Political Vandalism and ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic in Tirana
The wonderful and impressive ‘The Albanians’ Mosaic, which has looked down on Skenderbeu Square, in the centre of Tirana, from above the entrance of the National Historical Museum since 1982, is starting to show it’s age. Less it’s age, in fact, but really the signs of intentional neglect which is tantamount to an act of political vandalism.
The last time it was really ‘cared for’ was when one of the original artists involved in the construction of the mosaic (Agim Nebiu) used his skills and ‘expertise’ to attempt to depoliticise the work of Socialist Realist Art. At that time (which I still can’t say exactly when) the large, gold rimmed, five pointed red star which used to exist behind the head of the principal female character, at the centre of the mosaic, was removed. Also taken out was the smaller, gold-outlined star that sat above the heads of the double-headed eagle, the only difference between the flag of the present, capitalist state of Albania and the flag of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania.
Also removed – for me inexplicably – was the book that the male, to her right, clutches closely to his chest with his right arm. Although it would have been impossible to have seen so from street level, this would probably have been one of the books of Enver Hoxha, leader of the government and the Albanian Party of Labour from the first days after liberation to his death in 1985. (Another mosaic, this time in Bestrove, has an image of a child carrying a book of Enver Hoxha‘s works closely to her chest.)
Nebiu did a ‘good job’ – it’s very difficult to realise the original from what exists now, apart from a few areas where the colours don’t exactly match, and those unaware of the original will notice nothing. For his efforts he got his thirty pieces of silver. And people wonder why intellectuals were sent to the camps in Siberia.
The mosaic was also covered for some time at the end of 2012, just before the centenary of national liberation from the Ottoman Empire. But if any remedial work was carried out then it was very slip shod and almost immediately the mosaic showed increasing signs of decay.
And that decay continues. At an ever increasing pace.
Places were the ceramic tiles have fallen away have been obvious to the naked eye for some time and the iron framework upon which the whole structure rests has also started to poke its rusty face through the imagery. However, the majority of the decay wasn’t really encroaching on the actual figures in the picture. That’s different now as damage can be seen to the figures and their dress, especially in the lower third of the art work.
And that’s not a surprise. It receives no shade whatsoever from the blazing summer sun and for many of the summer months at the heat of the day the tiles would almost certainly be too hot to touch. Come the winter months temperatures below zero would be normal, especially at night, when ice crystals would form behind the tiles and force them away from the framework to which they are attached.
This alternating between extremes of temperature would have existed in the eight years of the mosaic’s existence before the fall of the socialist system in 1990 but efforts would have been made to keep matters of dis-repair under control. Also it would have been relatively new in the 80s and assuming care had been taken in its construction then it would have been able to withstand such variations in climate.
Although in the last couple of years a huge amount of money has been spent on renovating the immediate area – and it must be admitted that (at least at present) the new look, pedestrianised and car free Skenderbeu Square is a joy to walk through. But not a lek has been spent on the mosaic.
This must be intentional. The cowardly aim of the politicians, of whatever hue, to let the mosaic fall down – so as to avoid the accusation of artistic and cultural vandalism. If a sizeable chunk of stone was to fall and kill a foreign tourist as s/he was entering or leaving the museum all the better. Blame could then be apportioned on those who came up with the project in the first place – both the actual artists involved and the system of Socialism itself.
Unless there’s a radical change in attitude – which is highly unlikely – I doubt whether tourists to Albania will be able to enjoy and appreciate this unique example of Socialist Realist art on a visit to Tirana for many more years into the future.