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.
One of the most obviouslt damaged areas
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.
The iron framework shows through
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.
Cracks in Socialism and Albania marching forward
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.
Damage appearing the length of the monument
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.
Resistance – Monument to the struggle against Fascist invasion in Durres
Being the main port of invasion by the Italian Fascists on 7th April 1939 it’s not a surprise that in commemoration of that event, and especially the resistance that was shown by a significant proportion of the population (but not the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog who ran away as soon as the Italian ships came into sight) that there are a few monuments to this, constructed in the Socialist period. One is to the individual sacrifice of Mujo Ulqinaku (that used to stand close by the Venetian tower at the bottom end of town) and the other is to the general principle of ‘Resistance’ in Durrës, which is located right next to the waterfront and very likely one of the places the Italian fascists would have landed.
But in 2017 the population of Durrës doesn’t have much respect for Resistance to any foreign invasion. In fact the more foreign goods, foreign fast food and foreign culture they can access the better. In some senses more of a necessity than a wish as they have overseen the wholesale destruction of any industry which might provide them with the basic necessities of life. And, of course, how can anyone possibly survive without the internationally recognised destroyer of teeth and promoter of obesity, the obnoxious fluid sold under the name of Coca Cola?
But back to a time when Albanians had dignity, knew what true independence was and embodied the principles of resistance in their daily lives.
When a monument ceases to have relevance then it no longer gets treated with respect and that has been the fate of this lapidar – as well as with many others throughout the country. Apart from physical damage to some of the elements of the structure it is a constant victim of graffiti attack, the mindless, illiterate scribblings of those with nothing meaningful to say but say it anyway. At least political graffiti would demonstrate some form of human thought.
‘Resistance’ has architectural elements as well as sculptural.
You approach the monument via a few very low, but very wide steps. You are then in a circular space with a series of eleven columns on your right which rise to a height of about 3 metres and on that highest column stands the personification of ‘Resistance’ in the form of a Partisan fighter. Radiating out at 90 degrees to these columns, gradually coming down to ground level even as each of the columns gets higher is a feathering effect. This effect is also produced on the left hand side as you look at the statue but here the feathering is much lower to start with and much wider as well.
If you can imagine the furled wing of a bird you might understand the impression the architect is attempting to re-create. For this is a symbolic reference to the eagle, the double-headed version of which is, and has been for a few centuries now, the national emblem of Albania. This device has been used in the most recent development of the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Borove, just to the south of Ersekë, and for the construction of (the now derelict) mausoleum and museum to Enver Hoxha in Tirana.
The problem with this idea is that it is very difficult to appreciate the idea from ground level. It might well be more evident from an aerial view but that is not possible for the vast majority of onlookers. So in Durrës (as in Borove and Tirana) you have to use a little bit of imagination.
On the facade of four of theses columns, facing the inner circle, are images which tell a little bit of the history of Durrës and Albanian Resistance.
Resistance to the Romans
On the 7th from the right we have the ancient, Greco-Romano history of the town. Carved into the stone is a circular, Roman shield and surrounding it the weapons that would have been used at the time: a short sword, an axe and a number of different types of spears, together with a helmet with a crest.
Resistance to the Ottomans
On the 8th one in we are brought a little closer up to date. This is the time of the nationalist ‘hero’ Skenderbeu. We know that as the large shield towards the right has a double-headed eagle design (it was from the time of Skenderbeu that this symbol was adopted as a sign of Resistance to any foreign invader). This was in the 15th century. Here we have the weapons in use in warfare from that period: a long, broadsword, possibly arrows, spears and the curved blade, long poled axe that was used to hack away at the enemy. Examples of these can be seen in the National Historical Museum in Tirana.
The third lesson in history is on the next column, the ninth and this brings us up to the 20th century. At the bottom there’s a symbolic reference to the waves on the sea. This references Durrës as this image is part of the town’s coat of arms. Curving from the top left to the centre is an ammunition belt – eight clips with five bullets apiece. On the right hand side, taking up the whole height of the panel, is a rifle.
Resistance to Italian Fascism
The top end of the barrels of a couple of rifles peek out from behind the ammunition belt on the left hand side. This modern weaponry frames an axe, a pickaxe and a couple of pitchforks. This, to me covers a couple of inter-related periods. It makes reference to the war for National Liberation (which took place between 1939 and 1944) and also to the construction of Socialism where the use of arms would be necessary to defend the revolution from attack, both from within and without.
The final symbol, which is on the facade of the column upon which the Partisan statue stands, is a large, black metal plaque of a double-headed eagle. Unlike the one on the shield of the Skenderbeu era this one has a star above the two heads. This is the star of Communism which was added to the national symbol from 1944 to 1990. This star, whether it was red originally or not I don’t know, is missing, whether as a result of political vandalism, opportunist souvenir hunting or by someone to care for it so that it can be returned in a future Socialist Albania.
The statue itself embodies many of the attributes seen on a number of lapidars throughout the country. The figure itself is rushing forward, weapon at the ready, but he is also looking backwards calling upon others, out of sight to come and join the fight. This is depicted elsewhere on Albanian lapidars such as the monumental Arch of Drashovicë and the statue of Mujo Ulqinaku in Durrës itself – but exact location unknown at this moment.
But there’s much more dynamism, more urgency here. He cannot stretch his legs any further, he gives the impression of needing to rush to the front, to engage the enemy. When there’s an invasion there’s no time to consider the options. Only those who are prepared to live under a foreign yoke, the future collaborators, the sycophants and cowards, will hesitate, ‘weigh up the options’ and then capitulate. This fighter, this Communist, this patriot does not hesitate.
He doesn’t wear a uniform as such as at the time of the Italian invasion in 1939 the so-called Royal Albanian Army was so much in a collaborative role with the Italians that official resistance melted away. It was up to a few individual soldiers, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, or armed civilians to resist the invasion. Although they were far too outnumbered in 1939 to succeed in preventing the country from being occupied the action of workers such as those at the tobacco factory and the growing number of those who joined the Partisans in the subsequent five years meant that the country was finally liberated at the end of November 1944.
He’s bare-chested and it looks like his shirt has been torn off his body and it hangs in shreds, flowing behind him as he rushes forwards. In general there’s nothing to distinguish him from any other national hero, racing to take on the enemy but there’s one little, unique indication that this is an Albanian patriot.
Hanging from a thin leather strap, that goes around his neck and rests against his left thigh, is a small bag. It looks very much like an opinga (the traditional leather shoe) with decoration on its facing and edges. I’ve not seen this elsewhere and can only think that when modern dress became more common, especially in a city like Durrës where more people would have been involved in manufacturing industry or dock related activities, these reminders and remainders of the past would have taken on a secondary role.
The official name of the monument is:
“Monumenti i Rezistencës.”
Which translates as:
Which was ‘dedicated to the armed struggle of the Albanian people against the fascist occupation of Italy on April 7, 1939.’
This lapidar is the combined work of Hektor Dule and Fuat Dushku (1930-2002) but I don’t know which of them (if either) was the originator of the architectural aspect of the monument. Dule also created the Mushqete Monument at Berzhite and the bas-relief to Skenderbeu in Gjirokaster. Dushku was one of the sculptors who worked on the ‘Four Heroines of Mirdita’ that was created in 1971 and used to stand in Rrëshen. That was criminally destroyed by the local reactionary so-called ‘democrats’.
This is quite a late lapidar as, according to the inscription under the right foot of the fighter, the statue was created in 1989. This inscription is also quite unusual. It has the names of the two sculptors, H[ector] Dule and F[uat] Dushku and then the letters QRVA followed by the number 89 (for the year 1989). QVRA stands for Qendra e Realizimit te Veprave te Artit, translating to Art Work Realization Centre. This is the name of the (State) foundry in Tirana where virtually all the lapidars in the country, from the late 60s to the end of the 80s, were forged. It’s also the place where many of those that were torn down in the 90s were melted down to construct some of the monstrosities that is contemporary, capitalist Albanian sculpture. This foundry at one time employed 40 people, more or less, full time. That went down to just 5 a few years ago and then was torn down to make way for expensive, luxury flats.
This is the first time I’ve seen these initials on a lapidar (but not the last, the large statue of the Partisan and child in Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery and the bas relief outside the vandalised museum in Bajram Curri being two other, late Socialist period examples). In the post on Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier I made a bit of a digression discussing the idea of the artists NOT putting their names on their work. This did not mean that their work was not appreciated or respected but the artist was only one cog in the machine. The finished work of art was the culmination of the work of many and if one name should be on it why not all the others?
They didn’t realise that the more they adopted capitalist methods the shorter would be their future. Such foundries, workshops only exist in the capitalist countries with the patronage of the rich – just as it was in the Renaissance. There aren’t many of those in Albania and so the foundry died. I don’t have much sympathy for those with such myopia – whether they be foundry workers or sculptors.
As can be seen from the pictures the plinth and the surrounds are uncared for and there’s various graffiti on the columns. The columns provide steps for children to climb and they often do. However, the statue itself seems to be untouched by the vandalism and is in a good condition.
In the park beside the water, in the older part of town, beside Rruga Taulantia, and a hundred metres or so west of the Venetian Tower (and the original location of the monument to Mujo Qlqinaku).
Frederick Engels – revolutionary fighter, philosopher, close comrade-in-arms of Karl Marx – has returned to Manchester. Almost 150 years since he worked in the city (and thereby being able to support Marx in his development of the theory of the working class that later became known as Marxism) and almost 125 years since his death in 1895 a statue now stands in a pedestrianised square in the city which is considered to be one of the ‘cradles of the industrial revolution’.
Life and work
Engels first went to Manchester in 1842 – and stayed for two years. During that time he produced the unique and seminal work The Condition of the Working Class in England which was published in 1844 – but only in German. It was not available in an English translation until the end of the 19th century in 1885.
But Engels was not an armchair revolutionary – something that is very often forgotten when his role in revolutionary Socialism is discussed. To confine Engels’ role in the development of Marxism to that of someone who; bank-rolled Marx during his (many) times of penury; was able to write penetrating and interesting studies on a diverse range of subjects such as the living conditions of the poor and the role of dialectics of nature; and the only person who could have brought Marx’s most important work (Capital – in all its four volumes) through to publication is to deny what made him able to do all that. Engels was first and foremost a revolutionary fighter, prepared to place his life on the line with other revolutionaries on the barricades of Europe when the workers rose up against oppression and exploitation in 1848.
That revolution ended in failure but Engels and Marx were two of the few who considered what had happened and attempted to work out the lessons of that failure to avoid them in the future. What was later to become the book Germany: Revolution and Counter-revolution first appeared as a series of articles in 1851. Mainly written by Engels (in Manchester), but in close collaboration with Marx (in London) this was an analysis of the failed German revolution which is a companion piece to Marx’s The 18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte about that situation in France, which was published at around the same time. And in the 1860’s he refined some of his military ideas and tactics in a series of articles that were published in the Manchester Guardian – something which wouldn’t happen now in such a ‘liberal’ newspaper.
It was after the defeat of the revolutions in Europe – Britain had seen some scuffles but never on the scale that ran through many European countries in 1848 – that Engels returned to London and then, the following year, to Manchester where he spent the best part of the next 20 years, working in a family owned textile mill. The monies from this work, and the proceeds of the eventual selling of his part in the partnership in 1869, helped pay for Marx’s living expenses as well as supporting various proto-revolutionary organisations existing in Britain at the time.
After Marx’s death in March 1883 it was Engels who ensured that the culmination of all of Marx’s life and study was to see the light of day, with Engels organising Marx’s notes into a coherent structure and then publishing them as the various volumes of Capital. No one but Engels could have done that work.
By this time Engels had moved to London and he died there in August 1895.
The statue was originally erected in the town of Mala Pereshchepyna, in the Poltava region of Eastern Ukraine, in the 1970’s. Sometime in the 1990s it became a victim of the nationalistic counter-revolution and after being vandalised (by being daubed in blue and yellow paint – the colours of the Ukrainian nationalists) it was taken from its plinth, in a central location, and eventually found itself, in two parts, laying in a farmer’s field on the outskirts of the town.
There it lay for a couple of decades before being ‘discovered’ by British artist Phil Collins who was looking for a piece of Socialist Realist sculpture to be placed in Manchester, at the end of the city’s International Festival in August 2017, to stand as a celebration of the city and its people’s radical past – and future? A statue of Frederick Engels was ideal for this due to the time he spent in the city in the 19th century and the input he was able to make towards Marxist ideology through the knowledge he gained from studying the struggle and conditions of the industrial working class in the north-west of England.
The statue is made of a sandy coloured limestone and stands about 3 metres tall. There’s evidence of a join just about waist height. This is so precise it would seem to indicate that the original statue was made in two parts and then cemented together on installation in Mala Pereshchepyna. (It’s too precise a join to have happened when the statue was dismantled by the counter-revolution – there would have been no care used at that time.) Engels stands on a base about 10 cms thick of the same coloured stone.
The statue is raised above the ground by a plinth about 1.5 metres high which is faced with grey limestone and on one face, that in the direction where Engels is looking, is his name in Cyrillic, Ф ЭНГЕЛЬС = F Engels. Whether the name came from the original location is unlikely – finding the statue was one thing also finding a large piece of worked stone which would have other uses at the same location seems to stretch credibility somewhat. But it doesn’t look new so I assume from another deposed statue of Frederick.
Generally the stone is in a good condition. There are some indications of lichen but considering how it was ‘stored’ nothing serious. Apart from signs of blue and yellow paint around the lower legs, and on the lower edge of his coat on the left, there doesn’t appear to be any other structural damage. Once taken down from its original site it just seems to have been ignored.
Frederick Engels – vandalism
Engels is depicted when he was in his mid to late 50s – he has a full beard and moustache and a full head of hair. He’s dressed in the typical dress of someone with a certain amount of affluence in the late 19th century – formal trousers and a waistcoat over which is a knee-length frock coat with a high collar.
He stands upright, feet slightly apart and is looking straight ahead. His arms are folded across his chest (right arm under the left) and in his left hand he holds a small book, with the forefinger inside the closed book which rests against his right upper arm.
Here we get the impression that he has just read something that had caused him to pause, to think of what it might mean, of how important it might be to the project he is currently pursuing. This is reinforced by the pensive look on his face. The finger in the book is to ensure that he doesn’t lose his place when he returns to reading.
The present location is somewhat incongruous. All the buildings around the square are glass and steel monstrosities and something made out of ancient stone does clash with its surroundings. But better here than nowhere.
Frederick Engels – location
It will be interesting to see how the statue is accepted as it spends more time in its new location. Some will know of Engels’ relationship with the city, others will walk by and not even notice any statue there. Matters aren’t made any easier as there is no explanation (not that I think there should be) and for those who don’t understand the Cyrillic alphabet the letters on the plinth don’t offer any help.
(For those who might have been following the posts on Albanian lapidars they might be interested to know that there were never any open air public statues to either Marx or Engels in Socialist Albania. Capitalist Britain now has one of each – Engels in Manchester and the bust of Marx over his grave in Highgate cemetery in London.)
Other Works of Frederick Engels
Here are links to versions of some other of the works produced by Engels over his life time – but it’s important to remember that this list is not definitive.