Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

Monument to the Partisan - Tirana

Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

More on Albania …..

Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

The ‘Monument to the Partisan’, the work of sculptor Andrea Mano, was created in 1949. It is one of the oldest lapidars in Albania created in the Socialist period and is the monument that has survived (relatively undamaged) the longest in its original location.

The monument consists of a larger than life size figure of a Communist Partisan in full uniform and fully armed. He’s depicted running forward, the element of speed being indicated by the right edge of his jacket flapping in the wind. In his left hand he carries a rifle (his hand is gripped around the barrel in front of the trigger mechanism) but his arm is fully extended downwards so it’s not ready to be used – this rush of his is not to join the battle but to join the celebration of the victory.

His right arm is raised above his head, slightly bent so his hand is pointing behind him but the fist is clenched. This is a visual representation of ‘We have done it’, and a sight that is quite common in present day sporting events. His mouth is wide open and so we know he is shouting but to whom and what we do not know. However, we are given a clue to the event by the inscription – and also the actual location of the statue.

For it was in this area of Tirana, on 17th November 1944, where the last remnants of the Nazi invaders were either killed or surrendered to the Partisan army.

Bukurosh Sejdini - 17 November 1944 - 1957

Bukurosh Sejdini – 17 November 1944 – 1957

He’s not a particularly young man and might be an officer, his uniform is quite smart and over his left shoulder is a strap to which is attached a satchel – which rests on his right hip. However, he doesn’t have a pistol – a normal sign of an officer. (It might be worth commenting here that although the Partisan force was very much a Communist organisation, organised along Communist lines, there still existed a hierarchy of officers and ‘men’ – although a huge percentage of the ‘men’ were female.) On a belt around his waist are a number of pouches with reserve ammunition.

It’s difficult to see (without climbing up the plinth) exactly what he has on his feet but it appears to be the more traditional Albanian footwear than an otherwise more usual heavy boot of the majority of the armies fighting in the Second World War.

However, what we can be certain of is his political allegiance. On the front of his cap can be seen the star and around his neck a scarf, both of which would have been red in actuality. This partisan is a Communist. Perhaps, as his political status is clear – and would have been to all who knew this statue at the time of the reactionary uprising of 1990 – I’m slightly surprised he didn’t suffer any serious vandalism.

The statue of Enver Hoxha, which was pulled down on 20th February 1991, was only a few minutes walk from where the Partisan still stands and it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise if some neo-fascist (having pulled itself from its hiding hole) hadn’t tried to damage a representation of Communist success. At the same time all the failings in Albanian society were being placed on Enver’s shoulders and personalising matters was a useful tactic for both the reactionaries and those in the higher leadership of the Party of Labour of Albania.

I’m afraid I’m not a big fan of this statue – and didn’t really like it when I first saw it just under nine years ago. At the time I thought he looked too angry – but not in a good way. That was before I fully realised what the statue represented – which was the liberation of Tirana and the soon to be victory of the Partisans over the fascist invaders.

However, it is still important in that it was one of the very first lapidars to be installed in the country – and the first one that attempted to tell the story of the National Liberation War (the earlier statues were of Joseph Stalin).

Bas reliefs

On either side of the statue, on the plinth, there are two bas reliefs. They are not in a particularly good condition and are showing the signs of wear but through time rather than any vandalism. Nonetheless they play an important role in the history of Albanian lapidars as they start to establish artistic ‘tropes’ which were emulated, with various adaptations, by later Albanian sculptors.

Monument to the Partisan - Bas relief 1

Monument to the Partisan – Bas relief 1

The one on the right of the monument as you look face on to the Partisan (i.e., on the left of the statue itself) depicts a small squad of Partisans – in this case seven – in the middle of a battle. However, the juxtaposition of the figures seem to represent more than one event.

The backdrop to the scene is the Communist flag. This is a red flag upon which, in the centre, is a black, double-headed eagle. This symbol was taken from the emblem used by Skenderbeu in the nationalist battle against the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. It was brought into the 20th century with the addition of a gold, five pointed star, which sits exactly in the central space between the two heads. This flag was later adopted as the national flag of Albania after the defeat of the fascists on 29th November 1944. (The present national flag has exactly the same arrangement but without the gold star.)

The principal figure in this panel is a full length, left profile of a Partisan officer. He’s in a full partisan uniform, military jacket and trousers, with the jacket unbuttoned and the left edge being pulled away from his body by the action of his raised left arm. As is usual we know he’s a Communist as there’s a star on his cap – but he doesn’t have a scarf around his neck.

Hanging from his left shoulder, and going across his chest, is an ammunition belt. We can see three clips with five bullets each which are for the rifle he holds in his right hand. We can’t see it but his right arm is fully extended downwards and he must be holding the rifle around the trigger mechanism as we only see the spurting end of the barrel and a small piece of the strap attached to the wooden stock.

The rifle could be a Delaunay-Belleville Model 1907-15 (there’s an example of it in the National Historical Museum (National Liberation War room) in Tirana). The company was a luxury car maker before the First World War but went into war production after 1914. The fact that the Partisans used, in the main, either such old weapons or those they took off the fascist invaders (first Italian and the German) gives an indication of the nature of the force that destroyed Nazism in Albania – using anything and everything to defeat the invaders.

On the belt around his waist there’s a pistol holster thus indicating his officer status (as mentioned above when talking about the statue). His left arm is raised fully above his head and his partially open hand is indicating for all those behind him to come forward for battle.

Finally for this figure we can see that although in full military uniform he is wearing opinga on his feet – the traditional Albanian shoe with a distinctive turned up nodule at the toe.

Above the left shoulder of this officer we can see two partial faces of two male Partisans. Neither is wearing a cap. The figure at the back is the standard bearer as we can see his right hand gripping the flag pole just beneath where the material is attached to the pole. The other figure has a gun raised closed to his face as if he is aiming. Part of the gun is seen running parallel to the top of the officer’s shoulder and the end of the barrel appears behind his face, at the level of his mouth.

This could be a Bereta, 1938, 9mm calibre, automatic rifle. Again there’s one of those in a glass case in the Tirana National History Museum, just in front of the impressive ‘Death to Fascism’ mural. This would more than likely have been taken off a dead Italian invader earlier in the campaign.

The Partisan with the automatic rifle seems to be wearing the traditional trousers called tirq, which don’t quite extend to the ankle and are split the last few inches. He also appears to be barefooted.

Behind of, and seen below the raised arm of, the officer is a female fighter – the first of two on this panel. Her face is in profile, she has long hair (tied up) and she appears to be wearing a cap and I think there’s a hint of a star on the front of the cap. (The problem here is that wear and tear makes some of the detail difficult to make out.) She’s dressed in military uniform but all we can see is an ammunition clip (the same sort as we saw on the officer’s belt) at her waist. We can’t see anything else of her as she’s hidden by the other figures but we have to assume that she too is armed.

The next part I don’t fully understand. This is, if you like, a tableau within a tableau and is reminiscent of the sculpture in Permët Martyrs’ Cemetery called ‘Shoket – Comrades’ by Odhise Paskali.

In the centre is a male figure who has obviously recently been seriously injured as he is slumped backwards although still (just) on his feet. He is depicted as if he were crumbling, without the strength to stand up by himself. Both his knees are bent and his body is so close to the ground his left hand almost touches the earth. The reason he is not on the ground is that another of his comrades has his hands linked so that he provides a supportive loop around the body of his wounded comrade’s waist. The other reason the wounded Partisan is not on the ground is that a female fighter has her left hand gripping his left arm, high up by the armpit and we have to assume her other hand, unseen, is supporting him on his right side.

There is no evidence of any weapons for the two males and it’s difficult to make out exactly how they are dressed. They appear to be in uniform but the male really struggling to keep his comrade from falling down has the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbow. Again strangely, for me, he is also looking forward, in the direction of the advance rather than looking down at his comrade.

There’s also a difference in what they are wearing on their feet. The wounded man is wearing the opinga whilst the ‘healthy’ fighter has the more recognisable military boot.

The female Partisan is the only one we see in full face. In supporting the fallen soldier she has turned so that she is the only one not looking in the direction of the battle, whether taking place or about to start – although the injured Partisan indicates that bullets have already started to fly. She is also in full uniform, seems to be wearing boots but not a cap to cover her long hair. There are two straps coming from both her shoulders across her chest, one of which supports a bulging satchel resting on her left hip the other on the end of which is a huge rifle (almost like a cannon) the end of the barrel of which points to the edge of the panel.

What I don’t understand here is why are they supporting him in the middle of an attack. The bulging satchel indicates she might be a medic but the big rifle indicates she’s definitely a fighter and not a non-combatant. Are they, perhaps, taking the wounded man away from the action but if so, again, why? Yes you want to look after your fallen and injured comrades but if the two carrying the wounded man are also combatants then three, and not just one, fighter is being taken out of the fight at a crucial time. Perhaps he represents the last to die in the liberation of Tirana and only days away from the liberation of the whole country. Whatever the idea it’s a bit of a mystery to me – and something I’ve not come across elsewhere, as far as I can remember.

Finally we have more of a silhouette than a bas-relief. Between these last male and the female, and just above the body of the falling man, is the shape of another male Partisan. Again the figure is in left profile and appears to be in uniform, including a cap. But further than that it’s difficult to say.

Monument to the Partisan - Bas relief 2

Monument to the Partisan – Bas relief 2

If the story in the first bas relief is, at times, difficult to follow the second one is much more basic and straightforward. Here we also have seven partisans (this time all male) in a full on attack. Here no one is holding back and it’s full of action.

All seem to be in full Partisan uniform. Half of them have caps, with signs of the red star, but half do not.

Mallakaster Partisans - possibly 1943

Mallakaster Partisans – possibly 1943

(Here it might be worthwhile to say that before the beginning of the organised Partisan onslaught against the Italian invaders, following the Peze Conference of 16th September 1942, the Albanian forces were more of a guerrilla force. Their tactics were very much that of hit and run – and they were very successful at that even before the Conference. However, the Conference gave structure to the struggle and as part of that uniforms started to become more common. Whether that brings with it certain negatives is a debate for another time but what it did lead to was a more organised opposition and by the time of the liberation of Tirana, on 17th November 1944, most of the troops that entered the city would have been in uniform.)

At the front we have two Partisans, one kneeling one standing, both with their rifles on their shoulders and they are firing whilst looking through the sights. Those two are heavily armed, both have extra ammunition on their belts and the one who is kneeling has a pistol holster on his right hip.

Behind them, also standing and firing with his rifle at his shoulder, is another Partisan. Again heavily armed but this time with a grenade attached to his belt. This is, in fact, a Mills bomb, a British made grenade. This is the grenade that looks like a very small (yet lethal) pineapple. The end of the barrel of his rifle pokes out behind the standing marksman in the front rank.

As the British weren’t fighting the Nazis in mainland Europe until June 1944 – whilst the Albanian Communists had been fighting them for almost two years – the Partisans were more than happy to take any weapons that came their way. Consignments of Mills bombs were part of that ‘support’. The problem was that the British thought that by providing such assistance they had the right to determine what sort of society should be developed in Albania after the end of hostilities. The Albanians didn’t agree and had to endure decades of attempts by the British imperialists to subvert Albanian Socialism.

We only see part of the head of the next fighter so we can only speculate what he is doing, but probably the same as the first three.

The next figure is the most dynamic of the lot. The strap across his chest is for his rifle and the top of the barrel can be seen over his left shoulder. He is leaning back and his right arm is slightly bent but extended behind him. In his hand he holds a Mills bomb and his stance is one that will give his body the greatest chance of throwing the grenade with the greatest force to where he wants it to land. To make sure he is steady he has his legs wide apart giving extra stability as well as more force for his throw. As on the other panel there is a variation in the clothing and this ‘grenadier’ is wearing traditional tirq trousers (short of the ankle and split at the bottoms) as well as wearing the opinga. He is also the only one with his mouth open – announcing to the Nazis what they could expect from his British present.

Although he doesn’t wear a cap he has a scarf around his neck indicating, yet again, that he is a Communist. Always, on Albanian lapidars, the star and scarf, both of which would have been red, indicate a Communist. Although not all Partisans were Communists they were the majority in the National Liberation Front.

The next figure is also rushing forward, indicated be the bottom edge of his jacket being thrown back in his haste. This allows us to see that he, too, has extra rifle ammunition clips (two) on his belt. But he’s not seen with a rifle but with another grenade.

However, this is not one ‘kindly donated’ by the British, this one is a present he is returning to the original owners as this is a German made stick grenade. He isn’t ready to throw yet so he just grips it tightly in his right hand, his arm extended downwards. The advantage the stick grenade had over the British version (unless the thrower was good at cricket) was that the long stick provided a lever motion and so increased the distance thrown. However, its size went against it as less could be carried. But here we are shown that the Partisans used weapons from all sources, none being rejected.

Finally, and barely discernible, behind the two grenadiers is part of the head of another male Partisan. The star can be made out on his cap but there’s little else that can be said about him.

Establishing the artistic ‘tropes’

The ‘Monument to the Partisan’ was, as I’ve already said, the very first true sculptural lapidar. The sculptor, Andrea Mano, also spent a great deal of his working life teaching his art – first in a High School and then at the finest Art School in the country, the University of Arts in Tirana (from 1954-1982) – and therefore coming into contact with the young and upcoming, post-Liberation trained sculptors. So there’s no real surprise that some of the images he used in his early work re-appeared in an often more sophisticated manner.

Those artistic ‘tropes’ I think can be seen in this monument are;

the raised arm, often with the individual looking in the opposite direction to where the action was taking place, signalling for those unseen in the work of art to come and join the fight, battle or general struggle. This can be seen in the Arch of Drashovicë,

armed women, of all ages. If the lapidar (be it a sculpture, bas relief or mosaic) is telling a story of armed conflict then the women (if not all the men) will be armed. This references the fact that if women want true liberation they will have to be prepared to take arms to achieve and/or retain those gains. This can be seen in ‘The Albanians’ mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana, the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Lushnjë and the statue of Liri Gero, in the ‘Sculpture Park’ behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

the footwear telling a story. The traditional opinga mixing with the European boot (indicating the changing culture as well as a connection with the past), or even sometimes individuals will be barefooted, referencing the extreme poverty of a huge part of the population, yet still prepared to fight for freedom and liberation from oppression.

images of traditional clothing. This is similar to the issue with the footwear but from a slightly different angel. Clothing would indicate from which part of the country an individual might call home. This was in an effort to indicate to the viewer that the revolution, and the war against the invader, was something that involved all of the country, with its different ethnic groups. This also helped to show that the struggles involved men and women of all ages, with the older perhaps still hanging on to the traditional when it came to dress but prepared to fight together with the young with more modern ideas of fashion.

its quite interesting to see how often the clothing being shown as if it has been caught in the wind so as to give the impression of speed, especially when rushing to a battle. This was often seen in conjunction with ‘the hand calling to action’ motif.

Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that visiting the ‘Monument to the Partisan’ will mean you have seen all that the lapidars have to offer but it would be a good place to start to compare with any you might encounter in other parts of the country.

Inscription

Plaque on the Monument to the Partisan

Plaque on the Monument to the Partisan

If you look at the picture at the very top of this post you will notice the inscription (although the same wording) is different from what is in place today. I have no information about when the old, stand alone metal letters and numbers might have been removed. It might have been political vandalism at some time in the 1990s or it might have been simple theft – all societies will always have scumbags who will steal the smallest items for a minor profit – in the past, the present and the foreseeable future.

Whatever the fate of the inscription what is noticeable is that the star did not reappear on the replacement marble plaque. I have seen it in other locations, where a carved star will be at the top of the new plaque but not here. (I’ll have to write a post one day bringing together the fate of the ‘Communist Star’ in Albanian lapidars.) Here it might be enough to just say that for the reactionaries in Albania the Red Star is second only in the hate league table to Enver Hoxha. But as Chairman Mao said ‘To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing’.

The wording on the front of the monument, originally and at present is

in Albanian;

Populli i Tiranës partizanëve të rënë për çlirimin e kryeqytetit 28/X–17/XI/1944

which translates as;

The People of Tirana to the Partisans who fell during the Liberation of the capital, 28th October to 17th November 1944

Sculptor

Andrea Mano (1919-2000) was a pre-liberation sculptor, in the sense that he was born in 1919 and followed his education in Italy – before the Italians decided to invade Albania on 7th April 1939 as part of the Fascist plan to take control of Europe. That would seem to indicate he came from a relatively privileged background. He returned to Albania in 1942. I have no information whether he took an active part in the National Liberation War – or not. He couldn’t have been all that bad as, in 1946, he was given a scholarship to study in Zagreb, Yugoslavia – before Tito decided that he could take the country on a road to ‘Socialism’ different from that of the one indicated by Marxism-Leninism. This meant Mano had to return to Albania in 1948 and that must have been when he was awarded the commission for the Partisan Monument.

He was involved (together with Odhise Paskali and Janaq Paço) in the major sculpture of the equestrian Skanderbeu, which was installed in the central square in Tirana which bears his name in 1968 – the 500th anniversary of his death. In the process ousting the Soviet made statue of Joseph Stalin to a little bit down the road.

He was also one of the sculptors responsible for ‘The Four Heroines of Mirdita’ (1970) – together with Fuat Dushku, Perikli Çuli and Dhimo Gogollari. Tragically this amazing structure was one of the first victims of the reaction and was destroyed in 1993.

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Although he produced smaller works that have been displayed in the National Art Gallery in Tirana he seems to have devoted most of his time to the teaching of his craft.

Location

Sheshi Sulejman Pasha

Tirana

This square is behind the building that houses the Opera House and the National Library and also where the buses leave to go to the airport and those that will take you to the cable car of Dajti.

(This is just beside Rruga George W Bush – which makes me almost want to vomit to type the words. There’s even a statue to ‘GW’ in Fushe Krujë, can you believe it?)

GPS

41.32813901

19.82198697

DMS

41° 19′ 41.3004” N

19° 49′ 19.1531” E

Altitude

113.1m

More on Albania …..

Tskaltubo’s abandoned Spas, Springs and Sanatoria

Imereti

Imereti

Tskaltubo’s abandoned Spas, Springs and Sanatoria

Introduction

For reasons that can only be guessed at you can’t look at a British newspaper, go to the BBC website or by looking for information about the Georgian town of Tskaltubo without coming cross articles, pictures or videos about the ruined health spa buildings (which were hugely popular in Soviet times and even after the so-called ‘collapse of Communism’) in the town.

It’s not that these buildings have been in the condition they are found today for a short period of time. They fell into disrepair when relations turned sour between Georgia and Russia over the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which led to open warfare in August 2008. The fighting war only lasted 5 days but the consequences have been around for much longer.

One of those consequences which has had a direct impact on the town of Tskaltubo was the use of the former spa resorts and hotels as homes for some of the thousands of refugees.

I don’t know exactly in what state these buildings, some of them huge and which had been the holiday home for hundreds in their heyday, were in the summer of 2008 but a refugee crisis that could have been handled with some sort of compassion seems to have been left totally to individual initiative and lacking any semblance of organisation.

By that I mean to imply that those who arrived first took what was useful to themselves and there was no communal approach to make the fullest – and most efficient – use of the structures of the former hotels.

Under the ideology of the Soviet Union (when it could still have been considered a Socialist state) the emphasis in such establishments would have been placed on the communal areas. This would have meant that the lower floors (including basements) would have been devoted to dining and concert rooms, general meeting areas and facilities for leisure activities (such as cinemas and theatres) and extensive kitchens to cater for so many people in a relatively short space of time.

It would have been on the upper floors where the bedrooms would have been found – but they were likely not all to have had en suite facilities (this was an invention even the likes of Britain took some time to adopt) and certainly no means of cooking.

Yet these were the spaces the refugees rushed to and which they then adapted to cater for the individualistic lifestyle they were attempting to establish. No doubt, in the process, any useful materials would have been looted from the communal areas below making them virtually useless at any time in the immediate future.

By all accounts there were many more refugees from the conflict in Tskaltubo than there are now but I visited at least seven of the old resort sanatoria which still had a substantial population in the autumn of 2019.

What dismayed me (but which the cretinous film crews and semi-professional photographers that have been swarming all over the place in recent times) was the very degradation and filth that characterises the communal areas. Some of this decay can be witnessed in the slide show a the end of this post. There could have been many more examples but I started to become both angry and depressed at recording such wanton vandalism and thoughtlessness that had made the living conditions of so many people so much worse.

I had the ‘opportunity’ of only visiting one person’s home – that of an old Abkhazian woman who tried to sell over-priced booze and cakes to any foreigner, like myself, who pointed a camera in the direction of the buildings. She was in the sanatorium I have called ‘It’s my business’ as I haven’t been able to discover its proper name and that was the phrase she used all the time during the few minutes I was in her ‘home’. I was given to believe that there are women like her in some of the other refugee occupied hotels.

It was truly sad to see how the fine entrance halls, staircases, dining and concert rooms – with decorated and vaulted ceilings – and the general communal areas had been allowed to arrive at such a state of filth and decay. Nothing that was considered communal was of consideration at all. This also meant there was no lighting in the entrances and stair wells meaning torches were a necessity once it got dark. Such a situation would do nothing in creating a feeling of safety and security

Wooden parquet flooring had been torn up, presumably to be burnt for cooking and/or heating. Anything of use on these lower floors – such as floorboards – had also been torn up leaving the surface below to degrade and in the process creating holes into the cellar. And the general lack of concern for an area that was ‘not their’s’ meant rubbish started to accumulate – and here I not just talking about historic rubbish but contemporary plastic drinks bottles. I suppose once the collective decision to live in shit has been accepted any more shit is neither here or there.

Broken water pipes and dangerous electrical wiring was everywhere and added to the build up of inflammable rubbish creating a haven for disease and vermin as well as storing up problems for the future.

The refugees from the 2008 war could have lived in relative luxury. They chose not to but to live in dirt and degradation.

But the Western European pricks with their expensive cameras and drones to provide an overall view of these once magnificent buildings don’t see anything other than an opportunity to demonstrate their cultural superiority.

But there’s also a political aspect of this highlighting of these sad ruins. Such a situation is always described with reference to the Soviet past implying that it was the Socialist system that was in some way responsible for the consequences of the present.

It is conveniently forgotten that even the Revisionist Soviet Union ceased to exist 30 years ago (and it hadn’t been a socialist country for more than 40 years before that), that in the years since the so-called ‘fall of Communism’ the ‘superior’ economic system of capitalism has singularly failed (as it could but not do) to resolve the ‘problems’ that existed under Socialism.

Even though the present Russian leadership and all its robbing hangers-on would have ended their days in a Siberian gulag at the time of Socialism they are considered to be tainted with the ‘evil’ of Communism. Any attack on Russia (as indeed is any attack on the now capitalist China – witness the way matters are being twisted over the management of the present (2020) coronavirus crisis when if it had broken out in the capitalist west free market economic forces would have prevented any effective measures to contain the outbreak – can anyone believe that any British government would put London in lock down?) has nothing to do with what policies they are pursuing at the present time but a propaganda effort to make sure that they get punished for being the first country that had the effrontery to challenge the capitalist system and establish a workers and peasants socialist republic.

And the targets for this denigration of any idea of establishing revolutionary socialism are the very people whose only long term guarantee of freedom from exploitation and oppression is the making of such a revolution – that is the workers and peasants of the world.

At the same time it has to be recognised that there are some very strange examples of how those people who had been brought up in a socialist system react to the environment around them when those systems (for various reasons) have collapsed.

Present day Albania is a prime example where the people seemed to have accepted the destruction of the very economic basis of their country for nothing in return. There’s a definable correlation between the vast migration of Albanians from their country to elsewhere in the world to the existence of an almost limitless number of abandoned and looted factories in the country. Added to that the division of the land into small plots virtually killed off a national agriculture.

But it isn’t just in the post-Communist countries that we see people destroying the vestiges of a past social system and reverting to a more basic economy. When the Roman Empire retreated from Britain in the 4th century the remaining Britons were incapable of taking any lessons from the invaders and reverted to a life style similar to what they had followed more than 400 years before. Lessons in hygiene and sanitation which the Romans had developed (of course only for a few) were forgotten and diseases related to such poor or non-existent sanitation were to kill millions in the subsequent centuries – cholera doing its worse well into the 19th century in Europe.

A look at some of the buildings, both those being now used as refugee accommodation and those that were visiting Soviet workers would visit to take ‘advantage’ of the curing radon infused waters and mud.

Sanatorium Aia

Aia

Aia

This is one of the newer buildings that make up the whole complex of Tskaltubo, i.e., constructed in the 1960s or 70s when demand for places at the spa town continued to rise.

As is the case in all the buildings the gardens and approaches immediately surrounding Aia hasn’t been cared for in years. The ground floor which housed the communal areas and dining rooms had been stripped of anything decorative and all you are left with is the bare concrete floors. Where it was coming from I don’t know but there was a lot of standing water. This water would have come from inside the building suggesting that the pipes (fresh water or sewage) are not in the condition they should be. I would also have thought a breeding ground for mosquitoes in the summer.

Aia also demonstrates something which is common in all the buildings, some of the finest dating back to the 1940s (or earlier), and that is the efforts to grab more living and storage space from the limited amount available. Many of the balconies had been blocked in with various scraps of wood or metal thus grabbing a few more square metres for the inhabitants.

Aia is basically a shanty town in the air.

Another common addition was the satellite dishes. I haven’t seen a great deal of Georgian television but I would be surprised if they are served up anything more edifying than the mind-numbing generic productions that dominate most country’s TV output.

As I was walking around this building the woman who directed me to the decoration in the old dining room also suggested that I go to the first floor where there was a woman who would sell the chacha and cake. Each building, it seems, has one.

The Tile Mosaics

Aia - Grape Harvest

Aia – Grape Harvest

I don’t know why but I was expecting more internal decoration in the hotels than was the reality. Previous to my visit to Aia I seen the facade of Spring No. 6 – which has the bas relief depicting a visit of Joseph Stalin to the town. Many of the older buildings do have the lavish use of marble, parquet flooring, chandeliers and a general feeling of opulence but there was no real presence of the Socialist Realist art that I was expecting. Apart from at Aia – where there are two examples.

The first is in the area that would have been the dining room where one wall is covered with colourful tiles depicting the whole of the wine growing process. In the centre, and by far the largest characters, are two young Georgian woman reminiscent of the statue of Mother Georgia in the hills above Tbilisi. There is some damage, some of it which looks deliberate, but considering the circumstances in which the mosaic has to cope it is in a surprisingly good shape. There’s no protection from the elements, the damp conditions can’t help and it can get cold in Tskaltubo in the winter.

There’s another tile mosaic high up on the wall that would have looked down on the hotel’s garden. This depicts musicians and dancers in traditional Georgia dress. Unfortunately, this has not fared as well as the one in the dining room, many tiles have fallen away and it also shows signs of serious staining and water damage.

Sanatorium Imereti

Imereti

Imereti

This was one of the grand creations of the early days of Tskaltubo as a spa resort. Built slightly up the hill from the main park which was the location of the bath houses Imereti is a neo-classical structure – not the utilitarian of the later Aia.

To approach the main entrance the visitor had to go up a sweeping, double set of steps to arrive at an imposing facade. Once in the building the entrance hall has marble classical columns which direct the visitor to a wide and high staircase that would lead to the bedroom floors.

At one end there is a rotunda that housed a concert room with a vaulted ceiling and an internal circle of narrow columns, breaking up the space.

It would have been an impressive sight to a visiting Soviet worker. Now it’s a ruin in which no one should live – not even the cow that was feeding when I visited.

At the back of the building was a square where visitors would have congregated on warm summer evenings but now some of the space has been used as small vegetable gardens and the communal clothes washing area.

Sanatorium ‘It’s my business’

'It's my business' Spa Hotel

‘It’s my business’ Spa Hotel

Try as I might I haven’t (yet) discovered the true name of this building – hence the nickname based on the phrase used by the Abkhazian woman I met on my visit.

This is another of the really large and impressive early buildings. (Although I haven’t seen any dates for the construction of all the spa buildings a large commemorative urn that sits on a table in the main entrance to Spring No. 6 has pictures of many of the spas in Tskaltubo in full operation. The urn is dated 1961. The later Revisionist leaders of the Soviet Union went for utilitarianism rather than style.)

This takes its influence from early Italianate buildings, with large blocks of stone being used at the lower level and the square column topped towers that rise up on either side of the main entrance.

Apart from the ‘standard’ large communal rooms there are internal patios (with now derelict fountains) at the back together with roof gardens. Now all filthy with mould and overgrown with weeds.

It’s a long time since the lift in the main entrance was used and various side rooms are being used as plastic rubbish bins.

One interesting external decoration is the bas relief (I assume metal) high up on the east wall of the building, looking down on the terracotta mosaic of telephone workers.

Sanatorium Medea

Medea Sanatorium

Medea Sanatorium

This is one of the most impressive of the sanatorium which takes its architectural influence from the classical period. In a sense the area of the main entrance is purely decorative and serves little function. It’s more the impression the visitor got (and still gets – even though now in disrepair) when approaching the building.

The stone clad circular entrance has an external stair on either side which leads to a first floor colonnaded area. This is open on all sides and serves, really, no practical purpose. From here there is access to the main building but everything appears somewhat mundane after the initial reaction provided by the approach from the road. If this area does have any practical use it’s as a viewing platform of the area of the park and the hills around Tskaltubo.

As in some of the other hotels there are also patios and roof areas where visitors in the past would have enjoyed the summer warmth.

The not so interesting accommodation which is off to the left of the main decorative entrance is yet another that is being occupied by refugees. I can only imagine that the conditions on the lower floors are the same as in the places already mentioned. After a while it gets draining and depressing going into the different buildings to witness the same level of decay. It becomes even more depressing when you know that these are peoples’ homes and that some have been there for years and it seems an intrusion to constantly make a record of the squalor which surrounds them.

(I perhaps haven’t mentioned that there are a number of the old hotels which are completely empty of any refugees – or any other occupants with problems in finding a proper home – which are like blots on the landscape of the town. There is supposed to be an intention to develop some of these buildings but some are so huge and the clientele numbers will never reach anything like what was achieved during Soviet times that so many of these plans will remain pipe dreams.)

In front of Medea’s accommodation block there’s a small, circular fountain which is surprisingly deep considering there would have been many children in the area. Obviously this fountain is nothing more than a dirty, waterless hole now and the statues (of a young girl on an ‘island’ in the centre and four young, naked boys kneeling on the rim) are in reasonable, if not perfect, condition.

Sanatorium North-west

North-west Sanatorium

North-west Sanatorium

This is another building whose true name I have been unable to discover. It sits just outside the main park, in the north-west, beside the road that goes around the park. This one was, in fact, the first one I visited and it didn’t look that bad from a short distance, much of the building being shielded by the mature pine trees that separate the building from the road.

Once close up the same signs of decay mentioned before emerge. Like many of these hotels the entrances are impressive this one having a stone balustraded stairway on both sides of a small (now totally ruined) fountain, reached by a few flights of steps from the road.

The two storied building to the right of the entrance would have been the communal area and is a total ruin, to the extent that all the windows have been removed. On top there’s an open yet covered roof patio, again providing an outside area to enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Where there are people living they have followed the same practices as already mentioned. All of these buildings are architecturally unique but they have been reduced to the lowest common denominator by the addition of the makeshift additions and adaptations as well as the ubiquitous satellite dishes.

Sanatorium Iveria

Sanatorium Iveria

Sanatorium Iveria

This is the sanatorium which is located furthest from the main park and the area of the baths but in many ways is one of the most attractive. There are not that many pictures of this building in the slide show as after I had squeezed my way through the corrugated sheets supposedly preventing access I didn’t have much enthusiasm to explore more.

I assume that this building would have been used to house refugees in the past but there is no one living there now. Added to that all the doors and windows have been removed so this might have been a tactic used by the local/national authorities to prevent the re-colonisation of these buildings when the previous inhabitants had either been rehoused somewhere more appropriate of had found an alternative themselves.

Unique in its design it has hexagonal stairwells at various points along the facade which are surmounted by small columned, hexagonal towers. The main entrance door is very distinctive in that it is under a very tall columned loggia, which extends two floors in height.

The ground floor entrance and the beginning of the main staircase is also in a better condition than many, much of the blue paint of the walls remaining as well as the plaster work on the ceiling being in a good condition. Probably why it has appeared in most articles about these sad buildings.

Spas, Springs and Baths

As well as the hotels a number of the spas, that are predominantly located in the central park, have also fallen into disrepair. These are in a different category to the hotels and resorts that were used to house refugees after the Russian-Georgian conflict. Tensions between the two countries increased, the spas and bath-houses that were built to cater to thousands were receiving fewer and fewer visits and after the war there was no where for them to stay.

Present day visitors can still take the water (and mud) treatments in Springs No. 1, No 3 and No 6. Numbers 1 and 3 are relatively modest buildings where Spring No. 6 is a much larger and grander structure. It is also the Spa that contains the extremely luxurious spa that Stalin used on his visits to the town.

Spring No. 4

Spring No. 4

Spring No. 4

There’s not a great deal that can be said about Spring No 4. It’s a one level, square building, probably built in the 1950s but today (of all the buildings from the glory days of the Soviet Union) it is the most difficult to enter and it is protected by substantial locked gates. Whether it is hiding some particular gem I have yet to discover. It can be found at the northern end of the park, close to the Palace of Sport.

Spring No. 5

Spring No. 5

Spring No. 5

Spring No. 5 is a little bit more decorative that No. 4 – probably indicating it was built some years earlier.

As I type this I start to think that probably the change in the architectural styles indicate the the simpler, concrete structures, of both the hotels and the spas, were part of Khrushchev’s attack on the Socialist developments that were achieved under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The magnificent Metro stations that were in major cities such as Moscow and Leningrad also started to become more mundane and ‘normal’. This change in approach started very soon after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (of 1956) where Khrushchev – in a secret speech – denounced the great Marxist-Leninist leader of the party and implicitly all that had been achieved in the years since 1917.

The words Khrushchev and culture didn’t, and still don’t, really belong in the same sentence. He had no concept that what was produced for the workers and peasants should have been as good, well constructed and attractive as – or even better – than that produced for the wealthy. But he was a mere manager and started the thinking in the Soviet Union that was to soon lead it to revert to being a bastion of capitalism – even when under the name of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

It’s the largest of the abandoned springs and is second only to number 6 in size. The impressive loggia over the front, principle entrance is its main attraction but the large, individual tile faced baths which shoot off from the main corridor indicate it was a centre for water treatment.

Spring No. 8

Spring No. 8

Spring No. 8

Spring No. 8 is another interesting construction. Probably from the late 1950s it’s a low, one level, circular building which doesn’t seem to have a special entrance. In the middle of the concrete ceiling there would have been a large glass dome (long gone), both bringing in natural light and the heat when the sun was shining.

The very layout and decoration of this building indicates to me that it was designed for children. They could play in the warm waters, supervised, whilst their parents might have been having treatment for whatever their medical ailment might have been.

Tskaltubo's Springs and Sanatoria

Tskaltubo’s Springs and Sanatoria

 

 

 

Click on image to download a much larger pdf version

 

 

Key to Map

  • 1 Sanatorium Iveria
  • 2 Sanatorium Shakhtar
  • 3 Sanatorium Imereti
  • 4 Sanatorium ‘It’s my business’
  • 5 Sanatorium Metallurgist
  • 6 Sanatorium North- west
  • 7 Spring No. 4
  • 8 Spring No. 5
  • 9 Sanatorium Savane
  • 10 Spring No. 8
  • 11 Sanatorium Medea
  • 12 Sanatorium Aia
  • 13 Sanatorium Sakartvelo

 

Enver Hoxha returns to Tepelene

Enver Hoxha with the people of Tepelene

Enver Hoxha with the people of Tepelene

More on Albania

Enver Hoxha returns to Tepelene

although he probably never left, just ‘hiding’ for a while.

Almost thirty five years after his death and thirty years since the reaction was able to gain control in Albania it is very difficult to come across public images of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the country for just over forty years. In the 1990s the reactionaries needed to personalise any difficulties in the country and someone who had been dead for five years was an ideal candidate – even to the extent that Comrade Hoxha was considered responsible for events that had happened after his death. So he had to disappear from view.

This was not something new and peculiar to Enver Hoxha or Albania. Joseph Stalin was held personally responsible for anything considered untoward whilst leader of the Soviet Union. How a single person can be held personally responsible for everything that happens in a country that covered one sixth of the Earth’s land mass is something I have never understood. At the same time this ‘superman’ with God-like qualities is denigrated by Trotskyite neo-fascists as being an ignorant Georgian peasant.

Some of the ignoramuses who state things would have developed differently in the Soviet Union if Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had not died (partially as a result of the part of an assassins bullet still being lodged in his brain) prematurely in 1924 just don’t understand either the man or the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Such people who indulge in these ‘what if’ scenarios are often superficial in their approach and especially in the case of Lenin display a total ignorance of what a strong leader he was and how he knew – long before Chairman Mao put it in poetic language – that ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’. Hard acts and decisions are needed to reverse centuries of exploitation and oppression and the stultifying effect this has on the thinking of those on the receiving end of such treatment, i.e., the vast majority of the world’s population.

But it is always easy to blame an individual and even more so when they are not around to defend themselves. It’s also useful for reactionaries (and here I’m talking about both the ‘capitalist roaders’ – to use another term from Chairman Mao – who might have hidden themselves within the Party structure just waiting for a chance to show their true colours and the reactionaries who had hidden themselves in some hole just waiting for the chance to get their revenge on a system that had deprived them of their wealth and power – the latter group always having assistance and support from those countries of the so-called ‘capitalist west’) to personalise matters as that means there’s no real discussion about ideology, either the past or the future.

Successive governments in Albania – when the country wasn’t at its own throat in an almost open civil war or depriving a huge number of relatively poor people of whatever savings they might have had due to criminal pyramid/ponzi schemes – have displayed an unbelievable propensity for corruption. And to divert attention away from their criminal activities of the past and present (and they hope for the future) they heap all manner of calumnies upon the leader, and ruling Party, of the past.

But after thirty or more years blaming everything on persons who are either dead or out of any position to determine events starts to wear thin.

The first Socialist state (which was established in Russia in 1917 and which became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – USSR) was established in a world where the overwhelming majority of the population had been oppressed and exploited by various social systems for thousands of years. Changing the relationships of the people to the means of production was a difficult enough task but to change ideas was even more so. Yet within a matter of months, in the new Soviet state, those peasants who might have taken advantage of the chaos that accompanied the Civil War were pointed at and highlighted as ‘Communists exploiting the situation’. (Here I’m referring to photographic images with captions such as ‘Communists selling human flesh’ during the worse days of the Civil War – if not caused by certainly sponsored by the previously warring parties of the 1914-1919 War.)

The stupidity of such an assertion – that those who had never encountered Socialist ideas before and more than likely were illiterate would become clear thinking and committed Communists in a matter of days – shouldn’t really need to be refuted. However, the world is full of stupid people who will lap up such dross as a hungry dog eats its own vomit.

But when those Socialist societies tragically collapse (due to a mixture of both internal and external contradictions) and the world is ‘opened up’ to the population of those countries to enjoy the ‘benefits of capitalism’ they find that all that was promised on the other side of the rainbow is not quite what they expected, in fact it was all a con.

There was a price to pay for all those promises and when it was paid the wherewithal to achieve the capitalist dream was denied to huge sectors of the population. From being members of a Socialist society where they were the owners of all they became mere cogs in the capitalist machine where a privileged few were in real control and only a mere handful could ‘raise themselves from their menial position’ and get to have a real feed at the trough. But the more the few stuffed themselves the less there was for the majority.

In Albania, apart from taking out their frustration on statues of Enver Hoxha, especially in Tirana and Gjirokaster, the population (probably egged on by foreign supported neo-fascist forces) decided to destroy virtually all the means of production. This resulted in factories being looted of anything of any value and in every town and city, now 30 years later, there are still the empty shells of these one time thriving factories.

When I first went to Albania in 2011 I couldn’t really understand this. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get my head around why, if people for whatever reason don’t like a social system they then destroy the places where they used to work. If they thought the Party of Labour of Albania wasn’t allowing them the full rights to control their factories why didn’t they take them over and run them themselves? If they were tired of having the responsibility of making decisions and having to think for themselves why didn’t they just turn the factories over to those who would be quite happy to exploit the workers ‘in the good old fashioned capitalist manner’. Then at least they would have work.

One argument given to me as some sort of excuse for such actions was that the machinery was old and needed replacement. That might well have been the case due to the country’s forced isolation but that doesn’t mean the solution is to loot everything and leave a useless shell. That doesn’t make sense in any society. This was especially so as in the 1980s workers in Britain were occupying factories when the owners wanted to close them down. Why this great divide between the intentions and activities of the workers in the two different countries?

In Albania they just destroyed the means of production and then realised there was nothing for them to do but leave the country in order to be able to keep their families alive. So in the 1990s vast numbers of workers went to various neighbouring countries but mainly (at least initially) to Italy and Greece. And this continues to this day – although the crisis that followed the capitalist disaster of 2008 has had an effect on that once reasonably easy form of making a living.

But thirty years on capitalism has not turned Albania into a thriving country – as was ‘promised’. But then capitalism never has, doesn’t now and never will provide for the vast majority of the population. Even in the countries of the so-called ‘prosperous industrialised world’ we see vast differentials in the incomes of their populations and the next capitalist crisis is always around the corner – each one more severe than the last.

So a generation after the ‘fall of Communism’ (six generations if you are a Scottish nationalist) some people are starting to think that perhaps they threw out the baby with the bath water in the 1990s.

This is not just a recent revelation. In my travels in Albania since 2011 I have met a number of people who bemoan what they allowed to happen. Yes, they were isolated (I would argue that was not Albania’s fault but the hostility of the capitalist and revisionist world which was annoyed that such a small country held on to its principled stand in the face of such fierce and overwhelming opposition) and yes, perhaps they didn’t have all the consumer goods that seemed to be falling from heaven in the capitalist countries.

But they did have a functioning and effective health system free for all, they did have an equally free education system, there were guaranteed jobs – which came with apprenticeships and training – they had a society that was functioning and where the majority of the family would be in the country, they did have enough to eat (although toward the end of the 1980s the chaos that was being whipped up by reactionary elements meant that supply routes were continually being disrupted).

This has been a long introduction to a post which announces that Enver Hoxha is now starting to appear in (still a few) public locations in the country. The damaged large, white, marble bust that appeared behind the National Art Gallery a couple of years ago has now been unwrapped – even if the sculpture does have a broken nose. And the general area is now easily accessible to visitors (after years of me having to time my approach when the security guard was otherwise engaged) and the area is generally clean. That doesn’t mean that the ‘well-informed’ local guides don’t spout the same anti-Socialist, anti-Communist, anti-Hoxha line but visitors can appreciate some of the culture of the Socialist era.

And in 2020 the picture at the head of this post was visible to any visitors to the Tepelene (in the south of the country) historical museum.

Right at the back of the museum, attached to the room that commemorates the struggle of the Albanian people in the War of National Liberation against the Italian fascists and then the German Nazis, is a small room (I am almost certain in its original condition, i.e., pre 1990) which contains this picture of Enver Hoxha during a visit to the town of Tepelene. As well as the painting there are boards pinned to the wall that celebrate the achievements of the Albanian people in various fields such as industry, agriculture, health, education and social well being.

The painting bears the name of Aljosha Billbilli and is dated 1985 which indicates it could have been commissioned following Comrade Enver’s death in April of that year. It shows the leader of the Party looking down across the Vjosa River with the mountain range that separates Gjirokaster and Permet in the background.

Across the river can be seen terraces which had been constructed in the Socialist period, now no longer in use as individual, small holder farming (which is what exists in the vast majority of the country) doesn’t allow for the labour power to maintain such collective systems. Terraces also need irrigation which is another collective enterprise.

As is often the case in Albanian Socialist paintings there is a representation of the different ethnic backgrounds of the people of the area. This is shown primarily through their dress but also by their physical characteristics. Being a small country Albania presents a huge variety of ethnic types.

It’s not possible to exactly place the location of the picture but there’s a lapidar alongside the road that skirts the town of Tepelene which offers a very similar aspect to the one in the painting.

So if you are in the vicinity of Tepelene (and most visitors to the country will be as Gjirokaster, one of the most visited towns is a mere 30 minutes or so down the road) then call in to the Tepelene Museum, just up a few steps up the hill on the left where the road, on entering the town, widens on the approach from Gjirokaster or Permet.

Unfortunately opening times of the museum can be slightly erratic but it should be open during the early part of the day from Monday to Friday.

Tepelene Historical Museum - Pickaxe and Rifle

Tepelene Historical Museum – Pickaxe and Rifle

One other aspect of the museum building which is quite unique is the symbol of the Party of Labour of Albania on the facade, just above the main entrance.

This is a metal image of a Pickaxe and Rifle (which can also be seen on the top of the building which used to be the Party’s headquarters in Peshkopia). The idea here is that Socialism will be built by the labour of the workers but the new social system needs to be prepared to use arms in order to defend what has already been gained. Capitalism never rests when it sees that it’s control of various parts of the world has been, is and will be challenged and a strong and determined response is crucial for the survival of the Socialist system. Joseph Stalin and Enver Hoxha were very clar and united on this matter.

That’s why, to repeat what I’ve already stated above, ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’ and once down the road of the construction of Socialism there are certain steps that need to be taken if the attainment of Communism is to be achieved.

More on Albania