Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini

Vojo Kushi - 1969 - Sali Shijaku

Vojo Kushi – 1969 – Sali Shijaku

More on Albania …..

Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini

The representation of the last military action of Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini in Albanian Socialist realism is an interesting one as it has been depicted in a number of formats so offers a (possibly) unique opportunity to compare how the event has been presented to the Albanian people, history and posterity. Although the sacrifice of the three is commemorated it is Vojo Kushi who is in the forefront of these representations, his last action of storming an Italian tank being an act of bravery that has transcended even the counter-revolution of the 1990s.

The Actors

Vojo Kushi 1918-1942

Vojo Kushi

Vojo Kushi

There’s also much more information available about Vojo. He was born in Vrakë, near Shkodër on August 3rd 1918 from a Serbian minority which was suppressed under ‘King’ Zog, one aspect of whose rule was to ban names with Serbian suffixes. At that time there was no unified Albanian Communist Party and it was in Shkodër where the first Communist revolutionary organisation was established. However, all Communist Parties go through difficult struggles before (and after formation) and it wasn’t until November 8th 1941 that the Communist Party of Albania (later to become the Party of Labour of Albania) was formed in Tirana. Vojo was chosen as a member of the regional committee and also appointed as commander of the local guerilla unit. Apart from other activities he was tasked with the discovery and elimination of traitors and collaborators.

Sadik Stavaleci 1918-1942

Sadik Stavaleci

Sadik Stavaleci

All I know about Sadik was that he was born in Kosove (considered then and now as part of Albania) and obviously seemed to have joined the partisan/guerrilla movement soon after the Italian invader had entered the country.

Xhorxhi Martini 1921-1942

Xhoxhi Martini

Xhoxhi Martini

There’s not a lot more I’ve been able to discover about Xhorxhi. He was from Tirana and the youngest of the three People’s Heroes to have died on that day.

The Action

On October 10th, 1942, due to either a mistake on their part or more likely due to the activity of collaborators, spies and traitors (always to be found ready to creep out from under the rocks in any struggle for national liberation) the three found themselves surrounded in the Red Hills district of Tirana. After a 6 hour battle, during which time they were facing up to six Italian tanks, running out of ammunition and wounded, it was at this time, knowing they had nothing to lose, that Vojo Kushi carried out his suicidal attack. Running out of the building he shot a number of soldiers before he jumped up on to the turret of a tank and attempted to throw a grenade into the hatch he was trying to open. So exposed he didn’t last long out in the open.

The Bust

Vojo Kushi - Odhise Paskali

Vojo Kushi – Odhise Paskali

The first piece of art to commemorate the event was put on show to the public in 1949 and is a bust of Vojo Kushi by the sculptor Odhise Paskali (whose other public works include ‘Shoket – Comrades’ at the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Permet). Whether it is in its original location or not I can’t say for sure but it has obviously been kept well and has had a recent coating of gold paint. It also sits on a new pedestal with the words ‘Heroi i Popullit, Vojo Kushi, Tarzani, 1918-1942’ on the plaque. This translates as ‘People’s Hero, Vojo Kushi, Tarzan, 1918-1942’.

This is a classic bust of the time, a head and (cut off) shoulders view of a man in his early twenties. His head is held high, he’s confident and looks into the distance/future. What is very distinctive about Paskali’s representation, and I’m not sure where he picked it up, is the very pronounced quiff, that extends over his forehead like the peak of a cap. This is not particularly the image you would get from the two photos I’ve seen of Vojo but this style has been picked up by other artists, particularly the (unknown) sculptor of the bas-relief a few streets away.

If the bust is the original the plaque certainly is not. Placing the word ‘Tarzan’ in the description acts to take away the politics of the whole episode. There is an increasing move to ‘renovate’ lapidars and other monuments throughout Albania but in certain places there is a definite agenda of de-politicisation being followed. What this agenda seeks to demonstrate is that these individuals were patriots fighting for the liberation of the country from the foreign invader. The fact that during the National Liberation War the invader was the Fascist, first the Italian and then the German, is conveniently forgotten as, in the forefront of that struggle, was the Communist Partisan Army. In Albania today many don’t say ‘forget the war’ they say ‘forget who led the country to victory’. By putting that simple word ‘Tarzan’ on the statue they seek to infantilise, fictionalise and mythologise into insignificance the actions of those Communists who refused to surrender.

There’s a sense of irony in the present location of the statue. Vojo has his back to a Euro Lloto pop-up store. Here Albanians can gamble on an infinite variety of events in sporting fixtures, a quick way for most (the off the street punters) to become poor and an equally quick way for others (the shop owners, either in Albania or elsewhere) to get rich. Considering that in the 1990s many hundreds of thousands of Albanians were cheated out of their personal wealth and privatised land through criminal Pyramid Schemes its interesting that so many still see their future through touching the big one – such places are all over the country.

Vojo Kushi amongst the debris

Vojo Kushi amongst the debris

(In June 2019 I came across the image above on the Albanian Lapidar Survey tumblr blog. Don’t know exactly when it was taken but assume quite recently. What’s being demolished is a cheap and nasty betting shop come gambling den. There were a lot of them around a few years ago. Whether the demolition is due to a political decision or just one of new buildings wanting to take the space I don’t, as yet, know. What is certain is that it is unlikely to have any effect upon the Albanian desire to ‘get rich quick’. They haven’t learnt from the pyramid/Ponzi schemes that robbed so many ordinary Albanians of the little they had in the early 1990s.

When I last saw the bust it was in a good condition – but it looks slightly neglected in this picture. The bulldozer is evidently attempting to miss it but that doesn’t mean it never got damaged in this exercise. It should be valued as a work of art even by the present government and political establishment in Albania. The Peoples’ Heroes and Heroines are still, in the main, respected and this is also the work of one of Albania’s most renowned (internationally) sculptors – Odhise Paskali. I’ll try to remember to check its fate when next in Tirana.)


Rruga e Dibrës, just south of Sheshi Selvia





41° 19′ 58.0080” N

19° 49′ 21.7200” E



The Paintings

Vojo Kushi - Zef Shoshi

Vojo Kushi – Zef Shoshi

There are, at least, a couple of paintings of Vojo Kushi. One is a simple full length portrait by Zef Shoshi. I don’t know the exact date it was painted nor where it might be at the moment, I’ve never personally seen it on display. Here he is placed in an urban environment, presumably somewhere in Tirana. This is a simple, figurative painting, showing a young man, with a determined expression on his face, looking out of the picture, into the future. The impression of determination, and anger, is reinforced by his clenched fists, his arms hanging down at his side. In this painting he looks very different from the other representations of him in Tirana. Here art is used as a record of someone who died fighting for his country.

The other, more famous, on permanent display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana, is a different affair. This was painted by Sali Shijaku in 1969 and is a huge painting, measuring 200 x 300cm. It depicts a recognizable Vojo Kushi performing his final act of heroism for which he is well-known, that is, just about to throw a grenade into the hatch of an Italian tank (depicted at the top of the post).

Discussing this painting is where the understanding of Albanian Socialist Realism becomes more complex. The painting follows the conventions of political art: it represents an event that actually took place; the individual is recognizable; it serves to commemorate and celebrate an heroic act, a sacrifice, that occurred during the National Liberation War; it seeks to inspire the viewer (especially the young); it declares that the act was committed by a Communist; and it tells the history of the Albanian people.

But, and this is a big but, it is fantastical. Most of the painting is quite dark, a good half of the background and the tank itself (which is in the bottom foreground). There are white flashes in the background indicating either fire or smoke, giving the impression that this is in mid-battle.

It is when we get to Vojo himself that things become strange. For some reason he has lost his shirt and is bare from the waist up, apart from what looks like a cape, fluttering out behind his left shoulder. This cape is red and either represents the red flag of Communism or the Albanian Partisan flag (although it’s not possible to make out the black, double-headed eagle). This flag/cape isn’t attached to his body in any way, one corner just resting over his raised right arm.

His left hand grips the edge of the hatch lid, giving the impression he has just wrenched it open and in his raised right hand is a grenade, ready to throw it inside the tank. The image and what he is attempting is OK but why is he dressed in such a way? Not only is he bare-chested he is also bare-footed, his right foot on the barrel of the tank’s gun, his other foot out of sight as he straddles the turret. The other aspect that is strange is the lighting. A shaft of light comes from some unidentified source at the lower right of the painting, illuminating his upper torso and thus separating him from the dark background.

I think all these devices cause to separate Vojo from the ordinary man and woman. When you look at the picture you get the impression that he has flown there like some sort of superman (the red cape adding to the image of the character in the American Marvel comics). The lack of even a shirt or shoes indicates that nothing can harm him, that he is impervious to the bullets of the enemy. But he wasn’t. If this picture depicts anything at all it’s the last moments of a partisan willing to give his life for the cause of freedom from fascism. The way the light shines on his face is reminiscent of some Christian religious paintings and the cape, as it gives a backdrop to his head, resembles a halo (a common artistic device that Christian painters stole from the Roman Empire – amongst many other tropes).

As I’ve written before, until workers are able to freely develop a manner in which to represent themselves, free from the influences of the past, such an interpretation will always be possible.

However, it was obviously a favoured painting in the past, it being chosen to be one of the paintings that were depicted on Albanian postage stamps (although the reds are always much brighter in printed sources than the original).

Vojo Kushi - postage stamp

Vojo Kushi – postage stamp

The Monument

To the best of my knowledge the monument to the action on October 10th, 1942 is located close to where things actually happened, although building development in recent years has meant that it’s now slightly hidden away on a quiet street corner.

Vojo Kushi Lapidar

Vojo Kushi Lapidar

It’s a relatively small lapidar following a typical design. There’s a concrete base which has a column just over two metres tall on the right hand side. The concrete is covered with marble slabs – but these have fallen away in a few places. Half way up the lapidar is a marble plaque (which looks original) which bears the words:

Herojte e Popullit – meaning People’s Heroes

Vojo Kushi

Sadik Stavaleci

Xhorxhi Martini

Above the words there’s a star and this star, and the letters, are picked out in gold. There’s a little bit of vandalism on this plaque, a felt tip pen has been used to fill in the star and there’s a tiny figure of a man between the words Vojo and Kushi.

To the left of the column a bronze bas-relief is attached to a concrete panel. This is just over a metre high and just over two metres long. On it is depicted a version of the attack on the tank seen already in the painting by Shijaku.

However, the dynamism of the relief is different. Vojo is virtually sitting on the barrel of the tank’s gun which is pointing to the left. Vojo’s left hand is stretched out fully in front of him and is gripping the closed edge of the turret hatch. In his right hand, which is fully stretched out behind him, is a grenade. He is keeping his profile low, as it would have made sense in reality, offering a smaller target to the enemy.

There’s a repetition of the image in the Shijaku painting as although not completely bare-chested he is only wearing a ripped shirt, which is in tatters, but which also flutters out behind him, creating the image of a flag or a banner.

Although the face is in profile it’s quite recognizable from images of Vojo. However, things are slightly strange when we look at the very top of his head where it, and his hair, extend above the main body of the bas-relief over the top of the concrete. This produces a three-dimensional effect on that small part of the sculpture. This also includes a huge quiff, even more exaggerated than that on the Paskali bust on Rruga e Dibrës.

The sculpture is in a reasonable condition, not seeming to have suffered from any malicious vandalism but merely suffering from lack of care, as are many lapidars throughout the country.


Rruga Mahmut Fortuzi





41° 20′ 6.5040” N

19° 49′ 8.5439” E



More on Albania …..

Shoket – Comrades – Permet

Shoket - Comrades - Permet, Odhise Paskali

Shoket – Comrades – Permet

More on Albania …..

Shoket – Comrades – Permet

Shoket – Comrades – was one of the early sculptures to be placed in the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania, a simple monolith (lapidar) being the most common form of monument. It is the work of Odhise Paskali and was inaugurated in 1964, the same time as the monument to the Permet Congress was unveiled in the main square of the town.

The role of art in a Socialist society

The important role of art in the construction of a socialist society has been a matter for discussion since the first writers started to posit the idea that society doesn’t have to be one created for the benefit of a few parasites who decide what should be the fate of the overwhelming majority of the population. However, no real conclusion was arrived at because such a question could not be answered until the concrete conditions existed when a new departure in art could flourish. That only became a practical problem to overcome once the first workers and peasants state was established in the Soviet Union following the October Revolution of 1917.

When Lenin started to consider this matter from a position of the workers holding state power, even when the outcome of the Civil War was still uncertain, this was at a time when artistic ‘isms’ abounded, mostly from the ‘left’ but, in the main, the majority of them were transient. This huge melting pot had many causes: the increasing speed of technology; the anger and disillusionment caused by the meaningless slaughter of the 1914-18 war; the search for a meaning in life in an increasingly alienating world; the victory of the proletariat in Russia; the defeats in Hungary and Germany; and a general environment that things didn’t have to be as they always had been.

However forward thinking the revolutionary the political ideology of the revolutionaries, first in the Soviet Union, then in the People’s Republic of Albania and later the People’s Republic of China, all those involved had been brought up surrounded by an ideology (economic, political, social, religious, and cultural) that was the antithesis to what they saw as the path into the future. What made the finest of those revolutionaries ‘great’ – at all levels of the Party and society – was their ability to suppress those influences from the past and to create a new set of values for the construction of a society seeking to abolish classes and all that a class based societies entailed.

It took some years and not a little experimentation but eventually the form of propaganda to be used in public art was what is now called ‘socialist realism’. It is country specific as to be effective such artistic endeavours have to have a relationship with the history and culture of the different people’s who have attempted the construction of socialism.

As with all the other major Marxist-Leninist leaders Hoxha understood, and took on board the consequences of, the famous sentence of Karl Marx from the Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, of 1859.

‘It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness.’

Yes, the building of socialism had to mean the improvement of the material conditions of all the working population and that task began, initially, with the nationalisation of all the land and the means of production which later led to collectivisation and industrialisation of countries that were economically backward.

But for socialism to succeed and to move to a higher stage it was the thinking of the people which had to be changed. The ‘old order’ had encouraged and nurtured self-serving selfishness, individuality and a concern primarily for personal survival and enhancement and the aim was to change this mindset to one of considering the common good of all as paramount, working and thinking collectively and considering long terms goals, not only for themselves but for generations to come.

All previous social systems have had to address this issue yet it is only when peoples in different countries attempt to move away from class systems and build socialism (with communism being the ultimate goal) that this education and discussion within society is called ‘propaganda’, used in a pejorative sense. If we just take the last two thousand years of world history we have seen the rise (and fall) of slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. Can anyone really argue that capitalism, for example, could have established itself if a sizeable proportion of the population were thinking in the way of slave-owners or actual slaves. Of course not. Their thinking had to adapt as otherwise the ‘new’ social system would simply remain in a rut.

If people think that capitalism doesn’t also use public art as a weapon in its cultural battle to maintain its control of people’s minds then all you have to do is study the statues and monuments that are the products of their class war in the UK – but it’s the same in all other countries. On war memorials to those who died in the world wars of the twentieth century the phrase ‘died for King and Country’ is repeated constantly. This is carved in huge letters on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Statues to the monarchy are in every major town and city. Statues and memorials of individuals who played a role in the colonialist and imperialist expansion of Britain in the past can be found everywhere, as are statues of individual capitalists as well as those to politicians who ran and controlled the country for the benefit of feudalism and capitalism.

A society reinforces its control in many more ways, too many to go into here, but it might be worth citing a recent example in the UK. The newly elected leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was criticised for not singing the national anthem at yet another event to ‘commemorate’ a specific date in World War Two (these constant, never-ending commemorations are yet other examples of that constant cultural reinforcement of the capitalist state). So even an atheist Republican it is expected and obliged to play the game – is there a greater indication of a sycophantic and pusillanimous population than its general willingness to sing an anthem that contains the words ‘long to reign over us’?

I don’t want to labour the point. I just want to stress that ALL forms of society fight a battle to win the minds of the population, even more so in the early days. The nascent socialist societies were doing nothing different. What was different was that socialism was a society that sought to break completely with the past by doing away with oppression and exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. That meant that the mountain communists had to climb was much steeper and more difficult than had confronted those ‘progressives’ of the past. This was new ground and hence the difference in approach and also accounts for the hostility that capitalism has had to all such efforts – remembering that this attack on any of the achievements and products of a socialist society are all part of the continual class war.

But back to Albania.

From the very first days of the People’s Republic of Albania the Party placed the development of a new, socialist culture to the fore. The Albanian Film Institute was established in 1945 and this became the Kinostudio Shqipëria e Re (New Albania Film Studio). And throughout the period of socialism Albania produced probably more film footage per head of population than any country in the world. Literature, painting and sculpture were also encouraged as was an imaginative approach to folk-lore and folk culture through music and dance. However, monumental sculpture (or ‘monumental propaganda’ as Ramiz Alia described in an article published in 1968, reprinted in ALS Vol. 1) didn’t seem to play much of a role in the early cultural revolution carried through by the new socialist state.

Lapidars and monuments in Martyrs’ Cemeteries were being created but they were simple affairs and it seems there was a trend to construct higher and higher monoliths rather than create sculptures and images to which the people could relate. Interestingly, in the same article mentioned above, Alia commented on the lack of care in the maintenance of those structures that did exist.

In fact, prior to the mid-1960s there were few monumental sculptures in the country. The first that I can find in the records is the Monument to The Partisan, in the centre of Tirana, the work of Andrea Mano, which was inaugurated in 1949. (This is in no way a socialist realist statue. It’s the same sort of statue of a soldier that can be found anywhere. It is also not one of my favourite Albanian statues, he looks too angry, but in the wrong way. Compare this partisan to the one who stands atop the monument at the sea front in Durres.) The next monuments of note to be erected were ‘Shoket – Comrades’ and ‘Monument to the Permet Congress’, both in Permet and both the work of Odhise Paskali, and the ‘Monument to Agrarian Reform’, the work of Kristaq Rama, in Krutje e Sipërme, unveiled in 1966.

Monument to The Partisan, Tirana

Monument to The Partisan, Tirana

The decision to erect the two sculptures in Permet, on the 20th anniversary of the Congress of Permet, indicates that ideas were changing. Thinking in Albania of the role that the construction of ‘monumental propaganda’ could play in the promotion of the socialist ideal seems to have developed much more quickly after the decision was taken, also in 1964, to re-locate the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery and to place an iconic and inspirational sculpture in the new location, replacing the simple monolith that stood over the old cemetery in Tirana Park.

On 26th October 1965, in an intervention at the end of the 15th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania, Enver Hoxha stated:

‘The further revolutionization of the life in the country cannot be understood without the development and deepening of the ideological and cultural revolution.’

In a sense this could be considered to be the opening shots of what became recognised as Albania’s Cultural Revolution – with capital letters as this was a conscious and considered attempt to counter old ideas and promote the new, mirroring a similar decision in the People’s Republic of China. In both Albania and China this was prompted by the betrayal of the Soviet Party to the ideas of Marxism-Leninism and the revolution. Over a period of just under 20 years this was to lead to the construction of the many impressive lapidars that are found around the country to this day.

One of the reasons there weren’t that many monumental sculptors in the country prior to the late 1960s might be simply due to the fact that the socialist sculptors – meaning by that those artists who had grown up in a society constructing socialism and who had an idea of what the society was attempting to build – simply didn’t exist until that time. A look at the sculptors whose names can be associated with the socialist realist lapidars would seem to support such a proposition. If we just take the case of three of the finest (and most prolific) sculptors during the twenty year period (Kristaq Rama, Shaban Hadëri and Mumtaz Dhrami) they were all born in the late 20s or early 30s and were reaching their artistic maturity at just the right time. They were from a generation who knew what they were being asked to represent in the period of the Cultural Revolution.

(The fact that some of them turned their backs on the society that had given them an education, even to the extent of getting paid to vandalise some of their own work when the social system was different – as was the case of Agim Nebiu and his ‘modification’ of the Tirana Historical Museum Mosaic – is beside the point.)

One of the most prolific sculptors in the country prior to the war let alone prior to national liberation was Odhise Paskali. He produced works which are still to be seen today throughout the country. The earlier works include: The National Fighter in Korçe (1932); The Standard Bearer in Vlore (1932); Çerçiz Topulli in Gjirokaster, (1934); and The Kolonje Martyrs’ in Erseke, (1938) and the bust to Vojo Kushi (1949) in Tirana. However, these are all inspired by Albania’s nationalist struggle of the past.

Nonetheless, he did produce important works after liberation. Among these are: a bust of Vojo Kushi in Tirana (1949); Shoket – Comrades and The Partisan in Permet (both 1964); The Partisan Triumphant, the original now at Mauthausen, Austria – with a copy in the Armament Museum in Gjirokaster Castle (1968); The Two Heroines in Gjirokaster (1974); and the most recognisable to visitors to Tirana, the Statue of Skanderberg in the centre of the city (1968). However, these are all conventional, they are well done and some of them are very evocative, but he has not brought a lot new to the idea of public sculpture. The fact that he was honoured by the Albanian state for his contribution to the sculptural heritage of the country doesn’t change that at all.

Paskali’s work proves the case that even though works are commissioned and displayed during a period of socialism that doesn’t automatically make them examples of ‘socialist realist’ art. In the same way a piece of art produced before an era of socialism, depicting the struggle of the working class, doesn’t become ‘socialist realist’ after a revolution. This non-socialist realist status is also the fate of those works produced after the socialist state has ceased to be in existence. Perhaps the best term for those particular works would be ‘neo-socialist realist’. ‘Ersatz-socialist realist’ would be the best way to describe the stone bas-reliefs outside one of the private universities in the centre of Tirana, used in a cynical move to attain some after-the-fact credibility.

Socialist Realist art has a reason for its existence, other than art for art’s sake. It’s created for a specific purpose, under certain distinctive circumstances and has a special and unique relationship with the people for whom it was created. It commemorates goals already achieved (as in the victory over Fascism and national Liberation), landmarks in the development of the new society (as in the Monument to Agrarian Reform in Krutja) or a declaration of intent (as in ‘Our Land’ in the centre of Lushnje).

Monument to Agrarian Reform - Krutje

Monument to Agrarian Reform – Krutje

Now we come to ‘Shoket – Comrades’ in Permet Martyrs’ Cemetery.

It’s almost impossible to think that such a monument would have been installed three years later, when the atheist campaign began. The reason it wasn’t removed as part of that campaign, which effectively was in existence until 1990, is a sign of the respect that the Albanian state had for works of art produced during the socialist period which were created to commemorate those who had died in the fight for national liberation – whatever its imagery might imply.

To all intents and purposes it’s a religious piece of art. It’s the type of monument you’re more likely to see in a capitalist country where Christianity is nominally the state religion. It’s an image that abounds in many Catholic churches, on canvas, in marble or in stained glass windows. But you won’t find such an image, created in the socialist period, anywhere else in Albania. It’s atypical of Albanian lapidars, it’s unique in its imagery. And that’s important to remember.

However, being created in Socialist Albania it’s not just a copy of earlier religious images. There are three figures in this sculpture. A seriously injured fighter is on the ground and has his upper body supported by a male comrade. (The title of this sculpture is sometimes translated as ‘Friends’ but that’s totally inaccurate when dealing with Communist Partisans and the correct translation is ‘Comrades’.) The injured partisan’s shoulder rests against the thigh of his comrade, who is kneeling behind him, and his head is being support by the left hand of his helper.

The injured partisan has lost his cap and his shirt is open at the front. They are all in the uniform of the National Liberation Army and we know he is a fighter as there is an ammunition belt around his waist. The male helper is in full uniform, with a star on his cap and has a pistol in a holster attached to his belt on the left hand side. He is bent over and is looking down, sympathetically, onto the face of his fallen comrade, whose eyes are closed. It looks very much as if he is in his death throes. What makes this very different from the Christian myth of the pieta (the name given to those depictions of the moments after Christ had been taken from the cross after his death and he is being mourned by his mother and, sometimes, the Magdalen) is the presence of the rifle that is on the ground between the fallen soldier and his comrade, the top of the barrel of which is just sticking out between the two.

The other figure is a female partisan. She is also in uniform, wearing a cap with a star at the front but there’s nothing to indicate she’s armed. (I’m not aware if there was a specifically devoted corps of medics in the Albanian partisan army.) She holds the right hand of the fallen partisan in her own right and seems to be looking for a pulse with her left. However the composition seems to indicate that this is futile, that they are too late to be able to help him. The injured’s left arm rests on the ground with the hand loosely open as if all life has gone out of the body. Also the right hand of the male partisan hovers over the hands of the dead, or dying soldier, and the female fighter. This seems to be him about to say that there’s no point in checking his pulse, it’s already too late.

Shoket - Permet - Hands

Shoket – Permet – Hands

There’s a very tranquil feeling emanating from this scenario. It’s a sad picture. As hard as they try they can achieve nothing. Death is final. Something precious has been lost.

But this is a pessimistic approach to death in war, the capitalist approach. This is the impression we get from the memorials that abound throughout Europe to those who died in the war of 1914-1919 – those who died in previous conflicts seemingly not worthy of remembrance in such a widespread manner.

Capitalism convinces workers to fight and possibly die for reasons that don’t benefit those same workers. This has been the case since capitalism became the dominant political and economic system a few centuries ago – the war against Fascism between 1939 and 1945 being, conceivably, the only exception. However, capitalism cannot celebrate the deaths that are a consequence of their predatory wars. It’s best if these deaths are mourned, quietly. There are annual services of remembrance but these always separate the actual deaths from the reason why they were placed in such a situation in the first place.

To celebrate those deaths might make people wonder what they actually got out of the war. To celebrate the defeat of Fascism might make people think that instead of fighting against something they should fight for something, a change in the system, a new tomorrow.

On the other hand the impression from the overwhelming majority of Albanian lapidars, and socialist realist art in general, is one of defiance, displaying a positive, optimistic, forward-looking and triumphant approach. They celebrate the deaths in the National Liberation War as those men and women fought for a future, for a new society.

In Volume 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey report there’s an article by a psuedo-academic called Gëzim Qëndro. In this article he attacks and attempts to denigrate ALL the production of Socialist Realist art (or at least ‘monumental propaganda’) as being the victory of Christian thinking over a proclaimed atheist state. In this article he displays a total lack of understanding of Albanian history, is unable to see any aspect of development in public sculpture from the 1960s onwards and certainly has no understanding of the aims of the country’s Cultural Revolution.

This makes the last sentence in Qëndro’s article, ‘ … the monument Shokët is a clear testimony of the presence of the religious connotations in the atheist art of Albanian socialist realism,’ a totally erroneous and ignorant reading and understanding of Albanian lapidars, their reasons for existence and the story they are attempting to convey.

Like so many bad academics Qëndro chooses his thesis and then looks for ‘facts’ to back it up, relying on most people’s lack of desire or ability to check matters for themselves.

Behind the sculpture there’s a concrete panel to which is attached a monolith (lapidar) that is positioned so that it rises exactly from the middle of the group of three. At my visit the panel was a somewhat sickly pinkish colour and the lapidar yellow. On the right hand side of the panel are the words ‘Lavdi Deshmoreve’, meaning ‘Glory to the Martyrs’.

The only other marking on this panel are the dates 1939 and 1945. This is slightly confusing. On WWII monuments throughout Europe the end date is normally the one where the war was considered to have ended in that particular country. I’ve always worked on the basis that in Albania that was the end of November 1944 so the year 1945 being on this monument is a mystery to me. It has nothing to do with treaties (the reason why some memorials for WWI in the UK show the date 1919 as the end of the conflict) as Albania was not invited to conferences where the likes of reparations were discussed and decided upon.

The sculpture has been ‘cared’ for over the years. Unfortunately this seems to be the sort of care that has more good intentions than actual skill in preservation. Whitewashing of the plaster is gradually causing some of the detail to be lost. However, considering it is now just over 50 years old the statue still allows the viewer to get an understanding of Paskali’s intentions.

As is the case with most of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries a small building was dedicated as a museum of the area, any battles that might have taken place in the vicinity and also a remembrance of the local people who died in the war. The one in Permet seems to be still acting as such (many are either totally abandoned or empty shells of what they used to be). Unfortunately on my visit there was no one around and it was all locked up but there were some busts and pictures still on display.

Shoket - Permet - Museum

Shoket – Permet – Museum

To the left of the door of the museum is a rectangular, marble plaque. This doesn’t list the names of the those buried in the cemetery but makes reference to those from the Permet region who are commemorated in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana.

Shoket - Permet - Plaque

Shoket – Permet – Plaque

The words at the top of the plaque – ‘Dëshmorët që kanë eshtrat në varezat e kombit në Tiranë’ translates as ‘Martyrs whose remains are in the National Cemetery in Tirana’. This is something I have not seen elsewhere.






40° 14′ 11.7240” N

20° 21′ 20.2139” E


246.0 m

How to get there:

From the main square in the centre of Permet head down towards the bridge over the river. Once on the other side walk straight ahead, in the direction of Tepelene, and the cemetery is about 200m on the right, a short avenue of pine trees lining the path to the cemetery gates.

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