The stone mason from Borova

The stone mason from Borova

The stone mason from Borova

More on Albania …..

Introduction

This short story was first published in New Albania No 5, 1976. It is reproduced as part of the effort to inform people of the cultural output of Albania during its Socialist period, following the concepts of Socialist Realism.

This particular short story also has a direct relevance to the sculptural lapidars of Albania. It’s a story about the events of July 6th 1943 when the Nazi invaders murdered all the inhabitants of the small village of Borova (in the south-east of the country) who weren’t able to escape and then burnt everything of use within the village.

The statue of The Partisan and Child is part of the monument which commemorates that event.

This was part of the normal policy of the fascists as it followed an attack on a German convoy the day before in the mountains close to the village. This form of collective punishment is well known in examples such as Lidice in the (now) Czech Republic but they also occurred in those countries that were occupied by the Nazis, very often in similar retaliation to attacks upon the German Army by irregular Partisan forces.

By allowing the installation of the German Fascist Memorial in Tirana Park, after the collapse of Albanian society in the 1990s, the reactionary government of Sali Berisha displayed its contempt for the murder of its own citizens.

The stone mason from Borova

In memory of 107 Martyrs

by Naum Prifti

Many people wonder and cannot explain what urged Ligor to go to Borova that day. He took no heed either of the warnings of others or of the categoric order of the German command prohibiting the entry of civilians in to the still smouldering village.

Some say that Ligor went there because he was anxious to see what was left of his goods and chattels, whereas others say that he did so because he had had such a shock that he was unable to control his actions and, like a sleep-walker, he plodded through the streets filled with German soldiers between still smoking houses, without realizing what lay ahead. It happened that uncle Ligor was not in Borova on the day of the massacre. He had left the village early that morning taking with him, as usual, his bag with his hammer, trowel, and plumb line, and had gone to Novosel to build a wall. There is no trade in the world that requires fewer tools than that of the stone mason. Ligor was well aware of this because with that bag on his shoulder he had wandered for many years to different points of the northern hemisphere. His hammer had cracked the stones of three continents. He had worked at Khalkis, on both the beautiful shores of the Bosphorus, in the cities round the Black sea and, finally, he had crossed the Atlantic to try his luck in America. For this stone mason life had been hardship and toil everywhere. But finally Ligor had found some consolation in saying that this was due to the bad trade he had chosen. ‘That’s how it is with our trade,’ he would say, rubbing his hands on his coarse woollen trousers. ‘Wherever you go, you are dealing with stones and from them you have to earn your daily bread. But is it easy to bread from stones?’

In the end after his long wanderings abroad he returned to his village and made up his mind not to go away again no matter how things might turn out. Life had not smiled on him anywhere. Then where else would he be better off? In the dirty doss houses in Istanbul, in the damp of Odessa or the soot of Detroit where you cough up black mucus as though your lungs are filled with dye. Here at last he was in his own home, where in summer afternoons he could sit in the garden under the trees and watch the people pass by. His house was on a hill and from there he could get a very good view of both sections of the village.

He had built this house with his own hands after he had returned from abroad.

‘All my life I have built for others; now, on the eve of my old age. I’ll build a house for myself in which to rest my weary bones.’ And so he set to work and built a small house, thinking to himself that this would be the best and the only property that he would leave his children. They would remember him for a long time and then, if they were able, let them build a better and more beautiful house themselves.

For some years now he had been hard of hearing and instead of using his name others had nicknamed him ‘deafy.’ Ligor was not put out about it and admitted himself that ‘my ears fail, me, so shout because I can’t hear!’

Ligor said that this was due to sticking nails in his ears. Anyone, who has worked with momento stone masons knows this secret. When the nail won’t drive in the wood and there is no oil or lard at hand, they smear it with ear wax? The wax serves as a lubricant and the nail goes in with ease.

…That afternoon, while he was working, from the top of the scaffolding he saw a dense plume of smoke rising in the sky over his village.

‘What can this fire be?’ he said to himself, standing hammer in hand. He shaded his eyes with his free hand and tried to make out which section of the village it was coming from.

‘It must surely be the children burning the straw left in the sheds. Or is it St. Peter’s Day? How silly of me, St. Peter’s Day was a week ago whereas, today it is July 6! But may be the children have found some rubbish in a corner and have set fire to it.’ It had been the custom since ancient times to clean out the sheds at the end of June each year and burn the straw and chaff that had been left over from the past year, before putting in the new fodder. These bonfires were the joy the village children. They gathered at the village square or threshing floor, lit the fire and jumped through the mounting flames. According to an old belief, those who jumped over these fires burned the fleas left from the winter.

When he was a child, Ligor had done this, too. The memory of those days came back to him through the mists of the past, and he smiled. Was it sixty or seventy years ago?

‘However, this doesn’t look like a straw fire. The smoke from straw is white, while this is columns of grey and black. This looks as if a house or shed has caught fire. And how will they put it out in this hot weather!’

‘Some poor family,’ Ligor thought to himself, ‘It is they who meet with such misfortunes; it is their houses which burn so easily. It’s hell of a life!’

The fire seemed to come from near the stream and he tried to remember the houses there.

‘Well, what’s done is done!’ he said, ‘I’ll find out when I get back to the village. Now I must get to work to earn my wages.’

He took a trowel-full of mortar from the bucket and spread it on the wall, with quick, deft movements then stepped down from the scaffolding to select a cornerstone.

Like any mason who was master of his trade, he knew that the better the corner is built the longer the wall will stand. That’s the whole secret.

Back on the scaffolding with the cornerstone on his shoulder, he gaped in surprise. The smoke over Borova had become a dense cloud as if the whole stream were in flames.

‘What’s all this? What is happening.’

Instinctively his eyes turned to the hilltop, to his house half hidden by the trees in his orchard and his courtyard;

‘Izet, Izet! Leave that mortar and come up here a minute!’

A thin boy in a collarless shirt and red breeches made of the signal flags of the Italian army appeared on the ladder to the scaffold. Ever since his son had joined the partisans, Ligor had been compelled to hire another assistant.

‘What do you think is going on, son? Look over there towards Borova. It seems like a lot of smoke, or are my eyes deceiving me?’

Borova was not an hour’s walk away from Novosel and although it was daytime, the boy could make out the tongues of flame lapping the sky.

‘You’re right, boss, several houses are burning.’

The mason pursed his lips and stood thinking. His mind turned to his partisan son, and the war which was becoming fiercer.

‘Do those damned Germans intend to burn our village, too, as they burned Vodica? It’s possible. Then the houses of those whose sons have joined the partisans will not go unscathed.

How much toil it had cost him to build and complete that house! A whole lifetime! And the enemy might burn it and in a few hours everything he owned would be dust and ashes.

‘And they might do it,’ he said to himself. ‘You can’t expect any good from the enemy. My son was right.’ He recalled the conversation he had had with his son before he joined the partisans.

… It was on a Sunday. Father and son had been working in the garden planting out onions and, when they had finished and were washing their hands, his son had asked: ‘Father, have you a rifle hidden anywhere?’

Ligor shook the water from his hands and. from under his grey eyebrows, looked at his son in surprise.

‘I have wielded the hammer and have had no time to strut around with a rifle on my shoulder.’

‘Oh, I just asked in case you had one?’ ‘I have no rifle. If you need a hammer I can give you one’

His son hesitated to reply. Then he said slowly:

‘I thought of joining the partisans.’

His father looked him up and down and then, surprisingly, asked only:

‘When?’

‘Any day, now.’

‘Hm!’

Ligor had stood up face to face with his son.

‘Have you made up your mind to sneak away like many others or are you asking my permission?’

‘I have decided to go, but I don’t want to leave home without your permission Father, you understand, our country calls us …’ Ligor did not allow him to finish the sentence. He wiped his hands with his handkerchief, folded it, put it back in his pocket, and then said slowly:

‘Have you thought it over well?’

‘Yes, I have.’

‘Well, son, you have thought it over and had your say. Let me think it over as you have done and then I shall give you my reply.’

And after thinking about it all afternoon pacing around the house and darting quick glances on his son, in the evening he had called him aside and asked him:

‘Even if I don’t give my permission, you will go anyway, will you not?’

‘Yes!’ his son replied.

‘Good. But if I were in your place, I would have asked my father whether he had any right to stop me if a greater father had called me?’

‘You gave me no time. You said you would think it over and walked away,’ replied his son, red with embarrassment.

‘Had you said this to me, I would have been red with shame as you are now. Poverty is hard, it is bad, but bondage is worse. The hammer doesn’t seen to change this world, let’s hope the rifle will do it!’

And thus they had parted. Nearly four months had gone by since his son had taken up his rifle. Now and then he managed to come home by night, and Ligor’s heart leaped with joy to see his son happy, cheerful and optimistic as never, before. This was not just the joy that springs from youth alone, but from something deeper …

Ligor placed the cornerstone and lining it up with his eye from above and from the side, and tapped it lightly with the hammer to shift it a few millimetres inwards, as if to say, ‘that’s the right place for you, stay here and see how well-placed you are!’

‘Boss!’ called Izet catching him by the sleeve.

Like all those who are hard of hearing, Ligor Pandoja craned his head foreward and met Izet’s eyes.

‘I hear rifle shots. Listen!’

The stone mason puckered the muscles of his face as he strained to listen.

‘I hear nothing!’

‘I hear rifle and machine-gun shots!’

‘Rifle shots? Perhaps the partisans have attacked them.’

The fires were increasing quickly and now the black smoke formed a dense cloud over Borova. This cloud was growing bigger and blacker.

Ligor picked up another stone, but stood with it in his hand. His eyes were turned towards the village.

‘I can’t work. It’s no use.

He left the stone on the scaffolding, picked up the hammer, the trowel and the plumb bob and line, put them in his kit and stepped down the ladder.

‘I’m going to Borova.’

Thus he set out from Novosel to Borova when the cloud of smoke had cast a shadow over the valley and turned the whole sky black. He always walked at the same steady pace. The tools on his back rattled together. He was aware of the noise they made without hearing it, for he was used to it.

The smoke over Borova had become an enormous dense cloud as if the crater of a volcano had suddenly erupted and the setting sun cast the shadow of the smoke for several kilometres over the gravel stretching to the foot of Mount Gramos.

On the way he met the first refugees, his fellow villagers, who had managed to get away amidst the bullets and the fires.

A woman leading a child by the hand, her face deathly pale and wide staring eyes, still filled with terror, began to cross her hands and beat her head as if cursing both heaven and earth.

‘The German fascists burned our homes and killed the people! Ohlahlah! Words cannot describe what our eyes have seen!’

Her gestures were more eloquent than her words, while the child sat in a daze by her side. The woman turned towards Borova and began to shout and curse at the Nazis as if they were there before her: ‘May you and all you have be wiped out and turned to ashes! May you never reach your homes alive!

The woman seized the child by the hand and pressed on, not knowing where she was going. The child stumbled along as if half asleep.

Ligor stopped in the middle of the road. Other refugees were emerging from the creek and among them he caught sight of his wife and children.

‘They are safe!’ he said to himself relieved of the nightmare worry that he might have lost them. From their sketchy accounts, Ligor learned what had happened during those two hours in Borova.

The partisans had ambushed a motor convoy of the German Nazis, attacking them in the pass of Barmash. The Germans had turned back, taking their dead and wounded with them. The nearest village to the scene of the attack was Borova and the Nazis had decided to wreak retribution in the cruellest and most barbarous way. They had posted up some white sheets of paper near the bridge, they had attacked like mad dogs. What did those posters say? No one knew. They pronounced sentence of death on Borova. Squads of Nazi soldiers were deployed throughout the village. Shoot the people, burn the houses!

‘We would have been killed, too,’ said his wife, ‘but we escaped because we saw the Germans coming and got away through the back gate to the garden and down into the bed of the stream.

‘Did they set fire to the house?’

‘Yes!’ said his wife, ‘but who cares about the house. We are lucky to be alive.’

‘Where shall we go, where Will we find shelter when winter comes, what shall we do for food, for clothing ?’ All these questions crowded into Uncle Ligor’s mind and he shook his head in despair. Life had brought them to a very critical pass and there was no ray of hope to be seen anywhere.

That night he went to one of their friends in Novosel.

The host, as if he understood what was worrying Ligor, said:

‘Stay here with us until we win. What we have we shall share together.’

‘Thank you!’ said Ligor, ‘but these are not the times to be a burden on others. Everyone has his own problems nowadays.’

‘It’s in bad times you need a friend. And our boys are not fighting in vain. I tell you, the Germans are hard pressed; that’s why they are doing such things.’

Amidst the grief, uncertainty, and general distress the short July night seemed to drag on and on.

Next morning Ligor was up early as usual. Could that dozing, interrupted by moans, sobs, and sighs, be called sleep? The heartache, grief and anxiety abated through the night and in the morning it all seemed to belong to another time.

Ligor began to pace the room. Only the children were still asleep. He poked his head out of the window that looked towards the village. He could not sit still, and the idea that he should go to Borova, and see with his own eyes what had happened there, kept tormenting him.

In the end he made up his mind.

‘Turn back, Ligor,’ said his wife, ‘there is nothing to see. Borova has been destroyed. There’s nothing left but ruins and ashes!’

‘I’ll not turn back!’ said Ligor, and his wife, who knew him well, realized from his tone that he had decided and nothing would turn him from his course.

He had his bag with his hammer, trowel and plumb line on his back. His hearing was not good, but he was aware of their rattling because their melody was like a leitmotiv that had accompanied him all his life. Why had he taken his tools along? He himself did not know. Mostly from force of habit since he was used to walking with that small burden on his back.

Near the village, he met a group of people. They had set out to bury their dead relatives left lying in the roads and gardens, but the Nazis had not allowed this. They had threatened them with machine guns and had not allowed any one to enter the village. They told Uncle Ligor it was useless to try – ‘Better turn back before too late’ – but they could not convince him.

‘I set out for the village and that’s where I shall go.’

‘But they will kill you, Uncle Ligor!’

‘And why?’

His question was truly astonishing, but quite sincere and logical. Why should they kill an old man who was coming back to see his people, his village and his home?

The Nazis had condemned the village to extermination and they meant to carry the order out. However they did not stop Ligor. Why not? Because he entered Borova with an air of mastery, proud, head erect, disdaining them and entirely unperturbed.

Deafy walked between their vehicles without hesitation or fear, without even deigning to glance at them. He had seen any number of vehicles and armies in those far away countries and their appearance aroused not the slightest interest. Chest out and head erect, he walked firmly down the cobbled road with extraordinary calm and self-assurance. His steps were long and heavy, and echoed on the road. He made no attempt to hurry, to go away or to hide himself. He marched ahead steadily, proudly, like a man who has an important mission to perform, who assumes majesty from the importance of his task.

The German patrol opened the way to him and Ligor entered the village. He saw the burned houses, the blackened beams, the gables and foundations lying together and a knot seemed to gather in his chest. Near the bridge, on the walls around the springs and gardens he saw the posters. ‘These must be those white sheets of paper they told me about,’ he said to himself, paying them scant attention.

He left the highway and took the path towards the hilltop. The Germans were watching him from the road. According to them, this man could have nothing to do with the village. He must be some traveller who happened to pass this way.

Ligor stood in front of his house and looked it over carefully. The roof had fallen, the walls were blackened and the windows gaped empty. Some smoke was still trickling skywards from within the walls. A bitter, choking smoke. Everything had come to a sudden and unexpected end. The stones were blackened and split from the great heat. He knew every one of them, for he had laid them there with his own hands, and it seemed as if the stones knew him, too. Their gaping mouths spoke a language which the mason could understand.

He took the bag from his shoulder and walked around the house. Smoke, sorrow, silence.

Then he turned and looked over the village. The white walls, painted gates, windows with curtains and pot plants were no more Ruins, heaps of ashes and the bitter smell ol smoke that stung the eyes and throat.

From the bridge the Germans followed the movements of this man, who had walked up the hill and was surveying the village.

‘We’ve got to start from the beginning again,’ said Ligor, shaking his head. And, like a man, who knows what he is about, moved to one side, took off his jacket, folded it and laid it on the wall.

The July heat was scorching, the stones of the still smouldering houses and even the cobblestones were scorching, but more than all this he was burning with emotion.

His shirt gleamed white against the blackened walls and trees.

Ligor bent down and caressed the golden down on leaves of the tomato plants between his fingers, breathing the aroma. He loved this smell and it seemed as if he were eating fresh tomatoes. The tomatoes were still small, the size of hazelnuts and hidden among the leaves.

Then he lifted down his bag of tools, took out his hammer and trowel, rolled up his sleeves, and built an improvised scaffolding of some boxes and boards which were lying in the courtyard. He climbed on it and began to remove the ends of half-burned beams. In a little while, his hammer began to beat out the old song on the still hot stones.

The Nazis, who all this time had watched in stunned surprise, flared into anger. The challenge of this stone mason infuriated a German officer, and he ordered his soldiers to open fire.

Bullets began to fly towards the hilltop, whistling angrily through the trees, raising chips of stone and dust from the ground. They were tracer bullets which left behind a red, green or blue line. Ligor saw these missiles which flew by like so many brilliantly coloured butterflies and he was pleased. He did not hear the shots, seeing only the coloured lines the bullets left behind in the air, and he was astonished for it was something he had never seen before. ‘What are all these butterflies?’ he wondered, for he knew nothing of the new inventions in war equipment.

The bullets seemed afraid and avoided him. They flew past, through his clothes, beside him, in front of and behind him. He was like a target which could not be hit.

Then the mason thought he would make a little mortar and water his tomatoes and lettuces. So he went to the brook to fill a bucket with water. On the way back the Germans all fired one after the other, and a bullet punctured a hole in the bucket. The water began to spurt out from each side. ‘What’s happening to me today?’ he murmured to himself, ‘I don’t understand. This seemed a good bucket that didn’t leak. Or may be it was like this and I hadn’t noticed it.’

He bent down, gathered some leaves, rolled them in a wad and plugged the holes from which the water was flowing.

From the side of the bridge came a shout of relief for they thought that they had killed him, but Ligor Pandoja stood up again and walked towards the garden.

Orders, curses and shouts in German were heard, but not by the stone mason, and even if he had heard he would not have given them any importance, for he would not have believed they had anything to do with him. And Uncle Ligor walked on with the bucket in his hand up to the moment they knocked him down.

From his garden, wherever you turn your eyes, you see only mountains. Ligor saw the mountains for the last time that July afternoon. They seemed to waver, to rise higher than they were, to sink down, become misty, and be lost to sight. Then they emerged again clear and still. The vision of the mountains remained fixed fast on Ligor’s retina, and he did not close his eyes because he wanted to preserve their image forever.

The breeze rustled the grass, the leaves, the tender twigs, and sprinkled his white shirt with the pollen of flowers.

More on Albania …..

What does this monument stand for? The Mushqeta Monument

Mushqeta Monument

Mushqeta Monument

More on Albania ……

Introduction

This article first appeared in New Albania, No 4, 1976. It is reproduced here to give more information about this crucial battle against Hitlerite Fascism in the final days of the National Liberation War – and only a matter of days before the liberation of Tirana and the effective end of hostilities in Albania. Hopefully this will assist in the greater understanding of the analysis of the elements of the lapidar described in Mushqete Monument – Berzhite.

This article is further interesting as it provides a Socialist Albanian view of how they saw this battle against the German invaders.

Contrast this to those reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries who took control of the country in the 1990s. There reaction was to allow the creation of a monument to the German fascist dead and its installation in the hills of Tirana Park. To add salt to the wound this paean to fascism is only a matter of metres away from the original location of the National Martyrs’ Cemetery before it was moved to its present location and the inauguration of the statue of Mother Albania in 1972.

What does this monument stand for? The Mushqeta Monument

This monument has been raised at the village of Mushqeta, some ten kilometres south-east of Tirana. It has been raised in memory of the battle waged in this village on the 14th and 15th of November 1944 against the German forces of occupation.

The forces of the Albanian National Liberation Army were waging the decisive battle for the liberation of the capital. The entire garrison of the Hitlerite troops in Tirana had been surrounded from all sides. To avoid total disaster the German command sent a contingent of 2,000 soldiers, tanks, artillery and other armoured means from Elbasan (a city 50 kilometres south of Tirana) which were to attack the partisan detachments from the rear and, together with the forces of another German column which would come from Durrës (in the west), were to surround and liquidate the partisan forces fighting for the liberation of the capital.

On November 14th the enemy column is attacked by the detachments of the National Liberation Army lying in ambush at Mushqeta. The fighting continued fiercely all through the night. In the morning of the 15th the Nazi column is completely surrounded with the exception of a small part which managed to break the siege during the night with the aid of tanks. Seeing that they had no way out, the Germans launch a desparate counter offensive using their artillery, tanks and all other means of warfare. Bloody attacks and counter attacks continue during the whole day. By 5.99 p.m. that day, the Nazi column had been completely liquidated. The enemy left on the battlefield over 1,500 dead, many wounded and prisoners together with all their military equipment.

On November 17, 1944, Tirana, the capital of Albania, was completely liberated by the Albanian National Liberation Army. The victory at Mushqeta was the forewarning and forerunner of the liberation of the capital.

To give a better idea of what happened during that battle, we are reproducing a description by a military correspondent of the First Division of the National Liberation Army, who passed over the field of battle straight after the fighting had ended. Here is what he writes:

‘From the New Palace on the outskirts of Tirana to the village of Berzhite one can imagine that this great defeat of which so much is being spoken, especially when you see, besides the wrecked vehicles, the quintals of dynamite the enemy had abandoned on the Erzeni and Farka bridges because they had no time to blow them up. Here you can see destroyed vehicles, carts, horses and corpses. You say to yourself that this must have been the greatest defeat of the enemy. After passing this zone, you are faced with a pile of dead horses and overturned wagons, vehicles upturned in ditches, others in good order, wagons loaded with booty the Hitlerites had plundered in Greece and Albania, and armaments you had never seen before. You can count the equipment and corpses as far as Berzishta, but from here on it is impossible to count them even if you walk slowly.

Wherever you look, from right to left, you see real rivulets of blood, decaying flesh, very heavy armaments hurled off the highway as if by some extraordinary physical force, almost impossible to imagine.

You think this slaughter will continue as far as the corner of the road, no matter how great the battle had been fought. It could not possibly continue any further. But on rounding the bend, the heaps become more numerous. It seems as if the vehicles and wagons had wanted to push one another. Overturned material lying all over the place in complete disorder as if there had been a particularly heavy earthquake.

Further away from the road, on the side of the small hills on the banks of the river, 4 high calibre field guns have been abandoned facing each other even though they were used against our army. Further away, there are the number of mobile cooking houses enough for a whole division. Transport trucks complete with trailer, long wagons, vehicles carrying anti-aircraft guns directed towards the sky, small cannons, light and heavy machine-guns, cars, rifles, medical supplies and a pile of other things of every colour and kind. Among them is a baby’s pillow undoubtedly stolen by the army from some family at Elbasan.

Again corpses and dead horses and larger streams of blood. In the distance on the edge of the fields bordering the river bank, one sees horses which have escaped from this slaughter. They say there are also a number of hidden enemies who are giving themselves up to the surrounding villages. Further on, a colonel killed inside a car, the vehicle is completely wrecked, motor cycles abandoned on the road and the same scene as before.

You still walk through trails blocked by material, transport vehicles, dead horses and so on. You walk along the trails of the clearing, and then you are stuck on a sharp bend, below your right, where a small stream flows, the material and bodies are piled up in disorder. The horses lying prostrate on the ground and the bodies give the impression as if they had been knifed rather than killed by bullets. The stream looks like the channel of a slaughterhouse, the body of an enemy has fallen into the water.

Further across, the same scene over and over again. Horses, bodies, innumerable motor vehicles and wagons, war material and stolen booty in one great mess. The road looks as if the garbage of the city has been strewn along it.

Further on, guns, armaments and ammunition. The flag with the swastika lies hidden inside a wagon like some stolen article barely distinguishable. It reflects the present situation of Nazi Germany which tries to hide its criminal objectives now that the onslaught let loose against the peaceful and innocent peoples is rebounding on its own head.

Two kilometres on the other side of Ibe, two wrecked tanks give the impression as if the enemy column was not heading towards Tirana but towards Elbasan.

When you walk through the place you can’t believe that there had been only 2 to 3 thousand enemy troops. On the basis of the war material and the means of transport, it is calculated that there must have been at least a German division. The booty is so big that it gives the impression not of an army but of a savage horde of barbarians. This is a complicated scene, which reflects the character of the Nazi bands, pirates with modern means.

The destruction of these forces saved Tirana from the peril of devastation and mass massacres.

When comparing the numerous and heavy means of the enemy, their huge army on the march, the ruggedness of the terrain and their fortified positions with our armaments and positions, one wonders how it was possible to smash up and liquidate more than 2 to 3 thousand Germans by only 1,200 partisans.’

More on Albania ……

The more ‘humble’ Albanian lapidars

September 1942 - Lec Shkreli

September 1942 – Lec Shkreli

More on Albania …..

The more ‘humble’ Albanian lapidars

To date the majority of the lapidars that have appeared in this blog have been those which have had an artistic or architectural ‘merit’, that is they have been designed by those who have had training in their art and wanted to express meaning via the structure itself rather than have the reason for the monument written on an attached plaque.

However, this is not the basis of the vast majority of the lapidars identified in the almost 700 locations in the Albanian Lapidar Survey. As is described in Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism the concept had a very humble beginning, often the simple marking of a grave of a fallen Partisan/s and as time, and prosperity, developed the grave taking on a focal point to celebrate important dates and the lapidar being made more elaborate over time. This story of the lapidars is shown in the short film ‘Lapidari’.

This means that probably more than two thirds of all the lapidars in the country were structures that could have been created by competent bricklayers and others in the building trade. But even in that style they would range from something akin (and the same size as) to a trig point on a mountain to something that comprised of a short wall to the side of which there would rise a pillar, or two. On the pillar would be attached a red star and to the wall a plaque with the names, dates and occasion the lapidar had been constructed at that particular place.

It was towards the latter part of the 1960s that sculptors, artists and architects started to really get involved in the construction of the lapidars. This was the occasion of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and this lasted from, roughly, 1966 to 1986. At some time in the future I’ll try to put together a chronological table of the artistic lapidars to illustrate how they developed in both scale and complexity.

That doesn’t mean to say there weren’t public works of art, over and above the simple lapidars, before the 1960s. Andrea Mano’s Monument to the Partisan in Tirana was inaugurated in 1949. Odhise Paskali’s Shoket – Comrades was installed in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery in 1964. But both these sculptors were from the pre-liberation, pre-revolutionary era. Their approach was traditional, especially that of Paskali’s creation in Përmet which is very reminiscent of countless images of the deposition of the Christ from the cross to be seen in innumerable art galleries and Catholic churches throughout Europe.

It was only when the sculptors and artists, who had been trained by the likes of Mano and Paskali, reached their maturity as artists, together with the campaign of the Cultural Revolution (which was in essence a campaign to change the mentality of the Albanian workers and peasants) did a uniqueness, an innovativeness, appear in the public monuments that were created throughout the country. This was a twenty year period when sculptors such as Muntaz Dhrami, Hector Dule, Shaban Hadëri, Kristaq Rama and many others created their finest work.

BUT we should not forget the less ‘impressive’ structures that were in virtually every town and village (as well as in isolated locations in the countryside and mountains) in Albania as these were all monuments to the memory of those men and women who had fought against the fascist invaders from Italy and Germany and whose sacrifice made the Liberation of the county on 29th November 1944 at all possible.

On the other hand to talk about all of them would serve no purpose and would be very repetitive. Tragically, many of them have been either damaged by outright political vandalism or have just been allowed to lose the battle against the elements. For those interested in a particular lapidar or area of the country one or two images of all those listed in the Albanian Lapidar Survey can be seen in Volumes 2 and 3 produced at the conclusion of the project.

However, in order to give an idea of these simpler lapidars what follows is a description of those that still exist in Tirana. The fate, condition and respect given to these monuments in the capital is indicative of that in the rest of the country.

Perhaps one thing to stress here is that of the creators of these more ‘humble’ lapidars there is no record of who designed, created or constructed them.

To the victims of Fascism – Tirana market

The first one on the list you won’t be able to see. It existed up until 2016 when a new and very un-Albanian market was created on the site. In place of incorporating the lapidar into the design of the new structures the local/national governments sanctioned the demolition of the monument.

Victims of Fascism - 01

Victims of Fascism – 01

You couldn’t say that the lapidar (and those whom it commemorated) was being treated with a great deal of respect, as it would have been in the days of Socialist Albania, but it was being ‘tolerated’. It consisted of a pillar (about 4 metres high), which was wider at the top that at the bottom and from the lower part of the pillar, at 90 degrees to each other, there extended two short, low walls (again about 4 metres long).

This monument was meant to be seen from the outside of the space created by the walls as it was upon this front there were attached two marble plaques into which had been carved – and then painted in gold the following;

Victims of Fascism - 03

Victims of Fascism – 03

Më 22 tetor 1942 u var në litar Shyqyri Ishmi

meaning

On October 22, 1942, Shyqyri Ishmi was hanged

and

Victims of Fascism - 02

Victims of Fascism – 02

Më 29 shkurt 1944 u var në litar Muhamet Gjollesha

meaning

On February 29, 1944, Muhamet Gjollesha was hanged

This indicates that the reason for the lapidar to these victims of the Nazis being in this location was because they would have been hung in public, as was the norm of first the Italian and then the German fascists in an (in the Albanian context, failed) effort to intimidate the local population. This would seem to indicate that this space (just off what is now called Avni Rustemi Square), therefore, had long been a public market.

This is not exactly the monument that was first constructed here.

Victims of Fascism - 06

Victims of Fascism – 06

Notice here that the wording on the face of the walls is different from the more modern picture. Although it’s difficult to say from such a poor reproduction (the only I’ve so far been able to acquire) the lettering could well have been made up of individual bronze letters, inset into the concrete. When chaos and anarchy replaced the stability of Socialism in the 1990s anything that wasn’t nailed down, and often that which was, would be stolen by someone desperate enough to gain a few lek.

However, someone at some time in the intervening years had paid for and had had installed two simpler plaques to commemorate the two young people who had died at the hands of the Fascists. It had also been painted white (whereas the original seems to have been just the bare concrete) and the indented star at the top of the pillar – on two sides – had been painted red (the southern facing side slightly more faded than its northerly companion). This indicates that there was some sort of respect for the past. What changed to allow it to be demolished I don’t know.

Victims of Fascism - 04

Victims of Fascism – 04

But in its latter days it provided an anchor point for an electricity cable and a bit of shadow for the goods in the summer. If, as is obviously the case with this one, a lapidar had survived the chaos of the 90s it was more than likely just accepted as part of the environment, few caring especially of its significance but at the same time not doing any conscious damage.

Victims of Fascism - 05

Victims of Fascism – 05

The authorities saw an end to that.ast

Past location

GPS

41.33026198

19.82448704

Altitude

121.2m

Fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers

The next lapidar is a very simple affair, being a tall, narrow, truncated pyramid which commemorates those from the neighbourhood who died in a confrontation with the Nazis at the beginning of 1944.

Fallen fighting the Nazis - 03

Fallen fighting the Nazis – 03

On one of its faces there’s a large marble plaque bearing the date and the names of those who died in the battle.

Fallen fighting the Nazis - 02

Fallen fighting the Nazis – 02

The wording is;

Në shënje kujtimi luftëtarëve që ranë nga plumbat e pushtuesve naziste me 28 shkurt 1944. Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci

meaning

In memory of the fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers on February 28, 1944.

Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci

This looks like the original plaque. Now the letters are filled in with gold paint (not done very professionally) which I don’t think would have been the case originally.

The colouring of the stone work is ‘interesting’. Originally it would have been just the plain, unadorned concrete – or perhaps painted white. The present colouring is to go with the building beside it. Monuments to those killed in the struggle for national liberation from the fascists are now become colour co-ordinated to fit in with the chosen colour scheme of the bar beside which it stands.

Fallen fighting the Nazis - 01

Fallen fighting the Nazis – 01

It will be interesting to see if, in the future, the new (or present) bar owner decides on a different colour scheme the change will be applied to the lapidar as well.

Location

GPS

41.33455703

19.82600098

Altitude

122.9m

Place where Qemal Stafa was killed

Qemal Stafa was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party (later to be called the Party of Labour of Albania) on 8th November 1941 and was the head of its Youth Section until his death, in this location, on 5th May 1942. After Liberation that date was chosen as Martyrs’ Day, to commemorate all those who had fallen in the War for National Liberation against the Italian and German fascists.

Qemal Stafa 03

Qemal Stafa 03

This is a simple structure, with slight embellishments. It consists of a low wall (about 4 metres long) and on the left hand side two rectangular columns rise up to about the same height, that is about 4 metres. These columns are on either side of the wall and the one at the back is slightly taller. On the face of the wall is a plaque with the words;

Këtu më 5 maj 1942 me lufte me fashiste ra Heroi i Popullit Qemal Stafa

meaning

Here on May 5, 1942, during the anti-fascist war, the People’s Hero Qemal Stafa fell

Qemal Stafa 02

Qemal Stafa 02

This is not original as there are signs that there had been other attachments, possibly individual letters, carrying the same message. This plaque is well made and the lettering, which has been coloured in gold paint, is done professionally.

Another point to make is that the whole structure was made of concrete and then faced, on all sides, by white marble. Apart from a missing piece at the top of the front column the monument is generally intact.

I would have thought that in the original design there would have been a red star attached somehow at the top of the columns. There’s no indication of anything being attached to the faces so it might have been a stand alone, metal star attached to the very top.

There’s a little bit of graffiti to the left of the plaque but there are no signs of any substantial damage.

Although originally this would have been standing alone, with little close by. Now it’s right in the middle of a large street market.

However, dying as he did before Liberation Stafa doesn’t have the same enemies as those who survived to fight for the construction of Socialism. There are a number of locations, including the main sports stadium (which was demolished in 2016 and I don’t know if a new one that had been proposed was eventually built, where it might be if built and what it might now be called) and a high school on the Durrës Road in Tirana that bear his name.

I think this element of respect which he still has in Albanian society accounts for the fact that even though getting close no street trader has the nerve to use the space in front of the actual monument (which isn’t the case in other locations I’ve visited in the country), prime though it might be.

Location

GPS

41.34165298

19.82614196

Altitude

106.8m

Monument to Mina Peze

‘Humble’ is not really an appropriate word to describe the lapidar to the honour of Mina Peza. Although not particularly large it’s different from virtually all other lapidars in the country. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about when it was created as that would say a lot.

Unlike the other lapidars in this post the one in the street that still bears her name has obviously been designed. There are four distinct, component parts.

First it sits on a small platform that’s three steps up from street level. This platform and steps are all faced with red (steps) and cream (platform) marble. There’s a bit of careless damage to one corner of the steps but that’s about all.

Then there’s a tall, rectangular column, perhaps three metres high. This is faced in white marble. This stands separate from the rest of the monument, a metre or so in front.

Then we have a huge piece of stone where the rough edges are clear to seen but the top has been levelled off to take the final part of the structure which is a curved piece of concrete that has been faced with white speckled, red marble. Towards the top left corner of this curved marble a white marble plaque takes the place of the red slabs, thereby maintaining a smooth surface.

On this plaque are the words;

Këtu në 17 shtator 1942 u vra ne krye të demostratës së grave nëna patriote Mine Peza

which translates as

Here on September 17, 1942, the patriotic mother Mine Peza was killed at the head of the women’s demonstration

The stand-alone column has indications of some small holes towards the top and this is where a star might have been placed. (As I’ve written elsewhere the stars were the first target of the reactionary, counter-revolutionary hoards when the breakdown of order in the 1990s provided them with the opportunity to carry out their vandalism.) Also someone has painted a red and black (anarchist) sash from just below the base, diagonally, to just below the top. This has now faded somewhat.

This wouldn’t look out of place in a minimalist art collection, very much out of character to all other Albanian lapidars. But who designed it or when is still a mystery. It all feels very locked in now, there being bars and fast food outlets very close (there are a lot of bars and fast food places in Tirana). I assume originally it would have stood on the corner of the street with very little close by and with a much greater opportunity to appreciate the design.

The story of the demonstration

In the summer of 1942 the National Liberation Movement had assumed broad proportions. The prisons were full of patriots. To ease the situation, the fascists exiled some of them to the desolate islands of Italy. In conformity with the instructions of the Albanian Communist Party the secret anti-fascist organizations of the prisoners which operated inside the prisons organized protests and resistance to the fascist measures. Protests were held in February 1942, in the prison of Elbasan, in May and August in the prison of Tirana, and later, in Vlora. The biggest demonstration was the one held by the prisoners of Tirana, which took place in the afternoon of the 17th of September, 1942, just one day after the opening of the National Liberation Conference at Peza. This demonstration was of particular importance because it was coordinated with a demonstration held by the anti-fascist women of Tirana, in support of their imprisoned sons and brothers.

The events took place as follows: the prisoners refused to give up their comrades who were to be deported. Fighting with the carabinieri broke out in the prison. The prefect of Tirana was called to the scene. Meanwhile, about 100 women began a demonstration outside, in front of the prison. The fascists were in a critical situation. The order was given to break up the demonstration of the women by force. From their fortified posts, the guards opened fire on the women. Several were wounded, while one of them, the Heroine of the People, Mine Peza, was mortally wounded. Her comrades lifted her and carried her through the city streets. Mine Peza died while the demonstration was still going on. The people have dedicated a song to the heroism of Mine Peza and her comrades: Down with the terror, oust the occupier, we Mothers can no longer bear it! Let us smash the cruel iron bars!

New Albania, No 5, 1977

Location

On the corner of Rruga Mina Peze and Rruga e Bogdanëve.

GPS

41.331718

19.81121102

Altitude

99.3m

National Anti-Fascist Liberation War Headquarters

This is a squat, square monolith about 2 metres high sitting on a platform, twice as wide as the monolith, which is four steps up from pavement level. Each corner is inset to break the monotony of the square and at each changing angle there is a strip decoration of light brown marble. At the base there is the effect of three thin layers, the middle inset from the other two, which replicates the decoration of the sides of the block. On the left side of the platform there is a thin border with small, low, circular laurel bushes. At each end of this border there’s a small, low level light to illuminate the area at night.

On the side facing the road there’s a white marble plaque with the words;

Këtu ka qenë baza më e rëndësishme e L.A.N.Ç. (Lufta Antifashiste Nacional Çlirimtare) me emrin Baraka e Nushajve nga këtu jepeshin orientime për luftën e qarkut të Tiranës dhe mbarë vendit

which translates as

Here was located the L.A.N.C’s (National Anti-Fascist Liberation War) most important base by the name of Baraka i Nushajve. From here were sent out orders for the Tirana district and the whole country

This plaque looks original and although there are some marks on the marble it is in a generally good condition.

This is a strange one in that although given its own space it is so hemmed in with the surrounding trees (much more substantial than when the lapidar was erected) it seems to be made invisible, especially in the day time when I’m sure that many people pass by without even knowing it’s there.

Location

In Rruga Sami Freshëri, just a short distance on the Lana River side from the new police station.

GPS

41.32364597

19.81337003

DMS

41° 19′ 25.1255” N

19° 48′ 48.1321” E

Altitude

111.5m

More on Albania …..