… for the failed assassination attempt on Victor Emanuel III of Italy in 1941
Below is a reproduction of an article that first appeared in New Albania, No 1, 1970. [There has been some correction of the translation and grammar – but with an attempt to capture the tone of the original.]
The Attempt Upon the King’s Life
‘We glance through the May 1941 issue of the fascist magazine ‘Tomorri’. In one of its articles we come across a photo of Victor Emanuel the Third, the then King of Italy, taken in an open car. Having paid a visit to Albania, which was then occupied by the Italian fascists, he was on his way back to Italy. Though beneath the photo the words ‘A royal smile’ are written his face expresses terror and anxiety. On looking at this photograph the question naturally arises in one’s mind – ‘What’s wrong with the King?’
This photo was taken immediately after the 18 year young man, Vasil Laçi, had attempted to assassinate the King. He had fired five shots, but none found their true mark, but they did there bit, Radios worldwide echoed the news. The world over learnt, through Vasil Laçi’s deed, the words and the will of the Albanian people who hated the fascist heel. Vasili carried out this heroic attempt and he also heroically faced horrible tortures. Ten days in succession he endured the tortures. The fascists had anticipated that the son of the people from Piqerrasi, in Himara, would give up his comrades. But it was all in vain. The only answer they got from him was; ‘I deeply regret I didn’t shot the King dead’.
The tortures continued repeatedly. When he was given a pencil and a piece of paper to write on all he wrote were insults to the occupiers. It was May 27th, 1941 when the prisoners of Tirana Gaol saw the young man walking to the gallows in the centre of the yard. A little later a long procession of guards was seen. The young man who had been bound hand and foot was singled out. The procession stopped in the front of the gallows. When the senior lieutenant was loudly reading out the death sentence the patriot cast a long look at his fellow prisoners and raised his head aloft. When the reading was over, the whole jail echoed with revolutionary songs. At this moment, the doctor and the priest approached him. He didn’t let either of them near him.
‘Have you anything to say?’ they asked.
‘Yes, I have a demand. Bring me a comb to brush, my hair.’ They where nonplussed. How strange! He is on the point of dying and wants to have his hair combed!
But when Vasili said it, he meant it. All he longed for at these moments was to carry on the tradition of Albanian heroes, who scorned death by combing their hair before breathing their last. But this last desire of his was not permitted. In spite of that, he despised death until the last moment. He climbed up the gibbet, to the gallows, casting a glance at the windows of the jail. The prisoners never forgot this. Everything was ready. The yard of the gaol echoed with the fair words of Vasil Laçi: ‘Long live free Albania!’ ‘Long live Stalin!’ ‘Down with the fascists’. As soon as he finished these words, he pushed himself off the gallows. The revolutionary songs of the prisoners followed.
In one of the main streets of the capital a slate plaque attracts the attention of the passers-by. It says that this is the place where the attempt on the King’s life was made by the young man, Vasil Laçi.’
Monument to Vasil Laçi – Thoma Thomaj
The artist who created the plaque is Thoma Thomaj – who was also the sculptor for the Monument to Sixth Brigade – Përmet, Grenade Ambush – Barmash and the newer sculptures of the Martyrs’ Cemetery – Borovë.
On the plaque are the words;
Atentati i djaloshit Shqiptar qe qelloi Viktor Emanuelin e III ishte fillimi i nje kryengritjej e te madhe qe po pregatite
which translate as;
The execution of the Albanian boy, who shot at Victor Emmanuel III, was the beginning of a great uprising that was being prepared
Vasil Laçi in Socialist art
In 1974 Agim Zajmi made a painting of him
Vasil Laçi – Agim Zajmi – 1974
and Kristaq Rama created a statue
Vasil Laçi – Kristaq Rama
The statue that is supposed to be of Vasil Laçi by Kristaq Rama is on public dispaly, next to the main library, in the centre of Korça – however there is no reference to Vasil on that lapidar.
Location of the commemorative plaque
The corner of Rruga e Durrësit and Rruga Mihal Duri, Tirana.
Time hasn’t been too kind to the lapidar to the Seventh Assault Brigade which is situated beside the main road between Fier and Berat in an place called Sqepur. It’s at the top of a hill and is relatively exposed to the elements and this has taken it’s toll on the plaster work. There seem to have been attempts to paint, ‘renovate’, the images over the years but as this has not been done professionally this has made the images and some of the text more indistinct, filling in spaces and taking away the finer detail.
The lapidar consists of a tall monolith in the shape of the end of a rifle barrel with a flag attached and a panel at 90 degrees to this monolith showing scenes of battle.
The idea of using a rifle as the monolith is not unique, it has been used in Mushqeta and Priske, for example, but this one is slightly different in that attached to it is a stylised representation of a flag, here painted red. Due to the records being destroyed in the 1990s and those pictures of lapidars that were published in couple of books being principally in black and white there is some question if most of the lapidars were originally in colour. For good or ill many have been painted subsequently, probably even during the Socialist period so in that way distorting the aim and intention of the artist and sculptor.
The idea of attaching a flag to a rifle is again something that can be seen on other lapidars, but normally when the rifle is being used as a temporary pole and the flag being waved by a Partisan. This is the case with the female Partisan in the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.
The image of the wooden butt of the gun is seen here as it flares out from the vertical at the very bottom left hand corner of the monument, below the panel with the images of fighting.
Joining the rifle and the flag pole, just above the horizontal panel are two wide, concrete bands. On the upper the words
Forcat partizane të ish-qarkut të Beratit are attached in relief,
this translates as
Partisan forces of the former district of Berat
The town of Berat being located only about 15 kilometres to the south-east.
On the lower band, in exactly the same font and manner the words;
Forcat partizane të Brigadës VII Sulmuese appear
this translates as
Partisan Forces of the VII Assault Brigade
The National Liberation Army was made up of a number of such Brigades, guerrilla groups originally but developing into more formal structures as the war progressed, more and more fighters joined and the power of the Fascist invaders was broken. These Brigades were made up from people, men and women, who lived in the area although as the war developed they would sometimes move to other parts of the country to satisfy the military needs at any time.
The spacing of these letters looks a little strange, especially the lower slogan, but it’s not really possible to make out if anything else would be there to necessitate such spacing.
On the left hand side of the lower panel we have images from a battle. On the extreme left is a Partisan, in full uniform, firing a sub machine gun downwards. His right foot is placed in front of him and his left leg behind him to provide stability on uneven ground. This is a common device, used in many monuments of the time, such as the star at Pishkash and the bas relief in Bajram Curri, to tell the story that the War of Liberation was one that was fought, and won, in the mountains and that much of the early fighting especially would have been surprise ambushes from up on high.
It’s not possible to see if there’s a star on his cap but we can make out a scarf flying from his neck so we can have a reasonable assumption that he’s a Communist. One unusual feature is that he seems to be wearing a greatcoat, the bottom end of it seen between his outstretched legs. This is something that hasn’t appeared on other lapidars, to my knowledge. Unfortunately, the very end of the gun is missing, there being quite a lot of small areas of plaster that have disappeared over the years.
Behind him is a standing fighter but who is dressed in civilian clothes, his open jacket flapping in the breeze with his movement. Around his waist can be made out four ammunition pouches.
Photographs of guerrilla groups of the time show a mix of uniformed Partisans as well as those in everyday clothing. (Why do left wing guerrilla groups, from wherever in the world from the 1940s onwards, keep on taking pictures of themselves? It’s OK if you win but these pictures will cause untold problems if they get in the hands of the enemy. Two of the worst disasters that came as a result of this obsession with photographing themselves was the case of Che Guevara’s ‘foco’ group in Bolivia in 1968 and the videoing of an inebriated Abimael Guzman, the leader of the revolutionary Communist Party of Peru – Sendero Luminoso, in Peru in 1991.)
This Partisan is not facing the action but is looking back over his shoulder, his right arm raised, his fist clenched, encouraging other, unseen, comrades to come and join the fight. His left arm is hanging down and he holds a rifle close to the bolt mechanism. The upraised right hand passes outside the main panel and he has lost all the fingers.
The third member of this group is another uniformed Partisan. His right foot is firmly placed on the ground and he is kneeing with his left leg. We see him from his left side and his right hand can be seen just above his left shoulder. It looks like he has just taken out the pin of a Mills bomb grenade with his teeth and is about to throw it at the enemy below. In his left hand he holds the top of a bag, the weight of which is resting on the ground, which looks like it’s full of stick grenades, so he’s well prepared for action. There’s evidence of a scarf around his neck so we are, again, to assume that he is a Communist.
Any facial detail on all three is very difficult to make out. In fact, any fine detail at all is almost impossible to see. To bring this monument up to a condition that it had when first unveiled would take a lot of work and money, an amount nobody would be prepared to pay.
Behind these three Partisans are five stars of varying sizes. They are cut into the panel (the images of the Partisans are in relief) and have been painted red. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to their arrangement and are presumably there to represent Communism but there actual arrangement means nothing more to me.
The centre of the panel is yet another conundrum. Originally here was a lot of text, in relief, on this part. It looks like it was painted out and then a separate plaque placed on top – possibly with the same text, possibly with something completely different. This must have existed for some time as that rectangle is black from the mould that was created in the moist atmosphere behind the plaque. Now the plaque has gone and it’s possible to see some letters that were covered as well as those outside the area but it’s very difficult to make out the sense of what is there. It will need a good Albanian speaker (which, unfortunately, I’m not) to spend some time to unravel this puzzle. It is obviously something important as this text is in the central position on the monument.
The right hand side of the panel has a number of very strange, unusual and confusing elements. Basically what we have is the figure of an officer, we get that impression by the very nature of his uniform. (The National Liberation Army had a ‘traditional’ officer structure but after the success of the Albanian revolution that hierarchical structure was abandoned and the focus became much more on a people based militia rather than one based on ranks and superiority.)
Seventh Assault Brigade Officer – Sqepur
But all the proportions are wrong. His head is far too big for his body. When I first saw this lapidar I thought the artists had created a cartoon figure rather than a serious representation of a Partisan fighter, prepared to give his life for the freedom of his country. Having looked at it a number of times I’m also reminded of Stan Laurel.
His stance is also unusual. As part of his officers uniform he has straps that criss-cross his chest and around his waist there are ammunition pouches attached to his belt. Here we have him with the thumb of his left hand tucked behind these pouches in a very nonchalant manner. His right arm is hanging down but it’s not possible to work out what he might have had in that hand as this is another area where decay has had an impact on the image. There’s also some damage to the shin of his right leg. And the look on his face is a little bit weird. All in all not what you expect from an officer when there’s a battle raging close by.
It also looks as if the original design included a star which was to be behind this officer. The top point is above the rectangle of the panel, to the left of this officers head, but then the rest of the star just seems to disappear. It might be wear and tear but I can’t really work out why this star was placed where it was. It just doesn’t make much sense.
Apart from the neglect that the lapidar has undergone the whole area surrounding it is uncared for and dirty. The grass hasn’t been cut for years and the general area has an accumulation of rubbish and the ubiquitous flimsy plastic bags abound. The only living creature happy there (apart from me) on my visit was the stray dog taking shelter from the sun.
There is no known further information about the date of inauguration or the name of the artist.
At a bend in the road, at the top of a rise just after passing the village of Sqepur when travelling from Fier.
29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania
For such a small country, in terms of geographic size and population – yet big in the sense of having taken on the challenge of the building of revolutionary socialism – Albania has two days on which it celebrates its independence. The first was from the Ottoman Empire on 28th November 1912 but by far the most important and significant is that of the 29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania.
However, in the last 24 years the Albanian people have allowed that independence to slip through their fingers and now they are even further from real freedom than they were at the beginning of the 20th century. With an economy that is skewed entirely to imports and with little to sell to the outside world (and consequently a huge national debt – which was non-existent under socialism), dependent upon cash transfers from Albanians working and living abroad (a not insignificant amount of that through the money laundering activities of gangsters) and with a military that’s a mere adjunct to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) there is little that Albania can do without the say so of more powerful countries or international organisations.
This is the reverse of the situation that existed in Tirana 70 years ago today. Under the leadership of the Albanian Communist Party the National Liberation Army had freed the country from first Italian and then German Nazi Fascism – one of the few countries in Europe to rid themselves of the scourge of fascism by their own efforts. The units that marched in celebration through the streets of Tirana at the end of November were composed entirely of local fighters, not as in Paris and other European capitals by foreign, invading troops (be they British, American or even Soviet).
Immediately after the leader of the Albanian Communist Party (later to be renamed the Party of Labour of Albania), Enver Hoxha had proclaimed that Albania was to be a People’s Republic the land was taken from the feudal and absentee landlords and distributed to those who worked it, collective and state farms being established before the end of 1944. The huge mineral resources of the small country were declared property of the people as were the factories that would have to be rebuilt quickly in order to attempt the construction of socialism.
The Constitution of the country guaranteed all citizens employment, housing, education, health, social security and pensions, cultural and sporting activities. In return the people were expected to abide by the socialist principle of ‘s/he who does not work shall not eat’ and to work collectively for the benefit of all of society. Given that the country had been devastated by the 5 years of anti-Fascist struggle such promises involved hardships, especially in the early years.
But these aspirations were too much for the capitalist and imperialist powers (in Albania’s case especially Britain and the USA) and the first ten years after liberation saw countless attempts by these powers to destabilise the country, ferment discontent and initiate armed counter-revolution, all such attempts being crushed by the security forces following the vigilance of the people.
Apart from having to deal with capitalist opposition (which was not surprising and, indeed, should be expected by any country attempting to construct socialism) Albania had to deal with the treachery and vindictiveness of erstwhile friends and allies. First Yugoslavia under Tito attempted to suck small, independent Albania into the Yugoslav Federation. Then the Soviet Union (in 1961) under the control of the Khrushchevite Revisionists (after the death of Stalin) first used intimidation and then, with no notice at all, withdrew all technicians and specialists who had been helping Albania in its industrial development. These bullying tactics were again used in 1977 by the ‘capitalist roaders’ of China who had taken control of the country after the death of Chairman Mao.
Projects were left half completed and the Soviet and Chinese specialists were ordered to even take the plans and blueprints so the Albanian engineers and technicians had to work that much harder, in isolation from the outside world, in order to complete the major construction undertakings upon which the advancement of the country depended. In the face of such obstacles the men and women of Albania showed themselves more than up to the task.
Faced with such difficulties it’s amazing that tiny Albania was able to hold out so long against all their enemies, both within and without. The counter-revolution was able to succeed in 1990 but that still meant that the population of less than 7 millions workers and peasants were able to maintain their independence and attempt to build a socialist society for almost 46 years – seven years more than the Soviet Union (which constituted one sixth of the Earth’s land mass) and eighteen years more than China (which had a quarter of the world’s population).
The so-called ‘democrats’ that have been in power since 1990 have succeeded in dismantling virtually all the achievements of those 46 years. Land has reverted into private ownership of the big landlords, industry hasn’t been privatised as it was actually looted and destroyed (surely nothing but a fascist tactic and something which needs further study and analysis) and social provision in terms of education, health and welfare has all but disappeared.
Successive governments have tried to take away the importance of the 29th November by laying a greater emphasis on the 28th November which celebrates the independence of 1912. This reached its apotheosis in 2012 with the return of the remains of Zogu (a self-proclaimed king and fascist collaborator) and his installation in a tomb in a military barracks on the eastern outskirts of Tirana and the installation of a brand new statue of the said despot near the (now demolished) Tirana railway station.
However, in the major towns those who remembered and understood what true liberation is all about would congregate, on the 29th , at the war memorials to the Partisan dead and fly the red flags of revolution in memory of those who fought for true liberation, a liberation from oppression and exploitation. In the past, on such occasions, school children would be present to place flowers on ALL the graves, even of those who might no longer have any living relatives. In this way the younger generation was taught about the sacrifices of the past, something which is being lost in the present.
At present the country has a social democratic government and in early November 2014 Mother Albania, the huge statue that is the centre-piece of the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana, was having a clean-up before the major ceremonies of the last couple of days. This might have prompted a return to the idea for the Albanian people that the 29th November 1944 was the date of true independence for Albania.