Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier

Liri Gero - Tirana Art Gallery

Liri Gero – Tirana Art Gallery

Many monuments, statues and lapidars from Albania’s Socialist period have suffered over the years, through outright political vandalism or just neglect. However, there has been a bit of a sea change in recent years but this has not come without its own problems. Here I want to develop the ideas of Albanian Socialist Realist art by looking at two works produced to commemorate the life of a young partisan woman, Liri Gero, and also a work in commemoration of 68 young women who also left their home town of Fier to join the partisans fighting the Fascist invaders.

Liri Gero

Liri Gero

The first thing to know about Liri is the meaning of her name. Liri means Freedom, indicating her parents were at least nationalist, if not much further to the left, and possibly supporting the growing communist movement at the time of her birth. In a country that had a long history of fighting foreign invaders naming your children in such a way was making a political statement.

Soon after the country was invaded by the Italian Fascists in April of 1939 Liri, along with many other young people, started to take part in activities that opposed the occupation and assisted those actively fighting against the invaders, especially after the declaration of the National Liberation Front at the Conference of Peza of 1942.

However, as the struggle became more intense, and the betrayal by the collaborators and sycophants of the ‘nationalist’ Balli Kombetar (who were formed in November 1942 to cause confusion – the name literary means ‘national front’ – amongst the Albanian anti-Fascist masses) became a much more real threat, it was suggested that Liri leave her home town of Fier and join the partisans in the mountains, in the fighting war.

In any guerrilla war the struggle in the owns and cities occupied by the invaders is as important as that on the front line but when such activity ceases to be practical, or too dangerous for particular individuals, then the only way forward is to leave home and join the partisan army. Liri was one of many young women of her generation who did just that. Disguised as the bride in a wedding party she was able to leave Fier, which was then under the under the control of the Italians, in 1943.

Partisan çeta

Partisan çeta

In October 1944 Liri was part of a unit that attacked a German Nazi column in the vicinity of Fier. Although the partisans inflicted severe damage on the Nazis in this attack Liri was wounded and later captured. With just a matter of weeks before their final defeat (and when the war throughout Europe was going badly for the Germans, especially on the Eastern Front where the Red Army was moving ever closer to the German capital) the Nazis first tortured the 20-year-old and then poured petrol over her and burned her alive – and the reactionaries have established a Nazi war memorial in Tirana.

In volume 2 of ‘Flasin Heronj të Luftës Nacional-Çlirimtare (‘The Heroes of the National Liberation War Speak’) the collection that recounts the stories of many of those who gave their lives in the struggle against Fascism, her dedication, torture and death is described poetically:

‘When you go to the Cemetery (in Fier), under the name of Liri Gero you may think lie the remains of her beautiful young body, but this is not the case. It’s just a handful of ashes from her heart burned for the freedom of Albania.’

Being so young when she got involved in the anti-fascist struggle, and her equally premature death, she became a prime candidate to be singled out and immortalised in bronze during Albania’s Cultural Revolution. She would stand as an example to the young and it would also play a part in commemorating, celebrating and emphasising the role of women in Albania’s Socialist construction, in the past, present and future.

The sculptor chosen for the task was Mumtaz Dhrami, the sculptor who produced so many fine works during this period of artistic development in Albania’s Socialist period, including the monuments at Peze and the magnificent Arch of Drashovice.

(When I first published this post on the 29th October I mistakenly attributed this piece of work to another sculptor, Hektor Dule. These mistakes, unfortunately, will happen from time to time due to the difficulty of obtaining some of the basic factual information.

However, when I started to revise the text to show the facts I realised that this is all part of the different approaches to art in a socialist and capitalist society. Under capitalism the first question is who. Who produced it, as if that person is someone famous then the piece of art might be worth money, and with recent ‘investment’ in art a great deal of money. It’s for this reason a signed sketch on a paper serviette is worth a fortune just because the signature of Pablo Picasso is in the corner. It becomes valuable not because of its intrinsic artistic value but because of its association.

In Socialist Realism the most pressing question is what. What does it represent, what is it trying to convey, what does it mean to the people who see and relate to it, what role can the artistic object play in educating the people. And as those were the most important questions asked in a society attempting to build Socialism the artist as an individual became secondary. For that reason many of the lapidars and monuments in Albania don’t have any indication of who actually provided the artistic skill.

As we live in a world where individuals are praised way above the collective this creates a situation where some ‘artists’ consider that they are being hard done by, in comparison with ‘artists’ in capitalist countries. For this reason they start to grumble and for the same reason some have run away to the capitalist countries, not to have more freedom to express their art, not for the fame, but for the financial reward that they can receive in a different society from the one that nurtured, educated and trained them.

By being somewhat obsessed with getting the details of who might have created any particular piece of art I am also falling into the trap of bourgeois individualism. I find myself reluctant to post an article if it omits such information as it might appear incomplete. But that’s not the meaning of Socialist Realist art – it’s the message not the messenger.

In discussions about art many years ago, when Britain actually produced things rather than being a nation serving countless variations of coffee, it came up that those skilled engineers, for example, who could take a piece of raw metal and with their skills and experience turn it into a part necessary functioning of a complex machine, weren’t used to signing their work. Those who worked in agriculture didn’t sign their potatoes before they sent them to market, but if we didn’t have their skills then the vast majority of the population in so-called ‘developed’ societies would starve.

So why should an artist sign his/her work? Who is the most important in society? No society can produce or develop any sophisticated art unless they first are able to create a surplus of those things that society needs. All artists, in all societies, in all stages of development of civilisation rest on the shoulders of the workers. Why should one be named if the other isn’t?

To finish on this matter, before the whole post goes along too acute a tangent, what of those workers who took Dhrami’s ideas and turned it into the bronze object under discussion. Shouldn’t their names be noted – if the ‘artist’ were to have his signature somewhere in view?)

Liri Gero - National Art Gallery

Liri Gero – National Art Gallery

The statue is slightly larger than life-size but we only have her depicted from the thighs up. She is shown dressed as a Partisan fighter, not in full uniform as such but in a manner that allows no doubt that she is a full-time member of the fighting force. The pose is as if she were standing to attention and she presents a calm demeanour, serene and confident and clear about what she is doing. She wears a cap with the star of a Communist clear at the front.

The only images I have seen of her show her with long tresses, braided on both sides of her head and hanging down in front of her. I’m sure that, as a young woman she was proud of her hair but to go into conflict with such long hair is not a wise move and I would have thought that one of the first acts after joining her partisan çeta would be to visit the barber. None of the pictures of the guerrilla groups show the women with long hair. However, by depicting her with her long tresses Dhrami has made an easy reference to the photos that people would have seen in different museums throughout the country as well as in magazines and other publications produced at the time.

So she has a full head of hair, spilling out from under her cap, and the braids hang down and finish just over her breasts. Around her neck she has a bandana (yet another symbol of her communist affiliations) and she is wearing a thick woollen sweater. There’s a rifle slung over her back and her right hand is holding the strap of that rifle just over her chest. Around her waist she has ammunition pouches attached to her belt and on her right hip hangs a Mills bomb (British made grenade).

It is what she holds in her left hand which makes this statue stand out as one created with a socialist realist perspective. Her left arm hangs loosely down by her side and in her fist she has a bunch of flowers.

Liri Gelo - flowers

Liri Gelo – flowers

This is complimentary to the rifle. Socialism cannot be built, or maintained, without the rifle (symbolising force, or at the very least the threat of force) but the ultimate aim is a society without conflict. How long that will take is still to be decided and the twists and turns along that road are abundant. This idea of flowers in the hand of a young women prepared to use violence (and, for her, ultimately, giving her life) is part of a long-held view of communists, that we fight for bread (meaning freedom from exploitation and oppression, from want and the anarchy that comes with capitalism) but we want the roses too (a fulfilling and productive cultural life in companionship with others, and not just being spoon-fed the ‘culture’ that capitalism supplies, as long as it can make profit.)

I’m not exactly sure where the statue of Liri would have originally stood. Being made of bronze it was designed to be outside (and is still in a very good physical condition). There used to be a properly organised statue park in the area around the National Art Gallery and it would make sense that it was here the work was exhibited. If on a plinth it would have been minimal, just separating the statue from the ground, allowing the viewer the opportunity of being able, physically, to relate to the young heroine and her place in history.

Its location now is with other still extant statues that have come from different parts of the Tirana area. To the right hand side of the Art Gallery there’s a ramp and a service entrance to the building. This doesn’t seem to be used on a regular basis and is not an area that is cared for. When I first visited at the end of 2011 there was a shanty type hut but that has now been removed, but the area is in no way organised or what could be called an exhibition space. The area is dirty and the statues, although out-of-the-way, are not displayed in any manner that you would expect of works of art.

What I have described as the ‘Sculpture Park’ is really just a storage area for the statues. At one time they were all in a line, Liri amongst them but by the time of my visit in 2014 a new statue of Stalin had been added to the collection and Liri was moved so that she had her back to the building and was facing the other statues.

The Original Sculpture Park

The Original Sculpture Park

Also on my early visits it was possible to get close to the statues without any hassle but a vandal attack on the Soviet produced statue of Stalin and the Albanian (damaged) Lenin, with them having red paint thrown over them in 2011, has meant that visits are discouraged. That’s a pity as, although in a far from ideal circumstance, here it is possible to get an idea of different examples of Albanian Socialist Realist sculpture as well as being able to appreciate the noticeable differences from Russian Soviet interpretations with the black statue of Stalin – presented to the Albanian people upon his death in 1953.

So that’s the Socialist representation of a young woman who gave her life for her country and people.

As stated above Liri was from the town of Fier, which in socialist times was a major industrial centre – that’s all but gone now and is a place of industrial archaeology rather than industrial production.

Although the industry might have gone there has been an effort in recent years to remember and commemorate the past. As part of that Fier is one of the few towns in Albania that has a functioning museum, very recently renovated, where you can find information about the anti-Fascist war as well as some examples of Socialist Realist paintings and sculpture.

(I’ll be writing about the Fier Historical Museum in a future post but here I will just provide information about its location. It can be found in Rruga Leon Rei, which is about 200m west of Sheshi Pavarësia (Independence Square).

Location of the Museum:

GPS:

N 40.72448

E 19.55532

DMS:

40° 43′ 28.1280” N

19° 33′ 19.1520” E

Well worth a visit. Across the road from the museum is a monstrosity of a (at least in May 2015) half-finished and stalled private educational institute.)

As part of this recovery of the past the city decided to erect a completely new statue to Liri Gero – to the best of my knowledge there had been no local monument to her, other than her grave in the Martyrs’ Cemetery. This statue was inaugurated in 2010 and is located at the edge of a small park in the centre of the town.

Whatever the intentions behind its commissioning this modern statue of Liri is a ludicrous and hideous depiction of the woman who Liri definitely wasn’t. It’s the absolute antithesis of the example to be found behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

It’s wrong in virtually every way. The figure is similar to the Dhrami piece in that we don’t get the whole body, this one is from the knees up and it is also a little more than life-size. That’s the only things the two statues have in common. The first thing that strikes the viewer is that you get a crick in the neck to look at it close up. The bronze statue is on a plinth more than two metres high and its impossible for the viewer to have any connection with the young woman, she’s placed on a pedestal in the literal and figurative sense.

New Liri Gero Statue

New Liri Gero Statue

When we get to the statue itself we see no connection with the actual life of young Liri. It’s in a neo-classical style and a silky dress clings to her body, emphasising the female form, her breasts straining to break free of the material. A thin cord around the waist is pulled tight so that it accentuates the hour-glass figure of the torso. The dress itself is of a style that no woman, or even young girl, would have worn in pre-liberation Albania – and would draw a not too sympathetic attention today.

If her clothing is bad things get even worse when we look at her hair. The pictures of Liri show her with long hair, a style that would have been common with girls of her age at that time but here she is represented with hair of which Rapunzel herself would have been jealous. (With the wonders of the internet I’ve just had a look and you can buy Rapunzel wigs that must have been what the sculptor forced his model to wear.)

There’s so much hair!

Liri Gero - hair

Liri Gero – hair

Its crazy. This isn’t a young woman who was tortured to death after going to join forces with those wanting to free their country of foreign invaders. No, this is a young woman who’s going out on the town, has been to the supermarket for a bottle of cheap vodka and now intends to dance until dawn, as happens in many British towns and cities.

Whereas the Dhrami Liri is serene, confident, sure of herself the 2010 Liri is flighty, frivolous, would fit into the stereotype of a ‘dippy blond’ (Liri was dark-haired) and wouldn’t know how to spell Fascism let alone have the understanding to fight against it.

I don’t know why such a statue was commissioned by the Fier Bashkia (Town Hall) or what they were thinking about in paying for such a representation of one of the towns most famous daughters. It was good that the town wanted to have their own statue to her but did it have to be so alien to the actual woman herself?

To the best of my knowledge those who are responsible for this monstrosity are the ‘artists’ Haxhiu Kalluci, I Kasem and A Shuraj. How they divided up the work I don’t know but I would have thought that one, at least, would have to have concentrated on the hair – it’s a sculpture in its own right.

The best thing about the monument is the inscription on the front of the plinth.

We have the words:

Liri Gero

1924 – 1944

Heroine e Popullit = People’s Heroine

And a short inscription which reads:

Si flutura drejt drites shkon njeriu drejt lirise

This translate as:

‘As moths are drawn to the light so man is to freedom.’

Across the road is a monument to other brave Fier women. Obviously very well organised, in a town that was occupied by the Fascist invaders, on the 14th September 1943, under the cover of darkness, 68 young women and girls left to join the Partisans. Not only was the actual leaving of the town a dangerous activity they then spent the next few days walking all the way to Berat to join up with the increasingly more powerful and organised Communist led National Liberation fighters.

This quite exceptional (not just in Albania but other parts of Europe fighting against the Fascists) decision of such young women to take the path of the greatest resistance was celebrated in Fier with the commissioning of this simple but nonetheless effective sculpture. The plinth upon which it stands at present is new although the bronze bas-relief fixed to it has all the classic hallmarks of those sculptures produced during Albania’s Cultural Revolution.

Monument to 68 girls joining Partisans

Monument to 68 girls joining Partisans

As is normally the case there is no name or date on the sculpture itself so I have no idea who was the artist or exactly when it was inaugurated. As many of the sculptures of this period were commissioned to mark specific anniversaries I would hazard a guess that it was first shown to the public on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the women leaving the town, i.e., 1973.

Neither do I know if it is in the original location or whether it has been moved from somewhere else. (So many lacunae in the history of Albanian lapidars!) Although it does seem to fit where it is now the bas-relief design suggests that it might have been high up on a wall of a building such as the Bashkia – although that’s just speculation on my part.

What can be stated categorically is that it is in a very good condition. It hasn’t undergone any vandalism and the target of the reactionaries, the stars on the flag and the Partisan’s cap, are both intact and undamaged.

The monument consists of one female partisan depicted as if she is emerging from the national flag. The flag is fluttering in the wind and at the extreme left hand side, at the top, can be made out the double-headed eagle with the Communist star above the two heads.

The tips of her fingers of the right hand just brush against the eagle’s feathers as if this is what she is seeking to attain. She’s fighting for Socialism, for a future. Her whole stance is one of going forward, striving for something higher, reaching up to the stars. But to attain that goal she needs to use force, as such aims have never been attained without the use of arms. For that reason she holds a rifle in her left hand, gripping it just in front of the bolt.

Carved into the wooden stock of the rifle are the letters VFLP, signifying “Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!” (“Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!”). This has been seen on a few lapidars previously described, such as Heroic Peza, the Peza War Memorial and the Arch of Drashovice. This tradition of writing slogans on weapons was begun in the 19th century during nationalist struggles and was adopted by the National Liberation fighters in WWII. As well as other imagery, these letters on her weapon declare that she is a Communist Party member.

The young woman is shown in a semi profile and, as I have already said, she emerges from the folds of the flag so we really only see the top half of her body. She’s wearing a thick woollen sweater and around her neck she has what would have been a red bandana, together with the star on her cap a signifier of her political allegiance to the Communist cause. A full head of shoulder length hair pushes out from under her cap.

The bottom half of the bronze statue is fixed to a concrete block faced with slabs of red marble. The top half of the statue extends above the block creating the idea of the free-flowing of the flag and gives the impression that the young woman is almost flying, taking off from the block.

There are two inscriptions on the modern pedestal, on the front:

14 shtator 1943 68 vajza Fierake dolen partizane

‘On 14th September 1943 68 girls from Fier blossomed into Partisans’.

On the back:

Lule, yje për lirinë krenari për Shqipërinë

Flowers, stars for freedom, the pride of Albania

There are certain similarities to the work of Hektor Dule of the female figure which is in what used to be the National Assembly Hall in Tirana – the fluttering material, the figure seeming to emerge from, as well as being a part of, the national flag, together with the determination on the face of the woman.

Although separated by a road and barely 10 metres there’s a world of difference between this depiction of a female partisan and the travesty that is the new statue of young Liri Gero.

This close proximity of two different ideologies, two different world views, as depicted in art helps to understand both. The new Liri statue is populist in place of being popular, in the sense of presenting an image to which ordinary people can relate. It represents the young women as young women see themselves in today’s Albania, not concerned with their own national identity but aiming to ape the banalities of capitalist culture. In a sense it’s the result of the ‘celebrity culture’, the facile, the emptiness of present existence where individuals become famous for being famous, not for anything significant they might have achieved.

The new is brash, vulgar, noisy – it screams at you. But it has nothing to say.

The old is serene, dignified, full of symbolism and meaning.

I read an article where a near-contemporary of Liri and the other young women bemoans the fact that the young people of Fier today don’t know the story of what happened during the occupation. Not only do that not know they don’t want to know. They are so caught up in the accumulation of consumer goods, the search for the ‘good life’, that they don’t know where they got to where they are now. But neo-liberalism doesn’t want people to remember the past, if they did they might want to change the future. Already the crash of 2008 is being forgotten – to be remembered when the next one comes along. And if you can’t completely forget the past – as has been the attempts in the destruction of lapidars and statues throughout the country over the years – then you can distort history so that any meaning is taken out of the images.

If there’s a tragedy surrounding the life of young Liri Gero it’s the way that life, and its violent end, is being ‘celebrated’ in the 21st century.

Location:

About 50 metres south from Sheshi Pavarësia on Rruga Ramiz Aranitasi

GPS:

N 40.724719

E 19.557984

DMS:

40° 43′ 28.9884” N

19° 33′ 28.7424” E

Altitude:

24 m

Arch of Drashovice 1943

Drashovice Arch 1943

Drashovice Arch 1943

If victory was only temporary in 1920 (due to the betrayal by the despot and usurper ‘King’ Zog) the success in 1943 led to a situation where, really for the first time in Albania, the people had the opportunity to build a life and a country for themselves, by themselves. With the expulsion of the Nazis at the end of November 1944 the country gained true independence and it was then for the people to take their own destiny into their hands. No longer could they put the blame on others. The battles that took place in September and October 1943, and which are depicted on the Arch of Drashovice, played a major role in that final victory.

If the struggle, as depicted on the left hand side of the arch, against the Italians in 1920 seems to be crowded it is even more so on the right. There are parallels but also significant differences, many of those provided by the organisation of the National Liberation Army that was created under the leadership of the, then, Albanian Communist Party – later to become the Party of Labour of Albania.

This history unfolds in an anti-clockwise direction but, apart from that, follows the same format as already described of the 1920 events.

The panel under the arch has the same element of frantic activity. Here there are people who are not actively involved in fighting but are rushing to the front where others are already engaging the enemy. At the extreme left hand side are three male partisans. The one on the very edge we see his face side on, looking in the direction of the battle. He is wearing a cap and although we can’t see the star that would be on the front (this is the typical cap of a Partisan uniform). His left hand, which is resting on his chest, holds a rifle. Of a second male we only see part of his face as he is obscured by the raised arm and the body of the third who is looking behind him, mouth open and calling (and signalling) to those behind to get a move on. We know that the three of them are armed as there are three ends of the barrel visible above their heads.

The sense of movement, of urgency, is demonstrated here by the jacket of the male with the raised arm. It’s flowing back in his mad rush to get to the battle, this jacket thereby hiding the rest of the rifle of the partisan with the cap. But the out flung jacket exposed the butt of his rifle to view, the strap of it going over his right shoulder. On his belt an ammunition pouch can be seen. From his dress we can surmise that he is from the town as it’s not a partisan uniform but a civilian jacket, emphasising the nature of a partisan, a guerrilla war. Photos of the çeta (guerrilla units) of the time show a mix of dress.

Typical Partisan Group

Typical Partisan Group

One of the figures who is depicted in full size is the next in line. This is an older man than those seen so far, his dress is in the traditional style – woollen cap, sheep skin jacket, loose sleeved shirt, trousers and the opinga shoes but in the 20 years since the battle against the Italians, the fustanella (the skirt-like male attire) is less in evidence, but he is obviously from the countryside. The strap of his bolt-action rifle goes over his right shoulder and he holds the weapon in his right hand, at the top end of the stock. His left hand is bent back and rests against what could be a pouch at his waist. This is because he is also running. We can see that from his feet and his sheep skin jacket is also flying out behind him.

If everyone in this section of the tableau is rushing to the fighting they are being outstripped by the youngest individual on the whole monument. From his relative size to the others he is very young but also the most enthusiastic. He is literally flying, both his feet off the ground and he’s overtaking the rest and is closest to the commander calling the troops to arms. But this young lad is distinctive for other aspects.

He is the only one depicted in the 1943 battle who is bare-footed. As on the other side of the arch (and, indeed, on other lapidars) the footwear of the figures tells a story, of class background and wealth. In the 1920 battle the barefooted figure is the (possible) representation of Albania, pulling apart the Italian cannon with his bare hands. In 1920 he is an old man, here a young boy. Here we can interpret the image as a move of the struggle of the Albanians from that of national independence to that of constructing a completely new society, a society which can only be built, ultimately, with the active participation of the young. They can the more easy throw off old ideas and traditions with which older people are burdened. This is not a given as set-backs in Socialist societies in the 20th century showed, but the young have the potential to take society to a higher level – the problem is to encourage them to do so and not fall into the lethargy and cowardice that besets the old.

His dress is that of a young town worker and the star etched on the butt of his rifle, in a sense, mirrors and complements the clasp on the chest of the older man in the 1920 tableau. In 1920 the aim was national independence and so the double-headed eagle was more evident, in 1943 the aim was the socialist revolution, the end of exploitation and oppression, therefore the star takes a dominant role.

He shares another similarity to the cannon destroyer. Whereas in 1920 it’s the symbol of the Italian monarchy that is being crushed under the bare foot in 1943 it is the symbol of German Nazism that is about to feel the full weight of the new socialist society, both symbols ignominiously broken and lying on the ground, in the dirt. This brings to mind the image of how the captured German standards were thrown at the feet of the Soviet leadership, in the dirt of Red Square in Moscow, on May 9th 1945 (and how they used to be displayed in the Museum to the Revolution in Moscow until that museum became a sham by the end of the 1990s).

Nazi standards dumped in Red Square

Nazi standards dumped in Red Square

Perhaps it’s worthwhile here making a comment about the youth of those who fought in the war against Fascism in Albania. Looking through the (at least five) volumes of ‘Flasin Heronj të Luftës Nacional-Çlirimtare’ (The Heroes of the National Liberation War Speak) you soon realise that many of those who fought, and died, in the struggle against fascism were very young. This was the case with Persefoni and Bule (who were hanged in Gjirokaster) as well as young Liri Gelo – who was murdered by the Nazis in Fier. So by placing a young person in such a prominent, and symbolic, place in this tableau Dhrami is making a statement of the crucial role played by young people in the past to defeat the invader and attain independence for the country.

The manner in which he carries his rifle is also interesting. He’s clutching it close to his body, he doesn’t give the impression he knows exactly what to do with it. The rope strap that the others rushing to the battle use to carry the gun on their backs is here just flapping as he runs. He may have just picked this gun up from a fallen comrade but you get the idea that if anyone wants to take it off him they are in for a huge fight. And the carving of the star into the wood of the butt is the first I’ve noticed (so far) on the Albanian monuments. The star on the caps is common, on the weapons not so much, but this follows a tradition in the Balkans going back into the 19th century and which we can see on the bronze statue at Drashovice, with the double-headed eagle carved into the butt of the kneeling, 1920, fighter.

Between the peasant fighter and the youth there are the heads of three other fighters, two male and one female. We can only see the heads and sometimes the shoulders but, as is usually the case, they are telling us a story. They are all looking in the direction of the battle – there’s only need for one or two to be looking behind, normally calling on others to join the battle, and they are all armed.

The male closest to the back is in profile and only part of his face is in sight. On his head is a cap with the star, not the first so far but one of the many that are depicted here. This is not just any partisan unit, this is an almost exclusively Communist band of guerrilla fighters, the Communist symbolism in many parts. His rifle barrel sticks up just in front of his face.

The comrade in front of him wears no insignia and is bare-headed but the top of the barrel of his rifle is at the level of his should. The third of this little group is an older woman, dressed in the traditional headgear of the kapica – seen on the other side of the arch. To some extent the traditional clothing of the countryside persisted more with the women than the men – such dress to be seen to this day in certain parts of the country, not a particularly progressive indication of the role of women in 21st century Albanian society.

All of this forward group have determination etched on their faces and are armed with modern weapons. That’s an important difference from those going to war in 1920 when anything that could hurt someone was grabbed as they left for the front. In 1943 the partisans are seen well organised, well equipped, even though much of their armaments would have come from the defeated enemy (as well as some arms drops by the British). Also different from the other side is the fact that the woman is going to war, on a par with her male comrades, and is equally armed and ready for action as her hand holding her rifle appears (slightly disembodied) in front of her, over the left shoulder of the bare-footed youth.

Immediately above the older woman is the only Albanian figure on this side of the monument who isn’t armed. Instead he is playing an important role of blowing the bugle to announce the charge to make sure the advance of the Nazi front-line is maintained and victory assured. With the noise of battle, which would have been greater than the previous one of 1920, so more noise was needed to call for reserves. The red star is clearly seen on his cap and it looks like he’s wearing a bandana around his neck.

Finally on this part of the 1943 tableau, before moving on to the main facade, there are two young partisans, one male and one female. They are both in uniform, although we only see the head and shoulders of both. Their caps sport the red star and both of them are armed. The female partisan has her long hair blowing in the wind and the fact that she’s in uniform shows the advance in the active participation of Albanian women in the struggles to free their country. As I’ve said before about 16% of the partisan force were female and although still less than it could be it’s still much higher than the level in most capitalist/imperialist countries whose armed forces are engaged in combat – excepting, perhaps the present day fascist Israeli Defence Force, although they only operate in an army that uses overwhelming technological advantage against civilians, so significantly different from the female Partisans in Albania.

As with the depiction of the 1920 battle here Dhrami manages to use one of his participants to take the action from the smaller panel to the large one, where all the action is going on. Here it’s a full figure of a Partisan commander. He has his rifle raised high above his head in his right hand, showing to those running where they must head, his left hand resting on his thigh. Once they reach him they will be directed to where to go as from then on they are in the thick of the battle.

He is shown as an older man (there are other older fighters but the majority are shown as young) with a moustache (facial hair had become less of a fashion by the time of the National Liberation War). He has the star on his cap and he is in the full uniform of a partisan with his jacket open at the neck – a more informal look not normally associated with officers. (Although guerrilla and partisan armies have a structure it has to, of necessity, have less of a hierarchical nature than the class ridden armies of capitalist nations.) Around his waist he has ammunition pouches and attached over his right hip is an English Mills bomb (grenade). The young running boy has just reached him.

His stance is interesting as he straddles the fascist, swastika bearing, banner that lies in the dirt. His left foot is placed on a broken wheel and between his legs can be seen the broken pieces of wood of a barbed wire barricade. The standard is no longer flying as the Partisans have breached the Nazi defence. This is a mirror of the situation on the other side. The broken wheel symbolising the destruction of the enemy’s technology, and theoretical military superiority. It is into this breach in the barbed wire defences that the advancing forces are to enter to completely annihilate the enemy.

Drashovice Arch - Nazi standard in the dirt

Drashovice Arch – Nazi standard in the dirt

Going now up on the left hand side we have a another full figure of an officer. The structure of Communist armies was (both prior to and after gaining state control) that the leadership was shared between a top military and political official – the latter being known as the Commissar from the Soviet experience and language. All decisions on a battlefield have a political consequence and the weighing up of the consequences in conflict have been one of the factors that led to partisan success in the past. This avoids purely military criteria being used when a decision is made to confront the enemy. For example, an easy victory might be avoided as a much more, but in the longer term more strategically important and significant, difficult confrontation would advance the cause greater. The aim is to win the war, not necessarily every possible battle.

The Commissar was also responsible for the political education of the forces when not in battle, the combatants being clear of the reasons they were fighting as important as the technical skills needed by a soldier.

My suggestion is that this other officer, a young man, could well be the Commissar. He is directing the battle in a way the other officer is not. In his right hand he holds a Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (the same sort of weapon as the bronze 1943 partisan statue is holding) the magazine resting on his right thigh. However, his left arm is outstretched and pointing in the direction of the confrontation with the fascists, directing the small group behind him to where they are needed.

He’s in full uniform, cap with a star and a bandana around his neck. Apart from his sub machine-gun he wears a pistol in a holster on his left hip. His stance also makes the statement that he is in the mountains, one foot being higher than the other, as you would be if on the hills. He also straddles symbols of defeat for the Nazis. Beneath him there’s the broken wood and short, ineffectual strands of barbed wire, a standard German metal helmet, with the eagle and swastika of the Waffren SS, at the toe of his right boot. Amongst all this detritus is a tubular metal gas mask tin, used by soldiers to carry anything other than a gas mask but a common part of a German soldier’s military equipment (there’s one on the back a fighting soldier below). Here we get the idea of death without the scene being littered with dead bodies. Vital equipment being abandoned indicates defeat.

Behind his right shoulder are a group of three males. The one closest to him is wearing a heavy overcoat and a thick jumper. (Although some in this tableau are depicted as if they were enjoying a hot summer a great deal of the fighting took place in the high mountains in the winter (as seen on many paintings) and it can get cold up there.) He wears a cap with the star on the front and has a rifle slung over his right shoulder and is looking in the direction of where the officer is pointing.

Behind him is an older man, dressed in traditional clothing and with a moustache (more typical of the countryside in this period than the town) who is looking in the direction of the battle. He is holding the top of the barrel of his rifle, which is seen on the edge of this panel.

The third of the group is again a younger male with a rifle slung over his right shoulder. He also has a star on his cap, but this is not the same as the majority on this tableau. His head covering is more like the traditional, woollen conical hats we have already seen but together with the star there’s what seems to be a double-headed eagle, a variation of which became part of the national flag after national liberation. I’ve only just noticed this slight variation and have yet to discover the significance, if any, of the difference. The presence of the star indicates that the wearer was a Communist and not just a nationalist fighter. His stance is also slightly different. He seems to be looking at the viewer and has his right arm bent and the clenched fist close to the side of his head. We can tell how tight he is clenching his fist by the veins sticking out at his wrist.

It would be useful if the revolutionary left could decide on a universal salute. There seems to be two. I don’t know why nor do I know how they developed. One is the right arm salute seen here – and also on the lapidar in the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Erseke. The other is the straight armed, clenched fist, stretching up high salute as can be seen given by the Partisan in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Korça (and which is also seen on this arch at the very top).

Further up on the left hand side and behind this group of three is an older man, moustached, who must be the Partisan artillery commander. He is in full uniform and a Communist, the standard star on his cap. Criss-crossed over his chest are a couple of ammunition belts and although he is the middle of the task of working out the range for the artillery he still has hold of his rifle by the barrel in his left hand. In his right hand he holds a stubby gun sighting telescope to his right eye. It’s difficult to make out exactly what type but it is similar to a number made by the British at the time. They tended to be shorter than anything that might have been captured from the Italian or German Fascists. Just to his right and little above him are two artillery pieces.

The role of artillery commander at the battle of Drashovice was held by Hysni Kapo, who later went on to become a member of the Politburo of the Party of Labour of Albania and a close comrade in arms to the Party’s General Secretary, Enver Hoxha. However, this is not an image of Kapo, he was a much younger man at the time.

Hysni Kapo

Hysni Kapo

Hysni Kapo was born in Tërbaç, a village that is further up the Shushicë River valley, (where there’s an interesting mosaic dedicated to the 5th Brigade as well as the Martyrs’ Cemetery on the outskirts of the village) so he was very much fighting on home ground. He was wounded in the leg during the fighting. The valley at Drashovice is not particularly wide and control of the mountains on either side would have given that force a decided advantage, both in terms of visibility as well as being able to do significant damage with the artillery. The mountain guns shown on the arch were effective weapons and the partisans developed the ability to move them around to great effect. It was this type of short-barreled mountain gun that was used on 18th October of the same year to shell the Quisling Assembly from the hills above Sauk, just outside of Tirana.

Behind the artillery commander’s left shoulder is another group of three partisans, slanting down from left to right. Almost obscured by the commander’s head is the face of a very young male, about the age of the boy running with the rifle below. Next is an older male partisan, the normal star on his cap and we can see the top of the barrel of his rifle sticking up in front of him.

The last of the group is a young female fighter. She wears a cap with the star and her long hair falling down over her shoulders. What we see of her dress it is more the tradition wear of women of the countryside. However, she has a modern cap rather than the kapica headdress. I would have thought such flowing dresses were not the most appropriate of attire to go fighting fascists but perhaps Dhrami’s idea here was to show a process of transition, from the way women were seen generally in the country and how they were starting to take matters into their own hands. She has webbing across body and in her right hand holds a rifle close to her chest. There are few occasions when women depicted on Albanian lapidars are not armed and dangerous.

Above this group, and at the topmost part of the 1943 arch are two, from the waist-up, images of a male and female partisan. This is Victory. This is a celebration. But it also shows preparedness for the future.

The male is virtually in the centre of the panel. He’s dressed in the full partisan uniform, webbing across his chest and although his face is in profile we can clearly see the star on his cap. Both his arms are fully extended and the form the victory symbol ‘V’. In his right hand he holds his Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (it seems a lot of these were liberated from the Italian invaders). The fist in his left hand is clenched, in the revolutionary salute. As his arms are raised this allows the wind to blow out his loose jacket which flows out to his right, just as the partisan flag below him.

Whereas the man is demonstrative in victory the woman is pensive, looking to her left. She wears the traditional style of clothing of the countryside, the long flowing dress, including the kapica. Over that dress she has webbing which includes an ammunition belt that crosses left to right over her chest. Her rifle she holds in both hands, hugging it to her. Her left hand is holding it by the stock whilst the forefinger of her right hand – and here it’s something different and unique in the depiction of a weapon that is not being fired at the time – is on the trigger. The battle might be over, the war is yet to be won!

The positioning is also important and relevant to the general ideas that were developed during Albania’s Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s onwards. It was a stated aim, from the very beginning, that emphasis should be made on the role of women both in the National Liberation War and in the building of a new society. Here we have both a male and female partisan at the very top of the monument and at the moment of victory. They are physically at EXACTLY the same level depicting equality in a formal manner.

Drashovice Arch - Victory

Drashovice Arch – Victory

Now whether there was full ‘equality’ is another matter. And anyway, the issue of ‘equality’ in a socialist society has to take into account many factors that aren’t even recognised as existing in capitalist societies. In a patriarchal society, such as Albania was before the revolution, this elevating of the role of women in past and present struggles was part of the campaign to turn what was a formal equality into actual reality. Although the female partisan is shown as vigilant her daughters and grand-daughters weren’t as concerned (for reasons which are far too complex and numerous to go into here) as she was to maintain, and develop, the status of women in their country. Old attitudes, which were never totally defeated (merely pushed underground waiting to sprout once the opportunity arose) are returning and although some women might be able to ‘advance’ in Albania the position of women in general will not be anything like was attained during the Socialist period from 1944 to 1990.

On the arch the battle against the Nazis continues as we come down on the right hand side of the main panel.

At the female partisan’s left elbow we see the heads of two male fighters. Well only the woollen hat of one of them and head, in profile, on the other. Again the star just peaks out in outline as the two of them use their machine guns against the enemy. One of the tripods appears to be balanced on the top of the flag that flutters in the mountain breeze just below the victorious couple.

The banner, with the star midway between the two heads of the double-headed eagle flutters back, from right to left, as the standard-bearer runs forward, holding the flag pole with both hands behind him, the right higher on the pole than the left. This fluttering is similar to that of the jacket on the victorious male above. Involved in other work the flag carrier is not shown as armed but with his bandana and the star on his cap he has the task of rallying the troops and reminding them for what they are fighting.

Now back to the Commissar, but this time on his left hand side, we see the faces of three partisans. These are part of the group that will go off in the direction he is indicating. We only see the heads of the first two closest to the Commissar. The first, with a moustache, looks straight out at the viewer whilst the other is in profile. It’s impossible to tell how they are armed as the scene is so crowded.

The third, a young woman is also in profile but we see much more of her. She is in full uniform and her hair is seen falling down over her neck underneath her cap. This depiction of young women with their hair flowing free is very common in Dhrami’s work. Traditionally the women had their hair covered, with the kapica, which would be part of the Moslem tradition but this style of dress seems to have encompassed the other two principal religious sects in the country (then and now) Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians.

This freedom of young women to display their hair is an indication and declaration of modernity. It’s turning it’s back on feudal traditions, on the past and on the obligation that women had to comply with the norm, with the accepted styles. Each time I return to Albania I am more aware of the number of women wearing hair coverings, not just Moslem women. It is said that many of these women do so out of ‘choice’ but it is possible to imprison oneself as well as being imprisoned by force. Examples in other countries that had the modernity bombed out of them by the combined enlightenment of the imperialist ‘alliance against terror’ shows that, perhaps sometimes, choice is limited to doing one thing – or else.

Back to the young female partisan. She has a rifle close to her in her left hand and her right seems to be looking for, or perhaps she is holding something, around her waist. There are ammunition pouches attached to her belt and at times I think I see the outline of a pistol – but that’s not particularly clear and wouldn’t seem to make sense.

And, it will come as no surprise, the Communist star is on all their caps. Even though I keep repeating it the implications are important. In 1920 it was a nationalist victory over the Italian Army of Victor Emmanuel. There were more than likely some Communists involved, after all this was only three years after the October Revolution in Russia, revolutions had taken place (and failed) in Germany and Hungary and the ideas of socialism were widespread throughout Europe following the slaughter of the 1914-18 War. But it was a nationalist victory that, because the ideology with a long-term strategy wasn’t dominant, collapsed first into local monarcho-fascism and later occupation by the Italian forces of Mussolini.

Drashovice in 1943 was different. An organised Communist Party had been able to unite various forces in a National Liberation War against any invader. By the autumn of 1943 the Italian’s had been defeated. In just over a year the German Nazis would be defeated. Small Albania would then have to face the ire of the British, later the Yugoslavs and then, in too rapid succession, the abandonment by the Soviet Union and then the People’s Republic of China. That had all happened before the construction of the Drashovice Arch when the People’s Republic of Albania had isolation forced upon them (rather than descending into xenophobia as it is often described).

The second battle of Drashovice was a Communist victory and the images cry that out from the roof-tops. Virtually every individual Albanian depicted has at least one indication of their political allegiance, whether it be the star, a bandana or otherwise outward sign such as a carving on the stock of a rifle.

Up to now what has been described has been those forces heading towards the action. The next part is in the thick of the battle. From now on everyone is fighting for his or her life.

The young male at the end of the Commissar’s finger is not in uniform, nor wearing a cap, but the webbing, on which spare ammunition is attached, shows some element of organisation. But the extra ammunition is of no use. For whatever reason, perhaps it jammed, perhaps he didn’t have the chance to re-load, he is using his rifle as a club. He holds the barrel close to the end with his right hand and his left is just above the bolt. He is using all his strength to put as much force down on a fallen Nazi. As in the 1920 tableau, if you don’t have what you would like use what you have.

This is an old rifle, possibly from the time of the earlier conflict, you can tell that from the shape of the butt. The age would suggest a malfunction but if he has taken the weapon from the past he’s also taken a local, Balkan tradition with him into battle. Carved into the wood of the butt that’s about to crush the enemy is a star below which are the letters ‘VFLP’. This stands for: Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit! (Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!) which appears on a number of lapidars, such as the Monument to Heroic Peze as well as in many paintings.

We can’t see the person he is about to attack but just inside his left leg is a German helmet on the side of which is the Nazi SS symbol. Alongside the helmet s the tip of a bayonet, indicating that we are back to the same sort of hand to hand fighting as was seen on the other side of the arch. Here we have the anti-fascist slogan crashing down on Fascism itself.

Drashovice Arch - VFLP v SS

Drashovice Arch – VFLP v SS

There aren’t many images of the Nazi dead on the monument (that would take up too much space) but what Dhrami has done to indicate fatalities is to show a number of helmets, together with weapons in a non-firing orientation. A small group of helmets can be seen to the young partisan’s left, together with the tops of a couple of rifles and a bayonet, no longer a threat. On one of these helmets is the eagle and swastika symbol of the Waffren-SS, the principal regiment fighting in Albania (and another reason why the German War Memorial in Tirana Park is an insult to all those who fought and died in the National Liberation War).

But this fighter hasn’t finished yet. His left foot is stamping down on a Mauser MG34, heavy machine gun, rendering it useless any more in the battle.

From the level of his rifle butt there’s a group of four Partisans, going down from right to left. First is a male, we only see part of his face in profile but he has a bolt-action rifle up to his shoulder and his finger on the trigger. Next to him is a young female partisan. She seems to be standing up higher than the others in her group, and we see slightly more than a head and shoulders view. She is in uniform and has an ammunition belt across her chest, going from right to left. The reason she’s making herself taller is that she is about to throw a hand grenade down onto the enemy below and she’s looking down on to the group of Nazis in the bottom right hand corner of the panel. This grenade is the Model 24 Stielhandgranate (translation: ‘stalk hand grenade’), the stick grenade which was the standard used by the Germans during the war. As opposed to the Mills bombs that would have come from the British this would have been taken off previously defeated Fascist forces and she is returning it, with interest.

Below her is the face in profile of another male. He is armed but this time with a pistol. It’s difficult to make out exactly what type, but it looks like a revolver – there’s signs of wear on this part of the statue. This is a little bit unusual but it seems that Dhrami is introducing all the types of weapons used at the time. Next to him is the fourth of this particular group, an older male, wearing the woollen cap and the sheepskin cloak, with a moustache, thereby reinforcing the idea this was a war fought by all generations and from all parts of the country. He also has rifle up to his shoulder, pointing in the direction of the entrapped Germans, his finger on the trigger.

Moving further down, by the right hand edge, we are into a situation of, literally, hand to hand fighting. Their faces only inches apart we have a partisan struggling with a Nazi officer. The Nazi has a Lugar P08 pistol in his right hand but this has been made ineffective by the action of the partisan who has gripped the hand, and the pistol, in his own left and has forced the muzzle into the air. In order to get an advantage the partisan also has his right hand at the throat of the officer, gripping him by his uniform at the top of his jacket.

Drashovice Arch - Life or Death Struggle

Drashovice Arch – Life or Death Struggle

We get an idea of the status of the officer by his uniform. He wears the field cap of a Waffren-SS officer, with its badges of the eagle with the symbol of the swastika in its talons and beneath that the Totenkopf (the ‘death’s head’ symbol of the skull and crossbones). On the pocket on left hand side of his jacket he wears the Iron Cross medal, together with the swastika in the centre (a variation of the ancient military medal introduced by the Nazis from 1939). Above the medal is another example of the eagle with the swastika, indicating that he is a member of the Nazi Party.

This is a life and death struggle. Only one can come out of this confrontation alive. The stack of German helmets to the officer’s back suggests that he will soon be joining the Nazi fallen.

Possibly due to damage it’s difficult to see if there is a star on his cap but as I’ve said before there are other signs to look for to denote allegiance, and this partisan has what would have been a red scarf around his neck, the main body of it laying over the top of his back.

Going down from right to left from this mortal struggle are the final four Albanians depicted on this tableau. They are the ones in the actual front line. In front of them are the enemy. The impression of the intensity of the battle can be seen in their stance and the determination on their faces.

The first is an older man, moustachioed and firing a Beretta sub-machine gun. On his cap he has the symbol seen once before (the partisan giving a clenched fist salute) of the star with the double-headed eagle below. Around his waist he wears an ammunition belt.

The next is a young male partisan. Whereas all the others are, more or less, facing the viewer, he has his back to us. His rifle is not operative, either jammed or out of ammunition, so he holds his weapon high, the right hand gripping it behind the firing mechanism whilst his left holds it on the barrel. His aim is to use the muzzle, in a stabbing action, to attack the enemy right in front of him.

Next is a young female partisan. She also has a sub-machine gun, supporting it with a strap that goes over her left shoulder. This is not a Beretta, with its distinctive recoil compensator, but she is using it to effect nonetheless. Although in uniform she is wearing a woollen jumper rather than a jacket.

The final member on the front line is a male with a bolt-action rifle up to his shoulder, finger on the trigger and firing into the Nazis only feet away. He has extra ammunition around his waist and across his chest. Like all the others he has a star on his cap.

The remaining images are all of the Nazis, in retreat, dying or fighting for their lives. The tips of their weapons form a curve that goes from the officer in hand to hand combat on the right hand side down to the bottom left, to end up with the Nazi standard in the dirt. They are crushed into a corner, with nowhere to go. They are so close to each other it’s even difficult for them to defend themselves. The dead make the situation even more difficult and the bodies make the living even more aware of their fate.

The helmets and the muzzles of weapons pointing away from the action indicate the toll being taken on the German invaders. Then we start to see some faces. Right at the edge of the tableau there’s a helmeted head tipped back, the eyes are closed, as if he has just been shot or injured. In front of this dying Nazi are two faces in profile but with only one weapon between them, one is holding a dagger in his right hand, not much use against the grenades, sub-machine guns and rifles that confront them. This again demonstrates the ferocity of the conflict. (There’s some slight damage to the stone work on the edge of this Nazi’s helmet.)

Further into the melee matters start to get confusing. There’s a Nazi with a rifle up to his shoulder, firing at the attackers. Just behind him can be seen the almost full length of a bayonet, but it’s impossible to know to which soldier it is attached. On the very edge of the panel there’s a disembodied right hand, held up high into the air, below that a helmet and then below again a muzzle pointing away from the battle. Is this again suggesting surrender and defeat, if not by all the Germans at least by some?

Then there’s the end of a rifle barrel with a bayonet attached. This is also a weapon that doesn’t seem to have an owner. Two, the last ones, soldiers seem to be capable or willing to fight. The one in the front has a rifle in a stance that would indicate he is ready to fire. On his back there’s the circular gas mask container. Behind him there’s an individual whose importance is not so much that of how he is fighting but in how he is dressed. On the left lapel of his jacket we can see the ‘runic’ representation of the SS symbol, the letters being constructed with straight lines. This soldier also is a bearer of the Iron Cross, which would almost certainly make him an NCO if not an officer.

After them there’s nothing left of the Nazi fighting force. On the right hand edge there’s a field gun which looks like it might have lost is caterpillar track, but I’m not totally sure here. Next there’s a machine gunner who is obviously dead as he is slumped over his weapon, his left arm hanging loose as he rests his chin on the gun. There’s the Nazi Party eagle and swastika symbol on his rolled up sleeve. This weapon is again the Mauser MG34, bullets are ready to go through the chamber but there’s no one to pull the trigger. Three empty shell casings lie on the ground beneath the gun.

Drashovice Arch - Fate of the Nazis

Drashovice Arch – Fate of the Nazis

Behind him is another fallen Nazi. He has his back to us, crumpled into the bottom corner of the panel, his rifle muzzle pointing away from battle. At the feet of the attacking Partisans another German lies on the ground, his arms are covering his head, whether to protect himself from the onslaught or indicating his death is not clear. Finally, in the gap above this prone body are further weapons, including a field gun, that is no longer involved in the battle.

And that’s it.

In an earlier post I described this as the ‘War and Peace’ of Albanian lapidars, perhaps it would be better to describe it as a complex graphic novel. There’s lots going on and the symbolism is stronger here than on many other monuments in the country. A truly masterful piece of work!

The other two sides of the arch are, in a sense, mirror images of the similar locations for the 1920 battle. That was simply for independence, the battle of 1943 was under the leadership of the Communist Party and for that reason, on the south-facing panel, the central motif is of a large star. Peeking out behind the star, at the top left, are the weapons that were used by the partisans in the battle. Gone are the agricultural tools of 1920, replaced with modern (and sometimes not so modern) firearms.

Just above, and to the right of the star are the words:

E tunde, parti, e tunde, me djema e vajza si nure.

Translated this is:

You’ve done great, the Party has done great things, with the amazing boys and girls

And as with the flag of 1920, the right hand star disappears into the stone and we read the words:

Moj Mavrovë e Drashovicë, ç’hata bëre atë ditë, me topa me alitrik, e bëre natëne ditë.

Moj Mavrova of Drashovicë, what great things you did that day, fearlessly, both night and day.

(I’ve not been able to find out anything about Moj Mavrovë, apart from the fact that Mavrovë is a small village just a little further up the valley.)

And below those words:

Hysni Kapua si petrit, përmbi tela ç’u vërvit, gjermanët në gjuh u flit, dorëzohu mor jezit.

The young Hysni Kapo, with iron determination, withstood all that the Germans could throw at him, until they surrendered.

Hysni Kapo was a long-standing member of the Politburo. He died in 1979.

The final panel, at the back of the monument, follows exactly the same pattern as that for 1920.

A huge hand tightly grips a rifle near to the top of the barrel. The wrist morphs into the number 1943, in a large font. To the left of the year is the date: 14 shtator 4 tetor, stating that the battle took place between September 14th and October 4th of that year. This date is followed by a small star (any such comparable symbol missing from the 1920 panel).

Then there are the words:

Lufta heroike e Drashovicës që zhvilloi populli i rrethit të Vlorës nën udhëheqjen e shokut Hysni Kapo kundër pushtuesve gjermanë përbën një ndër betejat më të lavdishme të Luftës Nacionalçlirimtare.

Which translates as:

The heroic battle of Drashovice that the people of Vlora district, under the leadership of Comrade Hysni Kapo, fought against the German occupiers is amongst the most glorious battles of the National Liberation War.

And that’s the story of the Drashovice monument.

As this is such a complex and detailed lapidar I intend to describe its complexity over the course of three posts. This is the third of the three. The others can be found under the name of ‘Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue‘ and ‘Arch of Drashovice 1920‘.

Getting there:

I’ve found the best place to pick up a furgon that goes along the Shushicë Valley is by waiting beside the road in the square opposite the Vlora Baskia on Rruga Perlat Rexhepi (the Historical Museum is at the Vlora end of this road). Other furgons leave from this point but you want a furgon that comes the centre of town. Just flag down any one that comes from that direction (possibly going to Mavrovë or Kotë) and ask for Drashovice.

GPS:

40.44681902

19.58655104

DMS:

40° 26′ 48.5485” N

19° 35′ 11.5837” E

Altitude:

64.2m

Arch of Drashovice 1920

Drashovice Arch 1920

Drashovice Arch 1920

The magnificent Arch of Drashovice is such an amazing structure with so much to tell us that I’m breaking the description up into three parts. This is the second and addresses the images relating to the battle in 1920 against the Italian invaders, a battle (and war) fought by an irregular army of peasants, workers and intellectuals against a heavily armed imperialist force.

I plan to describe the sculpture by starting from the panel underneath the arch and working clockwise to pick up the huge amount of activity and symbolism that’s before us. The two parts of the arch represent two distinctive events but there are some motifs that occur on both sides, another device (the bronze statue being the first) by Dhrami to show the similarities of the battles. There are also images that I have described before on other lapidars, signature images, if you like, of many of the sculptures in this intense period of memorial construction.

First we see just the head of an Albanian male, wearing a qeleshe (hat). He is looking towards the back of the arch, the direction away from all the action. But he’s still part of that action as he has his hand up to prevent the wind taking away his voice as his wide open mouth indicates he is calling for others to come and join the fight. This is a common image, seen before, for example, on the Peze War Memorial.

Almost hidden by his face and hand is an unidentified person and then we have a group of four weapons. First there’s a two-pronged pitch fork, then a scythe, next a hatchet and finally a forearm holding a rifle aloft. This is the arm of the male calling back to others. He wants others to join but he is also in the act of going forward. Partisan, guerrilla wars don’t have the force of a state behind them. There’s no quartermaster able to call upon limited resources. It’s no use them complaining to the government if they think they have been ill-equipped to deal with the enemy – as have soldiers from Britain and the USA in their illegal invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan (and will do in whatever country is next on the list).

No, a partisan fights with whatever is at hand. If they ‘want’ a gun, or some other sophisticated weapon, then they have to take it off the enemy. The choice of agricultural implements also shows that this was a battle fought mainly by peasants and the people from the countryside. Their depiction also indicates that this could have been a battle fought in close proximity, where no quarter was asked or given and was likely to have been a desperate and bloody affair.

Below the weapons is the full body depiction of a woman, wearing the kapica head covering and a long peasant dress of the period. On her feet are sturdy sandals. Her left hand is supporting the crumpled body of a male fighter, who has obviously just been shot and on the point of death, with his eyes closed. He is unshod, footwear giving an idea of the social position of the actors in these dramas, and is wearing the clothing of a peasant, with no military aspects whatsoever, as if he had just come from the village to the battle. His right hand is holding on to the rifle strap and his left just touching the wooden butt of the rifle. The reason he hasn’t dropped his weapon is that the woman has a tight hold of the barrel in her right hand. What is interesting about her stance is that she is not looking at the dying man but looking to where the fighting is taking place, a look of determination on her face. She will take care of the wounded if she can (although he looks like it’s the end for him) but she is also a fighter ready to take up the weapons of the fallen. This looks like the same type of rifle, a Carcano M1891, that the figure in the bronze statue is holding. Just below her left foot is the name ‘M Dhrami’ and the date ‘1980’. (Not all the lapidars have the name of the sculptor/s but it’s worth looking nonetheless.)

Drashovice Arch - Dhrami 1980

Drashovice Arch – Dhrami 1980

In front of her are a group of people either already fighting or joining the battle. Close to her, and with the dying man almost falling on him, is a male fighter, kneeling. He is bare-headed and has his rifle up to his shoulder, already firing. His dress is more military in style than the dying man, with more elements of a uniform. He has an ammunition belt around his waist and a pouch hanging across his back. On his feet are sandals and he wears gaiters over his shins.

Above him and at the same level as the woman are three males. They are not yet involved in the battle but there is a sense of movement in their stance as they rush to the front. Again they look like a mix of soldiers and volunteers. The male we see most of has straps across his chest and is holding his rifle with his left hand with the top part of the barrel pressed against his shoulder. On his head is a qeleshe. Of the other two one is also wearing a qeleshe but the other is bare-headed, and again looking more like a civilian. The one with the hat also has a bushy moustache, something which is quite prominent in images of males of the 19th and early 20th centuries. We don’t know if they are armed or not but they are going anyway. This presentation of individuals in groups of three is quite common in Dhrami’s work (something I will look at in more detail in the future).

Finally, on this inside panel, and further up, are two other fighters, a male and female. She is dressed in exactly the same way as the first woman, although we only see her head and shoulders. Her rifle is up to her shoulder and she is aiming along the barrel. We can only see the head and shoulders of the male above her but he is wearing a qeleshe and what looks like a sheepskin coat – it can get cold in the mountains. He’s holding a rifle but it is not yet in action.

I haven’t come across actual statistics but already, on this first part of the telling of the 1920 battle, we get the indication that women were involved in the actual fighting against the invaders. About 16% of the partisans in the 1940s were women but their active involvement probably goes back to the early days of the 20th century, the most famous and often referred to being Shota Galica. She wasn’t at Drashovice as she was fighting further north at the time.

Shota Galica with her husband Azem

Shota Galica with her husband Azem

Stylistically we can see that the story starts low and moves further up the stone as it unfolds clockwise. This means that the main panel, the one facing the road and the village itself, is a hive of activity, images covering more than 50% of that part of the arch.

Dhrami uses a few clever devices to move the action through a 90 degree plane; the flowing cape of the partisan destroying the cannon; the broken cannon itself; and the shoulder of one of the fighters which appears just above the cape. This has the effect of making the scene appear to be as one, with the first group seeming to be slightly behind, but still part of, the main action.

Perhaps the most striking figure on this main panel is the fighter with the cape. In that figure we have a number of symbolic references. Albania is normally depicted as female, as in Mother Albania, the statue that guards over the (now desecrated) Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana. Here the country is depicted as male.

The cape is attached to his body via four straps which are held together with a clasp in the middle of his chest. On this clasp is the double-headed eagle and by adding this symbol the cape then becomes a flag, which all those who are not yet in the battle are running towards. It spreads out behind him, a clarion call to all patriots. He’s a big and strong man, though not necessarily young, sporting both a beard and a moustache. He’s wearing a qeleshe on his head, he is a peasant, the rock on which 1920s Albania was built.

And he’s doing the impossible, pulling apart a mountain cannon with his bare hands. His right hand is gripping the opening of the muzzle and his left on the outside of the barrel to break the cannon itself from its fixing. His success in achieving the impossible is the broken fixing and wheel in front of the kneeling fighter already described. Also broken away is the flash guard. He’s doing all this bare-foot and although we cannot see the left foot we can assume he is using that to press down on the gun and get more purchase. His bare right foot is crushing the crown of the coat of arms of the Italian monarchy, breaking it away from the shield of Savoy (which was a white (Greek) cross on a red background).

So here we have ‘Father Albania’ destroying, with his bare hands, the military might of the Italian Army and in the process seriously damaging the power of the Italian Monarchy and breaking any hold it might have over Albania. (The fact that the self-proclaimed ‘king’ and despot, Zogu, was to sell out his country to the Italian Fascists before the decade was out is neither here nor there. Such cowards and opportunists are always with us and it was only in 1944 that Albania was able to achieve the real independence that so many had been struggling to achieve for centuries. The fact that the present day rulers of the country have thrown away that success should also not come as surprise. Sycophants, country-sellers and forelock-tuggers are always queueing up to fight over the crumbs from imperialism’s table.)

A further possible reference here is to the guerrilla fighter of the time of the wars against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, Mic Sokoli. He went down in legend as dying by pressing his own body against the Turkish cannon at the battle of Silvova in April 1881 (a deed for which he was later awarded the title ‘hero of the People’).

Mic Sokoli - Sali Shijaku - 1976

Mic Sokoli – Sali Shijaku – 1976

Now things really start to get busy with a lot of activity as the battle heats up with more Albanian patriots arriving to crush the Italian invaders. Behind the gun destroying hero are three faces, two over his left and one over his right shoulder. One is armed with a scythe whilst we can see the ends of two gun barrels. They are not yet fighting but are on their way, determination etched on their faces.

Going further up we see the upper torso and arms of a single peasant fighter. He has a large hatchet in both hands but whilst his stance is one of attack he is looking back over his shoulder, both leading by example and calling for others to join the fight – we can see his mouth is open. Once you have the tactical advantage in any battle lack of commitment can lead to victory morphing into defeat.

Further upwards still and moving into the centre of the facade there is a group of three males. Due to their scale, stance and position these would seem to be a command group. The very nature of the countryside means that this group would likely to have been in the hills, looking down on the fighting and getting an overall picture of the situation. Whilst most of the individuals in the 1920 story are dressed in the clothing of the countryside the male on the right is dressed in town clothes, perhaps representing the small working class or the pro-independence, intellectual element within the country. He is clean-shaven and bare-headed whilst his two companions are moustachioed and wear qylafës (woollen hats). His left arm is bent and his hand clasps the lapel of his jacket. In his right hand he holds the top of the barrel of a rifle, the butt resting on the ground. He is not looking at the action but to some location in the distance, down the valley. Around his waist he wears ammunition pouches so is ready to fight but not doing so at the moment.

The man behind him is wearing the traditional countryside type of clothing and his right hand is on a shoulder strap of something we cannot see. The third of the group is not armed, as far as we can see, as he is the standard-bearer, the flag with the double-headed eagle fluttering above the three of them. These last two are also not looking at the battle below, more they are looking at the viewer.

Now almost at the top of the action on this part of the monument is a group of four males, all dressed in traditional clothing of the countryside. The male on the extreme right is in full figure and is clean-shaven. We can see he is wearing a fustanella, together with the tsarouhi style shoes, hobnailed and with the ball of sheepskin at the toe (which is also depicted on the Education Monument in Gjirokaster) and a qylafë on his head. There’s an ammunition belt across his chest and his cloak flutters out to his left. He seems to be climbing up hill but is looking up into the sky. He holds a rifle by the trigger mechanism in his right hand and his left hand is clenched, in anger, determination or victory, the 1920 version of the high five? We’ll see why that might be the case in a short while.

Behind him is another male wearing a sheepskin xhakete. He’s bare-headed and sports a moustache. His right hand is gripping the straps across his chest and in his left hand he holds out his rifle in triumph.

The other two males in this group are close together and are situated just above the fluttering national flag of the standard-bearer. Both have their rifles up to their shoulders and are firing downwards. This is almost always the case on Albanian lapidars. The country is mountainous and throughout history the partisans and guerrillas have used that to their advantage and this firing downwards is symbolic of that way of fighting. It also represents the moral and political high ground.

As we come back down along the left hand edge of the panel we see why the two fighters on the right hand side were so triumphant. Here we see a fighter biplane but it’s not attacking it’s falling from the sky, a plume of smoke following it as it crashes. The cross of Savoy is on the tail fin. This has just been shot out of the sky by the marksmen in the mountains. It’s difficult to identify exactly what make of aircraft but it was probably something left over from the First World War as there didn’t seem to be much development of military aircraft in the country until Mussolini came to power in 1922.

Drashovice Arch - Italian Biplane

Drashovice Arch – Italian Biplane

As the biplane falls to destruction in the background the next group on this left hand side is a group of five males, all with rifles to their shoulders and firing in the same direction. They are on the same level as the command group but as we come back down the panel the fighting gets more intense, more fierce and more hand to hand. If this is an accurate description of what actually happened during those days in 1920 then it was something that repeated the close quarters fighting of the trenches during the 1914-18 war. As has now become a pattern these five men represent the various areas of the country and class background already seen, with traditional clothing to something more akin to an early 20th century military uniform.

Moving again to the centre there’s the image of a peasant woman. She’s wearing the kapica headdress (seen earlier) and over her dress a sheepskin jacket. Her left hand is resting on her chest and her right hand grips the barrel of a rifle. She’s looking down the valley and has a concerned look on her face. I’m not really sure what she is doing or represents. She’s the only woman on this panel which shows the battle in full swing but she’s not actually doing anything. She’s looking towards the images of the 1943 battle but I don’t know if that’s significant.

Below her we are right in the front line. Here we have four males involved in hand to hand combat but they are all doing so in a different way. On the far left hand side the partisan is pulling apart the Italian barricade with his bare hands. Whilst he holds his rifle by the barrel in his left hand he places his sheepskin jacket over the barbed wire and wooden crosses so as to be able to get over and take the battle to the enemy. Along this protective barrier we can make out the barbed wire that was used to make the barrier that more difficult to breach – but it doesn’t seem to be that effective. He’s wearing the typical peasant shirt, with wide sleeves and the woollen hat.

Next to him, on his left, is a somewhat unusual image of a male fighter. In his right hand he holds a meat cleaver but even though he’s right in the middle of the action and so meagrely armed he’s looking to his back as if looking for more support. He’s dressed as if from the town and perhaps wondering what brought him to such a situation.

To his left is the only Albanian with a modern weapon in this dangerous part of the action. Here a peasant has his rifle in a position to fire, the enemy being literally only a few feet away. Around his waist he has spare ammunition, if he survives such close combat. The last of this group of four is also a peasant in traditional country dress but he only has a wooden, three-pronged pitchfork as a weapon – although he appears to be using it in a very effective manner, it is raised high and he’s about to bring it down on the enemy with all his strength. One of these last two is wearing sandals, the other the opinga shoes.

This part of the tableau shows the very moment of the Albanians breaking through the Italian defences as beneath their feet we can make out the broken wood, with the pieces of barbed wire attached.

We have already seen that everything that could be used as a weapon had been brought into play and this only goes to demonstrate the nature of the war – a people’s war against the invader, whatever might be the cost to individuals.

These are the last of the Albanians on this part of the sculpture.

The remaining characters are seven of the Italians. Their stance, body language is the complete reverse to that of the Albanians. The Albanians are on the attack, they are confident, they are sure of themselves, however badly armed they might be. They know they are going to win as they are defending their own land whilst the invader is merely a paid soldier doing the bidding of a misguided monarch.

So all the Italian soldiers are falling back, they look weak, they look on the brink of defeat. They have nothing further to bring to the battle. Their superiority in military technology has shown itself to be ineffective, the artillery is shown as being broken up and the air power is crashing to the ground.

These soldiers are from the Bersaglieri corps, recognisable by the capercaillie feathers on their helmets. (This is the corps of the Italian army whose ‘fanfara’ (band) play on the run, an image you might have seen at some time in the past.) This is not their finest hour.

Of two of them we can only see the helmets, both bowed either in submission or to protect themselves from the meat cleaver that’s only a matter of inches away. Two are still firing but looking desparate as the Albanians break through their lines. A bearded officer has fallen back and is sitting on his haunches. He still has a rifle in his right hand but he’s not attempting to use it to try to prevent the onslaught of the enemy. Immediately to his left a soldier has both hands in the air, in the act of surrender, and to the officer’s back there’s slumped and lifeless body of a dead or wounded Italian.

An interesting novelty can be seen between the heads of the two bowed helmets and the two still fighting. Here there’s an entrenching shovel pointing upwards. These were used as auxiliary weapons when it came to close combat and would seem to demonstrate how desperate the battle was for all concerned, grab anything for protection or assault. Just behind that tool it’s possible to make out the muzzle and barrel tripod of a light machine gun, now no longer effective or in use.

This whole battle scene encompasses the war, the many battles and the final victory of the Albanians over the Italian invaders, who were soon to leave from the near-by port of Vlora for the trip back home.

Although I can’t say for sure research has led me to believe that (based on their areas of activity) the Albanian Commander was Sali Vranisht, in command of forces from Lumi i Vlores, and the commander of the Italian forces a Major Guadalupi.

Background to the war.

Here it’s perhaps worth while mentioning that the defeat of the Italians in their effort to divide and dismember Albania in 1920 wasn’t just the defeat of that nation but of the overall plans of western imperialism and it designs on the Balkans. It’s no accident that the Italian invasion took place almost exactly a year after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended hostilities between Germany and the Western European powers, and was where the so-called ‘western powers’ sought to divide the spoils of the defeated enemy, especially the Ottoman Empire.

Conflicts between the western imperialist powers and Russia had meant that the Balkans were an area of concern, conflict and intervention for most of the second half of the 19th century and those interests were revived after the carnage of the First World War. The 1917 October Revolution in Russia added another dimension to this long-held policy of limiting and squeezing, now a proletarian led, Russia. Although through the battle of Drashovice (amongst others during the short war) western imperialist interests were set back that didn’t mean that those aims were forgotten. Within a year of the ending of the Second World War the British used military might in an attempt to intimidate the new People’s republic of Albania.

Yet more vandalism?

When I had the opportunity to visit this magnificent example of socialist realist art for the first time in May 2015 I left pleased that I had visited a lapidar that had survived without any significant damage due to vandalism, whether officially sanctioned or not. Yes, there was a little bit of paint graffiti but that seemed the work of bored children with a pot of paint. It wasn’t till I started to really look at the pictures closely I realised something was amiss.

This is a remarkably symmetrical piece of work. Dhrami is constantly drawing parallels between the two events that were separated by those 23 years. This will become clearer when I describe the images of the battle against the Nazis in 1943. Symmetry is everywhere: the location of the images that tell the two stories; the location of the slogans; the location of the symbols; the positioning of the players or incidents that Dhrami is depicting; down to the height of the carvings in the stone. One side is a mirror image of the other, only the weapons and the clothing are different.

It is the height difference that shows that something has been changed. When, why, by whom or why I presently have no idea. What makes this vandalism even more confusing is that it has been perpetrated on the 1920 side of the arch. It’s normally the Communist emblems and symbols that have been attacked by mindless fascists but here it has something to do with a pre-Communist period.

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

If you look at the whole arch you will notice that the images on the right hand side go up a metre or two higher than they do on the left. One of the aspects of this piece of work that is noticeable is the way Dhrami merges the images in the story he wants to tell. Figures overlap, we rarely see full figures as another story needs the space. However, a closer look at the top of the carvings of the 1920 story show something different.

Drashovice Arch - the missing images - Mumtaz Dhrami

Drashovice Arch – the missing images – Mumtaz Dhrami

The merging of the images seems to stop with the four males fighters, and the very top of the design is the celebratory raised gun after the shooting down of the biplane. But there’s something further up. Am I the only one to make out a head, almost at the centre, with possibly something like a gun barrel pointing downwards? To me it appears as if a small group has been erased. If you were to draw a horizontal line across the void under the arch the top of this group would be at exactly the same height as the top of the highest group on the right hand side. I’ve searched but the only picture I’ve been able to see that was taken before 1990 of this arch is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to see what (if, indeed, anything) was there.

The carvings are on these two sides of the four of the arch but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing on the other two.

Carrying on in a clockwise direction, the next panel, north facing, tells the story, that we have already seen in pictures, in words together with symbols that had meaning at the time, that is 1920.

Quite high up the Albanian two-headed eagle seems to emerge from the stone. This is cleverly done as we know exactly what it is without the whole creature being shown. Whereas the left side of is in relief text takes the place of the feathers on the right.

The text reads:

Evropa shkruajnë e thonë, ç’është kështi si dëgjojmë, bënet dyfek në Vlorë, shqipëtarët po lëftojnë, me një mbret dyzet milione. Po me se lëftojnë vallë, me sëpata me hanxharë, dyfeqet lidhur me gjalmë, fishekët në xhep i mbajnë, në tri ditë bukë hanë.

(This is written in Tosk Albanian, so slightly different from what you’ll find in most dictionaries.)

This translates to:

Europe will write and talk about, with rifle fire being heard in Vlora, the struggle of the Albanians against a king of a population of forty million. How they fought with axes, scythes and rifles, held together with string, keeping their bullets back and not eating bread for three days.

The reference to ‘forty million’ is significant if you remember that even during the National Liberation War of 1939-1944 the population of Albania was still less than one million. Although the road to Vlora, even today, takes about 45 minutes the city is only a few kilometres as the crow flies – the problem is the mountain range in the way. It’s very likely that inhabitants of the coastal town would have heard the sounds of gunfire reverberating in the Shushicë valley.

Poking up, just behind the head of the eagle on the right side are the tops of the weapons used in 1920, that is, an axe, a scythe and an old rifle.

Finally, on the last face, a huge left hand is tightly gripping a rifle close to the muzzle. The forearm disappears and becomes the number 1920, in large numerals. To the left are the dates between which the battle was fought:

5 qershor 3 shtator – 5th June 3rd September

This is followed by the words:

Lufta e Vlorës në vitin 1920 është një epope e shkëlqyer e fshatarësisë patriotike të Vlorës e Kurveleshit, Tepelenës e Mallakastrës e të gjithë popullit shqiptar që hodhën në det pushtuesit italianë.

Which translates as:

The Vlora War of 1920 is a remarkable epic of the patriotic Albanian peasantry from Kurveleshi, Vlora, Mallakastra, and Tepelenë who drove the Italian invaders into the sea.

As this is such a complex and detailed lapidar I intend to describe its complexity over the course of three posts. This is the second of the three. The others can be found under the name of ‘Arch of Drashovice – Introduction and Statue‘ and ‘Arch of Drashovice 1943‘.

Getting there:

I’ve found the best place to pick up a furgon that goes along the Shushicë Valley is by waiting beside the road in the square opposite the Vlora Baskia on Rruga Perlat Rexhepi (the Historical Museum is at the Vlora end of this road). Other furgons leave from this point but you want a furgon that comes the centre of town. Just flag down any one that comes from that direction (possibly going to Mavrovë or Kotë) and ask for Drashovice.

GPS:

40.44681902

19.58655104

DMS:

40° 26′ 48.5485” N

19° 35′ 11.5837” E

Altitude:

64.2m