Mujo Ulqinaku – Durrës

Durres '7 April' - G Priftuli and N Bakalli

Durres ‘7 April’ – G Priftuli and N Bakalli

(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

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.

Mujo Ulqinaku

Mujo Ulqinaku

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 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

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

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

meaning:

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.

Recent plaque

Recent plaque

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)

Hamit Dollani

Haxhi Tabaku

Hysen Koçi

Ibrahim Osmani

Isak Metalia

Ismail Reçi

Ramazan Velia

(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

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.

Original Location:

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.

GPS:

N 41.30965699

E 19.44652397

DNS:

41º 18′ 34.74” N

19º 26′ 47.472” E

Altitude:

5.5m

Gjirokastra College Bas Relief

Gjirokastra High School Relief 01

Gjirokastra High School Relief 01

This small relief, at the bottom of the stairs into a high school in the old part of Gjirokastra, commemorates an event in 1942 when the local students from the gymnasium (college), together with their teachers, demonstrated against, and clashed with, the occupying Italian fascist forces.

This is quite likely to be missed by those who are passing on their way to the Ethnographic Museum (which also happens to be the birth place of the leader of the Partisan Army during the war against fascism and for National Liberation and leader of the Party and the country, Enver Hoxha).

There are a number of documented cases where the local, unarmed, population took to the streets and showed their opposition to the fascist invaders. This is even more remarkable when you consider that there was already a guerrilla war being waged throughout the country and this would pass into another, and higher stage, in September of the same year after the Peze Conference, in a small village just to the south-west of Tirana when the National Liberation War was initiated, under the leadership of the Albanian Communist Party, later the Party of Labour of Albania (PLA).

The organisation of the Communist youth was well established in Gjirokastra by this time, a prominent role being played by Bule Naipi (who was later to be murdered by the Nazis, along with her comrade Persefoni Kokëdhima, in July 1944) and the occupying forces found it difficult to deal with this type of open opposition.

This demonstrated a lot of courage on the part of the Albanian people as the action in Gjirokastra was repeated in many other places, such as Durres. A painting by Sali Xhixha (in the Durres Art Gallery) depicts a demonstration against the Italians in Albania’s most important port and the main bridgehead for their invasion in 1939.

Durres Demonstration - Sali Xhixha

Durres Demonstration – Sali Xhixha

The bas-relief depicts five young people, in the main young and all but one looking in the same direction, that is, towards the left of the viewer. We see little more of the individuals than a head and shoulders.

Gjirokastra High School Relief 02

Gjirokastra High School Relief 02

The young man in the front has a stern expression on his face and has his right arm high in the air and his fist clenched, seeming to indicate he is about to throw a rock at the invaders.

Behind him is a young woman. Her long hair is braided and hangs down over her left shoulder. Her mouth is shown open shouting her defiance.

Gjirokastra High School Relief 03

Gjirokastra High School Relief 03

Next is an older looking male, probably representing the teacher, not least as he is wearing a neck tie. (This is not recommended in demonstration situations as this can easily be grabbed and the wearer is then incredibly vulnerable and can be quickly made ineffective due to the threat of strangulation. It’s also not recommended to have long hair plaited as this offers the military or police forces another way to incapacitate a demonstrator.) He has a stern look on his face but apart from that it’s difficult to read his expression. He is looking in the general direction of the action but we are able to get a view of his face full on.

The next of the quintet is another young man, a student. He is looking away from the main action and we can also see his complete face, rather than the profile of some of the others. He is also shouting, his mouth wide open and has his left arm high above his head – the vegetation on my visit obscuring what, if anything, he has in his hand.

This idea of one of the characters looking in the opposite direction to the main action is a common device in Albanian Socialist Realist sculpture (see the Monument to Heroic Peze and the Peze War Memorial for other examples) as it indicates that there are many other people involved than those we see. These individuals play the role of encouraging those unseen to keep up with the action, whether it be the battle of arms in the mountains or a confrontation with the fascists in the streets of their home towns.

Gjirokastra High School Relief 04

Gjirokastra High School Relief 04

The juxtaposition of this student and the teacher, and way they are looking, also act as a challenge to the viewer. They are asking, sometime mutely, ‘What are you going to do?’

Finally we have another young woman (always a more or less 50/50 representation of male/female protagonists in Albanian Socialist Realist art). She also has longish hair, but this time not tied back in any way. There’s a determined look on her profile as she heads towards the point of conflict.

As a backdrop to these five demonstrators we have the Albanian flag. We get an impression of the folds of the banner in the way the bronze has been moulded. It’s the Albanian flag as we can see the heads of the double-headed eagle on either side of the arm of the first angry student. Unlike on other monuments there’s no obvious sign of a star (the Communist symbol) but this is normally directly over the place where the two eagle heads meet and any such star would be obscured by the upraised arm.

This could have been a deliberate move by the sculptor (so far unknown to me). We know from other circumstances (the Mosaic of the National Museum and the Durres War Memorial, for example) that not all the artists involved in such work prior to 1990 were steadfast in their politics and later could be easily bought.

Gjirokaster Students and Teachers Revolt

Gjirokaster Students and Teachers Revolt

At the far right hand side of the monument are the words which explain what it commemorates:

Me 6 Mars, 1942, nxenesit dhe mesuesit e gjimnasit perleshen me forcat e fashizmit

This translates as:

On March 6, 1942, the gymnasium (high school) students and teachers clashed with the forces of fascism (Italian).

The relief had suffered from a certain amount of mindless, yet not too destructive vandalism on my first visit. However, by May 2015 it had been cleaned up and the vegetation cut back so it was much easier to appreciate the story being told. (This element of ‘renovation’ is taking place throughout much of the country, sometimes sympathetic to the original, other times not so much. Nonetheless destructive vandalism seems to have retreated in the last couple of years.)

Being at the bottom of the stairs to the present college building I wonder if any of the students think on this monument and what it represents as they go to school each day – unfortunately, I doubt it.

If you visit this bas-relief it is also worthwhile going up the steps to take a look at another lapidar just to the right of the main entrance to the building.

GPS:

N 40.07467

E 20.13575

DMS:

40° 4′ 28.8120” N

20° 8′ 8.7000” E

Alt: 310m