Sculptors and Architects of Albanian Lapidars

Albanian Socialist Sculptors

Albanian Socialist Sculptors

More on Albania …..

Sculptors and Architects of Albanian Lapidars

‘Signatures’ of the artists weren’t always added to the sculptures associated with Albanian Lapidars before the middle of the 1980s. All the information about the structures would have been held in the offices of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists, as well as in the National Archives – but they might not be that accessible in the present post-Communist environment.

So the information below might be patchy but as I accumulate more I will attempt to create as full a picture as possible of the artists involved in the nationwide project.

The list is primarily one of sculptors, unless stated otherwise, in alphabetical order.

Albanian Lapidar Survey

Description and photos of the Lapidars (Monuments), statues, bas reliefs and mosaics

H Beqiri

ALS 324 – Lapidar dedicated to the delivery of the land deeds – Gorrë

L Berhami

ALS 34 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Librazhd, with M Turkeshi

Avni Bilbili

ALS 121 – Korca Martyrs’ Cemetery

Maksim Bushi (1948-present)

ALS 194 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Lushnjë (1984)

Perikli Çuli

ALS 38 – Monument to the First Attack Brigade – Pishkash (1978), with Agim Rada

ALS 195 – Our Land – Lushnjë (1987)

ALS 476 – Lapidar dedicated to the wars of Skanderbeg – Kaninë (1968)

Piro Dollaku

ALS 121 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Korça, with Ilia Xhano

ALS 262 – First bas relief – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Borovë, with Ilia Xhano

ALS 263 – Partisan and Child – Borovë, with Ilia Xhano

Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 12 – Mother Albania – National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana (1972), with Shaban Hadëri and Kristaq Rama

ALS 13 – Monument to the Artillery – Sauk – (1968), with Shaban Hadëri and Kristaq Rama

ALS 17 – Monument to Heroic Peze – Pezë e Vogël – (1977), with Kristo Krisiko

ALS 19 – Monument to the 22nd Brigade – Pezë e Madhe, with Kristo Krisiko

ALS 20 – Long Live the Fallen of Peze – Pezë e Madhe (1977), with Kristo Krisiko and Nina Mitrogjorgi (architect)

ALS 147 – Long Live the First Brigade – Makërzë (1969), with Shaban Hadëri and Kristaq Rama

ALS 192 – Bust of Shkurte Pal Vates – Dushk (1968) (destroyed)

Shkurte Pal Vata by Muntaz Dhrami

Shkurte Pal Vata by Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 395 – Obelisk to the Albanian Language – Gjirokastra, with Ksenofon Kostaqi and Stefan Papamihali

ALS 438 – Drashovice Arch 1920-1943 – Drashovice

ALS 460 – Independence Monument – Vlora – (1972), with Shaban Hadëri and Kristaq Rama

ALS 464 – 1920 – Memorial to the events of 1920 (1970), with Shaban Hadëri and Kristaq Rama

ALS 510 – Priske Monument – Priske e Madhe (1978), with Sofokli Koci

‘Keep high the revolutionary spirit’ (bronze) 1966.

You can get an idea of Dhrami’s work, both during the period of Socialist construction and in subsequent years by taking a look at Muntaz Dhrami – Sculpture over the years 1956-2011. It’s also possible to see here that once Dhrami is ‘released’ from the ‘confines’ of figurative art he rapidly drifts into abstraction and displays elements of despair which dominates bourgeois art in capitalist countries. Whether his work progressed after 1990 is debatable.

Q Dono

ALS 307 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Fier, with GJ Toska

Hector Dule

ALS 10 – On the road to war – Tirana

ALS 166 – Monument to Resistance – Durrës, with Fuat Dushku

ALS 394 – Monument to Skenderbeu’s Wars – Gjirokastra (1968)

ALS 504 – Monument to Mushqeta – Bërzhitë – (1969), with K Miho (architect)

‘The pick in one hand and the rifle in the other’ (bronze statue) 1966. Last seen at the back of the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

Pickaxe in one hand and a rifle in the other

Pickaxe in one hand and a rifle in the other

Fuat Dushka (1934-2007)

ALS 166 – Monument to Resistance – Durrës, with Hector Dule

ALS 675 – Bas relief and statue of Bajam Curri– Bajam Curri

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

‘Four Heroines of Mirdita’ (bronze) 1971. It was purposely destroyed by reactionary political forces in Mirdita. This was one of the very first large and complex statues made during the Albanian Socialist Cultural Revolution and was a challenge for the sculptor and foundry workers. With Dh. Gogollari, Perikli Çuli, Andrea Mano and architects S Mosko and B Ferra.

‘Metalworker’ (bronze),1979, statue in National Art Gallery, Tirana

Shaban Hadëri

ALS 12 – Mother Albania – National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana (1972), with Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama

ALS 13 – Monument to the Artillery – Sauk – (1968), with Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama

ALS 147 – Long Live the First Brigade – Makërzë (1969), with Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama

ALS 460 – Independence Monument – Vlora – (1972), with Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama

ALS 464 – 1920 – Memorial to the events of 1920 (1970), with Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama

ALS 675 – Monument to the 5 Heroes of Vig – Shkodër (1969 – the original in plaster)

U Hajdari

ALS 86 – Monument to the Provocations of 2nd August 1949 – Bilisht (1969), with J Paço

Possibly Mother Albania expelling the priest and military in Gjirokastra

Sofokli Koci

ALS 510 – Priske Monumental Lapidar – Priskë e Madhe (1978), with Mumtaz Dhrami

Kristina Koljaca

Statue of VI Lenin in National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’

Ksenofon Kostaqi

ALS 395 – Obelisk to the Albanian Language – Gjirokastra, with Muntaz Dhrami and Stefan Papamihali

ALS 407 – Monument to the Border Forces – Kakavijë, with Stefan Papamihali

Traditional Musicians and Dancers – Gjirokastra (1983), Kristo Krisiko

ALS 17 – Monument to Heroic Peze – Pezë e Vogël – (1977), with Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 19 – Monument to the 22nd Brigade – Pezë e Madhe, with Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 20 – Long Live the Fallen of Peze – Pezë e Madhe (1977), with Muntaz Dhrami and Nina Mitrojorgji (Architect)

R Kote (architect)

ALS 147 – Long Live the First Brigade – Makërzë (1969), with Muntaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama

S Kraja

ALS 583 – Monument to the 1911 Uprisings – Hani i Hotit (1971), with H Kruja

H Kruja

ALS 580 – Bust of the Peoples’ Hero Vasil Shanto – Vrakë (1971)

ALS 583 – Monument to the 1911 Uprisings – Hani i Hotit (1971), with S Kraja

Andrea Mano (1919-2000)

ALS 1 – Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

‘The Chinese Peasant’, 1965, bronze head and shoulders in the National Art Gallery, Tirana

The large ‘Skenderberg’ statue (bronze), 1968, in Tirana main square, in collaboration with Odise Paskali and Janaq Paco

Skenderberg - Skenderbeu Square, Tirana

Skenderberg – Skenderbeu Square, Tirana

Todi Mato

ALS 49 – Sculpture at the Martyrs’ Cemetery – Pogradec

K Miho (architect)

ALS 504 – Monument to Mushqeta – Bërzhitë – (1969), with Hector Dule

Taqo Miho

ALS 9 – Monument to the anti-Fascist Group DEBATIK (1988), Nina Mitrojorgji (Architect)

ALS 20 – Long Live the Fallen of Peze – Pezë e Madhe (1977), with Kristo Krisiko and Muntaz Dhrami

Nina Mitrojorgji (architect)

ALS 20 – Peze War Memorial, at the Peze Conference Memorial Park. With sculptors Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristo Krisiko (1977).

Janaq Paço (1914-1991)

ALS 86 – Monument to the Provocations of 2nd August 1949 – Bilisht (1969), with U Hajdari

The large ‘Skenderberg’ statue (bronze), 1968, in Tirana main square, in collaboration with Odise Paskali and Andrea Mano.

Skenderberg - Skenderbeu Square, Tirana

Skenderberg – Skenderbeu Square, Tirana

The bronze head of a girl, 1966, in the National Art Gallery, Tirana.

Girl (bronze) - Janaq Paço

Girl (bronze) – Janaq Paço

Also, what was at the time, a controversial ‘Nude’ (bronze), 1963, in the National Art Gallery, Tirana. It was purchased 5th May 1964, and until 1974 was a full, seated nude. Paço was ordered to destroy all of his nudes as his word was ‘manifesting foreign influences and banned ideology’. What is in the gallery now is all that remains.

Nude - Janaq Paço - 1963

Nude – Janaq Paço – 1963

Stefan Papamihali

ALS 395 – Obelisk to the Albanian Language – Gjirokastra, with Kristo Krisiko and Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 398 – Partisan – Gjirokastra

ALS 407 – Monument to the Border Forces – Kakavijë, with Ksenofon Kostaqi

Odhise Paskali (1903-1985)

ALS 123 – Nationalist Fighter – Korça (1937)

ALS 244 – Comrades – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Përmet (1964)

ALS 246 – Monument dedicated to the creation of peoples’ power – Përmet (1964)

ALS 276 – Monument to the Martyr of Kolonje – Ersekë (1938)

ALS 590 – Monument dedicated to the Assembly of Lezha – Lezha (1968)

Bust to Vojo Kushi in Tirana

The statue of Cerciz Topulli (1932, bronze) which stands in the square that bears his name in Gjirokaster Old Town.

The large ‘Skenderberg’ statue (bronze), 1968, in Tirana main square, in collaboration with Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano.

Skenderberg - Skanderbeu Square, Tirana

Skenderberg – Skanderbeu Square, Tirana

The bust of ‘The Two Heroines‘ – being two young women, Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokëdhima, who were publicly executed for their Partisan activity in 1944 in Gjirokastra.

The Two Heroines - Odhise Paskali

The Two Heroines – Odhise Paskali

He also created ‘The Triumphant Partisan’ (1968). This depicts a Nazi soldier being forced to the ground by an Albanian Communist Partisan. The original is at the Mauthausan Concentration Camp in Austria – where many Albanians were taken if captured – but there’s a copy in the Castle Museum in Gjirokastra.

The Triumphant Partisan - Gjirokastra

The Triumphant Partisan – Gjirokastra

Agim Rada

ALS 38 – Monument to the First Attack Brigade – Pishkash (1978), with Perikli Çuli

Kristaq Rama (1932-1998)

Biographical Note: Born in Durrës. Father of Edi Rama (also trained as an artist), who was first Mayor of Tirana and then leader of the Socialist Party and Prime Minister from 2013 to the present.

ALS 12 – Mother Albania – National Martyrs’ Cemetery – Tirana (1972), with Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 13 – Monument to the Artillery – Sauk – (1968), with Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 141 – Monument to Communist Guerrillas – Korça

ALS 147 – Long Live the First Brigade – Makërzë (1969), with Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami, with R Kote (architect)

ALS 167 – Ulqinaku Mujo – Durrës

ALS 327 – Monument to Agrarian Reform – Krutje e Sipërme (1966)

ALS 460 – Independence Monument – Vlora – (1972), with Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 464 – 1920 – Memorial to the events of 1920 (1970), with Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami

ALS 547 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Bajram Curri (Kushtrimtari)

ALS 554 – Bust of the Peoples’ Heroine Qerime Shota Galicia – Kukës (1968)

Relief on Government Building, ‘Family’, 1974, concrete, Tirana.

The bronze sculpture of a worker (Republic’s Contemporary), 1964, in the National Art Gallery, Tirana.

Republic's Contemporary 1964 - Kristaq Rama

Republic’s Contemporary 1964 – Kristaq Rama

Kristo Sitiris (1870-1953) (architect)

ALS 168 – Durrës War Memorial mosaic. Artists Nikolet Vasia, Gavril Priftuli and F SH.

Thoma Thomai

ALS 245 – Monument to Sixth Brigade – Përmet

ALS 260 – Grenade Ambush – Barmash

ALS 262 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Borovë

ALS 594 – Monument dedicated to the wars of Skanderbeg or The Battle of Zidolli Obelisk (April 24, 1467) – Fushë Krujë (1968) – reconstructed in 2012 by the architect Enea Papa

27th May 1941 – Execution of Vasil Laçi for the failed assassination attempt on Victor Emanuel III of Italy in 1941

GJ Toska

ALS 307 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Fier, with Q Dono

M Turkeshi

ALS 34 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Librazhd, with L Berhami

Ilia Xhano

ALS 121 – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Korça, with Piro Dollaku

ALS 262 – First bas relief – Martyrs’ Cemetery – Borovë, with Piro Dollaku

ALS 263 – Partisan and Child – Borovë, with Piro Dollaku

More on Albania …..

Description and photos of the Lapidars (Monuments), statues, bas reliefs and mosaics of Albania

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

More on Albania …..

Description and photos of the Lapidars (Monuments), statues, bas reliefs and mosaics

Here you will find a list of those Albanian Lapidars which I have been able to visit, photograph and then write about what the images represent. The numbering system is that established in Volume 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey – carried out in 2014 by researchers and photographers of the Department of Eagles.

After the list of the lapidars recorded in the Albanian Lapidar Survey there is a list of other Socialist Realist art works, statues, bas reliefs, mosaics, etc., which were outside the remit of the project of 2014 but which complement the major monuments.

This is followed by a few examples of how reaction seeks to fight back against Socialist advances by the promotion of ignorance, mysticism and even a return to pre-Christian superstitions – sometimes using the tools of the Socialist period to do so. This includes a couple of monuments to those who were in the country to seek dominance of the people and their land and not for the independence of the country from foreign control but to seize the wealth of the people and the country’s resources for the interests of capitalism and imperialism.

Albanian Lapidar Survey

Sculptors and Architects of Albanian Lapidars

Partisan and Child, Borove

Partisan and Child, Borove

Albanian Lapidars

Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism. A history of how the lapidars in Albania evolved during the country’s ‘Cultural Revolution’, from the mid-1960s, into some of the most impressive works of art worthy to stand with the best in the catalogue of Sociaist Realist Art.

ALS 1 – Monument to the Partisan, in central Tirana, commemorating the liberation of the city on 17th November 1944, the work of the sculptor Andrea Mano. The first of the sculptural lapidars, being installed in 1949.

ALS 2 – To the victims of fascism – Tirana market.

ALS 3 – To the fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers.

ALS 4 – The place where Qemal Stafa was killed.

ALS 5 – Monument to People’s Heroes Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci, Xhorxhi Martini, in Tirana.

ALS 6 – Monument to Mina Peze.

ALS 7 – National Anti-Fascist Liberation War Headquarters.

ALS 8 – The memorial stone to the original location of the National Martyrs’ Cemetery, located in Tirana Park close to the centre of Tirana.

ALS 9 – Monument to the young people’s anti-fascist group Debatik, in Tirana Park, not far from the post-Socialist monuments that celebrate the German Fascist dead as well as those of the British imperialists.

ALS 12 – The statue of Mother Albania, by the sculptors Kristaq Rama, Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami, created in 1972 and which stands guard over the graves of the martyrs of the War of Liberation against Fascism.

ALS 13 – Monument to the Artillery – Sauk, in the hills above Tirana, at the point where the Partisan artillery fired upon the Albanian Quisling government, by the sculptors Kristaq Rama, Shaban Hadëri and Muntaz Dhrami (1968).

ALS 17 – Monument to Heroic Peze, at the junction of the old Tirana-Durrës to the village of Peze. Sculptors; Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristo Krisiko (1977).

ALS 19 – Monument to the 22nd Brigade, at the Peze Conference Memorial Park, sculptors; Mumtaz Dhrami and, Kristo Krisiko.

ALS 20 – Peze War Memorial, at the Peze Conference Memorial Park. Sculptors; Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristo Krisiko with Nina Mitrojorgji (architect) (1977).

ALS 21 – Memorial to the Peze Conference of 16th September 1942 which established the organisational structure for the forthcoming struggle for liberation against the Fascist invaders, first the Italian and then, when Italy fell to the Allies, the Germans (1970).

ALS 25 – Elbasan Martyrs’ Cemetery.

ALS 27 – Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

ALS 33 – Monument to the 20th Brigade, Librazhd.

ALS 34 – Librazhd Martyrs’ Cemetery.

ALS 38 – Monument at Pishkash.

ALS 39 – Pishkash Star, Monument to the First Heroic Assault Brigade, sculptors; Perikli Çuli and Agim Rada, (1978)

ALS 98 – Monument to the First School, Proger.

ALS 99 – Monument to the First Communist Party Cells, Proger.

ALS 100 – Monument to the Martyrs of the National Liberation War, Proger.

ALS 121 – Martyrs’ Cemetery, Korçë. Sculptor Avni Bilbili

ALS 141 – Monument to Communist Guerrillas – Korça, sculptor Kristaq Rama.

ALS 166 – Monument to the Resistance to the Italian Invasion, 1939, in Durrës, sculptors; Hektor Dule and Fuat Dushku.

ALS 167 – People’s Hero Mujo Ulqinaku, Durrës.

ALS 168 – Durrës War Memorial mosaic. Artists Nikolet Vasia, Gavril Priftuli and F SH. The architect was Kristo Sitiris (1870-1953).

ALS 194 – Lushnjë Martyrs’ Cemetery.

ALS 244 – Sculptural group ‘Comrades’, Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery, by the scultor Odise Paskali (1964).

ALS 263 – Partisan and Child, Borovë, sculptors; Ilia Xhano and Piro Dollaku (1968).

ALS 301 – Seventh Assault Brigade, Sqepur.

ALS 306 – Monument to those Partisans who died in the Liberation of Fier.

ALS 307 – Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.

ALS 308 – Monument to the 11th Brigade, Fier.

ALS 309 – Monument to Petro Sota and the 1943 Nazi Massacre, Fier.

ALS 361 – Monument to Communists murdered by Italian Fascists – Tepelene

ALS 376 – Martyrs’ Cemetery, Gjirokastër.

Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery and the 75th Anniversary of Liberation

ALS 394 – Monument dedicated to Skenderbeu’s Wars, Gjirokastër, sculptor; Hektor Dule, (1968).

ALS 395 – Obelisk dedicated to pioneers of Albanian education, Gjirokastër, sculptors; Mumtaz Dhrami, Ksenofon Kostaqi and Stefan Papamihali.

The problem of the origin of the Albanian People and their language, background to the struggle to maintain the Albanian language.

ALS 398 – The monolith to the Partisan on the approach road to the ‘Stone City’ of Gjirokastra.

ALS 414 – Glory to the martyrs who fell on 9th October 1944 for the liberation of Sarandë, Qafë Gjashtë.

ALS 416 – The monument at Dema (Manastir), just outside of Sarandë in southern Albania, to those who died in the War of Liberation against Fascism.

ALS 424Sarandë Martyrs’ Cemetery.

ALS 438 – Drashovicë Arch, sculptor; Mumtaz Dhrami – probably the grandest of all the Albanian Lapidars.

ALS 477 – Bestrovë Mosaic.

ALS 504 – Mushqete Monument – Berzhite. In the last days of the fight for the National Liberation of Albania by the Communist led Partisan army a crucial battle took place along the road from Elbasan to Tirana, south-east of the capital. To commemorate this battle the Mushqete Monument was erected at Berzhite. The work of sculptor Hector Dule and the architect K Miho.

What does this monument stand for? The Mushqeta Monument

This article first appeared in New Albania, No 4, 1976. It is reproduced here to give more information about this crucial battle against Hitlerite Fascism in the final days of the National Liberation War – and only a matter of days before the liberation of Tirana and the effective end of hostilities in Albania.

ALS 675 – Monument to the Five Heroes of Vig, Shkodër, sculptor; Shaban Hadëri (original 1969).

ALS ? – Bas Relief and Statue at Bajram Curri Museum – one of the last of the major Socialist Realist bas reliefs beside a statue of the Independence fighter who gave his name to the town. This all sits in front of the (now looted and closed) city museum.

Liri Gero - Tirana Art Gallery

Liri Gero – Tirana Art Gallery

Socialist Realist statues, mosaics and bas reliefs

‘The Albanians’ Mosaic, National Historical Museum, Tirana – the finest, and without a shadow of doubt the biggest, revolutionary mosaic in Albania. Has been the victim of reactionary ‘rewriting of history’ – more exactly cultural vandalism. One of the artists involved in its creation was also responsible for some of those post-Socialist changes. Possibly the model for the Judas character in the Sacred Heart Church after taking his thirty pieces of silver. Pieces fall from it every winter and might eventually disappear as it will be considered too dangerous to allow to remain and no money found for its proper restoration. Ranks with the Arch at Drashovicë as being one of the truly monumental examples of Socialist Realist art in Albania.

Traditional Musicians and Dancers – a stone bas relief just outside the southern city of Gjirokastra

Gjirokastra College Bas Relief – This small relief, at the bottom of the stairs into a high school in the old part of Gjirokastra, commemorates an event in 1942 when the local students from the gymnasium (college), together with their teachers, demonstrated against, and clashed with, the occupying Italian fascist forces.

The ‘Hanged Women’ of Gjirokastra – This is a statue of Bule Naipi and Persefoni Kokëdhima, two Partisans, who were executed by the German Nazis in 1944. From that time they became known as the Hanged Women of Gjirokastra.

Albanian traditional musical instruments – an article that originally appeared in New Albania, No 5 1971.

Mother Albania Expelling The Priest and The Military – a fine example of Socialist Realist sculpture depicting a woman stating unequivocally that the past was no longer welcome in Albania.

The bas reliefs and mosaics of the Vlora Palace of Sport – both the inside and outside of public buildings were often decorated with images promoting the new society. Here there are images, in bas relief on the external walls and mosaics in what would have been the main entrance hall.

Bashkia Mosaic – Ura Vajgurore – a mosaic beside the main entrance to the town hall in Ura Vajgurore – a few kilometres north of Berat. It depicts the activities that made the area prosperous during the Socialist period – now all virtually abandoned and left to rot.

Traditional Wedding Mural in Peshkopia – a large mural in the restaurant of what used to be the main state-run tourist hotel in the north-eastern town of Peshkopia. It shows a local wedding which combines the traditional practices of the region together with the new social relations that were being established during Socialism.

Radio Kukesi bas-relief – a simple, yet striking stone bas relief on the facade of the (still) radio station in the north-eastern town of Kukes, close to the border with Kosovo. The radio station broadcasts the news of the new Albanian man marching towards the future.

Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia – Socialist imagery took many forms but this (now rusting) large metal cut out of the map of Albania, on which is superimposed a pickaxe and rifle (the symbol of the Party of Labour of Albania) is quite unique. It stands atop what used to be the Peshkopia Party headquarters.

Krrabë Miners Panel – a stone bas relief that is located on the side of the entrance to what used to be the community centre in the mining village, to the south of Tirana on the road to Elbasan. The mines have long since closed but the existence of the bas relief reminds us of the history of the region under Socialism. Also there’s an example of the decoration that would have been outside of buildings that had a connection to the Party of Labour of Albania.

Tobacco Factory, Durrës – a stone bas relief which celebrated the uprising and strike in 1940 of Durrës tobacco workers against the Italian Fascists who had invaded the previous year. Unfortunately the long abandoned tobacco factory was demolished a few years ago to make place for one of the many, incredibly ugly and massive private universities that have sprung like an infestation throughout the country. The fate of the panel is, at this time, unknown.

Liri Gero and the 68 Girls of Fier – Liri Gero was one of the many teenage Albanian men and women who joined the Partisans in the fight for National Liberation against the Fascist, first Italian and then German, invaders. She ended up being captured and tortured to death. The statue hidden away behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana is dignified in its depiction of the young peasant woman. The contemporary statue in the centre of Fier is an insult to her (and that of the other Partisans’) memory.

National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana – the very much ‘unofficial’ and sometimes difficult to approach collection of major Socialist realist statues (including ones of the great Marxist-Leninists VI Lenin, JV Stalin as well as local Partisan heroine Liri Gero) which are stored at the back of the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

1971 National Exhibition of Figurative Arts – Tirana – The article below was first published in New Albania, No 6, 1971. It discusses the general idea of art in a socialist society, how the Albanians saw ‘Socialist Realism’ with mention of a handful of works (out of 180) that were displayed at the National Exhibition of Figurative Arts in Tirana in the autumn of 1971.

The Communist as Anti-Christ

An angry Communist threatens Franciscan friars

Bourgeois, reactionary and religious art, sculpture and architecture in post Socialist Albania

Anti-Communist paintings – Shkodër Franciscan Church – not in any sense Socialist but an interesting example of how the reactionary forces in a post-revolutionary society use the cultural development of that Socialist past to attack it. If nothing else it demonstrates the anti-progressive nature of the Catholic Church. Unique pictures – at least I haven’t seen their likes elsewhere – and worth the trip to Shkodër to see them.

Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral – Tirana – there doesn’t seem to be any money to improve the infrastructure in Albania but plenty for building churches and the new Resurrection of Christ Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana has taken a big chunk of that budget.

The dordolec, the ‘evil eye’ and superstition in Albania – the answer to all those questions that visitors ask themselves when they are travelling around Albania – what’s that blow up toy (and various other items) doing hanging from a building?

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tirana – the Magdalen is you’ve not seen her before, as well as the Last Supper and the Annunciation.

German Fascist Memorial in Tirana, Albania – Albania was probably the first country in Europe to establish monuments to the Fascist invaders between 1939 and 1944 – but unfortunately not the last (Poland and Ukraine having also decided to curry favour with Western capitalism in such a manner).

The English Cemetery in Tirana Park – British involvement in Albania in the latter years of the Second World War wasn’t to assist the Albanian people in their battle against German Fascism – but to try to ensure that elements within the Albanian establishment that were favourable to the ideas the British ruling class were attempting to spread across post-war Europe would eventually gain control. The activities of the British in the immediate post-war years, especially with what is often referred to as ‘The Corfu Incident’, and their attempts to undermine the new Socialist government in Albania into the 1950s demonstrates their true intentions. The English Cemetery brings with it a twist that’s missing in the German cemetery – the large, red, marble stone that dominates the space was originally the grave stone of the great Albanian Communist and Marxist-Leninist, Enver Hoxha, when he was interred next to Mother Albania in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in the hills above Tirana.

Panagia Monastery Church – Mother of Christ – Dhermi, Albania – an old church with some interesting murals depicting what is in store for sinners whern they enter Hell.

No, Vladimir Ilyich and Uncle Joe, you shall not go to the ball – the statues of the Marxist-Leninist leaders are ‘under wraps’ in November 2012.

More on Albania …..

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 …..