Everything you want – or need – to know about Albania ….

Guardians of the country - 1969 - Spiro Kristo

Guardians of the country – 1969 – Spiro Kristo

Everything you want – or need – to know about Albania ….

…. or almost. If not already it is hoped in the not too distant future to be able to answer many questions people might have about the small Balkan country that has been the centre of conflict for centuries.

What follows are links to pages or posts that try to fill in the gaps of peoples’ knowledge of a country that was vilified for trying to maintain a real independence in the face of severe difficulties caught up, as it was, in the ideological struggle within the International Communist Movement which saw breaks first with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1961 and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1978.

Socialist Albania

The overwhelming emphasis is upon the period from the beginning of the National Liberation War against fascism in 1942 to the success of the counter-revolution in 1990. Here you will find links to material that tells you about the history of Albania; the history of the Party of Labour of Albania (the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party that led the Albanian people in the fight against the fascist invaders and then towards the construction of Socialism from 1944-1990); documents produced by the Party of Labour of Albania which give an idea of how the party saw the construction of socialism in an Albanian context as well as comments on the developments within the International Communist Movement; the writings of Enver Hoxha, the great Marxist-Leninist leader who led the Party and the country after liberation in November 1944 until his death in April 1985; be able to read many (still unfortunately not all) of the issues of the monthly political and informative review Albania Today, from 1971 to 1990; various issues of the bi-monthly, large format, political, social and cultural illustrated periodical New Albania; views of Albania and its efforts to construct socialism whilst under great threat from the encircling capitalist, revisionist and imperialist countries from fraternal parties and friendship organisations in countries throughout the world; and some of the writings of the last leader of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, Ramiz Alia.

Art as a means of promoting Socialism

All those countries that achieved a socialist revolution – and were led by parties that followed the Marxist-Leninist ideology (and for me there are only really four; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania (PSRA) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV)) – realised the importance of art as a propaganda tool to promote socialist ideals and to counter the propaganda of capitalism. Each country produced that art with their own national characteristics and that produced in Albania was particularly unique and extensive, covering many aspects of the plastic arts.

Socialist Realist Art in Albania

When I first visited Albania in November 2011 I hadn’t been there too long before I realised a number of things about the monuments that had been constructed during the socialist period (1944-1990). The first was that there were a lot of them – at that time I didn’t realise just how many. Secondly, that some of them were quite remarkable, and unique, examples of Socialist Realist Art and, thirdly, they were all in danger, whether it be through ignorance, simple neglect or vandalism – be it ‘official’ (as an expression of political hatred, as has already happened in a number of cases, such as the Five Heroes of Vig in Shkoder and more recently The Four Heroines in Mirdita) or ‘unofficial’ – some people destroy because they are themselves unable to create.

The Albanian Lapidar Survey (ALS)

This was the most comprehensive survey ever carried out which documented as many as possible of the lapidars (monuments) that were still in existence at the time of the survey in March 2014. The survey recorded the physical state of the monuments (some badly damaged and neglected) and added any other pertinent information available – such as artists involved, date of inauguration, exact location using GPS technology, etc. – as well as creating an extensive photographic record of their condition at the time.

Following the survey three volumes were published, both in physical form as well as a downloadable pdf. Volume 1 contains a number of articles introducing the concept of the lapidars and their role within Albanian Socialist society. These articles appear in both Albanian and English. This volume also contains the information of the 659 lapidars that were recorded at the time. (A number of others have since been added.)

Volume 2 includes one or two photos of each lapidar in the northern part of the country, Volume 3 in the southern part – the dividing line being set at N40º42’38”.

The lapidars here are listed in the order they appeared in the list of the ALS.

ALS 5 – Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini

The representation of the last military action of Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini in Albanian Socialist realism is an interesting one as it has been depicted in a number of formats so offers a (possibly) unique opportunity to compare how the event has been presented to the Albanian people, history and posterity. Although the sacrifice of the three is commemorated it is Vojo Kushi who is in the forefront of these representations, his last action of storming an Italian tank being an act of bravery that has transcended even the counter-revolution of the 1990s.

ALS 8 and 12 – National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana

The National Martyrs’ Cemetery, Tirana, is the most important monument to those who fell in the struggle against Italian and German Fascism between 1939 and 1944. It’s also the location of one of the largest examples of Socialist Realist sculpture in the country – Mother Albania.

ALS 13 – Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

Although the plan is to attempt to record all the monuments from the socialist period in Albania’s history there are, and will be, occasions when I will have arrived too late. Either the ‘democrats’ (a mixture of monarchists and neo-fascists) have got there first and destroyed the works of Socialist Realist art as it represents all that they despise and fear – such as any of the statues of Enver Hoxha – or those lumpen elements who see only scrap value in a piece of metal – that has led to the damage to the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig in the northern city of Shkodër. Destruction and vandalism has been the fate of the Monument to the Artillery in the hills to the south of Tirana, close to the town of Sauk.

ALS 17 – Monument to Heroic Peze

Looking like a cross between a pistol and a huge road sign, the Monument to Heroic Peze sits at the junction to the village of Peze, along the old road between Tirana and Durres. This huge block of concrete, in its imagery and words, tells the story of the important role that this small village played in the war against fascist occupation (both Italian and German), the formation of the National Liberation Front and the concept of People’s Power.

ALS 19 – Monument to the 22nd Brigade – Peze

The Conference of Peze, which took place in September 1942, was only possible as the Peze Çeta (Partisan Guerrilla Group) was so feared by the fascist invaders that they could provide a safe environment to enable the discussions on the formation of a National Liberation Front to take place. This was in a location only 20 kilometres from the capital of Albania, Tirana. As the war developed the organisational structure of the People’s Army changed and became more organised. After final liberation the efforts of these men and women started to be recognised throughout the country and hence the Monument to the 22nd ‘Shock’ Brigade.

ALS 20 – Peze War Memorial

The third major monument in the Peze Conference Memorial Park is the cemetery to those from Peze who fell during the anti-Fascist war of Independence. The Peze War Memorial is a short distance from the main area of the park and you could be excused for not knowing it’s there.

ALS 21 – Peze Conference Memorial Park

The Peze Conference on 16th September 1942 was important in establishing the organisational structure for the forthcoming struggle for liberation against the Fascist invaders, first the Italian and then, when Italy fell to the Allies, the Germans. This important meeting took place in the home of Myslym Peza who had a large house and land on the edge of the small village of Peze, about 20 kilometres south-west from Tirana and this is now the location of the Peze Memorial Park.

ALS 34 and 34 – Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery

Like many of its kind in Albania the Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery sits on a high location over the town. This is both to give due reverence to those who gave their lives in the National Liberation War as well as to reflect that the war itself was very much one that was won and (for the Fascists) lost in the mountains.

ALS 38 and 39 – Qukës-Pishkash Star

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

ALS 98 and 100 – Monument to the First School and a Martyrs’ Lapidar – Proger

As is the case in many towns and villages in the UK (and also in Western Europe) where it’s common to come across a war memorial (originally for the war of 1914-18/9, the ‘War to end all wars’ but which became only Part 1) this is also the case in Albania. At the time of the National Liberation War from 1939-44 the population of the country was a little more than a million and so it’s no surprise that the ‘Martyrs’ (as they are known in Albania) came from even the smallest places. Progër is no different in that case. What makes the village different is the substantial lapidar commemorating the First Communist Party Cells. This small village, off the main road, also has a Monument to the First School and a Martyrs’ Lapidar.

ALS 99 – Proger – First Party Cell of the PKSH

The majority of the lapidars throughout Albania celebrate the events of the National War of Liberation and those who fought and died in that struggle. Others celebrate and commemorate events in the period of the construction of Socialism but there are few (probably a surprise to many) that are specifically devoted to the Communist Party of Albania (later the Party of Labour of Albania). One such – I only know of one other and that’s on the facade of the museum in Ersekë – is to the First Party Cell of the PKSH in the small village of Progër, close to Billisht and Korçë, not far from the border with Greece in the south-east of the country.

ALS 121 – Martyrs’ Cemetery, Korçë

Many of the martyrs’ cemeteries in Albania are situated on hills above the towns and villages and this is certainly the case with the Martyrs’ Cemetery, Korçë, where the highest point is a fair hike from the centre of the town below. However, it’s worth the effort as, on a clear day, you have a fine view of the town, the fertile valley below and the mountains to the west as well as a fine example of Socialist Realist Art.

ALS 166 – Resistance – Monument to the struggle against Fascist invasion in Durres

Being the main port of invasion by the Italian Fascists on 7th April 1939 it’s not a surprise that in commemoration of that event, and especially the resistance that was shown by a significant proportion of the population (but not the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog who ran away as soon as the Italian ships came into sight) that there are a few monuments to this, constructed in the Socialist period. One is to the individual sacrifice of Mujo Ulqinaku (that used to stand close by the Venetian tower at the bottom end of town) and the other is to the general principle of ‘Resistance’ in Durrës, which is located right next to the waterfront and very likely one of the places the Italian fascists would have landed.

ALS 167 – Mujo Ulqinaku – Durrës

The first shots in Albania’s National Liberation War (although it wasn’t called that at the time) were fired on 7th April 1939 when the Italian Fascist forces invaded the port city of Durrës (as well as other locations along the coast). For years the country, ruled by the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog I (even before he was dead he was planning a dynasty!) had been a puppet state of the Italian Fascists and when the invasion did take place no official structure was in existence to defy the invaders. It was therefore left to brave individuals, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, to take up the banner of resistance. His sacrifice is commemorated by a monument close to the coast where the invasion took place.

ALS 168 – Durres War Memorial

The overwhelming number of Socialist Realist monuments in Albania are constructed from either concrete or bronze. However, there are occasional variations from this norm and there are a few mosaics (though not on the massive scale of ‘The Albanians’ on the National History Museum in Tirana) including those in Bestrove, Llogara National Park and at the Durrës War Memorial.

ALS 194 – 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.

ALS 244 – Shoket – Comrades – Permet

Shoket – Comrades – was one of the early sculptures to be placed in the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania, a simple monolith (lapidar) being the most common form of monument. It is the work of Odhise Paskali and was inaugurated in 1964, the same time as the monument to the Permet Congress was unveiled in the main square of the town.

ALS 263 – Partisan and Child, Borove

The statue of a Partisan and Child, just beside the main road passing through the small village of Borove in the south-east of the country, is one of the most charming of Albanian monuments but its charm obscures a much darker story. That story is less obvious now than it was in 1968 when it was created, in a different location and part of a bigger tableau.

ALS 294 – ‘Skenderbeu’s Wars’ bas-relief in Gjirokaster

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

ALS 306, 307, 308 and 309 – Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery

Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania are situated on hills, sometimes quite high hills, in the vicinity of the cities and towns. This is the case with the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery which, when it was constructed, would have been clearly seen from the centre of the town, the area around Sheshi Pavarësia (Independence Square) and the Bashkia (Town Hall). Up to the 1990s the buildings weren’t that tall but subsequent construction of high-rise flats has meant that you don’t really see the cemetery until you’re almost upon it.

ALS 376, 392 and 393 – Martyrs’ Cemetery, Gjirokaster

There are a lot of mountains in Albania and they played a role in the success of the Communist led Partisan çeta (guerrilla groups) in defeating first Italian and then German Fascism. For that reason most of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries in Albania tend to be high above towns, in the surrounding hills, as is the case in Tirana. On my first visit to Gjirokaster I was, therefore, scanning the hills above the old town looking for the tell-tale signs of a white lapidar indicating the location of the cemetery.

ALS 395 – Education Monument – Gjirokastra

There’s a unique lapidar in Gjirokaster, in southern Albania, which was erected to commemorate the struggle for education in the Albanian language when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. This monument to education is an obelisk in the shape of a stylised scroll, or a certificate rolled up, upon which are carved images depicting the struggles of the past as well as the intentions for the future. Its official name is ‘Obelisku kushtuar pionierëve të arsimit shqip’ (‘Obelisk dedicated to the pioneers of education in [the] Albanian [language]’.)

ALS 398 – Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra

Most of the monuments in Albania are not complex works of sculpture. Many are simple columns, with inscriptions, some of those being quite small. These are known as ‘Lapidars’ in Albania. (‘Lapidar’ doesn’t have a direct translation into English although ‘monolith’ is a possibility – and might even have a German root.) In between the monumental and the columns are stand alone statues and structures and the Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra, is one of those.

ALS 414 – Saranda War Memorial, Albania

Through its monuments and memorials you can tell a lot about a country, its history, its heroes, its respect for itself, the class relationships, the political balance of power, even the state of the economy.

ALS 416 – Five Fallen Stars Rise Again – Dema Monument

The monument at Dema (Manastir), just outside of Saranda in southern Albania, to those who died in the war of liberation against Fascism returns to something close to its original condition.

ALS 424 – Sarandë’s Martyrs’ Cemetery

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

ALS 438 – Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue

A journey along the valley of the Shushicë River is interesting under any circumstances, the road is rough in places (most places) but the view of the mountains and the countryside is astounding and makes the effort worth it. When you add the Arch of Drashovice 1920-1943 it’s almost an obligation.

ALS 438 – Arch of Drashovice 1920

The magnificent Arch of Drashovice is such an amazing structure with so much to tell us that I’m breaking the description up into three parts. This is the second and addresses the images relating to the battle in 1920 against the Italian invaders, a battle (and war) fought by an irregular army of peasants, workers and intellectuals against a heavily armed imperialist force.

ALS 438 – Arch of Drashovice 1943

If victory was only temporary in 1920 (due to the betrayal by the despot and usurper ‘King’ Zog) the success in 1943 led to a situation where, really for the first time in Albania, the people had the opportunity to build a life and a country for themselves, by themselves. With the expulsion of the Nazis at the end of November 1944 the country gained true independence and it was then for the people to take their own destiny into their hands. No longer could they put the blame on others. The battles that took place in September and October 1943, and which are depicted on the Arch of Drashovice, played a major role in that final victory.

ALS 477 – Bestrove Mosaic

Mosaics play a small part in the history of Albanian lapidars but when they do appear they do so in an impressive and memorable manner. Although not strictly a lapidar the most impressive is the huge the ‘Albanian’ mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana. Also interesting and worth a visit is the mosaic in the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Durrës. Each of these have their distinctive aspects and the mosaic, near the village of Bestrovë close to Vlorë, is another unique monument in its own right.

ALS 504 – Mushqete Monument – Berzhite

In the last days of the fight for the National Liberation of Albania by the Communist led Partisan army a crucial battle took place along the road from Elbasan to Tirana, south-east of the capital. To commemorate this battle the Mushqete Monument was erected at Berzhite.

ALS 675 – Bas Relief and Statue at Bajram Curri Museum

The early Albanian lapidars were relatively simple affairs, uncomplicated memorials to those who had died in the National Liberation War against Fascism and for Socialism. Come the Albanian ‘Cultural Revolution’ – starting in the late 1960s – the intention was to use such monuments in a much more educational manner as well as establishing a distinctive Albanian identity. This meant that artists who had been educated and trained under the Socialist regime were encouraged to depict events and memorials in a much more figurative manner. Examples of this approach are seen in the Musqheta monument in Berzhite and in the Peze War Memorial. As the Cultural Revolution moved into the 1980s a new approach developed. This was one where the monument told a story which had developed over time, showing a continuum of the struggle. This is seen, in a truly monumental manner on the Drashovice Arch (close to Vlora) and in the Albanians Mosaic on the façade of the National History Museum in Tirana but also on the more modest, at least in size, bas-relief and statue in the north-eastern town of Bajam Curri – although it also presents some new questions of the meaning of Socialist art.

ALS 675 – Five Heroes of Vig – Skhodër

Celebrating solidarity and the willingness towards self-sacrifice in the common cause the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig once stood in one of the central squares of Skhodër, in northern Albania. After a period ‘out in the wilderness’ – close to the city rubbish dump and subject to crass, petty thievery it has now found a new permanent home in the centre of a roundabout to the north of the city.

As time went by that search for, and recording of, the Albanian lapidars grew into a more general search and recording of other artistic works in the public domain. This included mosaics, bas-reliefs and group statues. On top of that were the works of art in the (few) remaining museums and art galleries.

Mosaics and bas reliefs

In order that the ALS didn’t become open ended many public works of art that had been created during the Socialist period (1944-1990) were not recorded. However, in my travels I have encountered many of these and have treated them in the same, hopefully, thorough manner as I have the ‘official’ lapidars.

‘The Albanians’ Mosaic, National Historical Museum, Tirana

‘The Albanians’ mosaic on National Historical Museum, Tirana, is one of the finest examples of late Albanian Socialist Realism still to be seen in the country.

Political Vandalism and ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic in Tirana

The wonderful and impressive ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic, which has looked down on Skenderbeu Square, in the centre of Tirana, from above the entrance of the National Historical Museum since 1982, is starting to show it’s age. Less it’s age, in fact, but really the signs of intentional neglect which is tantamount to an act of political vandalism.

The bas reliefs and mosaics of the Vlora Palace of Sport

Although they are being neglected, and sometimes need dedication and determination to view them, there are still a number of artistic works from the Socialist period on many of what would have been public buildings. The most impressive (and becoming one of the most neglected) is the grand mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana. Another example, which can easily be missed, is the bas-relief on both the north and south sides of the Palace of Sport in the town of Vlora. Even more easily missed are the two interior mosaics on either side of what would have been, in the past, the main entrance to this sports centre.

Bashkia Mosaic – Ura Vajgurore

The more I see of them the more I like the mosaics that were created in the Socialist period of Albania’s history. In many ways they capture a feeling of optimism and hope for the future which other art forms just can’t achieve. Yes, paintings can do that but the very scale of mosaics, out in the public view all the time, just seems more immediate. Mosaics have been around for a long time but in the past representing non-existent, mythical goods or the ‘rich and famous’. Those created in Albania in the 1970s and 1980s put the working class and peasantry into the forefront, showing that their lives are important and, if they but know it and chose to take on the task, that a better future will be theirs. Such is the mosaic on the façade of the Bashkia (Town Hall) of Ura Vajguror, between Berat and Kucove, in the centre of the country.

Radio Kukesi bas-relief

Socialist Albania was a colourful place in its time. Banners would decorate cities on anniversaries of important occasions, such as the Day of Liberation from Fascism, and when conferences and congresses were taking place banners and posters would celebrate these events. Slogans, often quotes from Marxist-Leninist leaders, would call upon the people to work to build Socialism in opposition to a hostile world surrounding the small Balkan country. Many of these symbols of the building of a new society were temporary and would be replaced when another anniversary arose or a different meeting was taking place. However, there were a number of more permanent works of art transmitting this message and one of them is the bas-relief over the main entrance to the local Kukesi Radio Station in the eastern town of Kukes.

Krrabë Miners Panel

There are more than six hundred lapidars so far listed by the Albanian Lapidar Survey but they are not the only examples of Socialist Realist Art that tell the story of the country, especially after Independence in 1944. Although a considerable number of lapidars are in a sorry state, whether due to neglect or outright political vandalism, there seems to be a move, at present, to ‘preserve’ those which are still in existence. However, I’m not aware of a similar programme (whether nationally or locally organised) that pays attention to the many statues, mosaics and panels that celebrate the achievements of the people. The panel to the miners in the small village of Krrabë is one such example.

Tobacco Factory – Durres

The work of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, in documenting and quantifying the monuments throughout the country, has produced an invaluable resource for those who have an interest in the Albanian version of Socialist Realism. However, due to time, resources and the difficulty of identifying the vast amount of examples of a new form of popular expression (made even more difficult with the criminal destruction of the archives of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists) many unique pieces of art were not part of the survey. The concrete bas-relief on the facade of the (former ‘Stamles’) Tobacco Factory, close to the seafront in Durrës, was, therefore, one of those not documented and now it has gone (unless someone with foresight was able to save it) forever.

Gjirokastra College Bas Relief

This small relief, at the bottom of the stairs into a high school in the old part of Gjirokastra, commemorates an event in 1942 when the local students from the gymnasium (college), together with their teachers, demonstrated against, and clashed with, the occupying Italian fascist forces.

Paintings, murals and sculptures

As with the mosaics and bas reliefs there are still many other examples of Socialist Realist art which it is possible to appreciate throughout the country. Sometimes they are on permanent show as they are out in the open air, others are in museums and art galleries. Many of these public areas of exhibition were vandalised post 1990 but there seems to be a trend, slow and often partial, to renovate some of these old exhibition spaces and to show what had been shown in pride of place in the past.

There are also a few reprints of articles published during the Socialist period. These have been reproduced in an attempt to give a wider view of the role of art in a Socialist society.

1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Arts – Tirana

The article below was first published in New Albania, No 6, 1971. It discusses the general idea of art in a socialist society, how the Albanians saw ‘Socialist Realism’ with mention of a handful of works (out of 180) that were displayed at the National Exhibition of Figurative Arts in Tirana in the autumn of 1971.

Traditional Wedding Mural in Peshkopia

There’s a perception by some (normally the ignorant and anti-socialist) that any work of art created during the construction of Socialism is necessarily ‘Socialist Realist’ art. They don’t understand, or refuse to accept, that the construction of Socialism is a long task. When it comes to art this involves asking the people to challenge their view of what is going around them and to look at artistic works in a critical and thoughtful manner and that this involves the unmasking of the hidden messages in a painting, sculpture, film or any other creative endeavour. One such work that needs to be seen in this light is the Wedding Mural which covers one of the walls of the Korabi restaurant in the hotel of that name in the town of Peshkopia.

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

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.

National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana

Each time I’ve been to Tirana I’ve made it a point to visit the impromptu ‘sculpture park’ that has been created behind the National Art Gallery, just down from the main Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball seems to be the message given out by the pro-Western government in Albania. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin are covered up by the Albanian reactionaries in an attempt to prevent them from spoiling their Independence party at the end of the month.

A new look, and a new resident, to the National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’, Tirana

The ‘Sculpture Park’ behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana, has a new resident. Well, not so much a new resident but one who has been there for a few years but it is only recently that the authorities at the Art Gallery have decided to, literally, take off the wraps and reveal his presence to the world. The new resident is none other than Enver Hoxha, up to his death in 1985, First Secretary of the Party of Labour of Albania, Chairman of the Democratic Front of Albania and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures in the National Art Gallery, Tirana

This post will consist of images of the paintings (and a few sculptures) from the Socialist period of Albania’s past. The first floor of the National Art Gallery is almost now solely (with one notable exception, which I’ll come to later) devoted to the period before 1990 when things fell apart.

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military

There are fine examples of Socialist Realism in the Armaments Museum in the Castle in Gjirokastra, but you might have to ask to go upstairs to enter this older part of the museum – especially out of the summer season. ‘Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military’ is one such sculpture.

Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia

Originally my project to describe, in detail, the magnificent examples of Socialist Realist Art that are embodied in some of the lapidars throughout the country has now expanded as I’ve encountered other incidences of the unique manner used in Albania in its attempt to impart the message of Socialism. Whereas some of these are truly monumental in all senses of the word, such as the Drashovice Arch, many others are, if not actually hidden, difficult to find unless you are looking for them or, as in this case, are directed towards it by a knowledgeable local. The emblem over what used to be the Headquarters of the Party of Labour of Albania, in the mountain town of Peshkopia in the north-east of the country, is one such example.

Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier

Many monuments, statues and lapidars from Albania’s Socialist period have suffered over the years, through outright political vandalism or just neglect. However, there has been a bit of a sea change in recent years but this has not come without its own problems. Here I want to develop the ideas of Albanian Socialist Realist art by looking at two works produced to commemorate the life of a young partisan woman, Liri Gero, and also a work in commemoration of 68 young women who also left their home town of Fier to join the partisans fighting the Fascist invaders.

The ‘Hanged Women’ of 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.

Traditional Musicians and Dancers

Although there are many monuments and statues that are overtly political, in that they commemorate events or people involved in national liberation struggles (whether that be against the Ottoman Empire or the Italian and German Fascists of World War Two) other aspects of Albanian life are also represented in various locations throughout the country. As Gjirokastra, in the Socialist period, had become the centre for periodic folklore festivals it’s not surprising to find a frieze depicting traditional musicians and dancers located there.

Albanian Socialist Literature

As of this time this is a very thin section. The hope is to include other examples in due course.

The Mother – a Socialist short story

It wasn’t just in the plastic arts that Socialist Realism had a role to play in the construction of Socialism. Putting the role of the working class and peasantry in the forefront of all that happened in society, in the post, present and future, was also a task of writers of short stories and novels. For those interested in this aspect of Albania’s road to Socialism the various foreign language publications (especially the large format, monthly colour magazine, New Albania) provided translations from the Albanian language in English, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic. The story below appeared in New Albania, 1971, No 6.

Albanian folklore – music and dance

This is also, presently, a thin section. More will be added as material becomes available.

Albanian traditional musical instruments

The article below, written by R Sokoli, first appeared in issue No 5, 1971 of the magazine New Albania. It is reproduced here (slightly edited) to aid a greater understanding of some of the works of art that were produced during the Socialist period (1944-1990) of Albania’s past. Although folklore hasn’t been totally abandoned in the present-day capitalist Albania traditional dress and culture don’t hold the same important role in Albanian society as in the past.

Post Socialist Albania

The counter-revolution in the 1990s destroyed virtually all the industry and seriously damaged the rail infrastructure. What ‘modern-day’ capitalist Albania produces, in spades, is religious buildings of all denominations – Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic and Islam. But what I find interesting in some of the paintings that line of the walls of these religious spaces, in particular the Roman Catholic variety, is the artistic link it has with the style of socialist realism.

Religion

Anti-Communist paintings – Shkodër Franciscan Church

Religion is interesting in Albania. Travelling around you can’t help but notice the new mosques and churches (both Catholic and Greek Orthodox) that are appearing everywhere. Whether there’s a real need for so many is debatable, I’ve hardly seen any evidence of what could be called a ‘religious revival’. However, the Catholic Church, in particular, is on the offensive and that can best be seen with the anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan Church in Shkodër.

Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral – Tirana

There doesn’t seem to be any money to improve the infrastructure in Albania but plenty for building churches and the new Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana has taken a big chunk of that budget.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana displays new and interesting murals to replace the frescoes of the past.

Panagia Monastery Church – Mother of Christ – Dhermi, Albania

The rear wall of the Panagia Monastery Church – Mother of Christ – in Dhërmi, Himara province, southern Albania, warns sinners of what’s in store for them if they don’t repent.

And if the obscurantism of the three religious denominations isn’t enough, the Albanians have good back to ancient superstitions as well – perhaps hedging their bets.

The dordolec, the ‘evil eye’ and superstition in Albania

You think that when someone buys a soft toy or a blow up Tele Tubbie it’s destined for a baby or a young child. In Albania it could well be for another purpose. This is all part of the ‘tradition’ of the dordolec, the ‘evil eye’ and superstition in Albania.

Post-revolutionary points of interest

All post-Communist societies have a problem when it comes to history. The ruling capitalist and imperialist lackeys don’t want to remind the people of the time of Socialist construction – they might wonder why they ditched the socialist past in favour of the capitalist present which offers them little hope – unless you are one of those ‘lucky’ enough to have your snout in the corruption trough. That dilemma has resulted in a number of ‘interesting’ items about which I have written.

‘King’ Zog’s remains return to Tirana

The ‘democratic’ government of Albania embraces the country’s reactionary, feudal and fascist past in a ceremony marking the return of the remains of Ahmet Zogu.

German Fascist Memorial in Tirana, Albania

A German fascist memorial in a country where more than 30,000 died in the struggle to liberate themselves from the scourge that was devastating Europe.

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park

On Sunday 11th November 2012 the British Embassy organised a Remembrance service at the English Cemetery in Tirana Park, behind the State University, in the centre of the city. There were few people in attendance, as the English community in Tirana is relatively small, but included the British Ambassador and the Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha.

Albanian town planning – drastic measures taken

Some building developers rub someone in authority up the wrong way and they find their building plans didn’t go quite as they expected.

What does Independence mean in Albania today?

Any visitor to the country will soon become aware of the schizophrenic approach the people and government have towards the idea of ‘independence’. Images of the 15th century national hero Skenderberg are everywhere. November 28th is still a national holiday as it celebrates independence from the Ottoman Empire. November 29th – which is the day of the liberation of the country from the fascists in 1944 – is not. Yet NATO troops and vehicles are more evident than the national army and the government does nothing of note unless it gets the green light from external capitalist masters. And like many others throughout Europe who call for ‘independence’ – such as the Catalans, the Basques, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish – Albania begs to become a member of the European Union. I find that a bit of a contradiction but these ‘nationalist’ groups don’t. For the ordinary Albanian they see membership as a lifeline and a means of getting an improved infrastructure, for those in real control it’s an opportunity to get their noses into the trough.

A hundred years of Albanian Independence?

Today, the 28th November, Albania celebrates the 100th Anniversary of it independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. The streets and buildings throughout the country are festooned with red bunting and representations of the black, double-headed eagle but how independent is Albania really?

29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania

For such a small country, in terms of geographic size and population – yet big in the sense of having taken on the challenge of the building of revolutionary socialism – Albania has two days on which it celebrates its independence. The first was from the Ottoman Empire on 28th November 1912 but by far the most important and significant is that of the 29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania.

Foreign interference in Albania’s internal affairs

I have also, briefly, looked at efforts of capitalist nations (principally the United Kingdom) to undermine the construction of Socialism in Albania after the ending of World War II (the National Liberation War for the Albanians).

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

After liberating their country from the fascists Albanians were under continual external pressure from hostile government forces. At this time Albanian-British Relationships were at an all-time low. In not bowing down to this the Albanians were criticised for being ‘isolationist’ and ‘xenophobic’ whereas their actions were more a matter of survival.

Politics and ideology within International Communist Movement

Although a small country in the ‘socialist camp’ – when such an entity existed – the Albanian Party of Labour, and its leader Enver Hoxha, played a major part in the struggle against revisionism within the International Communist Movement. How this was fought out can be seen in the writings of Comrade Hoxha himself and it the material produced by the Party throughout its existence.

The definitive split between Albania and China, 1978

In July 1978 the Party of Labour of Albania published (in an open and public forum, that is, as a supplement to the July/August, No 4, edition of Albania Today) a letter which the Party had sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This letter was promoted by the sudden – though not totally unexpected – move of the Chinese to remove all support, materially, financially as well as personnel, from Albania, a country which, up to that time, had held the closest fraternal links with the much bigger Party, country and people.

Travelling in Albania

A number of posts provide some information for those travelling around various parts of the country. This includes information on transport as well as a number of specific locations.

Rinas – Nënë (Mother) Tereza – Tirana International Airport

Tirana International Airport is officially known as Nënë Tereza but is still referred to locally as Rinas, the name of the nearest village.

Corfu to Saranda ferry – a travellers’ view

One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.

The Bus from Bajram Curri to Tirana

One of the joys of travelling is the unexpected. Well, I suppose, many people have come across a form of the unexpected they would rather not have experienced but those unpleasant situations can happen in your own country. The unexpected that I’m talking about is the experience when something happens, something changes, something develops in a manner that was totally unforeseen at the beginning, but all ends up well.

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

At one time a quiet port in the south of the country, the Albanian town of Saranda gets the Benidorm treatment.

Walking from Valbona to Thethi in north-eastern Albania

Two attempts at the walk between Valbona and Thethi in north-eastern Albania and still don’t make it. The reasons why not and perhaps the reasons why the next time.

Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

I’ve done the Amazon, the Yukon and the Zambesi but you have to go a long way to beat the beauty and splendour of the Lake Komani ferry journey from the hydro-electric dam at Koman to the port of Fierza, on the way to the town of Bajram Curri – and it lasts for less than three hours.

Butrint – a Greek and Roman story in southern Albania

An archaeological site that goes back almost 2500 years, Butrint has the imprint of both the Greek and Roman civilisations. Important for its location to both those cultures it was also pivotal under Venetian rule, its decline only really beginning after it fell to Napoleon’s armies at the end of the 18th century.

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye

Syri I Kaltër, the Blue Eye is one of the natural attractions in the Saranda area in southern Albania, especially if you are not interested in the beach or are looking for a change. A visit here can also be put together with a day trip to Gjirokastra from Saranda.

Visiting Enver Hoxha’s grave in Tirana

After his death on 11th April 1985 Enver Hoxha was buried next to the Mother Albania statue in the Martyr’s Cemetery overlooking Tirana. However, the counter-revolution that took place in 1990 allowed his political enemies to take their revenge by denying him a place of honour in the country’s history and he was reburied in the main public cemetery of the city.

Resistance – Monument to the struggle against Fascist invasion in Durres

Resistance - Durres

Resistance – Durres

Being the main port of invasion by the Italian Fascists on 7th April 1939 it’s not a surprise that in commemoration of that event, and especially the resistance that was shown by a significant proportion of the population (but not the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog who ran away as soon as the Italian ships came into sight) that there are a few monuments to this, constructed in the Socialist period. One is to the individual sacrifice of Mujo Ulqinaku (that used to stand close by the Venetian tower at the bottom end of town) and the other is to the general principle of ‘Resistance’ in Durrës, which is located right next to the waterfront and very likely one of the places the Italian fascists would have landed.

But in 2017 the population of Durrës doesn’t have much respect for Resistance to any foreign invasion. In fact the more foreign goods, foreign fast food and foreign culture they can access the better. In some senses more of a necessity than a wish as they have overseen the wholesale destruction of any industry which might provide them with the basic necessities of life. And, of course, how can anyone possibly survive without the internationally recognised destroyer of teeth and promoter of obesity, the obnoxious fluid sold under the name of Coca Cola?

But back to a time when Albanians had dignity, knew what true independence was and embodied the principles of resistance in their daily lives.

When a monument ceases to have relevance then it no longer gets treated with respect and that has been the fate of this lapidar – as well as with many others throughout the country. Apart from physical damage to some of the elements of the structure it is a constant victim of graffiti attack, the mindless, illiterate scribblings of those with nothing meaningful to say but say it anyway. At least political graffiti would demonstrate some form of human thought.

‘Resistance’ has architectural elements as well as sculptural.

You approach the monument via a few very low, but very wide steps. You are then in a circular space with a series of eleven columns on your right which rise to a height of about 3 metres and on that highest column stands the personification of ‘Resistance’ in the form of a Partisan fighter. Radiating out at 90 degrees to these columns, gradually coming down to ground level even as each of the columns gets higher is a feathering effect. This effect is also produced on the left hand side as you look at the statue but here the feathering is much lower to start with and much wider as well.

If you can imagine the furled wing of a bird you might understand the impression the architect is attempting to re-create. For this is a symbolic reference to the eagle, the double-headed version of which is, and has been for a few centuries now, the national emblem of Albania. This device has been used in the most recent development of the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Borove, just to the south of Ersekë, and for the construction of (the now derelict) mausoleum and museum to Enver Hoxha in Tirana.

The problem with this idea is that it is very difficult to appreciate the idea from ground level. It might well be more evident from an aerial view but that is not possible for the vast majority of onlookers. So in Durrës (as in Borove and Tirana) you have to use a little bit of imagination.

On the facade of four of theses columns, facing the inner circle, are images which tell a little bit of the history of Durrës and Albanian Resistance.

Resistance to the Romans

Resistance to the Romans

On the 7th from the right we have the ancient, Greco-Romano history of the town. Carved into the stone is a circular, Roman shield and surrounding it the weapons that would have been used at the time: a short sword, an axe and a number of different types of spears, together with a helmet with a crest.

Resistance to the Ottomans

Resistance to the Ottomans

On the 8th one in we are brought a little closer up to date. This is the time of the nationalist ‘hero’ Skenderbeu. We know that as the large shield towards the right has a double-headed eagle design (it was from the time of Skenderbeu that this symbol was adopted as a sign of Resistance to any foreign invader). This was in the 15th century. Here we have the weapons in use in warfare from that period: a long, broadsword, possibly arrows, spears and the curved blade, long poled axe that was used to hack away at the enemy. Examples of these can be seen in the National Historical Museum in Tirana.

The third lesson in history is on the next column, the ninth and this brings us up to the 20th century. At the bottom there’s a symbolic reference to the waves on the sea. This references Durrës as this image is part of the town’s coat of arms. Curving from the top left to the centre is an ammunition belt – eight clips with five bullets apiece. On the right hand side, taking up the whole height of the panel, is a rifle.

Resistance to Italian Fascism

Resistance to Italian Fascism

The top end of the barrels of a couple of rifles peek out from behind the ammunition belt on the left hand side. This modern weaponry frames an axe, a pickaxe and a couple of pitchforks. This, to me covers a couple of inter-related periods. It makes reference to the war for National Liberation (which took place between 1939 and 1944) and also to the construction of Socialism where the use of arms would be necessary to defend the revolution from attack, both from within and without.

The final symbol, which is on the facade of the column upon which the Partisan statue stands, is a large, black metal plaque of a double-headed eagle. Unlike the one on the shield of the Skenderbeu era this one has a star above the two heads. This is the star of Communism which was added to the national symbol from 1944 to 1990. This star, whether it was red originally or not I don’t know, is missing, whether as a result of political vandalism, opportunist souvenir hunting or by someone to care for it so that it can be returned in a future Socialist Albania.

The statue itself embodies many of the attributes seen on a number of lapidars throughout the country. The figure itself is rushing forward, weapon at the ready, but he is also looking backwards calling upon others, out of sight to come and join the fight. This is depicted elsewhere on Albanian lapidars such as the monumental Arch of Drashovicë and the statue of Mujo Ulqinaku in Durrës itself – but exact location unknown at this moment.

But there’s much more dynamism, more urgency here. He cannot stretch his legs any further, he gives the impression of needing to rush to the front, to engage the enemy. When there’s an invasion there’s no time to consider the options. Only those who are prepared to live under a foreign yoke, the future collaborators, the sycophants and cowards, will hesitate, ‘weigh up the options’ and then capitulate. This fighter, this Communist, this patriot does not hesitate.

He doesn’t wear a uniform as such as at the time of the Italian invasion in 1939 the so-called Royal Albanian Army was so much in a collaborative role with the Italians that official resistance melted away. It was up to a few individual soldiers, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, or armed civilians to resist the invasion. Although they were far too outnumbered in 1939 to succeed in preventing the country from being occupied the action of workers such as those at the tobacco factory and the growing number of those who joined the Partisans in the subsequent five years meant that the country was finally liberated at the end of November 1944.

He’s bare-chested and it looks like his shirt has been torn off his body and it hangs in shreds, flowing behind him as he rushes forwards. In general there’s nothing to distinguish him from any other national hero, racing to take on the enemy but there’s one little, unique indication that this is an Albanian patriot.

'Opinga' bag

‘Opinga’ bag

Hanging from a thin leather strap, that goes around his neck and rests against his left thigh, is a small bag. It looks very much like an opinga (the traditional leather shoe) with decoration on its facing and edges. I’ve not seen this elsewhere and can only think that when modern dress became more common, especially in a city like Durrës where more people would have been involved in manufacturing industry or dock related activities, these reminders and remainders of the past would have taken on a secondary role.

The official name of the monument is:

“Monumenti i Rezistencës.”

Which translates as:

‘Resistance Monument.’

Which was ‘dedicated to the armed struggle of the Albanian people against the fascist occupation of Italy on April 7, 1939.’

This lapidar is the combined work of Hektor Dule and Fuat Dushku (1930-2002) but I don’t know which of them (if either) was the originator of the architectural aspect of the monument. Dule also created the Mushqete Monument at Berzhite and the bas-relief to Skenderbeu in Gjirokaster. Dushku was one of the sculptors who worked on the ‘Four Heroines of Mirdita’ that was created in 1971 and used to stand in Rrëshen. That was criminally destroyed by the local reactionary so-called ‘democrats’.

Signatures

Signatures

This is quite a late lapidar as, according to the inscription under the right foot of the fighter, the statue was created in 1989. This inscription is also quite unusual. It has the names of the two sculptors, H[ector] Dule and F[uat] Dushku and then the letters QRVA followed by the number 89 (for the year 1989). QVRA stands for Qendra e Realizimit te Veprave te Artit, translating to Art Work Realization Centre. This is the name of the (State) foundry in Tirana where virtually all the lapidars in the country, from the late 60s to the end of the 80s, were forged. It’s also the place where many of those that were torn down in the 90s were melted down to construct some of the monstrosities that is contemporary, capitalist Albanian sculpture. This foundry at one time employed 40 people, more or less, full time. That went down to just 5 a few years ago and then was torn down to make way for expensive, luxury flats.

This is the first time I’ve seen these initials on a lapidar (but not the last, the large statue of the Partisan and child in Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery and the bas relief outside the vandalised museum in Bajram Curri being two other, late Socialist period examples). In the post on Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier I made a bit of a digression discussing the idea of the artists NOT putting their names on their work. This did not mean that their work was not appreciated or respected but the artist was only one cog in the machine. The finished work of art was the culmination of the work of many and if one name should be on it why not all the others?

It was only when that principle was being challenged, especially after the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985, that the sculptors’ names started to appear on the finished work. And here, in addition, we have the place it was made. This no more or less than branding. If they had been able to continue making such statues they would have been stamping the © (copyright) sign on the base.

They didn’t realise that the more they adopted capitalist methods the shorter would be their future. Such foundries, workshops only exist in the capitalist countries with the patronage of the rich – just as it was in the Renaissance. There aren’t many of those in Albania and so the foundry died. I don’t have much sympathy for those with such myopia – whether they be foundry workers or sculptors.

Condition:

As can be seen from the pictures the plinth and the surrounds are uncared for and there’s various graffiti on the columns. The columns provide steps for children to climb and they often do. However, the statue itself seems to be untouched by the vandalism and is in a good condition.

Location:

In the park beside the water, in the older part of town, beside Rruga Taulantia, and a hundred metres or so west of the Venetian Tower (and the original location of the monument to Mujo Qlqinaku).

GPS:

N41.30936204

E19.44467501

DMS:

N41º 18′ 33.70”

E19º 26′ 40.83”

Altitude:

1.7m

Sarandë’s Martyrs’ Cemetery

Saranda Martyrs' Cemetery

Saranda Martyrs’ Cemetery

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

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

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

Painted rifle

Painted rifle

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

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

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

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

Vandalised flag

Vandalised flag

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

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

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

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

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

Artists initials and date

Artists initials and date

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

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

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

The Plough?

The Plough?

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

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

Commemorating 150 Partisans

Commemorating 150 Partisans

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

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

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

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

Martyrs' Cemetery, Saranda, 1971

Martyrs’ Cemetery, Saranda, 1971

Location:

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

Lat/Long:

N 39.86958199

E 20.017721

DMS:

39° 52′ 10.4916” N

20° 1′ 3.7956” E

Altitude:

55.7m