although he probably never left, just ‘hiding’ for a while.
Almost thirty five years after his death and thirty years since the reaction was able to gain control in Albania it is very difficult to come across public images of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the country for just over forty years. In the 1990s the reactionaries needed to personalise any difficulties in the country and someone who had been dead for five years was an ideal candidate – even to the extent that Comrade Hoxha was considered responsible for events that had happened after his death. So he had to disappear from view.
This was not something new and peculiar to Enver Hoxha or Albania. Joseph Stalin was held personally responsible for anything considered untoward whilst leader of the Soviet Union. How a single person can be held personally responsible for everything that happens in a country that covered one sixth of the Earth’s land mass is something I have never understood. At the same time this ‘superman’ with God-like qualities is denigrated by Trotskyite neo-fascists as being an ignorant Georgian peasant.
Some of the ignoramuses who state things would have developed differently in the Soviet Union if Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had not died (partially as a result of the part of an assassins bullet still being lodged in his brain) prematurely in 1924 just don’t understand either the man or the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Such people who indulge in these ‘what if’ scenarios are often superficial in their approach and especially in the case of Lenin display a total ignorance of what a strong leader he was and how he knew – long before Chairman Mao put it in poetic language – that ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’. Hard acts and decisions are needed to reverse centuries of exploitation and oppression and the stultifying effect this has on the thinking of those on the receiving end of such treatment, i.e., the vast majority of the world’s population.
But it is always easy to blame an individual and even more so when they are not around to defend themselves. It’s also useful for reactionaries (and here I’m talking about both the ‘capitalist roaders’ – to use another term from Chairman Mao – who might have hidden themselves within the Party structure just waiting for a chance to show their true colours and the reactionaries who had hidden themselves in some hole just waiting for the chance to get their revenge on a system that had deprived them of their wealth and power – the latter group always having assistance and support from those countries of the so-called ‘capitalist west’) to personalise matters as that means there’s no real discussion about ideology, either the past or the future.
Successive governments in Albania – when the country wasn’t at its own throat in an almost open civil war or depriving a huge number of relatively poor people of whatever savings they might have had due to criminal pyramid/ponzi schemes – have displayed an unbelievable propensity for corruption. And to divert attention away from their criminal activities of the past and present (and they hope for the future) they heap all manner of calumnies upon the leader, and ruling Party, of the past.
But after thirty or more years blaming everything on persons who are either dead or out of any position to determine events starts to wear thin.
The first Socialist state (which was established in Russia in 1917 and which became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – USSR) was established in a world where the overwhelming majority of the population had been oppressed and exploited by various social systems for thousands of years. Changing the relationships of the people to the means of production was a difficult enough task but to change ideas was even more so. Yet within a matter of months, in the new Soviet state, those peasants who might have taken advantage of the chaos that accompanied the Civil War were pointed at and highlighted as ‘Communists exploiting the situation’. (Here I’m referring to photographic images with captions such as ‘Communists selling human flesh’ during the worse days of the Civil War – if not caused by certainly sponsored by the previously warring parties of the 1914-1919 War.)
The stupidity of such an assertion – that those who had never encountered Socialist ideas before and more than likely were illiterate would become clear thinking and committed Communists in a matter of days – shouldn’t really need to be refuted. However, the world is full of stupid people who will lap up such dross as a hungry dog eats its own vomit.
But when those Socialist societies tragically collapse (due to a mixture of both internal and external contradictions) and the world is ‘opened up’ to the population of those countries to enjoy the ‘benefits of capitalism’ they find that all that was promised on the other side of the rainbow is not quite what they expected, in fact it was all a con.
There was a price to pay for all those promises and when it was paid the wherewithal to achieve the capitalist dream was denied to huge sectors of the population. From being members of a Socialist society where they were the owners of all they became mere cogs in the capitalist machine where a privileged few were in real control and only a mere handful could ‘raise themselves from their menial position’ and get to have a real feed at the trough. But the more the few stuffed themselves the less there was for the majority.
In Albania, apart from taking out their frustration on statues of Enver Hoxha, especially in Tirana and Gjirokaster, the population (probably egged on by foreign supported neo-fascist forces) decided to destroy virtually all the means of production. This resulted in factories being looted of anything of any value and in every town and city, now 30 years later, there are still the empty shells of these one time thriving factories.
When I first went to Albania in 2011 I couldn’t really understand this. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get my head around why, if people for whatever reason don’t like a social system they then destroy the places where they used to work. If they thought the Party of Labour of Albania wasn’t allowing them the full rights to control their factories why didn’t they take them over and run them themselves? If they were tired of having the responsibility of making decisions and having to think for themselves why didn’t they just turn the factories over to those who would be quite happy to exploit the workers ‘in the good old fashioned capitalist manner’. Then at least they would have work.
One argument given to me as some sort of excuse for such actions was that the machinery was old and needed replacement. That might well have been the case due to the country’s forced isolation but that doesn’t mean the solution is to loot everything and leave a useless shell. That doesn’t make sense in any society. This was especially so as in the 1980s workers in Britain were occupying factories when the owners wanted to close them down. Why this great divide between the intentions and activities of the workers in the two different countries?
In Albania they just destroyed the means of production and then realised there was nothing for them to do but leave the country in order to be able to keep their families alive. So in the 1990s vast numbers of workers went to various neighbouring countries but mainly (at least initially) to Italy and Greece. And this continues to this day – although the crisis that followed the capitalist disaster of 2008 has had an effect on that once reasonably easy form of making a living.
But thirty years on capitalism has not turned Albania into a thriving country – as was ‘promised’. But then capitalism never has, doesn’t now and never will provide for the vast majority of the population. Even in the countries of the so-called ‘prosperous industrialised world’ we see vast differentials in the incomes of their populations and the next capitalist crisis is always around the corner – each one more severe than the last.
So a generation after the ‘fall of Communism’ (six generations if you are a Scottish nationalist) some people are starting to think that perhaps they threw out the baby with the bath water in the 1990s.
This is not just a recent revelation. In my travels in Albania since 2011 I have met a number of people who bemoan what they allowed to happen. Yes, they were isolated (I would argue that was not Albania’s fault but the hostility of the capitalist and revisionist world which was annoyed that such a small country held on to its principled stand in the face of such fierce and overwhelming opposition) and yes, perhaps they didn’t have all the consumer goods that seemed to be falling from heaven in the capitalist countries.
But they did have a functioning and effective health system free for all, they did have an equally free education system, there were guaranteed jobs – which came with apprenticeships and training – they had a society that was functioning and where the majority of the family would be in the country, they did have enough to eat (although toward the end of the 1980s the chaos that was being whipped up by reactionary elements meant that supply routes were continually being disrupted).
This has been a long introduction to a post which announces that Enver Hoxha is now starting to appear in (still a few) public locations in the country. The damaged large, white, marble bust that appeared behind the National Art Gallery a couple of years ago has now been unwrapped – even if the sculpture does have a broken nose. And the general area is now easily accessible to visitors (after years of me having to time my approach when the security guard was otherwise engaged) and the area is generally clean. That doesn’t mean that the ‘well-informed’ local guides don’t spout the same anti-Socialist, anti-Communist, anti-Hoxha line but visitors can appreciate some of the culture of the Socialist era.
And in 2020 the picture at the head of this post was visible to any visitors to the Tepelene (in the south of the country) historical museum.
Right at the back of the museum, attached to the room that commemorates the struggle of the Albanian people in the War of National Liberation against the Italian fascists and then the German Nazis, is a small room (I am almost certain in its original condition, i.e., pre 1990) which contains this picture of Enver Hoxha during a visit to the town of Tepelene. As well as the painting there are boards pinned to the wall that celebrate the achievements of the Albanian people in various fields such as industry, agriculture, health, education and social well being.
The painting bears the name of Aljosha Billbilli and is dated 1985 which indicates it could have been commissioned following Comrade Enver’s death in April of that year. It shows the leader of the Party looking down across the Vjosa River with the mountain range that separates Gjirokaster and Permet in the background.
Across the river can be seen terraces which had been constructed in the Socialist period, now no longer in use as individual, small holder farming (which is what exists in the vast majority of the country) doesn’t allow for the labour power to maintain such collective systems. Terraces also need irrigation which is another collective enterprise.
As is often the case in Albanian Socialist paintings there is a representation of the different ethnic backgrounds of the people of the area. This is shown primarily through their dress but also by their physical characteristics. Being a small country Albania presents a huge variety of ethnic types.
It’s not possible to exactly place the location of the picture but there’s a lapidar alongside the road that skirts the town of Tepelene which offers a very similar aspect to the one in the painting.
So if you are in the vicinity of Tepelene (and most visitors to the country will be as Gjirokaster, one of the most visited towns is a mere 30 minutes or so down the road) then call in to the Tepelene Museum, just up a few steps up the hill on the left where the road, on entering the town, widens on the approach from Gjirokaster or Permet.
Unfortunately opening times of the museum can be slightly erratic but it should be open during the early part of the day from Monday to Friday.
Tepelene Historical Museum – Pickaxe and Rifle
One other aspect of the museum building which is quite unique is the symbol of the Party of Labour of Albania on the facade, just above the main entrance.
This is a metal image of a Pickaxe and Rifle (which can also be seen on the top of the building which used to be the Party’s headquarters in Peshkopia). The idea here is that Socialism will be built by the labour of the workers but the new social system needs to be prepared to use arms in order to defend what has already been gained. Capitalism never rests when it sees that it’s control of various parts of the world has been, is and will be challenged and a strong and determined response is crucial for the survival of the Socialist system. Joseph Stalin and Enver Hoxha were very clar and united on this matter.
That’s why, to repeat what I’ve already stated above, ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’ and once down the road of the construction of Socialism there are certain steps that need to be taken if the attainment of Communism is to be achieved.
Everything you want – or need – to know about Albania ….
…. or almost. If not already it is hoped in the not too distant future to be able to answer many questions people might have about the small Balkan country that has been the centre of conflict for centuries.
What follows are links to pages or posts that try to fill in the gaps of peoples’ knowledge of a country that was vilified for trying to maintain a real independence in the face of severe difficulties caught up, as it was, in the ideological struggle within the International Communist Movement which saw breaks first with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1961 and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1978.
The overwhelming emphasis is upon the period from the beginning of the National Liberation War against fascism in 1942 to the success of the counter-revolution in 1990. Here you will find links to material that tells you about the history of Albania; the history of the Party of Labour of Albania (the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party that led the Albanian people in the fight against the fascist invaders and then towards the construction of Socialism from 1944-1990); documents produced by the Party of Labour of Albania which give an idea of how the party saw the construction of socialism in an Albanian context as well as comments on the developments within the International Communist Movement; the writings of Enver Hoxha, the great Marxist-Leninist leader who led the Party and the country after liberation in November 1944 until his death in April 1985; be able to read many (still unfortunately not all) of the issues of the monthly political and informative review Albania Today, from 1971 to 1990; various issues of the bi-monthly, large format, political, social and cultural illustrated periodical New Albania; views of Albania and its efforts to construct socialism whilst under great threat from the encircling capitalist, revisionist and imperialist countries from fraternal parties and friendship organisations in countries throughout the world; articles and speeches of (the later to be disgraced) Mehmet Shehu; and some of the writings of the last leader of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, Ramiz Alia.
Art as a means of promoting Socialism
All those countries that achieved a socialist revolution – and were led by parties that followed the Marxist-Leninist ideology (and for me there are only really four; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania (PSRA) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV)) – realised the importance of art as a propaganda tool to promote socialist ideals and to counter the propaganda of capitalism. Each country produced that art with their own national characteristics and that produced in Albania was particularly unique and extensive, covering many aspects of the plastic arts.
Theses drafted for discussion at the meeting of the Bureau of the Party Committee for the city of Tirana which, on March 21, 1958, was to take up with the consideration of the report ‘On the work for the education of intellectuals’.
When I first visited Albania in November 2011 I hadn’t been there too long before I realised a number of things about the monuments that had been constructed during the socialist period (1944-1990). The first was that there were a lot of them – at that time I didn’t realise just how many. Secondly, that some of them were quite remarkable, and unique, examples of Socialist Realist Art and, thirdly, they were all in danger, whether it be through ignorance, simple neglect or vandalism – be it ‘official’ (as an expression of political hatred, as has already happened in a number of cases, such as the Five Heroes of Vig in Shkoder and more recently The Four Heroines in Mirdita) or ‘unofficial’ – some people destroy because they are themselves unable to create.
This was the most comprehensive survey ever carried out which documented as many as possible of the lapidars (monuments) that were still in existence at the time of the survey in March 2014. The survey recorded the physical state of the monuments (some badly damaged and neglected) and added any other pertinent information available – such as artists involved, date of inauguration, exact location using GPS technology, etc. – as well as creating an extensive photographic record of their condition at the time.
Following the survey three volumes were published, both in physical form as well as a downloadable pdf. Volume 1 contains a number of articles introducing the concept of the lapidars and their role within Albanian Socialist society. These articles appear in both Albanian and English. This volume also contains the information of the 659 lapidars that were recorded at the time. (A number of others have since been added.)
Volume 2 includes one or two photos of each lapidar in the northern part of the country, Volume 3 in the southern part – the dividing line being set at N40º42’38”.
The representation of the last military action of Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini in Albanian Socialist realism is an interesting one as it has been depicted in a number of formats so offers a (possibly) unique opportunity to compare how the event has been presented to the Albanian people, history and posterity. Although the sacrifice of the three is commemorated it is Vojo Kushi who is in the forefront of these representations, his last action of storming an Italian tank being an act of bravery that has transcended even the counter-revolution of the 1990s.
The National Martyrs’ Cemetery, Tirana, is the most important monument to those who fell in the struggle against Italian and German Fascism between 1939 and 1944. It’s also the location of one of the largest examples of Socialist Realist sculpture in the country – Mother Albania.
Although the plan is to attempt to record all the monuments from the socialist period in Albania’s history there are, and will be, occasions when I will have arrived too late. Either the ‘democrats’ (a mixture of monarchists and neo-fascists) have got there first and destroyed the works of Socialist Realist art as it represents all that they despise and fear – such as any of the statues of Enver Hoxha – or those lumpen elements who see only scrap value in a piece of metal – that has led to the damage to the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig in the northern city of Shkodër. Destruction and vandalism has been the fate of the Monument to the Artillery in the hills to the south of Tirana, close to the town of Sauk.
Looking like a cross between a pistol and a huge road sign, the Monument to Heroic Peze sits at the junction to the village of Peze, along the old road between Tirana and Durres. This huge block of concrete, in its imagery and words, tells the story of the important role that this small village played in the war against fascist occupation (both Italian and German), the formation of the National Liberation Front and the concept of People’s Power.
The Conference of Peze, which took place in September 1942, was only possible as the Peze Çeta (Partisan Guerrilla Group) was so feared by the fascist invaders that they could provide a safe environment to enable the discussions on the formation of a National Liberation Front to take place. This was in a location only 20 kilometres from the capital of Albania, Tirana. As the war developed the organisational structure of the People’s Army changed and became more organised. After final liberation the efforts of these men and women started to be recognised throughout the country and hence the Monument to the 22nd ‘Shock’ Brigade.
The third major monument in the Peze Conference Memorial Park is the cemetery to those from Peze who fell during the anti-Fascist war of Independence. The Peze War Memorial is a short distance from the main area of the park and you could be excused for not knowing it’s there.
The Peze Conference on 16th September 1942 was important in establishing the organisational structure for the forthcoming struggle for liberation against the Fascist invaders, first the Italian and then, when Italy fell to the Allies, the Germans. This important meeting took place in the home of Myslym Peza who had a large house and land on the edge of the small village of Peze, about 20 kilometres south-west from Tirana and this is now the location of the Peze Memorial Park.
Like many of its kind in Albania the Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery sits on a high location over the town. This is both to give due reverence to those who gave their lives in the National Liberation War as well as to reflect that the war itself was very much one that was won and (for the Fascists) lost in the mountains.
There are some of the lapidars in Albania that can truly be called monumental in all meanings of the word. One of these is the massive and impressive Arch of Drashovice and another is the Qukës-Pishkash Star, to the side of the road from Librazhd to Përrenjas, just opposite one of the impressive viaducts of the, now, sadly neglected Albanian railway system. The sheer scale of the star can be appreciated when you look at the picture above which includes the team who catalogued the Albanian lapidars in the summer of 2014.
As is the case in many towns and villages in the UK (and also in Western Europe) where it’s common to come across a war memorial (originally for the war of 1914-18/9, the ‘War to end all wars’ but which became only Part 1) this is also the case in Albania. At the time of the National Liberation War from 1939-44 the population of the country was a little more than a million and so it’s no surprise that the ‘Martyrs’ (as they are known in Albania) came from even the smallest places. Progër is no different in that case. What makes the village different is the substantial lapidar commemorating the First Communist Party Cells. This small village, off the main road, also has a Monument to the First School and a Martyrs’ Lapidar.
The majority of the lapidars throughout Albania celebrate the events of the National War of Liberation and those who fought and died in that struggle. Others celebrate and commemorate events in the period of the construction of Socialism but there are few (probably a surprise to many) that are specifically devoted to the Communist Party of Albania (later the Party of Labour of Albania). One such – I only know of one other and that’s on the facade of the museum in Ersekë – is to the First Party Cell of the PKSH in the small village of Progër, close to Billisht and Korçë, not far from the border with Greece in the south-east of the country.
Many of the martyrs’ cemeteries in Albania are situated on hills above the towns and villages and this is certainly the case with the Martyrs’ Cemetery, Korçë, where the highest point is a fair hike from the centre of the town below. However, it’s worth the effort as, on a clear day, you have a fine view of the town, the fertile valley below and the mountains to the west as well as a fine example of Socialist Realist Art.
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.
The first shots in Albania’s National Liberation War (although it wasn’t called that at the time) were fired on 7th April 1939 when the Italian Fascist forces invaded the port city of Durrës (as well as other locations along the coast). For years the country, ruled by the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog I (even before he was dead he was planning a dynasty!) had been a puppet state of the Italian Fascists and when the invasion did take place no official structure was in existence to defy the invaders. It was therefore left to brave individuals, such as Mujo Ulqinaku, to take up the banner of resistance. His sacrifice is commemorated by a monument close to the coast where the invasion took place.
The overwhelming number of Socialist Realist monuments in Albania are constructed from either concrete or bronze. However, there are occasional variations from this norm and there are a few mosaics (though not on the massive scale of ‘The Albanians’ on the National History Museum in Tirana) including those in Bestrove, Llogara National Park and at the Durrës War Memorial.
Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania have a statue of one or more Partisans to stress that those commemorated were those who died in the National Liberation War of 1939-44. Sometimes there’s just one male Partisan, as in Korcë or Ersekë, sometimes there will be both a male and a female, as in Librazhd, sometimes (though rarely) there’s a group of three, as in Pogradec but there are also times when the symbol of sacrifice is in the form of a single female, as in Saranda and Fier. There’s a certain commonality between many of these statues, having been constructed at a similar time, but the statue of the female Partisan at the Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery is quite unique in style and presentation.
Shoket – Comrades – was one of the early sculptures to be placed in the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania, a simple monolith (lapidar) being the most common form of monument. It is the work of Odhise Paskali and was inaugurated in 1964, the same time as the monument to the Permet Congress was unveiled in the main square of the town.
The statue of a Partisan and Child, just beside the main road passing through the small village of Borove in the south-east of the country, is one of the most charming of Albanian monuments but its charm obscures a much darker story. That story is less obvious now than it was in 1968 when it was created, in a different location and part of a bigger tableau.
Many of the lapidars in different parts of Albania have suffered from vandalism and neglect. This is sad as it is displays a lack of respect of the Albanians for their heritage. Those with a particular Socialist message have suffered the most, attacked by the monarcho-fascists when the country was going through a period of anarchy in the late 1990s. Caught up in this denial of the past are also some of the monuments dedicated to the country’s ancient ‘national hero’, Skenderbreu, and a bas-relief called ‘Skenderbeu’s Wars’ the ‘stone city’ of Gjirokaster has likewise being ignored and allowed to fall into decline.
Many of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania are situated on hills, sometimes quite high hills, in the vicinity of the cities and towns. This is the case with the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery which, when it was constructed, would have been clearly seen from the centre of the town, the area around Sheshi Pavarësia (Independence Square) and the Bashkia (Town Hall). Up to the 1990s the buildings weren’t that tall but subsequent construction of high-rise flats has meant that you don’t really see the cemetery until you’re almost upon it.
There are a lot of mountains in Albania and they played a role in the success of the Communist led Partisan çeta (guerrilla groups) in defeating first Italian and then German Fascism. For that reason most of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries in Albania tend to be high above towns, in the surrounding hills, as is the case in Tirana. On my first visit to Gjirokaster I was, therefore, scanning the hills above the old town looking for the tell-tale signs of a white lapidar indicating the location of the cemetery.
There’s a unique lapidar in Gjirokaster, in southern Albania, which was erected to commemorate the struggle for education in the Albanian language when the country was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. This monument to education is an obelisk in the shape of a stylised scroll, or a certificate rolled up, upon which are carved images depicting the struggles of the past as well as the intentions for the future. Its official name is ‘Obelisku kushtuar pionierëve të arsimit shqip’ (‘Obelisk dedicated to the pioneers of education in [the] Albanian [language]’.)
Most of the monuments in Albania are not complex works of sculpture. Many are simple columns, with inscriptions, some of those being quite small. These are known as ‘Lapidars’ in Albania. (‘Lapidar’ doesn’t have a direct translation into English although ‘monolith’ is a possibility – and might even have a German root.) In between the monumental and the columns are stand alone statues and structures and the Partisan Memorial – Gjirokastra, is one of those.
Through its monuments and memorials you can tell a lot about a country, its history, its heroes, its respect for itself, the class relationships, the political balance of power, even the state of the economy.
A number of Martyrs’ Cemeteries have a single female partisan as the principal statue, Fier and Lushnje are two that immediately come to mind. This was also chosen as the case in Sarandë’s Martyrs’ Cemetery.
A journey along the valley of the Shushicë River is interesting under any circumstances, the road is rough in places (most places) but the view of the mountains and the countryside is astounding and makes the effort worth it. When you add the Arch of Drashovice 1920-1943 it’s almost an obligation.
The magnificent Arch of Drashovice is such an amazing structure with so much to tell us that I’m breaking the description up into three parts. This is the second and addresses the images relating to the battle in 1920 against the Italian invaders, a battle (and war) fought by an irregular army of peasants, workers and intellectuals against a heavily armed imperialist force.
If victory was only temporary in 1920 (due to the betrayal by the despot and usurper ‘King’ Zog) the success in 1943 led to a situation where, really for the first time in Albania, the people had the opportunity to build a life and a country for themselves, by themselves. With the expulsion of the Nazis at the end of November 1944 the country gained true independence and it was then for the people to take their own destiny into their hands. No longer could they put the blame on others. The battles that took place in September and October 1943, and which are depicted on the Arch of Drashovice, played a major role in that final victory.
Mosaics play a small part in the history of Albanian lapidars but when they do appear they do so in an impressive and memorable manner. Although not strictly a lapidar the most impressive is the huge the ‘Albanian’ mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana. Also interesting and worth a visit is the mosaic in the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Durrës. Each of these have their distinctive aspects and the mosaic, near the village of Bestrovë close to Vlorë, is another unique monument in its own right.
In the last days of the fight for the National Liberation of Albania by the Communist led Partisan army a crucial battle took place along the road from Elbasan to Tirana, south-east of the capital. To commemorate this battle the Mushqete Monument was erected at Berzhite.
The early Albanian lapidars were relatively simple affairs, uncomplicated memorials to those who had died in the National Liberation War against Fascism and for Socialism. Come the Albanian ‘Cultural Revolution’ – starting in the late 1960s – the intention was to use such monuments in a much more educational manner as well as establishing a distinctive Albanian identity. This meant that artists who had been educated and trained under the Socialist regime were encouraged to depict events and memorials in a much more figurative manner. Examples of this approach are seen in the Musqheta monument in Berzhite and in the Peze War Memorial. As the Cultural Revolution moved into the 1980s a new approach developed. This was one where the monument told a story which had developed over time, showing a continuum of the struggle. This is seen, in a truly monumental manner on the Drashovice Arch (close to Vlora) and in the Albanians Mosaic on the façade of the National History Museum in Tirana but also on the more modest, at least in size, bas-relief and statue in the north-eastern town of Bajam Curri – although it also presents some new questions of the meaning of Socialist art.
Celebrating solidarity and the willingness towards self-sacrifice in the common cause the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig once stood in one of the central squares of Skhodër, in northern Albania. After a period ‘out in the wilderness’ – close to the city rubbish dump and subject to crass, petty thievery it has now found a new permanent home in the centre of a roundabout to the north of the city.
As time went by that search for, and recording of, the Albanian lapidars grew into a more general search and recording of other artistic works in the public domain. This included mosaics, bas-reliefs and group statues. On top of that were the works of art in the (few) remaining museums and art galleries.
Mosaics and bas reliefs
In order that the ALS didn’t become open ended many public works of art that had been created during the Socialist period (1944-1990) were not recorded. However, in my travels I have encountered many of these and have treated them in the same, hopefully, thorough manner as I have the ‘official’ lapidars.
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.
Although they are being neglected, and sometimes need dedication and determination to view them, there are still a number of artistic works from the Socialist period on many of what would have been public buildings. The most impressive (and becoming one of the most neglected) is the grand mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana. Another example, which can easily be missed, is the bas-relief on both the north and south sides of the Palace of Sport in the town of Vlora. Even more easily missed are the two interior mosaics on either side of what would have been, in the past, the main entrance to this sports centre.
The more I see of them the more I like the mosaics that were created in the Socialist period of Albania’s history. In many ways they capture a feeling of optimism and hope for the future which other art forms just can’t achieve. Yes, paintings can do that but the very scale of mosaics, out in the public view all the time, just seems more immediate. Mosaics have been around for a long time but in the past representing non-existent, mythical goods or the ‘rich and famous’. Those created in Albania in the 1970s and 1980s put the working class and peasantry into the forefront, showing that their lives are important and, if they but know it and chose to take on the task, that a better future will be theirs. Such is the mosaic on the façade of the Bashkia (Town Hall) of Ura Vajguror, between Berat and Kucove, in the centre of the country.
Socialist Albania was a colourful place in its time. Banners would decorate cities on anniversaries of important occasions, such as the Day of Liberation from Fascism, and when conferences and congresses were taking place banners and posters would celebrate these events. Slogans, often quotes from Marxist-Leninist leaders, would call upon the people to work to build Socialism in opposition to a hostile world surrounding the small Balkan country. Many of these symbols of the building of a new society were temporary and would be replaced when another anniversary arose or a different meeting was taking place. However, there were a number of more permanent works of art transmitting this message and one of them is the bas-relief over the main entrance to the local Kukesi Radio Station in the eastern town of Kukes.
There are more than six hundred lapidars so far listed by the Albanian Lapidar Survey but they are not the only examples of Socialist Realist Art that tell the story of the country, especially after Independence in 1944. Although a considerable number of lapidars are in a sorry state, whether due to neglect or outright political vandalism, there seems to be a move, at present, to ‘preserve’ those which are still in existence. However, I’m not aware of a similar programme (whether nationally or locally organised) that pays attention to the many statues, mosaics and panels that celebrate the achievements of the people. The panel to the miners in the small village of Krrabë is one such example.
The work of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, in documenting and quantifying the monuments throughout the country, has produced an invaluable resource for those who have an interest in the Albanian version of Socialist Realism. However, due to time, resources and the difficulty of identifying the vast amount of examples of a new form of popular expression (made even more difficult with the criminal destruction of the archives of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists) many unique pieces of art were not part of the survey. The concrete bas-relief on the facade of the (former ‘Stamles’) Tobacco Factory, close to the seafront in Durrës, was, therefore, one of those not documented and now it has gone (unless someone with foresight was able to save it) forever.
This small relief, at the bottom of the stairs into a high school in the old part of Gjirokastra, commemorates an event in 1942 when the local students from the gymnasium (college), together with their teachers, demonstrated against, and clashed with, the occupying Italian fascist forces.
Paintings, murals and sculptures
As with the mosaics and bas reliefs there are still many other examples of Socialist Realist art which it is possible to appreciate throughout the country. Sometimes they are on permanent show as they are out in the open air, others are in museums and art galleries. Many of these public areas of exhibition were vandalised post 1990 but there seems to be a trend, slow and often partial, to renovate some of these old exhibition spaces and to show what had been shown in pride of place in the past.
There are also a few reprints of articles published during the Socialist period. These have been reproduced in an attempt to give a wider view of the role of art in a Socialist society.
The article below was first published in New Albania, No 6, 1971. It discusses the general idea of art in a socialist society, how the Albanians saw ‘Socialist Realism’ with mention of a handful of works (out of 180) that were displayed at the National Exhibition of Figurative Arts in Tirana in the autumn of 1971.
There’s a perception by some (normally the ignorant and anti-socialist) that any work of art created during the construction of Socialism is necessarily ‘Socialist Realist’ art. They don’t understand, or refuse to accept, that the construction of Socialism is a long task. When it comes to art this involves asking the people to challenge their view of what is going around them and to look at artistic works in a critical and thoughtful manner and that this involves the unmasking of the hidden messages in a painting, sculpture, film or any other creative endeavour. One such work that needs to be seen in this light is the Wedding Mural which covers one of the walls of the Korabi restaurant in the hotel of that name in the town of Peshkopia.
The mural that covers the whole of one wall in the room of the National Historical Museum in Tirana that’s devoted to the War of Liberation against the invading fascists of 1939 to 1944 is one of the few which can still be appreciated at leisure by any visitor.
Each time I’ve been to Tirana I’ve made it a point to visit the impromptu ‘sculpture park’ that has been created behind the National Art Gallery, just down from the main Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.
No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball seems to be the message given out by the pro-Western government in Albania. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Stalin are covered up by the Albanian reactionaries in an attempt to prevent them from spoiling their Independence party at the end of the month.
This post will consist of images of the paintings (and a few sculptures) from the Socialist period of Albania’s past. The first floor of the National Art Gallery is almost now solely (with one notable exception, which I’ll come to later) devoted to the period before 1990 when things fell apart.
There are fine examples of Socialist Realism in the Armaments Museum in the Castle in Gjirokastra, but you might have to ask to go upstairs to enter this older part of the museum – especially out of the summer season. ‘Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military’ is one such sculpture.
Originally my project to describe, in detail, the magnificent examples of Socialist Realist Art that are embodied in some of the lapidars throughout the country has now expanded as I’ve encountered other incidences of the unique manner used in Albania in its attempt to impart the message of Socialism. Whereas some of these are truly monumental in all senses of the word, such as the Drashovice Arch, many others are, if not actually hidden, difficult to find unless you are looking for them or, as in this case, are directed towards it by a knowledgeable local. The emblem over what used to be the Headquarters of the Party of Labour of Albania, in the mountain town of Peshkopia in the north-east of the country, is one such example.
Many monuments, statues and lapidars from Albania’s Socialist period have suffered over the years, through outright political vandalism or just neglect. However, there has been a bit of a sea change in recent years but this has not come without its own problems. Here I want to develop the ideas of Albanian Socialist Realist art by looking at two works produced to commemorate the life of a young partisan woman, Liri Gero, and also a work in commemoration of 68 young women who also left their home town of Fier to join the partisans fighting the Fascist invaders.
Tucked away at the top end of Sheshi Çerçiz Topulli (Square) in the old part of Gjirokastra is a small statue which you could easily miss. Next to the potted plants in front of the Tourist Information Office is a white stone statue, of the upper body, of two women. This is a representation of Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokëdhima who were executed by the German Nazis in 1944. From that time they became known as the Hanged Women of Gjirokastra.
Although there are many monuments and statues that are overtly political, in that they commemorate events or people involved in national liberation struggles (whether that be against the Ottoman Empire or the Italian and German Fascists of World War Two) other aspects of Albanian life are also represented in various locations throughout the country. As Gjirokastra, in the Socialist period, had become the centre for periodic folklore festivals it’s not surprising to find a frieze depicting traditional musicians and dancers located there.
although he probably never left, just ‘hiding’ for a while.
Almost thirty five years after his death and thirty years since the reaction was able to gain control in Albania it is very difficult to come across public images of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the country for just over forty years. In the 1990s the reactionaries needed to personalise any difficulties in the country and someone who had been dead for five years was an ideal candidate – even to the extent that Comrade Hoxha was considered responsible for events that had happened after his death. So he had to disappear from view.
Albanian Socialist Literature
As of this time this is a very thin section. The hope is to include other examples in due course.
It wasn’t just in the plastic arts that Socialist Realism had a role to play in the construction of Socialism. Putting the role of the working class and peasantry in the forefront of all that happened in society, in the post, present and future, was also a task of writers of short stories and novels. For those interested in this aspect of Albania’s road to Socialism the various foreign language publications (especially the large format, monthly colour magazine, New Albania) provided translations from the Albanian language in English, Russian, French, Chinese and Arabic. The story below appeared in New Albania, 1971, No 6.
Albanian folklore – music and dance
This is also, presently, a thin section. More will be added as material becomes available.
The article below, written by R Sokoli, first appeared in issue No 5, 1971 of the magazine New Albania. It is reproduced here (slightly edited) to aid a greater understanding of some of the works of art that were produced during the Socialist period (1944-1990) of Albania’s past. Although folklore hasn’t been totally abandoned in the present-day capitalist Albania traditional dress and culture don’t hold the same important role in Albanian society as in the past.
Post Socialist Albania
The counter-revolution in the 1990s destroyed virtually all the industry and seriously damaged the rail infrastructure. What ‘modern-day’ capitalist Albania produces, in spades, is religious buildings of all denominations – Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic and Islam. But what I find interesting in some of the paintings that line of the walls of these religious spaces, in particular the Roman Catholic variety, is the artistic link it has with the style of socialist realism.
Religion is interesting in Albania. Travelling around you can’t help but notice the new mosques and churches (both Catholic and Greek Orthodox) that are appearing everywhere. Whether there’s a real need for so many is debatable, I’ve hardly seen any evidence of what could be called a ‘religious revival’. However, the Catholic Church, in particular, is on the offensive and that can best be seen with the anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan Church in Shkodër.
There doesn’t seem to be any money to improve the infrastructure in Albania but plenty for building churches and the new Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana has taken a big chunk of that budget.
You think that when someone buys a soft toy or a blow up Tele Tubbie it’s destined for a baby or a young child. In Albania it could well be for another purpose. This is all part of the ‘tradition’ of the dordolec, the ‘evil eye’ and superstition in Albania.
Post-revolutionary points of interest
All post-Communist societies have a problem when it comes to history. The ruling capitalist and imperialist lackeys don’t want to remind the people of the time of Socialist construction – they might wonder why they ditched the socialist past in favour of the capitalist present which offers them little hope – unless you are one of those ‘lucky’ enough to have your snout in the corruption trough. That dilemma has resulted in a number of ‘interesting’ items about which I have written.
On Sunday 11th November 2012 the British Embassy organised a Remembrance service at the English Cemetery in Tirana Park, behind the State University, in the centre of the city. There were few people in attendance, as the English community in Tirana is relatively small, but included the British Ambassador and the Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha.
Some building developers rub someone in authority up the wrong way and they find their building plans didn’t go quite as they expected.
What does Independence mean in Albania today?
Any visitor to the country will soon become aware of the schizophrenic approach the people and government have towards the idea of ‘independence’. Images of the 15th century national hero Skenderberg are everywhere. November 28th is still a national holiday as it celebrates independence from the Ottoman Empire. November 29th – which is the day of the liberation of the country from the fascists in 1944 – is not. Yet NATO troops and vehicles are more evident than the national army and the government does nothing of note unless it gets the green light from external capitalist masters. And like many others throughout Europe who call for ‘independence’ – such as the Catalans, the Basques, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish – Albania begs to become a member of the European Union. I find that a bit of a contradiction but these ‘nationalist’ groups don’t. For the ordinary Albanian they see membership as a lifeline and a means of getting an improved infrastructure, for those in real control it’s an opportunity to get their noses into the trough.
Today, the 28th November, Albania celebrates the 100th Anniversary of it independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. The streets and buildings throughout the country are festooned with red bunting and representations of the black, double-headed eagle but how independent is Albania really?
For such a small country, in terms of geographic size and population – yet big in the sense of having taken on the challenge of the building of revolutionary socialism – Albania has two days on which it celebrates its independence. The first was from the Ottoman Empire on 28th November 1912 but by far the most important and significant is that of the 29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania.
Foreign interference in Albania’s internal affairs
I have also, briefly, looked at efforts of capitalist nations (principally the United Kingdom) to undermine the construction of Socialism in Albania after the ending of World War II (the National Liberation War for the Albanians).
After liberating their country from the fascists Albanians were under continual external pressure from hostile government forces. At this time Albanian-British Relationships were at an all-time low. In not bowing down to this the Albanians were criticised for being ‘isolationist’ and ‘xenophobic’ whereas their actions were more a matter of survival.
Politics and ideology within International Communist Movement
Although a small country in the ‘socialist camp’ – when such an entity existed – the Albanian Party of Labour, and its leader Enver Hoxha, played a major part in the struggle against revisionism within the International Communist Movement. How this was fought out can be seen in the writings of Comrade Hoxha himself and it the material produced by the Party throughout its existence.
In July 1978 the Party of Labour of Albania published (in an open and public forum, that is, as a supplement to the July/August, No 4, edition of Albania Today) a letter which the Party had sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This letter was promoted by the sudden – though not totally unexpected – move of the Chinese to remove all support, materially, financially as well as personnel, from Albania, a country which, up to that time, had held the closest fraternal links with the much bigger Party, country and people.
Travelling in Albania
A number of posts provide some information for those travelling around various parts of the country. This includes information on transport as well as a number of specific locations.
One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.
One of the joys of travelling is the unexpected. Well, I suppose, many people have come across a form of the unexpected they would rather not have experienced but those unpleasant situations can happen in your own country. The unexpected that I’m talking about is the experience when something happens, something changes, something develops in a manner that was totally unforeseen at the beginning, but all ends up well.
I’ve done the Amazon, the Yukon and the Zambesi but you have to go a long way to beat the beauty and splendour of the Lake Komani ferry journey from the hydro-electric dam at Koman to the port of Fierza, on the way to the town of Bajram Curri – and it lasts for less than three hours.
An archaeological site that goes back almost 2500 years, Butrint has the imprint of both the Greek and Roman civilisations. Important for its location to both those cultures it was also pivotal under Venetian rule, its decline only really beginning after it fell to Napoleon’s armies at the end of the 18th century.
Syri I Kaltër, the Blue Eye is one of the natural attractions in the Saranda area in southern Albania, especially if you are not interested in the beach or are looking for a change. A visit here can also be put together with a day trip to Gjirokastra from Saranda.
After his death on 11th April 1985 Enver Hoxha was buried next to the Mother Albania statue in the Martyr’s Cemetery overlooking Tirana. However, the counter-revolution that took place in 1990 allowed his political enemies to take their revenge by denying him a place of honour in the country’s history and he was reburied in the main public cemetery of the city.
Death to Fascism Mural in the National Historical Museum, Tirana
The mural that covers the whole of one wall in the room of the National Historical Museum in Tirana that’s devoted to the War of Liberation against the invading fascists of 1939 to 1944 is one of the few which can still be appreciated at leisure by any visitor. There’s another which can be seen, but not fully understood, as it’s in a room which is undergoing renovation at the moment. Whether it will be covered in some way as part of this renovation is unknown – but hopefully not.
Since the end of the 1990s, when relative stability was regained in the country, various Albanian governments of various colours have sought to slowly but surely eradicate the period of the construction of Socialism, from 1944 to 1990, as if it had never existed. Those of the neo-fascist right (some of whom were even members of the Party of Labour of Albania for many years but changed their allegiance once the opportunity presented itself – therefore justifying the idea of Joseph Stalin that the Party constantly needs to purge itself of opportunist elements) want the past eradicated so that their names cannot be associated with those actions and tactics which they now deny.
Those of the opportunist now social-democratic ‘left’ don’t want to show themselves in their true colours, offering ‘easy’ options to difficult problems and denying that the efforts to construct a wholly new world order had any value whatsoever. They look for comfort in the ‘tinkering’ of the system as they are totally inadequate in the task of substantially changing society forever. Efforts by those who have tried to do so in the past – whatever the failings and the mistakes that might have been made – only show them up for the weak and cowardly opportunists that they are.
Capitalism has, in the last hundred years, constantly criticised Socialist states of ‘re-writing history’. This is not the place to argue the truth of such accusations but what is certain is that this ‘holier than thou’ approach is mainly used as a smokescreen for the oppressive and exploitative system to justify the way it has, still does and will until the days it is destroyed forever, interpreted history in a manner which portrays capitalism and imperialism as the only possible system that can exist throughout the world – despite the innumerable crimes it has, still does and will commit in the future.
But back to the mural.
This one depicts images from the war against German Nazism. It does not pretend to be a view of a particular battle at a particular time and place. It’s more of a montage with images that attempt to record, in a visual manner, the struggle of the Communist-led Albanian Partisans against the Nazi invader.
It seeks to portray the Partisans as fearless and determined fighters who will do any and everything to rid their country of the invaders. In doing so the painter (and this has been repeated in an number of other places, both in paintings and in the sculptures of the Albanian lapidars) effectively has dehumanised the German soldiers.
This ‘dehumanisation’ is necessary to stress the difference between the moral authority of the Partisan fighters in resisting the invaders and the lack of such authority of the German forces who sought to dominate and enslave the Albanian population.
The depiction of the Nazis as no more than unprincipled and vicious animals also seeks to remind the Albanian people of the atrocities that were perpetrated by the invaders during their time in the country. In their frustration against their inability to defeat the Partisans (who carried out for the first part of the organised armed struggle after the formation of the National Liberation Front in Peze in 1942 a guerrilla war against first the Italian and then the German armies) the Germans carried out a total war which, among other things, involved such actions as the massacre and annihilation of the village and people of Borove after a particularly successful and stinging ambush carried out near-by.
The painting seeks to remind the viewer, in one relatively small space, of all of that and to value the sacrifice of those Partisans who gave their lives for the freedom of their country.
The fact that now, seemingly, the majority of the population of Albania don’t give a toss about that sacrifice is neither hear nor there. The reality of the struggle in Albania is that it was the Communist Partisans who liberated their country from the invaders without the assistance (other than material) of any external major ‘power’.
The mural tells that story by the use of images which can be seen in various lapidars throughout the country.
The armed, fighting, fearless, female, Communist Partisan
The principal and central character is a female Partisan. It is around her that all the action takes place. She’s physically the largest representation and in her image she tells a lot about the history of the success of the Albanians against the fascist invaders.
What I consider the most important aspect of the manner in which she has been portrayed is that she is armed, heavily. This is an aspect I have seen in visiting all those lapidars (monuments) and other art works produced during the Socialist period (from 1944-1990) – such as bas reliefs and mosaics – in that if a woman is represented in a military context she is always armed.
This can be seen in the wonderful mosaic (The Albanians) at the front of the very same building as well as in the Martyr’s Cemeteries in Lushnje and Fier, to name just a few.
Not only is this depiction of the female Partisan as an active armed fighter for the liberation of her country a recognition of the role that women played in the victory in Albania it also stresses what Mao Tse-tung expressed so succinctly ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’. True ‘female liberation’ will not be achieved until workers have freed themselves from oppression and exploitation and the system of patriarchy that has been strengthened and perpetuated under the economic system of capitalism. It won’t come naturally even then but will never happen unless this pre-requisite is achieved.
We don’t know if she’s the leader of this Partisan group but she’s in the vanguard of the attack and although she is moving forward she looks back to those behind and with her left arm she is signalling for others to hurry as the battle is being waged. The speed of her onward rush is captured by her cape, her long, black hair and her scarf which fly out behind her.
In her right hand she holds a light machine gun, she has a couple of stick grenades (captured from the enemy in a previous attack) tucked under the belt that holds ammunition pouches and there’s another ammunition belt across her chest. She’s also the only one of the Partisan fighters who wears what resembles a uniform.
The Communist calls for the attack
We know she’s a Communist as she proudly displays the red star on her cap and the red scarf around her neck reinforces that declaration of political allegiance.
In fact the use of red in this painting is quite interesting. In general the palette used is quite mute but the bright red appears only from the dress and symbols of the Partisans – apart from a flash of flame from the machine gun being fired by the Partisan on the extreme right and the flames from the burning Nazi tank on the extreme left. Even the blood of the dead and dying Nazis is a dull, lacklustre red.
Traditional footwear in a modern war
We also know she’s from the countryside, as most Partisans would have been at the time, by her footwear – sandals and the colourful woollen socks. This is in contrast to the heavy boots being worn by the Germans and even those of two of her male comrades.
To the right of the female Partisan is a young male. In his right hand, stretched out in front of him giving the impression of his rushing forward to join in the attack, is a rifle. His stance is of one who is fighting in mountainous terrain, with his right leg bent and his left stretched out behind him to give his forward movement more force. This is a stance that is very reminiscent of that of the Partisan statue on the Durres seafront.
But his role in the picture is not as a fighter but as a bearer of the symbol of the Albanian Partisans. He is the flag bearer and in his left hand flutters the rallying point of the Communists.
The Albanian Communist Banner
This is the red flag on which is the black, double-headed eagle with a gold, five pointed star embroidered above the two heads. This was to become the national flag of Albania after the declaration of Independence on 29th November 1944.
This would normally be of a brighter red – as the red stars on the caps and the red scarves – but I assume that the artist didn’t want to detract from their flashes of colour which a large expanse of red in the middle of the picture. So he has chosen more of a purple colour for the flag.
He knows where he’s going
Apart from him being responsible for the flag we also know his political allegiance, again, by the red scarf that’s around his neck.
Her red scarf, her sacrifice blood
Behind him, and slightly in the background, we are reminded that victory in anything, especially war, comes at a cost. And here we see the cost being paid by a young female Partisan who is shown at the time of death, her back arched as she is about to fall. We don’t see her face but we sense the pain as the bullet that kills her enters her body. She has no weapon but there is spare ammunition in her belt and her red scarf singles her out as a Communist.
Shooting down from the mountains
The Partisan in the extreme right corner shows the extent of the population that joined the National Front against the fascist invaders. He is older, also from the countryside but here almost certainly from one of the mountainous regions of Albania.
He is also a Communist, with a red star on his fez, but in place of a scarf around his neck he has it wrapped around his hat. Typically at the time men from the mountains had moustaches and he sports a dark, black one.
A Communist peasant from the mountains
He shows his physical strength by firing a moderately heavy machine gun but without the need of the normal tripod. His proximity to the dying woman also gives the impression of him taking revenge for the loss of a comrade. His machine gun spits fire and the bullets fall in a shower down by his feet.
The British contribution
It’s true that the British did supply the Communists Partisans with war material during the War of Liberation. They would rather have given the supplies to the Nationalist forces but 1) British representatives on the ground realised, and advised, that the Communist forces were the more effective and 2) the Nationalists eventually tried to pull the German Nazis out of the mire they had dug themselves into by attending a Quisling Assembly in 1944. The answer of the Communist Partisans was to drag a canon up the hills above Tirana and deliver a response to this traitorous act in the shape of a shell. It was exactly the same type of cannon that is seen, slightly in the background, in the centre of this painting.
For some reason the British thought (whether it be the government of Churchill during the war or the government of Atlee after it) that because they had provided a few weapons they had the right to determine the future of the country. This led to Britain, in concert with the Americans, attempting to achieve ‘regime change’ before the term became popular. This included the aggression that was later referred to as the ‘Corfu Incident’.
They also constantly winged about their assistance not being recognised by the ‘ungrateful’ Communists. However, there are any number of paintings and sculptures where the Mills bomb (grenade) is depicted – to the best of my knowledge only, in that particular style, being produced by the British.
Bullets and sandals
It’s strange when I think of it but as I’ve tried to understand the stories told by Albanian Socialist Realist paintings and sculpture I’ve learnt that the detail the artists have placed in their work when it comes to what people wear (or sometimes don’t wear – as in the great arch at Drashovice) can tell a great deal about the politics of the time. Here we have another example where the Partisan wears what he had worn from his youth – hand made shoes of his area and not the industrial production of western capitalist states. Probably made the fighting more comfortable.
Spitting fire and death
Once you get to know Albania as a country you get to understand how hard it must have been – for both sides – to fight in such terrain. An incredibly beautiful country with its mountains and ravines are a different kettle of fish in a war situation. Now, obviously, war isn’t easy at any time but when you enter mountainous terrain into the equation it becomes even more difficult. Especially for the invader.
What the Americans, and the French before them, discovered later in Vietnam, the Italian and German Fascists discovered in Albania during then Second World War. Whatever material advantage you might have on paper it’s as nothing if you can’t dominate the terrain. The Albanian Partisans did in their country, the Vietminh did so in theirs.
And that fact of mountain fighting is represented in many works of Socialist Realist Art in Albania. As here the Partisan is firing down – into a valley, into a road during an ambush from a high point. The Partisans always controlled the high ground and that was one of the aspects of the Liberation War that ensured them success.
The battle continues in the background
There are only a handful of ‘actors’ in the foreground to tell the story of the struggle but obviously there were many more involved and here they are depicted almost as ‘ghosts’ in the background – as can be seen in the previous couple of pictures.
The mountains are a protagonist
Because the mountains of Albania played such a crucial role in the battle between the Partisans and the Fascists they are also often represented in works of art that tell the story of the struggle. Often, if it is of a particular battle it will be the mountains that would have been near-by and recognisable by the locals. These seem to be ‘generic’ mountains but they might have meant something to the artist.
Death to Nazism!
Not all fighting in a war is at a distance and from time to time it comes to a hand to hand struggle. This is where we find the final, identifiable Partisan in the painting. Just to the left of the female Partisan we see a life and death struggle between another Communist Partisan and a Nazi soldier. We don’t see the face of the Partisan, just a glimpse of the side of his face, but we do see the Nazi. His eyes are wide open in horror as the Partisan has his left hand grasping his throat and in his right hand he has a dagger which is about to end the horror for the German soldier. This soldier is depicted almost as a demon, the human characteristics being erased from his features. This approach can also be seen on the lapidar at Berzhite.
Dead Nazis and dead Fascist Panzer Tank
Apart from a few ghostly and shadowy figures in the background the invader is confined to the extreme left of the painting and along the bottom, where their dead litter the ground.
The Nazi red is either flames or blood
Their tank is of no help, the flames leaping from the turret and the clouds of smoke indicating the crew are probably dead and unable to use the superior fire power. And anyway, in the terrain where the fighting took place in Albania tanks wouldn’t have been much use, the uneven ground and lack of any clear shots would have meant they did more damage to the mountain than the Partisans.
Those who are about to die ….
Those that are still alive and prepared to continue the fight are depicted as featureless, only the shapes of their faces in profile being seen. Here again the artist has stripped them of their humanity. They are killing machines so don’t merit individuality.
Faceless Nazis fighting for their lives
And in the case of one of them he is shown as no more than a shadow, a dark shape in the background.
The Nazi banner and the Nazi dead
Whereas the Communist banner flies high and proud the banner of the fascist invaders with its swastika symbol lies in the dirt, tattered and torn, the hand of a dead Nazi touching it reinforcing it as a symbol of death but one that itself is in the process of dying.
(The fact that this symbol is seeing a resurgence at the moment is down to a number of factors – amongst them being the betrayal of the Revisionists in those countries that had achieved the Socialist Revolution (including in Albania) and the failure of the working class in the industrialised countries to take power into their own hands. They might, some day, rue the consequences of their cowardice and pusillanimity as they suffer the death and destruction that accompanies fascism when it gains momentum.)
Arrogance pays its price
The remaining images of the invader are all of death. Fittingly the soldier that was so surprised of death knocking at his door that he has his mouth open is lying on the ground directly beneath the foot of the principal female Partisan.
The Iron Cross is no saviour against a Communist
And even the holder of an Iron Cross is no match for the onslaught of the Communist Partisans.
Unfortunately I can’t say who is the artist of this mural. There’s no signature and I can’t definitively identify the artist by comparing his (there seem to have been few female artists whose work was displayed in museums and art galleries throughout Albania – I don’t know why that was the case) style with other paintings I might have seen.
However, I assume that it was created for the opening of the Museum in 1982.