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.
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.
Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures in the National Art Gallery, Tirana
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.
Some of the paintings have been on display for many years and, in a sense, have become the core of the exhibition. There must be many more in storage but as politics gets into everything there may be some which are not even allowed to be on public display for specific reasons. There are a couple that show images of Enver Hoxha but there must be many more – in fact I’ve seen reproductions which are in the national collection but which never see the light of day. I hope, and don’t think, they have been destroyed.
Other political and economic reasons might prevent certain works from being seen. One subject which comes to mind are those paintings which celebrated the developments of the Collective and State Farms. In the selection below the co-operatives are mentioned but only when they are showing people, There are no images of mass industrialisation of the countryside – with tractors and combine harvesters – as those would, perhaps, make the viewer wonder why such images cannot be seen in the countryside of the 21st century as land ownership has gone back to that of the feudal period with virtual strip farming.
The images that are presented are all those that are on display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana at the moment. They are presented here in an effort to encourage anyone who visits Tirana to make an effort to go to the art gallery. It is a unique collection and one that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately you don’t have to push and shove to get a good view of the works.
As to the structure of the presentation they are presented in the alphabetical order of the artists’ first name – only because that’s how Windows organises files in folders. This is followed by the title of the work in English. Sometimes the title seems inappropriate but that is probably down to a poor translation from the Albanian. I have given the title as printed on the card beside each exhibit. Next comes the year in which the work was painted. Two were not dated and have ‘nd’ in place of a year.
There are advantages of placing works by the same artist together. The individual style becomes more obvious and if the work cover a long period of time it’s possible to see a development of that style.
The dates are also important as with some of the early works it’s not really possible to describe the works as ‘Socialist Realist’ – the artists’ training and development taking place under a completely different social system. Comparing the dates with events that were taking place both nationally and internationally can also help in the understanding of the various elements in many of the pictures.
I would hope (at some time in the not too distant future) to look at some of these works in a more forensic manner. As it is with time constraints I will only make a few comments on some of the works if I think such snippets helpful in understanding the whys and wherefores of the image and also how such images fitted into the society that the Party of Labour and its leader, Enver Hoxha, were hoping to achieve.
Hey, I might get it wrong but if I do I would appreciate being put along the true path of enlightenment.
Abdulla Cangonji – The fishermen – 1965
It might be just chance but although Albania has a long coastline, in relation to the size of the country in general, and that the fishing industry would have been quite important during the period of the construction of Socialism there aren’t many paintings which celebrate that fact.
Abdurrahmin Buza – The refugees – 1957
Buza was one of those painters who established his reputation before Liberation but did develop his work to deal with events and circumstances in the young Albanian Socialist State.
Abdurrahmin Buza – Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory – 1948
The factory, which was established in the town of Kombinat, to the west of Tirana along the ‘old road’ to Durres, is now (and has long been) an abandoned ruin. The statue of Stalin that dominates the scene is the one that is now at the back of the National Art Gallery.
Alush Shima – Portrait of a worker – 1971
You’d have to look hard to find a miner in Albania today. Even so there’s an interesting bas relief in the ex-mining village of Krrabe, on the way to Elbasan from Tirana.
Andon Lakuriqi – Testing – 1969
Heavy industry was crucial for a self-sufficient Socialist society. This created problems as resources were not able to be directed to the production of consumer goods that people craved – especially when these were becoming ever more plentiful in the capitalist countries – whatever the consequences for the general well-being of the population. That is why images of heavy industry were so common in paintings of the period. This matter became even more extreme when first the Soviet Union and then the People’s Republic of China pulled the economic plug due to ideological reasons i.e., the fight against Modern Revisionism.
Arben Basha – I will write – 1971
The title causes confusion – but that might simply be down to a problem with the translation from Albanian to English. In Albania working men and women were encouraged to write about their experiences and thoughts there being many outlets at a local and national level where amateur writers were encouraged to send in their work.
Aristotel Papa – From constructions – 1969
The construction of new houses was crucial in the early years of the republic and these 5/6 storey buildings are common throughout Albania. There not exactly pretty to look at from the outside but the few I’ve had the opportunity to visit were more than comfortable on the inside. What also went hand in hand with the construction of the flats were the communal heating plants, especially important in the mountainous regions and those towns and cities situated over a few hundreds of metres above sea level.
Bajram Mata – Portrait of a volunteer – 1969
It will become noticeable the number of women – especially the young – who are depicted as playing a full role in the construction of Socialism. And not just as the manual labour but in positions of responsibility, reflecting how (between 1944 and 1990) Albania was succeeding to turn the world upside-down when it came to women’s liberation. Why women reverted to the ‘traditional’ role – which is the case when you look around 21st century Albania – is a question I’ve not been able to answer.
Bajram Mata – The Co-operative work – 1972
Some of the work on the Collective and State Farms would have been done by hand but the areas covered in some of these enterprises would have been impossible to have farmed without serious mechanisation. Albania wasn’t totally self-sufficient in the production of such items as tractors and combine-harvesters but it was aiming to be so.
Bajram Mata – The dance of Dibra – nd
Throughout the period of Socialist Construction a great deal of effort was put into maintaining traditional folk culture. What was represented in the paintings was not something of the past but of the present where tradition and the the goals of the future were working in tandem.
Bajram Mata – The volunteers 1969
One of the aims of Socialist Realist Art is to maintain the dignity of manual labour, in both the town and the countryside, and to challenge the idea that certain jobs were more prestigious than others. As all Socialist societies have developed the fight against the development of an ‘intelligentsia’ that saw itself better than the majority of workers became one of the on-running battles. Efforts to challenge this, by sending intellectuals, Party functionaries and those in comfortable occupations, were tried in all the four Socialist countries (the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Albania) but not continued for long enough to put the intellectuals into their place. The Cultural Revolution in China between 1966 and 1976 was the highest point in this struggle but even that eventually failed.
Bardhyl Dule – The construction woman -1971
Women started to take on skilled manual jobs.
Bardhyl Dule – The Partisan courier – 1973
A similar theme is explored in the sculpture ‘On the road to war’ which can be found in Tirana Park. In the sculpture a peasant woman is giving water to a thirsty Partisan. This is by the sculptor Hector Dule. I don’t know for certain but I assume there’s a familial relationship and one piece of art nurtured the other.
Bardhyl Dule – The weeding of the olive trees – 1973
I like the little joke in this painting where whilst all the others are working there’s a man in the bottom right hand corner, who is leaning against a tree reading a newspaper.
Clirim Ceka – July 30, 1978 – 1978-9
I don’t know the significance of the date in the title of this painting.
Dhimeter Mborja – freinds of the factory – 1969
One of the principles established with the construction of Socialism was that the workers would live and work in the same place. This is not always possible but when we are talking about Collective and State Farms as well as major industrial complexes this makes sense. Apart from anything else this reduces the working day as people have less of a commute. This is not something ‘invented’ by Communism, it existed in the early days of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and hence you had the creation of ‘mill towns’ and ‘mining towns’. For the capitalists this was a method of control – with the mine/mill owners also being the landlords of any housing. This, the capitalists hoped, would be a barrier to industrial action. Under Socialism it was a way of bringing people closer together with the creation of a true community where amenities could be shared. This also happened in the capitalist situation with the development of mutual societies and clubs. But not everyone in a community would be necessarily working at the enterprise. They would be servicing the population in other ways, such as education, health and culturally. Hence the idea of those people visiting a works to understand exactly what went on behind the factory walls.
Edison Gjergo – The epic of the morning stars – 1971
When I was in the National Art Gallery a few years ago this painting had an additional card beside it indicating that this painting, and the artist, had been criticised for its formalist style. However, presently there’s nothing to bring such a criticism to the viewer’s attention.
Edison Gjergo – The Founder – 1971
If Gjergo had been criticised for the previous painting on matters of style this one should have been criticised for its content. Here we have the worker as some Christ/John the Baptist like character. There’s something cold and dead about the expression which I don’t like, either.
Fatmir Haxhiu – Skroskie 1944 – 1966
This documents an event during the War of Liberation. This was another painting that previously indicated that it had been the subject of political criticism during the period of Socialism. This time due to the fact that the figure in the centre is that of Mehmet Shehu when he was a commander in the Partisan army. The painting was removed from display when he fell from grace in 1981.
Fatmir Haxhui – The Victor – 1979
A portrait of one of the victorious Partisans who liberated Tirana from the Nazi occupiers on the 17th November 1944. We know it’s Tirana with the image of the Et’hem Bey Mosque (Xhamia e Et’hem Beut). It wasn’t used much during the Socialist period and is now undergoing an extensive renovation.
Franc Ashiku – At the hydropower plant – 1971
The Albanians were always proud of the way they were able to electrify the country and the opening of a new hydro-powered plant was always celebrated. Immediately after the liberation of the country in 1944 one of the first aims was to electrify the country, just as Lenin had declared for the young Soviet Union after victory in the War of Intervention.
A landscape painting which depicts a State or Collective farm – which made Albania almost self-sufficient in food production during the period of Socialism. Following the counter-revolution of 1990 the land was distributed amongst the population and now Albanian agriculture resembles more what you would seen in Britain during feudal times with ‘strip’ farming being the norm.
Isuf Sulovari – Partisans resting – 1971
Notice the young female Partisan teaching her older comrade to read during a respite from the fighting. Illiteracy was rife in pre-Liberation Albania and education was one of the early priorities of the Socialist state. That can be seen by the number of books that are printed in the Albanian language still to this day, totally out of proportion to the level of the population.
Isuf Sulovari – The giant of metellurgy – 1974
This painting depicts the construction of one of the factories in Elbasan – the centre of Albania’s metallurgy production during Socialism. This huge area is now almost totally abandoned for its initial purpose. Notice also the central character is a woman. Women were not reduced to manual jobs but also took on responsible roles.
Isuf Sulovari – The milkwoman – 1971
A female dairy farm worker. From the size of the herd and the structures in the background this is another depiction of a State or Collective Farm.
Jorgji Gjikopulli – Flowers of life – 1970
Sunflowers used for the production of cooking oils. There were also extensive areas of olive oil plantations, especially in the south of the country close to Saranda.
Kristaq Rama – A contemporary of the Republic – 1964
A celebration of the working class – those who had the potential to make a new and glorious future. A task, eventually, the Albanian working class were unable to fulfil. Rama was involved in the creation of a number of some of the most important of Albanian lapidars such as Mother Albania in the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery; the 1912 Independence monument in Vlora; the monument to the artillery in Sauk; the monument to the year 1920 outside Vlora; the bust of Shota Galicia in Kukes. Rama is the father of the present Prime Minister, Edi Rama – who was also trained as an artist. Whether the father would be proud of the fact is not recorded.
Llambi Blido – At the commanding unit – 1971
The poster on the right argues that it is only the work of the Party and the system of Communism that will ensure the true emancipation of women.
Llambi Blido – Portrait of a girl – Alma – 1994
This is the only painting in the present exhibition on the first floor of the Art Gallery that was created after the counter-revolution of the early 1990s. And it sticks out like a sore thumb. Although painted by the same artists as the painting that goes before it above if lacks any meaning. It’s the sort of kitsch that gets re-produced in thousands and gets a pride of place in the homes of some people who refuse to look at art with a critical eye. All that can be said of it is that it is ‘pretty’ but conveys nothing. It’s a chocolate box image. There’s no character in the face, we can deduce nothing about the sitter. Compare this image with the other portraits of young girls and women in the rest of the exhibition. Blido in his dotage.
Lumturi Blloshmi – At the industrial plant – 1974
Environmentalists might look on this picture in horror but in the early 1970s the building of these industrial complexes was seen as a great achievement of the Albanian people. And indeed it was. Under attack from the very first days of the revolution, especially by the British, it was crucial that the Albanian people were able to be as self sufficient as possible.
Muntaz Dhrami – Invigorate the Revolutionary Spirit – 1984
An allegorical sculpture from one of the finest sculptors produced by Albanian Socialism and he was involved in the creation of some of the best examples of Albanian lapidars. His work includes: Mother Albania, at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana; the 1912 Independence monument in Vlora; the Monument to Heroic Peze; the monument to the Peze Conference; monument to the battle of Mushqete in Berzhite; the amazing arch at Drashovice; the monument to the year 1920 outside of Vlora; the Priske lapidar; and the obelisk to education in Gjirokaster.
Musa Qavri – Paving the road – 1972
Before Liberation there were few paved roads in the country, even in the towns and cities. It would take time to improve communication throughout the country. What Socialism didn’t achieve capitalism has not ‘rectified’ as there are still many parts of the countryside without metalled roads.
Nexhmedin Zajmi – Partisan ambush – 1956
The success of the Partisans in the fight against both the Italian and German Fascists was their control of the mountains of Albania – which were as much as an antagonist in the war as the combatants.
Nexhmedin Zajmi – Still life with chicken – 1955
Like landscapes still lifes were not really the fare of Socialist Realist art but, obviously, artists turned their hand to various subjects.
Nexhmedin Zajmi – The cascade of the Drin – 1969
These I understand to be a trio who would have been working on the construction of one of the hydro-electric projects, the Drin being the river that runs close to the northern city of Shkoder.
Pandeli Lena – The operators – 1981
Albania has extensive oil reserves and workers in the industry were often depicted in paintings.
Pandi Mele – Beyond the window – 1972
This picture borders on abstraction and I’m not sure how this would have been received in certain circles at various times during the Socialist period.
Pandi Mele – The highlander – 1971
If he plays with abstraction in his previous painting above here Mele captures the character of a peasant from the mountains.
Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 01 – 1968
Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 02 – 1968
Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 03 – 1968
The three paintings above were painted as a triptych and show soldiers of the Albanian People’s Army showing them involved in various activities, practising shooting skills (note it’s the woman who has the gun), in manual labour helping in civilian activities and in study of Marxist texts.
Petro Kokushta – At the height of light – 1981
Constructing the dam, referenced by the lake below, is only one part of the electrification of the country. The distribution infrastructure also needed effort and, in this case, a head for heights.
Petro Kokushta – The assembler – 1979
The worker at the top of everything and this one is waving a red flag.
Petro Kokushta – The driver – 1971
In place of aristocrats and other hangers on Socialist Realist places the ‘ordinary’ man and woman on the walls of the Art Galleries.
Petro Kokushta – To the Assembly with a cannon – 1979
Here the attack on the Quisling Assembly, between German Nazis and so-called ‘Nationalists’, on 18th October 1944 is depicted. A section of the 3rd Partisan Brigade dragged a canon up to the hills above Tirana, in the area of Sauk, and fired down on the meeting as it was taking place in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace – which is just across the road from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery on the Elbasan Road from Tirana. The remains of the fascist, Quisling and coward Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King Zog’) were buried in the building’s grounds in 2012. After Liberation in November 1944 the 18th October was declared ‘Day of the Artillery’.
Rafael Dembo – Going to work – nd
Here we have a representation of the solidarity that comes with collective labour – directed to a common goal.
Sadik Kaceli – The crossing of the striking division of Brigade No 1 – 1954
Many of the early Socialist Realist paintings concerned themselves with incidents from the National War of Liberation.
Sali Shijaku – Ilic Kici Dashi – 1978
Dashi was one of the many who were designated ‘People’s Hero/Heroine’ after the War of Liberation from the invading fascists.
Sali Shijaku – The oilman – 1966
Oil workers were distinguished by their distinctive hats and combination cape. In any circumstance not a particularly pleasant job.
Sali Shijaku – The opening of new lands – 1970
To prepare the land for the establishment of the Collective and State Farms, after the Agricultural Reforms of 1969 would have required and enormous amount of hard physical labour. What so few people achieved in such a short time is admirable. It is a tragedy that so much of that labour has gone to waste and the land they made workable now being left fallow – until some big corporation steps in and reaps the fruits of the millions of men and women hours needed to make the land productive.
Sali Shijaku – Vojo Kushi – 1969
Vojo Kushi was a young Partisan who, when surrounded in a house in Tirana by Italian fascists with two other comrades, rushed the enemy and attempted to throw a grenade into one of the tanks of the occupying forces. This is one of the largest paintings in the exhibition.
Seli Shijaku – At the Enver Hoxha Autotractor Combine – 1979
As a predominantly agricultural society it was imperative, in order to make collectivisation of the land a success, that machinery was introduced into the process. This both created an industrial working class in the creation of the tractors, ploughs and combine harvesters that were produced in the industrial centres as well as converting the peasant farmers into agricultural workers with skills commensurate with the workers in the cities. It is only this year that I’ve seen any development in the use of machinery in the countryside – and that on a small scale. What it took Socialism to achieve in 20 years capitalism has barely made any impact in 30 when it had a solid base to start from whereas Albania in the 1940s was starting from scratch.
Shaban Hysa – Beyond – 1969
The ‘Beyond’ here is not just the route of the electricity pylons but what this will mean for the construction of Socialism and the building of a new future for working men and women.
Skender Kamberi – The bread of our hands – 1976
Here the various phases in the development of a wheat crop are conflated into one scene – semi-lyrical, semi-romantic. But the title is important and it stresses that what the workers receive is due to their own efforts. The land and all its fruits belong to them as a whole, as workers in the countryside and in the cities, co-dependent.
Skender Kamberi – The Bread Strike 1942 – 1971
This is one of the most interesting of the paintings in the present collection – and I’d never seen igt before. This is an action filled canvas. There’s so much going on there’s too much to go into here. And I’m not exactly sure where this strike took place. Even before the Partisan war against the invaders took off in an organised manner there were many actions by unarmed workers against the invading Italian fascists. One other notable example was the strike of tobacco workers in Durres in 1940. There were also many demonstrations on the streets of towns throughout the country.
Skender Lako – Landscape of Pogradec – 1972
A charming landscape scene of the entrance to the town of Pogradec, on the shores of lake Ochrid, in the south-east of the country. The first painting in the exhibition to include a lapidar – which is way out of scale to the actual monument still in existence.
Skender Milori – A letter to the family – 1970
Two young women outside their tent in the south of the country – the sea and the olive trees on the terraces in the background suggest that this is close to Saranda. Young people were sent to the countryside in an effort to ensure that as city dwellers they didn’t get separated from the hardships of labour in the countryside. This was similar to what happened in China during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. As in China so in Albania some loved it, some hated it. Education given them by the revolution was then used to denigrate the Revolution’s achievements and eventually to undermine it.
Sotir Capo – The wireworker – 1969
A young woman working in a wire factory – where that might have been I’m not sure. What is certain is that there is no wire factory in Albania now. The building might, and probably does, still exist but it will be a mere shell, looted of anything valuable.
Spiro Kristo – Children – 1966
Albanian children were brought up with the idea that one day they might have to fight to defend their country. Unfortunately when it came to it they ran away and allowed their country, fought for with such bravery and with the loss of so much blood by their parents and grandparents, to disintegrate into chaos and disaster. A friend of mine was horrified when he saw this idea of children being taught about war but he seems to forget how that is entrenched in the culture of the capitalist ‘west’. He is also old enough to remember that many children in Britain, especially boys, had toy guns at a very young age – and ran around attempting to eliminate the entire indigenous population of America.
Spiro Kristo – The Brigade woman – 1976
Another example of where a woman was in a position of responsibility – here a woman is keeping a record of what the Brigade has produced and who would have contributed what.
Spiro Kristo – The days of flying – 1986
The idea of combat training is represented by the airman on the right playing with toy aircraft as they are involved in a dog-fight. In the background are lined up, probably, Chinese made MIG jets – ageing now as relations between the two countries had been broken just under ten years earlier. Now there’s no such thing as an independent Albanian air force – I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a single trained fighter pilot in the country. Now Albania’s ‘independence’ is protected by NATO.
Stavri Cati – Electrification 02 – 1969
The emphasis that was placed upon the electrification of the country in the 1960s is demonstrated by the number of paintings that were created in that time and which would have been exhibited in museums and art galleries throughout the country. Some of these galleries still exist – however many have been closed and quite possibly looted in the early 1990s. There are some, however, where materials from the Socialist period are being ‘stored’, often haphazardly, so there is a chance of the material being available to the public view in the future.
Vasil Talo – The opening of the terraces – 1966
A vast amount of man and women hours were expended on the creation of terraces in order to increase cultivable land in the hilly parts of the country. The sea in this picture would indicate that this is, again, in the south of the country in the area around Saranda. Until the the early 1990s the whole area on this southern part of Albania – opposite the Greek island of Corfu – would have been covered with olive and citrus trees. Many exist but many more have been destroyed to provide the ugly holiday resort of Saranda and further south still, the holiday ‘resort’ of Ksamil.
Vilson Halimi – On the frontline everywhere – 1976
The only family scene in the exhibition. Note the red banner with a slogan at the entrance to the village down on the left and the white lapidar in the background on the right – a little to far away to identify exactly which one it is or where.
Vilson Kilica – Declaration of the Republic – 1982-3
A painting which celebrates the declaration of the People’s Republic of Albania in Tirana in 1946. (The country was declared the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania in 1976.) This is one of only two images in the exhibition of the leader of the Party of Labour of Albania and the country, from 1944 till his death in 1985, Enver Hoxha. He’s the figure to the right of centre, under the flag wearing a long, grey overcoat and saluting the crowd.
Vilson Kilica – In the studio – 1986
This is a strange one. It’s an intimate scene of an artist’s studio where we see both the artist and one of his sitters. That sitter is Enver Hoxha, who was painted a number of times by Kilica. BUT – Kilica has depicted himself as he would have been in 1986 but the image of Comrade Enver is of him as a relatively young man at the time of the Liberation of the country in 1944, or in the few years after. Also the painting was created the year after Enver’s death. Can’t work that one out.
Vilson Kilica – The Brigadiers – 1971
A colourful and joyful picture of a couple of young women going to work on a Collective or State Farm. The various crops are represented by the different colours in the fields in the background.
Zef Shoshi – Establishing a co-operative in Malesia – 1974
The establishment of a Co-operative would have involved long and detailed negotiations and here we see the success of those discussions with all generations of the population of this mountain village being present at the closing ceremony. The Banner to the right states: ‘Glory to the Party of Labour of Albania’.
Zef Shoshi – The turner – 1969
Another picture of a female worker in a skilled occupation, this time as a turner in an engineering works. Again it’s unlikely the place depicted is still working and I would have thought it is very unlikely, also, that a young woman would be following such a profession in today’s capitalist Albania.
Guardians of the country – 1969 – Spiro Kristo
A painting which seems to be very much influenced by the early Soviet artist Alexander Deineka.
Building the hydroelectric plant – 1971 – Ismail Lulani
A character portrait with the construction work as a background.
This is the exhibition of Socialist Realist Art as it is as of September 2019. There are a few pictures which have been in previous displays but – for whatever reason – were not considered for this particular phase. A few of those follow:
In the industrial complex – 1974 – Lumturi Blloshimi
A picture created before the problems of air pollution were generally accepted as being important even at the time of industrial development in a country which before Liberation had virtually no heavy industry. Albania has little problem with that 30 years after the counter-revolution as the factories and works constructed during the time of Socialism were looted and now, in the main, exist only as ruins.
The Partisan Oath – 1968 – Guri Mahde
A painting that puts the Party at the centre of everything – the oath is to the liberation of the country from the Fascist invader but also to the cause of Communism.
Tree Planting – 1971 – Edi Hila
Another painting that celebrates collective endeavour in the countryside.
Partisan School – 1969 – Sotir Cano
This is an interesting one as Cano painted at least another version. Here we have the important task, even in times of war, of the education of the Partisans – the majority of whom would have been illiterate. This version has been displayed in the National Art Gallery in recent years.
Partisan School 2 – 1969 – Sotir Cano
This version used to be displayed in VI Lenin Party School in Tirana. Whether it still survives may be in doubt. This has the same general composition but there are changes in the genders of some of the main figures.
Worker with hammer – 1938 – Sofia Papdhimitri
Not a ‘Socialist Realist’ painting as it predates the Liberation of the country.
I also have the intention of adding to the blog images of other art works I have encountered in other art galleries/museums in the country. Sometimes they are difficult to find but there are still a few places where the art of the Socialist period of Albania’s history can be appreciated.
There are very few contemporary reference books on Albanian Socialist Realist Art – although there are albums of work from the erstwhile Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China nothing comparable has been produced for Albania – but material was produced during the time of Socialist construction. Here we reproduce two of those albums, any others will be added if they become available.
Figurative Art in the People’s Republic of Albania – 1969