Five Heroes of Vig – Skhodër

5 Heroes of Vig - Dobraç,

5 Heroes of Vig – Dobraç,

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

The statue commemorates events that took place in the small village of Vig in 1944, just before the victory of the Partisans over the Germany Fascists, their hangers-on, collaborators and lackeys.

On August 21, 1944, at Vig in the Mirdita highlands, 5 long time partisans went to talk to the peasants who were under the thumb of the feudal chief, Gjon Markagjoni, ‘a tool of the fascist occupiers’.

5 heroes of vig

5 heroes of vig

From left to right: Ndoc Dedo (Teli), Ndoc Mazi (Minuku), Naim Gjylbegu (Besniku), Hidajet Lezha (Hida), Ahmet Haxhia (Tigri).

Informers let the fascists know of their whereabouts and 200 Nazi troops were sent to capture or kill the five. The fight went on for 6 hours, the Communists fighting to the last bullet, and all of them being killed.

5 Heroes of Vig - Pandi Mele

5 Heroes of Vig – Pandi Mele

The incident was depicted in an Albanian film of 1982 called Besa e Kuqe (Red Faith), directed by Pirro Milkani.

Ahmet Haxhia 1926-1944

Ahmet Haxhia 1926-1944

 

 

Nom de guerre Tigri (Tiger). From a lower middle class family from Skhodër. Joined the Albanian Communist Party at the beginning of 1943 and worked in the town as part of the organising resistance amongst young people. In December of that year joined the Partisan unit based in the Miradita region. The youngest of the five.

 

 

Hydajet Lezha 1920-1944

Hydajet Lezha 1920-1944

 

 

 

Nom de guerre Hida. Born in the town of Lezha. Joined the Albanian Communist Party in early 1943 and, as an orphan, it was here where he found his true family.

 

 

 

Naim Gjylbegu 1920-1944

Naim Gjylbegu 1920-1944

 

 

Nom de guerre Besniku (Faithful). Was involved in the Skhodër Communist Group, the forerunner of the Albanian Communist Party, when still in his teens. In October 1942 became a member of the regional Committee of Communist Youth. Soon after arrested and tortured for his activities but once released became commander of the local CETA – guerrilla organisation.

 

Ndoc Deda 1918-1944

Ndoc Deda 1918-1944

 

 

 

Nom de guerre Teli (Wire). Born in a village in the Milot region into a peasant family. Organised revolutionary activity in the ranks of the old army later leaving to join the Partisans in the middle of 1943 and in October of that year joined the Albanian Communist Party.

 

 

Ndoc Mazi 1920-1944

Ndoc Mazi 1920-1944

 

 

Nom de guerre Minuku. Was born into a poor working class family in Skhodër. Was a member of the Skhodër Communist Group before it morphed into the Albanian Communist Party, Suffered from tuberculosis but still worked underground in, first, Durrës and later in Skhodër before joining the Partisan army in the Mirdita region. 

 

 

 

The statue, whose name in Albanian is ‘Monumenti i Heronjve të Vigut’, is the work of Shaban Hadëri (28th March 1928 – 14th January 2010) who created the statue of Isa Boletini – also in Shkodër – and collaborated on two of the most important existing monumental statues in Albania – Mother Albania, in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana, and the Independence Memorial in the city of Vlorë.

Hadëri joined the Partisan resistance to the Fascist invasion at the age of sixteen in 1944 and was able to follow his artistic education following the success of that war of liberation and the opportunities the Communists provided in terms of education.

This statue has gone through good times and bad. It originally started out as a concrete statue, of a little more than life-size, and was installed in the square beside the Rozafa Hotel in the centre of Shkodër in 1969.

5 Heroes of Vig in concrete

5 Heroes of Vig in concrete

This original was replaced by a much larger, 5 metres high, statue of bronze. This new statue was similar, with the same idea as the original, but with a few differences. This was mainly in the form of dress and the way they carried their armaments. It remained there until 31st January 2009. On that date it was transported to a site beside the Martyrs’ Cemetery on the banks of the River Kir.

5 Heroes of Vig - Shkoder

5 Heroes of Vig – Shkoder

When this cemetery was established the location would have been enviable – outside of the city, close to a river and with the mountains of the Dukagjin highlands behind it. However, since the arrival of ‘democracy’ in the 1990s many things have changed. The river, which only has significant water just after the snow melts in the spring, is now a tragic site.

The town’s rubbish dump has been created beside the river, very close to the Martyrs’ Cemetery. One of the results of the greater availability of consumer goods has been a massive explosion in the number of plastic bags. Once they are just dumped in the open air (there’s no attempt at a landfill in Shkodër) all it takes is a light breeze and the bags are everywhere. OK if you like your river beds multicoloured but generally disastrous for the environment.

Rubbish in Kir River

Rubbish in Kir River

Another legacy of the re-introduction of capitalism is the job of sifting through rubbish dumps, a trade that now spans the globe where, on some of the huge dumps, people both live and work on the detritus of others. At the Shkodër dump there are small groups bagging up whatever there might be of value and now they are really the only ones who visit the area in any frequency.

I’m assuming it must have been someone amongst this group that decided, at the end of  2012, that there was monetary value in the bronze statue of the 5 heroes and have been helping themselves to bits of it. There were certain amongst the politicians of Shkodër city council who, I’m sure, were glad of this news, that being part of their plan in the first place. In the centre of town any vandalism would be obvious but outside in a totally unpopulated area anything could, and did, happen.

This is what you would expect from a council that has changed the name of the road to the railway station to ‘Hungarian Anti-Communist Revolution Road’ as well as pandering to the US with celebrating nationals of that country who have had nothing to do with Albania apart from trying to make it a vassal to a greater imperialist power either in the distant or recent past. It’s in such a fundamentalist Catholic environment that Mother Teresa appears everywhere and the anti-Communist paintings have been commissioned in the Franciscan Church.

The present day ‘so-called’ Socialist Party made noises about the destruction of national heritage and that this showed a total lack of respect for those who had fought for the country’s liberation from Fascism. Despite their silence in the past – when such desecration has occurred and their almost non-existent opposition to the return of Ahmed Zogu’s remains to Tirana in November 2012 – their efforts have resulted in the re-siting of the (cleaned up if not renovated statue) on the northern perimeter of the city.

The Statue 

In its simple composition the statue epitomises the ideas of Socialist Realist sculpture. They form a tight circle so they are supporting, defending and depend upon each other and the direction in which they are looking gives the impression that they are covering the whole 360 degrees. It’s a defensive, rather than an attacking stance and in that way represents the way they dies – surrounded by an overwhelmingly superior force. But at the same time they wouldn’t have just been waiting for the enemy and the (imagined) depictions above try to give a more realistic representation of their ‘last stand’. What we have here is a symbolic representation of unity, solidarity and comradeship.

They are dressed in various clothing styles with one of them appearing to be dressed in a Partisan uniform but whether that would have been the case is unlikely due to the very nature of their mission – the elimination of a locally known tyrant and collaborator.

There’s a look of determination on all their faces together with a tranquillity as if they understand the circumstances and the inevitable acceptance of their lot, their fate. In the sort of war they were fighting any Partisan had to realise that once they had taken up arms they had to accept that all might not go well. This was total war and the Nazis would give no quarter – but then neither would the Partisans. Anyone who didn’t accept this should stay at home, let others do the fighting. Victory necessitated sacrifices – aim should be to make those as small as possible.

It’s very difficult with any degree of certainty to say exactly which of the five figures represents the real person and as they are in a circle there’s no real starting point so I’ll start with the figure that most clearly seems to be in uniform.

The uniform is typical of that seen on other lapidars throughout the country. He’s wearing a heavy jacket under which is a thick woollen jumper. He has a wide belt tied, not buckled, around his waist and into this is tucked a pistol. This pistol has a huge grip (similar to that carried by Bajram Curri in the statue to him in the town that bears his name). The pistol is attached to a twisted leather lanyard which goes around his neck, under the collar of the jacket. On his head he wears the typical Partisan cap, with the red star at the front. He is wearing sandals – with thick woollen socks – the strap and buckle on the left foot visible and cords crisscross the trousers of both legs, on the shins.

He is holding what looks like a Beretta Model 38 sub-machine gun with the forefinger of his right hand on trigger and his left hand supporting barrel in front of magazine, the bottom end of the magazine resting against his left knee.. Here is one of the examples of mindless vandalism which this monument has had to suffer and the end of barrel has been sawn off – this must have provided the thief with enough to buy a raki, not much else.

He stands with his legs slightly apart, standing steady, giving an impression of solidity, determination, of not going to move. He is looking slightly to his left.

5 Heroes of Vig - Solidarity

5 Heroes of Vig – Solidarity

One interesting, human touch is that the left hand of the fifth in the group is placed protectively, supportively, on his right shoulder. This again emphasises the idea that these are Comrades united in a common cause – whatever might be the consequences.

5 Heroes of Vig - Haderi 1984

5 Heroes of Vig – Haderi 1984

Carved into the rock against which he is standing, close to his feet be can see the name of the sculptor, Shaban Halil Hadëri, and the date 1984. As I have stated elsewhere, for example the Martyrs Cemetery in Lushnjë, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the name of the artist started to appear on Albanian lapidars, demonstrating a softening of the approach towards the idea of individuality in art. As I’ve stated above this particular statue (apart from moving around a lot more than most) existed in an earlier, plaster version which was created in 1969. Although it’s impossible for me to say given that that version was almost certainly destroyed when the new one was installed, I would very much doubt whether Hadëri’s name appeared on the original.

Hadëri also was responsible for the monument to 1920 in Qafe e Kociut (close to Vlora) and also worked with Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama on the Vlora Independence Monument.  

I must stress, again, that here I’m in no way denigrating the art, skill and imagination of the artist. But, in the end, he was only one of a number of skilled individuals who produced this fine example of Socialist Realism – where are the names of the others?

5 Heroes of Vig - Peasant Partisan

5 Heroes of Vig – Peasant Partisan

The next in the circle is not in uniform but is wearing the comfortable, winter clothing of a peasant. On his head he has a qeleshe (the felt skull-cap) on his head with a long headscarf wrapped around his forehead with the scarf trailing behind him. He wears a tight-fitting shirt and an open xhamadan (the traditional tight, short waistcoat) which has decorated trimming on the edges. He wears the traditional tight-fitting peasant trousers (tirc) which have the V shape at the front at the bottom, as they go either side the opinga (shoes) but these are without the sheepskin pompom. There are signs of decoration on the opinga. It looks as if there is a great coat hanging from his left shoulder, almost falling to the ground – the bottom edge of the coat can be seen hanging down behind his legs.

Around his waist is an ammunition belt with 4 pouches visible and 5 bullets in each. In holds a bolt-action rifle, his right arm fully extended and gripping the weapon at the trigger mechanism, his forefinger pushed through the trigger guard. His left arm is bent at right angles with his hand holding the gun at the point where the barrel departs from the rest of the mechanism – so the rifle is across his body from bottom right to left by his elbow. This weapon is not in a firing position but we know he is prepared to do so at any moment. Another small detail is the broken ring to which a strap would be attached which can be seen on the butt of the rifle. The end of barrel has also been stolen by the short-sighted, ignorant, rubbish rats.

His head is turned almost fully to the left and sports a moustache – almost always the differentiation that demonstrates a background of the country rather than the town (as is the sort of clothing depicted).

The third is basically in civilian dress, in the clothes of the urban working class. There’s a woollen jumper (with vertical stitching) under his jacket and he wears normal, contemporary trousers. On his feet are closed toe sandals – the straps and buckles of both feet visible. Around his neck is a large scarf, tied with large knot – this is not for warmth as this is the red scarf of a Communist. He is bare-headed.

A narrow, leather strap comes over his left shoulder, across his chest, to an unseen bag/pouch on his right hip. There’s an empty holster on a waist belt, seen under the left hand edge of open jacket, rucking up his jumper. In his right hand he holds an automatic pistol – possibly a luger taken from the enemy (this has also been vandalised and the end, just a few centimetres are missing). This gun, yet again, is not in a firing position but gives the impression that he ready to do so. There’s a sense of dynamism, movement, in his stillness. His arm is away from his body, the wrist bent in towards his leg and the gun pointing down it but could come up at any time – a coiled spring?

His stance the same as the others, feet slightly apart and steady and he is looking partially to his left.

This statue is all about solidarity and comradeship and the connection between the third and fourth of the five heroes is something I’ve never seen before, not even in Albania where the lapidars celebrate unity in struggle and certainly never in any other country. Here we see the left hand of the Partisan being gripped by the right of his comrade.

5 Heroes of Vig - Solidarity, Comradeship and Unity

5 Heroes of Vig – Solidarity, Comradeship and Unity

Their arms are touching from the elbow to the wrist and the hand of the fourth partisan is over that of his comrade hand, with his fingers in the palm and the thumb pressed against the fingers. This grip is returned in the same manner. There’s an impression that this has just happened, it has a vitality and feeling of immediacy. It seems to encompass the fate of the group as a whole. They know their fate, they are heavily outnumbered and the chances of survival are minimal – capture certainly would have led to an end in a Nazi torture chamber. They were not separated in life and wouldn’t be in death.

This is a slightly more intimate, but telling the same story, as the hand on the shoulder of the first Partisan described above.

It’s these little depictions of intimacy and the unexpected introduction of something that is so far from fighting and warfare that makes Albanian lapidars so unique in 20th century Socialist Realist sculpture and art in general. Another example of the unusual and unexpected is the small bunch of flowers in the left hand of the statue of Liri Gero, behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

The fourth hero is another who is more in civilian rather than military dress. He is wearing the clothes of the urban working class of the epoch. He has a tight-fitting shirt and his trousers have a turn ups which rest on top of sturdy boots. There’s a long, heavy overcoat but only his left arm is in the sleeve and the coat just hangs across his back. With his right hand grasping that of his comrade this stresses the closeness between them. He is also bare-headed and his stance is the same as the others, steady, rock solid, not going to give in. He looks to his right but not directly at his comrade as he is covering an area around them not necessarily covered by any of the others. An idea of continual vigilance, knowing what’s happening and what might happen next.

Around his neck, and under the collar of his shirt, is a lanyard and unites to become twisted just on his chest, beside a shirt button – many of the lapidars have these tiny details. This is attached to a ring on the butt of a pistol, in a holster, which is attached to his belt and rests on his left hip – most of the gun being obscured by the overcoat.

5 Heroes of Vig - pistol in holster

5 Heroes of Vig – pistol in holster

In his left hand he holds a Beretta Model 38 sub-machine gun, just behind the magazine. This is pointing up from right to left, with the barrel pointing into the air. This is not a firing position and he’s not ready, as some of the others are, to get into a firing position within seconds. He’s a fighter but in this image he is representing more the idea of comradeship and solidarity – which rests very much on the willingness and ability to use arms – rather than depicting the role of a Partisan. Although the end of the machine gun barrel is away from the main body of the sculpture this is still in place, not having suffered the attention of the petty thieves.

The stance of the fifth in the group is different from all the others. He stands side on so we only see the right hand side of his body. He has the look and wears the clothing of a peasant rather than someone from the city. He has short-cropped, curly hair (uncovered) and sports a moustache – often, though not always, an indication of a peasant background. Although his body is in profile he looks straight out at the viewer.

He seems to be dressed in similar clothing to the other peasant of the group already described, with a xhamadan over, this time a loose, short-sleeved shirt, the tirc but with sandals on his feet. Around his waist we can see a couple of ammunition pouches attached to his belt, a full one holding six cartridges and a partial one with two cartridges showing. In his right hand he holds a very long, bolt-action rifle which extends to just above his feet to the height of the shoulder of his comrade on the left. The machine gun of his comrade on his right is almost touching his knee.

5 Heroes of Vig - Weapons

5 Heroes of Vig – Weapons

As I’ve mentioned before his left hand is on the right shoulder of the comrade on his left thereby completing the circle and the show of unity.

Although this bronze version is relatively late in the history of Albanian lapidars it encompasses all those elements which had developed over the 40 years of socialist thinking about art. Even though it had its genesis in the 1969 version, where many of these elements were introduced, the present day statue, created 15 years later took those elements and made them much stronger, providing a vitality which was missing in the original and physically tightening the group so their unity is emphasised. In a sense the early version shows the group falling apart whereas the 1984 version shows us that nothing will ever break them apart – even death.

When the ‘Five Heroes of Vig’ had been exiled to beside the Shkodër Martyrs Cemetery – once a clean, quiet and pleasant location beside the river but now the site of the sprawling city rubbish dump – it had a feeling of dirt and neglect, and then it was vandalised. Before it was moved to its present location it obviously underwent a certain level of renovation and looks almost as good as it would have done in the centre of the town.

Apart from the damage done to the ends of the weapons there’s a small amount of written graffiti, more of the ‘I wus here’ kind but things are much better now than when I first saw the statue in 2011.

It’s location is not the best, it’s literally on the edge of town, on the last roundabout before the road leads to the border with Montenegro, but being placed on a circular, stone plinth it’s now in a place where more people can appreciate the story it tells.

Location:

From the roundabout next to the Rozafa Hotel (and the buses to Tirana) head north-east along Rruga Qemal Draçini which becomes the town’s market as stalls start to spill out on to the pavement. Continue north until arriving at Sheshi Ura e Maxharrit. This is coming to the end of the town proper and this is where you can find furgons to the towns to the north of Shkodër and the Montenegran border at Hani i Hotit as well as the early morning (07.30. more or less) departure to Thethi.

From the square continue along the SH1, passing the old, now very much overgrown, town cemetery and after about 10 minutes arrive at the roundabout with the lapidar in the centre.

GPS:

N 42.089302

E 19.507358

DMS:

42° 5′ 21.4872” N

19° 30′ 26.4888” E

Tobacco Factory – Durres

Tobacco Factory - Durres

Tobacco Factory – Durres

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

Once you start to look at the history of Albania after the invasion of the Italian Fascists in April 1939 (which coincided with the fleeing of the self-proclaimed ‘king’ and despot Zog – to live a life of luxury and safety in a mansion in Britain – he even ran away from the capital city to a house in the countryside when the bombs started to fall on London during the Blitz) you realise the bravery of the Albanian working class – who couldn’t run anywhere – and their preparedness to stand up against the armed fascist invaders, as the tobacco workers did in their strike in 1940.

It was probably a challenge to the Italian soldiers (conscripted workers and peasants) to be faced with unarmed workers on the streets the invader declared they controlled. The German Nazi invaders (who replaced the Italians in 1943) were more prepared to murder civilians than the Italians – as they did at Borovë and Uznovë, amongst other locations – but the Italians seemed reluctant to gun down Albanian workers on the streets of Durrës.

Durres Demonstration - Sali Xhixha

Durres Demonstration – Sali Xhixha

That sign of weakness (a contradiction that besets capitalism, imperialism and Fascism if the working class can just but recognise it) can be used by the politically organised working class if they accept the idea, which was later encapsulated in the slogan of Mao Tse-tung 20 years later, that ‘All imperialists are paper tigers’. This means that the enemy is only strong if we accept they are. Challenge them and they will retreat, even though we have to accept that they will lash out with viciousness in the process. They use fear as a control mechanism, if you don’t fear them they are no more than thugs with weapons, afraid that their ‘Emperors new clothes’ will be seem as they are, just a figment of the imagination.

But we have to go back a few years to understand why things were such after the country was invaded by the Italian Fascists.

Although this history is gradually being obliterated in Albania there was a tradition during the socialist period, from 1944 till 1990, to celebrate, commemorate and remember those people, those events of the past that had played a part in the liberation of Albania from foreign domination. The fact that these physical declarations of the country’s past are disappearing is only a manifestation of the disappearance of any semblance of independence the Albania people had achieved and only maintained for a little over 45 years.

As Marx wrote way back in the 19th century the capitalists create their own grave diggers and a plaque on the building celebrates this, not the establishment of the factory as such but more the fact that by building and opening the tobacco factory, in a predominantly peasant country in 1924, the Stamles company was preparing the groundwork for its destruction.

One of the plaques, which was directly beneath the frieze, on the facade of the factory had the following:

Ne prill te vitit 1924 u ngrit ketu e para fabrike e cigareve, klasa punetore e se ciles u be çerdhe lufte per te drejtat shoqerore dhe e levizjes nacionalçlirimtare.

This translates as:

In April 1924 the first cigarette factory was established here which, for the working class, became a nursery in the battle for social rights and of the National Liberation Movement.

Tobacco Factory Foundation Plaque

Tobacco Factory Foundation Plaque

In the 21st century this small building would be barely considered a workshop let alone a factory but in 1924 this was a huge step forward in terms of ‘development’ for the people of Durrës. This would have been seen as part of the modernisation of the port city. A country that had previously only produced the primary means of production was now turning what they had grown in the countryside into a finished product which had added value and could be exported to other, external markets. How successful the Stamles company was in this field I don’t know but with the establishment of such companies there was, at least, a potential to take Albania out of the situation of being a client state.

If it didn’t do that for capitalism – the forces against them too great in nearby neighbours, especially Greece and Italy – at least it taught the workers a lesson. They might have earned more but their security would not have been any greater. The ‘Great Depression’ of the later 1920s and early 30s would have introduced these ‘young’ industrial workers to the reality of capitalism – another crisis is always around the corner, then and now.

But then it would also have been a school of revolution. Lacking in present day capitalist societies in Albania in the 1920s/30s there was a revolutionary movement seeking to change the old world order.

That movement, initially through trade unions, was able to create a situation where, in 1940, the workers, both men and women, of the tobacco factory were prepared, and had the courage, to go on strike during the Fascist occupation of their town and country. I won’t go as far as saying this was unique but I can’t think of many other countries invaded and occupied by the Fascists at the time where the workers went on strike – and this bravery and disregard for the possible consequences, of the Albanian people, was the reason they were able to free their country of the invaders with their own efforts.

Another plaque that used to be on the side of the building (situated next to one of the ground floor windows, just as the wall of the building curved around the corner) celebrated that strike:

Me 12 korrik 1940 punetoret dhe punetoret e shoqerise kapitaliste ‘Stamles’ nen drejtimin e komunisteve te grupeve, bene nje greve te madhe, e cila qe nje aksion i rendesishem politik antifashiste klasor.

In English:

On 12 July 1940 the employees and workers of capitalist society ‘STAMLES’, under the leadership of communist groups, went of a great strike, which was an important political, antifascist class action.

Tobacco Factory Strike Plaque

Tobacco Factory Strike Plaque

This was probably placed on the building quite soon after National Liberation on 29th November 1944. It would have been during Albania’s Cultural Revolution, starting in the mid-60s, that plans for the bas-relief would have been formulated.

Now to the sculpture itself. The frieze is a pictorial representation of that event and when I saw it for the first, and only time, in November 2011, it looked sad and neglected. I don’t know exactly when the factory ceased production but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it was very soon after the counter-revolution gained control in the early 1990s.

Failures of the Party of Labour of Albania as the leader of the workers of the country, together with their inability to counter the foreign-controlled attacks on the socialist structure of the society provoked shortages and instability that caused too many Albanians to think that the ‘grass was greener on the other side of the fence’.

Durrës is on the coast. It was the country’s most important port. Contact with Italy – the old imperialist, invading, dominating power (going back to the time of the Roman Empire) was attractive. The ‘shortages’ encouraged by the reactionaries (by scaremongering and active sabotage) meant that people became disillusioned with their homeland and ‘wanted’ to leave. Anti-communism meant that Albanians, leaving to seek ‘freedom’ were ‘welcomed’. The opportunity arose, they took it, including the workers from the tobacco factory.

The reason I mention this before the actual sculpture itself is that this is all part of the story. People have a reasonably paid job making a product which has health issues but at least they are being paid. Then there’s a growing panic within society. If you don’t leave first you will be too late. Shortages in most societies aren’t caused by shortages but by panic that there will be a shortage.

People leave in droves, the tobacco factory closes. No workers no production. People start to worry that if they don’t get to the trough first there will be nothing left. Those who don’t leave, for whatever reason, have nothing constructive to do so they become destructive – they loot. When all the machinery has been taken they take away the windows. This mindless destruction of much that had been built since 1944 was widespread and included museums and libraries. If you travel around the country you will see innumerable examples of abandoned, ossified, infrastructure.

That’s what they did in Durrës to the tobacco factory and the blind, empty windows meant that the dirt from inside was swirled around by the wind from the sea and it settled on top of the bas-relief, located on the top of the ground floor of the facade of the factory facing the old city walls. The grey concrete has a black cap. This does make it slightly difficult to make out exactly what is depicted but not impossible.

What we have is a demonstration. This demonstration has two principled causes. The perpetual demand against the employers for a greater share of the profits, that is, higher wages, and in the case of Durrës in 1940, a strike against Italian Fascist domination of their city.

Tobacco Factory Banners

Tobacco Factory Banners

This is seen in the banners carried by the men and women on the street. But there’s an important positioning of these demands. In a capitalist, bourgeois society the demands of the workers are ‘selfish’, immediate, economic, but here the demand at the front of the demonstration, where the workers will come in conflict with the Italian invaders, the most important slogan is:

‘Poshte Fashizmi’, meaning ‘Down with Fascism’.

Yes, the economic demands of the workers are important. A Fascist invading country is unlikely to be prepared to offer higher wages but the task of a trade union is to fight for the rights of its members but this always depends on the circumstances at a particular time. There is no way workers will get improved conditions unless they deal with the most important and principal contradiction, and in Durrës, in Albania, in 1940 that was Italian Fascism, and its destruction and eviction from the country.

So this economic banner is further back along the frieze – and it must be remembered we are talking of a bas-relief that was probably about 10 metres long.

The second banner reads: ‘Kerkojme ngritje e pagave’, literally demanding a wage increase.

We have the majority of the participants in the demonstrating looking and moving in the same direction, i.e., marching and looking, from right to left. We don’t see the opposition, but in a painting by Sali Xhixha above, we can see that they would have been Italian soldiers. They would have been confused about what to do. They are faced with angry men and women, shouting and screaming at them in a language they don’t understand. In such circumstances it is not unknown for a frightened soldier to fire and then precipitate a slaughter but I’m not aware of any injuries during this strike or demonstration.

There are 23 definable figures on the frieze and most of their features were clear to the viewer after years on the building with half of those in neglect. The majority are male but I think it’s possible to make out 7 women involved in the action. This would have been the case in the 1930s, new industry taking both men and women from the countryside and, if we consider cigarette manufacture in different parts of the world at the time, women would have been a substantial part of the workforce.

Tobacco Factory Strike Bas-Relief - left

Tobacco Factory Strike Bas-Relief – left

One aspect which makes this frieze different from some of the other lapidars so far described and that is we are left in no doubt that these people are workers. Their clothing and hair styles are of a town dweller. There is no sign of the traditional clothing still worn in the countryside at that time and none of the women are wearing head scarves – even capitalism offers women a certain amount of ’emancipation’. Another characteristic that is different from other sculptures is that they are all, both men and women, of a similar generation, there’s no obviously older people and only a couple of young boys and girls.

In the front rank are two men. The one at the back is wearing a worker’s cap, his shirt is loose and fluttering open, giving a sense of movement. His anger is shown by the fact that he is shouting and he has his right arm raised with a clenched fist, although unarmed his whole body language is presenting a threat to the fascist authorities. Beside him the young man is side on to the opposition, his right shoulder leading with his right arm raised towards his left shoulder, the clenched fist seeming about to lash out against those unseen forces of occupation. He is bare-headed.

Behind them is a group of three, two women and a man, slanted up from right to left. All of them have their mouths open, shouting slogans, taunts or obscenities against the Fascists. We can only see part of the clothing of the woman closest to us and she wears a light shirt that a worker would be wearing in the hot Adriatic summer. Above their heads are five raised, clenched fists – only two possibly belonging to this group of three. Here the artist is indicating that although he has only depicted 23 demonstrators there were many more out of view.

Next, as we move further from the front line, we see the ‘Down will Fascism’ banner, mentioned before. In front of that, his head obscuring a small section of that banner, is another male. His attitude is different from those we’ve seen so far. His body is front on to the viewer and his head is turned slightly towards the front of the demonstration – but although there is determination on his face he is not shouting and neither is he making any threatening gesture. His right hand is gripping the lapel of his jacket and his left arm is hanging loose, the hand outside the limits of the tableau.

The next is a head and shoulders image of a round-faced male. He is even more impassive than the previous striker. He’s looking out at the viewer and doesn’t show that he is involved in what is going on around him. I’m not really sure what he is doing here as he shows no anger or any emotion at all.

I’ve tried to work out why these two are even in the picture. Every other person depicted is interacting either with the Fascists or each other, these two, on the other hand, seem no more than bystanders, not involved with the events unfolding. As there was so limited a space for the bas-relief I can’t work out why time, effort and space has been spent on images that add nothing to the story. I’ll accept that in such demonstrations not everyone is fully engaged but such distance is transitory. On a work of art such as this one their inactivity is recorded, literally, in stone.

The next figure is the opposite. This is the figure that looks behind him, away from the point of conflict with Fascists, but plays the crucial role of encouraging others to get closer, to come and join the action, as well as giving the impression that there are many more that were involved in the demonstration but which it is impossible to depict on such a finite space. (This is a fairly common trope of Albanian lapidars and monuments and, for example, can be seen on such diverse monuments as the Arch of Drashovice and in the Peze Martyrs’ Cemetery.) He is dressed in the normal clothing of a worker of the period. As we only see him from the waist up he is wearing a shirt and jacket. His shoulder faces the front of the demonstration, his torso faces the viewer, the right side of his head is in profile and his left arm is in the air above his head and his hand is wide open in a beckoning motion and his open, fluttering jacket provides an element of animation.

Tobacco Factory Strike Bas-Relief - centre

Tobacco Factory Strike Bas-Relief – centre

In the crescent that’s formed by his arm and head there are three other males, only their heads, but we are starting to get back to active participants in the action. The one that is closest to, and immediately behind, the striker encouraging others to join is looking towards the front but there’s no real animation in his look. Next to him we have another youngish man, in profile, who has his mouth open shouting slogans. Both these are bareheaded. The third of this small group is again in profile, again with his mouth open but what is different is that he is wearing a peaked cap. I wouldn’t have thought that such caps were normal wear for working class males at the time so perhaps here we have someone who has some official role in the factory, showing that it was an all-factory strike.

Above the heads of this group are three, clenched right fists, possibly from these men but also giving the impression that others are out of sight. Also here there’s a right hand raised in a mock-Fascist salute, the hand raised high and flat, pointed in the direction of the Italian soldiers.

The next in line is the torso of a woman, with her long hair taken up in braids, and wearing a shawl over her shoulders. Her left arm is bent and raised to the level of her head and her fist is clenched. She also has her mouth open in a shout.

Following the line, from right to left, of her raised fist are the heads of two women. They also have their hair taken up in braids, this presumably being a style common for working class women of the time. They are both in profile and are looking towards the front of the demonstration.

Above their heads is the forward edge of the banner demanding higher wages. It gets a bit crowded here. There’s the head of a male workers in front of the banner and below him there’s a larger figure of another male. He’s wearing a flat cap and is in profile, looking towards the back of the march, possibly talking to another male. He has his left arm raised, with the fist clenched and it’s possible to make out the muscles on his forearm.

To the right of the banner are further clenched fists raised in anger, two of a right hand and one of a left, there being no real consensus which arm should be raised in a Communist salute. Below the fists there’s the profile of another male striker and below him the torso of another male who is shown wearing a work apron, the first person so far depicted dressed in actual work gear.

Coming to the end of the sculpture now we have a line of three, from top to bottom, a female worker (again with her hair braided) and then the youngest of the whole frieze, a teenage boy and girl. The boy is full face and is just looking whilst the young girl has her mouth open shouting with the others. To enhance the impression that she is younger than the other women her long hair is worn in a pony tail with a ribbon tied at the end.

Tobacco Factory Strike Bas-Relief - right

Tobacco Factory Strike Bas-Relief – right

The final strikers are two males, both in profile. The higher one has his mouth open and his left arm raised as high as possible above his head, the fist clenched. His whole manner speaks of his anger at the situation. The last male is looking ahead and his left hand is grasping something flung over his shoulder.

The final image is one that declares that this is all going on in Durrës and that is the top of a crenellated tower. This is La Torra, a tower which was constructed as part of the city walls when the city was occupied by the Venetians during the 15th century. The tobacco factory used to sit just across the road from the southern part of the wall and the tower was only about fifty metres away. (The tower has now been converted into a bar, everything that can possibly be privatised going into private hands.) The crest for the Bashkia (local government) of Durrës also has the three crenellations of the tower as its central image.

The remainder of the bas-relief is text. In Albanian:

12 korrik 1940

Greva e punetoreve te ‘Stamles’ nje nga aksionet me te medha te qendreses antifashiste te klases punetore te Durrësit

This translates as:

July 12, 1940

The strike of the ‘STAMLES’ workers, one of the greatest acts of working class, antifascist resistance in Durrës

I was unable to find any date or indication of the name of the sculptor on this concrete bas-relief.

Tobacco Factory Martyrs Plaque

Tobacco Factory Martyrs Plaque

There was one more plaque on the wall under the sculpture. This was a war memorial, to those Partisans who were once workers at the tobacco factory. This reads:

Lavdi te perjeteshme deshmoreve te luftes nacionalçlirimtare, ish punetore te fabrikes se cigareve

In English:

Eternal glory to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War, former workers of the cigarette factory

In then lists 19 names, the top one of which is Maliq Muça, who had been declared Hero i Popullit (a Hero of the People). It’s not surprising that a factory where Communists had been working, even before the Italian invasion of April 1939, would also provide volunteers and fighters for the Partisan army.

Maliq was a Communist and he joined the Peze Çeta (the first guerrilla group to be established in the country, even before the declaration of a War of National Liberation at the Peze Conference of September 1942) so was a seasoned Partisan fighter. He was involved in confrontations with the invading Fascists, first the Italian and then the German, in many parts of the country. On 1st June 1944 his company of about 80 partisans was surrounded in the hamlet of Germaj, near Kavaja (to the south of Durrës). Overnight a combined force of German and Ballist (Nationalist collaborators) were able to call in reinforcements and thereby greatly outnumbered the Partisans. The Albanians refused to surrender and it was with a last grenade that a seriously injured Maliq was able to kill an officer and four other soldiers. He was also killed in the explosion.

Maliq Muco - 1922-44

Maliq Muco – 1922-44

I have no idea of the fate of this plaque, assuming it was destroyed at the same time as the bas-relief.

And now the sculpture has gone! Forever? As far as I’ve been able to understand, yes. It’s in one piece and it would take a lot of care and knowledge of such removal for it to have been done without causing irreparable damage. Even if the expertise was available the economic (and more importantly) political will wouldn’t have been, even though Durrës is nominally a Social-Democrat Bashkia. A possible place for it would have been the city’s Archaeological Museum (that was undergoing a major renovation at the time of the demolition of the factory) but that continues to concentrate on Ancient Roman artefacts, allowing no space for anything cultural from the Socialist period.

Durrës still has an art gallery (located in the main square by the town hall) where it is possible to see, when there’s no special exhibition taking place, examples of Socialist Realist paintings and sculptures but the museum that used to exist above the War Memorial was taken over by a British based Non-government Organisation as a library – in a city where there would have been libraries in every district, until looted when the country went mad in the early 1990s. So there was no obvious home for the sculpture once the building was no more.

Albanian College - Durres

Albanian College – Durres

So what has replaced the derelict factory? A monstrosity. This is the Albanian College Durrës, a huge building with neoclassical pretensions and totally out of place in this part of town. This is a theme that’s being repeated throughout the country. Private educational institutes claiming their credentials with the construction of enormous buildings – quantity surpassing quality.