To date the majority of the lapidars that have appeared in this blog have been those which have had an artistic or architectural ‘merit’, that is they have been designed by those who have had training in their art and wanted to express meaning via the structure itself rather than have the reason for the monument written on an attached plaque.
This means that probably more than two thirds of all the lapidars in the country were structures that could have been created by competent bricklayers and others in the building trade. But even in that style they would range from something akin (and the same size as) to a trig point on a mountain to something that comprised of a short wall to the side of which there would rise a pillar, or two. On the pillar would be attached a red star and to the wall a plaque with the names, dates and occasion the lapidar had been constructed at that particular place.
It was towards the latter part of the 1960s that sculptors, artists and architects started to really get involved in the construction of the lapidars. This was the occasion of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and this lasted from, roughly, 1966 to 1986. At some time in the future I’ll try to put together a chronological table of the artistic lapidars to illustrate how they developed in both scale and complexity.
That doesn’t mean to say there weren’t public works of art, over and above the simple lapidars, before the 1960s. Andrea Mano’s Monument to the Partisan in Tirana was inaugurated in 1949. Odhise Paskali’s Shoket – Comrades was installed in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery in 1964. But both these sculptors were from the pre-liberation, pre-revolutionary era. Their approach was traditional, especially that of Paskali’s creation in Përmet which is very reminiscent of countless images of the deposition of the Christ from the cross to be seen in innumerable art galleries and Catholic churches throughout Europe.
It was only when the sculptors and artists, who had been trained by the likes of Mano and Paskali, reached their maturity as artists, together with the campaign of the Cultural Revolution (which was in essence a campaign to change the mentality of the Albanian workers and peasants) did a uniqueness, an innovativeness, appear in the public monuments that were created throughout the country. This was a twenty year period when sculptors such as Muntaz Dhrami, Hector Dule, Shaban Hadëri, Kristaq Rama and many others created their finest work.
BUT we should not forget the less ‘impressive’ structures that were in virtually every town and village (as well as in isolated locations in the countryside and mountains) in Albania as these were all monuments to the memory of those men and women who had fought against the fascist invaders from Italy and Germany and whose sacrifice made the Liberation of the county on 29th November 1944 at all possible.
On the other hand to talk about all of them would serve no purpose and would be very repetitive. Tragically, many of them have been either damaged by outright political vandalism or have just been allowed to lose the battle against the elements. For those interested in a particular lapidar or area of the country one or two images of all those listed in the Albanian Lapidar Survey can be seen in Volumes 2 and 3 produced at the conclusion of the project.
However, in order to give an idea of these simpler lapidars what follows is a description of those that still exist in Tirana. The fate, condition and respect given to these monuments in the capital is indicative of that in the rest of the country.
Perhaps one thing to stress here is that of the creators of these more ‘humble’ lapidars there is no record of who designed, created or constructed them.
To the victims of Fascism – Tirana market
The first one on the list you won’t be able to see. It existed up until 2016 when a new and very un-Albanian market was created on the site. In place of incorporating the lapidar into the design of the new structures the local/national governments sanctioned the demolition of the monument.
Victims of Fascism – 01
You couldn’t say that the lapidar (and those whom it commemorated) was being treated with a great deal of respect, as it would have been in the days of Socialist Albania, but it was being ‘tolerated’. It consisted of a pillar (about 4 metres high), which was wider at the top that at the bottom and from the lower part of the pillar, at 90 degrees to each other, there extended two short, low walls (again about 4 metres long).
This monument was meant to be seen from the outside of the space created by the walls as it was upon this front there were attached two marble plaques into which had been carved – and then painted in gold the following;
Victims of Fascism – 03
Më 22 tetor 1942 u var në litar Shyqyri Ishmi
On October 22, 1942, Shyqyri Ishmi was hanged
Victims of Fascism – 02
Më 29 shkurt 1944 u var në litar Muhamet Gjollesha
On February 29, 1944, Muhamet Gjollesha was hanged
This indicates that the reason for the lapidar to these victims of the Nazis being in this location was because they would have been hung in public, as was the norm of first the Italian and then the German fascists in an (in the Albanian context, failed) effort to intimidate the local population. This would seem to indicate that this space (just off what is now called Avni Rustemi Square), therefore, had long been a public market.
This is not exactly the monument that was first constructed here.
Victims of Fascism – 06
Notice here that the wording on the face of the walls is different from the more modern picture. Although it’s difficult to say from such a poor reproduction (the only I’ve so far been able to acquire) the lettering could well have been made up of individual bronze letters, inset into the concrete. When chaos and anarchy replaced the stability of Socialism in the 1990s anything that wasn’t nailed down, and often that which was, would be stolen by someone desperate enough to gain a few lek.
However, someone at some time in the intervening years had paid for and had had installed two simpler plaques to commemorate the two young people who had died at the hands of the Fascists. It had also been painted white (whereas the original seems to have been just the bare concrete) and the indented star at the top of the pillar – on two sides – had been painted red (the southern facing side slightly more faded than its northerly companion). This indicates that there was some sort of respect for the past. What changed to allow it to be demolished I don’t know.
Victims of Fascism – 04
But in its latter days it provided an anchor point for an electricity cable and a bit of shadow for the goods in the summer. If, as is obviously the case with this one, a lapidar had survived the chaos of the 90s it was more than likely just accepted as part of the environment, few caring especially of its significance but at the same time not doing any conscious damage.
Victims of Fascism – 05
The authorities saw an end to that.ast
Fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers
The next lapidar is a very simple affair, being a tall, narrow, truncated pyramid which commemorates those from the neighbourhood who died in a confrontation with the Nazis at the beginning of 1944.
Fallen fighting the Nazis – 03
On one of its faces there’s a large marble plaque bearing the date and the names of those who died in the battle.
Fallen fighting the Nazis – 02
The wording is;
Në shënje kujtimi luftëtarëve që ranë nga plumbat e pushtuesve naziste me 28 shkurt 1944. Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci
In memory of the fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers on February 28, 1944.
Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci
This looks like the original plaque. Now the letters are filled in with gold paint (not done very professionally) which I don’t think would have been the case originally.
The colouring of the stone work is ‘interesting’. Originally it would have been just the plain, unadorned concrete – or perhaps painted white. The present colouring is to go with the building beside it. Monuments to those killed in the struggle for national liberation from the fascists are now become colour co-ordinated to fit in with the chosen colour scheme of the bar beside which it stands.
Fallen fighting the Nazis – 01
It will be interesting to see if, in the future, the new (or present) bar owner decides on a different colour scheme the change will be applied to the lapidar as well.
Place where Qemal Stafa was killed
Qemal Stafa was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party (later to be called the Party of Labour of Albania) on 8th November 1941 and was the head of its Youth Section until his death, in this location, on 5th May 1942. After Liberation that date was chosen as Martyrs’ Day, to commemorate all those who had fallen in the War for National Liberation against the Italian and German fascists.
Qemal Stafa 03
This is a simple structure, with slight embellishments. It consists of a low wall (about 4 metres long) and on the left hand side two rectangular columns rise up to about the same height, that is about 4 metres. These columns are on either side of the wall and the one at the back is slightly taller. On the face of the wall is a plaque with the words;
Këtu më 5 maj 1942 me lufte me fashiste ra Heroi i Popullit Qemal Stafa
Here on May 5, 1942, during the anti-fascist war, the People’s Hero Qemal Stafa fell
Qemal Stafa 02
This is not original as there are signs that there had been other attachments, possibly individual letters, carrying the same message. This plaque is well made and the lettering, which has been coloured in gold paint, is done professionally.
Another point to make is that the whole structure was made of concrete and then faced, on all sides, by white marble. Apart from a missing piece at the top of the front column the monument is generally intact.
I would have thought that in the original design there would have been a red star attached somehow at the top of the columns. There’s no indication of anything being attached to the faces so it might have been a stand alone, metal star attached to the very top.
There’s a little bit of graffiti to the left of the plaque but there are no signs of any substantial damage.
Although originally this would have been standing alone, with little close by. Now it’s right in the middle of a large street market.
However, dying as he did before Liberation Stafa doesn’t have the same enemies as those who survived to fight for the construction of Socialism. There are a number of locations, including the main sports stadium (which was demolished in 2016 and I don’t know if a new one that had been proposed was eventually built, where it might be if built and what it might now be called) and a high school on the Durrës Road in Tirana that bear his name.
I think this element of respect which he still has in Albanian society accounts for the fact that even though getting close no street trader has the nerve to use the space in front of the actual monument (which isn’t the case in other locations I’ve visited in the country), prime though it might be.
Monument to Mina Peze
‘Humble’ is not really an appropriate word to describe the lapidar to the honour of Mina Peza. Although not particularly large it’s different from virtually all other lapidars in the country. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about when it was created as that would say a lot.
Unlike the other lapidars in this post the one in the street that still bears her name has obviously been designed. There are four distinct, component parts.
First it sits on a small platform that’s three steps up from street level. This platform and steps are all faced with red (steps) and cream (platform) marble. There’s a bit of careless damage to one corner of the steps but that’s about all.
Then there’s a tall, rectangular column, perhaps three metres high. This is faced in white marble. This stands separate from the rest of the monument, a metre or so in front.
Then we have a huge piece of stone where the rough edges are clear to seen but the top has been levelled off to take the final part of the structure which is a curved piece of concrete that has been faced with white speckled, red marble. Towards the top left corner of this curved marble a white marble plaque takes the place of the red slabs, thereby maintaining a smooth surface.
On this plaque are the words;
Këtu në 17 shtator 1942 u vra ne krye të demostratës së grave nëna patriote Mine Peza
which translates as
Here on September 17, 1942, the patriotic mother Mine Peza was killed at the head of the women’s demonstration
The stand-alone column has indications of some small holes towards the top and this is where a star might have been placed. (As I’ve written elsewhere the stars were the first target of the reactionary, counter-revolutionary hoards when the breakdown of order in the 1990s provided them with the opportunity to carry out their vandalism.) Also someone has painted a red and black (anarchist) sash from just below the base, diagonally, to just below the top. This has now faded somewhat.
This wouldn’t look out of place in a minimalist art collection, very much out of character to all other Albanian lapidars. But who designed it or when is still a mystery. It all feels very locked in now, there being bars and fast food outlets very close (there are a lot of bars and fast food places in Tirana). I assume originally it would have stood on the corner of the street with very little close by and with a much greater opportunity to appreciate the design.
The story of the demonstration
In the summer of 1942 the National Liberation Movement had assumed broad proportions. The prisons were full of patriots. To ease the situation, the fascists exiled some of them to the desolate islands of Italy. In conformity with the instructions of the Albanian Communist Party the secret anti-fascist organizations of the prisoners which operated inside the prisons organized protests and resistance to the fascist measures. Protests were held in February 1942, in the prison of Elbasan, in May and August in the prison of Tirana, and later, in Vlora. The biggest demonstration was the one held by the prisoners of Tirana, which took place in the afternoon of the 17th of September, 1942, just one day after the opening of the National Liberation Conference at Peza. This demonstration was of particular importance because it was coordinated with a demonstration held by the anti-fascist women of Tirana, in support of their imprisoned sons and brothers.
The events took place as follows: the prisoners refused to give up their comrades who were to be deported. Fighting with the carabinieri broke out in the prison. The prefect of Tirana was called to the scene. Meanwhile, about 100 women began a demonstration outside, in front of the prison. The fascists were in a critical situation. The order was given to break up the demonstration of the women by force. From their fortified posts, the guards opened fire on the women. Several were wounded, while one of them, the Heroine of the People, Mine Peza, was mortally wounded. Her comrades lifted her and carried her through the city streets. Mine Peza died while the demonstration was still going on. The people have dedicated a song to the heroism of Mine Peza and her comrades: Down with the terror, oust the occupier, we Mothers can no longer bear it! Let us smash the cruel iron bars!
New Albania, No 5, 1977
On the corner of Rruga Mina Peze and Rruga e Bogdanëve.
National Anti-Fascist Liberation War Headquarters
This is a squat, square monolith about 2 metres high sitting on a platform, twice as wide as the monolith, which is four steps up from pavement level. Each corner is inset to break the monotony of the square and at each changing angle there is a strip decoration of light brown marble. At the base there is the effect of three thin layers, the middle inset from the other two, which replicates the decoration of the sides of the block. On the left side of the platform there is a thin border with small, low, circular laurel bushes. At each end of this border there’s a small, low level light to illuminate the area at night.
On the side facing the road there’s a white marble plaque with the words;
Këtu ka qenë baza më e rëndësishme e L.A.N.Ç. (Lufta Antifashiste Nacional Çlirimtare) me emrin Baraka e Nushajve nga këtu jepeshin orientime për luftën e qarkut të Tiranës dhe mbarë vendit
which translates as
Here was located the L.A.N.C’s (National Anti-Fascist Liberation War) most important base by the name of Baraka i Nushajve. From here were sent out orders for the Tirana district and the whole country
This plaque looks original and although there are some marks on the marble it is in a generally good condition.
This is a strange one in that although given its own space it is so hemmed in with the surrounding trees (much more substantial than when the lapidar was erected) it seems to be made invisible, especially in the day time when I’m sure that many people pass by without even knowing it’s there.
In Rruga Sami Freshëri, just a short distance on the Lana River side from the new police station.
Enver Hoxha – The need for a Cultural Revolution in Albania
The section below entitled ‘The further deepening of the ideological and cultural revolution’ comes from the Report of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania presented by Enver Hoxha at the Fifth Congress of the Party, held at the beginning of November 1966.
It’s presented here to remind people that the concept of an ‘ideological and cultural revolution’ had existed since (and even before) the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. The works of both VI Lenin and JV Stalin make reference to the need to change the way people think and act as an integral component in the construction of Socialism. The development of the economy to suit the needs of the vast majority of the population, the taking of the means of production by the people from private owners with the collectivisation (and nationalisation when collectives were further developed to the situation of State owned farms) of agriculture and the building of a modern industry would not automatically lead to Socialism. What needed to change were people’s ideas.
This was the role of the development of the Socialist Realist movement in the arts and was demonstrated in an Albanian context with the construction of the lapidars (which commemorated the past victories and sacrifices of the working people of the country against foreign invaders for national liberation as well as the achievements in the construction of Socialism).
Many people will be aware of The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (under the leadership of Chairman Mao) and the mass demonstrations and movements that took place in China from 1966 but that doesn’t mean to say the struggle didn’t exist in Albania. The same enemies, both internal and external, had to be confronted in both countries. Those countries, and parties worldwide, that aligned themselves with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – after the success of Revisionism following the death of Comrade Stalin in 1953 – had failed to initiate this ‘cultural revolution’ and therefore started to follow the capitalist road. They had failed to learn from what Lenin and Stalin had taught.
All Marxist-Leninists who are seeking to established a Socialist state (under the dictatorship of the proletariat) need to study the writings of all the great Marxist theoreticians to ensure that any gains they might make in the future don’t get squandered amongst the euphoria that accompanies the success of the revolution. Capitalism never will rest to regain what it might have lost.
THE FURTHER DEEPENING OF THE IDEOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL REVOLUTION
The further revolutionisation of life in our country is inconceivable without the further development and deepening of the ideological and cultural revolution. It is accomplished precisely on the basis of this revolution, the fundamental aim of which is to instil and ensure the complete triumph of the proletarian socialist ideology in the consciousness of all the working people, while thoroughly eradicating the bourgeois ideology, to ensure the all-round revolutionary, communist education and tempering of the new man – the decisive factor in solving all the big, complicated problems of the construction of socialism and the defence of the Homeland.
Throughout its whole existence, our Party has devoted special care and attention to the all-round revolutionary education of the communists and all the working people. Especially since the 4th Congress [Report delivered on 13th February 1961, Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 3, pp192-283] and on the basis of its directives, our Party has done more persistent work in this direction.
1 – THE STRUGGLE FOR THE TRIUMPH OF THE SOCIALIST IDEOLOGY IS A STRUGGLE FOR THE TRIUMPH OF SOCIALISM AND COMMUNISM
In our country the proletarian socialist ideology is the ideology in power which sets the general tone for all the life and activity of our working people. Despite the successes achieved, however, we are conscious that the struggle in this field is protracted and difficult. V.I. Lenin said;
‘Our task is to overcome all the resistance of the capitalists, not only their military and political resistance but also their ideological resistance, which is the strongest and most deeply entrenched.’VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 29.
The old idealist ideology of the exploiting society still has deep roots and exerts a powerful and continuous influence. When we speak of this influence, it is not just a matter of ‘a few remnants and alien manifestations that appear here and there’, as it is often wrongly described in our propaganda, but the influence of a whole alien ideology which is expressed in all sorts of alien concepts, customs and attitudes, which are retained for a long time as a heritage from the past, have social support in the former exploiting classes and their remnants, in the tendencies to petty-bourgeois spontaneity, and are nurtured in various forms by the capitalist and revisionist world which surrounds us.
As long as the complete victory of the socialist revolution in the field of ideology and culture has not been ensured, the achievements of the socialist revolution in the political and economic fields cannot be secure and guaranteed, either. Therefore, in the final analysis, the struggle on the ideological front for the complete defeat of bourgeois and revisionist ideology has to do with the question: will socialism and communism be built and the restoration of capitalism be avoided, or will the door be opened to the spread of bourgeois and revisionist ideology and the return to capitalism be permitted.
The ideological and cultural revolution is a part of the general class struggle to carry the socialist revolution through to the end in all fields. Contrary to the views of the modem revisionists, who have declared the class struggle in socialism outdated and a thing of the past, our Party holds that class struggle remains one of the main motive forces of society, even after the exploiting classes have been eliminated. This struggle includes all fields of life. It has its ebbs and flows and zigzags, sometimes it surges up, sometimes it falls back, sometimes becomes fierce, at other times more ‘mild’, but it never ceases and dies right away.
As the experience of our country shows, this struggle is an objective and inevitable phenomenon in socialism. It is waged against the remnants of the exploiting classes, overthrown and expropriated, but who continue to resist and exert pressure by every means, first and foremost, through their reactionary ideology, as well as against new bourgeois elements, degenerate revisionist and anti-Party elements, who inevitably emerge within our society. It is also waged against bourgeois and revisionist ideology which is retained and expressed in various forms and degrees of intensity, as well as against the external pressure of imperialism. Thus the internal and external fronts of class struggle are interconnected, now merging into one single front, now operating separately, but always linked by the same objective: to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat and restore capitalism.
Acceptance or non-acceptance of the class struggle in socialism is a question of principle, it is a line of demarcation between Marxist-Leninists and revisionists, between revolutionaries and betrayers of the revolution. Any deviation from the class struggle has fatal consequences for the future of socialism. Therefore, along with the struggle to increase production, to develop education and culture, along with the struggle against foreign enemies – the imperialists and revisionists, we must not neglect, must never overlook the class struggle within the country, for otherwise history will punish us severely.
The duty of the Party is not to shut its eyes to this necessity, not to benumb the revolutionary vigilance of the communists and masses, but to wage this class struggle vigorously and unwaveringly until final victory. The progress of our society and the revolutionary education of the working people are inconceivable and cannot be achieved outside the class struggle.
In practice we often come across a narrow concept on the class struggle and class enemy, which regards only the kulaks and other elements of the former exploiting classes, or the imperialists and Titoite and Khrushchevite revisionists abroad as class enemies, and only the struggle against their anti-socialist activities as class struggle. The struggle against these enemies remains, as always, a primary task for our Party, our state and our working people. But we should take a broader view of the class struggle. It is a many-sided struggle which is, first and foremost, an ideological struggle today, a struggle for the minds and hearts of people, a struggle against bourgeois and revisionist degeneration, against all alien remnants and phenomena which still exist and manifest themselves in various degrees among all our people – it is a struggle for the triumph of our communist ideology and morality.
The struggle against theft and misuse of socialist property, against parasitic and speculative tendencies to take as much as possible from society and to contribute to it as little as possible, against putting personal ease, the personal interest and glory above the general interest, against bureaucratic manifestations and distortions, religious ideology, prejudices, superstitions and backward customs, against underestimation of women and failure to respect their equal rights in society, against fashion and the bourgeois way of life, against idealism and metaphysics, against various ‘isms’ of the decadent bourgeois and revisionist art and culture, against the political and ideological influence of external enemies, etc., etc., all these things are parts of the class struggle.
Thus, the class struggle is not only directed against external and internal enemies, but is also waged within the ranks of the working people, against any alien manifestation observed in the consciousness, the thinking, the behaviour and the attitude of each individual. No one should think that he is proof against any evil and has nothing to fight against within himself. A stern struggle between socialist ideology and bourgeois ideology takes place in the consciousness of each person. Everybody ought to look at himself as though in a mirror and clean his consciousness every day, just as he washes his face every day, by taking a communist attitude towards himself.
Class struggle is reflected within the Party, too, because, on the one hand, people from different social strata come into the Party, bringing with them all kinds of alien remnants and manifestations, and on the other hand, the party members, like all the working people, encounter the pressure of the class enemy, especially of the enemy ideology, from inside and outside the country. Consequently, in the party ranks as well as in the ranks of the working people there may and do emerge people who degenerate and go over to alien anti-Party and anti-socialist positions. Moreover, in all their activities our enemies give particular importance to the degeneration of party members in order to bring about the degeneration of the Party as a whole, because only thus can the way be opened to the restoration of capitalism. It should be clear that without contradictions of various kinds and without a struggle to overcome them, the life and development of the Party would not be possible. This struggle should not he covered up under the pretext of preserving unity, but should be waged and carried through to the end, thus strengthening the true unity of the Party, its revolutionary spirit, its militancy and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It is a primary task of all the ideological work of the Party to form a correct concept about class struggle in our country in all the communists and working people, to educate them in the spirit of irreconcilable class struggle, to instil in them the method of class analysis which is the only method by which to know and correctly solve all the problems, to teach them not only to accept the need for class struggle in words, but to wage it in all fields of life every day. This is not something new. Our Party has always stressed the need to wage the class struggle and carry out class education and has done a great deal of work in this direction.
We must fight indifference and formalism in our political work for the education of the Party and the masses and always link it properly with the active class struggle. We must resolutely combat alien concepts and manifestations opposed to the line of the Party and the interests of people and socialism, combat the tendency to avoid calling things by their true names, but to soften them and smooth them over, concealing their class essence and their social danger.
These shortcomings in the work of party organizations account for the fact that some cadres and party members do not always give priority to the common interests represented by the party policy, but often look at things from the angle of personal, local or departmental interest, look at various problems with the eye of a technocrat and bureaucrat, with the eye of a narrow-minded specialist and neglect the political and ideological aspects. They do not understand that there is politics everywhere, in every work and sector, because there are no cadres or economic, administrative, cultural or military work divorced from politics or outside the policy of the dictatorship of the proletariat. All things are interconnected and interdependent and in this unity politics occupies the main place, and likewise all our cadres, in every sector where they work, should be, first and foremost, political people, should put the policy of the Party first and always guide themselves by it.
Our Party has always been characterized by its stern irreconcilability with the enemies of the people, socialism and Marxism-Leninism and its love for and boundless loyalty to the working people and their revolutionary cause, its wisdom and patience with all those who commit mistakes but can be corrected. Narrow, sectarian attitudes have always been alien to it. Therefore, the party organizations must resolutely combat any manifestation of sectarianism in their work because this damages the links of the Party with the masses, confuses the dividing line between us and our enemies and leads to the use of wrong methods in resolving contradictions among the people, which affect the working people themselves.
The ideological work of the Party must make the nature of the contradictions in socialist society thoroughly clear, as well as the ways to resolve them correctly … Any mixing up of the two kinds of contradictions leads to opportunist and sectarian errors.
It must always be borne in mind that the carriers and spreaders of the bourgeois ideology are not only elements from former exploiting classes but also our own people who are working for the cause of socialism. In these cases, while fighting mercilessly against the disease, the alien ideology, we must strive with all our might to cure the patient, the carrier of that ideology. Only in the case when the carrier and spreader of the alien ideology is or becomes our conscious enemy, only then is the contradiction handled and resolved as an antagonistic contradiction and the method of persuasion replaced by that of compulsion. The Party must do a great prophylactic, educational and political work, patiently and systematically, to prevent anyone from falling into grave blunders, going from blunders to culpable faults and then to anti-state and anti-socialist crimes subject to severe punishment by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Another very important direction of the ideological work of the Party is the inculcation of the new socialist attitude towards work, so that our people will work as revolutionaries and fight resolutely to put the revolutionary ideals into practice. Only in work and through work is the new man educated and tempered, because work is the greatest school of communist education.
In the atmosphere of great creative work full of selfless revolutionary enthusiasm, which is transforming nature and the consciousness of man, it becomes even more evident how alien and intolerable are the attitudes of those people who dodge work, who are afraid of difficulties and sacrifices, who do not want to disturb their personal ease and comfort, who try to occupy or hang on to some ‘soft spot’, who do their work carelessly and try to grab the maximum from society, who proceed in everything from their own personal interest and material benefit and, with a thousand pretexts and excuses, shirk the duty of working where the people and the country need them. All these are bourgeois attitudes.
The party organizations must carry on a resolute fight against such alien manifestations, incompatible with our communist morality. They must regard the struggle against such manifestations as an aspect of the class struggle, as a struggle against the seed of the bourgeois and revisionist degeneration of people. They must implant the revolutionary socialist concept and attitude towards work among all the working people of town and country, so that everybody regards work as a matter of honour and pride, as a lofty patriotic duty, without which life could not exist. Our people and, first and foremost, the cadres and party members must work with high consciousness and discipline, with military drive and tempo, boldly overcome every obstacle and difficulty, march steadily forward, place the interests of the people, the country and socialism above everything, spare nothing to promote these interests, and be ready even to lay down their lives for these interests. A modest son of our people, son of a family formerly oppressed and exploited by beys and landlords was Hekuran Zenuni, a soldier from the village of Tozhar in the Berat district. He made light of difficulties and sacrifices and went ahead to perform the duty with which he had been charged and, without hesitation, laid down his life in the flower of his youth, just as the 28,000 martyrs did to accomplish their tasks during the National Liberation War. Such are the new men which our Party has educated and tempered.
When we speak about the socialist attitude towards work, the correct understanding of physical work, work in production has first-rate importance. This is a great question of principle to which the organizations of the Party must give special attention in their educational work. The aristocratic concepts about work in production are completely alien to socialism and fraught with dangerous consequences. Any underestimation or deriding of physical work should be condemned as underestimation and deriding of the workers and peasants and the broad masses of the people – a thing that leads to isolation from the people and their work and life, and this isolation is the source of many evils. This should be taken into account especially by those engaged in mental work, the cadres, officials, the technical and artistic intelligentsia, the pupils and students. The overwhelming majority of them have been educated since the liberation of the country and have emerged from the ranks of the working masses, are closely linked with the people and the Party and have displayed and are demonstrating a high level of patriotic and socialist consciousness. Nevertheless, these features should not lead us to underestimate the danger of their becoming infected by bourgeois ideology and, especially, by revisionist views. This is not an imaginary danger, it has a real basis. It is connected with the very nature and conditions of the work and life of people engaged in mental work, and especially the creative, artistic and scientific intelligentsia, who are still very out of touch with physical work and, in many instances, with the working masses and their lives. Among the intelligentsia more favourable ground can be and is found for the spread of individualism and careerism, conceit and haughtiness, unjustified pretensions and an easy life, intellectualism and disdain for the masses.
Our people’s intelligentsia must link itself as closely as possible with the people, must work and live with the workers and peasants and blend themselves inseparably with them. They must reject the bourgeois idea inherited from the past which still has deep roots, that the intellectual knows everything and he alone is able to lead, to guide, to teach and instruct others – an idea which in fact expresses the negation of the role of the masses. It must be clear that the decisive role in all fields of life, including spiritual life, does not belong to particular individuals, no matter how outstanding they are, but to the broad masses of the people. Knowledge does not fall from heaven. All knowledge derives from life and practice and is a product of the struggle of the masses to transform nature and society. Therefore, the men of science, art and culture must listen with attention and deep respect to the opinions of the masses, sum up their experience, always be modest and humble pupils of the great and unmistakable teacher, the people, and make the judgement of the people the fundamental criterion in all their creative work. Some cadres in our scientific institutions are conceited and think that what they say is the last word of science, that any opinion opposed to theirs is worthless; incorrect, and must be rejected, No! Such concepts among the ranks of our scientists must be stigmatized. There is no advance in science or anywhere else without struggle, without clashes of opinions, without class struggle, without debate guided by the Marxist-Leninist principles, by the proletarian ideology, to discover the truth. The idea of the development and progress of science, and not personal glory, must guide each of our scientists in his own work.
The people of the intelligentsia must link their mental work as closely as possible with the physical work of workers and peasants and take part continually, in the proportions laid down, in work directly in production. This duty which has been put into practice widely for all the cadres, intelligentsia, pupils and students, has great theoretical and practical importance. It will help them to become better acquainted with life, to rid themselves of many alien remnants and manifestations and to temper themselves as genuine revolutionaries. This is an important step towards reducing the distinctions between mental and physical work, which, together with the reduction of distinctions between town and country and between the working class and the peasantry, constitutes a major problem which is closely linked with the prospects of our development towards communism. If we do not take measures now to narrow these differences and, willingly or not, allow them to deepen, then our country will not develop towards our final objective and these differences will also become the cause of many evils, of unfair relations between people of mental and physical work, between town and country and between the working class and the peasantry.
Our Party has big tasks to perform also in connection with the inculcation of correct concepts about life so that the moral figure of the communists and all the working people will be the same, not only at work and in society, but also in personal and family life. The cadres, the communists and every worker should live like revolutionaries, lead a modest life of real struggle, they should be the first in sacrifices and the last in pretensions. As the Open Letter reads:
‘… not empty idleness and concern only for oneself, but the ideal of socialism, the struggle to build our socialist Homeland and make it flower with our own hands, the joy of creative work for the good of the people and in their service and the continuous raising of the standard of living of the working masses must be the main objective of their life and struggle, their main preoccupation.’ Principal Documents of the Party of Labour of Albania, Volume 5, p. 38 (Albanian Edition).
The bourgeois and revisionist concept of life, putting money, pleasure, luxury, comfort, personal ease and well being above everything, is alien to our people. The consequences of such a concept have become catastrophic in the countries ruled by the revisionists. Political degeneration, moral corruption, running after money and material gain, selfishness and frenzied individualism, the bourgeois way of life and fashion, and hooliganism are what characterize the life of these countries today, a life which is almost indistinguishable from that of western capitalist countries.
Such alien views on life may and, in fact, do take root in some of our people who are exposed to the strong influence of bourgeois ideology and morality. The party organizations must always be vigilant and carry out a great educational work and struggle to create in the Party, in the collective, in the family and everywhere such an atmosphere as to stifle decadent concepts about the way and purpose of life, sternly condemning all liberal attitudes and laxity in this direction. Through its work the Party must inculcate, especially in the younger generation, our new revolutionary concept of life that is inspired by the lofty ideals of socialism and communism.
All the ideological work of the Party its propaganda and agitation, must be directed first and foremost at ideological and political education, the formation and tempering of people as genuine revolutionaries and communists so that they understand and put into practice the great slogan of the Party: ‘Think, work and live like revolutionaries’ – which constitutes the essence of communist education, the fundamental content of the educational work of the Party.
2 – WE MUST RADICALLY IMPROVE THE METHOD AND STYLE OF THE EDUCATIONAL WORK
Our great objectives in the realm of the cultural and ideological revolution for the education of communists and all the working people in a high revolutionary spirit can not be achieved without further improving the entire content of our educational work and especially the method and style of this work.
It must be said that up to now this work has suffered and is still suffering from dogmatism and stereotypeism, from being out of touch with life, from verbosity, unexplained formulas and a heavy, boring style. Our workers of Marxist social sciences and propaganda have been trying to present our experience in the known terms of theory, reducing it, in the best instances, to examples for illustration, and not enough work has been done to make theoretical generalizations from the Albanian practice, to raise the wealth of factual material that the life of our country during all these years has provided, to the level of science. Therefore, the Party must make every effort to combat this serious shortcoming, and to enliven creative thinking in the field of Marxist social sciences, in our propaganda, and in all our ideological and cultural work.
In addition there are some other weaknesses that have been noticed in the organization and conduct of political and cultural educational activities. In many cases the forms of educational work are standardized and rigid, without spirit or life, little effort is made to adapt them to new conditions and circumstances and frequently nothing is altered until instructions come from above. The fact is that the revolutionary spirit of the Party and masses has far outstripped the propaganda and agitation of the Party. Communists and non-party workers, co-operativists, youth and women are making thousands of innovations and rationalizations which revolutionize their minds and production. However, the same cannot be said about the party workers engaged in propaganda and agitation, or about the workers of the ideological and cultural front, who should advance not alongside, but in the vanguard of all the other working people, to light the way for them, to organize and mobilize them for great deeds. What is the reason for this? Is it that the comrades of the ideological front are incapable, have no ideas and opinions? No. They are some of the best comrades, with a high ideological and political level and tireless workers. The trouble is that they find it difficult to break away from the old stereotyped forms of work and are not closely linked with the work and struggle of the masses.
In the field of ideology and propaganda the Party must struggle also against another serious shortcoming which is seen especially in the daily life of party organizations, as well as of state and economic organs. Here I am referring to the manifestations of empiricism and narrow practicism, the separation of practice from theory, becoming totally immersed in the swirl of daily life, facts and events, the failure to draw general conclusions from the experience of the masses, and the underestimation of theory, which leads to the loss of perspective and deviation from principles. It is regrettable, but a fact, that there are communists in the ranks of the Party who toil day and night but never open a book, that some leading cadres who have neglected their studies, have lagged behind and cannot respond to the great tasks with which life faces them. Some believe that since they have graduated from the University or the Party School they know everything and have nothing more to learn. Others are content with little and think that the study of theory is not necessary for the work they do. All these views must be condemned and sternly combated. The cadres, the communists and all the working people must learn all the time, must learn from life and from school, from practice and theory, from work and from books. This is a never-ending, unlimited job.
The Party has taken and will take measures to improve the work in this field of such importance, combating both dogmatism and empiricism, both lifeless theorizing and narrow practicism. However, these measures will never be sufficient and complete unless the organizations and committees of the Party and the workers on the ideological front use their brains, think and create with initiative, unless they elaborate and enrich the directives of the Party and apply them in a revolutionary way in conformity with the tasks and circumstances. The work of the Party and its ideological work, in particular, is a living and profoundly creative work, which does not tolerate ready-made schemes and stereotypes. The enlivenment of this work is one of the most important tasks of the Party today.
The revolutionizing of all the ideological work, of its content and style, linking it closely with life, must assist, first of all, the more profound and conscious assimilation of Marxism-Leninism by the communists and all the working people of our country. Such an assimilation of Marxist-Leninist ideas and their transformation into a weapon for our working people in their daily struggle is the fundamental distinguishing feature that marks the process of the further deepening of our ideological and cultural revolution. The Marxist-Leninist ideas are the red flag of our Party, its invincible and triumphant banner. They are the foundation of the general line of our Party, they are our guide to action, they light the way for our ideological and cultural revolution, of which they are the basis. Therefore, they must become, and are becoming more and more each day, the property and weapon of the working people.
In this connection we must strengthen and radically improve the study of Marxist-Leninist theory in the Party School, in all categories of our schools and especially in the University and other higher institutes, with the aim that the younger generation and our cadres are formed and tempered as genuine revolutionaries, with broad political and theoretical horizons, closely linked with life and practice. Our schools must give the youth and the cadres profound Marxist-Leninist theoretical knowledge, and give it to them not in a dogmatic way, but creatively, not as an ornament, but as a compass to guide them correctly in life and as a weapon for the revolutionary transformation of the world. The works of the classics of Marxism-Leninism and especially the documents, materials and experience of our Party, which are Marxism-Leninism in action in today’s national and international conditions, must be the basis for the study of our triumphant doctrine. At the same time, we must intensify and improve the propagation of Marxist-Leninist ideas through the press and publications, by printing and publishing more articles, books and pamphlets, works of the classics of Marxism-Leninism, not only complete works but also selections on specific themes, dealing with particular problems on which the cadres and workers need direct help.
Our struggle for the assimilation of Marxist-Leninist ideas, for the deepening of the ideological and cultural revolution, cannot be waged successfully unless the whole Party, the communists and all working masses are drawn into it, unless the line of the masses, the line of thorough socialist democratization, is implemented boldly and in a revolutionary way here, as everywhere else. To put such a line into practice, a stern struggle must be waged against the reactionary bourgeois intellectualist concept that theory, philosophy, science and art are too difficult to be grasped by the masses, that they can be understood only by the cadres and intelligentsia, because the masses have not reached the level necessary to understand them! This means to make theory and science a bugbear for the masses. This means to make Marxism-Leninism a bugbear for the masses, too, because Marxism-Leninism is a theory and science. We must declare relentless war on this concept. Marxism-Leninism is not a monopoly of a privileged few who ‘have the brains to understand it’. It is the scientific ideology of the working class and the working masses, and only when its ideas are grasped by the broad working masses does it cease to be something abstract and is turned into a great material force for the revolutionary transformation of the world. The historic task of our Party is to continually deepen the ideological and cultural revolution and carry it through to the end by relying on the masses of workers, peasants, soldiers, cadres and the intelligentsia and drawing them actively into creative revolutionary activity.
Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
I’ve also seen a number of old pictures with various busts of Stalin in Tirana
Stalin bust – possibly Tirana 1990
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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
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
Of the other mosaics of interest one is on the side of the town hall building in Ura Vajgurore, not far from Berat,
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
and the magnificent panel beside the entrance to the historical museum in Ersekë.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.