1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Arts – Tirana

'Mother' - Mumtas Dhrami - 1971

‘Mother’ – Mumtas Dhrami – 1971

The article below was first published in New Albania, No 6, 1971. It discusses the general idea of art in a socialist society, how the Albanians saw ‘Socialist Realism’ with mention of a handful of works (out of 180) that were displayed at the National Exhibition of Figurative Arts in Tirana in the autumn of 1971.

Emphasis, so far, in the pages on this blog related to Albanian art, has been placed on the Albanian lapidars – public monuments. There have been a few reasons for this: they are often large and out in the open, and therefore accessible to all at all times; some of them all under threat of decay from either neglect and/or vandalism – a number of important ones have already been destroyed by reactionary forces within Albanian society; they embody a uniquely Albanian approach to such monuments: and, even if in the public domain are often ignored – strangely people walk past works of art everyday (and not just in Albania) without taking notice of what they are passing or the significance they might have in the country’s history.

But ‘Socialist Realism’ in Albania was not restricted to the public sculptures and a great deal of material in all forms was produced from after Liberation in November 1944 until the capitalist supported reaction was able to re-take the land of the people for the benefit of exploiters and oppressors in 1990. However, these numerous works of art, that used to be part of the people’s heritage, are now under the control of the enemies of such political statements in oil paint and water-colours (as well as stone, bronze and wood). Many museums and art galleries have been closed and (no doubt) many works of art destroyed by the ignorant reactionaries or stolen by the opportunistic and avaricious. An obvious example is the looted museum in the town of Bajam Curri, in the north of the country.

However, there are still a few museums that still display examples of Socialist realist Art. Apart from the National Art Gallery in the centre of Tirana (which always has a permanent exhibition of art from the revolutionary, socialist period) a visitor to the country could investigate the modern art gallery close to the Bashkia (Town Hall) in Durres; the museum and art gallery in the centre of Fier; and the small gallery in the town of Peshkopia.

(Unfortunately I’ve never seen the statue of ‘Mother’ by Mumtaz Dhrami, that heads this post. He was, and still is, one of the most renown Albanian sculptors and such a piece of work demonstrates a very Albanian approach to sculpture, chunky and solid. I hope it still survives intact (but fear not). At the same time I have no knowledge either way. Other creations of Dhrami are: the magnificent Arch of DrashoviceEducation Monument in Gjirokastra; Mother Albania at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery; the (now virtually destroyed) Monument to the Artillery in Sauk; the large monument to Heroic Peza, at the junction to the town on the Tirana-Durres road; and the War Memorial in Peza town itself.)

Living colours

by Andon Kuqali

The feelings, emotions and thoughts of the working man, the master of the country, the new man of socialist Albania is the content of this year’s National Exhibition of Figurative Arts. The paintings, sculptures, drawings, and designs exhibited, aim at expressing this content through an art characterized by the truth, the reality of life.

Since the 1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Arts was to be opened before the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of our Party and on the eve of its 6th Congress, the artists chose themes for their works from the history of the Party and the Albanian people during these 30 years, as well as from our revolutionary traditions, themes from the struggle and work to build our new socialist society. As a matter of fact, today even the most modest landscape or still life embodies this new content, because it exists in the very life of present-day Albania.

What strikes the eye in this Exhibition is that the paintings, sculptures and drawings have more light, more vigorous colours, more varied expressions of artistic individuality than those of the previous national exhibitions. This is important because national exhibitions in Albania are a sort of summing up of the best creative activity of our artists during two or three years, thus they show the course of development of our art at a given stage.

But those colours and variegation of form remain within a realist imagery. Turning away from superficial, manifestative compositions, our artists have tried to enter deep into the life of the people to portray it more truthfully, with greater conviction and artistry. The figures of workers and peasants, of partisans or of outstanding people are true to life, simple and this in no way hinders them from being full of virtue, human and heroic at the same time. Even the industrial landscape is presented in its intimate aspect as an integral part of the life of the working man with the richness of original forms and characteristic realistic colours.

The dawn of November 1941 - Sali Shijaku - 1971

The dawn of November 1941 – Sali Shijaku – 1971

[The house where the Albanian Communist Party (later to become the Party of Labour of Albania) was founded in 1941 is the one with a tree to the right of the stair to the first floor. It became a Museum of the Party after Liberation – it might be in private hands now (it definitely isn’t readily accessible.) The letters VFLP written in black on the white wall on the side of the building in the foreground (as well as along a wall at the very top of the painting) stands for ‘Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!’ (‘Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!’), the revolutionary slogan of the Communist Partisans. I don’t know where this painting might be at the moment. I hope it’s in the storeroom of the National Art Gallery. What goes against its public display are the four letters VPLP – modern-day fascists don’t like that!]

Alongside the tableaux in grand proportions which portray notable events from the history of the Party and Albania, or outstanding figures of communists and revolutionaries, the landscape ‘The Dawn of November 1941’ by the gifted painter Sali Shijaku is no less significant and profound. In reality, this is a composition in small proportions in which the great idea that the Party emerged from the bosom of the common people is expressed. It depicts a poor quarter of Tirana as it was, in the midst of which stands the house where the Communist Party of Albania was founded: an ordinary house like the others, except that from the two windows of the ground floor flows a cheerful light which spreads far and wide driving away the gloomy night of the occupation and reaction.

Albanian Dancers - Abdurrahim Buza - 1971

Albanian Dancers – Abdurrahim Buza – 1971

[I don’t know where the original of this painting by Abdurrahim Buza might be at the moment.]

Dancing is the motif of a number of works of this exhibition. ‘The celebration of liberation’ by N. Lukaci, is a composition in sculpture developed with rounded figures, powerful like the beats of a drum and representing a typical folk dance. ‘Albanian Dances’, by the veteran and very original painter, Abdurrahim Buza, is the tableau of a circular dance in which the lively silhouettes of men and women from all the districts of the countryside with all their warmth and colour move freely, expressing the happy unity of all our people.

Planting Trees - Edi Hila - 1971

Planting Trees – Edi Hila – 1971

[This could well still be on display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana.]

A soft breeze stirs the fragrance of the fresh-dug soil, where girls and boys are planting trees under a blue sky. This is the tableau ‘Planting Trees’ by the young painter Edi Hila, inspired by the actions of the youth, a song of spring for the younger generation of Albania who are growing up happy with a fine feeling for work, a fresh tableau with a dream-like quality, from the vitality of our reality.

The dynamism of the daily life of the workers, their enthusiasm at work in the factory, before the smelting furnace, their chance encounters in the streets, the clash of opinions in which the new man is tempered, are expressed in the strong lines in the series of drawings under the title ‘Comrades’ by Pandi Mele.

Comrades - Pandi Mele - 1971

Comrades – Pandi Mele – 1971

Like saplings in the bush, the children frolic and romp in Spiro Kristo’s delicately portrayed tableau ‘Springtime’.

The Children - Spiro Kristo - 1966

The Children – Spiro Kristo – 1966

[Unfortunately I haven’t been able to come a copy of the painting ‘Springtime’ to add here. Until I come across an image I’ll include an earlier painting by Kristo, the charming ‘The Children’. This is on (normally) permanent display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana. In 2016 I took some friends to the gallery and one of them was (literally) shocked to see such a depiction of children on the walls of a national gallery. I didn’t understand his reaction then (or even to this day). he is of an age to have played with guns (and probably destroying the indigenous population of north America on many occasions and children are killing children in school killings in the USA on an almost weekly basis. This painting encourages an idea of national defence, of preparedness against external threat and invasion, and not of aggression which dominates the armed forces of imperialist countries – just consider the wars of aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and the consequences for the population of those countries.]

In his monumental decorative tableau ‘Our land’, painter Zef Shoshi elevates the figure of the peasant woman, the untiring, hard-working cooperative member, who has won her own rights as a person with tender feelings and priceless virtues, the woman brought up amidst the collective work, in the years of the Party, as the people say. The drafting is connected and dynamic and is permeated by the colour tones of the wheat the soil, and the timber.

The manual lathe operator - Zef Shoshi - 1969

The manual lathe operator – Zef Shoshi – 1969

[‘Our land’ is another painting I have yet to see, either in actuality or in a photograph. However, this picture of a female skilled worker seems to capture the idea that Shoshi would have represented (confident, aware of her part in the construction of Socialism and a more than equal participant in the new society – a crucial and important aspect of Socialist Realist Art) in his entry for the 1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Art in Tirana.]

These are a few remarks about the 180 works exhibited.

Each painter and sculptor is represented here with works which reflect the world as he imagines it, that aspect of life, past or present closest to his heart, the essence of which he tries to communicate his emotions and thoughts to the viewers as directly and clearly as possible, through the emotions and thoughts of the artist who belongs to the people, an active participant in our socialist society in its revolutionary development. This is the source of the variety of methods of expression of each artist, the special individual features of each and, at the same time, of their common stand towards life. These are the features of socialist realism in Albania, an art, which serves the people and socialism, which aims at being an integral part of the spiritual life of the working class and of all the working people.

[Another painting which was part of the exhibition was one by the painter Lec Shkreli entitled ‘The Communists’. It depicts those Communists who were arrested by the regime of the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog just before the invasion of the country by the Italians in April 1939. The person in the foreground wearing glasses is Qemal Stafa – one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party.]

The Communists - Lec Shkreli

The Communists – Lec Shkreli

Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

 

Monument to the Artillery - Sauk

Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

Although the plan is to attempt to record all the monuments from the socialist period in Albania’s history there are, and will be, occasions when I will have arrived too late. Either the ‘democrats’ (a mixture of monarchists and neo-fascists) have got there first and destroyed the works of Socialist Realist art as it represents all that they despise and fear – such as any of the statues of Enver Hoxha – or those lumpen elements who see only scrap value in a piece of metal – that has led to the damage to the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig in the northern city of Shkodër. Destruction and vandalism has been the fate of the Monument to the Artillery in the hills to the south of Tirana, close to the town of Sauk.

Even during the time of socialism in Albania this area was probably not that accessible. Now abandoned, two military barracks and a network of tunnels had been constructed on the ridge that looks down on the artificial lake and the forested area that is Tirana Park.

During the National Liberation War this would have been even more inaccessible, with no drivable roads from the valley to the ridge. However, this inaccessibility didn’t prevent a unit of the 3rd Shock Brigade of the Partisan army from transporting a short-barrelled mountain gun to the top in order to disrupt the plans of the German Nazis from establishing some element of legitimacy to their occupation of the country with the setting up of a ‘Quisling’ government.

The date chosen for this sham was the 18th October 1943 and on that day the Albanian traitors met in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace on the outskirts of the city of Tirana. This building seems to be a magnet for fascists, traitors and despots as this is where the remains of Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog) were interred when they were brought back to Albania in 2012.

Firing across the valley the small piece of artillery hit its target and caused the suspension of the meeting. For this reason, following the independence of the country with the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of the country from all foreign forces at the end of November 1944, the 18th October was declared the Day of the Artillery of the People’s Army.

And for that reason the Monument to the Artillery of the National Liberation Army was established in the hills above Sauk.

The monument involved the work, skill and imagination of three sculptors – Kristaq Rama, Muntas Dhrami, Shaban Hadëri (who also collaborated on a number of other sculptures, including Mother Albania at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery and the Monument to Independence in Vlora) – and the architect R Kote.

(It’s perhaps pertinent here to make a comment about the construction of monumental art in a socialist society. An aspect which makes Socialist Realism not only an art for a specific class of people but also a new way of producing public art is the collaborative manner in which artists are encouraged to work. This is a big issue and I don’t intend to go into any greater detail here but the individuality that most ‘intellectuals’ crave, demand and expect gets challenged in a socialist society. This might explain why some of those Albanian intellectuals and artists now hold the views they do. Examples of this would be the writer Ismail Kadare who no longer lives in his own country; Agim Nebiu, who was an active participant in the vandalism of the Albania Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, of which he was one of the designers; and Hektor Dule, who created the statue of Azim Hajdari, one of the leaders of the counter-revolution in 1990.)

The artillery monument was constructed of concrete with the relief being of bronze. Inauguration was in 1968.

The columns were typical of the style that was adopted throughout the country. This time two rectangular columns, of about 10 metres, are at right angles to each other with the shape of a star cut into a red background almost at the top of the tower. The base on which these columns sit was faced with white and red marble on to which the story of the attack on the Quisling assembly was written. In 2014 there were only small fragments of the marble in existence, most of it being smashed and some of it still littering the site.

Artillery lapidar - Sauk - 1971

Artillery lapidar – Sauk – 1971

(The area around the monument in happier times – published in issue No 5, 1971, of New Albania.)

A wall that held the bronze bas-relief has completely disappeared, as has the metal. Whether this was stolen out of pure theft or political vandalism I don’t, as yet, know for certain. This today is still an isolated site but 20 or 30 years ago would have been more so. That would have made either option relatively easy and unobserved.

The relief depicted six Partisan fighters, five men and one woman. The lead man has a pair of binoculars up to his face and would have been looking in the direction of the Victor Emmanuel III Palace. Behind him is a woman with a rifle on her back.

Next is the gun crew and their short barrelled mountain gun. There’s a commander pointing in the direction of fire and a gun aimer is down on his knees making the necessary adjustments to the angle of the barrel to determine the range and trajectory of the shell. Behind him a Partisan holds the shell that is soon to be dropping on the heads of the Fascist collaborators and traitors. The sixth man of the group holds the reigns of the horse that had contributed to dragging the gun into position in the first place.

In 1979 the artist Petro Kokusta created a depiction of this event in a painting entitled ‘Shelling the traitor’s assembly’ which is presently on display on the first floor of the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

Shelling the traitor's assembly - 1979 - Petro Kokushta

Shelling the traitor’s assembly – 1979 – Petro Kokushta

Not only is the monument in ruins the whole of the area is a rubbish strewn mess. The paths are overgrown and the area emits an atmosphere of neglect and dereliction. That’s a shame as from this vantage point you can get one of the finest views of the city of Tirana, with the Datji Mountain range in the background. The day I visited was the worst day, visibility wise, of my visit in November 2014 and the picture is pretty muggy. Next time I will visit on a better day and, hopefully, be able to provide a more accurate photographic impression of the possibilities.

Because this range isn’t as inaccessible now as it used to be. From the top end of Sauk a newly surfaced tarmac road climbs towards the first ridge where the local cemetery is located. The road continues to a second higher ridge which is where the ruined monument can be found. (Looking up from the centre of Sauk you should be able to make out two man-made structures, the columns of the Artillery Monument and a sharply pointed obelisk which stood over a military barracks.)

This road is Rruga Xhrebahimi and, I assume, was built primarily to serve the old barracks. But now it is a very fine, well made and smooth surfaced road – but it basically goes nowhere and is indicative of the ‘development’ under ‘democracy’.

As I was going along this new road I couldn’t work out why no traffic was passing me in either direction until a single motorbike passed me. As I walked uphill towards the high pass I passed a group of six workmen who were making ‘improvements’ to the road which weren’t necessary. They were merely shovelling spadefuls of gravel on the edge of the tarmac and then using a light steamroller to keep it in place (until the next rainy day). A completely useless and wasteful task – apart from keeping them employed.

When I arrived at the pass I realised why there was no real traffic on such a well made road. At the top there was a section of from 100-150 metres where the road was just a rough and rutted dirt track. The road then continued down the other side of the hill, going for how long and to where I know not. Why this crucial section hadn’t been completed I can only speculate. Corruption? Inefficiency? Bad planning? Probably a mix of all of them.

There would be, however, some people who will benefit from this road. Being built very close to the road, in a location which meant that the patios would look down towards the Tirana Park Lake and the city were a small handful of very expensive looking houses. This road, no doubt paid for by public money, would make it very easy for them to get home. What the people of Sauk thought of this road I wasn’t able to discover. They must have wondered why such a road was being built to nowhere when the roads in the town are just falling apart.

GPS:

N41º.29555302

E19º.80888203

Altitude: 328.9m

Getting there.

There are buses leaving at regular intervals, destination Sauk, from the bus station that is located in the square to the south of the Opera/National Library building (not far from The Partisan statue). Get off at the terminus and head for the hills in the direction that the bus had been travelling before you alighted. Cost 30 lek.

It’s a bit of a hike and must be close to 3 kilometres in distance. Once you get to the pass and the temporary end of the road take the narrow path off to the right, on the Sauk side of the hill and follow this to the monument. If you take the wider path off to the left, going pass some tunnels you will arrive at an abandoned military barracks and the site of the pointed obelisk (with a now sad-looking red star at its apex). Chose a good, clear day and you will be rewarded with a fine view of the city and the mountains (as well as, possibly, a sight of the coast).

Mushqete Monument – Berzhite

Mushqete Monument - in November 2014

Mushqete Monument – in November 2014

In the last days of the fight for the National Liberation of Albania by the Communist led Partisan army a crucial battle took place along the road from Elbasan to Tirana, south-east of the capital. To commemorate this battle the Mushqete Monument was erected at Berzhite.

The battle for Tirana had begun at the end of October (after much of the southern part of the country had already been regained by the liberation forces) and the Hitlerite forces decided to make a last desperate attempt to put off the inevitable by sending a column of about 3000 soldiers, with tanks, artillery and other armoured vehicles, from Elbasan. In the original plan they also wanted to send a similar force from Durres, on the coast, to create a pincer movement but that second force never materialised.

Four brigades of the National Liberation Army, consisting of about 1,200 men and women partisans, ambushed this column along the road (now the SH3) between the villages of Mushqete and Petrele on the 14th November 1944. The battle continued into the following day but by 18.00 of the 15th the battle was over. The German forces had suffered 1,500 dead and wounded and the remaining forces were captured. There is no information on the number of Albanians killed or wounded.

This was a no holds barred battle and contemporary reports talk about the route between the villages of Mushqete and Petrele being littered with corpses, of both men and horses, with the road and grass verges painted red with blood.

Victory in this battle, just 10 km from the capital, ensured that by 17th November Tirana was under the complete control of the liberation forces and within another two weeks the war was all but over for the German forces when they suffered another defeat in the northern city of Skhoder on the 29th November. That day is now celebrated as the date of the liberation of the country and the beginning of true independence.

On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the battle of Mushqete a monument to this important encounter was inaugurated in 1969.

Mushqeta Monument - soon after construction

Mushqeta Monument – soon after construction

The sculptor was Hektor Dule who worked with the assistance of the architect K Miho. Dule will appear on this blog again as he was the sculptor of a number of important works of the socialist period in Albania’s history but, unfortunately (so far) I have been unable to find out anything more about Miho.

It’s quite a unique piece of work in the Albanian context as the monument is in two, very distinctive, parts.

The first part is a large, rectangular panel depicting the symbolism of the Communist Partisan forces as well as the specifics of the conflict. This would have been made from a mould into which the concrete was poured and then set upright in its present location.

Many of the Socialist Realist monuments in Albania were made of concrete (beton in Albanian). This was a readily available and relatively cheap material (which accounts for its popularity) but I can’t think of any monuments in the UK which use the same basic material. At the same time lifting such a large panel must have been a complex and difficult task, fraught with difficulties. Concrete can be robust and durable but it does have its weaknesses and this particular piece would have been vulnerable as it was being manoeuvred from the horizontal to the vertical.

The panel is, roughly, 3 by 10 metres (not counting the panel with the text). When I visited in November 2014 it looked as if it had been recently whitewashed. As far as I can tell the original was just the bare concrete and there was no paint at all involved, i.e., no highlighting of the red stars as was the case, for example, on the Dema Memorial close to Saranda.

There are two distinct stories being told in this one image, one of victory and the future, the other of ignominious defeat. These two narratives are separated on the horizontal plane.

Starting from the left we have a group of four Partisans (three men and one woman), about life-size, all with the barrel of a rifle in one hand. The man at the front also holds a flag pole and the national flag then goes back over their heads, extending behind the group. The way it has been designed giving the impression it is fluttering in the wind. On the flag is the double-headed (black) eagle with the star (which on the cloth flag would have been in gold) sitting just above and between the two heads of the mythical raptor.

From here the panel is divided into two. On the top section, the one representing victory, there are six Partisan fighters, 4 men and two women. The first four (three men and one woman) are marching to the front, all armed, the first man looking back and urging them on. They are going towards two fighters (one of each gender) who are already firing at the enemy, the woman standing and firing a rifle, the man kneeling with a light machine gun. The machine gun is resting on a box with the letters WH but I’m not sure what they stand for. Lying on the ground under the machine gun is a male in civilian dress and this has been suggested to me to represent the Quislings (those collaborators and traitors which infected most of the countries invaded by the Fascists). This one will no longer be a problem as he has suffered the same fate as had been meted upon the 1,500 Hitlerites at the end of the 15th .

Mushqete Monument - Collaborator

Mushqete Monument – Collaborator

They are all heading, or shooting, towards the German Tiger tank which has been disabled and is on fire. This represents the armoured German column that had started out from Elbasan.

Mushqete Monument - Tiger tank in flames

Mushqete Monument – Tiger tank in flames

There are a few points to stress about this depiction of the Albanian Communists. They are all moving forward not only in battle but also in the sense of the Socialist future of their country. They show determination and a sense of dignity and purpose. They are marching and looking towards their capital of Tirana with their heads held high. On their caps they proudly display the star of the Communist Party. And, as I’ve mentioned before, not least in the post about the Albania Mosaic on the National History Museum, the women depicted are fighters, armed and prepared to use their arms, in the fight for their own liberation – these are no shrinking violets who wait at home for the men to ‘give’ them freedom.

Mushqete Monument - Female Partisan Fighter

Mushqete Monument – Female Partisan Fighter

The representation of the Nazi invaders couldn’t be any different. They occupy the lower part of the panel.

Starting from the right there’s a German officer, head bowed, standing in front of the useless, burning tank with his head between the tracks. In front of him is a standard-bearer, bent even lower and in his left hand he holds the regimental banner, with the swastika which is now being dragged in the dirt. Just the opposite of the Albanian flag which flies so proudly at the far left of the panel. This is also reminiscent of the Nazi standards being thrown down on the cobbles of Red Square in Moscow, in front of the Lenin Mausoleum with Stalin on the podium in May 1945.

Mushqete Monument - Swastika in the dirt

Mushqete Monument – Swastika in the dirt

Next we have a group of six men, all on their knees and now underneath the marching and fighting Partisans. They are all looking in the direction they had come, i.e., away from Tirana which was their goal when they left Elbasan. Five of them wear either a military helmet or cap but the one-fourth from the right is bare-headed. I can’t see anything defining him as a soldier so this might possibly be another representation of a collaborator.

Some of the faces of the defeated fascists look quite skeletal. In November 2014 I thought this was the deliberate intention of Dule but after seeing the black and white picture (taken no later than 1973) I believe this is just a consequence of time, whether deliberate damage or the ravages of the weather it’s impossible to say.

Mushqete Monument - 'Skeletal' Nazi

Mushqete Monument – ‘Skeletal’ Nazi

The extreme right hand side of this large panel is taken up with text. The text is spelt out with metal letters attached to marble panels. This is in a sad state of repair, a number of the letters missing completely and the marble stained, not least from the plants which are starting to encroach upon the monument from the field behind. However, the letters had been attached for so long the weathering of the marble means the shape of the letter is the colour of the stone at the time if the monument’s inauguration in 1969.

A rough translation of the text reads:

“On this road, from Mushqete to Petrele, was decided the fate of the war for the liberation of Tirana. On the 14th and 15th November, 1944 the fighters of the 1st, 4th, 8th and 17th (Partisan) brigades ambushed a German column of 3,000 and exterminated them.”

The second part of this monument is completely different in character to the story telling panel. This is a pillar, which must be close to six metres high, depicting a huge human hand holding the top end of the barrel of a rifle.

Mushqete Monument - Hand on rifle

Mushqete Monument – Hand on rifle

It stands at right angles to the panel and is facing in the direction of Mushqete creating an L-shaped arrangement. The other panel could possibly have been formed elsewhere and then transported to the site but this column would had to have been made in situ – and presumably this is where the architect Miho comes in.

This hand is so big it begs comparison with the body parts found in Rome, the only remains of the huge statues that once stood in the city when the Roman Empire was at its height. To add the rest of the body to this hand would be to create a colossus indeed. To the best of my knowledge this type of depiction of the Albanian fighter is unique and nothing approaching this sort of scale appears anywhere else in the country.

The largest Partisan statue I’ve seen is the one in the Gjirokastra Castle museum, but even that would be a tiddler beside the giant of Berzhite. The statue of Mother Albania in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery is big but a good half of its height is plinth.

The way I interpret this structure is to consider the size of the hand representing the potential power of the organised working class, being able to swat away the insect that is capitalism with ease, all that’s necessary is the will.

The hand and the rifle look in good condition and the whole of this part of the monument looks as if it had recently been whitewashed, but as with the panel this was not part of the original plan. However, time and lack of decent maintenance since the 1990s has meant cracks are starting to appear at the top of the column, towards the back.

On the flat wall at the back of the hand is the symbol of the double-headed eagle with the star (at the top) and on the flat surface facing the road are the letters VFLP. This is an initialism for “Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit!” (“Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!”) a slogan and an oath which Partisans used to express their unity of purpose.

Finally, about the monument itself, in the extreme bottom left hand corner of the panel can be made out the letters H DULE, the sculptor has ‘signed’ his work.

GPS:

N41.252781

E19.89280801

DMS:

41° 15′ 10.0116” N

19° 53′ 34.1088” E

Altitude: 192.2m

How to get there.

Berzhite is on the SH3, what used to be the main road between Tirana and Elbasan. A new motorway is presently being constructed along this route and the long distance buses no longer go along this stretch of road. However, there are two local buses which leave from the bottom end of Rruga Elbsanit, close to the junction with Boulavard Bajram Curri in Tirana. One is signed ‘Lapidar’ which terminates at Mushqete and the other goes a little further to the small and isolated village of Krabbe. The Krabbe bus leaves every half hour, at least in the mornings, at 15 and 45 past the hour. The Lapidar bus slots in between these times. The cost is anything from 50 to 100 lek, depending whether the ‘conductor’ wants to charge local or tourist prices (but as there are 170 lek to the pound (at the end of 2014) either price is not going to break any tourist bank.) The monument is set back slightly from the road, on the right hand side going in the direction of Elbasan, less than 30 minutes from Tirana. The bus going back to Tirana stops outside the cafe and shop opposite the monument.