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.

Peze Conference Memorial Park

Peze Conference Memorial

Peze Conference Memorial

The Peze Conference on 16th September 1942 was important in establishing the organisational structure for the forthcoming struggle for liberation against the Fascist invaders, first the Italian and then, when Italy fell to the Allies, the Germans. This important meeting took place in the home of Myslym Peza who had a large house and land on the edge of the small village of Peze, about 20 kilometres south-west from Tirana and this is now the location of the Peze Memorial Park.

Peze Conference - Fatmir Biba

Peze Conference – Fatmir Biba

When the Italian Fascists invaded on 7th April 1939 there was no resistance from the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog 1 who ran away with his family to Britain where, as they said at the time, ‘he had a good war’ – far from the death and destruction that was being inflicted on the country of his birth.

Different nationalist groups, but especially those organised by the Communist Party of Albania (CPA) after its foundation on 8th November 1941, fought against the invaders but by the middle of 1942 it was recognised that the struggle for liberation needed co-ordination and with that in mind the Communists invited all nationalists to a conference to create a structure that would defeat the materially superior foreign forces.

Peze Conference Room

Peze Conference Room

The home of Myslym Peza was chosen as though relatively close to the capital Tirana the struggle in that part of the country meant that it was a no-go area for Fascists and the meeting could be held in relative security. From this conference came the formation of the National Liberation Front. Probably the most important decision was, as it says in the History of the Party of Labour of Albania, that:

‘National Liberation councils should be set up everywhere as organs uniting and mobilising the people in the war, and as organs of the people’s power. Thus paving the way for the construction of socialism after victory over the invaders.’

Peze Conference - Fatmir Biba

Peze Conference – Fatmir Biba

After the war this area became a memorial park to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle against fascism and as well as the house, part of which became a museum of the partisan struggle, the grounds also became the location for three separate memorials.

The first was the memorial to the conference itself which is close to the villa buildings (the Peza family were obviously wealthy but Myslym adopted the Communist cause and became a commandant in the National Liberation Front).

Peze Conference Monument in happier days

Peze Conference Monument in happier days

This monument (inaugurated in 1970) is constructed of breeze block and faced with marble and is in the form of a stylised rifle standing butt end on the ground. This is surmounted, as on virtually all monuments celebrating and commemorating the War of National Liberation, a large star. This was the symbol of the CPA and appears on many monuments produced in the socialist era. The victory against the fascists was overwhelmingly due to the efforts of the Communists (although other nationalist hangers-on, supporters of Zogu and even the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) all wanted to claim the credit).

On the left of the central tower, on the wall that forms the other element of the sculpture, is the date, in stylised numbers, 16 9 1942.

On the right:

‘Konferenca e Pezës vuri themelet e bashkimit kombëtar në luftë kundër pushtuesve’

This translates to:

‘The Peze conference laid the foundations for national unity in the fight against the invaders’.

To the left of the monument, and a few metres in front of it, is a bowl that once would have hosted an eternal flame. Unfortunately, as the fight of the Albanian people has gone out so this flame of resistance has also been extinguished.

I’ve seen monuments in a worse condition so there must have been a determination in the village of Peze at the time of the chaos following the counter-revolution of 1991 to protect the structures in the park. None of the major sculptures show signs of vandalism but the monument to the conference is suffering from neglect and some of the marble slabs have fallen off exposing the breeze blocks beneath.

(As I’ve travelled around the country I’ve been surprised at the ready to hand materials that have been used in the construction of the memorials and statues. Simple and cheap materials were imaginatively used to produce interesting works of art – few were made at huge cost such as the monstrosities that litter British cities in homage to the monarchy and other exploiters of the people.)

The other two main monuments in the park are the Memorial to the 22nd Brigade and the Peze War Memorial.

To the right of the stairs to the first floor of the villa, facing the roadway, is a plaque which commemorates the conference. The translation reads: In this house, on the 16th September 1942, was convened the Peze Conference for national unity in the fight against the invaders.

Up these stairs there used to be a small museum related to the liberation war and the part the local men and women played in its victorious culmination. That has suffered from neglect (and no doubt some looting of anything that might have had any value) and the two rooms only have a few paintings and some photo cards on display. The rooms are really used as a storeroom to the expensive looking restaurant that occupies the ground floor space. The ‘museum’ is not normally open to the public but if the caretaker sees the opportunity of a 500 lek note he will open up (but perhaps only when there are few people around).

The ground floor is decorated and furnished as a wealthy land owners house would have been before the Second World War with an interesting portrait on the wall in the room off to the left of the entrance hall of Myslym Peza – if you get that far note the red star on his right lapel with the flag of Albania beneath it.

Like so much public property this villa has been privatised and although I didn’t see the menu this restaurant looked expensive, if not just because of the location and environment.

Once the Italian Fascists got news of the Conference they came and took their revenge on the building and it was destroyed. It was then rebuilt in its original form after liberation.

Peze Conference Building destroyed by Italian Fascists

Peze Conference Building destroyed by Italian Fascists

The, now, seemingly abandoned building just down from the main villa also has a plaque. This states that it was from this building that the partisans operated, from 1940, in the Liberation War. You can’t miss it as it’s the building with a rusting anti-aircraft gun and a small howitzer outside. They are from the war period, the car, I assume, although equally abandoned, is of a more recent vintage.

Despite the fact that the park has some of the best preserved socialist memorials in any one place I’ve seen so far that doesn’t mean it’s not suffered the ravages of the post socialist period. Just up hill from the villa is the remains of a large fountain. This has not entertained visitors with its cooling display for a long time.

Further down hill, closer to the entrance gate and to the right of the road as you come into the park is what looks like another, smaller – perhaps drinking – fountain. It seems there was some structure on both sides of the stone pillar as there are brackets fixed into the ground which must have supported something. As of yet I don’t know what.

For bunker hunters there are quite a few scattered around this small park, especially close to the park entrance. And, unfortunately, the whole area is covered with litter, a fate from which all Albanian parks suffer. The number of bars and restaurants in the village are too great for such a small population so it seems that this is a popular day trip for people from Tirana in the summer months, They have, regrettably, the habit of not taking their litter home but even worse, letting it sit where it lay which then gets subject to the wind.

In the fight back, that is there even if at a relatively low-level, someone has painted a large red star on a fuel tank close to the gate.

GPS:

N 41.21549997

E 19.70020898

DMS:

41° 12′ 55.7999” N

19° 42′ 0.7523” E

Altitude: 96.7m

How to get to the park:

This is simplicity itself. From the main road that comes from the direction of Tirana take the side road opposite the Post Office, heading downhill. Within a few steps you’ll see the gates the other side of a bridge over the river. This is the entrance to the park and once through the gates you’ll see the main monument just up the hill.

Getting to Peze by public transport:

Getting to Peze is not difficult but it does require a little bit of pre-planning and a bit of organisation as the starting point in Tirana is slightly out of the centre and it’s not a particularly frequent service. The bus stop is on Rruga Karvajes, opposite the German Hospital and just a few metres east of Rruga Naim Fresheri. The journey takes between 45 minutes and an hour, depending upon traffic and the driver, and costs 50 lek each way.

Departures from Tirana: 09.00, 12.00, 13.30,

Departures from Peze: 10.00, 12.45, 15.15

These times can be flexible in the sense of leaving later than stated. I suggest you allow at least an hour to explore the park. There are a number of bars and restaurants close to where the bus turns around so you can move quickly if necessary.

Waalsdorpervlakte – National Memorial in The Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

The simple memorial at Waalsdorpervlakte, in southern Holland, to Resistance fighters murdered by the Fascists during the Second World War, is a place for the people to remember and celebrate the sacrifices made to liberate their country.

Second World War memorial sites have a different meaning in Europe to those that commemorate the event in the UK – they’re more immediate. In Britain direct experience of war for the civilian population was limited to whatever might rain down on them from the air whereas huge parts of Europe were totally devastated in the conflict, most especially the Soviet Union, and invasion and its consequences were an everyday matter in all those countries occupied by Fascist forces.

Most of the western European countries capitulated within days and as a result physical damage to the major cities was minimal. For example, both Paris and Amsterdam suffered less destruction than London (and many other British cities) even though France and The Netherlands lost their independence through the German occupation. Quick capitulation, pro-Fascists internally and the attitude of the Nazis that the French and the Dutch were Aryans (unless you were a Communist, Jew, Gypsy or homosexual) meant that the local population were not unduly mistreated by the invaders – as long as they played along with the occupiers.

The situation was very different in the east. Just look at pictures of German officers walking around the Eiffel Tower with French women on their arms or boat loads of German soldiers playing at tourists – doing 70 years ago what thousands of tourist do today – looking at Amsterdam’s attractions from the canals. Compare that with the Soviet Union where the only pictures of Germans with Russian women is when they are standing beside a gibbet with a line of Soviet citizens hanging from a short rope, indicating a slow strangulation rather than an ‘efficient’ hanging.

In France and Holland most accepted the occupation and kept their heads down, not wishing to court trouble; some were out-and-out collaborators – and from that number some paid the price at the end of the war whilst others went on to positions of power and influence in the post-war reconstruction; others actively fought in the Resistance at various levels, from taking up arms to hiding those being sought by the Gestapo. But the price for being in the last group could mean death.

And for 250-280 Dutch Resistance fighters their last stand of defiance would be where they would be buried.

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

The Waalsdorpervlakte is an open place in the dune area “Meijendel” not far from The Hague (the government and administrative centre of Holland). This area, close to the sea, is relatively isolated today and would have been even more so in the 1940s. Prisoners were brought here, shot and then buried in unmarked graves. Not by chance this was also the execution site of the Anton Mussert, one of the founders of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) and its formal leader. On the defeat of the Nazis he was arrested, convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. Exactly a year after he was arrested he faced a similar firing squad to the Resistance fighters but was buried in a public cemetery, there being no desire to pollute the most recent of Holland’s memorial sites.

After the war May 4th was declared the day for the ‘Remembrance of the Dead’ and almost spontaneously, and without any official government input, survivors of the Resistance and relatives of those murdered there decided to congregate and commemorate their lives.

Although this has now turned into a ritual it still retains its common approach. There are no VIPs (except any remaining survivors and relatives of those assumed to be buried there), no speeches and it’s for anyone who wishes to turn up to take part.

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

Waalsdorpervlakte, The Hague, Netherlands

On a slight rise overlooking the simple memorial there’s a huge Bourbon bell. From the time that the procession arrives from the entrance to the park, at about 19.40, groups of people slowly toll the bell by pulling on ropes attached to the four corners of the bell support. At 20.00 the bell is silenced, the ‘Last Post’ is sounded and this is followed by a two minutes silence. The national anthem signals the end of the two minutes and then the assembled people place their tributes. Whilst they are doing this the big bell sounds out its deep, bass tone and tradition holds that the bell will continue to toll as long as there are people still waiting to place their wreaths or flowers. The ceremony normally finishes between 22.00 and 23.00.

This is not a mass event the way that some of the national memorial services tend to be, with their so-called ‘dignitaries’ in attendance, but there were just a few short of 4,000 people at the event in 2013.

Although May 4th is a special event the site is accessible all year round.

Click here for a short video of the ‘Remembrance of the Dead’ day in 2013.

Practicalities

Public transport

From Station The Hague Central Station take bus 22 going in the direction of Duinzigt. Get off at stop ‘Waalsdorperweg’ (13 minutes) and then on foot (about 10 minutes), heading in a generally north-easterly direction. There are 4 buses an hour.

GPS coordinates:

International coordinate system WGS84
Monument: Lat N 52.11577 ° Long E 04.33624 °