Monument to Heroic Peze

 

Monument to Heroic Peze

Monument to Heroic Peze

Looking like a cross between a pistol and a huge road sign, the Monument to Heroic Peze sits at the junction to the village of Peze, along the old road between Tirana and Durres. This huge block of concrete, in its imagery and words, tells the story of the important role that this small village played in the war against fascist occupation (both Italian and German), the formation of the National Liberation Front and the concept of People’s Power.

The monument (Monumenti kushtuar Pezës heroikë – Monument dedicated to Heroic Peze) was inaugurated in September 1977, on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Albanian National Liberation Conference in Peze (the village being only 6 km from the junction where there are other monuments to the fallen, the local guerrilla unit and the conference) and is the work of sculptors Mumtaz Dhrami (who was also involved in the creation, among others of Mother Albania in the National Martyrs Cemetery in Tirana and the Monument to Independence in Vlora) and Kristo Krisilo. It symbolises the struggle and glorious history of the people of this region led by the Communist Party of Albania (which became the Party of Labour of Albania during the period of socialism) in the war for liberation of the country against Italian and German Fascism.

Inauguration of The Monument to Heroic Peze

Inauguration of The Monument to Heroic Peze

The engraving above, by Fatmir Biba, records the inauguration in 1977

When I first saw this monument in 2012 it was just plain, undecorated concrete but between then and November 2014 it had been whitewashed and then certain images, principally the stars, the double-headed eagle and some of the text, have been picked out in red and black paint. When I first saw this change in the fate of the Monument of Dema, near to Saranda in the south of Albania, I thought this was just a local change in attitude, care and maintenance rather than disregard and vandalism, but this is obviously a much more extensive approach towards the patrimony of the country.

On the edge facing Tirana

On this part of the monument there is less of a story rather more a symbolic representation of what the struggle meant to the Albanian people. From the right hand side, that closest to the main road, there’s an image of a woman facing in the direction of Tirana, seeming to look into the distance towards the capital. She’s an older woman from those normally found on such monuments, as you can make out the creases in her forehead and also her dress is not of a combatant, more of a woman of the countryside, with a scarf covering her head and on both sides of her face. Is she, possibly, a representation of Mother Albania?

It’s not quite clear but she seems to holding the top end of the barrel of a rifle in her hand. That fits in with the many other images of armed women in Albanian Socialist Realist Art and it would be somewhat strange if this is the rifle of the man to her right.

Next we have the heads of three men, all of whom are looking in the direction of the village of Peze. Are we getting here a link between the capital and Peze? Without the conference and the anti-Fascist organisation that resulted in it the chances of victory and the liberation of the capital would have been reduced.

These heads represent the unity within the country, from the Communist (who is closest to the woman and whose star on his cap is now painted red and who has a bandolier across his shoulders) to the facial characteristics of Albanians from different parts of the country, symbolising that victory was a nation wide achievement. For such a small country and tiny population there are a huge number of distinctive facial differences between those in the north and those in the south. The third male from the woman also seems to be wearing a sheepskin collar to his jacket (similar to the separate, standing individual on the other side).

In front of them a disembodied hand holds high what looks like a bayonet, again pointing in the direction of the village. In front of this are the words, in Albanian, “Populli në këmbë, partia në ballë” that mean: “The People standing up, the Party in the vanguard.” And next to these words a large star, now picked out in red.

Underneath the faces are the words: “Lavdi Pezës heroike ku u vunë themelet e Frontit Nacional Çlirimtare dhe të pushtetit popullor”, which translate to: “Glory to Heroic Peze – where were laid the foundations for the National Liberation Front and People’s Power.” The larger, first words now also painted red.

The facade towards Durres.

From the left the letters VFLP, now picked out in alternate red and black, 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.

Then there’s the slogan in Albanian: “Historia e Pezës dhe e popullit të të gjithë kesaj krahine është një histori e lavdishme që do të na frymëzojë në shekuj” which means: “The story of Peze, and of all the people of this province, is a glorious history that will inspire us through the centuries.”

Then there’s a male Partisan fighter, standing with one leg higher than the other as if he were climbing a mountain. His right hand is raised above his head in the revolutionary salute, with the clenched fist. He is wearing a cap with a red star (but this hasn’t been picked out in red with the recent painting). The butt of his rifle, the barrel of which he holds in his left hand, is resting on the ground. His shirt is open at the neck and hanging from his shoulder, on a strap across his chest, is a water bottle. Around his waist he wears a bandolier holding spare cartridges and on his right hip rests a British made Mills bomb (fragmentation grenade). His jacket seems to lined with sheepskin as it looks like a fleece showing where it is open.

To his left is a çeta (guerrilla unit) of 12 marching towards Peze, both in the sense that they head to the village which is 6 kilometres from this junction and also to the buildings depicted on the monument itself. The face of the topmost of the group, towards the back, has suffered damage and only half the face exists. There’s only one woman Partisan and she is in the middle with a light sub-machine gun in her right hand, relaxed downwards as they are not in a combat situation. Not all the weapons of the group are shown but one of the male Partisans, in the middle, has his rifle raised above his head, extending over the heads of those in front and behind him.

There are faint red stars (again not picked out in red since the recent painting) on most of the caps worn by the group, including the cap of the female. The fourth male from the front carries a pole and the flag flutters over his head. On this flag there’s the double-headed eagle and star – but again these are faint and haven’t been highlighted in the recent cleaning/renovation.

In the arms of one of the leading males is a woman, in the traditional dress of the time, with her face very close to his. This is, presumably, his wife as just behind and below her is a young boy in the process of running to his father.

They have just come from Peze which is represented by the a few buildings up a hill side, towards the front of the monument. Superimposed over the houses is a large (now) red star, providing the accolade that was given to Peze during the time of socialism – Red Peze for having played a pivotal role in the formation of the National Liberation Front. Underneath are the words “Pezë,16 shtator 1942” which translate as: “Peze, September 16, 1942”, the date of the Conference. The name of the village is now painted red and the date in black.

The narrow facade facing the main road.

This is a battle scene. On the immediate left is a depiction of the double-headed eagle, with a large red star above the heads. The eagle has been painted black and the star a bright, crimson, revolutionary red.

To the right of that is the battle scene itself. This is not really that easy to make out, this edge facing more or less north and never really getting the sun on it to bring out the shadows of the relief. Also, because of its northerly aspect it has been subject to more weathering, not serious damage as far as I could see, but there’s staining that would come from the dampness staying on that part more than the two larger faces.

First there’s a male Partisan, down on one knee and in his right hand he holds a stick grenade (almost certainly ‘liberated’ from the Nazi invader and now being returned to the rightful owner) which he’s just about to throw. In his left hand he holds a rifle which is pointed in the direction of the enemy. He’s bare-chested, his shirt flying out behind him as he puts all his effort in throwing the bomb.

On his left, close together and all pointing and firing their rifles in the same direction, are 4 Partisans, three male and one female. The second male wears a fez cap, typical of the people from the area at the time, and the woman of this group wears a cap, which would normally have a red star on the front but it’s difficult to make that out due to the weathering. They are on a slight diagonal going up from left to right.

Behind this group stands a male partisan with a rifle, but not one that is firing at the enemy. He is looking back and I can’t make out at what, if anything. It also looks to me that there may be a flag attached to his rifle which is flying back over his head. This might represent the call for others to come and join the battle.

To his left there is a woman fighter firing a machine gun supported on a tripod. Behind her and barely visible is another fighter wearing a conical, felt hat typical of the north. His rifle is over her left shoulder pointing in the direction of the enemy.

I’m not sure if it’s just the weathering but above her head it appears to be the image of a building, if so this would be a representation of a building that would have been normal in Peze at the time of the beginning of the war – virtually all of Peze was razed to the ground during the National Liberation War.

GPS:

N 41.25917103

E 19.69045102

DMS:

41° 15′ 33.0157” N

19° 41′ 25.6237” E

Altitude: 63.4m

Getting there by public transport.

There are regular buses (every ten minutes or so during the day) leaving from the centre of Tirana which have the destination of Ngoc. The Tirana terminus is a short distance from Skanderbeg Square on Rruga Karvajes, opposite the German Hospital and just a few metres east of Rruga Naim Fresheri. Cost is 40 lek. Just wait by the side of the road, just a short distance up the hill, to go back to Tirana. This route also passes the road that leads to the cemetery where the grave of Enver Hoxha is located, in Kombinant. The bus that goes off the main road to Peze is less frequent and details can be found on the post for the Peze Conference Memorial Park.

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.