Peze War Memorial

Peze War Memorial

Peze War Memorial

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

At one time this area must have been a pleasant place to spend some time away from Tirana. In the past the capital itself was not a busy, noisy and polluted city (as it has become now) and the contrast wouldn’t have been so great. Now that Tirana has all the negative aspects of capitalism such oases of quiet should be at a premium but that doesn’t mean that they are looked after.

On my recent visit the waste bins hadn’t been empties and if the litter hadn’t just been left on the grass the wind would blow the plastic bags from the overflowing bins and were everywhere. This includes the small river that runs through the park – you really wouldn’t want to be a river in capitalist Albania, see, for example, the fate of the River Kir in Skhoder.

The Peze War Memorial and cemetery is across a bridge over the river and it’s more than likely there will be some kind of makeshift fence that gives the impression that you are going into someone ‘s field. The cemetery is slightly around the corner, up on the right and with the trees in full leaf it’s not possible to see exactly what’s there.

However, just go through the fence (only bits of scrappy string hold the ‘gate’ closed and once on the other side of the bridge you’ll see the monument sitting against a backdrop of pine trees, which you reach after going up a flight of low steps.

This is the work of the sculptors Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristo Krisiko with Nina Mitrojorgji as the architect. The official name is ‘Monumenti i vendosur në varrezat e dëshmorëve në Pezë’. It was unveiled in 1977, the same time as the Monument to Heroic Peze at the junction of the Peze-Tirana-Durres road. They must have been part of a joint project (together with the Monument to the 22nd Brigade) and it’s possible to see similarities in the style and imagery.

The bronze part of the monument is embedded into a concave mass of white concrete. (There’s been a lot of painting of the Socialist period monuments recently and I’m not always sure if they were originally designed to be whitewashed or if the bare concrete was considered to be more aesthetically appropriate.) The bronze section is in two parts. The large concave section is decorated in bas-relief and in front of that (but also attached) is the statue of a group of four partisans on top of a plinth.

These statues are not complete figures, the male partisan at the front is only shown from a point midway between his knees and thighs and of those behind him there is more as they are raked so that we can see all of their faces.

The prominent, young male is dressed in what would have been the partisan’s uniform, wears a cap with a star and has what would have been a red bandanna around his neck. In his right hand he holds the top of the barrel of a rifle, the butt of which would be resting on the ground (unseen). Across his right shoulder there’s a bandolier (broad ammunition belt) and he wears another around his waist. On his right hip there hangs a British made Mills bomb (a fragmentation grenade). Over his left shoulder is a narrow strap that is attached to a small satchel that hangs just behind the grenade. His left hand is clenched into a tight, angry fist. He is looking straight in front of him, his head held high and proud.

Standing at his left shoulder is an older woman. She is very reminiscent of the depiction of the female on the Peze junction memorial, on that part that looks in the general direction of Tirana. She is not in uniform but wears traditional peasant dress with a hood pulled over her head. As I’ve said a number of times now the women are always armed (including in the description of the Albanian Mosaic on the National Museum) and she has a rifle slung over her left shoulder. She is looking slightly to her left, the only one of the group not looking straight ahead.

Behind her, and head and shoulders higher, is another young man. He is also not in any formal uniform. He has his sleeves rolled up, holds the top of the barrel of a quite significant machine gun in his left hand and his right hand is clenched in a bent arm salute, his hand directly over the head of the partisan soldier at the front of the group. He doesn’t wear a hat. He is looking in the same direction as the partisan.

The last of the statues is of an older man. His face looks over the right shoulder of the forward male. He has a bushy moustache and wears a fez. His right arm, sleeves rolled up, is also bent and his fist clenched in a revolutionary salute. He is also looking forward but there’s no evidence that he’s armed.

The plinth upon which they are standing carries the slogan: ‘Honour to the Martyrs of Heroic Peze’

As a backdrop to this group there’s a large five-pointed star (only three points are visible) on the concave bronze background.

Here we have the representation that the war against the Fascist invaders was a war that was fought, and won by ALL the people. A National Liberation War is not like those wars fought by the mercenary armies of capitalist/imperialist nations. As Mao Tse-Tung said: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea” and that was how the Albanians were able to defeat the invader. And it meant the involvement of all the population, regardless of age or gender.

There are a lot of stars on this monument. Two of them have letters on them. One on the left hand side of the group has the letters VFLP – which we have already seen on the Peze junction monument, “Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!” (“Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!”). Another, on the right hand side of the group has the letters PKSH – Partia Komuniste Shqiptare (Albanian Communist Party) which was later to become the Party of Labour of Albania (PLA).

Immediately to the right of the group on the bas-relief is the depiction of a young family, a mother, father and child. Both the man and the women are armed (with rifles slung over their shoulders) but it’s only the woman who is in the uniform of the Partisans, wearing a cap with a star and the red neckerchief. Her fingers of her left hand are tucked behind the strap of her rifle and she holds something hanging down from her right hand but I’m not able to work out what it is, it looks like a bottle/container of some kind.

Holding the baby

Holding the baby

What’s a little bit different (and unique, so far, in my travels) is that it’s the man who’s left holding the baby. He is static, looking out at us, but she is marching towards the left hand edge of the tableau, as if marching to war. However, this doesn’t mean that she is doing the fighting and he is the stay at home dad as he is also armed and is obviously a fighter as well as she.

Next to them, and taking up the space for the rest of this side of the monument, there is a lot going on. In the front, at the bottom, is another family group. Although looking in the direction of the battle, of the front, of the attack, the man has his right arm around his wife and she is pressed tightly against his chest, her right hand on his shoulder and a bag hanging from her left. She is dressed as a peasant woman of the time, her hair covered with a scarf.

The man is not in uniform and his sleeves are rolled up and he is clutching a rifle by the bottom end of the barrel. Grabbing hold of the wooden butt of the gun is a young boy. Whilst he is standing with his back to the action that is drawing the attention of his father he has his hands on the gun as he looks back over his shoulder as if to say ‘give me the gun and I’ll go and fight the invader’. The woman is wearing what would now be called flip-flop sandals and the boy appears to be barefooted. Is this the farewell before he goes off to the mountains?

The gun's mine

The gun’s mine

Behind this family group is a single male. He’s looking in the same direction as the others on this side of the monument but he is not pointing his gun (which looks like what I think is an Italian FNAB-43 submachine gun – the same as one partisan is carrying in the 22nd Brigade Monument) but brandishing it high above his head, as a challenge to the enemy – ‘we are going to get you’ he seems to be saying.

The next group, slightly higher and at a diagonal to the family, is a group of three males, of different ages and, by their dress, from different parts of the country. Two of them have their guns at the ready as if they are about to, or have just fired at the enemy. The third, the moustachioed and wearing a fez, for some reason isn’t armed and merely has his right hand clenched.

This is not the first time that groups of three have appeared in Dharmi and Krisiko’s work. I don’t know if that this is just a fad that they have or whether it holds a greater significance. (See the Heroic Peze Monument.)

Next up is a single male. He is a Communist as we can see the star on his fez. He’s full on. His right arm is high up above his head, in which he holds some sort of grenade he’s about to throw – I don’t recognise the type. (This looks similar to what the young mother mentioned before has in her hand.) This Communist has an FNAB-43 submachine gun in his left hand, ready to put it to work once the grenade has caused its havoc.

Next, and higher up, is a group of four (three men and a woman) partisans, all in the act of firing at the enemy, the three with rifles have them up to their faces in the act of aiming and one with a heavy machine gun on a tripod. Three of this group wear a star on their caps.

The remaining two partisans on this side show that victory does not come without casualties, without sacrifice. At the highest point of the bronze we have a female Communist (star on cap) with her left hand under the arm of a wounded male comrade. He is unable to stand on his own and she keeps him up. His left hand is on his rifle and she grips the same rifle by the barrel, whilst looking in the direction of battle. He might have fallen but there will always be someone ready, and willing, to pick up the rifles of the fallen to continue the struggle.

There’s a different dynamic on the other side of the group of four. The only one who is looking in the direction of the battle in which his comrades are involved is the standard-bearer. He holds the flag pole, the banner itself fluttering in the direction of battle, with the star over the heads of the two-headed eagle. Whilst his left hand is holding the flag pole in his right he holds a rifle and has a bandolier from his left shoulder.

The rest of the bronze on this side is taken up with a group of ten partisans.

The front group is made up of four males, all armed. Three of them are holding their rifles by the barrel whilst the butts are on the ground, but all these rifles are held so that they are very close together. One of the group looks like a teenager, he is smaller than the others and one of the men has his left hand on the young lad’s shoulder in a comforting, supportive manner. However young he might be the lad is armed as well as the others. Three of this group are wearing caps with the red star (including the youngster).

I’m trying to work out what they are doing, looking at. On the other side virtually all the attention is paid in one direction, where the conflict is taking place. On this side the group has no common point of interest. Although the four individuals are obviously together, the uniting of their weapons tells us that, where they are looking does not indicate unity, at least to me. Possibly it’s a meeting with a commander, who would be the one who is looking out at us, and that’s the reason the others are looking inwards.

Behind the four principals we only see the heads of the other six fighters. As with the front group there’s no common direction of attention.

On the far right we have a hatless fighter, the top of the barrel of his rifle peeking out behind his shoulder. Next along is a Communist partisan woman, with a star on her cap and her rifle raised above the heads of the males in the forefront. Both these are looking out at the viewer.

Behind the woman there’s a group of three males, of different ages (again stressing the fact that war is not just a matter for 19-20 year olds) looking generally over to their left. Things get squeezed a bit here and above their heads can be seen the tops of the barrels of various weapons and what appears to me to look like a pitchfork. This suggests two things. The first is that any weapon can be used against an invader. Secondly, even though the PKSH was a workers party Albania at that time was also a country with a predominantly peasant, agricultural population. Collectivisation and the establishment of State Farms after liberation would alter that class structure but the monument represents the situation in the country pre-1944.

The remaining male on this side looks out at the viewer, hatless but with his right fist clenched in the revolutionary salute. It might be useful to stress here that this group is collected together under the star with the letters of the anti-fascist slogan, VFLP.

This monument is in a very good condition, the only signs of wear being on the white concrete base which shows the stains from the pine trees behind. The condition of monuments throughout the country varies. This varying situation depending, I would have thought, on either the ruling political force in the locality as well as devoted individuals who take it up themselves to respect the memory of the past and the contribution made by the men and women who gave their lives for the liberation of their country. A case where, institutionally, this looks like the case is the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Berat.

This monument exists as a celebration of those from Peze who lost their lives in the war against first the Italian and then the German invaders. I don’t know if all the tombs are actually the final resting place of those who died but I’m sure there would have been a great deal of effort after the war to collect the remains of as many of the fallen as possible and place then close to their home town.

Before 1990 all of the cemeteries throughout the country would have been in a pristine condition. On significant dates relating to the war there would have been memorial services where, traditionally, children would place flowers on ALL of the graves. This served a double purpose. It ensured that those who might not have had any living relatives were not left out in the commemoration and also served as a lesson to the young to remember, recognise and respect what others had done to ensure their freedom.

Peze Cemetery

Peze Cemetery

On my visit in November 2014 it was not pristine but there had obviously had been some attempt to tidy the garden and at least the marble slabs on the steps hadn’t been looted as they had been at Korce, for example.

The cemetery is also in a very pleasant location. The village of Peze itself is at the head of a valley which is wide close to the Tirana-Durres road but which narrows significantly at the village. The cemetery is on one side of this narrow valley looking out to the fields that, during the Socialist period would have been full of activity but which are now is only worked sporadically.

GPS:

N 41.21647504

E 19.70247201

DMS:

41° 12′ 59.3101” N

19° 42′ 8.8992” E

Altitude: 109.7m

Getting to Peze by public transport:

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.

Mushqete Monument – Berzhite

Mushqete Monument - in November 2014

Mushqete Monument – in November 2014

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

The battle for Tirana had begun at the end of October (after much of the southern part of the country had already been regained by the liberation forces) and the Hitlerite forces decided to make a last desperate attempt to put off the inevitable by sending a column of about 3000 soldiers, with tanks, artillery and other armoured vehicles, from Elbasan. In the original plan they also wanted to send a similar force from Durres, on the coast, to create a pincer movement but that second force never materialised.

Four brigades of the National Liberation Army, consisting of about 1,200 men and women partisans, ambushed this column along the road (now the SH3) between the villages of Mushqete and Petrele on the 14th November 1944. The battle continued into the following day but by 18.00 of the 15th the battle was over. The German forces had suffered 1,500 dead and wounded and the remaining forces were captured. There is no information on the number of Albanians killed or wounded.

This was a no holds barred battle and contemporary reports talk about the route between the villages of Mushqete and Petrele being littered with corpses, of both men and horses, with the road and grass verges painted red with blood.

Victory in this battle, just 10 km from the capital, ensured that by 17th November Tirana was under the complete control of the liberation forces and within another two weeks the war was all but over for the German forces when they suffered another defeat in the northern city of Skhoder on the 29th November. That day is now celebrated as the date of the liberation of the country and the beginning of true independence.

On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the battle of Mushqete a monument to this important encounter was inaugurated in 1969.

Mushqeta Monument - soon after construction

Mushqeta Monument – soon after construction

The sculptor was Hektor Dule who worked with the assistance of the architect K Miho. Dule will appear on this blog again as he was the sculptor of a number of important works of the socialist period in Albania’s history but, unfortunately (so far) I have been unable to find out anything more about Miho.

It’s quite a unique piece of work in the Albanian context as the monument is in two, very distinctive, parts.

The first part is a large, rectangular panel depicting the symbolism of the Communist Partisan forces as well as the specifics of the conflict. This would have been made from a mould into which the concrete was poured and then set upright in its present location.

Many of the Socialist Realist monuments in Albania were made of concrete (beton in Albanian). This was a readily available and relatively cheap material (which accounts for its popularity) but I can’t think of any monuments in the UK which use the same basic material. At the same time lifting such a large panel must have been a complex and difficult task, fraught with difficulties. Concrete can be robust and durable but it does have its weaknesses and this particular piece would have been vulnerable as it was being manoeuvred from the horizontal to the vertical.

The panel is, roughly, 3 by 10 metres (not counting the panel with the text). When I visited in November 2014 it looked as if it had been recently whitewashed. As far as I can tell the original was just the bare concrete and there was no paint at all involved, i.e., no highlighting of the red stars as was the case, for example, on the Dema Memorial close to Saranda.

There are two distinct stories being told in this one image, one of victory and the future, the other of ignominious defeat. These two narratives are separated on the horizontal plane.

Starting from the left we have a group of four Partisans (three men and one woman), about life-size, all with the barrel of a rifle in one hand. The man at the front also holds a flag pole and the national flag then goes back over their heads, extending behind the group. The way it has been designed giving the impression it is fluttering in the wind. On the flag is the double-headed (black) eagle with the star (which on the cloth flag would have been in gold) sitting just above and between the two heads of the mythical raptor.

From here the panel is divided into two. On the top section, the one representing victory, there are six Partisan fighters, 4 men and two women. The first four (three men and one woman) are marching to the front, all armed, the first man looking back and urging them on. They are going towards two fighters (one of each gender) who are already firing at the enemy, the woman standing and firing a rifle, the man kneeling with a light machine gun. The machine gun is resting on a box with the letters WH but I’m not sure what they stand for. Lying on the ground under the machine gun is a male in civilian dress and this has been suggested to me to represent the Quislings (those collaborators and traitors which infected most of the countries invaded by the Fascists). This one will no longer be a problem as he has suffered the same fate as had been meted upon the 1,500 Hitlerites at the end of the 15th .

Mushqete Monument - Collaborator

Mushqete Monument – Collaborator

They are all heading, or shooting, towards the German Tiger tank which has been disabled and is on fire. This represents the armoured German column that had started out from Elbasan.

Mushqete Monument - Tiger tank in flames

Mushqete Monument – Tiger tank in flames

There are a few points to stress about this depiction of the Albanian Communists. They are all moving forward not only in battle but also in the sense of the Socialist future of their country. They show determination and a sense of dignity and purpose. They are marching and looking towards their capital of Tirana with their heads held high. On their caps they proudly display the star of the Communist Party. And, as I’ve mentioned before, not least in the post about the Albania Mosaic on the National History Museum, the women depicted are fighters, armed and prepared to use their arms, in the fight for their own liberation – these are no shrinking violets who wait at home for the men to ‘give’ them freedom.

Mushqete Monument - Female Partisan Fighter

Mushqete Monument – Female Partisan Fighter

The representation of the Nazi invaders couldn’t be any different. They occupy the lower part of the panel.

Starting from the right there’s a German officer, head bowed, standing in front of the useless, burning tank with his head between the tracks. In front of him is a standard-bearer, bent even lower and in his left hand he holds the regimental banner, with the swastika which is now being dragged in the dirt. Just the opposite of the Albanian flag which flies so proudly at the far left of the panel. This is also reminiscent of the Nazi standards being thrown down on the cobbles of Red Square in Moscow, in front of the Lenin Mausoleum with Stalin on the podium in May 1945.

Mushqete Monument - Swastika in the dirt

Mushqete Monument – Swastika in the dirt

Next we have a group of six men, all on their knees and now underneath the marching and fighting Partisans. They are all looking in the direction they had come, i.e., away from Tirana which was their goal when they left Elbasan. Five of them wear either a military helmet or cap but the one-fourth from the right is bare-headed. I can’t see anything defining him as a soldier so this might possibly be another representation of a collaborator.

Some of the faces of the defeated fascists look quite skeletal. In November 2014 I thought this was the deliberate intention of Dule but after seeing the black and white picture (taken no later than 1973) I believe this is just a consequence of time, whether deliberate damage or the ravages of the weather it’s impossible to say.

Mushqete Monument - 'Skeletal' Nazi

Mushqete Monument – ‘Skeletal’ Nazi

The extreme right hand side of this large panel is taken up with text. The text is spelt out with metal letters attached to marble panels. This is in a sad state of repair, a number of the letters missing completely and the marble stained, not least from the plants which are starting to encroach upon the monument from the field behind. However, the letters had been attached for so long the weathering of the marble means the shape of the letter is the colour of the stone at the time if the monument’s inauguration in 1969.

A rough translation of the text reads:

“On this road, from Mushqete to Petrele, was decided the fate of the war for the liberation of Tirana. On the 14th and 15th November, 1944 the fighters of the 1st, 4th, 8th and 17th (Partisan) brigades ambushed a German column of 3,000 and exterminated them.”

The second part of this monument is completely different in character to the story telling panel. This is a pillar, which must be close to six metres high, depicting a huge human hand holding the top end of the barrel of a rifle.

Mushqete Monument - Hand on rifle

Mushqete Monument – Hand on rifle

It stands at right angles to the panel and is facing in the direction of Mushqete creating an L-shaped arrangement. The other panel could possibly have been formed elsewhere and then transported to the site but this column would had to have been made in situ – and presumably this is where the architect Miho comes in.

This hand is so big it begs comparison with the body parts found in Rome, the only remains of the huge statues that once stood in the city when the Roman Empire was at its height. To add the rest of the body to this hand would be to create a colossus indeed. To the best of my knowledge this type of depiction of the Albanian fighter is unique and nothing approaching this sort of scale appears anywhere else in the country.

The largest Partisan statue I’ve seen is the one in the Gjirokastra Castle museum, but even that would be a tiddler beside the giant of Berzhite. The statue of Mother Albania in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery is big but a good half of its height is plinth.

The way I interpret this structure is to consider the size of the hand representing the potential power of the organised working class, being able to swat away the insect that is capitalism with ease, all that’s necessary is the will.

The hand and the rifle look in good condition and the whole of this part of the monument looks as if it had recently been whitewashed, but as with the panel this was not part of the original plan. However, time and lack of decent maintenance since the 1990s has meant cracks are starting to appear at the top of the column, towards the back.

On the flat wall at the back of the hand is the symbol of the double-headed eagle with the star (at the top) and on the flat surface facing the road are the letters VFLP. This is an initialism for “Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!” (“Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!”) a slogan and an oath which Partisans used to express their unity of purpose.

Finally, about the monument itself, in the extreme bottom left hand corner of the panel can be made out the letters H DULE, the sculptor has ‘signed’ his work.

GPS:

N41.252781

E19.89280801

DMS:

41° 15′ 10.0116” N

19° 53′ 34.1088” E

Altitude: 192.2m

How to get there.

Berzhite is on the SH3, what used to be the main road between Tirana and Elbasan. A new motorway is presently being constructed along this route and the long distance buses no longer go along this stretch of road. However, there are two local buses which leave from the bottom end of Rruga Elbsanit, close to the junction with Boulavard Bajram Curri in Tirana. One is signed ‘Lapidar’ which terminates at Mushqete and the other goes a little further to the small and isolated village of Krabbe. The Krabbe bus leaves every half hour, at least in the mornings, at 15 and 45 past the hour. The Lapidar bus slots in between these times. The cost is anything from 50 to 100 lek, depending whether the ‘conductor’ wants to charge local or tourist prices (but as there are 170 lek to the pound (at the end of 2014) either price is not going to break any tourist bank.) The monument is set back slightly from the road, on the right hand side going in the direction of Elbasan, less than 30 minutes from Tirana. The bus going back to Tirana stops outside the cafe and shop opposite the monument.

Peze Conference Memorial Park

Peze Conference Memorial

Peze Conference Memorial

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

Peze Conference - Fatmir Biba

Peze Conference – Fatmir Biba

When the Italian Fascists invaded on 7th April 1939 there was no resistance from the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog 1 who ran away with his family to Britain where, as they said at the time, ‘he had a good war’ – far from the death and destruction that was being inflicted on the country of his birth.

Different nationalist groups, but especially those organised by the Communist Party of Albania (CPA) after its foundation on 8th November 1941, fought against the invaders but by the middle of 1942 it was recognised that the struggle for liberation needed co-ordination and with that in mind the Communists invited all nationalists to a conference to create a structure that would defeat the materially superior foreign forces.

Peze Conference Room

Peze Conference Room

The home of Myslym Peza was chosen as though relatively close to the capital Tirana the struggle in that part of the country meant that it was a no-go area for Fascists and the meeting could be held in relative security. From this conference came the formation of the National Liberation Front. Probably the most important decision was, as it says in the History of the Party of Labour of Albania, that:

‘National Liberation councils should be set up everywhere as organs uniting and mobilising the people in the war, and as organs of the people’s power. Thus paving the way for the construction of socialism after victory over the invaders.’

Peze Conference - Fatmir Biba

Peze Conference – Fatmir Biba

After the war this area became a memorial park to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle against fascism and as well as the house, part of which became a museum of the partisan struggle, the grounds also became the location for three separate memorials.

The first was the memorial to the conference itself which is close to the villa buildings (the Peza family were obviously wealthy but Myslym adopted the Communist cause and became a commandant in the National Liberation Front).

Peze Conference Monument in happier days

Peze Conference Monument in happier days

This monument (inaugurated in 1970) is constructed of breeze block and faced with marble and is in the form of a stylised rifle standing butt end on the ground. This is surmounted, as on virtually all monuments celebrating and commemorating the War of National Liberation, a large star. This was the symbol of the CPA and appears on many monuments produced in the socialist era. The victory against the fascists was overwhelmingly due to the efforts of the Communists (although other nationalist hangers-on, supporters of Zogu and even the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) all wanted to claim the credit).

On the left of the central tower, on the wall that forms the other element of the sculpture, is the date, in stylised numbers, 16 9 1942.

On the right:

‘Konferenca e Pezës vuri themelet e bashkimit kombëtar në luftë kundër pushtuesve’

This translates to:

‘The Peze conference laid the foundations for national unity in the fight against the invaders’.

To the left of the monument, and a few metres in front of it, is a bowl that once would have hosted an eternal flame. Unfortunately, as the fight of the Albanian people has gone out so this flame of resistance has also been extinguished.

I’ve seen monuments in a worse condition so there must have been a determination in the village of Peze at the time of the chaos following the counter-revolution of 1991 to protect the structures in the park. None of the major sculptures show signs of vandalism but the monument to the conference is suffering from neglect and some of the marble slabs have fallen off exposing the breeze blocks beneath.

(As I’ve travelled around the country I’ve been surprised at the ready to hand materials that have been used in the construction of the memorials and statues. Simple and cheap materials were imaginatively used to produce interesting works of art – few were made at huge cost such as the monstrosities that litter British cities in homage to the monarchy and other exploiters of the people.)

The other two main monuments in the park are the Memorial to the 22nd Brigade and the Peze War Memorial.

To the right of the stairs to the first floor of the villa, facing the roadway, is a plaque which commemorates the conference. The translation reads: In this house, on the 16th September 1942, was convened the Peze Conference for national unity in the fight against the invaders.

Up these stairs there used to be a small museum related to the liberation war and the part the local men and women played in its victorious culmination. That has suffered from neglect (and no doubt some looting of anything that might have had any value) and the two rooms only have a few paintings and some photo cards on display. The rooms are really used as a storeroom to the expensive looking restaurant that occupies the ground floor space. The ‘museum’ is not normally open to the public but if the caretaker sees the opportunity of a 500 lek note he will open up (but perhaps only when there are few people around).

The ground floor is decorated and furnished as a wealthy land owners house would have been before the Second World War with an interesting portrait on the wall in the room off to the left of the entrance hall of Myslym Peza – if you get that far note the red star on his right lapel with the flag of Albania beneath it.

Like so much public property this villa has been privatised and although I didn’t see the menu this restaurant looked expensive, if not just because of the location and environment.

Once the Italian Fascists got news of the Conference they came and took their revenge on the building and it was destroyed. It was then rebuilt in its original form after liberation.

Peze Conference Building destroyed by Italian Fascists

Peze Conference Building destroyed by Italian Fascists

The, now, seemingly abandoned building just down from the main villa also has a plaque. This states that it was from this building that the partisans operated, from 1940, in the Liberation War. You can’t miss it as it’s the building with a rusting anti-aircraft gun and a small howitzer outside. They are from the war period, the car, I assume, although equally abandoned, is of a more recent vintage.

Despite the fact that the park has some of the best preserved socialist memorials in any one place I’ve seen so far that doesn’t mean it’s not suffered the ravages of the post socialist period. Just up hill from the villa is the remains of a large fountain. This has not entertained visitors with its cooling display for a long time.

Further down hill, closer to the entrance gate and to the right of the road as you come into the park is what looks like another, smaller – perhaps drinking – fountain. It seems there was some structure on both sides of the stone pillar as there are brackets fixed into the ground which must have supported something. As of yet I don’t know what.

For bunker hunters there are quite a few scattered around this small park, especially close to the park entrance. And, unfortunately, the whole area is covered with litter, a fate from which all Albanian parks suffer. The number of bars and restaurants in the village are too great for such a small population so it seems that this is a popular day trip for people from Tirana in the summer months, They have, regrettably, the habit of not taking their litter home but even worse, letting it sit where it lay which then gets subject to the wind.

In the fight back, that is there even if at a relatively low-level, someone has painted a large red star on a fuel tank close to the gate.

GPS:

N 41.21549997

E 19.70020898

DMS:

41° 12′ 55.7999” N

19° 42′ 0.7523” E

Altitude: 96.7m

How to get to the park:

This is simplicity itself. From the main road that comes from the direction of Tirana take the side road opposite the Post Office, heading downhill. Within a few steps you’ll see the gates the other side of a bridge over the river. This is the entrance to the park and once through the gates you’ll see the main monument just up the hill.

Getting to Peze by public transport:

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.