Monument to Communists murdered by Italian Fascists – Tepelene
Apart from what it commemorates, that is the torture and murder of four communists from the from the area by the Italian Fascists in 1943, the lapidar – just below the castle walls on the main road between Gjirokaster and then heading north towards Tirana – isn’t exceptional and doesn’t have any real architectural value, but it encompasses a number of aspects which make it slightly unique.
The first is its very location. It sits quite high up above the river and looking south you can see where the the two rivers meet. The Drino comes from Gjirokaster and the Vjosë comes from Pëmet and as the now much larger river passes beneath Tepelene (and the lapidar) it is now takes the name Vjosë and continues north west until it joins the Adriatic close to the town of Fier.
So the view from its location is quite spectacular, not only of the rivers but also the high mountain range which separate Pëmet from Gjirokaster. As the crow flies they’re quite close to each other but you have a mountain range, which is over 2000 metres high, in between.
The other thing that makes this lapidar quite interesting is the fact it has been totally reconstructed. When the Albany Lapidar Survey was done in 2014 the layout was basically the same but it was dirty and there was some damage. (A couple of photos of the original can be seen in Volume 3 of the results of the Survey.) The present lapidar has maintained the original design but is now clean and there was obviously an effort to restore it but with respect for what had been there originally.
The marble was cracked and dirty on the original but that’s now being cleaned up. The wording of the reason for the monument is exactly the same (even following the same font), including a repition of the names. The only significant difference between the two versions is that on the original a (superfluous) addition of the year ‘1943’ appeared below the names of the four Communists who were murdered by the Italian fascists.
Italian Fascist Barbarity – Tepelene – 04
So what we have here is a simple, two part lapidar. On the left is a straightforward square, concrete pillar, faced with marble and on the top of which, in a circular stone plaque, is a star that hss been painted red.
Italian Fascist Barbarity – Tepelene – 01
To the right you have the the rectangle of the the lapidar itself, with the legend, in Albanian;
Ketu me 2 korrick 1943 fashistet italian pasi I torturuan barbarisht vrane sekretarin e qarkorit te partise te beratit Kristaq Capo dhe te rinjte komunist Qemal Mysliu, Vildan Lurasi dhe Andrea Vrusho
which translates into English as;
Here, on July 2nd 1943, the Italian Fascits brutally tortured to death the Berat District Party Secretary Kristaq Capo and the Young Communists Qemal Mysliu, Vildan Lurasi and Andrea Vrusho
Italian Fascist Barbarity – Tepelene – 03
One other thing that might be of interest is that the location of the image in the painting of Enver Hoxha, which ‘reappeared’ in the Tepelene Historical Museum a few years ago, is, more or less, on this very spot.
Enver Hoxha with the people of Tepelene
In Tepelene there seems to be an approach towards the socialist past which is a lot more positive than in some of the other towns in Albania. The museum is looked after, it’s staffed, clean and it’s open to the public. Some parts which had been closed in the past are being opened up and some exhibits being brought out of storage and placed on display – such as the magnificent maquette of the proposed (but never completed) lapidar at the Tepelene Martyrs’ Cemetery.
Also within the town itself there are a number of busts of Peoples Heroes, again cared for and in good condition.
So it would seem that in Tepelene we have a local government which has a respect for the past, especially the Anti-Fascist National Liberation War, and is prepared to spend time and money to maintain that past.
Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery and the 75th Anniversary of Liberation
Details about the lapidar, and some of the history, of the Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery (ALS 376) were posted some time ago. However, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Gjirokaster from the Nazi occupation I was fortunate enough to be, again, in the city.
The Nazi’s were forced from the city by the Partisans, under the leadership of the Albanian Communist Party (that was later renamed as the Party of Labour of Albania) on 18th September 1944. That date is still considered important, even through all the changes and the anarchy that hit Gjirokaster significantly during the 1990s, as the main street in the new town is still called Bulevard 18 Shtator (18th September Avenue).
On that date in 2019 a small celebration was organised both at the cemetery itself and in the theatre in the new part of town – but much less than it would have been during the period of Socialist construction. However, the event did follow certain aspects which were common of such occasions between 1944 and 1990.
There was a march from the centre of the new town to the cemetery (which is on the edge of town on the national road that heads towards Tepelene (and hence Tirana) in the north and the Greek border at Kakavija towards the south) where a short ceremony took place and this was followed a short time later by a cultural performance/speeches in the town’s theatre.
As I have said this was very low key, the rest of Gjirokaster carrying on life as normal, something which would not have happened in the past. Such an anniversary would have been a public holiday and the celebration would have been much more formal and with events taking place all over the town.
However, there are a few points I would like to emphasis from my observation on the day, which include how things were done in the past and how they were done in 2019.
It was obvious that those who still identify themselves with the Socialist past in Albania were those who wore a red scarf around their necks. This was part of the ‘uniform’ of the Partisans. This I have pointed out in many descriptions of the lapidars which have appeared on the page under the heading of the Albanian Lapidar Survey.
The military presence existed but on a much reduced level – just really a couple of officers in regular, i.e., not dress, uniform. Whether it was seen as an obligation I can only surmise. During the Socialist period the military presence would have been in the form of the People’s Militia which consisted of both men and women.
The tradition at ceremonies in the Martyrs’ cemeteries always consisted of children from the Young Pioneers standing at each of the tombs and during the ceremony a single red carnation would be placed on each tomb. As time passed it would obviously mean that many of the martyrs would not have any surviving relatives who might be able to place flowers on the tombs. By having the Young Pioneers do so, in a formal and organised manner, it meant that none of the anti-Fascist fighters were forgotten and left out. In 2019 it was again young people who brought baskets of flowers and then placed a single flower on each tomb – but these were older children, in their teens, rather than the younger, primary school children, who would have carried out the task pre-1990. (But someone ‘forgot’ to count the tombs as at the end of the flower distribution there were still quite a number without a flower.)
Child distributing flowers
There was very little ‘formality’ during the 75th Anniversary celebration at the cemetery. People tended to mill around rather than stand in any formal manner. If you want to draw comparisons then the fact that this is being written on 11th November provides an easy and almost direct comparison.
At 11.00 on Remembrance Sunday (in the United Kingdom) in the centre of London at the Cenotaph there will be a very formal presence of politicians and aristocracy. After the Minutes’ Silence there will be a very formal and organised laying of wreaths and then a march past of veterans. To do otherwise in Britain would cause an outcry of indignation from various sectors of the population and media. For people to just walk by and see who had left the wreath at the Cenotaph during the Minutes’ Silence would be considered disrespectful. That was virtually what was happening in Gjirokaster on 18th September 2019.
I’m not saying that is either good or bad. It’s just to remind readers that countries have various ways in commemorating their dead in past wars. It should also be remembered that, in theory if not really in ultimate practice, in the early 1940s the so-called ‘Allies’ were supposed to be fighting on the same side and that the defeat of Fascism was the aim of all the countries. So perhaps people should remember this when they start to make judgements on the past in Albania.
Without significant help from any other army of the major warring Allies the Albanian people were able to liberate themselves from both the Italian Fascist and German Nazi invaders. In some respects that was their greatest crime – at least in the eyes of the British and the Americans. It meant they weren’t beholding to any external power and would fight to maintain the independence they had gained on 29h November 1944. It was for this reason that the British threatened and made attempts at ‘regime change’ in Albania even before the sound of the cannon fire had disappeared in the distance.
But back to the ceremony on 18th September 2019.
One small event that caused a local stir was the presence of an older man who help a portrait of Comrade Enver Hoxha, in a glass frame, high above his head in front of the images of the eight heroes/heroines of Gjirokaster depicted on the lapidar. He drew the attention of the media present as well as a number of onlookers. Though a single incident it was good to see that the spirit of the past still exists within the city.
Holding Enver High
Hopefully, readers will be able to get an idea of the event from the pictures in the slide show below.
Event at the theatre
Much of the celebration that continued in the theatre an hour or so after the ceremony at the celebration went over my head as a non-Albanian speaker. However, it was possible to get the general tone in that the Liberation of the town from the Nazis 75 years previously was still an event that needed to be remembered and commemorated.
(This is despite the fact that in Tirana Park, in the capital, there’s a monument to the Nazi fallen – put there to please the so-called democrats of Germany and, no doubt, in a bid to curry favour with a principle player in the European Union – which Albania is desperate to join and which (even though it goes against all the logic of the EU Constitution). This is likely (bizarrely) to happen in the not too distant future. High level talks are taking place in 2021 – when the rest of the EU is starting to implode – and the only reason I can see for this is the huge mineral resources that have so far remained untapped in the (at the moment) relatively inaccessible part of the north east of the country. But how many other countries that fought the Fascists in the Second World War have monuments to the dead of the invaders?)
As part of this celebration there was a small exhibition of Socialist Realist Art in the entrance to the theatre – examples which are included in the slide show below. Some of these had been brought down from the Museum in the Castle for the occasion – and can be seen in the badly maintained and positively dirty museum at present. Others seems to have come from storage – as was the picture of Persefoni and Bule, the two so-called ‘Hanged Women of Gjirokaster’, two young, Partisan women, in their early twenties, who were publicly hung in the main square in the old town on July 17th 1944. This particular picture has been added as an update to the post on these two brave young Communist fighters.
Persefoni and Bula – G Modhi 1966
Also in exhibition was a brand new, and very fine, tapestry of the Liberation which, I assume, was made specifically for the 75th Anniversary. The artist has signed their name SC – but I have no further information to date.
18 Shtator 1944 – SC – tapestry
Update on the cemetery
I took the opportunity of a quiet moment to have another visit to the cemetery to try to get an idea of what the Anti-Fascist National Liberation war was all about. I had missed them in the past but was slightly surprised to see that (although there are many young people remembered on the tombs) there were two children of 14 (Sulo Hysi (1929-1943) and Kristo Cavo (1929-1943)) and one 16 year-old (Celo Sinani (1928-1944)) who also fell in the struggle for liberation.
I have been having difficulty in tracking down someone in Gjirokaster who might know exactly who is represented amongst the eight heads which are depicted on the lapidar. In the cemetery there are a few tombstones which carry a red star as well as the name of the individual. These will be officially Heroes of the People. Two of those, Bule Naipi (1922-1944) and Persefoni Koadhima (1923-1944) are the so-called ‘Hanged Women of Gjirokaster’ and are the young female faces on the lapidar.
I am assuming that of the other Heroes of the People whose tombs are in the Martyrs’ Cemetery – Themo-Vasi (no dates), Celo Sinani (1928-1944) and Muzafer Asqueria (1918-1942) – might well be also depicted on the panel but if so I’m not sure which they are.
This lapidar consists of a bronze statue, half body, starting just below the waist, around about twice life size. The statue stands on a plinth, which is about one and half metres high. This plinth and statue are part of a general structure, the background of which is a huge, stylised flag – the dimensions of the backdrop are (very roughly) 4 metres high, 3 metres wide and ¾ metre deep. All the stonework will have a base of concrete and is faced with slabs of white-ish marble.
The statue is of a young man, who, by his posture, is moving towards his right, his head facing in that direction and with a determined look on his face. In his right hand he is holding a pistol. This could well be a Berretta M1915 (which was used by Vasil Laçi in 1941). His left arm is stretched out behind him, all the fingers on his hand spread wide, a stance to provide better balance for his intended action (which is an ambush on foot).
A Berretta M1915?
The gun in his right hand is not facing the target but is as if he has just pulled the gun from out of his clothing and it’s in the process of swinging around so that it will eventually make a straight line from the tip of the barrel, through both his arms to the tips of the fingers of his left hand.
There’s also the impression of movement from the fact that the scarf that he has around his neck is loose and it is flowing over his left shoulder. The left side of his jacket, which is unbuttoned, is also flowing out behind him providing the impression he’s rushing towards his right and the clothes are slightly lagging behind his body’s movement.
This is a statue of a young man with relatively short hair and of someone who’s living in the city as there are no elements of traditional Albanian dress in his clothing.
On ‘flag’, above its head and to the statue’s right, is a plaque which has the words;
Me mirnjohje njësitit gueril të Korçës të rinjve komunistë Midhi Kostani, Kiço Greço, që dhanë jetën për lirinë e atdheut.
With gratitude to the guerrilla unit of Korça, the young communists Midhi Kostani and Kiço Greço, who gave their lives for the freedom of the homeland.
Not the original inscription
However, this does not look like the original inscription. Just above the marble plaque there are a number of holes as if this is where individual, metal letters would have been attached to the wall. This was the more usual method of attaching an inscription. So far there’s no way of knowing (destroyed records during the counter-revolution of the 1990s) what the original description might been.
This takes on a specific importance here as information from other sources indicates that this statue was created by Kristaq Rama, and that it is supposed to be that of Vasil Laçi, who attempted to assassinate Victor Emmanuel III, in Tirana, in 1941. No confirmed date for its creation but probably mid-1970s.
However, Vasil’s name is not one of the two that are inscribed on the plaque.
He did have a connection with Korçe – his brother lived there – which is possibly one of the reasons why he may have been placed in the city. There’s no other reason why he should be where he is because he came from area around Sarande, in the south of Albania, and he spent some time before the assassination attempt in Tirana.
(If this is, indeed, a statue of Vasil Laçi then it’s not a surprise that he has been ‘written out of history’. Albanian authorities, in some – but by no means all – towns and cities in Albania have been attempting to obliterate the Socialist past and a statue commemorating an assault on the life of the puppet monarch from Fascist Italy might not fit in with the brown nosing that takes place in Albania towards the capitalist European Union.)
This statue is in very condition, as is the stonework which is part of the lapidar and there is no obvious damage in the marble facing – which is a pleasant surprise.
In the main, pedestrianised street, Bulevardi Shen Gjergji, of Korca, next to the main city library.