Education Monument – Gjirokastra

Education Monument - Gjirokaster

Education Monument – Gjirokaster

There’s a unique lapidar in Gjirokaster, in southern Albania, which was erected to commemorate the struggle for education in the Albanian language when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. This monument to education is an obelisk in the shape of a stylised scroll, or a certificate rolled up, upon which are carved images depicting the struggles of the past as well as the intentions for the future. Its official name is ‘Obelisku kushtuar pionierëve të arsimit shqip’ (‘Obelisk dedicated to the pioneers of education in [the] Albanian [language]’.)

As with many of the Albanian lapidars this one is the result of the collaboration of three sculptors, Mumtaz Dhrami (Heroic Peze, Drashovice, Independence in Vlora, amongst others), Ksenofon Kostaqi (Dancers and Musicians, Gjirokaster) and Stefan Papamihali (Partisan, Gjirokaster). To the best of my knowledge this was inaugurated in 1983 (on the 40th anniversary of the liberation from the Italian Fascists – the Nazis came back for a while) when a number of other monuments were constructed throughout the town.

It’s worthwhile remembering that tiny Albania, because of its strategic position, was the object of desire for many imperialist powers, for a period of more than two thousand years. The last major imperialist power to hold sway in the country for any length of time was the Ottoman Empire based in Turkey. That empire wanted to impose total control and this included the language spoken and taught in schools. Therefore the struggle to maintain and develop the Albanian language was an anti-imperialist and progressive struggle which developed throughout the 19th and into the 29th century.

Education Monument - Zamir Mati

Education Monument – Zamir Mati

The obelisk is made from the local limestone and the story unravels as you look at it from the face in front of you at the top of the steps and then continues up and around in a clockwise direction.

The first carving is of disembodied hands, one holding a flaming torch, the other a book and an olive branch. These can mean slightly different things depending upon their context and location. The torch can symbolise liberty (as in the Statue in New York Harbour) or light. As this is an education monument it’s more likely representing the light that comes to an individual once they have access to education. The other hand holds both the book and the olive branch symbolising that through reading and education can come peace.

Education Symbol

Education Symbol

Allegories are always complex. You have to take into account the situation in which Albania found itself in 1983. The break with the Chinese revisionists in the 70s had meant that the country was alone in a hostile, capitalist world. They might have wanted peace but that was going to be difficult to achieve in such circumstances.

(Allegories can also be ironic. On the back of the present US ‘dime’ (10 cent piece), you can also find a torch and olive branch depicted, supposedly representing peace and liberty. There’s been little of that for many of the US population and even less for the peoples in countries where the US considers its interests are at stake. The oak tree, which is supposed to symbolise strength, has become a club with which to beat people, both nationally and internationally.)

Above the image of the hands are the words:

‘Pionierëve të gjuhës shqipe që në vitet e errëta të robërisë mbajtën gjallë dashurinë për liri, arsim, kulturë.’

Which translates as:

‘To the Pioneers of the Albanian language who, in the dark years of captivity, kept alive the love for freedom, education and culture.’

Before continuing around the obelisk look to the building at your back and to the plaque on the wall. The top part reads:

‘Ne kete godine ne shtator te vitit 1908, pas perpjekjeve te shumta te mesonjesve e patrioteve gjirokastrite u cel e para shkolle shqipe per qytetin me emerin ‘Liria’.’

Which translates as:

‘In this building, in September 1908, after numerous attempts by the patriotic educators of Gjirokaster, the first Albanian school in the town was opened, it was called ‘Freedom’

At the bottom of the plaque it states that the building was restored in 2002 with money from the California-based Packard Humanities Institute.

On each occasion I have been to see the lapidar the building has been closed so I don’t know if it contains any more information about the event in 1908.

Back to the obelisk.

Moving clockwise we come across an image of a man and a young boy. The man is dressed in the traditional, countryside, clothing of the beginning of the 20th century, a soft cap (qylafë) on his head down to the tsarouchi shoes (with its woollen pompom to keep out the water). He is armed – no real progress for the people will come unless it is fought for – and he holds a rifle, pointing downwards, in his left hand. Around his waist he wears an ammunition belt. Across his chest are the straps of small satchels that he wears on either side.

The young boy is dressed in more modern, western style dress, more like a suit and his shoes are also from a later period. Across his shoulder is the strap for a school satchel. He represents the future. He is carrying on the legacy that the man has fought for. It’s not always the case that those who do the fighting get the benefit (the many graves in the Martyrs’ Cemeteries are witness to that) but without such sacrifices no society can move on.

The young boy is walking up steps, again an allusion to the future, going upwards and onwards. But he’s not doing this alone. The right hand of the man is resting on the boy’s shoulder, an indication of both support and encouragement, and that hand is connected, through the man’s body, to the rifle. What has been gained by arms will also have to be defended by arms. This is a motif that appears elsewhere in Albania, for example, the statue of the Partisan and Child in Borove and in the Martyrs’ Cemetery at Lushnje.

The Past and the Future

The Past and the Future

The stance of both of them is confident and they are looking up, into the distance. This is one aspect which appears a great deal in Albanian lapidars – there are few bowed heads in either despair or defeat.

But the boy isn’t just going nowhere – he’s walking into a cloud of positive words that come as a consequence of education. Words that are in a different font, of different sizes but all suggesting the results of a properly organised educational system. Here we are moving away from a strictly historical celebration of the events in 1908. A school might have been established in Gjirokaster (and other locations in the years afterwards) but it wasn’t until the liberation of the country from Fascism in 1944 that the journey along the road of free and universal education was begun. As in most countries in Eastern Europe at that time (apart from the Soviet Union) illiteracy rates were astronomical.

I’m not sure if I’ve got all the words carved into the limestone. As we move around the monument the face that takes all the bad weather, from the north, starts to show signs of wear. However. I’m fairly sure about the majority.

Shoqrite – friendship; undra – wonder; vëllezëria – brotherhood; studenti – students; lidhja – unity; puntoreve – workers; bastiljes – captivity; mesuesue – teachers; drita – light (which was also the name of the magazine of the Albanian Writers and Artists Union, with the same font); shpresa – hope; kandile – oil lamp, candle, light; bashkimi – union.

OK, some of them are not directly connected to education but these words establish the general principles and themes of a socialist state in construction, which is impossible with an uneducated population (and even difficult with) and is why the promise of universal education is a pledge by virtually all national liberation movements, wherever and whenever they might be.

These words are inscribed upon a banner which is being held by the three individuals higher up this part of the obelisk. On the right hand side of the group is what looks like an academic. He’s fairly smartly dressed, perhaps early 20th century sophisticated, but not in a western style, more a wealthy local style that is beginning to adapt to western influences. He is wearing a fez and a topcoat, is grabbing hold of the banner with his left hand and has a book clasped to his chest in his right hand (in the same way as the worker did on the mosaic of the national history museum in Tirana – before its vandalisation). I assume he represents one of those pioneers mentioned before or one of the teachers in the ‘Freedom’ school.

On the left of the group is another man. Again he’s dressed in the style of the early part of the 20th century, but he’s not an academic, he’s a fighter and has hold of the top of the barrel of a rifle in his left hand. His right hand is gripping hold of the banner with the inscribed words of the future. So what we have here are the two forces which achieved the establishment of the school in 1908.

In between is another man, but this time he’s a worker, wearing the type of protective head covering which was typical of an engineer, or someone working in a steel plant, during the socialist period. (We have to remember that, although not producing anything now, Gjirokaster was the Albanian ‘Sheffield’ during socialism, producing the cutlery needs of the country. The deserted buildings alongside the main road from the border towards Tepelene, below the old town, is all that remains of that industry.)

His right hand is stretched out and the tips of his fingers seem to be touching the barrel of the rifle and his thumb is only inches away from the banner. He’s a worker, but everyone in socialism needs to be prepared to take up arms to defend the revolution and be ready to take up the banner of the revolution’s achievements once those that have gone before leave the scene.

High above this group of three, and almost at the top of the column, the double-headed eagle is carved into the stone. There’s no star above the heads as this is a monument to an event before the establishment of the People’s Republic. Above the eagles, in large letters, is the word ‘Baskimi’, meaning union, unity. Below the birds is the word ‘Drita’, meaning light, which is in inverted commas. I’m not sure why. The magazine of that name didn’t exist until more than 50 years later, when using the inverted commas would have been valid. Below that, now fading, is the date 1908.

Continuing the clockwise trajectory there is a fighting group from the end of the 19th century. This is the part of the monument that is most exposed to the elements and some of the images are difficult to make out.

At the bottom of the group a man is kneeling, looking forward, with a rifle in his right hand, the butt resting on the ground.

Above him, at his left shoulder is a group of three, a woman and two young children. She is looking in the same direction as the man below – as I said before, there’s always this symbolism of looking forward, confidently, to the future. She wears a kapica, a long scarf wrapped loosely around her head. In her right hand she is holding the top of the barrel of a rifle. Again, as in many Albanian lapidars and friezes, the women are more often than not armed, for example the Peze War Memorial. Her left hand rests on the left shoulder of a young child. This is the older of the two children, or at least the biggest, looking at his sibling, who is looking at him/her. This is the only one in the group who isn’t looking forward. I can’t make out the gender of the children as weathering and staining are greatest at this point.

Woman and children

Woman and children

So here we have a woman armed yet still protective of children, whether they be hers or not. Women played an active role in Albania’s liberation struggle, to a much greater extent in the war against Fascism but also in the independence battles of the 19th and early 20th centuries. So this woman can either represent all those heroines and/or could represent the idea of Mother Albania, as seen at the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery or in expelling the priest and the military from the country in the Armaments Museum in Gjirokaster Castle.

In front of the woman, and slightly above her, is another independence fighter. He is depicted striding forward, always that forward motion, determined and prepared. He holds a flag pole in his right hand, the banner fluttering above his head. It’s impossible to make out if anything is inscribed on the banner, i.e., the double-headed eagle. His left arm is fully stretched out behind him and is holding a rifle at the mechanism end of the barrel, the butt of which is just behind the head of the woman. Often there will be a person in a lapidar who is looking backwards, urging others behind to come forward, as in the monument to the students and teachers just around the corner in Gjirokaster, but here he is using a gesture with his rifle to achieve the same effect.

On both the men so far mentioned you can see the Albanian version of the tsarouchi shoes, with the sheep’s wool pompom at the toe.

Above the banner, and now almost at the top of the obelisk, is a group of three men, one in the act of firing, one about to do so and the third in the process of getting his rifle to his shoulder. We only see their head and shoulders but what can be made out is the type of hat they are wearing. This is a round and flat cap, similar to that worn by Çerçiz Topulli on the statue in the square that bears his name in Old Gjirokaster.

We have now gone around the clock face and are now at the point were we started but now look up higher and see a large group of children with their teacher. Above the group, in large letters, is the word ‘Mëmëdhue’, meaning Motherland – the idea of nationalism being a strong motif, especially in monuments that commemorate those events prior to 1944, after which socialist elements tend to become more dominant.

Then we have the letters ABC, obviously representing literacy, both reading and writing. The only other monument where I have seen this, so far, is on a smaller lapidar to education in the small village of Proger, not far from Korça. (Albanian uses the Latin alphabet but there are 36 letters as opposed to 26 in English.)

Below that is a compressed scene from a school classroom. There are eight children, three girls and 5 boys. These are young children so this is a class where they are learning the basics of the Albanian language. From what I can make out they are wearing some sort of school uniform which indicates to me that the scene is from a country school after liberation as I can’t imagine matters being so organised way back in 1908 (and girls might not have had ready access to education at that time).

Three of them have writing tablets and pens whilst three have books, with the other two it’s not clear. There’s a mix of attention to the teacher being depicted. Four of them are looking at the teacher, one seems to be looking out the window to the mountains, one of the girls has her back to us, another girl is reading and one of the boys is looking straight at us as we view the scene. All but one of the children are bear-headed, and he wears a fez.

Immediately above the group of children we can make out the legs of a blackboard easel, the blackboard itself merging into the rest of the monument. The teacher, to the right of the children, is bare-headed, wears a tie and his dress would seem to fit into the idea that the scene is late rather than early 20th century. In his left hand he holds an open book and in his right hand he holds a ball of chalk as if just about to write something on the board. His index finger is pointing to the B of the letters in an obvious reference to literacy.

The final piece of decoration is a star carved into the stone at its highest point. This is immediately above the hands with the torch, book and olive branch.

Generally the monument is in a good condition and doesn’t look like it has suffered from any vandalism. Where there is some degradation it seems to have been caused by the weather, on the north facing parts of the lapidar.

Holiday in Gjirokaster - Zamir Mati

Holiday in Gjirokaster – Zamir Mati

It’s also in a pleasant location. Whereas the streets of the old town can get busy, especially when large tour groups arrive in coaches for a day trip, I’ve never been to the monument when there have been more than a couple of people there. The fact that the approach is not obvious until you actually find it might be the reason for that. From the small balcony on which it stands you get a great view of both the old and the new town, as well as the mountains on either side of the River Drino valley, looking northwards in the direction of Tepelene. For a few years this would have been a good place to get a high view of the statue of Enver Hoxha that was located just a little lower down the hill (and where there are now a couple of expensive bars). Unfortunately Enver suffered a terminal attack in 1992.

Enver Hoxha, Gjirokaster

Enver Hoxha, Gjirokaster

How to find it:

Go up hill from Çerçiz Topulli Square and at the junction at the top (about 100m) take the higher of the two roads on the right and then immediately the narrow road on the left. Within a few metres on the right there’s an always open door, as if going into a house. Go up these stairs and through the building – if you smell decay mixed with stale urine then you’re in the right place. Coming out into the open the steps become wider and they take you to the small plateau upon which the obelisk stands.

GPS

40.074572

20.13804104

DMS

40° 4′ 28.4592” N

20° 8′ 16.9477” E

Altitude:

318.4m

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 is stylised numbers, 16 9 1942. On the right the words ‘Konferenca e Pezës vuri themelet e bashkimit kombëtar në luftë kundër pushtuesve’ translate 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.

National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery Approach

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery Approach

The National Martyrs’ Cemetery, Tirana, is the most important monument to those who fell in the struggle against Italian and German Fascism between 1939 and 1944. It’s also the location of the largest example of Socialist Realist sculpture in the country – Mother Albania.

The cemetery is on a high point looking down on Tirana and offers a fine view of the mountains that surround the city, including the Mount Dajti National Park over on the right (as you look down on Tirana).

From the entrance gates you go along a wide road and then turn to the left to go up the steps, from the bottom of which you get the first view of Mother Albania. At the top of the steps there’s a plateau where celebrations on Liberation Day (29th November) take place.

Dominating this area is the statue of Mother Albania. She has a cloak that seems to be blowing in the wind and her right arm is raised high above her head. In her hand she holds a wreath of laurels, celebrating the Partisans who died in liberating their country from Fascism, and a star, the symbol of Communism.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Mother Albania (detail)

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – Mother Albania (detail)

Three sculptors are credited with its creation (Kristaq Rama, Muntaz Dhrami and Shaban Hadëri) and was dedicated in 1971. It’s 12 metres high and made of concrete. (Many of the monuments in Albania are made from concrete, more so than normal from my experience, and it will be interesting to see how they weather.)

Engraved on the pedestal are the words “Lavdi e perjetshme deshmoreve te Atdheut” (“Eternal Glory to the Martyrs of the Fatherland”).

(Other monumental sculptures by Kristaq Rama still to be seen are the Independence Monument in Vlorë and the statue of Musa Ulqinaku on the Durres waterfront.)

On the hill surrounding this plateau are the graves/monuments to 900 partisans. There’s a laurel leaf on all of them and the Communists have the addition of a star above that to show their political allegiance.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Partisan Memorials

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – Partisan Memorials

At one time there was only one grave separated from the others, the one to Qemal Stafa after whom the National Stadium in the university area is named. He was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party and leader of its youth section. He died in the war against the Italian Fascists at the age of 22 and May 5th, the anniversary of his death, is Martyrs’ Day, when, in Socialist times young children would go to the memorials throughout the country and place flowers on each grave as a sign of respect and also to remember that freedom doesn’t come without sacrifice.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Qemal Stafa's Tomb

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – Qemal Stafa’s Tomb

For a short time, the tomb of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the Party of Labour of Albania (as the Communist Party was called after 1948) was between the statue of Mother Albania and Qemal Stafa’s tomb. In April 1992 he was disinterred and reburied in Tirana’s municipal cemetery at Kombinat and the red grave stone re-used in the cemetery for the English dead in Tirana Park.

Tirana Martyrs' Cemetery - Enver Hoxha

Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery – the site of Enver Hoxha’s tomb

To the left of Mother Albania is a monument to 22 Monarcho-Fascists who were executed on 26th February 1951 for their implication in the bombing of the Embassy of the Soviet Union in the centre of Tirana. The installation of this large, black marble monument in the cemetery constructed to commemorate those who died fighting Fascism is an indication of the political stance of the present ruling politicians in Albania. They also established a monument to the German Fascist invaders who died in the country, close to the English cemetery in Tirana Park.

Tirana Martyr's Cemetery - Fascist Memorial

Tirana Martyr’s Cemetery – Fascist Memorial

This is a quite place, away from the chaos and noise of the traffic that is gradually suffocating the city centre and often you will encounter groups of old men taking the sun and playing chess on the steps up to the plateau.

I was surprised, no shocked, on my visit in October 2014 to find that a new tomb had been installed in a place of honour in the proximity to the Mother Albania statue. This was of Azem Hajdari one of the counter-revolutionary leaders of the student movement of 1990-91. He was courted by the North Americans and rose to positions of power within the post-Communist right-wing governments.

He was killed in an ambush in 1998. He wasn’t there the last time I visited the Martyrs’ Cemetery in 2012 and haven’t been able to find out exactly when he appeared. I would assume on the anniversary of either his birth or death and looks like it was one of the last actions of the right-wing government when it knew it was on the way out – however sycophantic it had been to the European Union and the United States.

This appears to be an extension of the idea of the ‘extirpation of idolatry’ that I suggested was the reason for the re-cycling of Enver Hoxha’s tomb stone as the principal monument at the English Cemetery in Tirana Park.

Azem Hajdari

Azem Hajdari

This modern-day tomb must be, more or less, in the same position as the original resting place of Enver Hoxha. By placing Hajdari’s tomb here the reactionary country-sellers are making a statement of who is now in control.

Originally the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout the country were intended to remember and commemorate those who had given the ultimate sacrifice to free their country from the Fascist invader – exceptions were only made in a few special circumstances, e.g., Enver Hoxha who was the leader of that struggle which led to the liberation and real independence of the country.

As with the destruction, deterioration or alteration of monuments of the Socialist period (for example, the ‘renovation’ of the Albanian Mosaic on the National History Museum) the past is being re-written. I have no problem with the destruction of monuments when the revolutions or counter-revolutions occur. I made this point when VI Lenin and JV Stalin were put ‘under wraps’ in November 2012.

But capitalism is parasitic. Sometimes it destroys the past that is antithetical to its ideology, at other times it attempts to appropriate and use it for its own political aims. The battle is unending and their ‘reversals’ will themselves be reversed.

The Evolution of a Lapidar

The original lapidars in Albania had a very humble beginning. The first ones to be constructed were at cemeteries of those Communists and Partisans who died in the National Liberation War and were monuments to their memory.

Also, in the early days of the Albanian Socialist Revolution there weren’t the resources, and possibly the artistic and technological skills, needed to produce the really fine monuments such as the Drashovice Arch or the Pishkash Star. As the country recovered from the devastation of war and those educated under the new system reached their maturity the obstacles of the past receded and the monuments could become more adventurous.

Original Martyrs' Cemetery lapidar

Original Martyrs’ Cemetery lapidar

The original National Martyrs’ Cemetery was located in Tirana Park, the area behind where Tirana University is to be found today. It was established in 1945 and was a very simple affair. The monument was an actual lapidar, that is, a monolith – an obelisk that was very wide at the base but tapering towards the top. There was a large red star fixed to the top and on the side facing the cemetery there was fixed a large marble plaque. There was another red star at the top of the plaque but, so far, I’ve been unable to discover the text.

The graves had simple wooden markers with the name of the martyr and their dates. There didn’t seem to be a great deal of shrubbery in the vicinity.

At that time there wouldn’t have been the same number of trees in the park as there are now and the lapidar would have stood out on the skyline.

Memorial stone to original Martyrs' Cemetery

Memorial stone to original Martyrs’ Cemetery

This location is commemorated by a large rock, one side of which has been worked and on a marble plaque are the words:

Ne kete vend prej vitit 1945 deri ne vitin 1972 kane qene varrezat e deshmoreve t’atdheut

This translates as:

The National Martyrs’ Cemetery was located here from 1945 to 1972

The decision to construct a cemetery that was a suitable memorial to those who had died, allowing those that remained to attempt the construction of Socialism, and the commissioning of the Mother Albania statue, of necessity, meant that the site in Tirana Park was not adequate.

The sheer scale of the statue meant that it had to be located in an area where it could breath and now she surveys the city and the surrounding countryside in all her glory.

GPS:

Of Mother Albania

41.30862703

19.84004502

DMS:

41° 18′ 31.0573” N

19° 50′ 24.1621” E

Altitude:

210.4m

Practicalities

Getting there:

The Qender-Sauk bus leaving from the bus station between the clock tower and the National Library, off Skënderbeu Square, passes the cemetery gates and then it’s just a short walk up the steps to the statue of Mother Albania. All local buses in Tirana have a set fare of 30 leke (which hasn’t changed in at least three years).

The cemetery is at the top end of Rruga e Elbasanit which starts just after crossing the Lana River. You then pass the US Embassy on your left, but being the US it’s not just a building but half a district. You then pass by University buildings before starting the climb up the hill. Look out the left hand side of the bus for the statue of Mother Albania and get off at the stop opposite the entrance to the memorial. The large gates might be closed but it’s always accessible to pedestrians. During the day the bus runs every 10 minutes or so and the journey only takes a few minutes after passing the University buildings.

GPS:

Of original site

41.31461003

19.821303

DMS:

41° 18′ 52.5961” N

19° 49′ 16.6908” E

Altitude:

135.2