Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra

Partisan Memorial - Gjirokastra

Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra

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

Many of the monuments are either of concrete or bronze but this one is of stone. On close examination, and especially after being cleaned up, the stone is almost certainly limestone. The statue is composed of large blocks to create a shape that looks like the forearm of a human with a clenched fist. Carved into the facade facing the road there is the torso and head of a partisan soldier (male). Because of how it’s constructed I would have assumed it was carved in situ. The sculptor was Stefan Papamihali and it was inaugurated in 1983. Papamihali was also a collaborator, together with Ksenofon Krostaqi and Mumtaz Dhrami, on the education obelisk higher up in the Old Town.

There’s just one individual depicted on this monument. He’s a Communist Partisan, in winter gear, dressed in a heavy overcoat with a thick sweater underneath. On his head is a cap with a star at the front. He’s looking straight out at the viewer. He has both his hands on a light machine gun which is held against his chest.

Partisan Memorial - Gjirokastra

Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra

To his left, and virtually on his shoulder, is the symbol of the double-headed eagle with a star between the two heads. On most monuments that image is usually part of the national flag but here they seem to stand alone.

Above him, at his right shoulder, is the date, in numbers of ’24 12 1943′

This was the date when the town was finally liberated from the German Fascists. The majority of the surrounding countryside in the south of Albania was liberated in the early months of 1944. Commemorating, as it does, such an important event I’m not sure why it’s not in a more prominent location, in the main square for example.

Below the image, carved into the stone, are the words:

‘Qyteti i gurtë mbeti në shekuj kala për liri’.

My translation for this is:

‘The Stone City Castle has been a symbol of freedom for centuries’

‘Stone City’ is one of the nicknames for Gjirokastra from the traditional buildings of the old town which used stones for the roofs as well as the structure of the houses. The ancient Castle dominates the city and this end of the valley and recognisable from miles away.

Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra

In general the monument is in a good condition apart from the fact that someone has had a go at his nose and the left nostril has been broken off. (Noses are vulnerable on stone statues, there’s one of Uncle Joe in Moscow that has a chunk missing from the nose.) A number of other monuments in Gjirokastra haven’t fared so well.

Partisan Memorial - Gjirokastra

Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra

I’m not too sure is this is as a result of vandalism or more of an accident. On other monuments the first things to be attacked are the stars, but the two on this statue are undamaged. There’s an element of weathering but that would have been taken into consideration by the sculptor, taking into account the location. It’s facing in a northerly direction and there’s quite a lot of rain in this part of the country in the winter.

This is a fairly unique style and design for an Albanian commemoration of the Partisans and the victory over the Fascist invaders. In the work of Dhrami and Krisiko, on the different monuments at Peze, for example, you can notice the development of certain motifs.

The simplicity of this statue gives the impression of solidity and determination but, as is always the case in Albanian iconography, the freedom that was fought for can only be maintained by being prepared to use arms. As Mao Tse-tung said: ‘Political power comes from the barrel of a gun’.

One aspect of ALL the statues and monuments to the Partisans in Albania is that the individuals are always confident, heads raised, prepared to take on the enemy and face the difficulties of the struggle. That goes for both the male and female partisans. Compare that with the representation of the partisan in the capitalist countries, for example the Manzu monument to the partisan in Bergamo, Italy.

Since my first visit to Gjirokaster this memorial has been cleaned and looks a lot better as the black weathering has been cleaned off. All the monuments and lapidars in Gjirokaster are in a better shape than they were a few years ago, as can be seen with the bas-relief outside the high school. But this is not the first representation of a Partisan to have existed in Gjirokaster.

Gjirokaster Partisan Lapidar - earlier version

Gjirokaster Partisan Lapidar – earlier version

I have no details (as of now) about this memorial but assume it was located in the same position as the existing one.

The text reads, in Albanian:

24 Dhejtor 1943

Gjirokastra e gurte me grushtin e hekurt goditi gjithmone armiqte mbeti ne shekuj kala per lirine dhe piedestal per bijte.

This translate as:

24 December 1943

Gjirokaster, with the stony ‘iron fist’ to smash its enemies, has remained, over the centuries, a stronghold of freedom and an example to our children.

(Slightly more poetic than the statement on the present memorial.)

It’s not unusual, in the history of Albanian Socialist Realist sculptures, for there to be changes and modifications to the monuments as the society moved forward. This can be seen in the evolution of the statue in Skhoder of the ‘Five heroes of Vig’ and also in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Borove. What is strange here is that the ‘new’ statue develops the original idea and seems to be larger in scale. However, the original was itself a fine piece of art and it seems a tragedy that it should have been destroyed (if, indeed, that was the case) just to make way for a newer and larger piece. If it had to make way for the new why not place it in the Castle Museum?

If the reason for its replacement is unsure the timing is understandable. 1983, the date on the present statue, was the 40th anniversary of the Liberation of the city. It seems that in the lead up to that date a number of new monuments appeared in the town, the stone bas-relief of the musicians and dancers and the obelisk to education being two examples of this.

Enver Hoxha - Entrance to Gjirokastra

Enver Hoxha – Entrance to Gjirokastra

Location:

The statue is at a bend of the road (Rruga Gjin Zenebisi) that heads up to the old town. If coming from the south, from Permet or Saranda, it’s the first road up on the left as you come into the Gjirokastra city limits and the monument is about 300m from the junction. There used to be a bust of Enver Hoxha (picture above) close to that junction but that would have been destroyed in the counter-revolution of 1990. This would have been opposite the most severely vandalised bus stop I think I’ve ever seen which is almost a work of art in its own right.

GPS:

N 40.076256

E 20.14575097

DMS:

40° 4′ 34.5216” N

20° 8′ 44.7035” E

Altitude: 261.4m

 

Monument to the 22nd Brigade – Peze

Monument to the 22nd Brigade - Peze

Monument to the 22nd Brigade – Peze

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

The park that was established in the area where the Peze Conference took place is only small but has one of the biggest concentrations of monuments to the past than virtually anywhere else in the country. Just a matter of a few metres up the hill from the Peze Conference Memorial can be found the memorial to the 22nd ‘Shock’ Brigade and across the bridge the Peze War Memorial.

I’m sure that in the Socialist past the park would have been pristine and a pleasant place for Tiranans to have visited on holidays and at weekends – still now there are restaurants that must depend upon day visitors. However, you be lucky to arrive and not find the place strewn with rubbish. On my visit the only thing keeping the grass down was the flock of sheep.

Whilst saying that the monument itself was in a reasonable condition, just the surroundings looked tacky and the lights that at one time would have made it possible to walk around in the evening looked as if they had not seen electricity for years.

XXII Shock Brigade - 01

XXII Shock Brigade – 01

The actual 22nd Brigade was formed relatively late in the war, on 18th September 1944, so was really created to better structure the final push to liberate the country from the German Nazis.

These ‘Shock’ Brigades, we would probably now call them Guerrilla Units, were highly mobile, hit and run organisations that were self-sufficient but when needed would unite with other Brigades to concentrate the necessary force to destroy large columns of the enemy, as happened in Mushqete only a few days before the liberation of Tirana.

XXII Shock Brigade - 02

XXII Shock Brigade – 02

Monument to the 22nd Brigade

The Monument was created by Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristo Krisiko and its official name is ‘Monumenti i Pezes’. It was completed in 1977, the same time as the War Memorial and the Monument to Heroic Peze. It consists of a concrete wall that curves inwards on the right hand side. At the left hand side the wall is at, more or less, knee height of the figures (just slightly bigger than life-size), where there’s a group of nine marching Partisans. The wall gently slopes up and at the far right becomes a series of pillars, each higher than the one before.

At the head of the marching group is a woman who holds the pole of the Communist flag in both her hands, slightly in front of her body. The flag flutters above and behind her head and as is common on such monuments the flag bears the symbol of the double-headed eagle with a star above the heads. As I have mentioned before the women in these statues are always armed and her rifle hangs behind her and she has a bandolier of bullets around her waist. She wears a cap with the Communist star at the front and her long hair has been gathered together.

Behind her there’s a row of three males. The outside one wears a heavy greatcoat and carries what looks like a light mortar over his left shoulder. This is likely to be a 2” mortar as this could be easily carried by one man, weighing as it did in the region of 5 kilos. He has a water bottle attached to his belt but carries no other weaponry.

Both the British and the German armies produced such a weapon so this could either be one liberated from the Nazis or part of the weapons drops that the Partisans gratefully received (but which the British grudgingly sent) when the Allies realised the Communists were by far the most effective fighting force of the different groups in opposition to the fascist invasion.

The other two in his row carry heavy calibre rifles on their backs, the end of the barrels appearing behind their heads, the inside one becoming part of the folds of the flag. The three of them are wearing caps with the red star attached at the front.

Behind them is another row of three males. The one on the outside has what looks like an Italian FNAB-43 submachine gun in his downwards extended right hand. The Albanian Partisans acquired many of their weapons from the enemy,a tradition followed by most Communist guerrillas ever since (although few in the Vietnamese forces against American intervention even bothered to pick up the US made M16 rifle when they had the AK47). His left hand is against his chest gripping what could be some kind of sack hanging behind him.

The Partisan next to him is different from the rest in that he is not facing in the direction of the march but is either looking behind him or at the viewer. He, and the third one in this row both have heavy calibre rifles on their backs. They are all wearing head gear with the star but whereas the first two have a different version of the caps the man on the inside wears a fez.

Behind them there’s a man and a woman, the last of the group. He has his right hand gripping the barrel of a heavy machine gun which rests on his shoulder. He has an ammunition belt around his waist and on his right hip there’s a British Mills bomb, a fragmentation grenade. He also wears a cap with the star – this symbol of being a member of the Communist Party being more evident here than on some other such monuments.

The woman at the back is a bit of a mystery. She doesn’t seem to be in uniform, her hair looks like it would be if she were working in the fields and she doesn’t seem to be carrying any weapons. She is the only one of the group who is not wearing a hat.

In front of the last two rows of Partisans is a small field gun. This was probably a very popular weapon for the Partisans as it was of a size that could reasonably be manoeuvred along the narrow mountain paths and over the high passes. This is exactly the same sort of cannon that was used at Sauk to bombard the traitors of the Quisling Assembly at the Victor Emmanuel III Palace.

On the ground, close to the wheel of the mountain gun, is a discarded Nazi helmet which is resting on what could be a heavy machine gun magazine. This represents the defeated fascist invaders.

This group is marching towards a plaque, the words translating to: ‘Honour the Martyrs of the XXII Shock Brigade’

Further to the right is where the monument breaks up into columns, I assume representing the mountains of Albania. On these four columns are the names of over a hundred Partisans from the Peze area who lost their lives in the National Liberation War.

This monument has recently been whitewashed but unlike the Monument to Heroic Peze different elements, such as the stars on the flag and caps or the eagle on the flag have not been highlighted. It’s difficult to work out what the idea is behind this policy of whitewashing. To the best of my knowledge the intention of the sculptor/s, in virtually all the monuments I’ve visited and seen, was for the unadorned concrete.

The whitewashing, as here, is not as careful and conscientious as it could be and always has the potential of filling in some of the detail of the figures, especially as they have been neglected for much of the last 25 years.

At the same time the rest of the structure looks dirty. The concrete might look brighter but any marble plaques with slogans or the list of the names of the fallen, were not cleaned up at the same time (this can also be clearly seen at the Mushqeta Monument at Berzhite). The rationale for this ‘clean-up’ is difficult to understand not the least as it seems to be totally random and not part of any organised and planned programme.

GPS:

N41.21561799

E19.70189701

DMS:

41° 12′ 56.2248” N

19° 42′ 6.8292” E

Altitude: 100.7m

Practicalities.

Getting to Peze is not difficult but it does require a little bit of pre-planning and a bit of organisation as the starting point in Tirana is slightly out of the centre and it’s not a particularly frequent service. The bus stop is on Rruga Karvajes, opposite the German Hospital and just a few metres east of Rruga Naim Fresheri. The journey takes between 45 minutes and an hour, depending upon traffic and the driver, and costs 50 lek each way.

Departures from Tirana: 09.00, 12.00, 13.30,

Departures from Peze: 10.00, 12.45, 15.15

These times can be flexible in the sense of leaving later than stated. I suggest you allow at least an hour to explore the park. There are a number of bars and restaurants close to where the bus turns around so you can move quickly if necessary.