Tepelene Historical Museum

Tepelene Historical Museum Facade

Tepelene Historical Museum Facade

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Tepelene Historical Museum

Most towns of any size (and a number of smaller villages) during Albania’s Socialist period would have had a small museum telling the story of the Anti-Fascist National Liberation War. Often, though not always, these could be found as part of the Martyrs’ Cemetery but at other times they would be closer to the town centre. The Tepelene Historical Museum is one of those which stands alone.

Sadly many of those attached to the Martyrs’ Cemeteries are normally empty and sometimes abandoned and filthy. This is very much dependent upon the local people and municipality. For example, the museum at the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Lushnjë is virtually empty but the building and grounds are kept clean and tidy. On the other hand the museum attached to the cemetery in Krujë was the home to a decomposing dog when I visited some years ago.

Some museums have been censored. Many references to the struggle of the Partisans have been removed from view in Ersekë and the exhibits of the past just piled on top of each other in a closed room on the first floor (although you may be able to get a look in if you ask). And that’s despite the fact that the facade of the Ersekë Museum is an amazing, and huge, bas relief celebrating the achievements of the Partisans and which is in very good condition. That would seem to indicate that the local people have some respect for the past and are proud to be the home of a unique work of art.

The museum in Bajram Curri was looted in the 1990s and the mural defaced – although the lapidar outside was undamaged. Others have been converted to other uses. What used to be the museum in Proger is now the villages medical centre – although I’m sure there would have been a medical centre during the Socialist period so don’t understand why it was moved.

But back to Tepelene. And this is one of those that has fared better over the years. There has been some investment in making repairs and keeping everything clean and suitable for visitors. (Unfortunately this is not always the case, Gjirokaster Castle Museum being a case in point which has the feel of neglect wherever you are in the complex.)

The first thing to notice is the facade. The marble facing has been cleaned up in recent years and original wording, in large red letters, of ‘Muzeu Historik’ has been replaced with just the word ‘Muzeu’ – but in larger, red letters.

However, the most important aspect of the facade is the symbol on the right hand side. Attached to the the building is a large (it must be at least 2 metres high), bronze sculpture of a Pickaxe and Rifle representing the slogan of the Party of Labour of Albania – ‘To build socialism holding a pickaxe in one hand and a rifle in the other’. (You can get more information of the meaning of this symbol as well as an introduction to the construction of Socialism in Albania in the book ‘Pickaxe and Rifle’ by William Ash.)

This is quite possibly unique. Having visited many of the museums in the country I haven’t seen its like so I was happily surprised when I first saw it and even more pleased that it now stands out clearly since the marble has been cleaned of years of staining.

Through the main door you are faced with the museum office and that’s where you pay. If you wish the guardian will give you a guided tour but you can also take things at your own pace if you wish. We are not talking about a huge space, the museum being on two floors, consisting of little more than six or seven rooms.

The first room on the ground floor has artefacts from the very early days of Albania and the development of Tepelene as a town up to the beginning of the 20th century and the fight for Independence from the Ottoman’s.

However, of main interest to me (and anyone else who has an interest in Albanian lapidars or Socialist Realist Art in general) is the large maquette, in white plaster, that stands at the far side of the room, next to the entrance to the second room.

Maquette Tepelene Martyrs' Cemetery lapidar

Maquette Tepelene Martyrs’ Cemetery lapidar

This is a representation of what was planned for the lapidar at the Tepelene Martyrs’ Cemetery which is located in the hill immediately above the museum. (You can see the top of the lapidar if you are in the Ali Pasha Square facing the museum. Look up and slightly towards the south and you will see it through the trees.) Why it was never completed as in the maquette I’ve not been able to ascertain nor do I know who was the sculptor commissioned to produce the work. What exists in the cemetery is the large column and the representation of the red flag at the top with a large star on the left, at ground level. But the figures and the slogans were never completed. What exists has always looked top heavy to me but after seeing the maquette I realised that it fits in with the original design. When it was decided not to go with the full sculpture it would have been better if a new design, less ambitious, had been chosen.

This could be that it was one of the later lapidars (of the 1980s) and following the death of Enver Hoxha in 1984 was a victim of the change in policy of the Ramiz Alia government towards the Albanian Cultural Revolution. Artistically this is unfortunate. If it had been completed as proposed then it would have been one of the most impressive of the larger lapidars.

The next, small, room contains a memorial board of those from the Tepelene area who die in the struggle for Independence both pre-1939 (the struggle against the Ottomans) and from 1939 in the Anti-Fascist National Liberation War against the invading Italian and Germans. Opposite are the busts of three ‘People’s Heroes’, those who had been picked out for their exceptional heroism in the fight against the fascists. (Tepelene also has a number of these busts displayed in the town, in the square close to the Bashkia (local municipality).

Tepelene town

Tepelene town

The next room is mainly devoted to the independence struggles of the 19th into the 20th centuries. However, immediately on the right – above a table on which there are various WWII machine guns – is a painting by Ar Loli.

Ar Loli

Ar Loli

I don’t know the title and the date is difficult to read. It depicts a Partisan ambush on, probably, a Nazi column in the mountains. The Partisans have both the political and the physical high-ground and all the fighters are firing downwards, into a valley or dip in the land. These are Communists – as stated by their red scarves and the red stars on some of the caps. In the centre a Partisan fighter keeps on firing even though he has sustained a head wound – as does another in the background. On the left of the picture is a bugler who is facing away from the conflict but is in the act of calling others to the fight. This is a common motif in such paintings and sculptures, as can be seen, for example, on the magnificent Arch of Drashovice.

Above the bugler is a Partisan in traditional countryside dress and he is the standard bearer. The flag is the red flag with the black double headed eagle. When depicted with a group that are fighting in the 1940s this banner would have a red star above the eagles heads but I can’t make one out here. Whether it ever existed or whether it has been painted out (which is not uncommon in a number of locations – most notably on the mosaic on the facade of the Historical Museum in Tirana) I would not know. (Records of all these paintings/art works must exist but the most readily accessible source was the Writers’ Union archive which was destroyed by vandals in the 1990s. Whether the National Archives have this information I have yet to discover.)

Sheer mountain cliffs, indicating the impressive and incredibly difficult landscape in which most of the fighting of the Partisan took place, are also common motif in these paintings, as are the flames coming from the vehicles of the armoured column that dared to enter the territory. Surprisingly missing from this paintings is any female Partisan – women having played a major role in the liberation of their country from the Nazis.

The four other paintings in this room are from battles with the Ottomans before Independence on 28th November 1912. All of them include the idea that the Albanians fought from high ground, territory they knew well and could use to their advantage. They are either firing downwards or looking to see if there are other enemy in the vicinity.

Against the Ottomans

Against the Ottomans

One of them, depicting a scene where there has been hand to hand fighting, is a little bit more gruesome than most. The central Albanian is sheathing his bloodied sword, standing over his victim who is bleeding out into Albanian soil. To his left another Turkish invader is about to meet his end by having his brains dashed out by a huge rock. His terrified face can be seen between the legs of his assailant. In this picture it’s the traditional dress that separate the Albanians from the Turks.

Attack from on high

Attack from on high

Another picture is of a slightly later conflict against the Ottomans as the swords and rocks have been replaced by early firearms – and there’s a small cannon in the bottom right hand corner. This one is by M Congi and is dated 1979. Again no title. However, we have the same idea of the Albanians using the terrain, the high and difficult mountains, to their advantage against any invader.

Meeting in the countryside

Meeting in the countryside

The next one I find slightly confusing – lack of information tickets doesn’t help. This one is of a meeting in the countryside and all but one of the people in the picture are wearing traditional costume and virtually all the men wearing the conical felt hat, the qeleshe. Towards the right hand side of the painting a man stands reading from a large piece of paper, presumably a declaration of sorts. A group of men in the foreground are armed with what look like 20th century weapons. Facing the man making the declaration is another man, bare-headed, holding a large axe in both his hands and on his back he has a fur cloak. To the right of him is the only woman discernible in the panting.

In the background is a range of mountains which are likely to be those close to Tepelene. The scene seems to be set quite high up as there is a rushing stream on the left hand side, at the head of which stands a large tree.

Now comes the two elements that present confusion rather than clarification. Immediately behind the declaration maker is a man, facing out of the picture, who is wearing a blue suit and a red tie. He’s obviously not a local but someone from the city and his style of dress indicates second half of the 20th century. Behind his head is a red flag with the twin headed, black eagle – but I can’t make out if there is a gold star between the heads of the bird – as that would help to date the event.

Is it a post-Liberation picture where the declaration is about the land being officially given to all the people of the village having dispossessed the previous landowner? But if that is the case why is the picture being displayed in the room which tells the story of pre-1939 independence struggles? At present I’m stuck on this one.

That's where we attack

That’s where we attack

The final picture in this room is of a group of armed men who are standing on a hill along the coast. This, therefore, has no direct connection to Tepelene as it is some kilometres from the sea. In the background are the hills of an island some distance away and the only place that could be would be the Greek island of Corfu, which is just across the straights from the Albanian town of Saranda. (It was in this general area that the so-called ‘Corfu Channel Incident’ took place in 1946. This was when the British Labour Government tried to intimidate the young Albanian Socialist government by sending a flotilla of warships into Albanian territorial waters.)

Again there are few clues in this picture of what the event is supposed to be. The principle figure in the foreground holds a rifle in his left hand as he points to some unknown location with his outstretched right arm. All the other figures in the picture, bar one, are looking in that direction. The one is also slightly out of place as most of the figures have traditional dress and the qeleshe but he is bear-headed and seems to be wearing city clothing. He also has a beard, as opposed to just the moustache worn by virtually everyone else, and has a bemused, confused look on his face. Although there’s a red flag prominent in the picture again there are no clues here to the exact date. As in another of the paintings in this room there is an uncharacteristic absence of any female figure.

Passing through the doorway to the left of this room you enter the room with artefacts, photographs and information about the Anti-Fascist National Liberation War fought by the Albanians Partisans against first the Italian fascist and then the German Nazi invaders.

When it comes to Socialist Realist paintings this room includes three examples.

The first two are high up on the left hand wall as you enter the room.

Three Communists

Three Communists

The first is a half body portrait of three Communists, two male and one female. The man in the foreground is obviously the officer. (Although there is, normally, a good representation of women in such paintings I must admit that I can’t think of many where it is obviously the woman who is the most ‘senior’ in the story.) He is holding a pair of binoculars in his right hand and in his left hand he holds his crumpled up cap (with the red star showing). He wears a red scarf, indicating he’s a Communist and also has a revolver rather than a rifle. In this manner the Albanian Partisan ranking system followed what was ‘traditional’ in all the armies of the time.

To the officer’s left stands a young woman. Her abundant black hair spills out from underneath her cap, which also has a red star at the front. Around her neck she also wears a red scarf and in her right hand she holds her rifle by the lower end of the barrel. Around her waist she has ammunition pouches attached to the belt and hanging from it is a mills bomb (grenade). There’s a red banner (with the black eagle) between the officer and the female.

Behind the right shoulder of the officer we see the head of a young, male Partisan. He has his rifle slung over his right shoulder so we only see the very top of the barrel.

All three are looking in the same direction.

By looking to the far right of the painting we see a long line of diminishing figures walking along a narrow mountain path so our three figures are at the head of a Partisan column on the march.

Kodheli 1970

Kodheli 1970

The painting next to the three communists is one of a Partisan officer explaining something to an old shepherd. We see him in a partial profile and we know he’s a shepherd by his crook, which he holds with his right hand close to his face. On his back is a rucksack and his black sheepskin coat has fallen down to his waist.

The main figure in this painting is a Partisan officer. He has the lot. In full uniform; a cap with a red star on the front; a dispatch case resting on his right hip; a belt for his revolver which has ammunition pouches attached; a rifle the butt of which is resting on the ground and which he is holding upright with his left hand; and on his lap rests a light coloured raincoat.

He’s sitting on a wooden packing case and his right arm is extended towards the viewer with his finger pointing at us. He seems to be explaining something rather than asking questions. His whole manner is such that he knows what he is doing and he just wants to pass that information on to the old man.

This idea is reinforced by the manner of the two other figures in the painting which are a teenage boy and a young man who are to the left and behind the officer. They appear intent on understanding what is said, the young man having a slightly questioning look on his face.

This painting is signed Khodheli and is dated 1970. The four figures fill the picture so it’s impossible to know the location other than it is in the countryside.

The Liberation of Tepelene

The Liberation of Tepelene

The next painting is the large one at the other end of the room which depicts the liberation of Tepelene in September 1944. It bears a lot in common with the mosaic in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Durrës and also the bas relief in Bajram Curri.

There are similarities but there are also some quaint differences which make it not just a copy of the same idea. All these images are idealised representations of what actually happened, the actual liberation more than likely having been a very confused and chaotic event.

What we have here is a Partisan column marching into the town, the grey structure dominating the background on the right being the castle around which the town grew – and the battle scars on the battlements indicate the ferocity of the battle. The Albanian flag flies above the castle, replacing the swastika that would have been there beforehand.

The front row of the column comprises three partisans, two men and a woman, all in uniform but not exactly the same as Partisan armies don’t have a distant supply chain to provide exact uniformity of dress. The three of them are Communists – by the red scarves two of them are wearing and the red star on the caps of all three.

They are marching in step so this isn’t just an unorganised event. The woman has her mouth open as if she is singing (as is another woman whose head we can see just behind the left shoulder of the central male officer). There are other indications that this was a celebration that would have included music as on the right hand side you can see a group of men dancing, handkerchiefs waving above their heads and although they are not in this image that would have meant there were musicians in the vicinity.

In both the Partisan column and the welcoming crowd there is a mix of those from the countryside and those who were more comfortable in the towns. The moustaches and traditional caps on some of the men picking them out as from the smaller villages, the clothes of working men those from the towns.

The Partisan marching just behind the lead woman has a white bandage poking out from under his cap indicating that the battle might have been won but not without sacrifice in killed and wounded – and later a Martyr’s Cemetery would be built on the hill to the south above the town.

There are a couple of images of people greeting each other further into the painting. On the left, just behind the wounded marching Partisan an older woman is talking to, and seems to be holding the arm of a young male Partisan. This could well be a mother who had lost her son or daughter in the liberation struggle. Many gave the ultimate sacrifice in the battle against fascism and many of them were young people, some not even out of their teens. This can be seen by the dates on the tombs in such places as the Gjirokaster Martyr’s Cemetery and in the example of young Liri Gero from Fier.

On the left, just to the left of the older man with a white moustache with a rifle slung on his back, standing and watching the column go by are two comrades embracing. Both of them have the uniform of the Partisans but one has a bandaged head so it indicates that they were separated when one of then was wounded and this is the first time they have got back together.

There are four children in the painting, all of them together on the right hand side of the foreground. The youngest is being held in the arms of his mother and he has his right arm outstretched towards the partisans with his finger pointing at them. Another, older, boy (in a red shirt) is holding the hand of the male Partisan who is marching in the front row on the right. The Partisan grips the young boy’s hand tightly and there is a connection between them as they have eye contact, with the boy smiling. The Partisan is either singing or saying something to the boy.

Next we have two young girls. The one in the orange dress is smiling and applauding the column. Her companion who is slightly younger is on the very edge of the painting. She is dressed in a blue blouse and a white skirt and seems to have her right hand on the shoulder of her older friend/sibling. What’s important to notice about these children is that all but the very last girl are not wearing shoes – an indication of the poverty that existed in the country even before the invasion by the fascists in 1939. The war didn’t created the poverty, it only made it worse.

The final thing to notice is the four spent shell cases that are lying on the ground at the very bottom right hand edge of the painting.

The displays on the walls in this room give an idea of who fought in the area and some details of the military campaign. There’s also a number of pictures of the various partisan sections posing for group photos. You’ll come across such photos in many of the still existing museums in the country. This is very similar to revolutionary movements in Latin America where having their picture taken seemed to be part of the job of being a Partisan or fighter. I have never really understood this practice, especially when you were faced with an enemy such as the Nazis who would use any such captured material to undermine and destroy the Partisan opposition and base within the community.

Tepelene Historical Museum - Nazi murder

Tepelene Historical Museum – Nazi murder

One photo to look out for is one which is on a board on the wall to the left as you come in the room. This shows two Partisans hanging from a low tree (so they were straggled to death rather than being hung) with a group of German soldiers posing with their ‘trophies’. This was common practice wherever the Nazis invaded and there were many such examples in Albania. One of the most notorious being the public execution of the two young partisan women (Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokedhima) in Gjirokaster on 17th July 1944. And still one of the reactionary governments post-1990 decided to allow the construction of a Fascist memorial, in Tirana Park, to those Germans who died in the failed invasion of the country.

The final room on the ground floor is a very small one that was closed to the public on my first visit. This consists of a number of hand made boards which have photographs of the achievements of Socialism in Tepelene in the years 1945 to 1990. These cover all aspects of life from industry and agriculture, to education and culture, housing and social care. This is quite a unique exhibition as this must have been one of the last such photographic exhibitions opened to the public before everything fell apart later that year.

There’s also a painting of Enver Hoxha on a visit to the town. This is discussed in depth on the post Enver Hoxha returns to Tepelene. Underneath the painting, on the shelf, are the collected written works of Comrade Enver in almost 50 volumes.

The first floor, where there is a small ethnographic exhibition (clothing and items of everyday use in the Tepelene region) is accessed via the stairs that are in the first room – close to the entrance/exit.

The doorway off to the left, at the top of the stairs, leads to a small library/archive room. This is the area that overhangs the main entrance and the wall on which is attached the Pickaxe and Rifle emblem. Everything in the archive is in Albanian but at least it’s an archive that still exists and could be useful for researchers in the future who have topics to study in the local area.

Partisan Meeting

Partisan Meeting

On the way to that room you pass a very large painting – unfortunately not in the best of condition. This is by S Milori and is dated 1969. Again, without a title it’s difficult to know exactly what it depicts.

We have a meeting in the countryside and the central figure is making a point, giving a speech to the assembled group of villagers, armed Partisans and a couple of town dressed men (in suits and ties, one wearing a town hat, one holding his in front of him) who seem to be the object of his discourse as he is pointing an accusing finger at them with his right hand. In his left he has some papers, whether his notes to remind of what to say, or some official document that has caused him to be there.

The speaker is a Communist Partisan as he wears a red star on his cap. The two that seem to be the subject of the meeting stand somewhat sheepishly, both of them with their hands grasped together in front of them. Are these collaborators who have been discovered by the local people? Are they speculators who have been profiting at the expense of the local people? Is this a People’s Court?

Some of the crowd are looking at the speaker, some are looking at the men he is singling out. One woman is looking at us. Two old men, sitting on rocks in the foreground, seem to be discussing the merits of the argument.

This is the problem with so many paintings in present day Albania. Information that would have been readily available prior to 1990 has been lost over time so speculation on what the events depict is all that is left to the viewer. Perhaps one day the missing information can be, once again, associated with the art works and thereby allowing for a more accurate interpretation.

Location:

At the southern end of Rruga Ali Pasha Tepelena. The museum is just off the square that meets the main road coming from Fier/Vlora on the way to Gjirokaster. This square is south of the main town and is where all the buses going either north or south stop to drop off or pick up passengers. You can’t really miss the square when you’re there as it has an ugly statue of a lounging Ali Pasha, an 18th/19th century aristocrat opposed to the Ottoman Empire, who was responsible for the building of the castle in Tepelene. Once Socialist heroes were denigrated the Albanians had to look for some nationalist leaders to fill the gap. Hence the relatively new statue in the square. The museum is up some steps. towards the west of the statue.

Entrance: 100 lek

Opening times: 10.00 – 19.00, Monday to Friday (but closed between 14.00 and 17.00)

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The ‘Archive’ Exhibition at the Tirana Art Gallery

The singing partisan
The singing partisan

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The ‘Archive’ Exhibition at the Tirana Art Gallery

At present (September 2021) the ‘exhibition’ at the National Art Gallery in Tirana seems to be virtually everything that has been in storage over the last 30 years. But calling it an exhibition is a bit of a misnomer. The word exhibition gives the impression that a bit of thought and consideration had been put into the mounting and display of a collection of art. That is supposed to be the art of a curator – although that has been neglected in this case.

What is, in theory, a good idea – and something welcomed by anyone with an interest in the art of the Socialist Period in Albania – just turns out to be a mess. Virtually all available wall space has been used to mount the pictures and the sculptures take up virtually all available space on the floors.

But its all placed without any context, without any information, without any chronology, without any order or logic.

Paintings of pre-revolutionary times are displayed next to some of the last paintings produced under socialism. The works of particular artists can be found anywhere on the two floors which the exhibition occupies. It’s so chaotic that you are never able to understand any development in the ideas of socialist realism in what was Albania’s Cultural Revolution – which started at about the same time as the more famous one in China (the mid-60s) but which lasted longer, going into the 1980s.

This is the situation with the paintings but this is mirrored with the sculptures. Many are ‘displayed’ on the same storage racks that would have been used in the building’s basement, many more are just placed on the floor. This means you can’t appreciate any one sculpture in itself as it is so close to another, either to its side or behind. A number of the sculptures have an original label attached so you get discover the name of the artist and work title but little more. The fact that so many of them have even those labels missing gives the impression that even the gallery itself probably doesn’t know for certain the artist, date or subject matter.

And you can’t appreciate a sculpture if the only way to get a decent view is to lie on the floor (if that was indeed possible without knocking over its neighbour).

To add to the ad hoc feel of the exhibition a number of the paintings are lacking a proper frame and are just as they would have been after the artist had completed the task.

One important matter is clear from the taking of these works of art from storage is that no one employed by the art gallery really cares at all about this part of the country’s heritage. As with the lapidars throughout Albania many of the sculptures show signs of damage, presumably due more to lack of care rather than deliberate cultural and political vandalism but the results are the same.

The pictures in the gallery/slide-show below are in an as chaotic order as the exhibition itself. Some are not as I would have liked as the lighting was so harsh in places that to avoid the reflection the photo had to be taken from an angle. Also the pictures that were mounted high up on the walls have obviously been taken from below and hence a certain amount of distortion. And the general ‘crush’ of the exhibits prevents any true appreciation from a distance.

One of the reasons for making such an extensive record of this exhibition is I fear that these objects are very unlikely to be ever displayed again – certainly as a whole representation of Socialist Realist Art. My greatest fear is that some of the more seriously damaged sculptures will move from the exhibition space to the nearest skip to end up in landfill. The State won’t pay for the time and effort that would be needed to return them to something akin to their original state and as such will just take up valuable space. The same could be the fate of the damaged paintings.

These fears are reinforced by decisions which now seem to being made in some other aspects of the depiction of the country’s Socialist past. Not only are those examples of socialist art that have for many years formed part of the permanent exhibition in the sme gallery now covered – for some inexplicable reason – but also the rooms devoted to the anti-fascist struggle in the National Historical Museum are presently closed to the public.

Perhaps the answer will be partly given when The Albanians (the name given to the huge mosaic on the facade of the Historial Museum) which is currently undergoing ‘restoration’ is unveiled. The word ‘restoration’ implies repairing and returning to an original state. However, the mosaic had much of its political significance removed by one of the original five artists (Agim Nebiu) sometime at the beginning of this century – still haven’t been able to find out exactly when – who was willing, for his equivalent of ‘thirty pieces of silver’, to remove the stars from the flags carried by the central characters. A few red stars remained after this act of political and artistic vandalism but whether they will survive the present ‘restoration’ is another matter.

As well as the examples of socialist realist art there were a considerable number of paintings that represent the past struggles of Albanians for independence. Such imagery played a role during the Socialist period as the country was constantly under threat of invasion (or intervention) from either neighbouring Yugoslavia or any of the imperialist nations who couldn’t reconcile themselves to the fact that this small, yet strategically situated, Balkan country had chosen a future not under the control of capitalism.

But even during the 1970s and 1980s this glorification of a 15th century aristocrat was a little over the top. Banging the nationalist drum whilst attempting to construct socialism will always have its dangers as that nationalism can distract from the principal task in hand. And this very nationalism, that was used to reinforce the idea of independence under socialism, is what the present capitalist leaders of the country rely on to give them some sort of historical credibility – as they certainly have no interest in independence, fighting each other in deciding to which imperialist force to sell the country.

What to look out for

  • a bust of Chairman Mao Tse-tung
  • busts of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin – most of these would have previously been displayed in the Lenin and Stalin Museum (the building now used as a government office, next to the big, new mosque in the centre of Tirana, just behind the Art Gallery itself)
  • at least four busts of Comrade Enver Hoxha, all in ‘good’ condition and without having been vandalised (as is the example in the ‘Sculpture Park’ at the back of the building, on the right hand side)
  • maquettes of a number of sculptures that were later made into much larger structures which can still be seen in various parts of the country such as the ‘Thirsty Partisan’ (ALS10) and Pickaxe and Rifle – one of the sculptures in the ‘Sculpture Park’
  • those images show the lives of working people, using their efforts to create a different type of society to the one devoted to capitalist profit – the art that makes Socialist Realism so radically different (and advanced) than all the art that has gone before
  • the many images, in both the paintings and in the sculptures, where women are presented as being armed and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the achievement of victory against the Fascist invaders or in the construction of Socialism
  • and generally the preponderance of ordinary working people in all the images rather than the ‘celebrities’ and the ‘rich and famous’ which dominate in capitalist society.

More on Albania …..

The Socialist Cultural Revolution and the People’s National Culture

Myrteza Fushekati - Before the demonstration

Myrteza Fushekati – Before the demonstration

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The reproduction of this article is part of an ongoing, occasional series of arguments in support of the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania from the late 1960s through the 1970s. A previous article was an excerpt from a report by Enver Hoxha.

The Socialist Cultural Revolution and the People’s National Culture

by Professor Zija Xholi

The creation of a new culture, the spreading of it among the broad masses, the revolutionary ideological formation of the working people, is one of the most fundamental tasks of the construction of socialism and, at the same time, one of the greatest achievements following the people’s revolution.

More than three decades have passed since the day when our people, led by the Party of Labour of Albania, embarked on the road of the cultural revolution – sufficient time to draw up some conclusions and to discover some of its distinctive characteristics.

The first characteristic of our cultural revolution, that which immediately strikes the eye from analysis of the factors which have conditioned its success, is that it began and developed as a consequence of the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat led by the Communist Party.

Second, a characteristic of the cultural revolution, one brilliant result of it, is the free participation, in ever growing proportions of the broad masses of the people in the frontal progress of technology, science, art and culture in general. The creative capacities, the talents of the people, once hampered and stifled, are now able to express themselves and develop freely. Through their efforts and talent, the masses have become the decisive factor of the cultural revolution which is taking place in our country.

The ultimate reason for the unprecedented extension of the decisive role of the masses in the development of culture too, should be sought in the elimination of oppression and the exploitation of man by man, as well as in the place the masses occupy in the system of socialist material production, where they are not only the decisive productive force but also the decisive responsible, organizing and directing force as well. Socialism stripped work of its drudgery once and for all and restored to it all its intrinsic moral and intellectual values. The creative activity in the most varied fields of art, in song, dance, theatre, variety, in which thousands of workers and peasants, young men and young women take part, most of them without training in art schools is evidence of the great art latent in the bosom of the people, of the marvellous artistic talents of our people which were waiting for the moment when they could burst free and pour out in a torrent.

At all times our people have been creative and they continue to create today, but in the conditions of the socialist construction, their creative works are radically different from those of the past. Freed from oppression and exploitation, today, our people enjoy ever increasing well-being, have more free time at their disposal, and this allows them to concern themselves more and more with the problems of culture. The principle that before you can philosophize you must have food and drink, is of special importance in this field. Besides this, the participation of the masses in cultural work enjoys the aid, support and organization of many specialized institutions and of the whole society in general. And finally, our culture is no longer created by masses who had never been inside a school but by masses who have an ever higher educational and cultural’ level. This brings about that, with the transition to socialism, the decisive creative role of the masses in the field of culture increases and manifests itself in broad proportions. This means that in socialism the people’s culture is raised to new, high levels never seen before.

Third, another characteristic of the cultural revolution, another of its brilliant results, is the elimination of the cultural monopoly of the feudal-bourgeoisie, the changing of culture from the monopoly of a select minority, a limited elite, into the property of the broad masses. It is a fact that in antagonistic society the working masses have developed themselves intellectually mainly through their work and productive activity, while they have received just as much schooling, theory and science as the exploiting ruling classes have needed to exploit them more thoroughly. The socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat put an end to this situation once and for all. Education, theory and science have been returned to the working masses, to those who, with their efforts and talents, keep socialist society alive and carry it forward in all directions.

The years of our People’s State Power have been years of a real offensive by an entire people, young and old, men and women to master technology, to conquer the bastions of knowledge, of arts and science, to turn our whole life into culture. The stages of the ceaseless march towards culture, expressions of its successes are the total elimination of illiteracy, the compulsory eight-year schooling, the abolition of religious teaching, the creation of higher education, the flowering of art in all its variety, song and dance, painting and sculpture, comedy and drama. The educational and cultural reality of our society is expressed by the following significant figures: whereas in 1938, the total number of pupils and students attending school was 56,000, today that number has risen to 700,000 which means that one-third of the population attend school.

Fourth, the cultural revolution does not aim at the educational and intellectual development or at the rejuvenation and progress of the life of only a minority of the population, of only one social stratum, to the detriment of the broad masses, or of only the cities to the detriment of the countryside. Its task is to ensure that education becomes the property of all, that the cultured life is taken up by everybody and enters every household, not only in the cities but also in the countryside, without creating special positions and privileges for any individual or stratum, a task which it is accomplishing better and better every day.

But the most fundamental characteristic of our cultural revolution, that which sets the tone for our education and culture and which marks a real revolution in them is their socialist content, their frankly Marxist- Leninist socialist tendentiousness.

Our socialist culture, like every other culture closely linked with classes and in the service of their struggle, cannot stand aloof from ideology and not be inspired by ideology. There is not, and never can be, any culture standing aloof from or above ideology. Culture for culture’s sake, pure culture, is simply a fraud which the bourgeoisie and the revisionists perpetrate in order to create that culture which best serves their selfish class interests. Therefore, the whole problem is not that culture should be divorced from ideology, for this is impossible, but that it must be based on the revolutionary ideology of the proletariat in opposition to the reactionary ideology of the bourgeoisie.

The Party of Labour of Albania strives to have no culture which is divorced from the mission of developing and perfecting the revolutionary ideological outlook of the working people and, on the other hand, to have no revolutionary ideological formation which is not based on the broadest and most accurate knowledge. This makes the cultural revolution part and parcel of the ideological revolution, makes them two sides of a single process, the process of the revolutionary education and re-education of the working people, the process of the formation of the new man of socialist society.

Naturally, the creation of the new socialist culture, the revolutionary ideological formation, immediately raised the problem of what to do about classical culture, the world culture heritage and, first and foremost, the culture of our own people, with their customs and traditions.

In the cultural revolution, the Party of Labour of Albania has faithfully followed the teachings of Lenin, who stressed that one can emerge from darkness only by utilizing the whole treasury of world culture, all the valuable achievements which mankind has created under the yoke of capitalist society, of the society of landlords and of bureaucrats. From its very first steps, our culture has striven consistently to take from world culture whatever is revolutionary and scientifically sound, whatever responds best to the requirements of the stage of development of our country. Consistently adhering to this orientation, our culture has maintained and continues to maintain a critical, stand towards world culture, taking from it only its scientific, materialist, democratic and popular ideas, and discarding its clerical, mystical idealist ideas, and any others which implant lack of confidence in life and man, which look down upon work and the working masses, which justify oppression, exploitation and obscurantism.

No matter how valuable the world cultural heritage may be, it is insufficient for the education and formation of the man of our society. In this, the first place is, and should be, occupied by the cultural heritage and traditions of our own people. In culture, too, the communists combine, the most consistent internationalism (they prize the progressive culture created by every people) with the purest of patriotism (they are the most ardent champions of the culture and traditions of their own people).

In place of the nihilist policy of denigration towards the culture and tradition of our people pursued by the reactionary ruling classes of the old, overthrown feudal-bourgeois order, the working class and its Marxist-Leninist Party have worked out a new policy, the policy of defending, preserving, and further enriching the popular culture and the first traditions of our people. At the foundation of this policy and the rich experience of our people in this field, are the Marxist-Leninist ideas of comrade Enver Hoxha, that our people have created a culture and art of a clear national character which constitutes a priceless heritage which must be kept pure and developed further; that the new socialist culture is linked with a thousand threads with the culture of the people; that the revolutionary content of the new socialist culture has not dropped like manna from heaven, nor has it been brought in a suitcase from abroad, but it has been inherited from our forefathers, its foundations are deep in the people; that the study of the cultural traditions of our people is not done simply for the purpose of knowing the past of our people but also for the purpose of learning from the experience of our forefathers in conformity with the new conditions and requirements of our socialist society; and finally, that a critical class attitude should be maintained towards the culture and traditions of our people from the past, on the basis of the idea that every creative work of every epoch has been tendentious, is inspired by the ideas of the time, bears the brand of the class struggle and of the ideology of its own time, therefore, it cannot be taken as a whole and inserted into the new life and culture just as it is.

Socialist culture is not something in itself, created apart from the people and handed to them from outside, but a culture indissolubly linked with them, which responds to their requirements, their spirit, and their traditions. There is no socialist culture in general, no culture created by someone which can be served up ready to any nation which is building socialism, but a socialist culture of a given nation which gives it its richness and this does not consist simply of its form, but enters deep into the content of this culture. Socialist culture, taken in its broadest sense, has emerged and developed in close collaboration with the culture of the people. In its essence it is a socialist and a national culture.

Guided by the teachings of comrade Enver Hoxha, our socialist culture is proving in practice that proletarian partisanship, which requires that every cultural manifestation must be viewed from the angle of the interests of the working class and analyzed from the standpoint of Marxist-Leninist ideology, and the national tradition, which requires that everything good and valuable, everything close to the aspirations of the workers, created by the people in the past, must be preserved, far from opposing each other, are, on the contrary complementary arid dialectically linked with each other. Our socialist culture is enriched by the great artistic, ideo-philosophic values which our people have brought to culture, while through the socialist culture, the rational tradition is cleansed of negative elements which may have penetrated it under the influence of negative economic and social factors of the past, and is further enriched with the new experience which has emerged under socialism.

Our concern to discover, uphold and evaluate the best traditions of one’s own people’s culture also stems from a political demand, from the demand to ensure the free development of the people, which is the first premise of any genuine socialist construction. The attempts, which the two super-powers are making today in one way or another, to impose their own language, as allegedly the best language, their own culture, as allegedly the richest culture, their pretensions that culture today is moving towards its ‘internationalization’, towards the disappearance of specific cultures, implying the Americanization or Russification of the cultures of the other peoples, are in essence, expressions of the national egotism and great state chauvinism of the two super-powers, their favorite means for the conquest of the peoples and establishing their hegemony. Therefore, under these circumstances, faced with the imperialist designs of the two superpowers, the revolutionary Leninist principle must be stressed and applied that for the life and existence of each nation, political vigilance and ensuring its defence from any armed aggression and the preservation of its cultural identity and mother tongue are equally important. If a people loses its cultural physiognomy, if it does not hold on to its traditions, if it allows its mother tongue to be forgotten, it has ceased to be a nation in itself.

If we oppose the ideological and cultural aggression of the bourgeois-revisionist world, we do this in the name of freedom and independence, in the name of the correct and rapid development of our socialist culture, but by no means in the name of national exclusiveness. National narrowness and xenophobia are alien to our revolutionary ideology and our new culture. Our socialist culture has utilized and continues to utilize the progressive culture of all peoples, but not by sacrificing our mother tongue, the best traditions, and the cultural heritage of our own people, but while emphasizing and prizing them. With this heritage our people will take their place in world culture. Any other assimilation of the culture of one people by another, made to the detriment of the national language and finest national traditions, under whatever name it is called, is, in reality, a chauvinist design to impose the domination and hegemony of one nation over other nations, whether they live within a multi-national state or are separated by national boundaries.

What does the traditional culture of the people, with which the new socialist culture is linked, represent? What has our nation contributed in the field of culture?

Our people came to power and to real freedom with a rich material, social and spiritual cultural heritage. In it are expressed the people’s capacity to live on, indomitable in any circumstances, no matter how difficult, their talent and inextinguishable desire for a free and independent life without oppression and exploitation. But the extremely difficult historical circumstances under which they had to fight for their very existence, the anti-national and anti-popular ideological pressure and influence of the invaders and the reactionary classes, on the background of the great backwardness and poverty, are also expressed in it. These circumstances make the culture we have inherited from the past a mixture of progressive and reactionary elements, with light and darkness. However, the progressive values exceed the non-progressive ones in force and breadth, the elements of light greatly predominate over those of darkness. It is the progressive values which give the culture of our people its characteristic tone. This distinctive characteristic of the culture of our people has its own explanation which is, as comrade Enver Hoxha stresses, ‘through the centuries, the people of our small country have always been guided by the progressive ideas of liberty and the defence of liberty, by the ideas of just wars against oppressors, against the rapacious imperialist ideologies of foreigners’.

Our people have been obliged to lead an intensive life in their struggle for existence and self-defense, have had to face up all sorts of events. Naturally they have had to act and think, to create a definite concept about many phenomena of nature and life, about griefs and joys. For well-known reasons they have not done this in writing, have not fixed it in books or treatises, but have formulated it by word of mouth, transmitting and enriching it from one district to another, from one generation to another for centuries on end. This has made up our wealth of folklore, which is our unwritten encyclopedia, a living testimony of the talent and wisdom of our people. The historian and philosopher, the anonymous writer and artist, speak collectively through hundreds of legends and songs of heroes, through thousands of aphorisms and proverbs, through thousands upon thousands of songs of valour and love, of work and exile, of weddings and deaths. This remains an immortal monument of the culture of our people, a source of learning and inspiration for the artist and the writer, for the philosopher and thinker of our own days, for the new socialist culture as a whole.

At the present time, when anti-communist ideology has swamped the book market and audiences in the bourgeois-revisionist world, when hideous fashions and decadent trends in art and literature are assailing the tastes of the youth and the masses from all sides, the reality of the new culture of our people assumes a special value and significance. By its existence and flowering it is showing that the present decadent and degenerate culture is not an inevitable evil from which no one can escape. Meanwhile, in its practice, our culture shows how the bourgeois revisionist ideological aggression can be coped with, how a culture in the service of the liberation of the working people from oppression and exploitation, a culture which will preserve the real values of the people and raise them to a higher level and oppose everything which degrades man morally, aesthetically and philosophically, can be created.

The national features, the national background of socialist culture, the appreciation of the cultural heritage created by our people, are that force which in culture facilitates and accelerates the cultural revolution, while in politics it helps the people get a better appreciation of their own value and strength, to cope better with any aggression from whatever direction it may come. Indeed, this is the most important function and the most profound meaning of every genuine culture – to help the people to recognise their own worth, to multiply their efforts in their struggle for a better and more just life, in their struggle for socialism and communism.

This article is reproduced from New Albania, No 3, 1977.

All emphasis is from the original.

Zija Xholi, Albanian philosopher. Member Academy of Science, Albanian Trade Union (member General Council 1967-1972, member Presidium 1972-1976, Chairman Culture Department 1977-1990), Albanian Philosophical Association (Chairman 1991).

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