a hindrance in such mountainous terrain. So dependent the soldiers would have been on motorised transport and heavy weaponry they would be like fish out of water if they had taken to the hills – I’ve not come across any information that indicated that the Nazis had any troops that were effective in the hills, either in fighting or in intelligence gathering. Any successes they would have had in this sort of terrain would have been as a result of traitors and collaborators of the likes of the Balli Kombëtar. It was due to such betrayal that the Five Heroes of Vig were surrounded and eventually killed.

Although the furthest away from the centre is the smallest due to perspective he also looks like a young boy. (It’s difficult to be certain with some of these figures, even the gender is not always clear, as the repainting on top of any possible damage has resulted in blurred edges.) It’s not unlikely that a young boy would appear on these monuments. There’s clearly a young teenager on the 1943 side of the Drashovice Arch and many of the Partisan volunteers were still in their teens, this can be seen by looking at the ages of those commemorated in the various Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout the country.

He also seems to be dressed differently from the other two closest to him. They are wearing caps and the full uniform of the Partisan. It looks like he’s carrying a weapon in his hands as he runs but there’s no indication of a uniform. But it’s impossible to tell definitively. To give the impression of him running his left foot is off the ground.

The second one in could well be a female partisan. The face is in profile and you can see she’s wearing a cap, which would have the star at the front. Her right hand is hanging down at her side so she’s not carrying anything but a strap can be seen across her chest so it’s possible her weapon is on her back. There appear to be ammunition pouches on the belt around her waist (it’s very common on lapidars to have this detail on uniformed fighters) and a satchel of some kind is over her left hip.

The next in line is a male and is also in uniform, including the standard cap. He’s not quite facing us but more or less. There’s a large bag over his right hip, but can’t think what it could be carrying, it’s the first time I’ve seen this type of equipment. Strangely, as he’s running in the mountains, he seems to be carrying his rifle, in both hands, behind his neck. This would seem to be OK if stopped and resting but running down a mountain? A bit risky. As we move towards the centre the figures are standing on a lower level, again suggesting coming down the mountains. These last two have their right feet off the ground, as they too are rushing to join the fight.

What’s happening next is a difficult question to answer. There are two figures very close together as if they are working in concert, possibly sharing the weight of some heavy armament. The problem is that with a mixture of erosion (as far as I can see) and the slap dash painting means it’s not very clear. As the lapidar is constructed of limestone there’s always the problem of erosion but serious erosion is only in this particular section there being no real sign anywhere else on the star. I certainly can’t make out any of the features on the faces and heads and little of what they are wearing and/or carrying. The faces are almost skeletal, more from a B-movie horror film than a monument to the fallen in a war.

There’s an added problem when looking at the very large lapidars in that if you are close enough to be able to make out the fine detail you are then so close that you are looking up the noses of the people represented. Unfortunately the pictures I took at the time of my visit don’t help in deciphering the story being told. So the next paragraph or so is more of a guess, based on images seen elsewhere.

There is a shadow of a heavy machine gun hanging down over the right shoulder of the figure in the front. That figure has its right arm bent and the hand close to its shoulder as if holding something heavy in place and helping to take the weight. (I use the term ‘its’ as it is impossible to tell the gender of the figures.) This would make some sort of sense. Because of the way the ground slopes, almost in a series of steps, at their feet we are reminded that they are in the mountains and in such terrain everything had to be manhandled a in such circumstances the carrying of a heavy machine gun, for example, was a more than one person task. The two figures are themselves on a different level to each other as if they are coming downhill, reinforcing the idea they are working together. Not much is seen, other than the head, of the individual at the back, but the partisan in the front is wearing a full uniform, together with webbing of some kind across his chest and ammunition pouches attached to the belt at his waist.

The physical features of the next partisan is a lot more clear but there are still problems. This figure is of a male, who seems to be in uniform but he is not wearing the typical cap and his shirt is open at the neck. Many partisans are shown wearing a knotted scarf but not this one. It’s possible here that the sculptor wanted to make the point that although the majority of the Partisan Army was made of up Communists not everyone was a member of the Party. After the Conference of Peze a National Front was established to encourage all Albanians opposed to foreign occupation to join in the fight. (The Nationalist Balli Kombater refused to do so and later ended up collaborating with the Nazis and were therefore fired upon from the mountains of Sauk when they participated in the Quisling Assembly in Tirana in 1943.)

The face is shown in profile and his right arm is bent and seems to be holding the strap of his rifle, the top of the barrel of which can be seen behind his right shoulder. Not a lot is clear with the rest of his body. He seems to have the ammunition pouches attached to his belt and high on his right hip there’s a circular container of some kind, possibly a water bottle. To go into battle you need weapons but you also need those necessities, like food and water, to sustain yourself in the process. A guerrilla army doesn’t always have the luxury of going back to a base camp after the battle.

The next figure, a male Partisan, is standing facing forward. He is also in uniform (only the young boy on the extreme left seems to be in civilian clothing on this lapidar) and he is wearing a cap, the star being visible if you look really closely. His left arm is bent across his chest, with his hand almost touching his right shoulder. Why? I really can’t tell. Other than the, now ubiquitous, ammunition pouches he doesn’t seemed to be armed in any way.

Thankfully the story becomes less cloudy as we move further to the right. The figures become larger, which helps, and not so crowded as to cause confusion – although towards the end of this story those uncertainties begin to resurface.

The next figure is another male, again looking forward and dressed in full uniform, including a cap where the star is much clearer. His right arm hangs loosely at his side but is left is bent and holds on to the strap of his rifle, the top of the barrel of which we can see behind his left shoulder. Again he has ammunition pouches attached to the belt at his waist.

The next figure is interesting in a number of ways. This is of a female Partisan, which is very common on the sculptural works already documented (and the presence of women being a declared aim of the explosion in monument construction of the 1970s and 80s – see what Ramiz Alia had to say about this in Volume 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey) but she is presented in a manner which is relatively rare.

She’s presented as a strong person both in her physique as well as the determination in her features. She’s partially in profile, but we can see both her eyes, and is shown as if she is looking in the direction where the battle is already waging. Her long hair, this time braided, hangs from below her cap. Apart from the facial features (sometimes not 100% certain) it’s very often the hair which reinforces the idea that we are dealing with a female. As the uniforms of the partisans were the same for both genders it’s normally those signs that differentiate the men from the women.

Here that’s not the case. We see her full body from the front and as she is wearing a tight and close-fitting top the shape of her breasts is very pronounced. This is not unique in the images on Albanian lapidars but it’s not common. This tight jerkin is the sort of clothing that the People’s Heroine Shota Galica is virtually always depicted as wearing. This is the case in the statue of her by Kristaq Rama in Kukës. It was also the case with the, now criminally destroyed, monument to the Four Heroines of Mirdita.

Shota Galica

Shota Galica

Now here we come to a possibly controversial matter. Women have breasts but should those breasts be evident in Socialist Realist Art? Not so much of an issue in paintings but the whole issue takes on a different dimension (sic) when we are dealing with sculpture which is in 3D. Is representing women as they are in these monuments a sexualisation of women? Of a concentration on their physical form rather than the acts for which they are being commemorated?

This issue of the different ways women are depicted in Albanian art came up when I compared the statue of the young Heroine of the People, Liri Gero, which is hidden away behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana, to the modern, reactionary statue of her which was erected in the centre of Fier, the town of her birth, in 2010. There’s no shadow of a doubt that the modern version seeks to stress her youth rather than her heroism. But is that the situation when put into the context of a monument such as the Qukës-Pishkash Star where she is only one of many in a war situation? The statue of Liri in Fier stands alone on a plinth, with no context.

To the best of my knowledge there were no problems about these images on the lapidars at the time they were constructed or in subsequent years. This is more important when one of the fundamental issues it was considered had yet to be addressed in Albania in the 1970s and 80s was an adequate depiction of women, both in the National Liberation War and in the Construction of Socialism.

Four Heroines of Mirdita

Four Heroines of Mirdita

And I probably wouldn’t be making these comments now if it wasn’t for a couple of factors. The first was the reaction to the pictures of the Four Heroines of Mirdita that I showed to an Albanian (not a friend of Socialism) a year or so ago when I had found a book which documented some of the principal lapidars. On seeing the photos he said, something of the likes of: ‘The female partisans would not have dressed in a way that emphasised their titties’. As a first comment I thought that interesting. In a sense I have to agree as the pictures I have seen of the partisans during the war such images have not been amongst them.

The second reason revolves around the vandalised murals I saw in the empty and looted museum in Bajram Curri. The breasts of some of the women shown in those murals had been selected for an especial, more destructive, attack.

Bajram Curri - Mural in Looted Museum

Bajram Curri – Mural in Looted Museum

But back to the Star. Although she looks a formidable woman she isn’t shown bearing arms, apart from the ammunition pouches on the belt around her waist, her right arm hanging loosely at her side, the left arm hidden by one of the other characters on the monument.

(When I first started looking closely at this lapidar I thought that this woman had thighs that would put an Olympic speed skater to shame. She wouldn’t need any weapons, she could just crush the enemy between those thighs. Then I realised that she, like most of those in uniform on this monument, was wearing breeches which seem to explode over the thighs. I assume these would have been liberated from the Italian army as there are many pictures of Mussolini wearing such trousers – I’ve also seen photos of Enver Hoxha in such a uniform. As there would have been no structure in the country for the partisans to produce their own uniforms they must have been adapted from those taken from the invading forces. Why they use these, I don’t know, they seem ludicrous in all situations.)

Behind her, over her left shoulder a male partisan is seen looking straight out at the viewer. He’s in a uniform and, again, the star can be seen on his cap, but as we only see a part of him it’s difficult to say how he is equipped. He’s there to make up the numbers in some ways and as his carving is not that pronounced as the other figures nearby you get an impression that he is some distance behind her. Ready for the fight but not in the thick of it yet.

Moving further to the right we have another male partisan who is shown in profile. From his stance we get a sense, again, of movement. He’s obviously running quickly to the centre of the action, his feet are far apart as if he is striding out and his arms are bent and up close to his chest, in exactly the same way as you would see in a competitive runner. The urgency suggested in his stance could mean he is carrying an important message to the Battalion Commander in the centre of the star. This figure is in full partisan uniform and his rifle hangs loosely from a strap over his right shoulder.

The next image is one that is also somewhat unique. Here we have a female partisan leading a pack horse. The terrain in which the Partisan Army operated would have been virtually devoid of anything more substantial than a mountain path so the only way to transport heavy materials, such as dismantled artillery pieces and its related shells, would be by pack horse. I can’t recall seeing a horse being depicted in the paintings in various art galleries and this is certainly the first time on a lapidar, so it’s quite possible here we have a unique idea.

The woman leading the horse is dressed in exactly the same way as the female partisan described before, her hair is braided and as she’s busy with the horse doesn’t carry any weapon, although there are ammunition pouches on her belt. It also appears she’s wearing a heavy woollen jumper. Her left hand is holding on to the bridal of the horse, close to its head, the horse being slightly above her level. Her right arm is stretched out towards the viewer and in her hand she is holding something, but this has broken off so it’s not easy to work out what it is. She’s also wearing a very fierce expression on her face, more anger than determination.

The horse itself is heavily laden. There seems to be a large box and attached to the side is which looks very much like the barrel of a small artillery piece or a heavy machine gun. The impression of movement is provided by the fact that the left fore leg is raised and it’s possible to see the hoof. The right fore leg can be seen between the legs of the woman as she strides out.

The last in this group which is marching to the front is a male Partisan whose face is in profile as he marches forward to battle. This is the standard-bearer. The flag he is holding, in his left hand, flutters slightly from right to left, becoming the backdrop to the horse’s head and ending at its shoulders, before its load. When viewed from the right hand side it’s possible to see that the way the group is posed the flag pole is held in front of him as he marches, the wind then blowing it back and partially wrapping itself around him to then flutter back towards the rear of the column.

This is the flag of the Communist Partisans which became the national flag of the country after true Independence in 1944. Even before the lapidar was white-washed it wasn’t easy to make out the eagle and the star and now you need to know it’s there to be able to see it. Between and above the heads of the double-headed eagle is a star – but it’s very faint (or maybe because I expect it to be there I just imagine it). However much a target these stars have been in certain parts of the country this monument doesn’t appear to have been attacked and if the star is faint it’s more likely due to general weathering over the last 38 years.

I don’t quite understand what he’s doing with his right hand. I would have thought he would have needed both hands on the pole but it’s raised so that it’s close to his shoulder and seems to be holding something. To me it looks like there has been something broken off at some time in the past, but what and why his hand is there I don’t know.

Although he merges with the next group he is, in fact, positioned at the end of one story and the beginning of the next.

We now get to the command group which is located right in the centre of the star and consists of five partisans, as far as I can make out all of them are male. It’s also in this area where the style of the sculpture changes. Not only have the figures become larger, until the commander is, more or less, life-size, the figures have also ‘moved out’ of the star. The carvings at the extreme left of the monument are typical bas-relief but as we move to the centre they start to emerge from the stone. This is the case with the right legs of the running soldier and horse wrangler but becomes more pronounced with the command group. The top half of the foremost officer is completely separate from the rest of the monument so that its possible to look behind him and see a full carving of the other members of the group who revert to being bas-reliefs.

Pishkash Star Command Group

Pishkash Star Command Group

The officer is dressed in what I’ve come to expect for a commander of the Albanian Partisan National Liberation Army. It’s the full uniform, with the cap and the star as well as the bandana around his neck – signs of his Communist affiliation and beliefs. There are two straps across his chest which go under the belt at his waist. On his left hip there’s a holster, the pistol attached to one of these straps. On the other strap is attached what I believe to be a leather dispatch and map case. As he is standing facing us you can also see the breeches he’s wearing. So far this is the first lapidar where this style of uniform seems to be almost universal. I can only assume that early in the struggle the First Brigade broke into an Italian Fascist warehouse where these were the only uniforms in stock, surely no one would use these trousers by choice. His left arm hangs loosely at his side, the hand open whilst his right arm is bent and the clenched fist at the level just above his belt. At first I thought he might at one time been holding something in his hand but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Perhaps it’s another demonstration of determination to defeat the enemy or a representation of his having arrived at an important decision in relation to the battle he is supervising.

(The more I look in detail at these fine works of art I wonder why the Partisan Army followed so closely the conventions of capitalist armies. I accept the principle of an organised leadership structure but did it have to faithfully imitate the actual fashion style and equipment as well? It’s possible that representing the Partisans in this way is due to the fact that the artists, here the sculptors, that were working in the late 1960s and for the next fifteen to sixteen years when lapidars were being created, had not actually experienced war themselves. The photos I’ve seen of the period give me the impression that the Partisan Army was much more egalitarian, much more informal than is sometimes presented in Socialist Realist Art.)

The next figure, this one over the left shoulder of the officer, the highest of the group, is another male. He is looking straight ahead and only the very top part of his body is in sight. He’s wearing a uniform, as are virtually all those figures present on this lapidar. (That’s another difference with some of the other major monuments which include many figures. Normally there’s a mix of dress, as would be expected in a Partisan/Guerrilla Army.)

Next, in front, and slightly to the right, there’s another Partisan but, again, only the head is visible, wearing a cap but no other details are visible. But he presents another conundrum. His left arm is raised so the hand is at the level of the top of his head. His hand is grasping what looks like a tube, probably no longer than half a metre but, for the life of me, I can’t work out what it is. I can’t even come up with a half-educated guess. This is one of the problems when trying to read these major monuments. Once you are close enough to make out detail you are viewing the images at such an acute angle that the perspective is all wrong.

Then on the principal officer’s left is the second most important figure in this group and that’s another soldier in full uniform. He’s in half profile looking towards the battle raging on the right. His uniform is similar to the that of the officer but as well as ammunition pouches around his waist he has a bandolier of pouches across his chest over his left shoulder. A strap which passes over his right shoulder is attached to his rifle. This is a little strange as the strap passes under the bandolier, making it awkward to get his gun in a firing position quickly. All we see of the weapon is the butt which he is holding away from his body with his left hand, the rest hidden behind his back.

The final figure in this group is on its extreme right. This is another male Partisan in uniform. It’s possible to see the left hand side of his body but he doesn’t appear to be armed and I can’t work out his role in the group. He just seems to be standing there, with his arms hanging down by the side of his body. I work on the basis that all the images on these lapidars are there for a purpose but there are a few here whose role is opaque, to say the least.

There’s no doubt of those we come across, now on the ride hand point of the star. These are those who are actively engaged in the fighting. This is a scene that appears on a number of lapidars, most notably the Drashovice Arch in the Shushicë valley, close to Vlora.

The are six Partisans in this group, four male and two female and all of them are actively involved in engaging the enemy. As is often the case we know it’s in the mountains as we have the uneven surface upon which they are standing or kneeling. This impression of the hills is helped by the up-sweep of the bottom of the star point on the right. Another device used to give the sense of fighting in the hills is the fact that the weapons are pointed downwards. What we have here is an ambush where the Partisans have used the terrain to their advantage and have chosen when and where to fight.

Starting from the bottom we have a female fighter. She’s kneeling and has the gun up to her left shoulder, her right hand on the forestock and squeezing the trigger with her left. I would have thought that most people, whether right or left-handed, would have the rifle stock against the right shoulder. So here we have a situation where reality has been changed to suit the artistic situation. Here, to have carved the bas-relief in the way that conformed to reality would have meant obscuring the facial features of the Partisan. She’s in full uniform and is well supplied with bullets, having ammunition pouches around her waist as well as others on a bandolier across her chest. Her long hair streams out underneath her cap, again providing an element of movement and suggesting her movement forward, attacking the enemy with courage and determination, as well as suggesting the wind in the mountains.

Above her and to the right, with the tip of the barrel of his weapon right on the edge of the star, is a male Partisan whose is firing what looks like a medium machine gun. He has both his hands on the trigger and aiming mechanism and we can see the belt after the bullets have been expelled coming out of the right hand side of the weapon. I’m in no way an expert on WWII weapons but the closest I can get to the image on the lapidar is a Spanish made ALFA 44 (Ametralladora ALFA Modelo 44) Medium Machine Gun (1944). If it’s true I have no idea how it got to Albania but no other weapon that looks like that shown on the monument fits. However, again this might be due to a lack of proper research on the part of the sculptor. (Here I don’t want to cast aspersions but I’m not aware of how conscientious the artists who worked on the creation of these monuments were when it came to historical accuracy.) But it’s important to stress that he is firing down hill. This is almost a trope of such lapidars in Albania.

He’s in uniform, has ammunition pouches on his waist belt and wears a cap – but on this monument it’s difficult to make out the stars. As I write more about what’s here I start to think that Çuli has very much followed a formula. He has many individuals but they are more like clones. Although I think this is a fabulous example of Albanian Socialist Realist Art Çuli doesn’t have the same imagination as sculptors such a Mumtaz Dhrami. It’s monumental but on closer inspection it doesn’t have the individuality that intellectuals ‘demand’. When you have the chance, like here, make the most of it.

Behind the Partisan with the machine gun, a little lower, and to the left of the first female fighter, are two males. At first glance this is slightly confusing. The one closest to the centre of the star is obviously in the process in firing his rifle at the enemy. In the same way as the first Partisan in this section of the story, he has his rifle up to his left shoulder. His jacket flies out behind him, he is rushing to the front, his enthusiasm to engage the enemy is unbounded. So this is understandable.

However, there is a face of another person, close to the front and the heat of battle but he seems to be doing nothing. His head is close to the rifle of his comrade but he looks unarmed. But that’s not the case. If you look behind the head of the rushing forward rifleman you will be able to pick out the shape of a hand, the right hand of the mysterious face. And in this is a Mills bomb, a British made grenade. At times there are representations of German made stick grenades but the Albanian Partisans seemed to have preferred the British model, given to the Partisans as the majority of the British Army was safely behind the Channel.

Although there are some individuals in this scenario where I don’t see the reason for their presence I like this idea of ‘hiding’ a fighter but who, under closer inspection, reveals that he is as involved as the more dramatic of his comrades.

Above, and to the left of these two combatants, is another male with his rifle up to his right shoulder this time. Again he fires down, stressing the idea of the mountains. It’s possible to make out his right forefinger on the trigger and he steadies the weapon with his left hand on the forestock.

At the very top of this part of the tableau is a very angry young women. We know she’s female due to her body shape and her long hair flowing back as she charges forward. She’s the only one of this group who’s not using her weapon from a distance. She has her rifle, which is fitted with a bayonet, held high above her head. Her right arm is stretched as far as possible behind her head and her hand grips the weapon just before the firing mechanism. Her left arm is bent back above her head, to increase the force of her thrust forward, and she holds the rifle by the barrel. Some lapidars depict the closeness of the fighting with the addition of the enemy as part of the sculpture. Here there are not Fascists shown but the impression of hand to hand fighting is represented by this woman who is about to use her gun more as a sword than a firearm.

One criticism I have here is that this rifle seems way out of proportion. If to scale it would have been almost as long as she was tall. This is not the first time I’ve seen this exaggerated representation. A similar one can be seen on the sculpture of the female Partisan at the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.

This scene is different from the other stories so far interpreted as all these Partisans are carved into the star whilst all the other figures are on the face of the star. I can’t think of any reason for this other than a way to demonstrate that this small group is involved in the actual fighting whereas all the others are yet to fire their weapons in anger.

Moving back into the centre of the star we have the numbers 1944, positioned just above the command group and to the right of the Partisan flag. This is the year when the Partisan army defeated the invading Nazis and November 29th is celebrated as the date of the beginning of true independence for the Albanian people – something which has been given up in recent years.

As the figures started out small and then became larger as we got to the centre of the star so the figures become smaller as we move to the apex. And here it gets very difficult to make out exactly what the story is we’re being told. Not easy before the white-washing, more difficult since.

Peeking over the burden of the pack horse are four figures, all male and all in uniform. We just see a little over the head and shoulders of all of them, the one on the extreme left being slightly lower than the other three. The first on the left has his right hand raised to his shoulder and it looks like his wrist is hanging over the barrel of a gun of some kind. This is the sort of casual way of carrying a weapon that’s common in Hollywood films, with the left hand resting on the butt, but there’s no real sign of the other end of the gun in this image. He’s facing forward, as are the next two to the right of him. There are indications of guns on straps over shoulders but it’s very confusing. The fourth partisan is in half profile and it definitely seems he’s holding the strap for his rifle in his right hand, close to his shoulder, with the top of rifle barrel peeking out. He’s also wearing a bandana around his neck.

The remaining images are now on the part of the star from just above the flag to the apex.

The first, on the left, is a female Partisan, identifiable by her long hair. She’s facing forwards and her right hand is raised in the clenched fist, revolutionary salute. On her right, and slightly higher (her head is at the level of his waist, is another officer in a very similar stance, and dressed in the same manner, as the Commanding officer in the centre of the lapidar. He’s in full uniform, has a holster on his left hip (with the strap coming over his right shoulder to which would be attached the gun itself) and ammunition pouches on his belt. His right arm is bent and his clenched fist rests on his chest. Why? I don’t understand. His left arm hangs at his side and the hand disappears behind the top of the flag.

Above him are a group of three, two males and a female, again all in uniform. The first, on the left, looks forward and there’s no sign of a weapon. The woman next to him is likewise unarmed. The third of the group behaves differently. He’s in half profile, his left arm is bent at a 45 degree angle and his fist is clenched. Is this a demonstration of defiance or anger?

Standing above him, their feet just above his fist, are a male and female partisan. He has a rifle hanging from the strap over his right shoulder and he is looking in the direction to the left of the star. In fact, he’s the only person in the whole tableau who’s looking in that direction. To have at least one person looking in the opposite direction to the action and the majority of the others is quite common. Normally it indicates looking at those who are coming to join the battle and often, though not in this case, making a gesture for others to hurry up and get involved. The woman, on the other hand, is looking to the right, to where the fighting is already taking place. There’s a possibility that she holds a pistol in her left hand.

At the same level as these two, on the left, is a donkey with a rounded pack on its back. This is the first time I’ve seen one on a lapidar. This beast of burden has a difficult task as it is going up hill with its load, its hoofs on different levels of what is obviously implied to be the side of a steep mountain, the bend in the legs indicating that it is working hard. Constantly you get these references to hills in Albanian lapidars.

Just above the shoulder of the donkey is the head of a male soldier. He’s looking towards the front but doesn’t seem to be guiding the animal in any way – at least not in the way the wrangler lower down is doing with her pack horse.

Finally there’s a group of five, four men and one woman. The lowest one, a male, has his left hand on the strap of a bag that rests on his left shoulder. Slightly higher and on his right is a woman, She is in uniform, as are all the rest in this group, and there’s a bag resting on her left hip. Her right hand is holding on to something resting on her right shoulder, in a similar manner to one of the other Partisans lower down. Here it’s possible to see the other end that protrudes over her left shoulder but it doesn’t look like a gun. It’s something circular but what I still don’t know.

Things are increasingly indistinct as we go higher. There’s not much detail in the three men on her right and which concludes this group. I don’t know if it’s the shadows caused by the time of day I took the pictures but the one in the middle looks like he might have a moustache, indicating an older man. So far the majority of the partisans on this monument are young people – representing the make up of the National Liberation Army.

Between that individual and the one on the left there’s a tall circular object, almost phallic, which goes to a higher point than any of the figures. This is another object that, so far, has me stumped.

And that’s what you see when you have the road, and the railway viaduct, at your back. There are more questions about what’s being depicted than I would like but I hope to be able to come up with more accurate descriptions following my next visit.

But this star has two sides, and the back, although much less ornate and with no human or animal figures, is still interesting. It also has remained free of the restoration white washing and therefore gives an idea of what the monument looked like originally.

Back of the star

The image on the back is simple and clear; a flag is attached at the top to the end of the barrel and at the bottom to the firing mechanism of an over-sized bolt-action rifle. The impression of the flag fluttering in the breeze is created by the undulations of the carving. This, in real life would have been a red flag with the Nationalist (the double-headed eagle) and the Communist (golden star) symbols and I’m slightly surprised they are not represented here. Perhaps the idea is that any piece of red cloth can be used in situations such as the entry of the Partisans into a town after liberating the area from the Fascists.

Qukës-Pishkash Star - back

Qukës-Pishkash Star – back

This part of the star also seems to be in a better condition than the front. Perhaps the trees behind and the direction of the weather have provided some sort of protection over the years.

The Sculptors

Although the names of those who worked on many of the Albanian lapidars are ‘lost’ – at least to me – more information is normally forthcoming on major monuments such as the Qukës-Pishkash Star. But, unfortunately, only a little.

It was inaugurated in 1978 and the principal sculptor was Perikli Çuli. So far I haven’t been able to gather any other information about him other than the fact that he was also the sculptor of the monument ‘Toka Jonë – Our Land’ – a celebration of workers and peasants – which is in the centre of Lushnje. This is a much later work having been completed in 1987.

He was ‘assisted’ by a recently graduated artist called Agim Rada. Rada seems to have been a bit of a ‘tortured intellectual’ as he hit the bottle for a number of years and only got out of that rut by finding God. He hadn’t produced much for years but was commissioned to produce a work in Shkoder in readiness for the visit of the Catholic leader, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who visited Albania in 2014.

This work is called ‘Kleriku i Prangosur – The Chained Cleric’ and stands in the grounds of the main Catholic church in the city. I haven’t seen it yet but hope to do so on my next visit to Shkoder.

Condition of the area

There doesn’t seem to be any real structural damage to the Star itself, although erosion and lack of general maintenance has made it difficult to make out some of the images. The painting hasn’t really helped as the original stone had different colours and this assisted in providing a contrast between the background and the carvings of the figures.

The general area, a fairly large paved space close to the main road, suffers from the same neglect that besets virtually all public areas throughout Albania. There’s a derelict drinking fountain to the left of the monument so, presumably, at times in the past there would have been large groups of people in the vicinity.

Some time before the group from the Albanian Lapidar Survey visited the site in the summer of 2014 there must have been a significant anniversary as a sash and wreath made from laurel leaves had been placed across the shoulders of the commanding officer. This might well be an annual celebration. When I visited in the early summer of 2015 the wreath had been thrown on the ground at the back of the star.

A more modest lapidar

Pishkask Lapidar

Pishkask Lapidar

It’s possible to see the variation in the whole scheme of Socialist lapidars just by looking across the road, to the left of the bar/shop. There a couple of joined, concrete columns commemorate, probably, those of the village of Pishkash who died in the National Liberation war. It’s impossible to say exactly as the space where a marble plaque would have been fixed is now empty. Whether vandalised or stolen it’s impossible to say.

Location of the Qukës-Pishkash Star:

GPS:

41.073821

20.49985302

DMS:

41° 4′ 25.7556” N

20° 29′ 59.4709” E

Altitude:

503.1m

How to get there.

All the furgons and buses on the route Librazhd – Përrenjas or Korçë pass the Star. You should be able to get back to your starting point if you don’t leave it too late in the afternoon. There’s a small bar, as well as a shop, just across the road, at the junction of the road leading up to the village of Pishkash.