‘Death to Fascism’ Mural in the National Historical Museum, Tirana

The complete mural

The complete mural

The mural that covers the whole of one wall in the room of the National Historical Museum in Tirana that’s devoted to the War of Liberation against the invading fascists of 1939 to 1944 is one of the few which can still be appreciated at leisure by any visitor. There’s another which can be seen, but not fully understood, as it’s in a room which is undergoing renovation at the moment. Whether it will be covered in some way as part of this renovation is unknown – but hopefully not.

Since the end of the 1990s, when relative stability was regained in the country, various Albanian governments of various colours have sought to slowly but surely eradicate the period of the construction of Socialism, from 1944 to 1990, as if it had never existed. Those of the neo-fascist right (some of whom were even members of the Party of Labour of Albania for many years but changed their allegiance once the opportunity presented itself – therefore justifying the idea of Joseph Stalin that the Party constantly needs to purge itself of opportunist elements) want the past eradicated so that their names cannot be associated with those actions and tactics which they now deny.

Those of the opportunist now social-democratic ‘left’ don’t want to show themselves in their true colours, offering ‘easy’ options to difficult problems and denying that the efforts to construct a wholly new world order had any value whatsoever. They look for comfort in the ‘tinkering’ of the system as they are totally inadequate in the task of substantially changing society forever. Efforts by those who have tried to do so in the past – whatever the failings and the mistakes that might have been made – only show them up for the weak and cowardly opportunists that they are.

Capitalism has, in the last hundred years, constantly criticised Socialist states of ‘re-writing history’. This is not the place to argue the truth of such accusations but what is certain is that this ‘holier than thou’ approach is mainly used as a smokescreen for the oppressive and exploitative system to justify the way it has, still does and will until the days it is destroyed forever, interpreted history in a manner which portrays capitalism and imperialism as the only possible system that can exist throughout the world – despite the innumerable crimes it has, still does and will commit in the future.

But back to the mural.

This one depicts images from the war against German Nazism. It does not pretend to be a view of a particular battle at a particular time and place. It’s more of a montage with images that attempt to record, in a visual manner, the struggle of the Communist-led Albanian Partisans against the Nazi invader.

It seeks to portray the Partisans as fearless and determined fighters who will do any and everything to rid their country of the invaders. In doing so the painter (and this has been repeated in an number of other places, both in paintings and in the sculptures of the Albanian lapidars) effectively has dehumanised the German soldiers.

This ‘dehumanisation’ is necessary to stress the difference between the moral authority of the Partisan fighters in resisting the invaders and the lack of such authority of the German forces who sought to dominate and enslave the Albanian population.

The depiction of the Nazis as no more than unprincipled and vicious animals also seeks to remind the Albanian people of the atrocities that were perpetrated by the invaders during their time in the country. In their frustration against their inability to defeat the Partisans (who carried out for the first part of the organised armed struggle after the formation of the National Liberation Front in Peze in 1942 a guerrilla war against first the Italian and then the German armies) the Germans carried out a total war which, among other things, involved such actions as the massacre and annihilation of the village and people of Borove after a particularly successful and stinging ambush carried out near-by.

The painting seeks to remind the viewer, in one relatively small space, of all of that and to value the sacrifice of those Partisans who gave their lives for the freedom of their country.

The fact that now, seemingly, the majority of the population of Albania don’t give a toss about that sacrifice is neither hear nor there. The reality of the struggle in Albania is that it was the Communist Partisans who liberated their country from the invaders without the assistance (other than material) of any external major ‘power’.

The mural tells that story by the use of images which can be seen in various lapidars throughout the country.

The armed, fighting, fearless, female, Communist Partisan

The armed, fighting, fearless, female, Communist Partisan

The principal and central character is a female Partisan. It is around her that all the action takes place. She’s physically the largest representation and in her image she tells a lot about the history of the success of the Albanians against the fascist invaders.

What I consider the most important aspect of the manner in which she has been portrayed is that she is armed, heavily. This is an aspect I have seen in visiting all those lapidars (monuments) and other art works produced during the Socialist period (from 1944-1990) – such as bas reliefs and mosaics – in that if a woman is represented in a military context she is always armed.

This can be seen in the wonderful mosaic (The Albanians) at the front of the very same building as well as in the Martyr’s Cemeteries in Lushnje and Fier, to name just a few.

Not only is this depiction of the female Partisan as an active armed fighter for the liberation of her country a recognition of the role that women played in the victory in Albania it also stresses what Mao Tse-tung expressed so succinctly ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’. True ‘female liberation’ will not be achieved until workers have freed themselves from oppression and exploitation and the system of patriarchy that has been strengthened and perpetuated under the economic system of capitalism. It won’t come naturally even then but will never happen unless this pre-requisite is achieved.

We don’t know if she’s the leader of this Partisan group but she’s in the vanguard of the attack and although she is moving forward she looks back to those behind and with her left arm she is signalling for others to hurry as the battle is being waged. The speed of her onward rush is captured by her cape, her long, black hair and her scarf which fly out behind her.

In her right hand she holds a light machine gun, she has a couple of stick grenades (captured from the enemy in a previous attack) tucked under the belt that holds ammunition pouches and there’s another ammunition belt across her chest. She’s also the only one of the Partisan fighters who wears what resembles a uniform.

The Communist calls for the attack

The Communist calls for the attack

We know she’s a Communist as she proudly displays the red star on her cap and the red scarf around her neck reinforces that declaration of political allegiance.

In fact the use of red in this painting is quite interesting. In general the palette used is quite mute but the bright red appears only from the dress and symbols of the Partisans – apart from a flash of flame from the machine gun being fired by the Partisan on the extreme right and the flames from the burning Nazi tank on the extreme left. Even the blood of the dead and dying Nazis is a dull, lacklustre red.

Traditional footwear in a modern war

Traditional footwear in a modern war

We also know she’s from the countryside, as most Partisans would have been at the time, by her footwear – sandals and the colourful woollen socks. This is in contrast to the heavy boots being worn by the Germans and even those of two of her male comrades.

Forward always

Forward always

To the right of the female Partisan is a young male. In his right hand, stretched out in front of him giving the impression of his rushing forward to join in the attack, is a rifle. His stance is of one who is fighting in mountainous terrain, with his right leg bent and his left stretched out behind him to give his forward movement more force. This is a stance that is very reminiscent of that of the Partisan statue on the Durres seafront.

But his role in the picture is not as a fighter but as a bearer of the symbol of the Albanian Partisans. He is the flag bearer and in his left hand flutters the rallying point of the Communists.

The Albanian Communist Banner

The Albanian Communist Banner

This is the red flag on which is the black, double-headed eagle with a gold, five pointed star embroidered above the two heads. This was to become the national flag of Albania after the declaration of Independence on 29th November 1944.

This would normally be of a brighter red – as the red stars on the caps and the red scarves – but I assume that the artist didn’t want to detract from their flashes of colour which a large expanse of red in the middle of the picture. So he has chosen more of a purple colour for the flag.

He knows where he's going

He knows where he’s going

Apart from him being responsible for the flag we also know his political allegiance, again, by the red scarf that’s around his neck.

Her red scarf, her sacrifice blood

Her red scarf, her sacrifice blood

Behind him, and slightly in the background, we are reminded that victory in anything, especially war, comes at a cost. And here we see the cost being paid by a young female Partisan who is shown at the time of death, her back arched as she is about to fall. We don’t see her face but we sense the pain as the bullet that kills her enters her body. She has no weapon but there is spare ammunition in her belt and her red scarf singles her out as a Communist.

Shooting down from the mountains

Shooting down from the mountains

The Partisan in the extreme right corner shows the extent of the population that joined the National Front against the fascist invaders. He is older, also from the countryside but here almost certainly from one of the mountainous regions of Albania.

He is also a Communist, with a red star on his fez, but in place of a scarf around his neck he has it wrapped around his hat. Typically at the time men from the mountains had moustaches and he sports a dark, black one.

A Communist peasant from the mountains

A Communist peasant from the mountains

He shows his physical strength by firing a moderately heavy machine gun but without the need of the normal tripod. His proximity to the dying woman also gives the impression of him taking revenge for the loss of a comrade. His machine gun spits fire and the bullets fall in a shower down by his feet.

The British contribution

The British contribution

It’s true that the British did supply the Communists Partisans with war material during the War of Liberation. They would rather have given the supplies to the Nationalist forces but 1) British representatives on the ground realised, and advised, that the Communist forces were the more effective and 2) the Nationalists eventually tried to pull the German Nazis out of the mire they had dug themselves into by attending a Quisling Assembly in 1944. The answer of the Communist Partisans was to drag a canon up the hills above Tirana and deliver a response to this traitorous act in the shape of a shell. It was exactly the same type of cannon that is seen, slightly in the background, in the centre of this painting.

A number of British died in Albania during the war and there’s now a small cemetery in Tirana Park – bizarrely using the old grave stone which was denied Enver Hoxha (when his remains were removed from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery and re-interred in the city cemetery at Kombinat) when the counter-revolutionaries gained control in the 1990s.

For some reason the British thought (whether it be the government of Churchill during the war or the government of Atlee after it) that because they had provided a few weapons they had the right to determine the future of the country. This led to Britain, in concert with the Americans, attempting to achieve ‘regime change’ before the term became popular. This included the aggression that was later referred to as the ‘Corfu Incident’.

They also constantly winged about their assistance not being recognised by the ‘ungrateful’ Communists. However, there are any number of paintings and sculptures where the Mills bomb (grenade) is depicted – to the best of my knowledge only, in that particular style, being produced by the British.

Bullets and sandals

Bullets and sandals

It’s strange when I think of it but as I’ve tried to understand the stories told by Albanian Socialist Realist paintings and sculpture I’ve learnt that the detail the artists have placed in their work when it comes to what people wear (or sometimes don’t wear – as in the great arch at Drashovice) can tell a great deal about the politics of the time. Here we have another example where the Partisan wears what he had worn from his youth – hand made shoes of his area and not the industrial production of western capitalist states. Probably made the fighting more comfortable.

Spitting fire and death

Spitting fire and death

Once you get to know Albania as a country you get to understand how hard it must have been – for both sides – to fight in such terrain. An incredibly beautiful country with its mountains and ravines are a different kettle of fish in a war situation. Now, obviously, war isn’t easy at any time but when you enter mountainous terrain into the equation it becomes even more difficult. Especially for the invader.

What the Americans, and the French before them, discovered later in Vietnam, the Italian and German Fascists discovered in Albania during then Second World War. Whatever material advantage you might have on paper it’s as nothing if you can’t dominate the terrain. The Albanian Partisans did in their country, the Vietminh did so in theirs.

And that fact of mountain fighting is represented in many works of Socialist Realist Art in Albania. As here the Partisan is firing down – into a valley, into a road during an ambush from a high point. The Partisans always controlled the high ground and that was one of the aspects of the Liberation War that ensured them success.

The battle continues in the background

The battle continues in the background

There are only a handful of ‘actors’ in the foreground to tell the story of the struggle but obviously there were many more involved and here they are depicted almost as ‘ghosts’ in the background – as can be seen in the previous couple of pictures.

The mountains are a protagonist

The mountains are a protagonist

Because the mountains of Albania played such a crucial role in the battle between the Partisans and the Fascists they are also often represented in works of art that tell the story of the struggle. Often, if it is of a particular battle it will be the mountains that would have been near-by and recognisable by the locals. These seem to be ‘generic’ mountains but they might have meant something to the artist.

Death to Nazism!

Death to Nazism!

Not all fighting in a war is at a distance and from time to time it comes to a hand to hand struggle. This is where we find the final, identifiable Partisan in the painting. Just to the left of the female Partisan we see a life and death struggle between another Communist Partisan and a Nazi soldier. We don’t see the face of the Partisan, just a glimpse of the side of his face, but we do see the Nazi. His eyes are wide open in horror as the Partisan has his left hand grasping his throat and in his right hand he has a dagger which is about to end the horror for the German soldier. This soldier is depicted almost as a demon, the human characteristics being erased from his features. This approach can also be seen on the lapidar at Berzhite.

Dead Nazis and dead Fascist Panzer Tank

Dead Nazis and dead Fascist Panzer Tank

Apart from a few ghostly and shadowy figures in the background the invader is confined to the extreme left of the painting and along the bottom, where their dead litter the ground.

The Nazi red is either flames or blood

The Nazi red is either flames or blood

Their tank is of no help, the flames leaping from the turret and the clouds of smoke indicating the crew are probably dead and unable to use the superior fire power. And anyway, in the terrain where the fighting took place in Albania tanks wouldn’t have been much use, the uneven ground and lack of any clear shots would have meant they did more damage to the mountain than the Partisans.

Those who are about to die ....

Those who are about to die ….

Those that are still alive and prepared to continue the fight are depicted as featureless, only the shapes of their faces in profile being seen. Here again the artist has stripped them of their humanity. They are killing machines so don’t merit individuality.

Faceless Nazis fighting for their lives

Faceless Nazis fighting for their lives

And in the case of one of them he is shown as no more than a shadow, a dark shape in the background.

The Nazi banner and the Nazi dead

The Nazi banner and the Nazi dead

Whereas the Communist banner flies high and proud the banner of the fascist invaders with its swastika symbol lies in the dirt, tattered and torn, the hand of a dead Nazi touching it reinforcing it as a symbol of death but one that itself is in the process of dying.

(The fact that this symbol is seeing a resurgence at the moment is down to a number of factors – amongst them being the betrayal of the Revisionists in those countries that had achieved the Socialist Revolution (including in Albania) and the failure of the working class in the industrialised countries to take power into their own hands. They might, some day, rue the consequences of their cowardice and pusillanimity as they suffer the death and destruction that accompanies fascism when it gains momentum.)

Arrogance pays its price

Arrogance pays its price

The remaining images of the invader are all of death. Fittingly the soldier that was so surprised of death knocking at his door that he has his mouth open is lying on the ground directly beneath the foot of the principal female Partisan.

The Iron Cross is no saviour against a Communist

The Iron Cross is no saviour against a Communist

And even the holder of an Iron Cross is no match for the onslaught of the Communist Partisans.

The Artist

Unfortunately I can’t say who is the artist of this mural. There’s no signature and I can’t definitively identify the artist by comparing his (there seem to have been few female artists whose work was displayed in museums and art galleries throughout Albania – I don’t know why that was the case) style with other paintings I might have seen.

However, I assume that it was created for the opening of the Museum in 1982.

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

The ‘Hanged Women’ of Gjirokastra

The Hanged Women - Gjirokastra

The Hanged Women – Gjirokastra

Tucked away at the top end of Sheshi Çerçiz Topulli (Square) in the old part of Gjirokastra is a small statue which you could easily miss. Next to the potted plants in front of the Tourist Information Office is a white stone statue, of the upper body, of two women. This is a representation of Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokëdhima who were executed by the German Nazis in 1944. From that time they became known as the Hanged Women of Gjirokastra.

Both of the women were in their early twenties when their country was invaded by the Fascists and, like 6,000 other women (out of a Partisan force of 70,000) they decided to take up arms to drive the invaders from their land.

bule

bule

Bule was born in Gjirokastra town and apart from the statue in the main square she is referenced, as a ‘People’s Heroine’, on a monument in the Dunavat area of the town. She was a member of the youth group of which Qemal Stafa was the leader so it would seem that she had adopted the Communist ideology at an early age.

persefoni

persefoni

I’m not sure where Persefoni came from but apart from the monument to her death in Gjirokastra she is mentioned on the monuments in Qeparo Fushë (which is on the Adriatic coast), Kardhiq (in the mountains to the north-west of Gjirokastra) and Përmet (in a couple of valleys over to the east of Gjirokastra). This would seem to indicate she had been a Partisan for some time and had been involved in quite extensive sorties against the Fascists.

The exact circumstances of their capture I’m not aware but it seems they were captured at more or less the same time, imprisoned and then the German Nazis decided to make an example of these young and courageous women in an effort to deter others from opposing their occupation. These terror tactics are common in the history of imperialism.

A favoured tactic by the Nazis throughout Eastern Europe was the public hanging of those who had been fighting against them on being captured and, according to the statistics, this was even more common when women were concerned. The intense military opposition to the Fascist invasion in countries such as Albania and the Soviet Union meant that there are no pictures of women walking arm in arm with the German invaders in Tirana and Moscow (as you do in Paris). What we do get, however, are hundreds of pictures of young women hanging from the gallows in public squares.

These were not the executions that might take place in those countries where capital punishment was, or still is, the case. Everything was done by the Fascists to turn the occasion of the killing of an individual into a lesson in politics. There would be no, or very limited, process of law. Many of the executions were carried out summarily and even if there was the pretence of a trial the outcome was known before it had begun. Almost always they would be public executions, carried out in a main square, with the rest of the population forced to watch. Here the aim was to both strip the victims of their dignity and give that added spice to the terror instilled into the onlookers.

Neither was the execution the clinical affair that was eventually meted out to those German Fascists found guilty at the Nuremberg Tribunals of 1945-9. Those who were dealt with by Albert Pierrepoint would die in seconds. This would have been in ‘ideal’ circumstances. However, on the streets of Gjirokastra on July 17th 1944 Bule and Persefoni would have been stood on a stool under a low and flimsy gallows, with a thin piece of rope around their necks tied in a crude slip knot and then strangled to death when the stool was kicked away. As in the case of most of these lynchings the two women faced their fate with dignity and a continued hatred of the enemy. It was the practice of the Nazis to leave the bodies hanging for as long as possible to hammer home the message but as they were murdered in the summer they would have been cut down quite quickly. (This is just one of the reasons I am opposed to the German War Cemetery in the park behind the University in Tirana.)

The two young women were murdered in the square where the statue now stands.

Now the statue in Gjirokastra’s main square is not one of my favourite examples of Socialist sculpture. In fact I can think of no other I find less pleasing. I don’t yet know who was the sculptor but I don’t think it’s one of the best, or most appropriate of monuments, to two brave, young women.

They appear thin and haggard. Their faces are gaunt and their eyes seem to be bulging out of the sockets. The facial expression says nothing, unsmiling but not telling us anything else about how they might have been thinking. Compare this lack of expression with, for example, the statue to the Partisan in the centre of Tirana. He’s angry (sometimes I think a little bitter – and that’s something coming from someone who harbours a lot of anger) and you know that immediately you look at his face. You don’t get any emotion from this statue, not even a sensation of dignity. Also, there’s a problem with the location. It’s pushed to the edge of a car park, close to a building, as if it’s only there on sufferance (which it probably is) and doesn’t permit the viewer to consider the monument for what it represents.

But in a study of Socialist Realism these two Communist martyrs allow an analysis which has not been possible to date. Not only is there a statue in the location of their deaths but their fate has been represented in a number of media which suggest a number of interesting ideas.

As far as I’m concerned a better sculpture is one created by Odhise Paskali in 1974. This is called ‘The Two Heroines’, which I think is a better title than ‘The Hanged Women’. (Since I first came across this story and related art works I’ve always considered that there’s something cold and almost impersonal in referring to such courageous women in such a way. It seems to say that their short lives are determined solely by the manner in which they died.)

The Two Heroines - Odhise Paskali

The Two Heroines – Odhise Paskali

(The original of this statue is in the corridor of the old Gjirokaster Castle Prison. It was from this prison that the two women were led downhill to the main square of the old town for their public execution. It can be seen by going upstairs to the Armaments Museum – which has some interesting examples of Socialist realist Art (both paintings and sculptures). The entrance to the prison is off this part of the museum.)

This is more sympathetic to the situation. They look like young women and have determination etched on their faces. It’s a head a shoulders view of the two women and they are joined by their hair. By doing so it tends to go against reality as Persefoni was much taller than Bule but here they are on the same level. However much I consider this to be a better statue there is an important aspect which I think is bizarre. That is the addition of the noose around their necks.

Why? It again defines the women by their deaths. This is just crass Catholic Christian imagery and should have nothing to do with Socialist Realism. If you were to visit Catholic churches in Spain and Italy you would encounter countless paintings and images where the Christian martyr would be depicted alongside the cause of his/her death, normally with an enigmatic look on their face. I don’t understand why this should appear in the country to have declared itself an atheist state, as Albania did in Article 37 of the 1976 Constitution. This is why there’s always a need for a Cultural Revolution to monitor how the society and its history are being represented. ‘People’s Heroes/Heroines’ might be martyrs for the cause of independence and communism but there’s a fine line between that and the idea of Christian martyrs.

There’s another image that seems to follow the approach adopted by Paskali and that’s an engraving by Safo Marko.

Bule and Persefoni

Bule and Persefoni

This is a triptych. On the left is an image of Bule involved in a demonstration in her home town. As a member of the youth groups this is what she would have been doing before heading for the hills and joining the Partisans. On the right is an image of a female Partisan, armed and marching through the hills. This could represent either of the women. The problem comes with the central, bigger panel.

Here the two women are depicted, in chains, standing before a very large tree, two nooses hanging from one of the lower branches. This repeats the Christian idea of martyrs together with the instruments of their death but with the added problem of creating a ludicrous scenario. They were killed in the main square of an old fortress town built there because what was in abundance was a lot of stone. No way could such a tree exist in that environment. The scene suggests that the murder took place in the countryside.

Another engraving, this one more in the spirit of Socialist Realism, is by Lumturi Dhrami.

Heroinat Bule Naipi e Persefoni Kokëdhima

Heroinat Bule Naipi e Persefoni Kokëdhima

Here we know we are in Gjirokastra with the image of the castellated tower on the horizon and the cobbled streets along which the execution party is walking, downhill towards Sheshi Çerçiz Topulli. The two women are in the centre foreground, one in profile the other looking out of the picture. There’s determination on their faces. They know what is about to happen but there’s an impression of ‘so what?’.

They are surrounded by German soldiers but also in the picture are Albanian collaborators, these would have been members of the fascist-nationalist of Balli Kombëtar who allied with the ‘nation of Aryans’ as they shared similar racist and anti-progressive beliefs.

There are also two paintings I’ve seen depicting Persefoni and Bule. The first one I’ve yet to identify the painter and I’m sorry it’s such a fuzzy image.

The 'Hanged Women' of Gjirokastra

The ‘Hanged Women’ of Gjirokastra

What’s interesting about this painting is that I’ve seen photographs where the image was being used in classrooms to tell children about the event in 1944. This is not an exceptional painting (although I’ve only seen a poor reproduction) but is simple in that we have four individuals, the two restrained women and two Nazi guards taking them to their execution. The castle walls form part of the background and in the foreground we can see the bayonet of one of the invaders, the greyness of the soldiers uniforms in contrast to the colours (muted but colours nonetheless) of the women’s clothing.

The final image I’ve come across is a painting by Pavllo Moçi simply called ‘Persefoni and Bule’ which is in the collection of the Duress Art Gallery.

Persefoni and Bule - Pavllo Moçi

Persefoni and Bule – Pavllo Moçi

This depicts the two women in a prison cell, holding hands as the door of the cell is opened by the Nazi guards to take them to their death. Persefoni is on the left and has her right arm in a sling. Bule is standing defiantly with her legs slightly apart as if ready to fight against all odds. Light coming through the door shines on them, highlighting them against the gloom of the cell itself, with the guard in shadow, all demonstrating where the future lies.

On the walls they have scratched the letters VFLP representing “Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!” (“Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!”) which can be seen on the Heroic Peze monument, at the junction of the Tirana-Duress road, and the Peze War Memorial in the Peze Conference Memorial Park, among others.

The two women defiant to the end!

'The Hanged Women' - Gjirokaster (Andrew Andison)

‘The Hanged Women’ – Gjirokaster (Andrew Andison)

The ‘renovation’ or ‘restoration’ of Socialist lapidars in Albania is, at best, a hit and miss affair. Often it just takes the form of a quick coat of whitewash over a monument to hide the ravages of time and the weather. This seems to have been the approach in Gjirokastra during the early part of 2017 – and the result can be seen above (thanks to Andrew for sending through a copy of his picture).

If there was no proper cleaning of the mould before the coat of paint was applied the statue will revert to it’s previous state soon after an Albanian winter.  

Lavdi Shqiperise - Gjirokastra

Lavdi Shqiperise – Gjirokastra

One positive aspect of the location is that the two women are looking over towards the wall which forms part of the local government building. On this, picked out in large letters in relief, are the words ‘Lavdi Shqiperise’ – ‘Glory to Albania’ or ‘Long Live Albania’. Even though I had looked at this carefully it didn’t register that there’s something wrong. There’s a lack of symmetry. Why are the words so far apart and what is the ‘scar’ between them? It has been brought to my attention that the space (where someone has worked hard to obliterate what was there before) almost certainly contained the words ‘Partise se Punes e (Shqiperise)’, PPSH or the Party of Labour of Albania (PLA).

This is just another example of the vandalism that swept the country after the counter-revolution of 1990. The reactionaries still try to present themselves as patriots but if it were not for the Communists in the National Liberation Front in the war against fascism then the country would have only the sort of independence it has at present, that is, one where millions have to work abroad; foreign NATO troops crawl over the country like flies; local industry and agriculture is at a pre-capitalist stage; young Albanian women populate the brothels of Europe; and the country begs to be let into the ‘big boys’ club of the EU.

I’ve not come across this type of inscription (whether in its original or vandalised form) in any other town in Albania. It is partly obscured by trees and any vehicle that might be parked on that side of the square can block the view so it can be easily missed.