Qukës-Pishkash Star

Pishkash Star - Marco Mazzi - Albanian Lapidar Survey

Pishkash Star – Marco Mazzi – Albanian Lapidar Survey

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.

It’s constructed of blocks of local limestone and between the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015 it had undergone a certain level of ‘restoration’, basically it was painted white. In other circumstances I believe this has not changed significantly the aspect of the monuments, as in the Saranda Martyrs’ Cemetery, for example, but here the white-washing has masked the weathering that had given the original scheme a character of its own. In a sense, the painted monument appears somewhat bland.

It has to be remembered that in the vast majority of cases the lapidars were the colour of the materials with which they were constructed. It’s true that concrete and plaster can deteriorate with age, if not given regular tender loving care, as is the case with the statue at the entrance of the Universiteti Bujqësor i Tiranës (Tirana Agricultural University) in Kamez. However, natural stone weathers in a different way and often this would have been taken into account by the sculptor at the time of construction.

Strangely it’s only the part that faces the road that has been painted as the back of the star, which also has been worked, remains as it was originally.

This monument is officially called Përkujtimorja e Brigadë së Parë Sulmuese (Commemoration of the First Assault Brigade) and the star was both the symbol of the Partisans who fought in the National Liberation War as well as that of the Albanian Communist Party – later to be called the Party of Labour of Albania. It’s a symbol that appears on many lapidars.

There’s not a great deal of text on this lapidar but on the right hand side of the star, at the bottom and separate from the star itself, are the words:

Lavdi Brigades Pare Heroike Sulmuese

meaning

Glory to the Heroic First Assault (Guerrilla) Brigade

(The word ‘sulmuese’ might not directly translate into English as ‘guerrilla’ but it seems to me that this term is more understandable to English readers as this is what the Partisan Army was for most of its existence – groups that would hit the enemy hard and then disappear into the mountains. It was only towards the end of the conflict that these various groups would act in concert in a way similar to a conventional army, as they did in Berzhite on 14th November, 1944, only days before the liberation of Tirana.)

The star has its two lowest points resting on the ground and the carved images start, more or less, in the middle, where the figures are life-sized, and spread out to the left and the right, finally soaring to the highest part of the fifth point.

But we will start from the point of the star on the left and here we have a group of nine figures, very small at the extreme left but getting bigger as they get closer to the centre. Here we have Partisans coming to join the battle, or at least getting ready to join the conflict. This change in perspective gives both the impression of distance and the idea there are lots of people prepared to join the fight. The three figures at the extreme left are also running, which provides movement to the scene. The mountains are represented by the steps down which they are running. When considering the National Liberation War against Fascism it’s important to remember that the way the Partisans used the mountains was as important as the organisation of the Albanian forces themselves.

Many of those areas are not easily accessible today, in the 1940s much less so. The Fascists in such circumstances wouldn’t have been able to use the superiority in machinery that made them so successful in the invasions of Belgium, France and Poland. In fact, such superiority becomes a hindrance in such mountainous terrain. So dependent the soldiers would have been on motorised transport and heavy weaponry they would be like fish out of water if they had taken to the hills – I’ve not come across any information that indicated that the Nazis had any troops that were effective in the hills, either in fighting or in intelligence gathering. Any successes they would have had in this sort of terrain would have been as a result of traitors and collaborators of the likes of the Balli Kombëtar. It was due to such betrayal that the Five Heroes of Vig were surrounded and eventually killed.

Although the furthest away from the centre is the smallest due to perspective he also looks like a young boy. (It’s difficult to be certain with some of these figures, even the gender is not always clear, as the repainting on top of any possible damage has resulted in blurred edges.) It’s not unlikely that a young boy would appear on these monuments. There’s clearly a young teenager on the 1943 side of the Drashovice Arch and many of the Partisan volunteers were still in their teens, this can be seen by looking at the ages of those commemorated in the various Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout the country.

He also seems to be dressed differently from the other two closest to him. They are wearing caps and the full uniform of the Partisan. It looks like he’s carrying a weapon in his hands as he runs but there’s no indication of a uniform. But it’s impossible to tell definitively. To give the impression of him running his left foot is off the ground.

The second one in could well be a female partisan. The face is in profile and you can see she’s wearing a cap, which would have the star at the front. Her right hand is hanging down at her side so she’s not carrying anything but a strap can be seen across her chest so it’s possible her weapon is on her back. There appear to be ammunition pouches on the belt around her waist (it’s very common on lapidars to have this detail on uniformed fighters) and a satchel of some kind is over her left hip.

The next in line is a male and is also in uniform, including the standard cap. He’s not quite facing us but more or less. There’s a large bag over his right hip, but can’t think what it could be carrying, it’s the first time I’ve seen this type of equipment. Strangely, as he’s running in the mountains, he seems to be carrying his rifle, in both hands, behind his neck. This would seem to be OK if stopped and resting but running down a mountain? A bit risky. As we move towards the centre the figures are standing on a lower level, again suggesting coming down the mountains. These last two have their right feet off the ground, as they too are rushing to join the fight.

What’s happening next is a difficult question to answer. There are two figures very close together as if they are working in concert, possibly sharing the weight of some heavy armament. The problem is that with a mixture of erosion (as far as I can see) and the slap dash painting means it’s not very clear. As the lapidar is constructed of limestone there’s always the problem of erosion but serious erosion is only in this particular section there being no real sign anywhere else on the star. I certainly can’t make out any of the features on the faces and heads and little of what they are wearing and/or carrying. The faces are almost skeletal, more from a B-movie horror film than a monument to the fallen in a war.

There’s an added problem when looking at the very large lapidars in that if you are close enough to be able to make out the fine detail you are then so close that you are looking up the noses of the people represented. Unfortunately the pictures I took at the time of my visit don’t help in deciphering the story being told. So the next paragraph or so is more of a guess, based on images seen elsewhere.

There is a shadow of a heavy machine gun hanging down over the right shoulder of the figure in the front. That figure has its right arm bent and the hand close to its shoulder as if holding something heavy in place and helping to take the weight. (I use the term ‘its’ as it is impossible to tell the gender of the figures.) This would make some sort of sense. Because of the way the ground slopes, almost in a series of steps, at their feet we are reminded that they are in the mountains and in such terrain everything had to be manhandled a in such circumstances the carrying of a heavy machine gun, for example, was a more than one person task. The two figures are themselves on a different level to each other as if they are coming downhill, reinforcing the idea they are working together. Not much is seen, other than the head, of the individual at the back, but the partisan in the front is wearing a full uniform, together with webbing of some kind across his chest and ammunition pouches attached to the belt at his waist.

The physical features of the next partisan is a lot more clear but there are still problems. This figure is of a male, who seems to be in uniform but he is not wearing the typical cap and his shirt is open at the neck. Many partisans are shown wearing a knotted scarf but not this one. It’s possible here that the sculptor wanted to make the point that although the majority of the Partisan Army was made of up Communists not everyone was a member of the Party. After the Conference of Peze a National Front was established to encourage all Albanians opposed to foreign occupation to join in the fight. (The Nationalist Balli Kombater refused to do so and later ended up collaborating with the Nazis and were therefore fired upon from the mountains of Sauk when they participated in the Quisling Assembly in Tirana in 1943.)

The face is shown in profile and his right arm is bent and seems to be holding the strap of his rifle, the top of the barrel of which can be seen behind his right shoulder. Not a lot is clear with the rest of his body. He seems to have the ammunition pouches attached to his belt and high on his right hip there’s a circular container of some kind, possibly a water bottle. To go into battle you need weapons but you also need those necessities, like food and water, to sustain yourself in the process. A guerrilla army doesn’t always have the luxury of going back to a base camp after the battle.

The next figure, a male Partisan, is standing facing forward. He is also in uniform (only the young boy on the extreme left seems to be in civilian clothing on this lapidar) and he is wearing a cap, the star being visible if you look really closely. His left arm is bent across his chest, with his hand almost touching his right shoulder. Why? I really can’t tell. Other than the, now ubiquitous, ammunition pouches he doesn’t seemed to be armed in any way.

Thankfully the story becomes less cloudy as we move further to the right. The figures become larger, which helps, and not so crowded as to cause confusion – although towards the end of this story those uncertainties begin to resurface.

The next figure is another male, again looking forward and dressed in full uniform, including a cap where the star is much clearer. His right arm hangs loosely at his side but is left is bent and holds on to the strap of his rifle, the top of the barrel of which we can see behind his left shoulder. Again he has ammunition pouches attached to the belt at his waist.

The next figure is interesting in a number of ways. This is of a female Partisan, which is very common on the sculptural works already documented (and the presence of women being a declared aim of the explosion in monument construction of the 1970s and 80s – see what Ramiz Alia had to say about this in Volume 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey) but she is presented in a manner which is relatively rare.

She’s presented as a strong person both in her physique as well as the determination in her features. She’s partially in profile, but we can see both her eyes, and is shown as if she is looking in the direction where the battle is already waging. Her long hair, this time braided, hangs from below her cap. Apart from the facial features (sometimes not 100% certain) it’s very often the hair which reinforces the idea that we are dealing with a female. As the uniforms of the partisans were the same for both genders it’s normally those signs that differentiate the men from the women.

Here that’s not the case. We see her full body from the front and as she is wearing a tight and close-fitting top the shape of her breasts is very pronounced. This is not unique in the images on Albanian lapidars but it’s not common. This tight jerkin is the sort of clothing that the People’s Heroine Shota Galica is virtually always depicted as wearing. This is the case in the statue of her by Kristaq Rama in Kukës. It was also the case with the, now criminally destroyed, monument to the Four Heroines of Mirdita.

Shota Galica

Shota Galica

Now here we come to a possibly controversial matter. Women have breasts but should those breasts be evident in Socialist Realist Art? Not so much of an issue in paintings but the whole issue takes on a different dimension (sic) when we are dealing with sculpture which is in 3D. Is representing women as they are in these monuments a sexualisation of women? Of a concentration on their physical form rather than the acts for which they are being commemorated?

This issue of the different ways women are depicted in Albanian art came up when I compared the statue of the young Heroine of the People, Liri Gero, which is hidden away behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana, to the modern, reactionary statue of her which was erected in the centre of Fier, the town of her birth, in 2010. There’s no shadow of a doubt that the modern version seeks to stress her youth rather than her heroism. But is that the situation when put into the context of a monument such as the Qukës-Pishkash Star where she is only one of many in a war situation? The statue of Liri in Fier stands alone on a plinth, with no context.

To the best of my knowledge there were no problems about these images on the lapidars at the time they were constructed or in subsequent years. This is more important when one of the fundamental issues it was considered had yet to be addressed in Albania in the 1970s and 80s was an adequate depiction of women, both in the National Liberation War and in the Construction of Socialism.

Four Heroines of Mirdita

Four Heroines of Mirdita

And I probably wouldn’t be making these comments now if it wasn’t for a couple of factors. The first was the reaction to the pictures of the Four Heroines of Mirdita that I showed to an Albanian (not a friend of Socialism) a year or so ago when I had found a book which documented some of the principal lapidars. On seeing the photos he said, something of the likes of: ‘The female partisans would not have dressed in a way that emphasised their titties’. As a first comment I thought that interesting. In a sense I have to agree as the pictures I have seen of the partisans during the war such images have not been amongst them.

The second reason revolves around the vandalised murals I saw in the empty and looted museum in Bajram Curri. The breasts of some of the women shown in those murals had been selected for an especial, more destructive, attack.

Bajram Curri - Mural in Looted Museum

Bajram Curri – Mural in Looted Museum

But back to the Star. Although she looks a formidable woman she isn’t shown bearing arms, apart from the ammunition pouches on the belt around her waist, her right arm hanging loosely at her side, the left arm hidden by one of the other characters on the monument.

(When I first started looking closely at this lapidar I thought that this woman had thighs that would put an Olympic speed skater to shame. She wouldn’t need any weapons, she could just crush the enemy between those thighs. Then I realised that she, like most of those in uniform on this monument, was wearing breeches which seem to explode over the thighs. I assume these would have been liberated from the Italian army as there are many pictures of Mussolini wearing such trousers – I’ve also seen photos of Enver Hoxha in such a uniform. As there would have been no structure in the country for the partisans to produce their own uniforms they must have been adapted from those taken from the invading forces. Why they use these, I don’t know, they seem ludicrous in all situations.)

Behind her, over her left shoulder a male partisan is seen looking straight out at the viewer. He’s in a uniform and, again, the star can be seen on his cap, but as we only see a part of him it’s difficult to say how he is equipped. He’s there to make up the numbers in some ways and as his carving is not that pronounced as the other figures nearby you get an impression that he is some distance behind her. Ready for the fight but not in the thick of it yet.

Moving further to the right we have another male partisan who is shown in profile. From his stance we get a sense, again, of movement. He’s obviously running quickly to the centre of the action, his feet are far apart as if he is striding out and his arms are bent and up close to his chest, in exactly the same way as you would see in a competitive runner. The urgency suggested in his stance could mean he is carrying an important message to the Battalion Commander in the centre of the star. This figure is in full partisan uniform and his rifle hangs loosely from a strap over his right shoulder.

The next image is one that is also somewhat unique. Here we have a female partisan leading a pack horse. The terrain in which the Partisan Army operated would have been virtually devoid of anything more substantial than a mountain path so the only way to transport heavy materials, such as dismantled artillery pieces and its related shells, would be by pack horse. I can’t recall seeing a horse being depicted in the paintings in various art galleries and this is certainly the first time on a lapidar, so it’s quite possible here we have a unique idea.

The woman leading the horse is dressed in exactly the same way as the female partisan described before, her hair is braided and as she’s busy with the horse doesn’t carry any weapon, although there are ammunition pouches on her belt. It also appears she’s wearing a heavy woollen jumper. Her left hand is holding on to the bridal of the horse, close to its head, the horse being slightly above her level. Her right arm is stretched out towards the viewer and in her hand she is holding something, but this has broken off so it’s not easy to work out what it is. She’s also wearing a very fierce expression on her face, more anger than determination.

The horse itself is heavily laden. There seems to be a large box and attached to the side is which looks very much like the barrel of a small artillery piece or a heavy machine gun. The impression of movement is provided by the fact that the left fore leg is raised and it’s possible to see the hoof. The right fore leg can be seen between the legs of the woman as she strides out.

The last in this group which is marching to the front is a male Partisan whose face is in profile as he marches forward to battle. This is the standard-bearer. The flag he is holding, in his left hand, flutters slightly from right to left, becoming the backdrop to the horse’s head and ending at its shoulders, before its load. When viewed from the right hand side it’s possible to see that the way the group is posed the flag pole is held in front of him as he marches, the wind then blowing it back and partially wrapping itself around him to then flutter back towards the rear of the column.

This is the flag of the Communist Partisans which became the national flag of the country after true Independence in 1944. Even before the lapidar was white-washed it wasn’t easy to make out the eagle and the star and now you need to know it’s there to be able to see it. Between and above the heads of the double-headed eagle is a star – but it’s very faint (or maybe because I expect it to be there I just imagine it). However much a target these stars have been in certain parts of the country this monument doesn’t appear to have been attacked and if the star is faint it’s more likely due to general weathering over the last 38 years.

I don’t quite understand what he’s doing with his right hand. I would have thought he would have needed both hands on the pole but it’s raised so that it’s close to his shoulder and seems to be holding something. To me it looks like there has been something broken off at some time in the past, but what and why his hand is there I don’t know.

Although he merges with the next group he is, in fact, positioned at the end of one story and the beginning of the next.

We now get to the command group which is located right in the centre of the star and consists of five partisans, as far as I can make out all of them are male. It’s also in this area where the style of the sculpture changes. Not only have the figures become larger, until the commander is, more or less, life-size, the figures have also ‘moved out’ of the star. The carvings at the extreme left of the monument are typical bas-relief but as we move to the centre they start to emerge from the stone. This is the case with the right legs of the running soldier and horse wrangler but becomes more pronounced with the command group. The top half of the foremost officer is completely separate from the rest of the monument so that its possible to look behind him and see a full carving of the other members of the group who revert to being bas-reliefs.

Pishkash Star Command Group

Pishkash Star Command Group

The officer is dressed in what I’ve come to expect for a commander of the Albanian Partisan National Liberation Army. It’s the full uniform, with the cap and the star as well as the bandana around his neck – signs of his Communist affiliation and beliefs. There are two straps across his chest which go under the belt at his waist. On his left hip there’s a holster, the pistol attached to one of these straps. On the other strap is attached what I believe to be a leather dispatch and map case. As he is standing facing us you can also see the breeches he’s wearing. So far this is the first lapidar where this style of uniform seems to be almost universal. I can only assume that early in the struggle the First Brigade broke into an Italian Fascist warehouse where these were the only uniforms in stock, surely no one would use these trousers by choice. His left arm hangs loosely at his side, the hand open whilst his right arm is bent and the clenched fist at the level just above his belt. At first I thought he might at one time been holding something in his hand but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Perhaps it’s another demonstration of determination to defeat the enemy or a representation of his having arrived at an important decision in relation to the battle he is supervising.

(The more I look in detail at these fine works of art I wonder why the Partisan Army followed so closely the conventions of capitalist armies. I accept the principle of an organised leadership structure but did it have to faithfully imitate the actual fashion style and equipment as well? It’s possible that representing the Partisans in this way is due to the fact that the artists, here the sculptors, that were working in the late 1960s and for the next fifteen to sixteen years when lapidars were being created, had not actually experienced war themselves. The photos I’ve seen of the period give me the impression that the Partisan Army was much more egalitarian, much more informal than is sometimes presented in Socialist Realist Art.)

The next figure, this one over the left shoulder of the officer, the highest of the group, is another male. He is looking straight ahead and only the very top part of his body is in sight. He’s wearing a uniform, as are virtually all those figures present on this lapidar. (That’s another difference with some of the other major monuments which include many figures. Normally there’s a mix of dress, as would be expected in a Partisan/Guerrilla Army.)

Next, in front, and slightly to the right, there’s another Partisan but, again, only the head is visible, wearing a cap but no other details are visible. But he presents another conundrum. His left arm is raised so the hand is at the level of the top of his head. His hand is grasping what looks like a tube, probably no longer than half a metre but, for the life of me, I can’t work out what it is. I can’t even come up with a half-educated guess. This is one of the problems when trying to read these major monuments. Once you are close enough to make out detail you are viewing the images at such an acute angle that the perspective is all wrong.

Then on the principal officer’s left is the second most important figure in this group and that’s another soldier in full uniform. He’s in half profile looking towards the battle raging on the right. His uniform is similar to the that of the officer but as well as ammunition pouches around his waist he has a bandolier of pouches across his chest over his left shoulder. A strap which passes over his right shoulder is attached to his rifle. This is a little strange as the strap passes under the bandolier, making it awkward to get his gun in a firing position quickly. All we see of the weapon is the butt which he is holding away from his body with his left hand, the rest hidden behind his back.

The final figure in this group is on its extreme right. This is another male Partisan in uniform. It’s possible to see the left hand side of his body but he doesn’t appear to be armed and I can’t work out his role in the group. He just seems to be standing there, with his arms hanging down by the side of his body. I work on the basis that all the images on these lapidars are there for a purpose but there are a few here whose role is opaque, to say the least.

There’s no doubt of those we come across, now on the ride hand point of the star. These are those who are actively engaged in the fighting. This is a scene that appears on a number of lapidars, most notably the Drashovice Arch in the Shushicë valley, close to Vlora.

The are six Partisans in this group, four male and two female and all of them are actively involved in engaging the enemy. As is often the case we know it’s in the mountains as we have the uneven surface upon which they are standing or kneeling. This impression of the hills is helped by the up-sweep of the bottom of the star point on the right. Another device used to give the sense of fighting in the hills is the fact that the weapons are pointed downwards. What we have here is an ambush where the Partisans have used the terrain to their advantage and have chosen when and where to fight.

Starting from the bottom we have a female fighter. She’s kneeling and has the gun up to her left shoulder, her right hand on the forestock and squeezing the trigger with her left. I would have thought that most people, whether right or left-handed, would have the rifle stock against the right shoulder. So here we have a situation where reality has been changed to suit the artistic situation. Here, to have carved the bas-relief in the way that conformed to reality would have meant obscuring the facial features of the Partisan. She’s in full uniform and is well supplied with bullets, having ammunition pouches around her waist as well as others on a bandolier across her chest. Her long hair streams out underneath her cap, again providing an element of movement and suggesting her movement forward, attacking the enemy with courage and determination, as well as suggesting the wind in the mountains.

Above her and to the right, with the tip of the barrel of his weapon right on the edge of the star, is a male Partisan whose is firing what looks like a medium machine gun. He has both his hands on the trigger and aiming mechanism and we can see the belt after the bullets have been expelled coming out of the right hand side of the weapon. I’m in no way an expert on WWII weapons but the closest I can get to the image on the lapidar is a Spanish made ALFA 44 (Ametralladora ALFA Modelo 44) Medium Machine Gun (1944). If it’s true I have no idea how it got to Albania but no other weapon that looks like that shown on the monument fits. However, again this might be due to a lack of proper research on the part of the sculptor. (Here I don’t want to cast aspersions but I’m not aware of how conscientious the artists who worked on the creation of these monuments were when it came to historical accuracy.) But it’s important to stress that he is firing down hill. This is almost a trope of such lapidars in Albania.

He’s in uniform, has ammunition pouches on his waist belt and wears a cap – but on this monument it’s difficult to make out the stars. As I write more about what’s here I start to think that Çuli has very much followed a formula. He has many individuals but they are more like clones. Although I think this is a fabulous example of Albanian Socialist Realist Art Çuli doesn’t have the same imagination as sculptors such a Mumtaz Dhrami. It’s monumental but on closer inspection it doesn’t have the individuality that intellectuals ‘demand’. When you have the chance, like here, make the most of it.

Behind the Partisan with the machine gun, a little lower, and to the left of the first female fighter, are two males. At first glance this is slightly confusing. The one closest to the centre of the star is obviously in the process in firing his rifle at the enemy. In the same way as the first Partisan in this section of the story, he has his rifle up to his left shoulder. His jacket flies out behind him, he is rushing to the front, his enthusiasm to engage the enemy is unbounded. So this is understandable.

However, there is a face of another person, close to the front and the heat of battle but he seems to be doing nothing. His head is close to the rifle of his comrade but he looks unarmed. But that’s not the case. If you look behind the head of the rushing forward rifleman you will be able to pick out the shape of a hand, the right hand of the mysterious face. And in this is a Mills bomb, a British made grenade. At times there are representations of German made stick grenades but the Albanian Partisans seemed to have preferred the British model, given to the Partisans as the majority of the British Army was safely behind the Channel.

Although there are some individuals in this scenario where I don’t see the reason for their presence I like this idea of ‘hiding’ a fighter but who, under closer inspection, reveals that he is as involved as the more dramatic of his comrades.

Above, and to the left of these two combatants, is another male with his rifle up to his right shoulder this time. Again he fires down, stressing the idea of the mountains. It’s possible to make out his right forefinger on the trigger and he steadies the weapon with his left hand on the forestock.

At the very top of this part of the tableau is a very angry young women. We know she’s female due to her body shape and her long hair flowing back as she charges forward. She’s the only one of this group who’s not using her weapon from a distance. She has her rifle, which is fitted with a bayonet, held high above her head. Her right arm is stretched as far as possible behind her head and her hand grips the weapon just before the firing mechanism. Her left arm is bent back above her head, to increase the force of her thrust forward, and she holds the rifle by the barrel. Some lapidars depict the closeness of the fighting with the addition of the enemy as part of the sculpture. Here there are not Fascists shown but the impression of hand to hand fighting is represented by this woman who is about to use her gun more as a sword than a firearm.

One criticism I have here is that this rifle seems way out of proportion. If to scale it would have been almost as long as she was tall. This is not the first time I’ve seen this exaggerated representation. A similar one can be seen on the sculpture of the female Partisan at the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.

This scene is different from the other stories so far interpreted as all these Partisans are carved into the star whilst all the other figures are on the face of the star. I can’t think of any reason for this other than a way to demonstrate that this small group is involved in the actual fighting whereas all the others are yet to fire their weapons in anger.

Moving back into the centre of the star we have the numbers 1944, positioned just above the command group and to the right of the Partisan flag. This is the year when the Partisan army defeated the invading Nazis and November 29th is celebrated as the date of the beginning of true independence for the Albanian people – something which has been given up in recent years.

As the figures started out small and then became larger as we got to the centre of the star so the figures become smaller as we move to the apex. And here it gets very difficult to make out exactly what the story is we’re being told. Not easy before the white-washing, more difficult since.

Peeking over the burden of the pack horse are four figures, all male and all in uniform. We just see a little over the head and shoulders of all of them, the one on the extreme left being slightly lower than the other three. The first on the left has his right hand raised to his shoulder and it looks like his wrist is hanging over the barrel of a gun of some kind. This is the sort of casual way of carrying a weapon that’s common in Hollywood films, with the left hand resting on the butt, but there’s no real sign of the other end of the gun in this image. He’s facing forward, as are the next two to the right of him. There are indications of guns on straps over shoulders but it’s very confusing. The fourth partisan is in half profile and it definitely seems he’s holding the strap for his rifle in his right hand, close to his shoulder, with the top of rifle barrel peeking out. He’s also wearing a bandana around his neck.

The remaining images are now on the part of the star from just above the flag to the apex.

The first, on the left, is a female Partisan, identifiable by her long hair. She’s facing forwards and her right hand is raised in the clenched fist, revolutionary salute. On her right, and slightly higher (her head is at the level of his waist, is another officer in a very similar stance, and dressed in the same manner, as the Commanding officer in the centre of the lapidar. He’s in full uniform, has a holster on his left hip (with the strap coming over his right shoulder to which would be attached the gun itself) and ammunition pouches on his belt. His right arm is bent and his clenched fist rests on his chest. Why? I don’t understand. His left arm hangs at his side and the hand disappears behind the top of the flag.

Above him are a group of three, two males and a female, again all in uniform. The first, on the left, looks forward and there’s no sign of a weapon. The woman next to him is likewise unarmed. The third of the group behaves differently. He’s in half profile, his left arm is bent at a 45 degree angle and his fist is clenched. Is this a demonstration of defiance or anger?

Standing above him, their feet just above his fist, are a male and female partisan. He has a rifle hanging from the strap over his right shoulder and he is looking in the direction to the left of the star. In fact, he’s the only person in the whole tableau who’s looking in that direction. To have at least one person looking in the opposite direction to the action and the majority of the others is quite common. Normally it indicates looking at those who are coming to join the battle and often, though not in this case, making a gesture for others to hurry up and get involved. The woman, on the other hand, is looking to the right, to where the fighting is already taking place. There’s a possibility that she holds a pistol in her left hand.

At the same level as these two, on the left, is a donkey with a rounded pack on its back. This is the first time I’ve seen one on a lapidar. This beast of burden has a difficult task as it is going up hill with its load, its hoofs on different levels of what is obviously implied to be the side of a steep mountain, the bend in the legs indicating that it is working hard. Constantly you get these references to hills in Albanian lapidars.

Just above the shoulder of the donkey is the head of a male soldier. He’s looking towards the front but doesn’t seem to be guiding the animal in any way – at least not in the way the wrangler lower down is doing with her pack horse.

Finally there’s a group of five, four men and one woman. The lowest one, a male, has his left hand on the strap of a bag that rests on his left shoulder. Slightly higher and on his right is a woman, She is in uniform, as are all the rest in this group, and there’s a bag resting on her left hip. Her right hand is holding on to something resting on her right shoulder, in a similar manner to one of the other Partisans lower down. Here it’s possible to see the other end that protrudes over her left shoulder but it doesn’t look like a gun. It’s something circular but what I still don’t know.

Things are increasingly indistinct as we go higher. There’s not much detail in the three men on her right and which concludes this group. I don’t know if it’s the shadows caused by the time of day I took the pictures but the one in the middle looks like he might have a moustache, indicating an older man. So far the majority of the partisans on this monument are young people – representing the make up of the National Liberation Army.

Between that individual and the one on the left there’s a tall circular object, almost phallic, which goes to a higher point than any of the figures. This is another object that, so far, has me stumped.

And that’s what you see when you have the road, and the railway viaduct, at your back. There are more questions about what’s being depicted than I would like but I hope to be able to come up with more accurate descriptions following my next visit.

But this star has two sides, and the back, although much less ornate and with no human or animal figures, is still interesting. It also has remained free of the restoration white washing and therefore gives an idea of what the monument looked like originally.

Back of the star

The image on the back is simple and clear; a flag is attached at the top to the end of the barrel and at the bottom to the firing mechanism of an over-sized bolt-action rifle. The impression of the flag fluttering in the breeze is created by the undulations of the carving. This, in real life would have been a red flag with the Nationalist (the double-headed eagle) and the Communist (golden star) symbols and I’m slightly surprised they are not represented here. Perhaps the idea is that any piece of red cloth can be used in situations such as the entry of the Partisans into a town after liberating the area from the Fascists.

Qukës-Pishkash Star - back

Qukës-Pishkash Star – back

This part of the star also seems to be in a better condition than the front. Perhaps the trees behind and the direction of the weather have provided some sort of protection over the years.

The Sculptors

Although the names of those who worked on many of the Albanian lapidars are ‘lost’ – at least to me – more information is normally forthcoming on major monuments such as the Qukës-Pishkash Star. But, unfortunately, only a little.

It was inaugurated in 1978 and the principal sculptor was Perikli Çuli. So far I haven’t been able to gather any other information about him other than the fact that he was also the sculptor of the monument ‘Toka Jonë – Our Land’ – a celebration of workers and peasants – which is in the centre of Lushnje. This is a much later work having been completed in 1987.

He was ‘assisted’ by a recently graduated artist called Agim Rada. Rada seems to have been a bit of a ‘tortured intellectual’ as he hit the bottle for a number of years and only got out of that rut by finding God. He hadn’t produced much for years but was commissioned to produce a work in Shkoder in readiness for the visit of the Catholic leader, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who visited Albania in 2014.

This work is called ‘Kleriku i Prangosur – The Chained Cleric’ and stands in the grounds of the main Catholic church in the city. I haven’t seen it yet but hope to do so on my next visit to Shkoder.

Condition of the area

There doesn’t seem to be any real structural damage to the Star itself, although erosion and lack of general maintenance has made it difficult to make out some of the images. The painting hasn’t really helped as the original stone had different colours and this assisted in providing a contrast between the background and the carvings of the figures.

The general area, a fairly large paved space close to the main road, suffers from the same neglect that besets virtually all public areas throughout Albania. There’s a derelict drinking fountain to the left of the monument so, presumably, at times in the past there would have been large groups of people in the vicinity.

Some time before the group from the Albanian Lapidar Survey visited the site in the summer of 2014 there must have been a significant anniversary as a sash and wreath made from laurel leaves had been placed across the shoulders of the commanding officer. This might well be an annual celebration. When I visited in the early summer of 2015 the wreath had been thrown on the ground at the back of the star.

A more modest lapidar

Pishkask Lapidar

Pishkask Lapidar

It’s possible to see the variation in the whole scheme of Socialist lapidars just by looking across the road, to the left of the bar/shop. There a couple of joined, concrete columns commemorate, probably, those of the village of Pishkash who died in the National Liberation war. It’s impossible to say exactly as the space where a marble plaque would have been fixed is now empty. Whether vandalised or stolen it’s impossible to say.

Location of the Qukës-Pishkash Star:

GPS:

41.073821

20.49985302

DMS:

41° 4′ 25.7556” N

20° 29′ 59.4709” E

Altitude:

503.1m

How to get there.

All the furgons and buses on the route Librazhd – Përrenjas or Korçë pass the Star. You should be able to get back to your starting point if you don’t leave it too late in the afternoon. There’s a small bar, as well as a shop, just across the road, at the junction of the road leading up to the village of Pishkash.

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

To the First School - Proger

To the First School – 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.

Monument to the First School

This is located in what would have been the centre of activity in the village at a place that is the closest to a square the village boasts. I say ‘was’ as what appear to be community buildings looked derelict and unused on my visit in May 2015. It’s almost at the top of the village, sitting just above a road that links the community hall, the Communist Party of Albania lapidar (and the Party headquarters) as well as the school. As a consequence of the counter-revolution of the 1990s at the northern end of this road is a mosque.

It’s not a particularly complicated lapidar but even so it has its unique features. There are certain themes that reappear throughout the country but there’s always a slight variation so, in effect, every lapidar is different.

This monument commemorates the opening of the first school in 1908. There are a number of monuments to the pre-liberation struggle for education and the Albanian language throughout the country, probably the most impressive being that in Gjirokaster, but there is also another interesting example in Shkoder. There’s even a post-Socialist sculpture in Korçë, located outside the Museum of Education.

You approach via a flight of stone steps and there are two elements. Sitting on a concrete block at the left hand side and balanced on the lowest stone of the pillar at the right is a concrete representation of an open book roughly 2 metres by 4. On the left hand page are the letters A, B and C (in script) running diagonally down the page from the top left to bottom right. The letters seem to be made out of iron, the weather and time having their effect and underneath each there’s a yellowish stain. Unlike many lapidars in different parts of the country there has been no recent attempt at ‘restoration’.

In the centre of the right hand page is a large marble plaque. On this are the words:

‘Në këtë vend në vitin 1908 u hap shkolla e parë shqipe’.

This translates as:

‘In this location, in 1908, the first Albanian school was opened’.

The words are surrounded by a number of children’s stick on tattoos as well as a little bit of graffiti but there’s no actual damage. What is interesting, when you look a little closer, is the fact that this is not the original as there is another plaque underneath. This also looks like it’s made of marble, but a thinner piece, and all that can be seen are a few centimetres sticking out on both the left and right sides of the present plaque. I’ve come across similar incidences in other places but the exact reason why I haven’t been able to ascertain. Perhaps the original was damaged, either accidentally or due to political vandalism, and it was less intrusive to the monument to place a new one on top of the old. Although I understand (but don’t like) the conscious alteration of some monuments I don’t understand why a monument to an event long before the period of Socialism, and especially when it is linked to education, should be a political ‘target’. I am as bemused by this case as I am about the ‘missing’ red book on the mosaic on the façade of the Historical Museum in Tirana.

The second element is a pillar, which is about twice the height of the book. Although I have seen similar pillars this one is different in that it is constructed of large blocks of stone rather than being made of concrete. It’s slightly wider at the bottom but the majority is of a uniform circumference until just before the last two layer. Here the stones are larger and protrude out towards the right of the monument. These stones have been shaped but not smoothed on the visible edges. This is the opposite to what they represent.

For this pillar represents the barrel of a rifle and the protrusions are the front sight. Though not a common image in Albanian lapidars it is not unknown. Two major examples are the Mushqete Monument in Berzhite (where the rifle barrel is held in a huge hand) and the lapidar on the outskirts of Korçë, at the junction of the road heading towards Bilisht.

The symbol of the gun is a statement that any gains made by the people, in whatever field it might be, whether it be educational, social or economic, can only be really achieved, and more importantly maintained, by the preparedness to use force against all those who seek to re-establish the old order.

Although not as grand as the Education Monument in Gjirokaster the example in Progër is, nonetheless, another unique example of how Albanian sculptors sought to represent the history of their country. It’s also a statement about the importance that education had in the construction of Socialism.

Location:

GPS:

40.69505696

20.93967101

DMS:

40° 41′ 42.2051” N

20° 56′ 22.8156” E

Altitude:

852.1m

Martyrs' Lapidar - Proger

Martyrs’ Lapidar – Proger

Lapidar to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War

The lapidar commemorating the Martyrs of the National Liberation War is about 50m to the north of that to the First School but on the opposite side of the road and down some steps. It’s a relatively simple affair constructed of worked, smoothed rectangular blocks of local stone in a neoclassical style.

This consists of a number of stages. At the bottom of the steps from the road there’s a large, rectangular concrete area with the lapidar sitting in the middle. To get on this level there are three small stone steps on the either side of which there is a very small column on top of which there’s a square capital, with a shallow pyramid carved into the top. At the bottom of the lapidar itself is a plinth constructed of individual blocks of stone. They have been worked to provide a simple decoration, with a gentle curve between the bottom and top flat planes. On this sits a pedestal, slightly smaller in width, two courses high, above which is a narrower curved course. On top of this is a column eleven courses high, again narrower than the section below. It’s not exactly square as the two levels behind the facade are offset progressively on both the left and right sides by a matter of a few centimetres so that the rear is wider that the front.

In the centre of the facade, two courses from the top, there’s a bronze star below which, curving upwards, are (on the right) the leaves of a laurel and (on the left) the berries from the same shrub. The star represents, as always on Albanian lapidars, Communism and the laurel a mixture of glory to the victors, although here to those who did not survive to see the victory, as well as the idea of immortality. Throughout the ages the meaning of the laurel in art has taken on slightly different meanings although all related in one way or another.

One course of stone below the laurel leaves there are two marble slabs, following the same central line downwards. At the top are the words;

‘Lavdi dëshmorëve të Luftës Nacional Çlirimtare’

meaning;

‘Glory to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War’

Underneath that are the names of ten of those from the village killed in the war. All the lettering on these plaques is in bronze. In a way a bit of a surprise as on many of the more modest lapidars the bronze has been looted for scrap but here there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to steal them. Immediately below the marble plaques is a small, rectangular piece of iron on which there are two further names. This looks though it’s been there for some time as the iron is very much rusted.

This addition of names is not unknown and there are a few reasons for this, depending mainly upon when they were added. In the tradition of commemorating the fallen sometimes the names would be attached to a lapidar at the place of their death and/or their place of birth – sometimes both. But things were not totally organised and names could have been presumed to have been marked in one place when, in actuality, they weren’t anywhere. Locally these omitted names would be added to an existing monument. This would have been the situation pre-1990. If after that date names were added this would normally mean they were the names of other Albanians who had died in the National Liberation War but it isn’t always clear on which side they were fighting. Now the pro-Monarchists are in power they could have been considered ‘martyrs’ even though they might well have been collaborators of the occupying fascists.

The general area around the lapidar is more or less clean although the trees on the right are starting to encroach on the monument’s space. At the very top there looks like there was a terracotta tiled roof, though that’s not completely intact, a few broken tiles and empty spaces visible from below.

Martyrs' Lapidar - Proger - Mosque

Martyrs’ Lapidar – Proger – Mosque

One of the most interesting things about the lapidar is its location. I have no idea what was surrounding the monument when it was first constructed – I would have thought a public park, but I can’t say for certain. Presently there’s a gate at the side of the road and when I visited that gate was locked so I had to around and enter – via the entrance to the mosque. Because immediately north of the lapidar is a relatively new mosque. Recently, when writing about the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Korçë, I suggested the positioning of Christian and Muslim symbols and buildings in post-Socialist Albania was very similar to the attitude and activities of the Catholic Church in Latin America after the invasion of 1492, that is the ‘extirpation of ideology’.

Here we have another example of that. The mosque is obviously much larger than a humble war memorial but by placing it so close to a symbol of the Socialist period of Albania’s past it’s making a political statement – we are now in charge. Another example of this can be seen in the centre of Shkoder where a lapidar to the 27th Brigade is within the enclosed grounds of the Ebu Bakr mosque.

Location:

GPS:

40.695279

20.93875

DMS:

40° 41′ 43.0044” N

20° 56′ 19.5000” E

Altitude:

853.8m

 

Proger – First Party Cell of the PKSH

Proger - First Party Cell of PKSH

Proger – First Party Cell of 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 Partly 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.

The lapidar consists of a huge, rectangular, concrete block on to which is attached a plaster bas-relief. This concrete mass is sitting on a plinth of large granite blocks. At the extreme left hand edge a large figure of a male partisan sits on a concrete plinth which is set out from the main block but the back of his body is attached to, and becomes part of, the main scenario.

We don’t see all the figure, he’s depicted from the thighs up. He’s staring straight out towards the viewer and his right arm is fully extended above his head, with the fist tightly clenched in a Communist salute. From the shoulder to just about the location of the thumb this arm is separate from the rest of the tableau. At the top of the hand he again becomes as one with the rest of the story.

He’s dressed in the full uniform of a Communist Partisan. This means he wears a cap with a star on the front and around his neck what would have been a red scarf, knotted at the front. He has two straps coming from his shoulders which cross in the middle of his chest. At the end of the strap that goes over his ammunition belt on his right hip hangs a small, cloth field equipment bag. The strap going down to the left, passes underneath the ammunition belt and this is attached to a revolver in its holster. We can see three ammunition pouches on this belt, each containing five bullets. Close to the equipment bag a Mills bomb hangs from a strap attached to the belt. In the space below where the straps cross it’s possible to make out the buttons on his jacket, The pockets on both sides of the jacket, over his breast, can also be seen. His left hand grips the top of the barrel of his rifle. Apart from the barrel we see nothing of his weapon and it looks as if the very top of the barrel has been broken off (a piece of the steel reinforcement sticking out of the plaster).

Immediately in front of his right thigh there’s an indistinguishable lump of plaster. It’s about the size of a football but I can’t think of what it could have been. The fact that it’s impossible to work out what it’s supposed to be suggests that this part of the statue has been the victim of vandalism.

Communist Partisan - Proger

Communist Partisan – Proger

Behind the Partisan’s head are the top three points of a five-pointed star. This suggests a religious comparison as it looks very much like a halo – one of those artistic references which come from previous artistic styles.

Above this star/halo is a larger star, its left most point reaching the left hand edge of the tableau. In the middle of this star are the letters PKSH. This stands for Partia Komuniste Shqiptare – Albanian Communist Party. This is the largest of all the stars on the lapidar. On either side of the uppermost point of the big star is a small star.

As we move towards the right we have two males, not in the uniform of a Partisan, but wearing the sort of clothes worn by workers in the 1940s. The first one is shown with his face in profile, as if he is speaking to his comrade. On his head he has a flat cap and is wearing a long overcoat. Hanging from his right shoulder is a strap and a bag of some sort appears to be at resting against his right thigh. It’s difficult to tell for definite but he seems to be wearing the long socks pulled up over his trousers – as is the case with the Partisan in the Korçë Martyrs’ Cemetery. He doesn’t appear to be armed in any way. His right arm is bent and his right hand is near the lapel of his coat, perhaps he’s making a point by using his hands to emphasise his argument. His left hand is resting on the shoulder of his comrade, an indication of their closeness and friendship.

Comrades - Proger

Comrades – Proger

The next male is looking to his right, towards his companion, but we can see most of his face. He also has a flat cap on his head but his clothing is slightly different, although still workers clothes. He wears a short jacket and has extremely baggy trousers. On his feet he has the sandals common at the time. To give an indication of the detail we can make out the buckle on the belt around his waist. He is holding a rifle, half way along the length of the barrel, in his left hand – we can see most of the gun, only the end of the butt being hidden behind one of the other figures. Both these figures are standing on a ledge at roughly the level of the previously described uniformed Partisan’s elbow.

To the right of the head of this second male are three stars, a large one with a smaller one on either side. The left most point of the big star seems to overlap the smaller star on that side.

Below the stars, as if written on a wall, are the letters VFLP. These stand for ‘Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!’ (‘Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!’) – the common slogan of the Communist fighters and supporters. We have already seen these letters before, for example, on the lapidars in Peze.

The next figure is laden with symbolism and is the epitome of the Albanian Cultural Revolution of the 1960s/70s. This is of a female Partisan. Although not as large as the first male on the extreme left she is the central image on this lapidar. She’s virtually in the centre of the rectangle and carries with her the main symbols of the National Liberation War and the subsequent attempts to build Socialism.

The Spirit of Communism- Proger

The Spirit of Communism – Proger

She is shown as if she is running forward, her whole body giving the impression of movement. Her left arm is raised high over her head and is stretched out in front of her. She is gripping the short pole to which is attached the red flag of the Communist Partisans (and later, until the 1990s, to be the national flag of the country). She holds the pole just where the flag starts, the bottom end of the pole resting against her forearm. The flag itself streams out above and behind her head. On the flag is the double-headed eagle above which is a star. The folds in the material of the standard adds to the impression of movement. The very top inches of the flag protrude above the rectangle upon which the other images appear, slightly breaking the confines of the block.

The element of movement is also enhanced by the fact that her right arm is bent slightly behind her and in her hand she holds a Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (seen before on the Drashovice Arch). Only one of her legs is seen and that is bent as she runs forward. Her face is in profile, just the right hand side seen, and she has her long hair tucked under her cap. This is an image seen before on the monument to the 68 Girls of Fier, amongst others. She’s dressed in the full uniform of a Communist Partisan and that means a star on her cap and a ‘red’ neck chief, stressing her political allegiance.

This centrality of an armed female is a fundamental of works of Socialist Realism of the period, clearly seen on the most well-known image of the mosaic on the façade of the Historical Museum in Tirana.

Below her is a male partisan with his right knee on the ground, in the act of firing his bolt-action rifle. He has the rifle butt up to his right shoulder and it’s possible to make out a star cut into the wood of the butt, a tradition from early independence struggles which was carried over to the war of 1939-44. He is also in full uniform, wearing a cap with the Communist star. There are puttees on his shins. These were (and versions still are) worn to protect the legs from damage in the rough terrain of the Albanian mountains. His feet rest on top of the letters that run from left to right along most of the bottom edge of the sculpture.

This takes us to about two-thirds of the way along the monument and here we have an actual physical line of division. This line runs from the wrist of the female partisan holding the flag to just before the left toe of the boot of the kneeling male partisan (the top of the line ‘hidden’ behind the fluttering flag). But I’m not too sure why.

All the images on the left depict the story prior to victory over the invading Fascists in November 1944. If the section on the right was to depict events after Liberation it would make sense, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. My doubts stem from the next image.

With his right foot resting on top of the letters at the bottom of the rectangle we have a large, older male. Here we don’t have the representation of a worker but of someone from the countryside. He wears a cap similar to the two workers who are having a discussion but the rest of his clothing, and his look, is more of a peasant than a town dweller. First, he has a bushy moustache, which was becoming rare in the towns. Secondly, his jacket looks home-made, two straps keeping what, I assume, is a leather jerkin closed at his chest. He wears baggy trousers with gaiters buttoned over his shin, more common and usual before the use of puttees (which were mainly for military use). His right foot is on solid ground but his left is on some sort of man-made walk way in the hills – an image I haven’t seen before.

He’s very muscular, as he has to be in order to lift the huge rock he has in both hands, his arms straight as they strain to take the weight. But why is he moving this rock? What prompts the question is that he has the top of the barrel of a rifle sticking up behind his right shoulder. Without the rifle it could be argued that he is building a wall or clearing a patch of land for cultivation. But if that was the case why does he need his rifle? This area is very close to the Greek border and there were incursions into Albania by British and American supported monarcho-fascists in the early days of Socialist Albania. There’s a monument to one such repulsed encounter in the town of Bilisht, only about 5 kilometres away (as the crow flies), on 2nd August 1949. That would explain why people were vigilant and keeping arms to hand but not necessarily on their person at all times when doing hard, physical labour in the countryside.

However, there is an image very similar depicted in a painting by Sali Shijaku, called ‘Skenderbeu’s Artillery’ (1968), where a huge rock has been moved to a high vantage point to drop on any invader. (Shijaku also painted the image, which is in the National Art Gallery in Tirana, of the last moments of Vojo Kushi.)

Skenderbeu's Artillery, Sali Shijaku, 1968

Skenderbeu’s Artillery, Sali Shijaku, 1968

So I’m uncertain of how exactly to interpret this image.

Because the final figure on the lapidar is definitely representing the new Albania after Liberation. Here we have a true Amazon. It’s the image of a country woman, facing straight out, her feet apart, and holding a large sheaf of wheat above her head, with both arms bent at the elbows. She’s a young woman with long hair hanging down both sides of her head and wears a long, simple peasant dress reaching half way down her shins. There looks to be a simple cord pulling it in at her waist. There’s a similar representation of a peasant women in the large sculpture called ‘Toka Jonë – Our Land’ (by Perikli Çuli, 1987) in the centre of Lushnje.

Building Socialism - Proger

Building Socialism – Proger

If you look at the two peasant figures together it appears that the older man is bringing the young woman a huge rock but although I’m sure she could lift it I really don’t see the connection between them.

At the very bottom of the lapidar is the written explanation for the monument. Starting immediately to the right of the large male Partisan on the extreme left are the words:

‘Më 21 XI 1941 në fshatin Progër u krijua celula e parë e partisë në zonë [n e …]’

Which translates as:

‘On 21 XI 1941, in the village of Progër, the first Party cells were established in the area [n…e…]’.

(This was very soon after the establishment of the Communist Party of Albania in Tirana.)

The last words have been totally obliterated and, so far, I’ve been unable to find information on what is missing. Someone has tried to plaster over the remaining words but that vandalism hasn’t been that serious and they can still be read.

This is the first time I’ve seen a lapidar where the target of vandalism has been the written text. Normally it’s the stars that bear the brunt of the hatred.

The sculptor is unknown, as is the date of its inauguration, although often the unveiling of story-telling lapidars would coincide with an anniversary of the event being celebrated. Very often a local sculptor would receive the commission but Progër is still today a small village so the sculptor might have come from further afield.

Apart from the actual vandalism to the text the lapidar shows some signs of damage, The nose of the young woman with the sheaf looks broken and there are a couple of other places where damage doesn’t look like the result of time or general neglect. Unlike many places this monument hasn’t received a recent coat of paint, whether by design or just waiting to get some attention is unclear – local politics playing a role in this.

Although not unique there’s a fence with a locked gate to limit access from the road, necessitating a little bit of climbing and a short walk over rough ground in order to get close.

There used to be many small museums throughout the country during the Socialist period, with virtually all the Martyrs’ Cemeteries having at least a room where artefacts were displayed. In addition most towns would have a small, local museum. There are few remaining. Most were looted or vandalised during the early days of the reaction and now they are few and far between – although the recent renovation of the City Museum of Fier might be the start of a general move to recognise and remember the past.

Museum - Proger

Museum – Proger

In tiny Progër there was a museum just to the left and above the lapidar. It is no longer a museum but has, at least, been put to constructive use as it is now a small polyclinic – although the word ‘Muzeu’ can still be seen, in large letters, above the main entrance.

For such a small village Progër is home to two other lapidars, one commemorating the opening of the first school in 1908 and another to those from the village who fell in the National War of Liberation.

Location:

Progër is a small village 3 kilometres to the east of the road from Korçë to Bilisht.

GPS:

40.69477499

20.94036503

DMS:

40° 41′ 41.1900” N

20° 56′ 25.3141” E

Altitude:

844.7 m