Being the main port of invasion by the Italian Fascists on 7th April 1939 it’s not a surprise that in commemoration of that event, and especially the resistance that was shown by a significant proportion of the population (but not the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog who ran away as soon as the Italian ships came into sight) that there are a few monuments to this, constructed in the Socialist period. One is to the individual sacrifice of Mujo Ulqinaku (that used to stand close by the Venetian tower at the bottom end of town) and the other is to the general principle of ‘Resistance’ in Durrës, which is located right next to the waterfront and very likely one of the places the Italian fascists would have landed.
But in 2017 the population of Durrës doesn’t have much respect for Resistance to any foreign invasion. In fact the more foreign goods, foreign fast food and foreign culture they can access the better. In some senses more of a necessity than a wish as they have overseen the wholesale destruction of any industry which might provide them with the basic necessities of life. And, of course, how can anyone possibly survive without the internationally recognised destroyer of teeth and promoter of obesity, the obnoxious fluid sold under the name of Coca Cola?
But back to a time when Albanians had dignity, knew what true independence was and embodied the principles of resistance in their daily lives.
When a monument ceases to have relevance then it no longer gets treated with respect and that has been the fate of this lapidar – as well as with many others throughout the country. Apart from physical damage to some of the elements of the structure it is a constant victim of graffiti attack, the mindless, illiterate scribblings of those with nothing meaningful to say but say it anyway. At least political graffiti would demonstrate some form of human thought.
‘Resistance’ has architectural elements as well as sculptural.
You approach the monument via a few very low, but very wide steps. You are then in a circular space with a series of eleven columns on your right which rise to a height of about 3 metres and on that highest column stands the personification of ‘Resistance’ in the form of a Partisan fighter. Radiating out at 90 degrees to these columns, gradually coming down to ground level even as each of the columns gets higher is a feathering effect. This effect is also produced on the left hand side as you look at the statue but here the feathering is much lower to start with and much wider as well.
If you can imagine the furled wing of a bird you might understand the impression the architect is attempting to re-create. For this is a symbolic reference to the eagle, the double-headed version of which is, and has been for a few centuries now, the national emblem of Albania. This device has been used in the most recent development of the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Borove, just to the south of Ersekë, and for the construction of (the now derelict) mausoleum and museum to Enver Hoxha in Tirana.
The problem with this idea is that it is very difficult to appreciate the idea from ground level. It might well be more evident from an aerial view but that is not possible for the vast majority of onlookers. So in Durrës (as in Borove and Tirana) you have to use a little bit of imagination.
On the facade of four of theses columns, facing the inner circle, are images which tell a little bit of the history of Durrës and Albanian Resistance.
Resistance to the Romans
On the 7th from the right we have the ancient, Greco-Romano history of the town. Carved into the stone is a circular, Roman shield and surrounding it the weapons that would have been used at the time: a short sword, an axe and a number of different types of spears, together with a helmet with a crest.
Resistance to the Ottomans
On the 8th one in we are brought a little closer up to date. This is the time of the nationalist ‘hero’ Skenderbeu. We know that as the large shield towards the right has a double-headed eagle design (it was from the time of Skenderbeu that this symbol was adopted as a sign of Resistance to any foreign invader). This was in the 15th century. Here we have the weapons in use in warfare from that period: a long, broadsword, possibly arrows, spears and the curved blade, long poled axe that was used to hack away at the enemy. Examples of these can be seen in the National Historical Museum in Tirana.
The third lesson in history is on the next column, the ninth and this brings us up to the 20th century. At the bottom there’s a symbolic reference to the waves on the sea. This references Durrës as this image is part of the town’s coat of arms. Curving from the top left to the centre is an ammunition belt – eight clips with five bullets apiece. On the right hand side, taking up the whole height of the panel, is a rifle.
Resistance to Italian Fascism
The top end of the barrels of a couple of rifles peek out from behind the ammunition belt on the left hand side. This modern weaponry frames an axe, a pickaxe and a couple of pitchforks. This, to me covers a couple of inter-related periods. It makes reference to the war for National Liberation (which took place between 1939 and 1944) and also to the construction of Socialism where the use of arms would be necessary to defend the revolution from attack, both from within and without.
The final symbol, which is on the facade of the column upon which the Partisan statue stands, is a large, black metal plaque of a double-headed eagle. Unlike the one on the shield of the Skenderbeu era this one has a star above the two heads. This is the star of Communism which was added to the national symbol from 1944 to 1990. This star, whether it was red originally or not I don’t know, is missing, whether as a result of political vandalism, opportunist souvenir hunting or by someone to care for it so that it can be returned in a future Socialist Albania.
The statue itself embodies many of the attributes seen on a number of lapidars throughout the country. The figure itself is rushing forward, weapon at the ready, but he is also looking backwards calling upon others, out of sight to come and join the fight. This is depicted elsewhere on Albanian lapidars such as the monumental Arch of Drashovicë and the statue of Mujo Ulqinaku in Durrës itself – but exact location unknown at this moment.
But there’s much more dynamism, more urgency here. He cannot stretch his legs any further, he gives the impression of needing to rush to the front, to engage the enemy. When there’s an invasion there’s no time to consider the options. Only those who are prepared to live under a foreign yoke, the future collaborators, the sycophants and cowards, will hesitate, ‘weigh up the options’ and then capitulate. This fighter, this Communist, this patriot does not hesitate.
He doesn’t wear a uniform as such as at the time of the Italian invasion in 1939 the so-called Royal Albanian Army was so much in a collaborative role with the Italians that official resistance melted away. It was up to a few individual soldiers, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, or armed civilians to resist the invasion. Although they were far too outnumbered in 1939 to succeed in preventing the country from being occupied the action of workers such as those at the tobacco factory and the growing number of those who joined the Partisans in the subsequent five years meant that the country was finally liberated at the end of November 1944.
He’s bare-chested and it looks like his shirt has been torn off his body and it hangs in shreds, flowing behind him as he rushes forwards. In general there’s nothing to distinguish him from any other national hero, racing to take on the enemy but there’s one little, unique indication that this is an Albanian patriot.
Hanging from a thin leather strap, that goes around his neck and rests against his left thigh, is a small bag. It looks very much like an opinga (the traditional leather shoe) with decoration on its facing and edges. I’ve not seen this elsewhere and can only think that when modern dress became more common, especially in a city like Durrës where more people would have been involved in manufacturing industry or dock related activities, these reminders and remainders of the past would have taken on a secondary role.
The official name of the monument is:
“Monumenti i Rezistencës.”
Which translates as:
Which was ‘dedicated to the armed struggle of the Albanian people against the fascist occupation of Italy on April 7, 1939.’
This lapidar is the combined work of Hektor Dule and Fuat Dushku (1930-2002) but I don’t know which of them (if either) was the originator of the architectural aspect of the monument. Dule also created the Mushqete Monument at Berzhite and the bas-relief to Skenderbeu in Gjirokaster. Dushku was one of the sculptors who worked on the ‘Four Heroines of Mirdita’ that was created in 1971 and used to stand in Rrëshen. That was criminally destroyed by the local reactionary so-called ‘democrats’.
This is quite a late lapidar as, according to the inscription under the right foot of the fighter, the statue was created in 1989. This inscription is also quite unusual. It has the names of the two sculptors, H[ector] Dule and F[uat] Dushku and then the letters QRVA followed by the number 89 (for the year 1989). QVRA stands for Qendra e Realizimit te Veprave te Artit, translating to Art Work Realization Centre. This is the name of the (State) foundry in Tirana where virtually all the lapidars in the country, from the late 60s to the end of the 80s, were forged. It’s also the place where many of those that were torn down in the 90s were melted down to construct some of the monstrosities that is contemporary, capitalist Albanian sculpture. This foundry at one time employed 40 people, more or less, full time. That went down to just 5 a few years ago and then was torn down to make way for expensive, luxury flats.
This is the first time I’ve seen these initials on a lapidar (but not the last, the large statue of the Partisan and child in Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery and the bas relief outside the vandalised museum in Bajram Curri being two other, late Socialist period examples). In the post on Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier I made a bit of a digression discussing the idea of the artists NOT putting their names on their work. This did not mean that their work was not appreciated or respected but the artist was only one cog in the machine. The finished work of art was the culmination of the work of many and if one name should be on it why not all the others?
They didn’t realise that the more they adopted capitalist methods the shorter would be their future. Such foundries, workshops only exist in the capitalist countries with the patronage of the rich – just as it was in the Renaissance. There aren’t many of those in Albania and so the foundry died. I don’t have much sympathy for those with such myopia – whether they be foundry workers or sculptors.
As can be seen from the pictures the plinth and the surrounds are uncared for and there’s various graffiti on the columns. The columns provide steps for children to climb and they often do. However, the statue itself seems to be untouched by the vandalism and is in a good condition.
In the park beside the water, in the older part of town, beside Rruga Taulantia, and a hundred metres or so west of the Venetian Tower (and the original location of the monument to Mujo Qlqinaku).
(I was just about to publish this post about the lapidar in Durrës to Mujo Ulqinaku when I was informed by Vincent, of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, that it has been removed from its original site due to some sort of commercial development. The plans for the statue in the future are unknown. If I get more information I’ll update the post. Until then I consider the following to be a contribution to the maintenance of Albania’s proud revolutionary history and to remind visitors to Durrës – Albanians and foreigners alike – of what used to stand close to the waterfront.)
The first shots in Albania’s National Liberation War (although it wasn’t called that at the time) were fired on 7th April 1939 when the Italian Fascist forces invaded the port city of Durrës (as well as other locations along the coast). For years the country, ruled by the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog I (even before he was dead he was planning a dynasty!) had been a puppet state of the Italian Fascists and when the invasion did take place no official structure was in existence to defy the invaders. It was therefore left to brave individuals, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, to take up the banner of resistance. His sacrifice is commemorated by a monument close to the coast where the invasion took place.
Italian Fascist Invasion 1939
(The white building on the hill was the palace that Zogu left in a hurry on being informed of the imminent Italian Fascist invasion.)
The statue has the figure of Mujo (although it doesn’t look much like him from the available photos) standing with three-quarters of his body outside of some fortified structure. He’s not wearing a uniform – which might be a bit strange as he was a member of the Royal Border Guard, a branch of the Royal Albanian Army – but is in civilian dress.
However, there’s a political statement here. If Mujo was in his officer’s uniform it would give the impression, to the casual observer years after the event, that there was some sort of organised resistance to the Italian invasion. In fact, the head of that very ‘Royal’ Albanian Army was running as fast as his little feet (or more accurately, someone else’s little feet) could carry him to safety. As soon as he was aware of the invasion instead of standing at the head of his army and preparing to meet his death he decided on the cowards option and was spirited out of the country, eventually ending up in Britain, and having a very nice war indeed, thank you very much, in a large country house a long way even from the bombs raining down on London let alone the destruction being inflicted on ‘his’ country.
The statue represents an idealised representation of the action that Mujo took on that Friday. Armed only with a machine gun he fought until he was killed. He never left his post. It was reported that he had killed and wounded dozens of Italian soldiers with his machine gun.
Mujo Ulqinaku Statue
Mujo’s loose jacket is thrown out behind him in his animation. He has his right arm fully extended, pointing in the direction of the sea and the invading forces. He is looking back to others of his countrymen (but not at that time countrywomen, they would only be involved when the Communist led National Liberation Front was established after the Conference of Peze) to see why they are not with him, to see why they are holding back when their country is under such a dire threat. Some did join him at that time, but not that many. It took, again, Communist organisation to rally Albanians in their thousands to fight the invader in an organised manner in order to defeat them.
In his left hand, the arm fully extended due to the weight, he holds a heavy machine gun. By all reports that was all he had to face the invader. He just dug in and kept firing until a shell from one of the Italian warships eventually destroyed him and his position.
Mujo Ulqinaku with machine gun
This stance is repeated many times on the lapidars throughout the country. This idea of rallying the masses to the cause, to bring as many people to the battle front as is possible, holding back is no choice as it will lead to oppression and exploitation – a call that is as valid in the construction of Socialism as it is in the opposition to a foreign invading force. This image can be seen in such lapidars as diverse as the magnificent Arch of Drashovice and the sadly neglected lapidar at Sqepur, amongst others.
Mujo Ulqinaku died on the 7th April 1939 but so did many others. At one time this sacrifice by equally brave Albanians was recognised on the column upon which the bronze sculpture stands. However, for reasons I am not aware, when the monument was given a new look it was decided that these other Albanian heroes would have to go.
Mujo Ulqinaku statue with original text
Originally the wording on the column was as follows:
Lavdi deshmorëve të atdheut q[ë ra]në më 7 prill 1939
Glory to the martyrs of the fatherland who fell on 7 April 1939
This was then followed by what exists now, i.e., the name of Mujo Ulqinaku and People’s Hero, and then the list of seven other fighters who lost their lives in the battle against the Italian invasion. Those who gave their lives between 1939 and 1944 from Durrës (or the region) are also commemorated in the Durrës Martyrs Cemetery.
Up to the end of 2011 it was still possible to see the marks of where the names of the other martyrs were attached to the column. However, by 2014 there had been some ‘restoration’ work and unless you know what you’re looking for it’s not possible to tell that there has been an alteration.
Presumably at the same time a plaque with the same information was fixed to the wall of the Venetian Tower, across the road to the south of the monument. This ancient monument is now a private cafe. Sometimes the manner in which the Albanians have allowed their cultural heritage to be taken over by private, commercial interests surprises even me – when I thought I was almost immune to the stupidity of people world-wide when it comes to the theft of public assets.
The new plaque on the wall has:
Të rënët e 7 prillit (The fallen of April 7th)
Mujo Ulqinaku, Heroi i Popullit (People’s Hero)
(At present I don’t know if this plaque is still in this location. Without the near-by statue the information it contains is slightly confusing.)
But by not replacing the names in their original location the ‘new’ local government is, itself, making a statement about how to commemorate the resistance of the Durrës workers against the Italian Fascist invasion. They turn collective resistance into a personal martyrdom, an individual act. They turn Mujo from a representation of resistance into a lone fighter against foreign intervention, they take away the politics of anti-Fascism. And now he has been taken away as well.
Mujo Ulqinaku alongside Venetian Tower
In an artistic sense, when looking at other lapidars in Durrës, we can see that the monument (within sight of, and no more than 50 metres away from, Mujo) is a much larger monument to the Partisan, a monument that looks more and more neglected as the years go by. The monument to the collective is sacrificed to that to the individual.
The fact that the monument has been moved from its previous home to ‘an unknown location’ is a worrying development.
On top of years of neglect and both political and mindless vandalism we now have the removal of monuments due to commercial interests whose aesthetic in contemporary Albania is non-existent. Witness the neo-Classical monstrosity which is the private Albanian College, Durrës, which sits on the site of the long abandoned and derelict Durrës Tobacco factory – the location of a brave strike against Fascism, in 1940, when the Albanian people were still prepared to fight for their dignity – which was a hundred metres or so from the lapidar’s location for many years.
The monument used to be was located at the junction of Rruga Taulantia (which runs parallel to the coast) and Rruga Anastas Durrsaku. This is only a few metres from the seashore and very close to where the conflict in April 1939 would have taken place. Therefore an obvious location for the statue.
To place it in any other location wouldn’t make sense but to confine it to some sort of storage would be to refuse to accept the lessons of history. Someone really fighting (and dying) for the independence of his country is denigrated whilst the politicians, every year at the end of November, head down to Vlora to ‘celebrate’ the so-called ‘Independence’ of 1912. Real independence in Albania is in inverse proportion to the statements made about it.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.