A number of Martyrs’ Cemeteries have a single female partisan as the principal statue, Fier and Lushnje are two that immediately come to mind. This was also chosen as the case in Sarandë’s Martyrs’ Cemetery.
This has recently been repainted so there is, as on other occasions, some doubt of the original intention of the artists (here there are two attributed). In some ways it does turn the statue into a bit of a comic caricature but at least it shows an attitude of care for the monument, however badly executed. Whatever the pros and cons of such ‘restoration’ I prefer this to the total neglect that other lapidars throughout Albania have undergone.
The single female is standing in victorious celebration. Her arms are held high over her head as she waves the banner of victory. In her right hand she grips hold of her rifle by the firing mechanism. From this part of her weapon, until just before the end of the barrel, the sleeve for the pole of the national flag has been pulled over the barrel and she keeps it in place by her hand. A few inches of the top of the barrel can be seen just above the top left hand edge of the banner.
Here is where there is some problem with (re)painting of the lapidars. It might be more acceptable if the work was done by professional artists or restorers rather than enthusiastic amateurs. Here the stock of the rifle has been painted brown – but so has the metal firing mechanism, the trigger guard and the trigger itself, and, unfortunately not with the greatest of care. It’s difficult to see if the protruding end of the barrel has been painted brown, or even red, but it’s certainly not the colour that a real rifle would have been. Here, I suppose, is a call that if the monuments are to be painted there is a commitment to accuracy.
The banner is the flag of the Communist led National Liberation Front and which became the national flag of Albania after Liberation (and the beginning of true independence for the country) on the 29th November, 1944.
This is a red flag with a black, double-headed eagle in the centre. Over the two heads there was a gold star. The eagle on a red background had been the symbol of independence in Albania since the time of Skenderbeu in the 15th century. With the success of the Socialist revolution the star was added, this being the emblem of the Communists in the war against fascism.
This flag is shown as if it is being blown in the wind and the partisan is holding the bottom left hand corner of the flag with her left hand. Where the flag billows in the wind is where the statue is first attached to the column in front of which it stands.
As is not unusual in those lapidars which have been ‘restored’ there has been a little bit of political censorship, a re-writing of history. If you look carefully you will see the outline of a star over the heads of the eagles but in the ‘restoration’ this has been filled in and in the repainting has just been coloured red and not picked out in gold as it should be if there was a respect for history. Not the first nor the last time we encounter such conscious political vandalism in present-day, ‘democratic’ Albania.
Now to the Partisan herself. She is standing in full partisan uniform. On her head she wears a cap which has been another victim of vandalism. When originally unveiled there would certainly have been the outline (of just plain plaster and almost certainly not painted) of a star at the front of the cap. There is very little sign of that here so I assume to avoid the possible thorny question of why re-write history it was just plastered over. To have been true to the original that star should have been picked out in red when the restoration/cleaning work was done.
Her very long hair (totally impractical for a Partisan) is braided on either side of her head and the braids join together to form one even longer braid just behind her neck. She wears of tight vest over which she has a jacket with strangely wide, loose sleeves which, if real, would roll down her arms to her shoulders. The bottom of her jacket billows out behind her, mirroring that of the flag, and is the second point of contact between the statue and the column behind.
Around her waist she has five ammunition pouches, each containing five bullets. Her trousers are tucked in at the bottom to long socks that come to just below her knees and on her feet she wears a simple pair of sandals. (There’s a study in itself of the footwear depicted on Albanian Socialist lapidars.)
She stands on a block which has been painted brown on the top and black on the sides. Why not an irregular surface to represent the hills and mountains of Albania, where most of the fighting took place, is due, I believe, to the date that this lapidar was created.
Artists initials and date
On the left hand side of the column can be found the letters LL LZH and AL HH together with the number 88 or 89 (I think 89). This I assume to be the letters of the names of the sculptor/architect of the monument but, so far, have been unable to identify them. That being the case this must have been one of the very last, if not the last, lapidars to have been created in the Socialist era. There had been in existence a much more basic lapidar for many years but towards the end of the 1980s, with other towns improving their monuments (such as Lushnje) Sarandë, presumably, thought to do the same.
However, the later lapidars started to take a different approach to how the issues of the past were represented. In a sense they became less confrontational, more appeasing as the strength of Albania’s Cultural Revolution waned, especially after the death of Enver Hoxha in April 1985. This meant, among other things, the symbolism that had been established in the 1970s (such as irregular surfaces to reference the mountains) began to be ignored and, more importantly, as a political consideration when it came to the role of an artist in a Socialist society, the names (initials) of the artists started to appear on their work.
The column behind the Partisan flares out slightly at the base then narrows when behind her to gradually widen as it gets to its summit, about the same distance above the flag as it is below it. Towards the top of the column there’s an arrangement of six red stars, of slightly different sizes, which could represent the constellation of Ursa Major, The Plough (although one star short). On the very summit there’s a large red star, a typical crowning glory on lapidars (although also the target for vandalism in many cases) and there as a symbol of Communism.
To the right of the main lapidar is a white, concrete, fluted column which widens out half way up to provide the support for a large concrete bowl. It’s also worth noting the presence of the palm trees, often in Albanian cemeteries and for the same reasons as they were placed in Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery.
There is a flight of steps on either side of the statue and the tombs are on 3 or 4 different levels, on rows beneath. The space for the tombs fans out on both sides of the statue causing it to be much wider by the entrance lower down the hill than it is a the top. On one level there are nine marble slabs upon which are inscribed the names of almost 150 Partisans who would have died in the area (or who were originally from the area and died elsewhere in the country) who don’t have an individual tomb. The cemetery is reasonably well-kept and the tombs tended to on a semi-regular basis.
Commemorating 150 Partisans
The location at its inception would have been marvellous, outside and above the old town of Sarandë, looking down onto the Ionian Sea, with the island of Corfu in the distance (and the site of the notorious ‘Corfu Incident’) with citrus and olive groves all around.
Now the cemetery has been overtaken by the unplanned expansion of the town’s tourist infrastructure with apartment blocks or hotels (many incomplete) appearing on every conceivable plot of land, completely changing the atmosphere of the town – and not for the better.
At the very bottom, by the original entrance gates, is a one storey building which would have housed the local Liberation War museum – now abandoned and empty.
As with many of the Albanian lapidars what we see today has not always been the case. By 1971 there existed a tall, two-part monolith with a large panel at 90º to the column at the bottom. Although it’s not clear it looks as if on this panel the names of some of the Saranda Partisans were listed. This stood at the top of a long flight of steps. I assume it was in the same location but it would seem to indicate if that was indeed the case there was some major remodelling of the cemetery when the statue was added in 1988/9.
Martyrs’ Cemetery, Saranda, 1971
It’s a little bit difficult to find as the area is now full of new hotels and apartment blocks. As you go up the steep road that takes you in the direction of Gjirokaster the cemetery is on the right, just after the junction with Rruga Skenderbeu (on the left). Once you know what you are looking for it stands out quite clearly amongst the tower blocks when you look over from the ferry port.
Many of the martyrs’ cemeteries in Albania are situated on hills above the towns and villages and this is certainly the case with the Martyrs’ Cemetery, Korçë, where the highest point is a fair hike from the centre of the town below. However, it’s worth the effort as, on a clear day, you have a fine view of the town, the fertile valley below and the mountains to the west as well as a fine example of Socialist Realist Art.
At the very top of the steps, with the tombs of the fallen partisans fanned out on either side of him, is a large statue of a male Partisan. Throughout the country there are a number of Martyrs’ Cemeteries that include such a stand alone, bronze statue. These include Ersekë, with yet another single male Partisan; Librazhd, where the statue is of a male and female; Lushnje, with a very charming statue of a kneeling female Partisan with a young boy; and Pogradec, where there is a group of three, two males and one female.
The statue is about twice life-size and he stands with his feet slightly apart, on top of a concrete plinth. He is dressed in the uniform of a partisan and wears a cap with the star on the front. Around his neck is a tied bandana – so, as is often the case, declaring his status as a Communist. On the belt around his waist there are three ammunition pouches (of five bullets each) in sight. On his feet he is wearing shoes rather than boots but as added protection against the elements he is wearing long, thick socks into which the bottom of his trousers are tucked, the sock reaching just to below his knees.
Martyrs’ Cemetery, Korçë
His left arm is stretched up to its full extent above him and the fist is clenched. This, to me, is the authentic Communist salute. His right arm is bent at 90 degrees and his right hand is tightly gripping the top part of the barrel of his rifle. This is a bolt-action rifle and the butt is resting on the ground, just before his right foot. He is looking down on the town of Korçë and into the distance where, at this height, it’s possible to see the mountains of Skrapar.
At the end of 2011 the general area of the cemetery, including the stepped approach was in a sad state. This included the statue, showing signs of wear and noticeable marks on the surface of the bronze. As with many of the Albanian lapidars there has been quite considerable renovation in the last year or so and the result of this is that the statue has had a very recent coating of gold paint.
The sculpture is the work of Avni Bilbili, Piro Dollaku and Ilia Xhano and was created in 1969. That’s early in the construction of Albanian lapidars and the Cultural Revolution. It was very common for there to have been a plaster statue in place initially, with a bronze statue coming later. I have not, so far, seen any pictures which indicate that in Korçë.
The only information I have about Avni Bilbili is that he is the creator of a monument to Naim Freshëri in Rruga Nëntori 28, in Korçë, in 1956.
Piro Dollaku and Ilia Xhano were joint creators of the magnificent Partisan and Child in Borovë. This sculpture, now beside the main road going through the village, used to be part of the main lapidar for the Borovë Martyr’s Cemetery, on the hill across the road. This was substantially remodeled but their bas-relief is now at the entrance gates to the cemetery.
Behind him are two, low, one-storey, rectangular buildings. The space between them is directly behind the statue. These are locked and it’s not, as far as I know, possible to go inside. As was the norm in Martyrs’ Cemeteries these would have been the small, local museum, displaying artefacts and photos from the National Liberation War.
As you look at the front of the statue the building on the left has the slogan; Lavdi Deshmoreve te Atdheut, which translates as; Glory to the martyrs of the homeland. This was the situation in May 2015. On my previous visit at the end of 2011 there was a ‘t’ at the end of ‘deshmoreve’. Today it’s still possible to see the shadow of the missing letter on the wall. I’ve been told that the ‘t’ is a more archaic grammatical form (although this is the first time I’ve come across this in all the places I’ve visited over the years) so this could be an updating of the term and, if done consciously, would have been part of the recent renovation.
On the wall of the building to the right there are 122 marble plaques. Each plaque has a name and two dates, the year of birth and death. I assume these are the names of those whose tombs are in the cemetery, the number would seem to correspond to that.
Although it’s difficult to get a feel when in the cemetery itself, standing beside the statue which is exactly in the centre, the tombs fan out on either side, somewhat like wings, spreading backwards. However, as part of the renovation an information board has been placed at the bottom of the main approach steps and here there’s a picture taken from the air.
Korca Martyrs’ Cemetery – information
The tombs have also been renovated. New marble replacing many broken slabs and the letters of the names of the Partisans being picked out in gold paint. They now look quite smart and being accorded the dignity they deserve. One thing that’s different from most of the cemeteries I’ve been to is that there are no stars on the tombs. On my 2015 visit I thought this was a consequence of the renovation (this eradication of the stars and the re-writing of history being evident in a number of places, such as the Saranda Martyrs’ Cemetery) but on checking my 2011 photos I find that they were missing then, although at that time I wasn’t that conscious of the norms throughout the country and so wasn’t looking as closely as I have developed of late.
And the whole area of the cemetery itself is much cleaner than a few years ago. There’s a tarmacked road just below the final flight of steps and all above that road has been cleaned up and repaired. The walls have been painted and the steps renewed. Below the road the steps are as they have been for a number of years, overgrown and the concrete breaking up, although there are signs that work was started to improve the area (but not completed) at the very start of the long trek uphill.
Extirpation of idolatry
Many Martyrs’ Cemeteries in Albania are built on hills. It’s a place of honour and also a reference to the fact that much of the fighting between 1939 and 1944 took place in the hills and mountains of the country. The hill in Korçë is close to the town itself and isn’t the highest in the immediate vicinity. Just to the south-east of the cemetery you can see a large, white cross on the top of a higher mountain, close enough to the town to be seen from the streets below.
Korca Martyrs’ Cemetery and white cross
You will see many of these if you travel around the country, normally on high points that can be seen for miles around. This is very reminiscent of the policy of the Catholic Church in many parts of the world. When the Spanish invaded Latin America in the late 15th and early 16th centuries they followed what they called a policy of the ‘extirpation of idolatry’. This resulted in the physical destruction or assimilation of any religious location encountered throughout the continent.
In Peru, where a special rock, tree, spring or any other natural phenomenon could have religious significance, this meant that those natural locations would be destroyed. The later building of a church was seen as sticking a knife into the heart of the indigenous culture. In 1988, just before Karol Wojtyla, the then head of the Catholic Church, was due to visit the country a large, white cross was erected on the hillside above the Andean city of Cusco. It was on this hill that the massive Incan temple of Sacsayhuaman used to be located, before being destroyed by the Spanish. This was a modern version of the ‘extirpation’.
It seems that the Catholic Church is still at it in Albania.
The cemetery is at the top of a hill to the east of the city centre. Go north along Bulevardi Republika, passing the monument to the demonstration against the Italian Fascists on the right and then turn right along narrow, cobbled Rruga Sotir Mero. At the top of the street go up the steps which take you to a small road, go left and then take the steep steps going up on your right. This is where the information plaque can be found.
Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania are situated on hills, sometimes quite high hills, in the vicinity of the cities and towns. This is the case with the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery which, when it was constructed, would have been clearly seen from the centre of the town, the area around Sheshi Pavarësia (Independence Square) and the Bashkia (Town Hall). Up to the 1990s the buildings weren’t that tall but subsequent construction of high-rise flats has meant that you don’t really see the cemetery until you’re almost upon it.
As you come to the cemetery from the northern side a residential road brings you to a small, now abandoned, white building – all fittings having been removed. This is too small to have been a museum that were normally situated near a cemetery (and anyway, there’s a proper Historical Museum in the centre of town, in a good condition, looking as if it has only recently been refurbished and with many fine exhibits from the Socialist period). The building must have some connection to the cemetery (perhaps a place selling flowers on special occasions, but that’s only speculation) as it wouldn’t have served many other purposes.
From this building there are a series of steps taking you to the lapidar and statue at the highest point of the hill. The graves are laid out to the right of the steps, with the tombs on two levels. The whole area is relatively clean, the tombs are undamaged, and although the grass is growing between the stone tiles and a little untidy around the graves it is obviously cared for, at least on an occasional basis.
Probably when the cemetery was originally laid out there would just have been a lapidar, although not the one there now. If we go back to the late 1940s and early 50s the lapidar would have been a simple affair, sitting on the highest point, with a star somehow attached to the highest point facing the approach steps or perhaps surmounting the pillar.
The present lapidar sits on a large, raised plinth and must be, at least, the second reincarnation with the area being improved at the same time the statue was added. But what you see today is not what would have been seen at that time in the early seventies.
I’m almost certain the plinth and lapidar are from the 1970s but they have recently been restored following years of neglect and vandalism. The people and the Bashkia (local government) of Fier made a decision, anything up to ten years ago, to recover and recognise the past sacrifices of local people in the National Liberation War. It was in 2010 that the new (and awful) Liri Gero statue was unveiled and the monument to the 68 Girls was given a new plinth. It would make sense to think that the cemetery was restored at the same time.
The top face of the plinth is covered with marble tiles, is in a very good condition and are in three colours – red, white and brown – with a simple geometric pattern all the way around. The concrete below is unadorned, but clean and undamaged, and raises the plinth about a half a metre above the surrounding area.
The lapidar itself is a simple tall, rectangular pillar, wider at the bottom couple of metres or so, and then soaring vertically upwards. Whether the original marble facing was stolen or just fell off due to neglect I’m unsure. Now it is covered in white and greyish marble slabs from the top to the bottom. The highest limit of the widest part is indicated by a frieze of narrow, red tiles. However, there’s been a bit of cost cutting as the tiles on the topmost part of the lapidar are only on the side facing the steps and half way on the right and left face giving the impression that the decoration is ‘functional’, that is, on those parts most people will see as they come up the steps.
Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery
There’s also been a bit of cost cutting on the metal decoration on the main face. At the bottom there’s a large laurel branch with nine leaves. This looks to be treated sheet steel but there are signs of rust appearing at the joins of the leaves and the branch. Higher up the words ‘Lavdi Deshmoreve’ (‘Glory to the Martyrs) runs in large, golden letters vertically from the top down. From a distance this looks quite smart but once close up you can see that the letters have been made out of sheet steel, boxed, in three dimensions and then painted with gold paint. The elements are starting to take their toll and the paint is fading and rust is starting to show. At the top of the column, a few centimetres from the top, is a large, red, metal star – the symbol of Communism.
This is the first time, so far, that I’ve seen sheet steel used in the renovation of a lapidar. Whether the laurel branch would have been on the original I don’t know but the words ‘Lavdi Deshmoreve’ almost certainly would have, it’s universal on Albanian lapidars. But almost invariably the letters would have been made out of the more expensive bronze and it’s possible the originals had been looted and melted down for scrap.
The other component of the Fier Cemetery lapidar is a large (about twice life-size) statue of a female partisan. Being Fier, which still celebrates the bravery and heroism of Liri Gero and the 68 Partisan Girls, it’s not a surprise a female statue was chosen.
Fier Cemetery – Female Partisan
The figure stands on a solid block of concrete a couple of metres to the right of the monolith. Unusually, this statue has a name, ‘Liria fitohet dhe mbrohet me pushke’ meaning ‘Freedom won and defended by the rifle’. This is the implied meaning of most of the statues in such circumstances, taking its lead from a the revolutionary slogan of the Party of Labour of Albania, ‘To build Socialism holding a pickaxe in one hand and the rifle in the other’ – what has been gained by the workers is never guaranteed unless they are prepared to fight to defend them from all attacks, whether internal or external.
The statue is made of concrete and is the work of Gjergji J Toska and Qiraku Dano and was inaugurated in 1972 (or perhaps 1973). Toska was from the region of Myzeqeja, which is just to the north of Fier, between Divjake and Lushnje. In an interview he has said that where he grew up had an influence on his sculptural works. The sculpture took about 18 months to create and it was one of a number that had been commissioned for other cemeteries in the country. During the period when these type of sculptures were being installed in Albania it was normal for final approval to be granted by a local approval commission, in the early 1970s none such existed in Fier so photos of his work were sent to Tirana, where the work was well received.
Again there are elements that appear as a recurring motif. The woman is striding out as if she were climbing in the mountains, representing Albania and the fact that the Partisans used the hills as their base to attack the invaders and soon controlling the countryside, leaving the occupation forces surrounded in the towns.
In her right hand she holds the top of the barrel of her rifle, the butt of which is resting on the hillside next to her right foot. Although her weapon is a good representation of a bolt-action rifle it is much bigger than it would have been in reality. It would have taken, indeed, a true Amazon to fire such a weapon. But a weapon of such a size was necessary to allow the pose the sculptors have chosen to represent.
Her legs are as far apart as possible and she is stretching up to hold the top of the gun. Her left hand is stretched out behind, and above, her head to hold the right, top edge of partisan flag (and later to be the national flag of the country) with its symbol of the double-headed eagle with the Communist star above the heads. The top left corner of the flag is being held taut by having a fixed bayonet used as a short and temporary flagpole and the material is scrunched up in her hand so we don’t see the normal rectangle of the banner but more of a trapezoidal shape. The bottom right of the flag hangs down and partially covers her long hair, resting on her shoulder, a small triangle fluttering free. She has a determined look on her face and looks into the distance, to the left of her rifle.
Her limbs almost form an X, the right arm and left leg in a straight line, the other two limbs not doing so as her right leg is higher up the hill she is climbing. This gives the figure a sense of dynamism. She is moving forward as well as going up, going higher. Stretching she is pushing herself to achieve more. As a Partisan this is first and foremost victory in the National Liberation War against Fascism but in that war Communists were fighting to rid their country of the invaders but also in order to build a new society. And once the revolution is won it’s not possible to rest on your laurels. It’s difficult to make a revolution but it’s even more difficult to build a new sort of society – which will be constantly under attack from the capitalists, both in the country and from without, and more the powerful imperialist nations. So the task of a Partisan changes after liberation but it doesn’t get any easier – hence the title of the statue.
The Partisan is dressed in full uniform and has the red star on her cap and (what would have been) a red bandana around her neck. Around her waist she wears an ammunition belt.
Although it’s not immediately obvious from the front on looking at the back of the statue we see that her long hair is being blown over her left shoulder, indicating that a strong wind is blowing into her face. Another indication of being in the high mountains and suggests more movement as the flag would be fluttering.
Freedom won and defended by the rifle
The statue looks to be in very good condition and has recently been painted, the paint showing few signs of wear but then I don’t think that Fier gets particularly harsh weather conditions at any time of year. As with most of these concrete statues they would not have been originally painted at all, just the unadorned concrete, but this is a general approach to the cleaning and renovation of monuments now in different parts of the country.
The grave of Liri Gero will be in this cemetery, but I was amiss on my last visit and didn’t identify exactly where it is. I will remedy that on my next visit.
Fier Martyrs’ Wall of Honour
In some of the Martyrs’ cemeteries there’s a list of all those from the area who died in the war. However, this is not the case in Fier. On the first floor (which documents the period from pre-war years to 1990) of the Fier Historical Museum there’s a wall of remembrance, listing those from the Fier district who gave their lives for National Liberation. Although a recent creation it has all the aspects you’d expect from the Socialist period. The background is the Communist red and in the centre there’s a large black, double-headed eagle. Over the two heads is a golden star. At the very top are the words ‘Deshmoret e luftes antifashiste nacionalçlirimtare’ (Martyrs of the National Liberation War) in gold letters. And then, also in gold letters, are the names of 443 men and women from the Fier district – many more than are commemorated with a tomb in the cemetery.
Location of the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.
It’s best to arrive at the cemetery from the north, going up Rruga Skender Muskaj, from Rruga Jani Bakalli, and taking the first left along Rruga Koli Stamo – this brings you to the derelict building at the bottom of the steps.
40° 43′ 10.3476” N
19° 33′ 49.0465” E
Other lapidars in Fier.
So far I have been concentrating on the more elaborate monuments that come under the heading of ‘lapidars’ and which have been identified by the Albanian Lapidar Survey. To me that makes sense as the more ornate and complicated works of art have a story to tell and, although sometimes it has been difficult to find the information, it has been a pleasure trying to unravel what is before us. However, the vast majority of lapidars are more modest, but in their own way as important and significant a part of Albania’s history as the grand works of sculpture. More importantly all these small lapidars commemorate men or women who died fighting Fascism. Sometimes only two or three but even though they may not have been honoured as ‘Heroes of the People’ they were fundamental in the victory of November 1944.
In a sense the condition and evolution of the three other lapidars in the centre of Fier encapsulate the problem that Albania has in dealing with its past. Revolutionary Socialism never has been, and never will be, a State of all the people. For many reasons, class background, ideological and religious convictions, simple greed and selfishness there will always be those who will resist and use every opportunity to sabotage or undermine any achievements in a Socialist society. To all these negative factors have to be added the mistakes that the revolutionaries make, either out of ignorance, excessive zeal or even those who have infiltrated the Party in order to undermine its work, that exacerbate an already difficult task. And that’s before you have to take into account efforts by economically more powerful external forces to destroy a socialist society by whatever means possible.
This means that symbols of a past period are bound to be targets once the revolution loses support amongst a significant proportion of the population. In Albania the easiest target was the General Secretary of the Party of Labour for the majority of the time of Socialist construction, Enver Hoxha. As do all revolutionary Marxist-Leninists he believed in the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, a concept that developed from the concrete experience of workers in different parts of Europe seeking to build a society which was not based on exploitation and oppression. By presenting and arguing this ideological stance Hoxha was branded ‘Dictator’ by his enemies and detractors. It was to their advantage to try to make the concept, that has to involve the vast majority of a society to be successful, into a personal, individual matter.
But the idea of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ developed from the defeats that workers had undergone throughout history but especially from the late 19th century onwards. The thirty thousand men, women and children who were slaughtered in the last week of May 1871 at the end of the Paris Commune; the massacre of the Spartacists in Germany in 1919; the Civil War in Russia when the White forces were supported by 14 countries which only a few months before were sworn enemies; the interventions that Albania itself was subject to in the first years after liberation by the combined efforts of the British and the Americans all reinforced the truth that if the workers want to take real, and not just imagined, power (as is promised by Social Democracy and the ballot box) then they have to fight as much after the revolution as before it.
When we come back to the idea of the lapidars in Albania we see that Hoxha therefore become the easiest target. Public statues of him and the likes of the Memorial to the Berat Meeting of 1944, where he is a prominent figure amongst the fine sculpture where many tens of people were depicted (a sad loss), were destroyed in the early days of the counter-revolution. Now he is printed on mugs and pens in the souvenir shops of Gjirokaster or found as a small stone bust in small Albanian produce shops throughout the country – although a large bust of him is presently covered in a white tarpaulin in the ‘Sculpture Park’ behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana (or at least was in May of 2015).
The issue then becomes what to do with the other monuments, in the main commemorating those who died in the Anti-Fascist National Liberation War, in a country with such a small population that virtually every family would have had a relative amongst the country’s martyrs, within a generation or two. This meant that the majority of the monuments weren’t conscious targets of attack by reactionary forces but time, mindless and infantile vandalism and general neglect would play their part in erasing the country’s past.
There are a lot of questions which address this issue of identity, relationship to the past and how culture in general is seen in Albania today but that will take some space so I’ll return to that at a later date (or else this post will never end).
However, a part of that debate can be seen played out in the Fier lapidars.
Monument to the Three Martyrs
3 Martyrs – Fier
On the right hand side of the road, about 200m from Sheshi Europa Plaza (on the Fier ring-road) on the SH73 – the road to Berat – is a modest monument to three young men killed in the fight to liberate the city from the German Nazis. This is more typical of the lapidars around the country than those I have documented so far and if you didn’t know it was there it would be very easy to miss. Unlike War Memorials in the UK it is not common for there to be some sort of railing around the monument, not now nor in the past.
More typical but also on the modest side of typical. Some of the lapidars seek to impress as they soar skywards, although there may not be a great deal of ornament or decoration, but this one is minimalist and only stands about 2 metres high. So we have a simple, concrete monolith and on each side of that column there are two ‘wings’ which extend to just below half way up. It’s painted white (and fairly recently going by the condition) and the only other aspect of it is a marble plaque fixed to the top half of the facade. In most of these cases there would have been a red star but I could see no indication that something had been fixed just above the plaque (where you would expect to find one) so it’s possible that one was attached at the very top, normally a painted iron star attached by short, narrow pieces of reinforced iron. Whatever the situation in the past there’s no star there now.
Although it has been repainted there has been no attention paid to the plaque. The letters on the plaque had been cut out of the marble and then made more obvious by being painted in black. That has worn and it’s now very difficult to make out the words, especially if you aren’t good at the language and can’t make assumptions of what the words should be. In different places I’ve seen fairly badly delineated letters, perhaps more good intentions than skill, so this is something that has to be taken as it comes.
The most important point I wish to make about this lapidar is the fact that, to all intents and purposes, to most Albanians it doesn’t seem to exist. Obviously it exists as an entity but not for what it represents. On the day I visited this lapidar the area immediately around it was relatively clear. It sits at the side of a field where there is a small lay-by. When the ALS team visited it was holding up a moped and breeze blocks for some construction project were being stored right beside it.
3 Martyrs – Fier – photo by Marco Mazzi
Now, was this done consciously – that the people who were treating a war memorial as just a convenient post against which to lean their bike and therefore making apolitical statement – or unconsciously, not realising what it was and the bike and the breeze blocks had to go somewhere? Or are these small and unobtrusive lapidars just victims of their own simplicity, people don’t see them unless they really look?
Carved into the marble plaque are the words:
Më 27-VII-1944 ranë në luftën për çlirimin e qytetit të Fierit dëshmorët e Luftës Nacional Çlirimtare Tomor Dizdari, Orman Zaloshnja, Vangjel Gjini.
This translates as:
On 27-VII-1944, in the fight to liberate the city of Fier during the National Liberation War, the martyrs Tomor Dizdar, Orman Zaloshnja, Gender Vangeli fell.
At that time this area would have been considered well out of the town centre so, this is presumably the location where they actually died. So far I’ve been unable to find any more information about the three martyrs.
40° 43′ 7.4641” N
19° 34′ 11.0675” E
Monument to the 11th Brigade
11th Brigade – Fier
This monument is right in the centre of town, not far from the Bashkia and at the junction of the street in which the Historical Museum can be found. This is a step up from the previous lapidar, displaying more architectural elements but without involving any sculptural elements. This particular lapidar also demonstrates the process, stated long ago and now again becoming a trend in parts of the country, of updating/upgrading/restoring/renovating the lapidars. Here the old has been demolished and a new created in the same location – and it’s almost a replica. But not quite.
Both consist of a platform, which has three steps on the right hand side of the long edge which continue on the right hand narrow edge. On this platform a monolith rises up to a height of about eight. On the left hand side of this monolith there’s a curved buttress at the bottom. It’s here where there’s a slight difference between the old and the new. On the old this right hand structure is joined by another rectangular slab of concrete which extends upwards about a metre over the first. On the new there is a space between these two components and the concrete in between is painted a deep red, which continues from under the curved buttress. On both the versions a concrete slab about 2 x 4 metres is placed at 90º to the lapidar.
Although there’s a possibility that the old has been renovated I don’t think this is possible, at least not for all of the structure. The platform has been faced on the lower part by false brick tiles, as have the steps. The top of the platform has also been covered with marble tiles. This would cover all the wear and tear of over 40 years on the concrete so that part might be part of the original. I don’t think this is the case with the rest of the lapidar.
11th Brigade – Fier – photos by Marco Mazzi
Apart from the separation of the two slabs of concrete it all looks a lot smarter, the edges are sharper and I don’t think that can be achieved with a repair job (and would you put new, modern concrete on a crumbling forty-year old base? Also the slab that contains the letters appears wider than the original. Another difference is the red star on the facade that faces to the left. On the old this is larger and has greater depth whereas on the new it’s smaller and flatter.
The wording on the two versions is also slightly different. On the old the letters are just stencilled, in red paint, onto a white background – these were probably not the original but a later ‘restoration’. They are:
1 Nentor 1944 Brigada E XI-S
This translates to:
1 November 1944 S Brigade XI
S is for Sulmuese. This can be translated as assault, shock or guerrilla group. Units of the Albanian Partisan Army were not designed for mass, set battles. They could move fast and therefore weren’t as heavily armed as the Fascist opposition which ultimately secured them victory. It is one of those contradictions of war that the better equipped force can actually find that what appears an advantage on paper, in crucial circumstances, becomes a hindrance and bogs them down in a way that makes them vulnerable. The E? This is a grammatical device which seems somewhat redundant.
There are indications that there might have been more text or an image of some kind (on the edge close to the column) but there’s no way to work out what might have been.
The letters are almost the same, but not exactly, on the new. They are inlaid on a large rectangle of marble (a much more sophisticated presentation than the previous version) and read:
1 Nentor 1944 U formua brigada XI Sulmuese
This translates as:
1 November 1944 – the XIth Assault Brigade was formed
This is confusing to me. I believe that the 1st November 1944 is the date when Fier was liberated from the Nazis. The 11th Brigade would have been formed long before that as the whole of the country was liberated on 29th November of that year.
40° 43′ 32.6173” N
19° 33′ 20.7072” E
Monument to Petro Sota and the 1943 Nazi Massacre
Petro Sota and 1943 Massacre – Fier
The third lapidar in Fier is different again. It’s a simple monolith, which is made grander by being placed on a plinth, and is in the public park in the centre of the town. On the side facing the centre of the park there’s a marble plaque with an inscription. The park is now considerably smaller than it would have been when the lapidar was first installed as a huge chunk of it has been taken up by a large mosque. Considering that all the other lapidars in the town have been cleaned recently this one is showing signs of wear, although structurally sound, and the inscription – black paint in the carved marble – is showing signs of wear it’s still quite easy to read the words.
What makes this lapidar unusual is that it actually commemorates a person and an event. So far I haven’t come across monuments where the space is shared.
The first is recognition of another of Fier’s sons in the National Liberation War, Petro Sota. He became a Communist before the Italian Fascists invaded the country in 1939 and once the town was occupied he worked as a courier of information, news and materials for the liberation cause. He was a driver and had a certain amount of freedom to move around and with different ruses got around the roadblocks and checkpoints the Fascists imposed or order to maintain control of the town.
On one occasion he used a child sized coffin to bring in the Party newspaper and on another caused the Italian soldiers to follow him, allowing free passage for those who were bringing in contraband. He is remembered as when, in July 1943, things went wrong on a mission he was able to destroy sensitive Resistance material before being killed.
He is recognised in the top half of the inscription:
Petro Sota, vrarë më 13 korrik 1943 nga fashistët italianë duke kryer detyrën e ngarkuar nga njësiti gueril.
Which translates as:
Petro Sota, killed on 13 July 1943 by the Italian Fascists, carrying out tasks entrusted to him by the guerrilla unit.
The second half of the inscription asks more questions than it answers. This is:
Po këtu më 10 shtator 1943 nazistët gjermanë masakruan 45 qytetarë të pafajshëm
But here on September 10, 1943 the German Nazis massacred 45 innocent civilians
So far I don’t have the information that explains exactly what happened and why. This was just after the Nazis replaced the Italian Fascists, who had by this time effectively withdrawn from the war on all fronts. It’s possible the Germans wanted to stamp their mark on the country, knowing already the sort of fierce opposition they would face from the Communist Partisans. Also, exactly at this time the German forces were being defeated outside the village of Drashovice (in the Selenice valley close to Vlora) so it could have been a massacre caused by the Nazis’ frustration.
Whatever the reason 45 is a lot of people at one time and what surprises me the most is there wasn’t a more substantial monument to the event, as there is in Borovë and Uznovë. The names are not even listed, the event only meriting a couple of lines on a very modest memorial – and shared at that. Something to investigate.
The tally of Nazi five atrocities, in effect war crimes, in Albania that I have identified, so far, make the decision to establish a memorial to the German dead during their invasion of the country even more of a mystery, apart from establishing the fascist credentials (or at least forelock-tugging attitude) of past, post-1990 governments in Albania.
The reason for the lack of a memorial to those 45 people becomes even more confounding when we look at a statue of Petro Sota that was unveiled in 2014. I have the utmost respect for what Petro might have done during the Liberation War and I have no problem with the placing a bust of him in the town of his birth – but aren’t we forgetting priorities here? Another question for which there is, as yet, no answer.
This new stature is the work of Fatos Shuli (a sculptor I have not come across before and about who I know nothing) seems to capture the individual that was Petro Sota. His picture in Flasin Heronj të Luftës Nacional Çlirimtare (Heroes of the National Liberation War Speak for themselves) gives the impression that he was a dapper dresser before the serious work of ridding his country of the invaders got in the way. This idea of style is captured in the new bust but, I must admit, I question the priorities of the Fier Bashkia.