Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy

There are fine examples of Socialist Realism in the Armaments Museum in the Castle in Gjirokastra, but you might have to ask to go upstairs to enter this older part of the museum – especially out of the summer season. ‘Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military’ is one such sculpture.

The Castle in Gjirokastra is the place to visit for any tourist to the city. Not only is it an interesting place historically it also affords a fine view of the old town below as well as the fertile valley (now no longer farmed) and the mountain ranges in the distance. The Armaments Museum is located upstairs, off the main vaulted artillery gallery, just to the left of the new, very much bland, most recent museum manifestation. This is not always open so you may have to look for someone who has the keys but it shouldn’t be a problem and it’s well worth the effort.

The museum was opened in 1971 in what used to be part of the Castle Prison, used extensively in the days of Ahmet Zogu, the pre-war dictator and self-proclaimed king. (The entrance to the prison cells is off the corridor to the Armaments Museum so make the time and the effort to see this part of the castle. At the end of the cells look for the sculpture of The Two Heroines by Odhise Paskali, which commemorates the murder of two female Communist Partisans by the Nazis during the Liberation War.) When society collapsed in the 1990s this museum, along with many throughout the country, was looted of many of its antiquities and anything that was considered of value, as well as attacks on many example of socialist art. However, a number of examples still exist to this day.

(There was obviously discontent within the population and the reasons for that have to be studied and lessons learnt for the future. What is certain is that reactionary, fascist and lumpen elements rode on the back of this discontent and they were responsible for the mindless looting of the country’s many museums (the museum in Bajram Curri is one of the most bizarre I’ve ever entered) as well as the book burning that took place in Skënderbeg Square in Tirana.)

Here I want to just concentrate on one of the statues to be found in the section of the museum that tells the story of the anti-Fascist struggle of the Albanian people under the leadership of the Albanian Communist Party (later known as the Party of Labour of Albania) led by Enver Hoxha.

The sculpture was inspired by the novel ‘The General of the Dead Army’ by the Gjiroskaster born Albanian writer Ismail Kadare. The writer, who achieved fame during the Socialist period of Albania’s past, left the country for the capitalist west when everything fell apart in the 1990s – like many ‘patriotic’ intellectuals.

This statue, which I’m calling Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military (as I don’t know its official name) depicts a woman, larger than real size, with her right arm outstretched and her finger pointing into the distance indicating that the other two individuals should ‘Go’ – to where we do not know but the impression we get is that they are not wanted here – ‘here’ being Albania.

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy

We know that she is Albania as there are many representations of her throughout the country, most notably the huge statue of Mother Albania that holds the red star in her upraised hand in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in the hills overlooking Tirana. The sensation on looking at this woman is that she is strong and determined, not just physically but in the way that she exudes confidence. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. And one way to make sure that she gets what she wants is the possession of the rifle, the barrel of which she holds in her left hand as it rests on the ground.

And it’s common to see women armed in the many lapidars (Albanian monuments) that still exist throughout the country. This can be seen on works of art as diverse as the mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana to the statue in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Lushnje to the (now sadly abandoned and discarded) commemoration to the young heroine of the National Liberation War, Liri Gero

(Here it might be useful to remind readers, or inform them if they didn’t know before, that the revolutionary slogan of the Party of Labour of Albania (as the Albanian Communist Party was known throughout the period of socialist construction) was: ‘To build socialism holding a pickaxe in one hand and a rifle in the other.’ And this should be remembered when analysing those works of art produced in that period. This meant that the success of socialist construction depended upon armed workers and peasants, ever vigilant against attempts to destroy workers’ power. This has its parallel in the history of Chinese Communism with the famous quote from Chairman Mao Tse-tung that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’.)

We also know the woman is Albania as her skirt morphs into the mountains of the country. Those mountains define the country. They have shaped the culture, determined its history, formed its economic development, delineated its tribal and ethnic structure, moulded the thinking of its people and provided the environment in which they were able to resist invaders for centuries. As well as all that those mountains provide the visitor with some of the finest scenery in southern Europe.

So the woman arises from, emerges out of, the soil of Albania, she is a result of the history that has gone before, she is part of a tradition that fights against ignorance, oppression and death. And those elements are represented by the two other characters in the sculpture, much smaller physically than the women, again a statement of their respective relevance to the country.

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy (detail)

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Monarchy (detail)

One is the priest. He wears the traditional dress of a Catholic priest at the early part of the 20th century. We know he’s Catholic as he clasps a Bible in his hands, there’s a cross inscribed on the front cover. If the woman is confident he is the opposite. He is bent almost double and looks afraid and unsure of himself. He looks questioningly at the other individual. Is he after answers, reassurance, support? That’s for us to decide. What we do know is that he’s not going to get any of what he may be after. By expelling him from the country Albania is ridding the country of ignorance, superstition and obscurantism.

That’s because the other is not concerned with the priest, he’s more concerned for himself. He’s scowling and has an angry look on his face. He’s probably as angry at the priest as he is at Albania; one is throwing him out of the country and the other weak and clinging. He is dressed in some sort of uniform, with a long trench coat, and represents all the rest of the problems that the Albanians had endured over the years such as the self-proclaimed king – who was also an oppressive landlord in his own right – as well as the dictatorial military regime. These forces of reaction produced nothing but death, represented by the skulls which he holds in a cloth in his hands and which can be seen under his coat, at his feet.

In the sculpture Albania is banishing these feudal remnants from the country forever but history has shown that if the workers are not vigilant then those same forces defeated one year will come back the next, and with a vengeance, if they are given the opportunity.

The statue could do with a bit of dusting – but then many of the museums throughout the country suffer from neglect to one extent or another. Nonetheless this is a fine example of socialist realist sculpture still on (limited) show in Albania.

(Albania is in a bit of a quandary about its past (a situation that you also experience in the erstwhile Soviet Union). If it ignores the anti-Fascist struggle against both the Italian and German invaders, which was led to victory by the Communist Partisans, then there’s not much to put in the museums. It might not be wise to remind the people of the condition of their grandparents when that existence was one of feudal oppression in the 20th century. Economic ‘liberalisation’ also means that the museums are being starved of resources and I’ve not found it so easy to get the information I would like (at least so far) and cannot provide accurate details about all the works of art I hope to post on the blog. So if any reader has any information then I would be grateful if they could pass it on. Perhaps then the picture of Albanian Socialist Realist Art will be more rounded.)

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