‘Skenderbeu’s Wars’ bas-relief in Gjirokaster

Skenderbeu's Wars, Gjirokaster, Hector Dule, 1968

Skenderbeu’s Wars, Gjirokaster, Hector Dule, 1968

Many of the lapidars in different parts of Albania have suffered from vandalism and neglect. This is sad as it is displays a lack of respect of the Albanians for their heritage. Those with a particular Socialist message have suffered the most, attacked by the monarcho-fascists when the country was going through a period of anarchy in the late 1990s. Caught up in this denial of the past are also some of the monuments dedicated to the country’s ancient ‘national hero’, Skenderbreu, and a bas-relief called ‘Skenderbeu’s Wars’ the ‘stone city’ of Gjirokaster has likewise being ignored and allowed to fall into decline.

The monument is located just above the old town, where the road starts to zigzag as it heads up to the entrance of the castle. This is the north facing side of the hill and is covered with trees and bushes which, in the heat of summer, make for one of the most pleasant locations in the city to cool down. However, this is not the best kind of climate for the bas relief created by Hector Dule in 1968. In Albanian it’s official title is ‘Lapidar kushtuar luftrave të Skënderbeut’ which translates as: ‘Monolith dedicated to Skenderbeu’s Wars’.

I’m sure that during the period of Socialism the area would have been kept clear but over the last 25 years or so the trees have been allowed to grow and if you didn’t know what you were looking for would easily miss whilst passing only a few metres away.

The monument consists of two parts – a concrete panel with images from the time of the Skenderbreu wars and a black stone column about twice the height of the panel to which it is attached.

The construction of the bas-relief is different from all the others I seen so far in that the constituent parts were obviously created elsewhere and then brought to the site to be put together. There are 4 square sections (on the left) and a larger, rectangular section on the right. Most later lapidars of similar materials appear to have been created on site. This was perhaps made possible as expertise and the technology improved as this depiction of Skenderbreu is one of the earliest of the sculptural lapidars.

This is not to say that Albanian lapidars didn’t exist before 1968. As the article ‘About the film ‘Lapidari” in Vol 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey points out the first lapidars appeared as soon as the National Liberation War had ended – if not before with the placing of simple grave markers over the bodies of some of the fallen Partisans. However, it was not until the mid-1960s that the Party of Labour of Albania decided that these locations would be an ideal place to develop both Socialist Realist Art as well as create an educational and propaganda tool for the promotion of the Socialist ideal – this was the start of Albania’s Cultural Revolution.

There are three males depicted, Skenderbreu himself and two of his followers. Skenderbreu is seated on a rearing horse and takes up more than two thirds of the space whilst the two soldiers stand behind him on the left hand side of the panel.

Here it’s worth well mentioning that the image that all Albanians have of Skenderbreu is one very much created in the mid 20th century by the sculptor Odhise Paskali who created the first sculpture of him in 1939, a head and shoulders bust. From then on that was the image and look that has been perpetuated by all subsequent artists. This ‘created’ image was as a result of the fact that no images exist of Skenderbreu as a fighting man, the only ones I’ve seen are of him when he was well past his fighting days. So here we have another situation where reality has been sacrificed for visual effect.

Although a fan of Dule’s work I’m not a fan of this particular piece. The image of the female Communist over the entrance to the main hall of the Palace of Congresses, for example, is a stunning piece of work but here the image is let down by how he has portrayed the horse – it’s a really ugly horse for a steed that would charge into war. Such horses had be be even more fearless than their riders as they weren’t able to rationalise the environment into which they were forced to go. But this horse looks thin, weak and afraid.

Skenderbeu's Horse

Skenderbeu’s Horse

Its hind quarters, especially, appear as if the hide had been removed and is reminiscent of some of Michelangelo’s sketches of the muscles and ligaments of living creatures he produced 500 years ago. The horse is reared up on its hind legs, front hoofs pawing the air as if it were just at the point of beginning a charge but it doesn’t look too happy about it. To me the proportions of the head are wrong, it looks to small and gaunt for what, at that time, was the version of a tank. The size and speed of the horse was as much a weapon as the rider with whatever vicious cutting instrument he was carrying. The other thing that’s strange about this horse is that he has an incredibly, ridiculously even, long tail, trailing on the ground as it rears up.

If the horse is hesitant then Skenderbreu certainly isn’t. He has the steely look of determination that such warriors would have had with their faith in their own destiny. But, again, this is Paskali’s image and not Dule’s, the younger sculptor following an older master’s lead. And as always in such images the fighter is shown wearing a helmet with the Kastrioti (his family name) emblem, that of the small head of a ram with long, swept back horns. Here the horns are slightly shorter than normal as that part of the sculpture is beyond the edge of the panel and would have been a weak point if made any longer. (At the same time as the look of Skenderbreu is a Paskali invention I’m not too sure whether the design of the helmet was something else that appeared first in the 20th century.)

Skenderbeu

Skenderbeu

His face is in semi-profile. Dule has him looking slightly to his right, and it’s possible to see the features of the determined face, covered in the obligatory bushy moustache and beard of the time. He is well protected for the period, wearing a chain mail shirt over which he appears to have the top half of a suit of armour. Around his waist can be seen a short skirt of chain mail so this is probably a chain mail doublet.

He has leg guards but it’s not possible to make out from what they are made. He’s wearing some armour but not the full suit that would have been more common at the time in Western Europe so it’s possible these guards were made of leather. What is possible to see is a design around the ankle area, just before his foot is shown in the stirrups, so giving the impression that aesthetics were also part of battlefield etiquette.

His right arm, bare from just below the shoulder, is stretched out in front of him and he is holding a long sword, slightly curved at the end. This extends way in front of the horse, Skenderbreu’s hand holding the hilt of the sword close to the horse’s neck. The empty scabbard of this sword is shown hanging from his waist, over the chain mail skirt. His left hand can be seen gripping hold of the bridle between his body and the back of the horse’s neck.

Finally, when dealing with Skenderbreu, we have his cape which is doing something it couldn’t, and that’s flying out a long way behind him. The only way this would have been possible in real life was if he was charging at full tilt, but that’s impossible on a horse that is rearing up. Either a full blown charge or an incredibly strong wind, neither of which are possible here.

Being a lord Skenderbreu has a real saddle and the rear pummel can be seen at his back. As well as that there are intricate designs on the blanket and a relatively sophisticated stirrup for his feet.

In the bottom right hand corner we are shown that Skenderbeu was victorious in this conflict. Here are the discarded weapons, a scimitar, a shield (with the crescent moon symbol of the Ottomans) and a ferrule at the top of the opposition’s standard, now laying in the dirt, no longer fluttering proudly in front of a powerful army.

War trophies

War trophies

This little collection of trophies is very reminiscent of pictures of another famous warrior fighting against Moslem invaders – Santiago (Matamoros) of Spain. In countless paintings depicting his miraculous intervention in the mythical Battle of Clavijo of 834 (more or less) the battlefield is always littered with discarded symbols of the invaders defeat.

This influence from earlier Christian iconography should neither be considered strange or alien to early Socialist Realist Art. As with ‘Shoket’ in Permet Martyrs’ Cemetery (the work of Odhise Paskali) any and everyone in the early stages of a Socialist society will be carrying with them the influence and baggage of the society that preceded that socialist construction. That will show itself in works of art as well as in language and ways of thinking. It is changing this thinking that is the most difficult task facing Communists after the revolution.

The first soldier behind Skenderbreu and his horse is the standard bearer. He is shown holding the pole of the independence army’s flag. His right hand grips the pole just below the flag (the tensed muscles showing his strength) whilst his left holds it close to his waist. He has the same look of determination on his face as his leader. He also has a bushy moustache but no beard – perhaps that was the private domain of the lords of the land.

Skenderbeu's foot soldiers

Skenderbeu’s foot soldiers

He is also relatively well protected and armed. He has a chain mail vest that extends to the level of his groin which is over a loose sleeved shirt and a fustanella (the skirt like garment worn by men). Like Skenderbreu he is bare armed. His shins are bare and on his feet he wears the standard shoe and socks of the 15th century. Hanging from his waist, so that it lays against his body horizontally, is a short scimitar style sword. I didn’t think these were common in the Albanian army at the time so perhaps what we are seeing here is a trophy of war. (Soldiers in all wars have done this, picked up something from the enemy if it is considered to be of better quality than what is in their possession.) It’s not clear but he appears to have a long cloak that’s attached to a cape that is on his head, the one piece for protection against the weather.

Appearing just before the flag and above Skenderbreu’s flowing cape is the image of a long handled axe, attempting to give the impression that there are more actors in this scene than are actually shown. This is a trick Dule uses on a number of occasions to give a feeling of depth, for example, with the fore hoofs of the horse.

The third soldier stands at the left hand edge of the panel. We are definitely moving down the pecking order now. He is heavily armed but poorly protected. He has something on his head but it looks nothing other than a skull cap (and not a traditional cap with which I am familiar). He’s wearing a close fitting t-shirt top and his arms are bare. It’s difficult to see exactly but he also looks to be wearing a fustenella.

His left hand is gripping the long pole of a double-headed axe at shoulder height – these battles weren’t overly sophisticated, it seems. They just hacked and thrust at each other with as many pieces of sharp metal they could muster, the winners were the ones who hacked the most – an extremely bloody victory.

The double-headed eagle

The double-headed eagle

His right hand is holding a large shield, the point of which is resting on the ground, half way along its top edge. On this shield can be made out the image of the double-headed eagle, the symbol of Skenderbreu, which then became the emblem of Albania when it declared its (short run) independence in 1912 and which became – with the addition of a gold star – the official flag of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania after 1944. We only see the hilt but there’s a long sword behind the left hand edge of this shield.

The face of this soldier is also strange, compared to the other two males shown. It’s back to the style of the horse with it’s frailty and almost a sense of fear. This face is also short of facial hair of any kind. This is the foot soldier who would have been in the thick of battle and who would have suffered the heaviest casualties.

I’m not too sure whether Dule is making a statement about these ‘national heroes’. Yes Skenderbreu fought for independence from the Ottoman Turks but he was first and foremost an aristocrat and landowner. He was fighting for the right to oppress the ordinary Albanian peasant, not for some utopia where all would be equal.

Here we have that stratification, that class division, in society shown by the very clothes the fighters in the same army used. Those at the ‘top’ got most protection and that got less as you closer to the foot soldiers, the basis (however ‘great’ the leader or general) of any army, then and since.

I don’t like this bas relief for the very fact that it ‘celebrates’ the lord who led he fight for national independence but not for the liberation of the people. I also don’t really understand why the myth around Skenderbreu was perpetuated as much as it was during the Socialist period. You don’t have to make such an individual so important just to prove you hadn’t forgotten the past.

Individuals from the past are problematic for a Socialist society. In Britain, for example, some see the person of Boudecia as a heroine as she fought against the Romans in AD60. However, they conveniently forget that first she was a collaborator and then, in seeking revenge for wrongs she considered the Romans had committed against her, became a mass murderer and, in modern parlance, a war criminal.

If Dule’s approach was as I’ve just suggested then I warm to the sculpture but still don’t consider it one of his best. If that was the underhand manner in which he depicted the ‘national hero’ he should be praised for subverting the common held image.

The Monolith

Whilst the panel with Skendebeu and his soldiers is made of concrete the monolith is made of black, local granite. This is more than twice the height of the panel and stands out from the surrounding trees, indicating where the monument can be found.

Top of the monolith

Top of the monolith

However, with so many lapidars, this monolith provides another enigma, conundrum. At the very top of the column the stones are arranged in such a way as to suggest that there was some sort of slogan, message which could be seen from far off. Now it is impossible to make out what those letters would have been. It doesn’t make sense for there not to have been something there originally. For most of its height the column is completely regular, it’s only at the top that that regularity is broken.

I can only assume that this is yet another example of conscious vandalism.

Condition

As mentioned before the trees in the vicinity of the monument have just been left to grow unhindered and it’s quite possible to pass close by and not know it exists. However, it is the lack of maintenance of the monument itself that serious problems are starting to emerge.

The bas-relief is constructed with iron wires throughout and some places these have been uncovered as the concrete has crumbled. The iron then starts to rust and this must have a knock on effect. There are a number of places where this is evident, for example, by Skenderbeu’s foot, and a little bit of restoration would prevent the situation from deteriorating and thus causing irrepairable damage. In places the concrete is breaking down to such an extent that you could actually pull pieces off with your fingers. At the same time, considering there’s been little care of the lapidar for 25 years the monument it has survived well – demonstrating that it was well made in the first place.

Result of vandalism

Result of vandalism

There’s also a place on the sculpture where there seems to have been some deliberate vandalism. The nose and part of the face of the soldier on the extreme left has broken away. This looks like someone has had a lucky hit with a stone and a piece of concrete has broken away. There’s also an indication that Skenderbeu’s nose has been the target for some wag.

Location:

From Sheshi Çerçiz Topulli go up hill along Rruga Gjin Zenebisi. At the crossroads at the top go left along Rruga Gjin Bue Shpata. As the road goes around to the left take the steps that go up on the right. On arriving at a small cafe take the path to the left, pass the stone tables and seats ‘stolen’ by the cafe and the monument is 20 or so metres away.

Lat/Long:

N 40.07375099

E 20.13939497

DMS:

40° 4′ 25.5” N

20° 8′ 21.8184” E

Altitude:

325.6 m

Sarandë’s Martyrs’ Cemetery

Saranda Martyrs' Cemetery

Saranda Martyrs’ Cemetery

A number of Martyrs’ Cemeteries have a single female partisan as the principal statue, Fier and Lushnje are two that immediately come to mind. This was also chosen as the case in Sarandë’s Martyrs’ Cemetery.

This has recently been repainted so there is, as on other occasions, some doubt of the original intention of the artists (here there are two attributed). In some ways it does turn the statue into a bit of a comic caricature but at least it shows an attitude of care for the monument, however badly executed. Whatever the pros and cons of such ‘restoration’ I prefer this to the total neglect that other lapidars throughout Albania have undergone.

The single female is standing in victorious celebration. Her arms are held high over her head as she waves the banner of victory. In her right hand she grips hold of her rifle by the firing mechanism. From this part of her weapon, until just before the end of the barrel, the sleeve for the pole of the national flag has been pulled over the barrel and she keeps it in place by her hand. A few inches of the top of the barrel can be seen just above the top left hand edge of the banner.

Painted rifle

Painted rifle

Here is where there is some problem with (re)painting of the lapidars. It might be more acceptable if the work was done by professional artists or restorers rather than enthusiastic amateurs. Here the stock of the rifle has been painted brown – but so has the metal firing mechanism, the trigger guard and the trigger itself, and, unfortunately not with the greatest of care. It’s difficult to see if the protruding end of the barrel has been painted brown, or even red, but it’s certainly not the colour that a real rifle would have been. Here, I suppose, is a call that if the monuments are to be painted there is a commitment to accuracy.

The banner is the flag of the Communist led National Liberation Front and which became the national flag of Albania after Liberation (and the beginning of true independence for the country) on the 29th November, 1944.

This is a red flag with a black, double-headed eagle in the centre. Over the two heads there was a gold star. The eagle on a red background had been the symbol of independence in Albania since the time of Skenderbeu in the 15th century. With the success of the Socialist revolution the star was added, this being the emblem of the Communists in the war against fascism.

This flag is shown as if it is being blown in the wind and the partisan is holding the bottom left hand corner of the flag with her left hand. Where the flag billows in the wind is where the statue is first attached to the column in front of which it stands.

Vandalised flag

Vandalised flag

As is not unusual in those lapidars which have been ‘restored’ there has been a little bit of political censorship, a re-writing of history. If you look carefully you will see the outline of a star over the heads of the eagles but in the ‘restoration’ this has been filled in and in the repainting has just been coloured red and not picked out in gold as it should be if there was a respect for history. Not the first nor the last time we encounter such conscious political vandalism in present-day, ‘democratic’ Albania.

Now to the Partisan herself. She is standing in full partisan uniform. On her head she wears a cap which has been another victim of vandalism. When originally unveiled there would certainly have been the outline (of just plain plaster and almost certainly not painted) of a star at the front of the cap. There is very little sign of that here so I assume to avoid the possible thorny question of why re-write history it was just plastered over. To have been true to the original that star should have been picked out in red when the restoration/cleaning work was done.

Her very long hair (totally impractical for a Partisan) is braided on either side of her head and the braids join together to form one even longer braid just behind her neck. She wears of tight vest over which she has a jacket with strangely wide, loose sleeves which, if real, would roll down her arms to her shoulders. The bottom of her jacket billows out behind her, mirroring that of the flag, and is the second point of contact between the statue and the column behind.

Around her waist she has five ammunition pouches, each containing five bullets. Her trousers are tucked in at the bottom to long socks that come to just below her knees and on her feet she wears a simple pair of sandals. (There’s a study in itself of the footwear depicted on Albanian Socialist lapidars.)

She stands on a block which has been painted brown on the top and black on the sides. Why not an irregular surface to represent the hills and mountains of Albania, where most of the fighting took place, is due, I believe, to the date that this lapidar was created.

Artists initials and date

Artists initials and date

On the left hand side of the column can be found the letters LL LZH and AL HH together with the number 88 or 89 (I think 89). This I assume to be the letters of the names of the sculptor/architect of the monument but, so far, have been unable to identify them. That being the case this must have been one of the very last, if not the last, lapidars to have been created in the Socialist era. There had been in existence a much more basic lapidar for many years but towards the end of the 1980s, with other towns improving their monuments (such as Lushnje) Sarandë, presumably, thought to do the same.

However, the later lapidars started to take a different approach to how the issues of the past were represented. In a sense they became less confrontational, more appeasing as the strength of Albania’s Cultural Revolution waned, especially after the death of Enver Hoxha in April 1985. This meant, among other things, the symbolism that had been established in the 1970s (such as irregular surfaces to reference the mountains) began to be ignored and, more importantly, as a political consideration when it came to the role of an artist in a Socialist society, the names (initials) of the artists started to appear on their work.

The column behind the Partisan flares out slightly at the base then narrows when behind her to gradually widen as it gets to its summit, about the same distance above the flag as it is below it. Towards the top of the column there’s an arrangement of six red stars, of slightly different sizes, which could represent the constellation of Ursa Major, The Plough (although one star short). On the very summit there’s a large red star, a typical crowning glory on lapidars (although also the target for vandalism in many cases) and there as a symbol of Communism.

The Plough?

The Plough?

To the right of the main lapidar is a white, concrete, fluted column which widens out half way up to provide the support for a large concrete bowl. It’s also worth noting the presence of the palm trees, often in Albanian cemeteries and for the same reasons as they were placed in Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery.

There is a flight of steps on either side of the statue and the tombs are on 3 or 4 different levels, on rows beneath. The space for the tombs fans out on both sides of the statue causing it to be much wider by the entrance lower down the hill than it is a the top. On one level there are nine marble slabs upon which are inscribed the names of almost 150 Partisans who would have died in the area (or who were originally from the area and died elsewhere in the country) who don’t have an individual tomb. The cemetery is reasonably well-kept and the tombs tended to on a semi-regular basis.

Commemorating 150 Partisans

Commemorating 150 Partisans

The location at its inception would have been marvellous, outside and above the old town of Sarandë, looking down onto the Ionian Sea, with the island of Corfu in the distance (and the site of the notorious ‘Corfu Incident’) with citrus and olive groves all around.

Now the cemetery has been overtaken by the unplanned expansion of the town’s tourist infrastructure with apartment blocks or hotels (many incomplete) appearing on every conceivable plot of land, completely changing the atmosphere of the town – and not for the better.

At the very bottom, by the original entrance gates, is a one storey building which would have housed the local Liberation War museum – now abandoned and empty.

As with many of the Albanian lapidars what we see today has not always been the case. By 1971 there existed a tall, two-part monolith with a large panel at 90º to the column at the bottom. Although it’s not clear it looks as if on this panel the names of some of the Saranda Partisans were listed. This stood at the top of a long flight of steps. I assume it was in the same location but it would seem to indicate if that was indeed the case there was some major remodelling of the cemetery when the statue was added in 1988/9.

Martyrs' Cemetery, Saranda, 1971

Martyrs’ Cemetery, Saranda, 1971

Location:

It’s a little bit difficult to find as the area is now full of new hotels and apartment blocks. As you go up the steep road that takes you in the direction of Gjirokaster the cemetery is on the right, just after the junction with Rruga Skenderbeu (on the left). Once you know what you are looking for it stands out quite clearly amongst the tower blocks when you look over from the ferry port.

Lat/Long:

N 39.86958199

E 20.017721

DMS:

39° 52′ 10.4916” N

20° 1′ 3.7956” E

Altitude:

55.7m

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