Like many of its kind in Albania the Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery sits on a high location over the town. This is both to give due reverence to those who gave their lives in the National Liberation War as well as to reflect that the war itself was very much one that was won and (for the Fascists) lost in the mountains.
Here the idea was to commemorate the Partisans by installing a statue of two of them, a male and a female, and is the work of M Turkeshi and L Berhami. Although not common this idea was used on a number of occasions throughout the country, for example in Lushnje, Fier and Korça.
They stand close together on a marble faced plinth on a plateau which is reached by a flight of steps from the small road below. The idea of equality is expressed in the very similar manner in which they are presented. Apart from their gender the only significant difference in that presentation is the fact that the women is slightly shorter than the man.
ALS 34 – Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery – 03
The woman is on the left and is in full Communist Partisan uniform. This means that her cap bears a star at the front and she wear a scarf (which would have been red) around her neck. Although not all those who fought against first the Italian and then the German Fascist invaders were Communists a significant number of them were and this is the way to distinguish them in any artistic representation.
Over her chest, running from her right shoulder to her left hip, is a strap and around her waist she has a belt to which are attached ammunition pouches which completely fill the belt, there being more than a dozen – each one containing five bullets, so well prepared for action. Over the shins of her trousers are what looks like puttees and on her feet are a stout pair of shoes.
In a sense this is an idealised depiction of the Partisan uniform. By the end of the war some of the Partisans might have been dressed in such a formal manner but for the majority of the fighters their clothing would have been anything that was available. By its very nature a Partisan army is a guerrilla force and the constant change of circumstances and its role in that war meant that their clothing would reflect those developments.
Also here we have quite an austere, a very simple representation of the uniform. It is functional and has no other ornament nor imperfection. It’s the sort of uniform a fastidious sergeant major in the British imperialist army would be proud, all the creases in the right place.
She looks directly in front of her and her right hand is raised in a clenched fist, Communist salute, her hand touching the right side of her head. Her left arm hangs straight down and she holds her rifle between the firing mechanism and the butt so that it is horizontal and at 90 degrees to her body.
She is standing to attention in respect to her fallen comrades but also, by her preparedness, showing that she is ready for action at any time in the future.
The presence of the female was an important aspect of the statues and monuments created in the 1970s and 80’s. These works of art placed an emphasis on the role of women both in achieving the liberation of the country from the Fascists in the Second World War as well as in the task of building Socialism for a better future. The article by Ramiz Alia, on page 33 of Vol 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, goes into greater detail about the reasoning behind this decision.
Her male comrade is dressed in exactly the same manner, as is his stance, stressing the equality between them.
Behind them is one story building which curves behind the statue in a partial arc. This would have been the local museum to the Partisans but as in the overwhelming number of cases throughout the country these are now abandoned and derelict, and to a greater or lesser state of dereliction – at least here they are abandoned but not used a local rubbish dump.
On the border above the entrance gates to this building are the words ‘Lavdi Desmoreve’ meaning ‘Glory to the Martyrs’. These two words are in red but in a completely different font so I assume that at least one of them is not original. The letters look like they’ve been recently painted but I don’t understand why, if the cemetery is being looked after in a respectful manner, someone hasn’t realised that these two conflicting fonts look very strange.
ALS 34 – Librazhd Martyrs Cemetery – 09
On the plateau that this building creates sits a stone monolith. This is in two parts but sections which are joined together, the one on the right being slightly lower than that on the left. From the point where they join the stones curve away gently to form a pleasing variation on a straightforward monolith. Often such a monolith would have a red star placed at the top but the design of this one would mean that wherever a star was placed it would look in the wrong place.
A monolith is common in Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania and is both an indicator of the location of the cemetery as well as representing the soaring heights of the sacrifice of those commemorated.
On either side of the structure and the statue stands a palm tree. Palm trees appear in a number of other martyrs’ cemeteries including Lushnje and Elbasan. Over the centuries (and through many cultures) the symbolism of palm trees has come to represent – amongst others – values such as truth, honour, valour, freedom and victory, all which would make them appropriate here. The trees also often grow to be tall, soaring to the sky, just as the monoliths do in the cemeteries.
This is the arrangement now but it hasn’t always been like this. As with many lapidars the one at Librazhd has gone through an evolutionary process. Originally there was just one level and on that stood plaster versions of the existing bronze statues. These are dated to 1971, so some of the earliest statues of Albania’s Cultural Revolution. Close to and just behind the sculpture was a simple, tall monolith.
Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery – 1971
At a date of which I am presently unaware there was a decision to rearrange the top of the cemetery and as well as building the museum the statue was cast in bronze.
The tombs of those from Librazhd are in rows in levels below that of the statue and the monolith. In general they are in a good state, as is the whole surrounding area, the only sign of neglect being that of the museum, which has probably now been empty and unused for a couple of decades.
The hill on which the Martyrs’ Cemetery is located is only a few minutes walk to the north-west of the town and is reached by taking a turn-off to the left from the main road heading towards Përrenjas.
41° 10′ 41.9880” N
20° 19′ 14.4013” E
In the centre of Librazhd is another lapidar that commemorates the Partisans who operated in the area and who were instrumental in the liberation of town in November 1944. Very recent buildings now surround this lapidar but originally it would have been much more prominent.
20th Brigade – Librazhd
Up a flight of a dozen steps from the road a simple, tall, marble faced monolith is flanked by two concrete panels. On the left hand panel are two large X’s, now painted red. These are the Roman numerals for twenty, symbolising the 20th Brigade that was formed and would have often fought in the Librazhd region. On the right hand panel, inscribed on a rectangular piece of marble, are the names of 32 members of that brigade who died in the war.
The first, Qibra Sokoli, has the word ‘heroine’ written beside it, this means that she is officially considered a ‘People’s Heroine’, someone who went that extra distance and died as a consequence in the war against the Fascist invaders. (The more I write about Albanian lapidars the more I feel that this hierarchy in death is somewhat unnecessary. Surely ALL those who died, in whatever circumstances, as part of the partisan army are ‘People’s Heroes/Heroines’?)
Qibra Sokoli – 1924-1944
Qibra (sometimes written Qybra) was born (1924) in Korça, a town to the south-east of Librazhd. Her father was killed by collaborators in 1942 and from that time she started to do clandestine work in support of the Partisans. At the end of that year she was accepted as a member of the Albanian Communist Youth. In January 1943 she joined the 20th Brigade and was appointed it’s Youth Secretary. She was killed on the front line, fighting against the Nazis, by a mortar that exploded close to her, in 1944.
The final name, Francesko Sula has the word ‘Italian’ written next to it. It is, perhaps, a little known fact that after the defeat of the Italian invaders in September 1943 a considerable number of the erstwhile invading troops stayed in Albania, joining the Partisans and fighting against the German Nazis. This is the first time I can remember seeing this being commemorated although I’m sure a closer look at the names on either plaques or tombs in other Martyrs’ Cemeteries in the country would uncover other internationalist fighters.
A plaque on the forward face of the monolith has the following inscribed:
‘Lavdi partizaneve trima te Brigades XXte S de luftuan me heroizem per Çlirimin e Librazhdit 10 Nentor 1944’
This translates as:
Glory to the brave partisans of the 20th S[ulmuese] (Guerrilla) Brigade who fought heroically for the Liberation of Librazhd, 10th November 1944
In November 1944 the German Nazi invaders were rapidly in retreat towards Tirana and then the coast. That meant that the towns along the road to Tirana were liberated in stages, that liberation speeding up after the important battle at Berzhite. The final liberation of Tirana being achieved on 29th November 1944.
Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania have a statue of one or more Partisans to stress that those commemorated were those who died in the National Liberation War of 1939-44. Sometimes there’s just one male Partisan, as in Korcë or Ersekë, sometimes there will be both a male and a female, as in Librazhd, sometimes (though rarely) there’s a group of three, as in Pogradec but there are also times when the symbol of sacrifice is in the form of a single female, as in Saranda and Fier. There’s a certain commonality between many of these statues, having been constructed at a similar time, but the statue of the female Partisan at the Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery is quite unique in style and presentation.
The cemetery itself is built into the side of a small hill just a little way from the centre of town, on the northern edge of the main building concentration. The buildings close by are relatively new and when originally planned it would have been more or less in the countryside, but only a short distance from the main population centre.
There is a line of gates and fences at the bottom which guard two flights of steps, a narrow one on the left and a much wider one on the right. These sets of steps are separated by a line of six concrete containers in which a palm tree has been planted. Those on the left of the main steps are mirrored by smaller containers on the right hand side. This planting of palm trees in the martyrs’ cemeteries was quite common in those towns at lower elevations and would have created an avenue of trees for those visiting the cemetery. However, palm trees have to be trained to grow healthily and as some of the containers now only contain flowers I assume that the older trees have died off and haven’t been replaced.
Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery – tombs
The tombs of the fallen are on four levels, going off to the left of the steps, following the curve of the hill. All these are in a good condition and the majority have a red star alongside the name of the partisan commemorated.
Half way up the steps, on the right hand side, and a few metres from them, is a one story building which was the museum. This is a smart, one storey building which is in a good physical condition – I’ve seen some that have been allowed to decay (especially the one at the Krujë Martyrs’ Cemetery). The building is faced in marble tiles and on the side facing the approach road are the words:
which translates as:
Glory to the Martyrs
These words appear at virtually all martyrs’ cemeteries in the country.
The words are in black, painted metal and look in a very good condition – too good a condition to have been the originals. This cemetery must have had a major clean up in recent times and it now has the aspect of a cemetery where the people respect those who died in the war. On my visit there were a couple of women tending to the gardens and this is something that has become more common over the last few years – after decades of neglect. On the top left hand corner of this facade, to the left of the letters the concrete has been designed so that a large star has been cut out of the mould and the recess painted red. Here the paint looks very bright and new so obviously part of the renovation. There are a number of such stars throughout the area, including one at the very top of the steps and a some on the levels beside the tombs.
The word ‘Muzeu – Museum’ is in similar, though smaller, metal letters to the right of the entrance door. Inside there’s no longer a museum as such. Virtually all of these small, one room museums were looted in the early 1990s, or at least the artefacts taken and protected somewhere awaiting a time when they can be returned for display. This is also clean and there’s a new banner which has a picture of the cemetery’s statue, together with a series of six red stars that appear to rush out of the background. Under those images are the words:
Lavdi Dëshmorëve të Lushnjës
Glory to Lushnje’s Martyrs
taking the national slogan and applying it to the locality.
The only other exhibits in the room are four display boards which contain the photographs and details of 216 partisans. From information gained from the town’s Historical Museum only 184 of these died during the National Liberation War. I assume that the remaining 32 were Partisans who survived the war but were added to the list when they eventually died. I must admit I didn’t realise this at the time of my visit so don’t know if any of those have been interred in the Martyrs’ Cemetery.
As I’ve said the area looks clean, bright and cared for. The very nature of the stone used, light coloured sandstone (I think) and marble facing means that, on a sunny day, the cemetery takes on the character of a respectful place to remember the dead.
However, there’s a problem when studying Albanian lapidars. There was a constant changing, improvement, introduction of new concepts throughout the 1970s and 80s. That was OK as all the documentation was kept in different archives. However, after 1990 one of the most important locations for storing this information was in the locale of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists. This archive was just destroyed. This means trying to get information about the past is very difficult.
(I always think that the destruction of this building and all it contained to have been an instructive education on the aims of the reactionary forces whose hatred was directed then, and subsequently – either through mindless vandalism or sheer neglect – at the public representations of the Socialist system. If they, or even the rest of the population in general, would use such venom against the present system of corruption then the country might start to go forward in a meaningful manner.)
Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery
Looking at the present monument there’s a number of things that don’t look right. Behind the present statue there’s a huge concrete wall, faced with marble tiles, separating the cemetery from the surrounding countryside with its evergreen oaks on the hillside. This wall curves around, in a protective manner, the rest of the area. It was constructed for a purpose. Yet nowadays there’s nothing there, it’s just a blank space. Well, not quite.
On the left there’s a large area which is indented slightly from the general plane. At the moment this is painted a bright red, almost certainly from the same can which have been used to highlight the stars. But this just goes to indicate that something is not quite right. A close look at the area shows that under the paint there’s a rough concrete facing. The paint is not obscuring anything it just accentuates the fact that something is missing. Was it a mosaic? That would make sense. This part looks like a cinema screen and such an image would be logical in this position. If not, what?
On the right hand side everything is flat but there are indications that some sort of slogan, statement, call to arms would have been there originally. There are the holes that are the result of fixing metal letters to the wall. There’s also the shadow of letters, whether from the removed metal – which always leaves some sort of stain as the metal weathers – or a later addition to fill a spot with of an image no longer considered ‘politically correct’. The fact that the palm trees, still in existence, in front of this wall indicates that this area was also an important part of the whole monumental arrangement, now lost to posterity.
So, now to the unique statue that, fortunately, does still exist. The statue is dated 1984 and is made of bronze.
This female Partisan fighter is a link with past ideas of presenting the Liberation fighters (from the late 1960s and early 70s) but also introduces concepts that take a qualitative leap to something new and more progressive and is one of the latest to have been installed. The death of Enver Hoxha in April 1985 seems, to all intents and purposes, to have signalled the end of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’. This change in direction had serious consequences just over five years later.
Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery – statue
She is about twice life-size, on a low plinth in the centre of the plateau at the top of the cemetery so that she looks down on the tombs below. As she’s on a low plinth it’s possible to appreciate the detail of the figure.
The links with the past are in the fact that she is in a full Partisan uniform, from head to toe, and she also displays all the aspects of a member of the Communist Party of Albania (later called the Party of Labour). On her head she wears a soft cap with her substantial head of hair spilling out at the sides and the back, over her neck. There’s a very obvious star fixed at the front. There’s a scarf tied around her neck and she’s dressed as if it were summer during the conflict, wearing a shirt that has the sleeves rolled up so that they end at her elbows. She is wearing the baggy, loose trousers of the Partisan, the bottoms of the legs tucked into long, woollen socks and on her feet a contemporary walking shoe.
This wearing of trousers must have caused a stir at the time. Before the invasion of the Italian Fascist forces in April 1939 the vast majority of women would have been wearing the clothing that Albanian women had been wearing for generations. This would have been challenged by the growing industrialisation, in such places as Durrës , where, for example, the Tobacco Factory would have provided employment for women, but would still not have been normal, especially in the countryside. The example of the 68 Girls from Fier leaving secretly at night to join the Partisans and the murder of young Liri Gero would, initially, have been a shock to many in such a traditional society, even in times of war.
As in virtually all such depictions she is armed, quite heavily. She has a bandolier diagonally across her chest, running down from her left shoulder, with eight ammunition pouches, each containing six bullets. Around her waist she wears seven such pouches. These are all to provide ready ammunition to her bolt-action rifle which is hanging behind her by way of a thick leather strap that rests on her left shoulder, close to the bandolier. She grips the end of the butt in her left hand, a pose not seen before.
It’s impossible to over-state the importance and relevance of such imagery. Having been born in a society where all women, but especially the young, were treated as second class citizens (or not even citizens at all) this young woman is making a statement that goes far beyond that of the feminist movement in the west from the 1960s onwards (with all its difficult and contentious history). By leaving home and actually fighting in a vicious war against a vicious enemy, by taking up arms and risking her life, by living and fighting amongst men unknown by her family, many of them ‘strangers’, she was challenging long-standing taboos, by wearing ‘men’s clothing’ and therefore being indistinguishable from her male comrades, by assuming positions of command and responsibility, by fighting for a cause that was greater than her own parochial and familial concerns but for all those who were poor and oppressed, she was, as were all the other women, literally ‘turning the world upside-down’.
It has to be remembered that by the time of victory at the end of November 1944 the women in the Albanian Partisan army had constituted around 16% of the total armed forces – and the majority of them were in combat roles and not just in ancillary and support roles. They were not given liberation they had fought for it, had suffered as much and had worked as hard as their male comrades. This accounts for their appearance in so many Albanian lapidars.
Compare this with war memorials in the west. On the monument I consider to be one of the finest in Britain, the Cenotaph on St George’s Plateau in the centre of Liverpool, ALL the fighters are male and the only depictions of a woman is as a sad, weak mourner, really a victim of war, without any ability to have a direct effect on the outcome of the conflict. This is a representation of the situation after the First World War but in the capitalist west this situation wasn’t significantly different twenty plus years later when the world went to war against Fascism.
But the Lushnjë Partisan says much more. Her stance is very different. Normally the Partisans are shown standing to attention or with a raised fist in the revolutionary salute. Here she is half kneeling with her left knee on the ground whilst her right foot is on the ground. This is to provide a platform for the other unique aspect of this statue. I said that she is a lone, female partisan, but she is not alone. Her bent right leg provides a space upon which a very young boy is standing.
This idea appears nowhere else, to the best of my knowledge. Here the Partisan takes on the role of ‘Mother Albania’. Not just a symbolic role as is the huge statue in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana. This ‘Mother Albania’ has given birth to the opportunity of a new future. By her actions and self-sacrifice the independent country has a chance it never had before. But that future is not guaranteed, the outcome not certain and the road a difficult one to follow.
It is the young boy, really little more than a toddler, who is taking that road. She is there to support him, as she is in the statue with her strong right hand gripping the boy just under his right armpit, as he takes his first, tentative steps. The fact that she is also dressed as a soldier and is fully armed indicates that this Mother Albania is prepared to fight to support this construction of a new society. I also believe that the connection between her weapon and the child provides another indication of this willingness, and necessity, to use force to create something new. This idea is also present in the statue of the Partisan and Child in Borovë as well as in the monumental mosaic in Bestrovë.
He is dressed in toddlers clothes, a light t-shirt, with an open shirt above that, and flimsy shorts. His right foot is firmly placed on the Partisan’s thigh but he is in the act of attempting to step forward with his left leg. His foot is a few inches above the thigh and his left arm is slightly outstretched as if getting his balance. His whole demeanour is tentative, lacking certainty, unsure whether to go ahead or not. He’s focused, looking straight ahead (as is the Partisan) so he knows where he wants to go, the uncertainty comes from not knowing how exactly to get there. Already he knows that the road towards Socialism has its twists and turns.
Bouquet of poppies and grain
He is Albania, a young socialist nation, even though that socialism was 40 years old at the time of the casting of the bronze. We know he’s Albania because in his fully raised hand he holds a bouquet of poppies – the national flower of the country. He’s also Lushnjë as together with the flowers he holds two ears of grain. At the time of Socialism the town was in the centre of one of the grain-growing regions of the country. The first collective farm was established in Krutja, only a few kilometres to the south, and the whole area is criss-crossed with irrigation systems, allowing the fertile grounds of the coast to be used productively by the construction of huge systems of irrigation bringing water from the mountains – many parts of which have just been allowed to decay and rot as well as the collective land of all the people being privatised and divided into almost feudal strips. You can also appreciate the importance of agriculture in the area by the imagery on the huge monument, ‘Toke Jonë – Our Land’, in the centre of town.
Within six years of this statue being created the people of Albania decided that they no longer wanted to take that difficult road.
The statue is generally in a good condition. However there appears to be a quick and ready repair on the right hip, just below the ammunition belt, and something that looks like a small calibre bullet hole on her right thigh.
We know the sculptor as he placed his name on the bronze plinth before casting. His name was Maksim S Bushi. He was born in 1948 and trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana, where he now works as an instructor as well as being a teacher in his home town of Lushnjë. He made a bust of Abraham Lincoln in 2004 and it now sits in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois in the United States. He has also supposed to have created other busts and sculptures throughout the country but I haven’t come across them myself. However, he surely hasn’t created anything as masterful as his allegory in the Lushnjë Martyrs’s Cemetery.
The cemetery can be found at the far end of Shetitorja e Palmave, about 1 kilometre from the centre, on the northern edge of the town.
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.
The style of mosaic construction in Albania
Before discussing this particular example it might be useful to consider the technique used in the construction of these mosaics from the Socialist period – I’m not aware of any that have been constructed since 1990. Well, perhaps, not so much the technique but the materials used.
In all the mosaics I’ve been able to get really close to all the component parts have been natural stone, the design using the variations in colour found in different stones throughout the country. On the mosaic at the Durrës War Memorial these stones had been highly polished and you can see how much of a close-fitting jigsaw the artists have produced. On the other hand in Bestrovë they have also used natural stone but to create a different effect. It looks as if all the stones, of whatever colour, had been struck so that they broke off in the same way as ancient flint stone axes were made, with the same sort of uneven surface. Here all sizes of stone were used so it didn’t matter how irregular or how small the results were. Looking closely you can see that any gaps were just filled with tiny fragments. Not as precise as in Durrës because the desired effect was different.
The other use for the small stones was in picking out very precise decorations with thin lines. Perhaps the best example of this is the decoration on the lapel of the waistcoat and the separation of the tassels on the sash of the central figure representing Albania.
Embroidered decoration and sash
I’d love to know how this mosaic was constructed. It’s huge. The design is attached to a vast piece of rectangular concrete that I estimate to be about 4x9x1 metres (or about 12x30x3 feet). The image is on the north face, looking down towards the village of Bestrovë, but the geometric design is also on the narrow, side edges. There are only a few mosaics which come under the heading of ‘lapidars’ but this is the biggest I have seen – although still being dwarfed by ‘The Albanians’ in Tirana.
These monuments tell a story, or at least refer to a series of events and situations to remind the viewer of the history of the country. This particular monument is in three distinct parts.
In the centre, and almost as tall as the monument is high, is a figure of a male dressed in Albanian traditional clothing. He is there as a representation of the country, a father figure who in his imagery links the past to the present (at least at the time of its construction).
He’s dressed in a white fustanella (the dress like garment) and as both his arms are raised high this pulls open wide the black xhamadan (waistcoat). This has an interesting, geometric design embroidered on both the lapels of this waistcoat. The sleeves are much more voluminous than I’ve seen in other locations but this just adds to the dynamism of his stance. He has a red sash tied around his waist and even though it’s shown in stone you get the idea that it’s a fine piece of material, probably silk. On his head he wears a fez. As this is in the Vlorë region if he was just representing that area then perhaps he should have been wearing a qeleshe (very much like a skull-cap) but the desire here is to represent the whole country and not just one region. On his feet he wears the opinga (the hob nailed sandal) suitable for long days walking in the mountains. (A very clear example of these can be seen on the statue of the Drashovice Arch).
He stands on an uneven surface and so his right knee is slightly bent to maintain his equilibrium. This is a common device in Albanian lapidars, the mountains are such an integral part of the country’s history and culture that there’s always some idea of the terrain, especially when a figure, whether it be male of female, is an allegory for the country. One of the intricacies of the mosaic is that even the rock he stands upon is shown in a variety of colours, as it would be in reality. (This part of the mosaic is slightly obscured by spray can painted graffiti. This looks like the work of bored, but quite young, children, the limit of there attempts to change the art work limited by how high they could hold the can.)
In his upraised left hand he is gripping a long, straight pole, the bottom of which is at the level of his waist. To this pole is attached the Partisan flag, later to become the national flag of the country, and his hand is just where the flag starts. This is a large, fluttering red flag, the top part of which spills above the rectangle of the concrete block hosting the mosaic. This adds a little more movement to this part of the picture and complements the energy coming from the figure itself. In the centre of the flag is the double-headed eagle (long being a symbol of the country) and above that the gold, five-pointed star of Communism, but that’s missing. In its place is a grey circular shape but you can still see the outline of the star. This means that the mosaic has been a victim of political vandalism, as in a number of places the star (together with images of Enver Hoxha) being the target of the counter-revolutionaries of the early 1990s.
If you look at the eagle you can see that the artist has made the full use of the materials to hand and although the image has been created using, in the main, black stones white ones have been chosen for the talons and there are a random number of them on the chest of the birds, suggesting the light reflecting from the healthy plumage of the animal. That’s a nice and imaginative touch from the sculptor.
In his upraised right hand he is holding a bolt-action rifle. This seems slightly out of proportion to his size but in such an image it’s the message that’s important, not the exact representation of reality. Here the weapon signifies that there was no chance for real independence for Albania without fighting for it under the leadership of the Communist Party (which changed its name shortly after the war to the Party of Labour of Albania).
This figure is in the centre of the tableau and on either side of him, radiating out at about 45 degrees are wide bands, of different colours, which go to the edge of the image and form a background to the other groups of people depicted. This gives an impression of a kind of metaphorical light emanating from this central and pivotal figure and what he represents.
The Partisans and the National Liberation War
The story of how the country gained its independence is illustrated on the right hand side of the tableau. Here we have images which remind the viewer of the war that Albanian fought between 1939 and 1944 against, first, the Italian Fascist and then the German Nazis – defeating both.
Here the story is told through the stance, actions and demeanour of three male partisans and a young boy.
All the character in this image are static, as if they have just arrived and are waiting to meet up with others. None of them are in uniform so their dress is very individual, reflecting the reality of a guerrilla army. The Partisan on the extreme right is wearing a large, flowing cloak over a neck less shirt and ordinary working trousers. On his feet he has a pair of ordinary sandals, that is, not any version of the traditional footwear of the countryside. (It’s interesting to note that on many of the images is this unique collection of Socialist Realist Art the variation in footwear is often an issue and something which the artist has obviously thought about. What you have on your feet telling a lot of your class background, financial situation and where in the country you might have come from.)
Partisans and boy
In fact, all these three fighters look more like workers than peasants or farm workers. That would make sense here as the young (yet small in numbers before the construction of Socialism) working class would have been concentrated in the port towns of the coast, and Vlorë is only a few kilometres from Bestrovë.
Back to the Partisan on the right. He has his rifle slung over his right shoulder and his right hand is gripping the strap of that weapon, close to his chest. Coming diagonally from his left shoulder is a bandolier full of bullets. He has a neatly trimmed, black moustache, again an indication that he was a town dweller. He has dark blue eyes and on his head he wears a soft cap.
Now the cap is an indication of the re-writing of history that some are attempting in present day Albania. To me it is totally inconceivable that there were no red stars on the caps of any of the three Partisans. If most of the colours could be achieved with actual stones the crimson red of the star must have been painted on. The red of the flag is more of a rust colour than the red it would have been in real life, as is the scarf around the neck of one of the other Partisans. With such large areas it would be possible to use the stone, on the specifics of the star it would have been less realistic. Looking at other areas where a good, strong red was needed there are still remains of red paint.
This means that these stars were also the target for the vandals of the recent past.
But a communist is not just indicated by the iconography of the movement, he shows his allegiance by his actions and body language. Standing close to his left hand side, pressed up against him, is a young boy. The Partisan’s cloak partly wraps around this youngster and the left hand of the Partisan is resting on the boy’s left shoulder – three of his fingers can be seen peeking out from under the cloak. In response to this sign of affection the boy’s left arm is bent back towards his body and his fingers rest on the fingers of the Partisan’s on his shoulder. So here we have a mutual sign of respect and a giving from both of them.
Another important aspect of the image of the boy, apart from his youth and vulnerability, is the way he is dressed. His trousers are ragged at the bottom of the legs and are too small for him. Also, he wears nothing on his feet. Just as footwear can tell a lot the lack of shoes is an indication of poverty.
This simple combination of images, on the very edge of the tableau says a huge amount about the National Liberation War, why it was fought and by whom. This Partisan didn’t just fight in the war and risk his life to rid his country of the foreign, Fascist, invaders and for the independence that many of his ancestors had struggled to achieve in previous years. This Partisan didn’t fight for a ‘king’ – who ran away to safety in Britain as soon as the Italians invaded in 1939. He didn’t fight for a ‘god’ who only promised heaven after death, he didn’t fight for a ‘country’ which was ruled by landowners and collaborating industrialists, he didn’t fight to maintain the status quo. This Partisan fought for the poor and the end of poverty and another reason why he would have had a red star on his cap as he was a Communist.
This image of offering protection for the boy at the end of the war is reinforced by the link that he makes between his rifle and the young boy. The war against Fascism was won by arms and the war against poverty cannot be won unless there is the willingness to resort to arms. As Mao said: ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ and without political power nothing can be done to end the reasons for poverty. This idea is represented in a number of other sculptures throughout the country, including the beautiful sculpture of the Partisan and Child (this time a young girl) in Borovë and in the impressive image of the female Partisan at the Lushnje Martyrs’ Cemetery.
Young boy and Partisans
But this idea doesn’t end here. The boy is looking up to, and smiling at, the next Partisan in the group. Also the boy has his right hand around the crook the that Partisan’s left arm. Here we have a continuation of this unity, this solidarity, this common ideology. The boy acts as a link between the two fighters, whose mutual support during the war would have been crucial in their survival to the time of victory.
The second Partisan is wearing the closest of the three to a uniform, not the formal uniform seen on other lapidars, such as ‘Shoket – Comrades’ in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery or the Monument to the 22nd Brigade in Peze, but not quite civilian clothing either. He’s wearing an open, light coloured jacket, over a white shirt, and green, military style trousers, with puttees over heavy socks inside heavy boots. He’s wearing a cap (where the star has been erased) and a red scarf tied around his neck, which is fluttering over his left shoulder, as if caught by the wind. Around his waist there’s an ammunition belt, with three pouches visible and on his right hip is a British made Mills bomb (pineapple grenade). (There seems to have been a preference for the British model over the German as the Mills bomb appears in many of the finer and more ornate lapidars, for example, at the Peze Martyrs’ Cemetery.) The artist has added a nice little touch here by using dark, almost black stones for the grenade itself but lighter stones for the actual firing pin.
He stands facing the viewer, his legs wide apart and in his left hand he is holding his rifle, which has the butt resting on the ground, by the top of the barrel. (It’s this arm which the young boy is holding so there’s another connection between the solidarity of the figures and arms.) It’s what he’s holding in his right hand which makes him stand out in this tableau – he holds a trumpet and he has the mouthpiece to his lips.
This scene is building up to be the arrival of the Partisans into a village (Bestrovë) at the time of liberation and he is blowing a signal for the population to come out of their houses. During the war he would have been using this trumpet to sound attack or a call to arms (as can be seen on the right hand, 1943, side of the Drashovice Arch) but now the victory has been won it has a different use. His jacket on the right hand side is raised and fluttering as if he has only just brought the trumpet to his mouth. He has his head looking up so that the noise will travel as far as possible. On the mosaic in Durrës it is the local people who are playing musical instruments and making a noise. This Partisan has a strap hanging from his neck which doesn’t seem to be doing anything but it’s possible this is how he would have carried his instrument.
Trumpeter and Officer
The last of the fighters looks fairly relaxed. He’s also wearing a semi-military uniform, a green, open jacket over a red jersey and light coloured trousers, the bottom of the legs tucked into his long socks. His footwear can’t be seen, either behind his comrade or mixed up in the graffiti mess at the bottom of the panel. He also wears a cap and its possible to see a light mark where the star has been obliterated. He appears to be an officer as there is a rope lanyard hanging from his neck attached to a pistol in a holster over his left hip. Hanging loosely from his right shoulder is a strap at the end of which looks like a map case – this and the pistol singling him out as an officer. However, he has other non-officer attributes and that’s the light machine gun that rests on his right shoulder, the barrel of which extends behind and high above his head. He nonchalantly holds it in place with his right hand on the wooden butt.
There’s another aspect of this lapidar which is quite unique in my research on the monuments in Albania. On every other statue, bas-relief and mosaic I’ve seen, if there are a group of Partisans there is always at least one female and EVERY time that female has been armed. Here there are only male Partisans. I find this somewhat strange when one of the principle ideas of the construction of these monuments during Albania’s Cultural Revolution was emphasising the role of women in both the National Liberation War and the construction of Socialism.
The third part of the story, depicted on the left hand side, is of the construction of Socialism. Here we have a group of four, consisting of one adult female, two adult males and a young girl, each one representing an aspect of the efforts to create a different type of society. They are the heirs of the liberation of the country shown on the right hand side of the tableau.
On the tight of this group is a woman from the countryside. She’s shown in profile, as if she is looking over to the rest of the individuals already described. She’s dressed in the working clothes of a farm worker, probably from a collective farm, with a loose, white blouse with ample sleeves over which she has what looks like a green waistcoat. Her mauve skirt is topped by a white apron, and both these are fluttering in the breeze – again providing an element of movement in a static picture. She wears stockings, elasticated at the top, which come to just below her knees and on her feet she wears modern style sandals. On her head she wears a white scarf which has gathered her hair, just a little of her dark, brown hair peeking out of the material at her forehead..
Female Collective Farm Worker
If you look closely at her face you can see that there are traces of red pigment on her lips, as if she was wearing lipstick. In her arms she holds a substantial sheaf of corn. This is quite a common way to demonstrate that she is a farm worker, such images appearing on the monument to the First Party Cell in Proger and in a monumental manner on the ‘Toka Jonë – Our Land’ statue in the main central square of Lushnje. Although common I can’t remember seeing men carrying the sheaves, either in statuary or painted representations.
Moving to the left we find a young male. He is obviously a town dweller. He’s wearing a white shirt, the sleeves of which have been rolled up. His light brown trousers are kept up by means of a leather belt. In the centre of the buckle there’s a reddish decoration which could mean to represent a star. His feet are wide apart and he’s wearing modern, leather town shoes. He’s entirely absorbed in his book. This is a large red book that he has open and at the level of his chest, close enough to read. His right hand is wide open and rests flat against the back cover of the book, giving it support, whilst his left hand holds the other side of the book, his thumb on the pages, his fingers on the front cover. This is the representation of the new type of intellectual, one who has come from the people and who should be working for the rest of the population. Whether they were always carrying out the task in a selfless manner is one of the issues that needs to be analysed when considering how the situation in the country was allowed to develop in the early years of the 1990s.
Behind his right shoulder is the figure of another male, this time representing the industrial proletariat. His jacket is open and you can see he’s wearing a reddish-brown t-shirt. Over this is the heavy, protective clothing those who worked in heavy industry wore. He’s also wearing heavy protective boots, the top of them having been rolled back down just under his knees. On his head he has the hat that spreads out at the back and on the sides, providing protection to his neck and the side of his face. This is typical of the clothing worn by those in the oil and metallurgical industries. Those latter industries were centred around towns such as Elbasan and Fier but oil production took place near to Vlorë so I assume that is who he represents here. He has his right arm raised at the level of his shoulder in the clenched fist salute of solidarity.
The raised fist of solidarity and defiance
The final figure on the mosaic is that of a young girl. She’s at the extreme left hand side of the image. She wears a pinkish dress that reaches to just below her knees which is, again, fluttering slightly in the breeze. She has long reddish hair and she looks straight out towards the viewer. In both her hands she clutches a green book closely to her chest, as if it is something of real value to her. This is a book of the writings of Enver Hoxha. Originally the name ‘Enver’ would have been highlighted in red, but only a few flecks of the pigment still exist.
Clutching Enver to her heart
This book has been the victim of very conscious vandalism. The ‘En’ has disappeared but it’s still possible to make out the ‘ver’ running from left to right along the book cover, just below the top edge. This act of vandalism says quite important things about the country’s counter-revolution of the 1990s. First is that there was a personalisation of the reaction. There was no desire to try to work out what had gone wrong so as to make matters better, to find a solution to the problems. In Albania all the hated and venom was directed against someone who had already been dead for five years by the time things fell apart. For this reason there are no public images at all of Enver in the country today, from the statues that were erected in his honour or on any of the lapidars commemorating events in the historical past.
What this vandalism also shows is the quality of the work that was employed in the making of the mosaic. Presumably using modern metal tools the vandal gave up his/her destructive endeavours after only managing to obliterate two letters.
Condition of the Mosaic
Apart from the political vandalism already mentioned, together with the spray can graffiti along the bottom edge, the mosaic is in very good condition, considering its age and the fact that no one has paid any attention to its condition for more than 25 years. This is definitely a testament to the skill and dedication of the artist and those who helped in the installation of the art work.
The mosaic is north facing and that has encouraged the growth, albeit slow, of mould on parts of the design. In general this has had the impact of effecting the vibrancy of the colours but does not seem to have had any detrimental effect upon the structure of the mosaic.
Who and when?
Unfortunately I can’t answer either of those questions at the moment. I couldn’t find any clues to the artist, as was the case in Durrës, but this isn’t surprise, signatures on the majority of such public works are few and far between – even when the name of the artist is recorded.
One point it might be worth mentioning here is that in my investigations so far I have not come across any major lapidars which were the work of a female artist. This doesn’t mean they were not a part of this massive public effort in monument construction but there have been no positive confirmations of this involvement.
Beside the road on the route from Vlorë to the village of Bestrovë. As the road climbs, olive trees on both sides, you come to a summit with a petrol station on the right. The mosaic is on the other side of the road as the road starts to go downhill, about a kilometre before the village of Bestrovë itself. It’s difficult to see notice if you are coming from Vlorë as all you see is a large, nondescript concrete wall. There’s a bit of a pull-in right in front of the mosaic.
40° 30′ 26.0820” N
19° 29′ 6.2339” E
How to get there by public transport:
Bus that goes past the mosaic leaves from a stop on Rruga Demokracia, Vlorë, a hundred metres or so after the Historical Museum, heading north, cost 50 lek.