The ‘East is Red Square’ Nanjiecun

The East is Red Square, Nanjiecun

The East is Red Square, Nanjiecun

Nanjiecun (South Street Village) is in Linying County, Henan Province in the central part of the People’s Republic of China. What makes this place special (with a population of no more than 13,000 people) is the fame it has achieved as being ‘the last Maoist Commune in China.’ 

Whether it’s really possible for such a small place to maintain a Socialist Revolution is more than questionable, having to depend upon both loans from the Chinese capitalist banks as well as external, Japanese, investment. It can really be no more than a tolerated anomaly, a curiosity or a tourist theme park. If it ever posed a threat to the present day ‘capitalist roaders’ in Beijing then Nanjiecun would be crushed, both literally and figuratively, out of existence. 

The fact that Nanjiecun exists (as does the politics and the actions of its people in the village of Marinaleda, in southern Spain) only goes to show the limitations of a small group of people attempting to build something better in a huge ocean of exploitation and oppression. Their efforts may be applauded and, at times, admired but we should never forget that to extend such ‘experiments’ demands the destruction of the present capitalist structure and until that is achieved (on a long-term, multi-generational basis) all is but chimera.

However, the merits or otherwise of Nanjiecun are not the subject of this post. A proper analysis of what has happened there – and why only there – since the destruction of Socialism in China would need a thorough study to understand why the Chinese people, in general, have rejected a past where the potential for the betterment of all has been rejected for the benefit and advancement of a relatively few corrupt thieves who are now some of the richest people int he world. It would also require a proper analysis of how we actually measure ‘poverty’. Capitalist standards are only concerned with ‘things’ and not the, sometimes, financially unquantifiable social capital that Socialism brings – the ‘iron rice bowl’ in the Chinese context.

No, this post is concerned with a single area of this present day commune – The East is Red Square.

In the Socialist societies in Europe (including the Soviet Union) the Communist Parties sought to commemorate the revolutionary past (and present) with statues. (One of the fallen statues, of Frederick Engels, from the Ukraine has even been recently installed anew in Manchester.) This preponderance of statues was not the case – at least to the same extent – in China. Yes, there were innumerable posters of Chairman Mao and his image was everywhere, on posters, in paintings and on the badges worn by most of the population. However, statues as such were relatively few. This means that when a statue has been installed – at the same time as the renegades within the Communist Party of China are going further and further away from Chairman Mao’s ideas – there’s always a story behind the decision, although sometimes that story might be difficult to find.

The large statue of Chairman Mao in front of the railway station in Dandong (the principal border crossing point between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a case in point. So far I have failed to find out any information of why or when.

The situation is clearer in Nanjiecun.

The people in the village decided to reject and roll back the ‘de-collectivisation’ and privatisation that was becoming the norm in China with Deng Xiaoping’s claim that ‘to get rich is glorious’. Selfishness, that had been challenged in the years following Mao’s declaration of the People’s Republic in 1949, was turned into a virtue and the predominantly peasant population of the country fell back into the insularity and individuality of their backward, pre-revolutionary, rural culture. 

Nanjiecun’s ‘experiment’ must have been relatively successful in the 1980s as there was enough surplus for them to pay for the installation of a large statue of Chairman Mao in what is now known as ‘The East is Red Square’. The statue was erected in 1993 and I assume it was inaugurated on the 26th December – the centenary of Chairman Mao’s birth.

At some time in the next decade the four large portraits of the ‘greats’ of Marxism-Leninism – Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin – were added to the monumentality of the square. (I, personally, would have added a fifth – Enver Hoxha of Albania – but I know a number of Maoists would not agree.)

There’s always a potential problem when it comes to Socialist art – nuance can be everything. To give an idea of how this is an issue I’ll refer to capitalist commentators who can ‘see’ subversion in a painting or a musical score produced in the Soviet Union that went unnoticed by the authorities (i.e., the ‘intellectuals’ were too clever for the ‘stupid’ Communists) only seconds after arguing that art is ‘apolitical’ and that capitalist art doesn’t aim to perpetuate the system. It’s not their analysis I dislike and detest – it’s their crass hypocrisy

I’ve always argued that art IS political and so it’s valid to critically evaluate any new monuments or ‘celebrations’ of the past (in whatever form they might take place) that might be appearing in China. As the present leader, Deng IV, seems to be attempting to take on some of the trappings of Mao – stripped of any revolutionary, Communist ideology – this might become an issue in the not too distant future.

It’s possible to attack Mao by praising Mao – this was something that took place during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. After attacking the so-called ‘personality cult’ of Mao from the late 1970s those enemies of Maoism could well create a new ‘personality cult’ of Mao based solely on the person.

Chairman Mao in Dandong

Chairman Mao in Dandong

The Chinese Revisionists and Counter-revolutionaries have been unable to achieve the same rejection of Mao as happened in the Soviet Union with Lenin and Stalin or in Albania with Hoxha. Mao is still seen in China, by the overwhelming majority of the population, as a great Chinese leader – millions still queue every year to visit the Mao Mausoleum in Tienanmen Square in Beijing. It’s possible, therefore, that those who seek to establish greater legitimacy and maintain their hold on power will try to play the nationalist card and turn Mao into a purely ‘Chinese’ personality – the antithesis of how Mao would have seen his achievements – thus turning the country inward. This is not that far-fetched as it might seem as the level of nationalistic fervour has been stoked up in recent years to justify China’s imperialistic ambitions.

All this doesn’t accept what made Mao great in the first place – that was the taking of Marxism-Leninism, applying it in the Chinese context and by learning from both the success and mistakes of the past Socialist revolutions developing the theory of the Cultural Revolution and taking Marxism to a new level, (although becoming a bit of a mouthful) to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

The statue of Mao in Dandong is one such example of this new, depoliticised, depiction of the great Chinese leader. There’s nothing on, or around, the statue which refers to what made him such a great leader in the first place, his uniqueness as a leader of the world proletariat and peasantry – his being a revolutionary Communist. It’s a great statue but you get the impression that, like the statues of the Roman Emperors, you could just replace the head with whoever was in power at the time and there would be no real difference. As it stands at the moment it’s just a statue of a 60 year old wearing a big overcoat who, for some unknown reason, has his right hand raised and pointing to some unknown location in front of him.

The statue of Mao in Nanjiecun doesn’t suffer from that defect. Coming from those who knew the importance of the politics, of the necessity of a Communist Party, of the necessity of a revolutionary ideology, all these attributes are represented in the statue itself in a very simple and almost unobtrusive manner, but there nonetheless, – and that’s the star on the cap he holds in his hand.

The Red Star

The Red Star

As I’ve written in a number of posts about the Albanian lapidars (such as the mosaic on the Historical Museum, the mosaic of Bestrove, the Durres monument to the anti-Fascist struggle, amongst others) where the star has often been the target of the fascists and reactionaries – eradicate that and they think they can eradicate Communist politics. So including it in a ‘new’ monument the people of Nanjiecun made their own political statement.

That political statement was made even stronger with the addition of the four portraits of the Marxist ‘Greats’. Whether whoever designed the layout of the square considered how it would look when completed what we have now is a history of the development of Marxism thought through; successes and failures; revolutions and counter-revolutions; twists and turns; suffering and sacrifice; elation and despair, to arrive at where we are now with Maoism being the pinnacle of the development of the revolutionary theory of the working class. We are not in a situation that we would have wished just over a hundred years after the October Revolution of 1917 but we are where we are. At least the revolutionary theory has moved forward. Whether we make the most use of all that history is another matter.

In a sense the statue and portraits in The East is Red Square are in a bit of a time warp – that of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Mao’s image is of what he would have looked like in the mid 1960s and the paintings of the four Marxists are almost exact copies of the coloured posters that were available throughout the world from the late 1960s until the counter-revolutionary coup of Deng and his goons after the death of the Chairman in September 1976.

JV Stalin

JV Stalin

The portraits are behind Mao as he looks to the east. In front of him, on either side, are two large billboards with a lot of text in Chinese characters. (In fact for a Socialist political monument there’s a lot of text full stop – including on the plinth upon which Mao stands. Although unusual it shows the level of literacy that the Socialist state had achieved during the time of Communism. The people can actually understand what is written – unlike most religious locations throughout the world where emphasis is upon image due to the high level so of illiteracy.) 

The one on Mao’s right also carries an image which looks very much like the photo of him making the declaration of the People’s Republic in Tienanmen Square in October 1949. Unfortunately I’m not able to understand Chinese characters but would surmise that the text is that very declaration.

Declaration of the People's Republic of China 1949

Declaration of the People’s Republic of China 1949

On his left the image is of an older Mao, probably from the 1960s, so I would hazard a guess that the text is from one of the exhortations he made from the podium over the Gate of Heavenly Peace to the massed Red Guards in Tienanmen Square.

The area has changed over the years. I’ve seen photos where there were trees behind the statue. They might have been OK as bushes but started to become a bit much after a few years and they have been removed so the immediate area around the statue is now clean and clear. I’ve also read that there was a permanent ‘guard’ at the site but there was no evidence of that during the (regrettably short) time I was there. Also there was no music playing (as is often reported) so don’t know if this is the now permanent situation.

I made a number of mistakes and got to the village quite late in the afternoon and many of the places immediately next to the square were closed so I wasn’t able to get a feeling of how the area had been developed for the growing number of tourists that visit Nanjiecun. 

Getting there

It’s possible to stay in the Commune’s own hotel, which is located right next to the square. The problem is one of communication as the staff only speak Mandarin.

If a day trip is all that is looked for then getting to Linying railway station is the best bet and then walking a kilometre or so or getting a taxi to the village. There are also regular buses from Zhengzhou (the nearest big tourist destination) to Linying.

GPS:

33.80611111

113.95416667

DMS:

33º48’21.9”

113º57’15.2”

 

The Centenary of the October Revolution of 1917

Lenin, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky at the Smolny

Lenin, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky at the Smolny

The centenary of the most important event in the history of the world occurs on the 7th November 2017. On that day a hundred years ago the working class and peasantry of Russia took power into their own hands and attempted to build a new world order.

I have already looked at that event in another, earlier post, but as we live in a world that is obsessed with anniversaries (and I’m falling into that trap, being in Leningrad at the time of the centenary) perhaps it’s time to re-address the issues that were brought up by that tremendous, earth shattering event.

We can gauge the magnitude of the events in that year by the way capitalism did it’s best to destroy the nascent Soviet state.

Lenin – the leader of the Bolsheviks – together with James Connolly of the Irish Republican Army, were the only socialist leaders to condemn the slaughter of the First World War as soon as it started. Social democratic apologists for capitalism (such as the British Labour Party) reneged on their declarations against war (made at Stuttgart and Basel in 1907 and 1912 respectively) as soon as they were put to the test. Only the true Communists had kept to their principles and the imperialist countries knew they were dealing with a dangerous proletarian force when Lenin was at the head of the revolutionary party.

The capitalist countries saw red and realised that the Bolshevik Revolution was like no other that had preceded it. What the Parisian workers had attempted to achieve, in the Paris Commune of 1871, had been suppressed with the wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Capitalism would go to the same extremes to achieve a similar result in Russia. As the tools for this they used their pathetic, confused and ignorant workers (who had spent more four years killing each other for the benefit of their own oppressors) who were told to attack the first workers’ state. Like the sheep they had become they fed the resulting ‘Civil War’ when more people were killed than in the imperialist war itself.

The Revolution was celebrated by revolutionary workers all over the world as the harbinger of a new society, free from exploitation and oppression. A revolution ‘is not a dinner party’, as Chairman Mao said, and the ignorant, pusillanimous and forelock tugging workers and their collaborationist ‘Labour/Socialist’ parties have attacked and condemned the October Revolution for the necessary measures taken to defend, promote and develop the workers state on the road to build Socialism – and eventually Communism.

The road followed by the Soviet Union, alone, until joined by the People’s Republic of Albania in 1944, the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and much later, after an heroic battle against American Imperialism, the People’s Republic of Vietnam in 1975, was tortuous, long and hard.

Massive achievements were made – as well as mistakes. If a revolution is predictable it’s not a revolution. But what was achieved by the Soviet people, in the field of industrial production, the collectivisation of agriculture and the fearless, heroic and self-sacrifice that led to the defeat of the Nazi beast, was of immeasurable benefit to the people’s of the world – and a lesson which those exploited and oppressed of the world need to understand and emulate.

But those that inherit a revolution are not those who made it. They benefit from the achievements but want more – those ‘benefits’ of capitalism with which no socialist state can compete. And that’s things. Things like consumer goods, the fickle trinkets of mass production, that entice stupid people away from what is truly meaningful for a full and fruitful life – those necessities, like health, education and the ability to contribute to society through productive activity.

The revolution in the Soviet Union was lost in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) where Nikita Khrushchev denounced Comrade Joseph Stalin and all the achievements of the previous 29 years and the period of Socialist construction in a sixth of the world’s land mass ended.

For a further 24 years the ‘Revisionist’ version of Communism promoted by the CPSU spread like a virus throughout the world, creating confusion and division within the working class. This was the task that had been taken on board by Social Democracy, after it’s betrayal of the working class in 1914 (by calling upon the workers in their respective countries to kill each other for the benefit of capitalism) but the Soviet renegades sowed more confusion by continuing to call themselves Communists and claiming to follow the revolutionary ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Their pathetic demise in 1991 was too long in coming.

A hundred years after the magnificent event (the images of which are more influenced by those who have seen the film’ October’ by the revolutionary Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein than what actually happened) the situation is very different.

Capitalism has been re-introduce in tooth and claw. Instead of free health, education, secure employment, pensions and an infrastructure that benefits the majority everything has now been privatised. The collective wealth created by Socialist workers has been stolen by opportunist thieves. One of these scumbag ‘oligarchs’ has a boat sitting of the coast of Turkey which is bigger than the Cruiser ‘Aurora’ that signalled the start of the attack on the Winter Palace and the virtual beginning of the Socialist Revolution.

(Perhaps it’s a sign of our times that a grand, ancient name has been given to a bunch of opportunist thugs and common thieves.)

But that’s the problem for the people of Russia of today. They are not the brave and courageous innovators of the past. Revolution is not passed down through the genes. They are the submissive, afraid and confused that populate most countries, especially those in the ‘so-called’ civilized ‘west’, Europe, North America and certain parts of the South-eastern Asia.

Putin plays the nationalist card, courts the church – of whatever denomination – in an attempt to maintain his power. After Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Gobshite, and the Vodka Soaked Drunk Yeltsin, Putin is just a greedy opportunist who prays on civil society. After this bunch of cretins how can anyone, with a modicum of sense, criticise Uncle Joe’s policy of purging the Party of opportunist elements?

So no real celebration of the most important event in the history of the world in the place where it occurred.

That’s good.

Leningrad (it will always have that name to me), the cradle of the revolution, has been renamed St Petersburg (the Germanic name that was used before the First World War, and not even the Russified version of Petrograd) was where it all started 100 years ago. If there’s any ‘official’ attempt to recognise the event this is manifested in museum gallery exhibitions that seek to denigrate the success of the Bolsheviks rather than celebrate it.

Re-writing of history is the name of the game.

Denigration of the Socialist past is almost at a fascist level. Having had to suffer the ‘impartiality’ of the British media for so long, it’s quite refreshing to see a total ideological war against the past.

The Russian state has not decided to ignore the past – that would be impossible even in the present circumstances – rather they have chosen to re-interpret it.

Exhibitions in both Moscow and Leningrad at the end of 2017 that relate to the events of 1917 are a propaganda attempt to undermine the Revolution. In an effort to denigrate the importance of both Lenin and Stalin (as well as other truly revolutionary leaders) they promote Trotsky – if anyone was unsure of his counter-revolutionary nature the adoption of him as a ‘revolutionary icon’ by Putin’s state should clarify matters. (There was even an advert on Russian TV about a mini series around Trotsky’s life. He was considered a capitalist agent in the times of Socialism and he is becoming a ‘revolutionary’ icon by those who have been restoring total capitalist control of the country.)

For some reason, which I don’t really understand, Voroshilov has been added to the ‘devils’ of the past alongside JV Stalin. There’s obviously an agenda there but I’m not sure what. As with the so-called ‘rehabilitation’ of the traitors and foreign agents of the 1930s those who have been chosen by the present, capitalist regime are chosen for a reason – they are symbols of their aspirations.

This has been taken to bizarre extremes at times. At an exhibition in Leningrad, for example, in a section about propaganda (I don’t see this word as necessarily having a negative connotation) during the building of Socialism the information cards declare that the Soviet State only sought to eliminate illiteracy because this would make more people susceptible to brain washing Soviet propaganda.

The perfidious Communists were trying to out-do the obsfucators of the past, in Britain for example, who used Latin in the church and the courts so that the ordinary people wouldn’t be able to understand what was being said. By actually teaching them to read and write the Soviet ‘propaganda machine’ could be more easily absorbed by the basically ignorant workers and peasants. The double thinking here is remarkable.

Socialism goes contrary to all previous social systems based on class, exploitation and oppression. The most important aspect of the creation of a new kind of man and woman is the changing of the selfish mindset that is a close partner of class systems. This is the cultural revolution that all socialist societies have instituted in one form or another. Socialist values of collectivity and respect for all is an anathema to capitalism. Only an intellectually adept people are capable of building a society free from all the evils of the past.

Those in power in Russia today are quite happy to feed their population with the garbage that capitalism has to offer, from the likes of McDonald’s, KFC and Coca-Cola to the cheap, nasty and moronic TV shows copied from western Europe, the only difference being the language. Shit in,shit out.

If you placed these cretinous curators of exhibitions in a novel nobody would believe them credible.

But that’s not really an issue. The country has betrayed its revolutionary past. It has no right to claim the Revolution as its property as it’s people have rejected that revolution for a capitalist lifestyle – together with all the consequences of a capitalist society. If they complain about their present reality then they only have themselves to blame.

The present ‘Communist Party of the Russian Federation’ is more akin to the revisionist party that betrayed the Revolution than the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Stalin. I wouldn’t trust them to change a light bulb let alone a country. They make token gestures to the event of a hundred years ago but chose to hold a meeting in Moscow at the exact time of the centenary. If nothing else they display no concept of history – something important for a revolutionary. If you don’t know, care or understand where you come from how can you know where to go in the future?

The people of St Petersburg walk the same streets as the revolutionaries but they don’t walk in their footsteps. The chances of them reversing the changes of the last 60 years are nil – unless the country has to confront another major crisis such as WWI. (But then they are no different from the workers of any other country where revolutions are only made when people are weak and in crisis rather than from positions of strength and stability.) If the lesson of the October Revolution is anything else it’s that we haven’t learnt the lessons of the October Revolution.

If the workers, peasants and poor of the world made a revolution when they wanted rather than waiting until it was a necessity then their future would be easier. They wait until the last moment and build the new from the literal ruins of the old rather than using the old as a foundation for the new.

Whether the centenary of the October Revolution will prompt the exploited and oppressed to look at their own situation anew is doubtful. But one thing is certain, for those who want to exert their own dignity the Great October Proletarian Revolution will remain a beacon which lights the future.

Long Live the Revolution of the 7th November 1917!

National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana

Uncle Joe - Art Gallery 'Sculpture Park'

Uncle Joe – Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’

More on Albania ……

National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana

Each time I’ve been to Tirana I’ve made it a point to visit the impromptu ‘sculpture park’ that has been created behind the National Art Gallery, just down from the main Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

The Art Gallery itself has only a very few actual sculptures on display inside the building, the emphasis being on paintings, especially those from the period from 1945 to 1990, where the dominant style was that of Socialist Realism.

But the area behind the gallery was constructed not for the display of works of art but as a service access to the building. And as the gallery is a public building this area shows the lack of care and investment in maintenance that is the general fate of public spaces in the whole of Albania, not just the capital of Tirana.

The statues that are now there would have previously held pride of place in some public square in different parts of Tirana but there is no indication of their provenance. Some have been damaged, either by accident or design, the statue of the great Marxist and first Soviet leader, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (the work of Kristina Hoshi, the original of which was created in 1954 in cement) in bronze, missing his right arm from the elbow. This once stood proud close to its present position, in the park across the road.

Many of the statues of individuals from the socialist era take on the pose of some famous meeting and the stance that Lenin takes in this statue can be seen on a number of photos from his relatively short time as leader of the first socialist state (his life no doubt being cut short as a consequence of an assassin’s attempt in 1918 which failed in its aim but which meant that a fragment of the bullet could not be removed from Lenin’s brain).

VI Lenin in Tirana - 1970

VI Lenin in Tirana – 1970

When it comes to the great Marxist leaders they are always (at least here in Albania) depicted with their right arm making some sort of gesture or greeting whilst slightly behind their bodies, in their left hand, they hold a roll of paper as if they are about to make an important proclamation.

Although this damage is unfortunate at least it allows an insight to the form of construction of these statues. They are not made of solid bronze, as many would think, but of a hollow bronze that’s only about a couple of centimetres thick. This relatively cheap construction technique explains why so many statues were erected in virtually every town in the country (it also explains why it was so easy to topple these statues in the counter-revolution).

Although few in number this small group provides quite a deep insight into the thinking of the Party of Labour of Albania during the 45 years it was the dominant political force within the country and attempting to construct a socialist society.

Uncle Joe - in happier times in Tirana

Uncle Joe – in happier times in Tirana

Socialist Albania gave women a role in society and assigned them an importance that has never been surpassed, either in the Soviet Union which proceeded the victory of Socialism in Albania or any other country that has attempted to construct socialism since. This is not the role of women in the higher echelons of society, the breaking of the so-called ‘glass ceiling’, the breaking of which only benefits a minuscule percentage of women in any society yet which gets most coverage in the capitalist media.

In Albania it was the women from the working class and peasantry whose lives were changed beyond recognition. In a patriarchal society where women were oppressed by virtual feudal social and economic conditions, as well as by the stultifying traditions of the church (of various trends) by the taking up of the gun during the war for national liberation against the Italian and German Fascist invaders they stated unequivocally that they would no longer ‘live in the old way’.

In many of the extent monuments to the struggles of the past a woman takes a central position and virtually always with a weapon in hand. Albanian women weren’t prepared to have ‘freedom’ given to them, they would fight for it themselves, freedom that would have real meaning. The clearest example of this idea can be seen in the huge mosaic on the façade of the National Historical Museum in Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

The young woman depicted in the dirty shambles of the rear of the Art Gallery (in bronze) is of Liri Gero and exudes confidence in her own ability, looks the viewer straight in the eye (not looking down as ‘traditional’ society would have her do), has a gun strapped to her back and clutches a small bunch of flowers in her left hand. Communists fight for bread but for roses too!

Female Liberation Fighter clutching flowers

Female Liberation Fighter clutching flowers

The smallest of the collection depicts a male fighter (also in bronze) from one of the ethnic groups from the mountains of Albania demonstrating that the fight for freedom is not restricted to the ‘sophisticated’ city dwellers or a self-selected intellectual elite but should involve everyone from all sectors and strata of society.

Liberation Fighter

Liberation Fighter

Another of the statues is a physical representation of one of the fundamentals of Albanian Socialist society, the Pickaxe and Rifle (Hector Dule, 1966, Bronze). Here we have a male holding a rifle, the butt resting on the ground, in his left hand whilst in his right he holds high a pickaxe. These two items are the equivalent of the Soviet Hammer and Sickle. Whereas in the Soviet Union the symbol represented the unity of the industrial worker and the peasant the Albanian Pickaxe and Rifle declares that the successful construction of a Socialist society depends upon physical labour protected by the determination of the population to defend any gains by force of arms.

Pick Axe and Rifle

Pick Axe and Rifle

The fact that far too many Albanians forgot this necessity during the counter-revolution of the early 1990s (and then seemed to lose all common sense in the chaotic years that followed, basically throwing out the baby with the bath water) doesn’t detract from the validity of this revolutionary concept.

JV Stalin - Skenderberg Square, Tirana

JV Stalin – Skenderberg Square, Tirana

Finally we have the statues of JV Stalin and VI Lenin, the great Marxist Russian leaders so admired by the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. I’ve already mentioned the damaged statue of Lenin. This statue, along with one of Uncle Joe, was covered by a tarpaulin just prior to the 100th anniversary of Albanian ‘independence’ in November 2012 – true independence for Albania (if only for 46 years) was achieved on November 29th, 1944. They have now been released from their dark penance but they have been joined by another new comrade who is, presently, covered with a white tarpaulin. I have been told this is a damaged bust of Enver Hoxha.

The hidden stranger

The hidden stranger

I was pleasantly surprised on my visit in October 2014 to find that there had been a new arrival to the small, select group. This was another, but somewhat larger, statue of Stalin. The ‘new’ arrival is in a less formal stance, without cap and is depicted as if greeting the viewer with his right arm stretched out. This is made out of bronze and as far as I can tell it used to stand in the square in front of the Bashkia (Town Hall) in the town of Kombinat – to the south-west of Tirana, on the old road to Durres.It’s at this point you would get off the bus if you wished to visit the grave of Enver Hoxha in its present location in the main city cemetery after being ousted from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery.

On one side of this square was the main entrance to the huge textile factory that gave the town its name (Kombinat means factory in Albanian). This has been derelict for many years and the ruins have slowly disappeared as the land has been cleared for other uses. The only noticeable remains of the factory is the main gate itself – with interesting decoration over the arches. You can get an ideas of how things used to look from a small painting called Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory by Abdurrahmin Buza and painted in 1948 which is on permanent exhibition in the Art Gallery itself.

It’s exactly the same as a statue that was placed in the oil and industrial town of Qender Stalin (now renamed Korcova, not that far from Berat) but there the statue was made from concrete and unlikely to have survived the chaos of the 1990s.

The original design was by Odhise Paskali whose other works number the statue of Skanderbreu on the horse in the square to which he gives his name in the centre of Tirana, as well as another of the national hero in the National Museum, this time not being a burden to a poor animal but standing on his own two feet. Paskali was also the artist for, among others; the group Shokët (Comrades) in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery; the standing Partisan on the monument to the Congress of Përmet in the town itself; a double bust of the Two Heroines of Gjirokaster; and a bust of Vojo Kushi, now in a small square on Rruga Dibres to the north of the city centre.

Perhaps one down side of a new Joe arriving is that the statue of the female Partisan, Liri Gero, has been moved to make way for the Man of Steel and is now facing the other statues, with her back to the Art Gallery. Is this yet another example of the return of a patriarchal society or is it, the reverse, that the female fighter is going to give a lesson to the men?

If I will ever be able to find out more details of these statues, i.e., who was the sculptor, where they originally stood, how they survived the counter-revolution and why they ended up in the shadows of the National Art Gallery remains to be seen.

One slight difficulty that has arisen since my last visit a couple of years ago is the presence of a ‘security’ guard who has to be circumvented in order to get a close view of the statues. Why he is so conscientious in this I don’t understand. If the authorities don’t want anyone to see them why place them out in the open? However, he can only be in one place at a time and when he is watching the world go by at the southern end of the gallery grounds, just creep towards the north.

More on Albania ….