Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery

Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania have a statue of one or more Partisans to stress that those commemorated were those who died in the National Liberation War of 1939-44. Sometimes there’s just one male Partisan, as in Korcë or Ersekë, sometimes there will be both a male and a female, as in Librazhd, sometimes (though rarely) there’s a group of three, as in Pogradec but there are also times when the symbol of sacrifice is in the form of a single female, as in Saranda and Fier. There’s a certain commonality between many of these statues, having been constructed at a similar time, but the statue of the female Partisan at the Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery is quite unique in style and presentation.

The cemetery itself is built into the side of a small hill just a little way from the centre of town, on the northern edge of the main building concentration. The buildings close by are relatively new and when originally planned it would have been more or less in the countryside, but only a short distance from the main population centre.

There is a line of gates and fences at the bottom which guard two flights of steps, a narrow one on the left and a much wider one on the right. These sets of steps are separated by a line of six concrete containers in which a palm tree has been planted. Those on the left of the main steps are mirrored by smaller containers on the right hand side. This planting of palm trees in the martyrs’ cemeteries was quite common in those towns at lower elevations and would have created an avenue of trees for those visiting the cemetery. However, palm trees have to be trained to grow healthily and as some of the containers now only contain flowers I assume that the older trees have died off and haven’t been replaced.

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery - tombs

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery – tombs

The tombs of the fallen are on four levels, going off to the left of the steps, following the curve of the hill. All these are in a good condition and the majority have a red star alongside the name of the partisan commemorated.

The Museum

Half way up the steps, on the right hand side, and a few metres from them, is a one story building which was the museum. This is a smart, one storey building which is in a good physical condition – I’ve seen some that have been allowed to decay (especially the one at the Krujë Martyrs’ Cemetery). The building is faced in marble tiles and on the side facing the approach road are the words:

Lavdi Dëshmorëve

which translates as:

Glory to the Martyrs

These words appear at virtually all martyrs’ cemeteries in the country.

The words are in black, painted metal and look in a very good condition – too good a condition to have been the originals. This cemetery must have had a major clean up in recent times and it now has the aspect of a cemetery where the people respect those who died in the war. On my visit there were a couple of women tending to the gardens and this is something that has become more common over the last few years – after decades of neglect. On the top left hand corner of this facade, to the left of the letters the concrete has been designed so that a large star has been cut out of the mould and the recess painted red. Here the paint looks very bright and new so obviously part of the renovation. There are a number of such stars throughout the area, including one at the very top of the steps and a some on the levels beside the tombs.

The word ‘Muzeu – Museum’ is in similar, though smaller, metal letters to the right of the entrance door. Inside there’s no longer a museum as such. Virtually all of these small, one room museums were looted in the early 1990s, or at least the artefacts taken and protected somewhere awaiting a time when they can be returned for display. This is also clean and there’s a new banner which has a picture of the cemetery’s statue, together with a series of six red stars that appear to rush out of the background. Under those images are the words:

Lavdi Dëshmorëve të Lushnjës

meaning

Glory to Lushnje’s Martyrs

taking the national slogan and applying it to the locality.

The only other exhibits in the room are four display boards which contain the photographs and details of 216 partisans. From information gained from the town’s Historical Museum only 184 of these died during the National Liberation War. I assume that the remaining 32 were Partisans who survived the war but were added to the list when they eventually died. I must admit I didn’t realise this at the time of my visit so don’t know if any of those have been interred in the Martyrs’ Cemetery.

The Cemetery

As I’ve said the area looks clean, bright and cared for. The very nature of the stone used, light coloured sandstone (I think) and marble facing means that, on a sunny day, the cemetery takes on the character of a respectful place to remember the dead.

However, there’s a problem when studying Albanian lapidars. There was a constant changing, improvement, introduction of new concepts throughout the 1970s and 80s. That was OK as all the documentation was kept in different archives. However, after 1990 one of the most important locations for storing this information was in the locale of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists. This archive was just destroyed. This means trying to get information about the past is very difficult.

(I always think that the destruction of this building and all it contained to have been an instructive education on the aims of the reactionary forces whose hatred was directed then, and subsequently – either through mindless vandalism or sheer neglect – at the public representations of the Socialist system. If they, or even the rest of the population in general, would use such venom against the present system of corruption then the country might start to go forward in a meaningful manner.)

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery

Looking at the present monument there’s a number of things that don’t look right. Behind the present statue there’s a huge concrete wall, faced with marble tiles, separating the cemetery from the surrounding countryside with its evergreen oaks on the hillside. This wall curves around, in a protective manner, the rest of the area. It was constructed for a purpose. Yet nowadays there’s nothing there, it’s just a blank space. Well, not quite.

On the left there’s a large area which is indented slightly from the general plane. At the moment this is painted a bright red, almost certainly from the same can which have been used to highlight the stars. But this just goes to indicate that something is not quite right. A close look at the area shows that under the paint there’s a rough concrete facing. The paint is not obscuring anything it just accentuates the fact that something is missing. Was it a mosaic? That would make sense. This part looks like a cinema screen and such an image would be logical in this position. If not, what?

On the right hand side everything is flat but there are indications that some sort of slogan, statement, call to arms would have been there originally. There are the holes that are the result of fixing metal letters to the wall. There’s also the shadow of letters, whether from the removed metal – which always leaves some sort of stain as the metal weathers – or a later addition to fill a spot with of an image no longer considered ‘politically correct’. The fact that the palm trees, still in existence, in front of this wall indicates that this area was also an important part of the whole monumental arrangement, now lost to posterity.

So, now to the unique statue that, fortunately, does still exist. The statue is dated 1984 and is made of bronze.

The Statue

This female Partisan fighter is a link with past ideas of presenting the Liberation fighters (from the late 1960s and early 70s) but also introduces concepts that take a qualitative leap to something new and more progressive and is one of the latest to have been installed. The death of Enver Hoxha in April 1985 seems, to all intents and purposes, to have signalled the end of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’. This change in direction had serious consequences just over five years later.

Lushnjë Martyrs' Cemetery - statue

Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery – statue

She is about twice life-size, on a low plinth in the centre of the plateau at the top of the cemetery so that she looks down on the tombs below. As she’s on a low plinth it’s possible to appreciate the detail of the figure.

The links with the past are in the fact that she is in a full Partisan uniform, from head to toe, and she also displays all the aspects of a member of the Communist Party of Albania (later called the Party of Labour). On her head she wears a soft cap with her substantial head of hair spilling out at the sides and the back, over her neck. There’s a very obvious star fixed at the front. There’s a scarf tied around her neck and she’s dressed as if it were summer during the conflict, wearing a shirt that has the sleeves rolled up so that they end at her elbows. She is wearing the baggy, loose trousers of the Partisan, the bottoms of the legs tucked into long, woollen socks and on her feet a contemporary walking shoe.

This wearing of trousers must have caused a stir at the time. Before the invasion of the Italian Fascist forces in April 1939 the vast majority of women would have been wearing the clothing that Albanian women had been wearing for generations. This would have been challenged by the growing industrialisation, in such places as Durrës , where, for example, the Tobacco Factory would have provided employment for women, but would still not have been normal, especially in the countryside. The example of the 68 Girls from Fier leaving secretly at night to join the Partisans and the murder of young Liri Gero would, initially, have been a shock to many in such a traditional society, even in times of war.

As in virtually all such depictions she is armed, quite heavily. She has a bandolier diagonally across her chest, running down from her left shoulder, with eight ammunition pouches, each containing six bullets. Around her waist she wears seven such pouches. These are all to provide ready ammunition to her bolt-action rifle which is hanging behind her by way of a thick leather strap that rests on her left shoulder, close to the bandolier. She grips the end of the butt in her left hand, a pose not seen before.

It’s impossible to over-state the importance and relevance of such imagery. Having been born in a society where all women, but especially the young, were treated as second class citizens (or not even citizens at all) this young woman is making a statement that goes far beyond that of the feminist movement in the west from the 1960s onwards (with all its difficult and contentious history). By leaving home and actually fighting in a vicious war against a vicious enemy, by taking up arms and risking her life, by living and fighting amongst men unknown by her family, many of them ‘strangers’, she was challenging long-standing taboos, by wearing ‘men’s clothing’ and therefore being indistinguishable from her male comrades, by assuming positions of command and responsibility, by fighting for a cause that was greater than her own parochial and familial concerns but for all those who were poor and oppressed, she was, as were all the other women, literally ‘turning the world upside-down’.

It has to be remembered that by the time of victory at the end of November 1944 the women in the Albanian Partisan army had constituted around 16% of the total armed forces – and the majority of them were in combat roles and not just in ancillary and support roles. They were not given liberation they had fought for it, had suffered as much and had worked as hard as their male comrades. This accounts for their appearance in so many Albanian lapidars.

Compare this with war memorials in the west. On the monument I consider to be one of the finest in Britain, the Cenotaph on St George’s Plateau in the centre of Liverpool, ALL the fighters are male and the only depictions of a woman is as a sad, weak mourner, really a victim of war, without any ability to have a direct effect on the outcome of the conflict. This is a representation of the situation after the First World War but in the capitalist west this situation wasn’t significantly different twenty plus years later when the world went to war against Fascism.

But the Lushnjë Partisan says much more. Her stance is very different. Normally the Partisans are shown standing to attention or with a raised fist in the revolutionary salute. Here she is half kneeling with her left knee on the ground whilst her right foot is on the ground. This is to provide a platform for the other unique aspect of this statue. I said that she is a lone, female partisan, but she is not alone. Her bent right leg provides a space upon which a very young boy is standing.

This idea appears nowhere else, to the best of my knowledge. Here the Partisan takes on the role of ‘Mother Albania’. Not just a symbolic role as is the huge statue in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana. This ‘Mother Albania’ has given birth to the opportunity of a new future. By her actions and self-sacrifice the independent country has a chance it never had before. But that future is not guaranteed, the outcome not certain and the road a difficult one to follow.

It is the young boy, really little more than a toddler, who is taking that road. She is there to support him, as she is in the statue with her strong right hand gripping the boy just under his right armpit, as he takes his first, tentative steps. The fact that she is also dressed as a soldier and is fully armed indicates that this Mother Albania is prepared to fight to support this construction of a new society. I also believe that the connection between her weapon and the child provides another indication of this willingness, and necessity, to use force to create something new. This idea is also present in the statue of the Partisan and Child in Borovë as well as in the monumental mosaic in Bestrovë.

He is dressed in toddlers clothes, a light t-shirt, with an open shirt above that, and flimsy shorts. His right foot is firmly placed on the Partisan’s thigh but he is in the act of attempting to step forward with his left leg. His foot is a few inches above the thigh and his left arm is slightly outstretched as if getting his balance. His whole demeanour is tentative, lacking certainty, unsure whether to go ahead or not. He’s focused, looking straight ahead (as is the Partisan) so he knows where he wants to go, the uncertainty comes from not knowing how exactly to get there. Already he knows that the road towards Socialism has its twists and turns.

Bouquet of poppies and grain

Bouquet of poppies and grain

He is Albania, a young socialist nation, even though that socialism was 40 years old at the time of the casting of the bronze. We know he’s Albania because in his fully raised hand he holds a bouquet of poppies – the national flower of the country. He’s also Lushnjë as together with the flowers he holds two ears of grain. At the time of Socialism the town was in the centre of one of the grain-growing regions of the country. The first collective farm was established in Krutja, only a few kilometres to the south, and the whole area is criss-crossed with irrigation systems, allowing the fertile grounds of the coast to be used productively by the construction of huge systems of irrigation bringing water from the mountains – many parts of which have just been allowed to decay and rot as well as the collective land of all the people being privatised and divided into almost feudal strips. You can also appreciate the importance of agriculture in the area by the imagery on the huge monument, ‘Toke Jonë – Our Land’, in the centre of town.

Within six years of this statue being created the people of Albania decided that they no longer wanted to take that difficult road.

The statue is generally in a good condition. However there appears to be a quick and ready repair on the right hip, just below the ammunition belt, and something that looks like a small calibre bullet hole on her right thigh.

The Sculptor

We know the sculptor as he placed his name on the bronze plinth before casting. His name was Maksim S Bushi. He was born in 1948 and trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana, where he now works as an instructor as well as being a teacher in his home town of Lushnjë. He made a bust of Abraham Lincoln in 2004 and it now sits in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois in the United States. He has also supposed to have created other busts and sculptures throughout the country but I haven’t come across them myself. However, he surely hasn’t created anything as masterful as his allegory in the Lushnjë Martyrs’s Cemetery.

Location:

The cemetery can be found at the far end of Shetitorja e Palmave, about 1 kilometre from the centre, on the northern edge of the town.

GPS:

40.948445

19.69575802

DMS:

40° 56′ 54.4020” N

19° 41′ 44.7289” E

Altitude:

34.5 m