Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism

Lavdi Deshmoreve - Glory to the Martyrs - Edison Gjergjo

Lavdi Deshmoreve – Glory to the Martyrs – Edison Gjergjo

More on Albania …..

Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism

Introduction

It’s relatively easy to make a revolution – the difficult part is being able to survive the fury of the reaction from capitalism/imperialism and the death and destruction it is prepared to rain on any group of workers and peasants who dare to challenge the established order. If a society survives that onslaught – and many have not – then the building of the of a new, Socialist, classless based society is even more difficult. Of the few workers and peasants revolutions that were successful in the 20th century it’s worth mentioning from the start that they were all led by organised Communist parties which followed, and developed, the Marxist-Leninist ideology – thereby putting the Trotskyites, the Anarchists and any other ‘ideology’ in their place.

It’s also relatively easy to re-organise industry and agriculture in a different, collective manner from that which has existed since the early years of the 19th century. The term ‘relatively’ has to be taken in context. Industrialisation and collectivisation in the Soviet Union, for example, from the late 1920s into the 19030s, wasn’t easy and was fraught with difficulties. But the first step – taking the land and the means of production away from the big landowners and capitalists – was achieved by the organised workers (and especially their leadership) who knew force of arms, used by the majority of the population, was a winning argument.

However, the biggest hurdle a new workers’ state has to face in the effort to construct Socialism, the biggest challenge that has to be taken on and the issue that has to be resolved before a truly new society can be established is in the confronting the ideas of the old society which are entrenched within all who have been brought up in a society relying on oppression and exploitation. Some willingly confront these vestiges of the past, some do so reluctantly, some cling on to them in the hope the new social ‘experiment’ will fail but all within the new Socialist society have to take a stance on this matter – whether they are aware of it or not.

Not only do we need to put capitalism and imperialism into the dustbin of history, to the same wheelie bin we also have to consign the old ideas.

And that’s not easy.

In fact it’s so difficult that no society which has attempted to build Socialism has been able to exist for more than 46 years – barely two generations – but even that was a major achievement when we consider that the country in question was Albania which had a tiny population and was faced, from the very beginning, with the open hostility of the capitalist and imperialist forces who came out of the Second World War weakened (especially in Europe) but still hell bent on destroying those societies that had taken up the Red Banner of Socialism. Whilst overcoming those early attempts at the restoration of capitalism Albania later had to face the chaos, both economically and politically, caused by the revisionist degeneration of once proud Communist, Marxist-Leninist Parties.

In this article I want to look at how the Party of Labour of Albania, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, sought to use culture, especially those monuments, mosaics and bas reliefs (known as lapidars in Albania) which were on permanent public display throughout the country, as a weapon in the idealogical battle against the old ideas of the rotten and moribund capitalist system as well as counter-acting the ‘new’ ideas of the equally rotten ‘modern revisionism’ which was aiming to destroy the Socialist state from within.

What is a lapidar?

The simplest English translation of the Albania word ‘lapidar’ would be ‘monolith’. It may also be useful to say it’s a word used to represent monuments in Albania long before the victory of the Communist Partisans in the National Liberation War on November 29th 1944. It is also true the vast majority of lapidars created after liberation were in fact simple monoliths which were often erected in locations where there had been a battle with the fascists – first Italian and then German – and where Partisans had been killed and buried (often hurriedly) in the vicinity.

They were normally a four sided pillar with the sides tapering as it got higher but which were truncated long before arriving at a point. These vary in size from ones just over a metre high to ones slightly more elaborate and 5 or 6 metres high. Normally there would be a plaque attached with the names of the Fallen and often a Red Star at the top indicating these were Communist Partisans. (As you will see later these red stars were like a red rag to the reactionary and fascist bulls after the restoration of capitalism in Albania in 1990.)

But as the revolution and the construction of Socialism in Albania developed, as the issues the country had to face became more difficult and complex, so did the lapidars evolve to encompass more statuary and architectural elements.

To get a visual idea of this evolution in Albanian lapidars it would be useful to have a look at a short film, called ‘Lapidari’ (Director: Esat Ibro, Screenplay: Viktor Gjika, 1984–6) which shows the evolution of a single lapidar in the countryside. From being a simple grave it evolves into a more elaborate structure as the society becomes more wealthy so that at the end it is faced with marble slabs.

There are a couple of interesting touches in this short video which put matters into its historical context. One is the capture of renegades who had attempted to subvert the society with the assistance of the imperialist nations, particularly the British. This is the scene where we hear aircraft noises at night and then the capture of these traitors. As they are led away in handcuffs the villagers surround the lapidar in a symbolic move of protecting what had been fought for in the past.

This lapidar sits in the middle of the community and ‘observes’ the changes that take place over the years with the collectivisation of the land, which brings with it machinery and at the very end we see an image of an electricity pylon which indicates the electrification of the country. Being at the centre of the community it also is the focal point for public holidays and this was an aspect of all the lapidars in the country, in the cities as well as the countryside, where children would play an integral part of the celebrations.

Pioneers stand as guard of honour on Martyrs' Day May 5th

Pioneers stand as guard of honour on Martyrs’ Day May 5th

Children would lay flowers on the lapidars and stand guard at the tombs in the larger cemeteries on those national occasions. This was in an effort to educate children about the past, where their family members had fought against the invading fascists and had provided for the first time in Albania’s history a true liberation for the working people reinforcing the connection between the present and the past.

The Albanian Lapidar Survey

I first became aware of the lapidars on my first visit to Albania, in 2011, when I travelled extensively around the country encountering some of these remarkable structures from the window of a bus or a train. Once I realised what a treasure trove there was of these monuments I decided I would start a project to make a photographic record of these unique structures as the amount of deliberate vandalism I was seeing, together with general neglect indicated they would soon disappear from the landscape. The problem was there were only so many I could visit just based on chance encounters as I went around the country.

In Tirana I met, by chance, some people who were able to direct me to certain sources, especially the National Archive, but the problem is there you need to know what to ask for before you can get it – and then there’s the matter of the Albanian language – which I don’t have.

Then, by sheer chance and extremely fortuitously, I came across the Albanian Lapidar Survey project.

This was where members of the Department of Eagles (a project following artistic development in Albania) obtained funding to go the width and breadth of the country in order to record the locations and document as fully as possible those lapidars still in existence.

As a result of their work three volumes were produced recording the results – all available as downloadable pdfs. Volume One contains a number of introductory articles, some contemporary some historical, surrounding the lapidars. It then lists around 650 lapidars with their location and any other pertinent information, such as any wording on the lapidar, dates of of inauguration and artist/s involved (if known). Volumes Two and Three contain (normally) two images of each of the lapidars surveyed.

For me this was a godsend as in one fell swoop I was provided with a huge database that meant finding these (sometimes) artistic gems was much more than a chance encounter – although it did mean I often had to travel long distances in local transport just to have a few minutes to capture images for my own project and also having to walk long distances along deserted roads to get to, or back from, some of the most remote.

I’m also pleased to be able to say I was also able to make some additions to the list as the information the researchers were working on was never totally complete. Also, for reasons I will go into later, there was a cut-off point in what was considered a lapidar so there are many other artistic works from the Socialist period which I have identified in my travels and which I consider to be ‘lapidars’ but which are not part of the ALS catalogue. These included, especially, mosaics and bas reliefs – sometimes outside and sometimes inside buildings.

Sculptors and architects get involved

Why there was a move (or more exactly a development) from the simple, local, community lapidars to some amazing, truly monumental works of art I will address later. What is clear, however, is from the middle of the 1960s – and for a period of twenty years – the lapidars that appeared in Albania were the creations of trained sculptors and architects.

As was seen in the short video ‘Lapidari’ what might have started out as a simple grave became more elaborate as the wealth and skills in the community increased. Making a monolith higher and facing it with marble was well within the skills of local builders. If there was any decoration it would be in the form of a carved stone which might depict the eagle, the symbol of Albania, with the addition of a star to celebrate the Socialist Revolution. Yes, this needed skill and practice but this was the sort of artistic work which could be produced at a local level by a local artisan.

When it came to producing more than life size human figures, monumental arches or 10 metre high concrete stars, large bas reliefs, mosaics that cover an area of 400 m² or when you cast something in bronze the task and the skills needed rise to a new level.

Lapidars before the mid 1960s

However, as far as I can see there wasn’t a great deal of demand for such skills much before the mid-1960s. From all I have been able to gather (sometimes finding information about Albanian lapidars is like looking for a needle in a haystack) the development of the traditional lapidars depicted in the film ‘Lapidari’ was left very much to the local communities. Apart from a carved memorial stone there appeared to be little decoration – and certainly nothing as ornate as the monuments erected from the late 1960s into the 1980s.

When it came to state involvement in monuments it was very much limited to a few statues of the great Marxist-Leninist leaders, particularly VI Lenin and JV Stalin, as well as some busts of Enver Hoxha.

The first reference I have come across of any of these is a small painting by Abdurrahmin Buza called ‘Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory’ which is dated 1948. This depicts activity in the square in front of the entrance to the factory in the town of Kombinat, just to the south-west of Tirana (along the ‘old’ road to Durrës).

Voluntary work at the Stalin textile factory - 1948

Voluntary work at the Stalin textile factory – 1948

In the middle of the square is a large statue of Joseph Stalin. This is probably the statue which now stands in the ‘Sculpture Park’ at the back of the National Art Gallery in Tirana. I say ‘probably’ as there was an evolution of many of the statues erected in Socialist Albania that started out in plaster or concrete and which were subsequently cast in bronze. This was the work of Odhise Paskali, probably the most famous (and quite prolific) pre-Liberation Albanian sculptor. An exact copy used to stand in the oil producing city of which was called Stalin City, now renamed Kuçove, in the centre of the country, not far from Berat. Unfortunately, I think that one was completely destroyed. It was created in 1949 and originally of concrete – I’m not sure if it was ever replaced by a bronze version.

Joseph Stalin - Kristina Hoshi - Kombinat

Joseph Stalin – Kristina Hoshi – Kombinat

Consider the chunky nature of this statue and compare it with the Russian made statue of Joe, that’s also now in the ‘Sculpture Park’, which was presented to the Albanian people in 1951.

Joseph Stalin - Soviet - 1951

Joseph Stalin – Soviet – 1951

For about 17 years this statue stood in pride of place in the centre of Skenderbeu Square in Tirana until it was replaced by the 1968 version of Skenderbeu himself, the work of Paskali, with Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano. It was around this statue of Uncle Joe crowds gathered in March 1953 when news broke of the great leader’s death.

JV Stalin - Skenderberg Square, Tirana

JV Stalin – Skenderberg Square, Tirana

In 1954 Kristina Hoshi (Albania’s very first female sculptor) created the statue of VI Lenin – this now (sadly) vandalised and damaged statue is also behind the National Art Gallery. This was originally made of concrete, later a bronze version was cast, and it stood in the garden that was between the National Art Gallery and the Hotel Dajit, on the road leading from Skenderbeu Square to the Tirana University. (When Uncle Joe was moved from the main square he was placed across the road from Vladimir Ilyich.)

Hotel Dajit with Lenin statue

Hotel Dajit with Lenin statue

I’ve also seen a number of old pictures with various busts of Stalin in Tirana

Stalin bust - possibly Tirana 1990

Stalin bust – possibly Tirana 1990

and Durrës.

Bust of Stalin, Durres, main mosque, early 1960s

Bust of Stalin, Durres, main mosque, early 1960s

After his death there were a number of statues erected of Enver Hoxha in various parts of the country but I am only aware of one full statue and that was also created soon after Liberation, in 1948 and in concrete, by Odhise Paskali – though not quite a monopoly in the 20 years after Liberation Paskali never seemed to be short of work. This statue stood outside the Tirana Military Academy.

Enver Hoxha, Tirana (Military Academy)

Enver Hoxha, Tirana (Military Academy)

There was another statue which appeared in 1949 and that was the ‘Monument to the Partisan’ by Andrea Mano (another of the ‘old school’ of Albanian sculptors). This still stands in its original location, in the square behind the library and Opera House in the centre of Tirana. This is not one of my most favourite statues. He’s too angry. I’m not against anger but this Partisan seems to be putting all his energy into his anger and not saving it to defeat of the fascist invader.

Partisan, Tirana

Partisan, Tirana

Although the work of a pre-Liberation artist it does contain, in the two panels on the sides of the plinth, many of the ideas and images which were later developed and improved upon by those young artists who were the product of the new, Socialist education system. Many of the ‘old school’ artists (Kristina Hoshi, Odhise Paskali, Janaq Paço, Abdurrahmin Buza, amongst others) became teachers in first the Tirana Artistic Academy and later (from 1960) the Higher Institute of Art – part of Tirana University.

Before moving on it might be pertinent to mention here that in the immediate years after Liberation Albanian artists didn’t have access to foundries to cast any metal statues and therefore depended upon their work finally being realised, and Budapest seemed to be the place of choice. By the 1950s things had changed but artists didn’t use commercial foundries but ones specifically for artists which made the structure in pieces, which were then welded together.

And this was the state of Albanian public lapidars until the middle of the 1960s. So what happened to make a significant change in emphasis in Albanian Socialist Realist Art?

The emergence of the unique Albanian lapidars

The short version of the chronology of events. March 5th 1953 Joseph Stalin dies. February 25th 1956, on the very last day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev gives a ‘secret’ speech denouncing Comrade Stalin – modern revisionism was now entrenched in the first Communist Party to achieve success in a Socialist Revolution. This caused confusion in many Communist Parties world-wide but there was more clarity in the Party of Labour of Albania and also in the Communist Party of China (as well as groups within various parties in some other countries).

From February 1956 until the end of 1960 meetings were held, letters went back and forth and the debate got more acrimonious. This all came to a head at an extended Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers’ Parties in Moscow in November and December 1960. At this meeting Enver Hoxha gave one of the most courageous speeches in defence of Marxism-Leninism (Speech delivered at the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers Parties, in Moscow, on November 16th 1960), with a stinging criticism of the revisionists in their own home.

Enver at 81 Communist Parties Meeting 1961

Enver at 81 Communist Parties Meeting 1961

But for such a stance there were consequences – and a price to pay. Within days any support from the Soviet Union withered away and links with China had yet to be strengthened. For a while Albania was virtually alone – surrounded by hostile forces – whether capitalist or revisionist. A new approach was needed.

Albania’s Cultural Revolution

The new approach was what can best be described as a Cultural Revolution. People know more about the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China but it had an equally important impact upon Albanian society. It’s also no coincidence both countries arrived at the same conclusion at the same time.

The events of the previous five or six years had shown the problems facing the world’s proletariat and the International Communist Movement. If the Soviet Union, the first ever Socialist state, with its achievements in collectivisation and industrialisation, with the huge sacrifice the nation had made in the destruction of the Nazi beast, could succumb to revisionist betrayal then matters were not as secure as all had thought in the heady days of the late 1940s when the number of people attempting to construct Socialism had increased exponentially.

Any comparison with Albania and China in respect of their Cultural Revolutions would serve no purpose here and would be a vast topic. But if I were to choose a particular event when the decision on the way forward for Albania was laid out for the future it was at the 15th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania which was held in October 1965. Ramiz Alia gave the main report (which I haven’t been able to track down) but Enver Hoxha made a contribution towards the end of the meeting where he made (to date) his clearest and most succinct analysis of the role of culture in the next stage in the development of the Revolution.

Enver Hoxha on the Cultural Revolution

The cultural activity with the masses should aim at propagating the ideas of our Party, at creating the materialist world outlook. In this field, attention should be given to the struggle against meaningless prejudices and faiths, by spreading scientific knowledge among the working masses.

[Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 2, p550. Report to the 3rd Congress, May 25th 1956]

The speech in October 1965 was later published as ‘Literature and the arts should serve to temper people with class consciousness for the construction of Socialism’, but the page numbering to the quotes below refer to Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 3.

I won’t comment on what Comrade Enver says in this speech, just list those sections which I think are most relevant in the context of the development of the lapidars.

From this stems the great role which literature and the arts should play in the inculcation and development of this consciousness, closely linked with the period we are going through, with the efforts, the struggles for the construction of socialism, with the struggle on a world scale against imperialism, the bourgeois ideology and its variant, modern revisionism, etc.

The consciousness of man and that of society is not something petrified, unchanging, formed and developed once and for all. It undergoes positive and negative changes, it alters in accord with the material-economic forces, with the class struggle, the revolutionary situations, the relations between the antagonistic and non-antagonistic classes, with the ideas which inspire the class struggle, the revolution, and so on. p833/4

In such conditions the tasks of the Party, and those of literature and the arts in particular, in tempering the people with working class consciousness, with the morality of the working class, in order to go ahead successfully with the construction of socialism, are glorious, but by no means simple. p835

I want to turn to the concrete reality and to emphasize with what a sacred duty and a heavy burden of responsibility our Party and people have charged you writers, poets, artists, composers, painters, sculptors, etc. Like everyone else, you, too, must carry out these tasks conscientiously, with your struggle and toil. Your valuable and delicate work must be inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology, because only in this way and by basing yourselves on the people, on their struggle and efforts, will your militant and revolutionary spirit display itself and burst out in your creative works and activity, and thus you will become educators of the masses who accomplish great works. p836

There are some who think, and think mistakenly, that by making a flying visit to the base, by sitting in a cafe, cigarette in hand, in order to see the various types whom they want to put in their work passing in the street, or who think that by walking through some factory or plant, they have gathered the necessary material and go home, where they start to write superficially, and sometimes entirely back-to-front, about those things and people that they ‘photographed’ in passing. Thus the world of such a person is restricted by the narrow petty-bourgeois concept of the role of the writer, and he thinks that his head is capable of doing great things. But can it be said that the engineers of the hydro-power stations or those who drain the marshes do not work with their heads, and that the writers alone have this privilege? No! But the engineer, quite correctly, works with the people, studies the environment, the nature, draws plans, checks them again with the people, with the best experience of others, encounters difficulties, struggles with them till he overcomes them. But should not our writer and artist work in this way, too? Then why do we have to point this out to him so many times? p838

You cannot become a real writer simply because you have talent, if you do not develop this talent, this means, by learning, if you do not work on it, test it, and hammer it into shape on the great anvil of the people and if you do not study a great deal, and first of all, the social and economic sciences. Only in this way will the writers provide the working class and the peasantry with worthwhile works. p839

I do not want to repeat anything of what was said in the report delivered by Comrade Ramiz in regard to the range of themes and our objective of tempering the new man of the new socialist Albania, of inspiring him with the heroism of the National Liberation War, with the heroism and the sacrifices of the people and the Party, with the ideas of the partisans, with their aspirations and dreams, in order to inspire and educate him with the rich, exalting, living reality of the construction of socialism in our country, this period which is one of the most brilliant in the history of our people. p840

The aim of the Party is to create new values. p842

In order to combat the negative consequences of the past, we have to explain to the younger generation the origin, the reasons that caused the development of these things. Our fathers and our generation have experienced those situations, but the others have not. p843

A great inspiration is urging onward a new generation of wonderful writers and artists, who are winning renown and becoming dear to the people. Our Party, through its work and maternal care, must protect, educate and encourage these young people with all its means. p843

The Party’s policy in the field of art and literature has been and is clear to everybody. It will always give powerful support to the good works, the correctly inspired works, those that educate, mobilize and open perspectives. p846

In regard to literature and the arts which are developing in our country, as in regard to the other issues, there are not two moralities, but only one, the proletarian morality of the working class. The ideas expressed in the works should conform to this morality. p847

The Cultural Revolution and lapidars

However, there were a couple of more elaborate lapidars which proceeded this 1965 meeting. Both were inaugurated in 1964, both were in Përmet and both were by the same sculptor, Odhise Paskali. They also gave an indication of what was to come – both in a positive and in a (possibly) negative sense.

The first one to discuss is called ‘Shokët – Comrades’ and is located in the town’s Martyrs’ Cemetery – a short distance from the town centre along the road to Tepelenë. The image is instantly recognisable by anyone who has ever entered a Catholic church. The ‘inspiration’ for the image was that of the ‘Pietà’ which first appeared in Germany in the 14th century but really took off during the Italian Renaissance.

This is the image of Christ after he had been taken off the cross and is in the hands of his mother – and often the Magdalen or others. In Përmet a wounded/dying Partisan is tended by two of his comrades, one male one female. His situation is desperate and he is unlikely to survive but his comrades attempt everything they can. This is an image of comradeship but, I would argue, too close to the imagery of Christianity. You could even argue there’s a suggestion of ‘resurrection’ in the final Liberation that occurred within a year or two of the death of the Partisan.

Shoket - Comrades

Shoket – Comrades

I don’t think it is surprising Paskali came up with this image. He stayed in the country after Liberation and produced works of art for the Revolution as well as passing on his knowledge to a younger generation. But he was born in a different world where religion held sway. I think it’s certain no such image, even one produced by such an esteemed sculptor as Paskali, would have been produced after 1968 – when Albania pronounced itself the first atheist state in the world. I also think this sort of image falls into the category Enver was thinking about in 1956 when he wrote about ‘the struggle against meaningless prejudices and faiths’. Putting a Partisan uniform on the subjects and a Red Star on their caps doesn’t make the image any less Christ-like. But as an indication of the way forward the placing of such a monument in a Martyrs’ Cemetery was something repeated throughout the country and there is no town of any size which doesn’t have a sculpture of some kind.

The second work by Paskali is a bronze statue of a Partisan, fully armed and looking very determined, which is part of the lapidar commemorating the Përmet Congress of May 24th 1944 – where the Albanian Communists decided on the Provisional Government structure six months before their eventual victory over the Nazi invaders in November of that year. It was inaugurated on the 20th anniversary of the Congress.

Permet Congress

Permet Congress

The trend which this sculpture started was the commemoration of the sacrifice and achievements of the Albanian Partisans and their defeat of the Italian and German fascists. Now I’m not against this trend necessarily. As a tool in the education of future generations they should be made aware of what their (now) great grandparents fought for to finally achieve true liberation of the country and lapidars had a role to play in the process.

But Socialist Realist Art has two functions; remembering the past and indicating the road for the future. It’s a matter of proportionality.

Alongside this celebration of the more or less recent past in the 1960s was also the celebration of the life and Skanderbeu, the 15th/16th century nationalist leader. There are many monuments to him and his acheivements throughout Albania, virtually all erected during the Socialist period including the large equestrian statue which stands in the centre of the main square in Tirana bearing his name. When this statue was first erected in 1968, the 500th anniversary of Skenderbeu’s death (the work of Odhise Paskali, Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano) the Russian made statue of Joseph Stalin had to make way and he was moved down the road to accompany VI Lenin. Most, though not all, of these statues to the mediaeval leader are some of those which get the most attention in the present day capitalist Albania – with one, in Krujë, being totally reconstructed in 2012 (but it’s far from one of the best lapidars.)

Obelisk of the Battle of Zidoll (April 24, 1467)

Obelisk of the Battle of Zidoll (April 24, 1467)

Whatever was to become the trend through the 1970s into the 1980s 1966 did see the inauguration of a lapidar representing the new, Socialist future. This was the Monument to Agrarian Reform (that is the commemoration of the first Cooperative farm established, in 1946, in the area of Krutje, just south of the town of Lushnjë). The lapidar is the work of the sculptor Kristaq Rama (whose son, Edi, is presently Prime Minister of the country) and was unveiled to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the event. Representing a Socialist and collective future it has not been treated with a great deal of respect in the last twenty years.

Monument to Agrarian Reform - Krutje

Monument to Agrarian Reform – Krutje

The movement of monumental lapidar construction takes off

There are close on 200 lapidars, still in existence, in Albania which have some artistic and/or architectural significance (whilst in no way denigrating the simple monoliths commemorating the fallen Partisans), some in better condition than others. I’m in the process of producing a ‘close reading’ of the many I have had the chance to see but it’s a long process and the project has yet to be finished.

Some tell a simple tale, some a more complex one. Here I’ll chose one of each as a means of an introduction to the uniqueness of the Albanian lapidars.

For me the most truly monumental of the monuments is the Arch at Drashovicë, which is located in the beautiful valley of the Sushicë River, which runs parallel to the coast on the other side of the mountain range above the port town of Vlorë. It is the work of one of Albania’s finest post-Liberation sculptors Muntaz Dhrami (with the assistance of architects Klement Kolaneci and Petrit Hazbiu) and was constructed in 1980. It tells the story of two victorious (for the Albanians) battles against the Italian invaders, first in 1920 and then in 1943.

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

This is history written in stone and it’s a joy to look at all its elements and try to interpret that story – a story too long to tell here. However, although the lapidar is really in the middle of nowhere, Drashovicë is only a small country village, there is obviously a great deal of respect for the story it tells and the way it has been told as on my various visits I have never noticed any serious damage or blatant vandalism – something which can’t be said for many monuments whether in towns or in the countryside.

The simple story is represented by a statue of a Partisan and a young girl in the village of Borovë, in the south-east of the country, not far from the mountainous border with Greece. In July 1943 a Nazi convoy was attacked not far from the village and, as was their wont, the fascist retaliated three days later, on the 19th, and ended up killing a total of 107 people (some being burnt alive locked in the local church) and all the buildings were destroyed.

Partisan and child - Borove

Partisan and child – Borove

In 1968 a lapidar was erected to commemorate this massacre but it underwent radical changes a number of years later and the statue of the Partisan and child was separated from the main memorial and placed on a plinth beside the main road running south. Although the separation does take away somewhat from the story (the main monument to the atrocity now being on top of a hill and can easily be missed if you didn’t know what you were looking for) I still think it is one of the most charming of the Albanian lapidars.

Before I move on from the story of the sculptural lapidars it might be of interest to know that until some of the later monuments (basically those constructed after the death of Enver Hoxha) it wasn’t the norm for sculptors to ‘sign’ their work. Although that, today, makes identification of the artist sometimes difficult I’ve always thought it was a good trait in the history of Albanian Socialist Realist Art.

Enver Hoxha and the Vlorë Independence Monument

I’ve already said there was a great emphasis on the historical, pre-Socialist Liberation struggles in the construction of the lapidars from the mid-1960s. One of the largest of these – both in size and in importance to the Albanian nationalist movement – is the Vlorë Independence Monument which commemorates ‘Independence’ in 1912 from the Ottoman Empire. The reason I mention it here is because Enver Hoxha took a personal interest in the design of this monument, visiting the sculptors in their studio to have a look at the proposed maquette and then sending the artists a letter with his ideas.

I have no problem with this as I don’t see why artists who depend for their livelihood upon the rest of the working population shouldn’t be directed and monitored in the work they produce. Although I’ve come across little concrete evidence such discussions took place before some of the lapidars were installed it would have seemed bizarre, to say the least, if a monument was to sometimes dominate a locality was not first discussed with and became a matter of consultation with the local people.

When it comes to the involvement of the leader of the country, from the time of Liberation in November 1944 till his death in April 1985, I think it was Enver Hoxha’s personal enthusiasm for such monuments which pushed their construction after 1965. The latest lapidar I’m aware of is the large statue ‘Toka Jone – Our Land’ in the middle of the main square of Lushnjë, which is dated 1987. Lapidar construction seemed to stall after Enver’s demise.

Mosaics and bas reliefs

As I’ve said before it’s not just in the public monuments and statues the story of Albania, its nationalist past, its victory over the fascist invaders and its hopes for the future, are on display – although as with the lapidars there physical state varies depending where in the country they are found and with what respect they are held by the local community.

The mosaic seen by virtually all visitors to the country is the ‘The Albanians’ on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Skenderbeu Square in Tirana. Images depicting a couple of thousand years of Albanian history covers a space of around 400m². Unfortunately this is starting to feel the effects of neglect and every time I see it the damage looks worse. My real fear here is that one day a catastrophic accident will occur with pieces falling off and it will be removed ‘for safety reasons’.

One point to stress about the images in this mosaic, and which is repeated in virtually all the lapidars I’ve seen, is that when women are represented they are almost invariably armed, when often the men aren’t. Here the policy of the Party of Labour of Albania attempting to overcome the traditional, secondary role of women in Albanian is reinforced by showing them the way to achieve equality.

National Museum Mosaic - original

National Museum Mosaic – original

Of the other mosaics of interest one is on the side of the town hall building in Ura Vajgurore, not far from Berat,

Bashkia Mosaic - Ura Vajguror

Bashkia Mosaic – Ura Vajguror

and those on either side of, what used to be, the main entrance to the Vlorë Palace of Sport.

The Pickaxe and Rifle - Vlora Palace of Sport

The Pickaxe and Rifle – Vlora Palace of Sport

When it comes to bas reliefs a few examples are:

the one commemorating a demonstration by high school students and their teachers against the occupying Italian fascist forces in Gjirokaster,

Gjimnazi School Revolt - Gjirokaster

Gjimnazi School Revolt – Gjirokaster

one with a completely different approach, the bas relief on the front of the Radio Kukes building in the north-eastern town of Kukes, not far from the border with Kosovo,

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi

and the magnificent panel beside the entrance to the historical museum in Ersekë.

Erseke Museum Bas Relief

Erseke Museum Bas Relief

Then came 1990

Immediately after the success of the counter-revolution it was the statues of Enver Hoxha, most of them only having been erected after his death in 1985, in various parts of the country, which were the target for those who hated Socialism.

The first one to go was the large statue erected in Skanderbeu Square, on a platform created between the National Historical Museum and the Bank of Albania. This went down on 20th February 1991.

Enver Hoxha in Skanderberg Square - Inaugaration

Enver Hoxha in Skanderberg Square – Inaugaration

Others were to follow in different parts of the country (although the actual chronology is uncertain). Perhaps the biggest of all was the marble statue placed in Gjirokaster Old Town, Enver’s birth place. This huge statue was destroyed by local reactionary forces from the Greek community in August 1991. The platform created to hold the statue is all that now remains – the site being turned into a bar area in the summer.

Enver in Gjirokaster

Enver in Gjirokaster

I don’t agree with the destruction of these statues or the ransacking of the Enver Hoxha Museum (often called the Pyramid) in Tirana. However, I don’t consider these statues fitted into the concept of Socialist Realist Art. There were many busts of Enver in public buildings and there was a small industry (based in Kavajë) producing ceramic busts for peoples’ homes. But I think it was a political mistake to have created these very big (many times life size) statues after his death.

Or perhaps it wasn’t a mistake. The enforced isolation of the country had been putting strains on the system for a while and as happened in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin and in the People’s Republic of China after the death of Mao it was obvious reactionary forces would come out of the sewers to sow dissension and reap the harvest of discontent. The anger directed at the statues of Enver at least meant they didn’t break the head of Ramiz Alia – who seemed to bow down to any pressure to save himself when the reactionaries were able to convince the enough disaffected of the working class to take to the streets. (He has gone down in my estimation during the process of writing this.)

But once the reactionary wave gained force the lapidars which celebrated the achievements of the Socialist past were soon to be fair game. Statues of Uncle Joe were taken down on the orders of the gutless and traitorous Ramiz Alia on the night of the, then considered, anniversary of Stalin’s birth, 21st December 1990. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was spared that night but was taken down on the June 21st 1991.

And those few that had images of Enver Hoxha also became targets of concerted political vandalism. Such was the fate of Monument to the Berat Meeting (held in October 1944 to decide on the structure of the Government after the imminent defeat of the Nazi invaders). This large lapidar was in the centre of town and was inaugurated in 1969.

Monument to the Berat Meeting, 1969

Monument to the Berat Meeting, 1969

Another tragic loss was the statue of the Four Heroines of Mirdita. This was a monument to four women from the area around the town of Rreshen, in the northern part of the country, who had played a part in the defeat of the fascist invaders before Liberation in November 1944. They were assassinated by reactionary (often foreign supported) forces operating in the north of the country for their continued efforts in both the construction of Socialism (in 1948 and 1949) and in attempting to build a society where women played a full and equal part with men, thereby challenging the old ideas and thinking.

The Four Heroines of Mirdita - and the sculptors

The Four Heroines of Mirdita – and the sculptors

As an example of the hatred in which pieces of bronze are held by the reactionaries in charge of present day Albania is the story of the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig. The original statue stood in the centre of a roundabout in the centre of Shkodra. It was later moved to be beside the town’s Martyrs’ Cemetery – which originally would have been a glorious site, right beside the River Kir but, for a time, it became the town’s rubbish dump. Here the statue was subject to mindless theft vandalism as the pieces of bronze easily removable were stolen for scrap. After a long, and sometimes heated debate, the statue was moved yet again, this time to a roundabout on the northern edge of town on the main road north. Not the place of honour it once occupied but at least a dignified location – for the time being.

5 Heroes of Vig - plaster, 70's

5 Heroes of Vig – plaster, 70’s

And that’s not to mention Red Stars. Obliterated, damaged or painted over. If there was a target second only to Enver Hoxha it was the stars.

What has ‘democracy’ offered in its place?

The simple answer; not much.

When the sitting right-wing government in 2012 realised it was on its way out they went on a spending spree when it came to the commissioning of public monuments. I have no intention in discussing what was produced here, merely to give an idea of what the capitalist Albania considers is the art for the people.

Words aren’t really necessary.

This was placed in the middle of the roundabout close to the bus station for buses and furgons to the south in Tirana;

Fascist Eagle - Tirana

Fascist Eagle – Tirana

And one to make you wonder where the present day Albanians have placed their dignity and pride is a statue of the coward Zog – he ran away when the Italians invaded on April 7th 1939. This one is in Burrel, in the centre of the country, there’s at least one more in Tirana.

Zog in Burrel

Zog in Burrel

By way of a conclusion

I believe the Albanian lapidars (and the other public works of art) produced between 1964 and 1990 were a unique and distinctive addition to the catalogue of Socialist Realist Art. It served its purpose but other factors meant it didn’t achieve, or maintain, what it set out to do – the creation of a socialist mentality.

Whether matters will change in Albanian such that they recover the respect they had in the past is unlikely in the short term but they do provide, at least, an example of what is possible when art and culture is created for the working class.

March 2020

More on Albania …..

Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

Monument to the Partisan - Tirana

Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

More on Albania …..

Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

The ‘Monument to the Partisan’, the work of sculptor Andrea Mano, was created in 1949. It is one of the oldest lapidars in Albania created in the Socialist period and is the monument that has survived (relatively undamaged) the longest in its original location.

The monument consists of a larger than life size figure of a Communist Partisan in full uniform and fully armed. He’s depicted running forward, the element of speed being indicated by the right edge of his jacket flapping in the wind. In his left hand he carries a rifle (his hand is gripped around the barrel in front of the trigger mechanism) but his arm is fully extended downwards so it’s not ready to be used – this rush of his is not to join the battle but to join the celebration of the victory.

His right arm is raised above his head, slightly bent so his hand is pointing behind him but the fist is clenched. This is a visual representation of ‘We have done it’, and a sight that is quite common in present day sporting events. His mouth is wide open and so we know he is shouting but to whom and what we do not know. However, we are given a clue to the event by the inscription – and also the actual location of the statue.

For it was in this area of Tirana, on 17th November 1944, where the last remnants of the Nazi invaders were either killed or surrendered to the Partisan army.

Bukurosh Sejdini - 17 November 1944 - 1957

Bukurosh Sejdini – 17 November 1944 – 1957

He’s not a particularly young man and might be an officer, his uniform is quite smart and over his left shoulder is a strap to which is attached a satchel – which rests on his right hip. However, he doesn’t have a pistol – a normal sign of an officer. (It might be worth commenting here that although the Partisan force was very much a Communist organisation, organised along Communist lines, there still existed a hierarchy of officers and ‘men’ – although a huge percentage of the ‘men’ were female.) On a belt around his waist are a number of pouches with reserve ammunition.

It’s difficult to see (without climbing up the plinth) exactly what he has on his feet but it appears to be the more traditional Albanian footwear than an otherwise more usual heavy boot of the majority of the armies fighting in the Second World War.

However, what we can be certain of is his political allegiance. On the front of his cap can be seen the star and around his neck a scarf, both of which would have been red in actuality. This partisan is a Communist. Perhaps, as his political status is clear – and would have been to all who knew this statue at the time of the reactionary uprising of 1990 – I’m slightly surprised he didn’t suffer any serious vandalism.

The statue of Enver Hoxha, which was pulled down on 20th February 1991, was only a few minutes walk from where the Partisan still stands and it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise if some neo-fascist (having pulled itself from its hiding hole) hadn’t tried to damage a representation of Communist success. At the same time all the failings in Albanian society were being placed on Enver’s shoulders and personalising matters was a useful tactic for both the reactionaries and those in the higher leadership of the Party of Labour of Albania.

I’m afraid I’m not a big fan of this statue – and didn’t really like it when I first saw it just under nine years ago. At the time I thought he looked too angry – but not in a good way. That was before I fully realised what the statue represented – which was the liberation of Tirana and the soon to be victory of the Partisans over the fascist invaders.

However, it is still important in that it was one of the very first lapidars to be installed in the country – and the first one that attempted to tell the story of the National Liberation War (the earlier statues were of Joseph Stalin).

Bas reliefs

On either side of the statue, on the plinth, there are two bas reliefs. They are not in a particularly good condition and are showing the signs of wear but through time rather than any vandalism. Nonetheless they play an important role in the history of Albanian lapidars as they start to establish artistic ‘tropes’ which were emulated, with various adaptations, by later Albanian sculptors.

Monument to the Partisan - Bas relief 1

Monument to the Partisan – Bas relief 1

The one on the right of the monument as you look face on to the Partisan (i.e., on the left of the statue itself) depicts a small squad of Partisans – in this case seven – in the middle of a battle. However, the juxtaposition of the figures seem to represent more than one event.

The backdrop to the scene is the Communist flag. This is a red flag upon which, in the centre, is a black, double-headed eagle. This symbol was taken from the emblem used by Skenderbeu in the nationalist battle against the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. It was brought into the 20th century with the addition of a gold, five pointed star, which sits exactly in the central space between the two heads. This flag was later adopted as the national flag of Albania after the defeat of the fascists on 29th November 1944. (The present national flag has exactly the same arrangement but without the gold star.)

The principal figure in this panel is a full length, left profile of a Partisan officer. He’s in a full partisan uniform, military jacket and trousers, with the jacket unbuttoned and the left edge being pulled away from his body by the action of his raised left arm. As is usual we know he’s a Communist as there’s a star on his cap – but he doesn’t have a scarf around his neck.

Hanging from his left shoulder, and going across his chest, is an ammunition belt. We can see three clips with five bullets each which are for the rifle he holds in his right hand. We can’t see it but his right arm is fully extended downwards and he must be holding the rifle around the trigger mechanism as we only see the spurting end of the barrel and a small piece of the strap attached to the wooden stock.

The rifle could be a Delaunay-Belleville Model 1907-15 (there’s an example of it in the National Historical Museum (National Liberation War room) in Tirana). The company was a luxury car maker before the First World War but went into war production after 1914. The fact that the Partisans used, in the main, either such old weapons or those they took off the fascist invaders (first Italian and the German) gives an indication of the nature of the force that destroyed Nazism in Albania – using anything and everything to defeat the invaders.

On the belt around his waist there’s a pistol holster thus indicating his officer status (as mentioned above when talking about the statue). His left arm is raised fully above his head and his partially open hand is indicating for all those behind him to come forward for battle.

Finally for this figure we can see that although in full military uniform he is wearing opinga on his feet – the traditional Albanian shoe with a distinctive turned up nodule at the toe.

Above the left shoulder of this officer we can see two partial faces of two male Partisans. Neither is wearing a cap. The figure at the back is the standard bearer as we can see his right hand gripping the flag pole just beneath where the material is attached to the pole. The other figure has a gun raised closed to his face as if he is aiming. Part of the gun is seen running parallel to the top of the officer’s shoulder and the end of the barrel appears behind his face, at the level of his mouth.

This could be a Bereta, 1938, 9mm calibre, automatic rifle. Again there’s one of those in a glass case in the Tirana National History Museum, just in front of the impressive ‘Death to Fascism’ mural. This would more than likely have been taken off a dead Italian invader earlier in the campaign.

The Partisan with the automatic rifle seems to be wearing the traditional trousers called tirq, which don’t quite extend to the ankle and are split the last few inches. He also appears to be barefooted.

Behind of, and seen below the raised arm of, the officer is a female fighter – the first of two on this panel. Her face is in profile, she has long hair (tied up) and she appears to be wearing a cap and I think there’s a hint of a star on the front of the cap. (The problem here is that wear and tear makes some of the detail difficult to make out.) She’s dressed in military uniform but all we can see is an ammunition clip (the same sort as we saw on the officer’s belt) at her waist. We can’t see anything else of her as she’s hidden by the other figures but we have to assume that she too is armed.

The next part I don’t fully understand. This is, if you like, a tableau within a tableau and is reminiscent of the sculpture in Permët Martyrs’ Cemetery called ‘Shoket – Comrades’ by Odhise Paskali.

In the centre is a male figure who has obviously recently been seriously injured as he is slumped backwards although still (just) on his feet. He is depicted as if he were crumbling, without the strength to stand up by himself. Both his knees are bent and his body is so close to the ground his left hand almost touches the earth. The reason he is not on the ground is that another of his comrades has his hands linked so that he provides a supportive loop around the body of his wounded comrade’s waist. The other reason the wounded Partisan is not on the ground is that a female fighter has her left hand gripping his left arm, high up by the armpit and we have to assume her other hand, unseen, is supporting him on his right side.

There is no evidence of any weapons for the two males and it’s difficult to make out exactly how they are dressed. They appear to be in uniform but the male really struggling to keep his comrade from falling down has the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbow. Again strangely, for me, he is also looking forward, in the direction of the advance rather than looking down at his comrade.

There’s also a difference in what they are wearing on their feet. The wounded man is wearing the opinga whilst the ‘healthy’ fighter has the more recognisable military boot.

The female Partisan is the only one we see in full face. In supporting the fallen soldier she has turned so that she is the only one not looking in the direction of the battle, whether taking place or about to start – although the injured Partisan indicates that bullets have already started to fly. She is also in full uniform, seems to be wearing boots but not a cap to cover her long hair. There are two straps coming from both her shoulders across her chest, one of which supports a bulging satchel resting on her left hip the other on the end of which is a huge rifle (almost like a cannon) the end of the barrel of which points to the edge of the panel.

What I don’t understand here is why are they supporting him in the middle of an attack. The bulging satchel indicates she might be a medic but the big rifle indicates she’s definitely a fighter and not a non-combatant. Are they, perhaps, taking the wounded man away from the action but if so, again, why? Yes you want to look after your fallen and injured comrades but if the two carrying the wounded man are also combatants then three, and not just one, fighter is being taken out of the fight at a crucial time. Perhaps he represents the last to die in the liberation of Tirana and only days away from the liberation of the whole country. Whatever the idea it’s a bit of a mystery to me – and something I’ve not come across elsewhere, as far as I can remember.

Finally we have more of a silhouette than a bas-relief. Between these last male and the female, and just above the body of the falling man, is the shape of another male Partisan. Again the figure is in left profile and appears to be in uniform, including a cap. But further than that it’s difficult to say.

Monument to the Partisan - Bas relief 2

Monument to the Partisan – Bas relief 2

If the story in the first bas relief is, at times, difficult to follow the second one is much more basic and straightforward. Here we also have seven partisans (this time all male) in a full on attack. Here no one is holding back and it’s full of action.

All seem to be in full Partisan uniform. Half of them have caps, with signs of the red star, but half do not.

Mallakaster Partisans - possibly 1943

Mallakaster Partisans – possibly 1943

(Here it might be worthwhile to say that before the beginning of the organised Partisan onslaught against the Italian invaders, following the Peze Conference of 16th September 1942, the Albanian forces were more of a guerrilla force. Their tactics were very much that of hit and run – and they were very successful at that even before the Conference. However, the Conference gave structure to the struggle and as part of that uniforms started to become more common. Whether that brings with it certain negatives is a debate for another time but what it did lead to was a more organised opposition and by the time of the liberation of Tirana, on 17th November 1944, most of the troops that entered the city would have been in uniform.)

At the front we have two Partisans, one kneeling one standing, both with their rifles on their shoulders and they are firing whilst looking through the sights. Those two are heavily armed, both have extra ammunition on their belts and the one who is kneeling has a pistol holster on his right hip.

Behind them, also standing and firing with his rifle at his shoulder, is another Partisan. Again heavily armed but this time with a grenade attached to his belt. This is, in fact, a Mills bomb, a British made grenade. This is the grenade that looks like a very small (yet lethal) pineapple. The end of the barrel of his rifle pokes out behind the standing marksman in the front rank.

As the British weren’t fighting the Nazis in mainland Europe until June 1944 – whilst the Albanian Communists had been fighting them for almost two years – the Partisans were more than happy to take any weapons that came their way. Consignments of Mills bombs were part of that ‘support’. The problem was that the British thought that by providing such assistance they had the right to determine what sort of society should be developed in Albania after the end of hostilities. The Albanians didn’t agree and had to endure decades of attempts by the British imperialists to subvert Albanian Socialism.

We only see part of the head of the next fighter so we can only speculate what he is doing, but probably the same as the first three.

The next figure is the most dynamic of the lot. The strap across his chest is for his rifle and the top of the barrel can be seen over his left shoulder. He is leaning back and his right arm is slightly bent but extended behind him. In his hand he holds a Mills bomb and his stance is one that will give his body the greatest chance of throwing the grenade with the greatest force to where he wants it to land. To make sure he is steady he has his legs wide apart giving extra stability as well as more force for his throw. As on the other panel there is a variation in the clothing and this ‘grenadier’ is wearing traditional tirq trousers (short of the ankle and split at the bottoms) as well as wearing the opinga. He is also the only one with his mouth open – announcing to the Nazis what they could expect from his British present.

Although he doesn’t wear a cap he has a scarf around his neck indicating, yet again, that he is a Communist. Always, on Albanian lapidars, the star and scarf, both of which would have been red, indicate a Communist. Although not all Partisans were Communists they were the majority in the National Liberation Front.

The next figure is also rushing forward, indicated be the bottom edge of his jacket being thrown back in his haste. This allows us to see that he, too, has extra rifle ammunition clips (two) on his belt. But he’s not seen with a rifle but with another grenade.

However, this is not one ‘kindly donated’ by the British, this one is a present he is returning to the original owners as this is a German made stick grenade. He isn’t ready to throw yet so he just grips it tightly in his right hand, his arm extended downwards. The advantage the stick grenade had over the British version (unless the thrower was good at cricket) was that the long stick provided a lever motion and so increased the distance thrown. However, its size went against it as less could be carried. But here we are shown that the Partisans used weapons from all sources, none being rejected.

Finally, and barely discernible, behind the two grenadiers is part of the head of another male Partisan. The star can be made out on his cap but there’s little else that can be said about him.

Establishing the artistic ‘tropes’

The ‘Monument to the Partisan’ was, as I’ve already said, the very first true sculptural lapidar. The sculptor, Andrea Mano, also spent a great deal of his working life teaching his art – first in a High School and then at the finest Art School in the country, the University of Arts in Tirana (from 1954-1982) – and therefore coming into contact with the young and upcoming, post-Liberation trained sculptors. So there’s no real surprise that some of the images he used in his early work re-appeared in an often more sophisticated manner.

Those artistic ‘tropes’ I think can be seen in this monument are;

the raised arm, often with the individual looking in the opposite direction to where the action was taking place, signalling for those unseen in the work of art to come and join the fight, battle or general struggle. This can be seen in the Arch of Drashovicë,

armed women, of all ages. If the lapidar (be it a sculpture, bas relief or mosaic) is telling a story of armed conflict then the women (if not all the men) will be armed. This references the fact that if women want true liberation they will have to be prepared to take arms to achieve and/or retain those gains. This can be seen in ‘The Albanians’ mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana, the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Lushnjë and the statue of Liri Gero, in the ‘Sculpture Park’ behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

the footwear telling a story. The traditional opinga mixing with the European boot (indicating the changing culture as well as a connection with the past), or even sometimes individuals will be barefooted, referencing the extreme poverty of a huge part of the population, yet still prepared to fight for freedom and liberation from oppression.

images of traditional clothing. This is similar to the issue with the footwear but from a slightly different angel. Clothing would indicate from which part of the country an individual might call home. This was in an effort to indicate to the viewer that the revolution, and the war against the invader, was something that involved all of the country, with its different ethnic groups. This also helped to show that the struggles involved men and women of all ages, with the older perhaps still hanging on to the traditional when it came to dress but prepared to fight together with the young with more modern ideas of fashion.

its quite interesting to see how often the clothing being shown as if it has been caught in the wind so as to give the impression of speed, especially when rushing to a battle. This was often seen in conjunction with ‘the hand calling to action’ motif.

Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that visiting the ‘Monument to the Partisan’ will mean you have seen all that the lapidars have to offer but it would be a good place to start to compare with any you might encounter in other parts of the country.

Inscription

Plaque on the Monument to the Partisan

Plaque on the Monument to the Partisan

If you look at the picture at the very top of this post you will notice the inscription (although the same wording) is different from what is in place today. I have no information about when the old, stand alone metal letters and numbers might have been removed. It might have been political vandalism at some time in the 1990s or it might have been simple theft – all societies will always have scumbags who will steal the smallest items for a minor profit – in the past, the present and the foreseeable future.

Whatever the fate of the inscription what is noticeable is that the star did not reappear on the replacement marble plaque. I have seen it in other locations, where a carved star will be at the top of the new plaque but not here. (I’ll have to write a post one day bringing together the fate of the ‘Communist Star’ in Albanian lapidars.) Here it might be enough to just say that for the reactionaries in Albania the Red Star is second only in the hate league table to Enver Hoxha. But as Chairman Mao said ‘To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing’.

The wording on the front of the monument, originally and at present is

in Albanian;

Populli i Tiranës partizanëve të rënë për çlirimin e kryeqytetit 28/X–17/XI/1944

which translates as;

The People of Tirana to the Partisans who fell during the Liberation of the capital, 28th October to 17th November 1944

Sculptor

Andrea Mano (1919-2000) was a pre-liberation sculptor, in the sense that he was born in 1919 and followed his education in Italy – before the Italians decided to invade Albania on 7th April 1939 as part of the Fascist plan to take control of Europe. That would seem to indicate he came from a relatively privileged background. He returned to Albania in 1942. I have no information whether he took an active part in the National Liberation War – or not. He couldn’t have been all that bad as, in 1946, he was given a scholarship to study in Zagreb, Yugoslavia – before Tito decided that he could take the country on a road to ‘Socialism’ different from that of the one indicated by Marxism-Leninism. This meant Mano had to return to Albania in 1948 and that must have been when he was awarded the commission for the Partisan Monument.

He was involved (together with Odhise Paskali and Janaq Paço) in the major sculpture of the equestrian Skanderbeu, which was installed in the central square in Tirana which bears his name in 1968 – the 500th anniversary of his death. In the process ousting the Soviet made statue of Joseph Stalin to a little bit down the road.

He was also one of the sculptors responsible for ‘The Four Heroines of Mirdita’ (1970) – together with Fuat Dushku, Perikli Çuli and Dhimo Gogollari. Tragically this amazing structure was one of the first victims of the reaction and was destroyed in 1993.

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Although he produced smaller works that have been displayed in the National Art Gallery in Tirana he seems to have devoted most of his time to the teaching of his craft.

Location

Sheshi Sulejman Pasha

Tirana

This square is behind the building that houses the Opera House and the National Library and also where the buses leave to go to the airport and those that will take you to the cable car of Dajti.

(This is just beside Rruga George W Bush – which makes me almost want to vomit to type the words. There’s even a statue to ‘GW’ in Fushe Krujë, can you believe it?)

GPS

41.32813901

19.82198697

DMS

41° 19′ 41.3004” N

19° 49′ 19.1531” E

Altitude

113.1m

More on Albania …..

Death to Fascism Mural in the National Historical Museum, Tirana

The complete mural

The complete mural

More on Albania ……

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 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

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

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.

Forward always

Forward always

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A number of British died in Albania during the war and there’s now a small cemetery in Tirana Park – bizarrely using the old grave stone which was denied Enver Hoxha (when his remains were removed from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery and re-interred in the city cemetery at Kombinat) when the counter-revolutionaries gained control in the 1990s.

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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.

The Artist

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.

More on Albania ……