A Reflection of the Progress of our Figurative Arts
This article first appeared in New Albania, No 6, 1976. The bi-annual Figurative Arts Competition and Exhibition seemed to have been postponed from 1975 and instead took place in 1976 to coincide with the 35th Anniversary of the Founding of the Party of Labour of Albania.
On this occasion the sculptor Muntaz Dhrami was invited to write the introduction.
Muntaz Dhrami (Merited Artist)
The Exhibition of Figurative Arts dedicated to the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Party of Labour of Albania has been opened in the halls of the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana. This is one of the biggest displays of our national arts. Over 445 works by 378 artists represent the highest ideo-aesthetic and professional levels in our painting, sculpture, graphics and applied arts. This is a beautiful collection of colours, form and line, which embodies the great ideas of our people’s revolution.
In these works our art-lover finds the important historical theme, especially, glorious pages from our National Liberation War, from the heroism of our fighters and workers, the portraits of heroes and of ordinary people, those who are changing the face of Albania today.
This land has a master – Sabaudin Xhafer
In the Exhibition the self-sacrificing toil at the work-sites of the construction of socialism, the beautiful landscapes of our transformed homeland, the figures of partisans, of the metallurgists smelting the first Albanian steel, are strikingly reflected. The life and work in our socialist countryside is beautifully and poetically portrayed in the Exhibition.
The works on display in this exhibition have all been produced within the past two years. Among them we find many powerful compositions with great emotional force, a wide range of individual talents, an artistic language which is simple and understandable to the people, and works with an innovatory flavour. They are far removed from any hint of cosmopolitanism or dictate imposed by other countries.
The metalurgist – Kristaq Rama and Hektor Dule
In the best works one can see the broad contact which the artist has had with the vivid life of the working people. They are the fruit of the great inspiration which has gripped every artist who has gone among the people and really got to know their heroic life at first hand.
A good part of the works have been subjected to open discussion with the ordinary people. The studios of our artists are always open to the public, and broad creative discussions are often conducted in them. Our art has a thoroughly democratic spirit, which stems from its proletarian partisanship. A number of artists have set up their studios for years on end at building sites. Others compose their works cheek by jowl with workers and cooperative members, where they open their own exhibitions with motifs from the work of workers and cooperative members. Later these works are brought to the Central Exhibition. Regional Exhibitions of Figurative Arts have been opened in all districts, like those of Shkodra, Vlora, Korça, Lushnja, Saranda, Gjirokastra, Burrel, Durres and so on, at which the broad masses of workers give their opinions on the works which will be exhibited at the Central Jubilee Exhibition.
The Party will be our Mother – Liliana Cefa
The art-loving masses who are concerned that our new art should flourish and progress, have become not only the inspiration of our artistic production but also the principal suppliers of new talents.
In addition to older artists, more and more young talents are militating in our ranks. Likewise more and more amateurs are working alongside our professional artists. Thus, in this Exhibition alone, over 130 young artists, among whom nearly 30 amateurs exhibited for the first time. Alongside the young artist who has graduated from the secondary school of art or from the Higher Institute of Arts, in this Exhibition we find works by the folk artist or the relief carved in stone by the 70-year old Highlander, Llesh Vorfi.
By following this course, our art has gained maturity and the warmth of our soil, the strength of youth which our socialist system imparts. Works of art, which have become close to the people and belong to the people, aid them in their day to day life.
Mio Sokoli – Sali Shijaku
Our art is forging ahead, full of vitality and originality; far removed from any formalist and modernist absurdity. It has become an integral part of the spiritual life of our working people, whose interest is continually mounting. Thus we artists are made more deeply aware of our responsibility as creators and our confidence to turn out better and more beautiful works, is increased.
The Exhibition of our Figurative Arts marks a new level in the upsurge and maturity of our arts, opening new opportunities for further progress.
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.
If victory was only temporary in 1920 (due to the betrayal by the despot and usurper ‘King’ Zog) the success in 1943 led to a situation where, really for the first time in Albania, the people had the opportunity to build a life and a country for themselves, by themselves. With the expulsion of the Nazis at the end of November 1944 the country gained true independence and it was then for the people to take their own destiny into their hands. No longer could they put the blame on others. The battles that took place in September and October 1943, and which are depicted on the Arch of Drashovice, played a major role in that final victory.
If the struggle, as depicted on the left hand side of the arch, against the Italians in 1920 seems to be crowded it is even more so on the right. There are parallels but also significant differences, many of those provided by the organisation of the National Liberation Army that was created under the leadership of the, then, Albanian Communist Party – later to become the Party of Labour of Albania.
This history unfolds in an anti-clockwise direction but, apart from that, follows the same format as already described of the 1920 events.
The panel under the arch has the same element of frantic activity. Here there are people who are not actively involved in fighting but are rushing to the front where others are already engaging the enemy. At the extreme left hand side are three male partisans. The one on the very edge we see his face side on, looking in the direction of the battle. He is wearing a cap and although we can’t see the star that would be on the front (this is the typical cap of a Partisan uniform). His left hand, which is resting on his chest, holds a rifle. Of a second male we only see part of his face as he is obscured by the raised arm and the body of the third who is looking behind him, mouth open and calling (and signalling) to those behind to get a move on. We know that the three of them are armed as there are three ends of the barrel visible above their heads.
The sense of movement, of urgency, is demonstrated here by the jacket of the male with the raised arm. It’s flowing back in his mad rush to get to the battle, this jacket thereby hiding the rest of the rifle of the partisan with the cap. But the out flung jacket exposed the butt of his rifle to view, the strap of it going over his right shoulder. On his belt an ammunition pouch can be seen. From his dress we can surmise that he is from the town as it’s not a partisan uniform but a civilian jacket, emphasising the nature of a partisan, a guerrilla war. Photos of the çeta (guerrilla units) of the time show a mix of dress.
Typical Partisan Group
One of the figures who is depicted in full size is the next in line. This is an older man than those seen so far, his dress is in the traditional style – woollen cap, sheep skin jacket, loose sleeved shirt, trousers and the opinga shoes but in the 20 years since the battle against the Italians, the fustanella (the skirt-like male attire) is less in evidence, but he is obviously from the countryside. The strap of his bolt-action rifle goes over his right shoulder and he holds the weapon in his right hand, at the top end of the stock. His left hand is bent back and rests against what could be a pouch at his waist. This is because he is also running. We can see that from his feet and his sheep skin jacket is also flying out behind him.
If everyone in this section of the tableau is rushing to the fighting they are being outstripped by the youngest individual on the whole monument. From his relative size to the others he is very young but also the most enthusiastic. He is literally flying, both his feet off the ground and he’s overtaking the rest and is closest to the commander calling the troops to arms. But this young lad is distinctive for other aspects.
He is the only one depicted in the 1943 battle who is bare-footed. As on the other side of the arch (and, indeed, on other lapidars) the footwear of the figures tells a story, of class background and wealth. In the 1920 battle the barefooted figure is the (possible) representation of Albania, pulling apart the Italian cannon with his bare hands. In 1920 he is an old man, here a young boy. Here we can interpret the image as a move of the struggle of the Albanians from that of national independence to that of constructing a completely new society, a society which can only be built, ultimately, with the active participation of the young. They can the more easy throw off old ideas and traditions with which older people are burdened. This is not a given as set-backs in Socialist societies in the 20th century showed, but the young have the potential to take society to a higher level – the problem is to encourage them to do so and not fall into the lethargy and cowardice that besets the old.
His dress is that of a young town worker and the star etched on the butt of his rifle, in a sense, mirrors and complements the clasp on the chest of the older man in the 1920 tableau. In 1920 the aim was national independence and so the double-headed eagle was more evident, in 1943 the aim was the socialist revolution, the end of exploitation and oppression, therefore the star takes a dominant role.
He shares another similarity to the cannon destroyer. Whereas in 1920 it’s the symbol of the Italian monarchy that is being crushed under the bare foot in 1943 it is the symbol of German Nazism that is about to feel the full weight of the new socialist society, both symbols ignominiously broken and lying on the ground, in the dirt. This brings to mind the image of how the captured German standards were thrown at the feet of the Soviet leadership, in the dirt of Red Square in Moscow, on May 9th 1945 (and how they used to be displayed in the Museum to the Revolution in Moscow until that museum became a sham by the end of the 1990s).
Nazi standards dumped in Red Square
Perhaps it’s worthwhile here making a comment about the youth of those who fought in the war against Fascism in Albania. Looking through the (at least five) volumes of ‘Flasin Heronj të Luftës Nacional-Çlirimtare’ (The Heroes of the National Liberation War Speak) you soon realise that many of those who fought, and died, in the struggle against fascism were very young. This was the case with Persefoni and Bule (who were hanged in Gjirokaster) as well as young Liri Gelo – who was murdered by the Nazis in Fier. So by placing a young person in such a prominent, and symbolic, place in this tableau Dhrami is making a statement of the crucial role played by young people in the past to defeat the invader and attain independence for the country.
The manner in which he carries his rifle is also interesting. He’s clutching it close to his body, he doesn’t give the impression he knows exactly what to do with it. The rope strap that the others rushing to the battle use to carry the gun on their backs is here just flapping as he runs. He may have just picked this gun up from a fallen comrade but you get the idea that if anyone wants to take it off him they are in for a huge fight. And the carving of the star into the wood of the butt is the first I’ve noticed (so far) on the Albanian monuments. The star on the caps is common, on the weapons not so much, but this follows a tradition in the Balkans going back into the 19th century and which we can see on the bronze statue at Drashovice, with the double-headed eagle carved into the butt of the kneeling, 1920, fighter.
Between the peasant fighter and the youth there are the heads of three other fighters, two male and one female. We can only see the heads and sometimes the shoulders but, as is usually the case, they are telling us a story. They are all looking in the direction of the battle – there’s only need for one or two to be looking behind, normally calling on others to join the battle, and they are all armed.
The male closest to the back is in profile and only part of his face is in sight. On his head is a cap with the star, not the first so far but one of the many that are depicted here. This is not just any partisan unit, this is an almost exclusively Communist band of guerrilla fighters, the Communist symbolism in many parts. His rifle barrel sticks up just in front of his face.
The comrade in front of him wears no insignia and is bare-headed but the top of the barrel of his rifle is at the level of his should. The third of this little group is an older woman, dressed in the traditional headgear of the kapica – seen on the other side of the arch. To some extent the traditional clothing of the countryside persisted more with the women than the men – such dress to be seen to this day in certain parts of the country, not a particularly progressive indication of the role of women in 21st century Albanian society.
All of this forward group have determination etched on their faces and are armed with modern weapons. That’s an important difference from those going to war in 1920 when anything that could hurt someone was grabbed as they left for the front. In 1943 the partisans are seen well organised, well equipped, even though much of their armaments would have come from the defeated enemy (as well as some arms drops by the British). Also different from the other side is the fact that the woman is going to war, on a par with her male comrades, and is equally armed and ready for action as her hand holding her rifle appears (slightly disembodied) in front of her, over the left shoulder of the bare-footed youth.
Immediately above the older woman is the only Albanian figure on this side of the monument who isn’t armed. Instead he is playing an important role of blowing the bugle to announce the charge to make sure the advance of the Nazi front-line is maintained and victory assured. With the noise of battle, which would have been greater than the previous one of 1920, so more noise was needed to call for reserves. The red star is clearly seen on his cap and it looks like he’s wearing a bandana around his neck.
Finally on this part of the 1943 tableau, before moving on to the main facade, there are two young partisans, one male and one female. They are both in uniform, although we only see the head and shoulders of both. Their caps sport the red star and both of them are armed. The female partisan has her long hair blowing in the wind and the fact that she’s in uniform shows the advance in the active participation of Albanian women in the struggles to free their country. As I’ve said before about 16% of the partisan force were female and although still less than it could be it’s still much higher than the level in most capitalist/imperialist countries whose armed forces are engaged in combat – excepting, perhaps the present day fascist Israeli Defence Force, although they only operate in an army that uses overwhelming technological advantage against civilians, so significantly different from the female Partisans in Albania.
As with the depiction of the 1920 battle here Dhrami manages to use one of his participants to take the action from the smaller panel to the large one, where all the action is going on. Here it’s a full figure of a Partisan commander. He has his rifle raised high above his head in his right hand, showing to those running where they must head, his left hand resting on his thigh. Once they reach him they will be directed to where to go as from then on they are in the thick of the battle.
He is shown as an older man (there are other older fighters but the majority are shown as young) with a moustache (facial hair had become less of a fashion by the time of the National Liberation War). He has the star on his cap and he is in the full uniform of a partisan with his jacket open at the neck – a more informal look not normally associated with officers. (Although guerrilla and partisan armies have a structure it has to, of necessity, have less of a hierarchical nature than the class ridden armies of capitalist nations.) Around his waist he has ammunition pouches and attached over his right hip is an English Mills bomb (grenade). The young running boy has just reached him.
His stance is interesting as he straddles the fascist, swastika bearing, banner that lies in the dirt. His left foot is placed on a broken wheel and between his legs can be seen the broken pieces of wood of a barbed wire barricade. The standard is no longer flying as the Partisans have breached the Nazi defence. This is a mirror of the situation on the other side. The broken wheel symbolising the destruction of the enemy’s technology, and theoretical military superiority. It is into this breach in the barbed wire defences that the advancing forces are to enter to completely annihilate the enemy.
Drashovice Arch – Nazi standard in the dirt
Going now up on the left hand side we have a another full figure of an officer. The structure of Communist armies was (both prior to and after gaining state control) that the leadership was shared between a top military and political official – the latter being known as the Commissar from the Soviet experience and language. All decisions on a battlefield have a political consequence and the weighing up of the consequences in conflict have been one of the factors that led to partisan success in the past. This avoids purely military criteria being used when a decision is made to confront the enemy. For example, an easy victory might be avoided as a much more, but in the longer term more strategically important and significant, difficult confrontation would advance the cause greater. The aim is to win the war, not necessarily every possible battle.
The Commissar was also responsible for the political education of the forces when not in battle, the combatants being clear of the reasons they were fighting as important as the technical skills needed by a soldier.
My suggestion is that this other officer, a young man, could well be the Commissar. He is directing the battle in a way the other officer is not. In his right hand he holds a Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (the same sort of weapon as the bronze 1943 partisan statue is holding) the magazine resting on his right thigh. However, his left arm is outstretched and pointing in the direction of the confrontation with the fascists, directing the small group behind him to where they are needed.
He’s in full uniform, cap with a star and a bandana around his neck. Apart from his sub machine-gun he wears a pistol in a holster on his left hip. His stance also makes the statement that he is in the mountains, one foot being higher than the other, as you would be if on the hills. He also straddles symbols of defeat for the Nazis. Beneath him there’s the broken wood and short, ineffectual strands of barbed wire, a standard German metal helmet, with the eagle and swastika of the Waffren SS, at the toe of his right boot. Amongst all this detritus is a tubular metal gas mask tin, used by soldiers to carry anything other than a gas mask but a common part of a German soldier’s military equipment (there’s one on the back a fighting soldier below). Here we get the idea of death without the scene being littered with dead bodies. Vital equipment being abandoned indicates defeat.
Behind his right shoulder are a group of three males. The one closest to him is wearing a heavy overcoat and a thick jumper. (Although some in this tableau are depicted as if they were enjoying a hot summer a great deal of the fighting took place in the high mountains in the winter (as seen on many paintings) and it can get cold up there.) He wears a cap with the star on the front and has a rifle slung over his right shoulder and is looking in the direction of where the officer is pointing.
Behind him is an older man, dressed in traditional clothing and with a moustache (more typical of the countryside in this period than the town) who is looking in the direction of the battle. He is holding the top of the barrel of his rifle, which is seen on the edge of this panel.
The third of the group is again a younger male with a rifle slung over his right shoulder. He also has a star on his cap, but this is not the same as the majority on this tableau. His head covering is more like the traditional, woollen conical hats we have already seen but together with the star there’s what seems to be a double-headed eagle, a variation of which became part of the national flag after national liberation. I’ve only just noticed this slight variation and have yet to discover the significance, if any, of the difference. The presence of the star indicates that the wearer was a Communist and not just a nationalist fighter. His stance is also slightly different. He seems to be looking at the viewer and has his right arm bent and the clenched fist close to the side of his head. We can tell how tight he is clenching his fist by the veins sticking out at his wrist.
It would be useful if the revolutionary left could decide on a universal salute. There seems to be two. I don’t know why nor do I know how they developed. One is the right arm salute seen here – and also on the lapidar in the Martyrs’ Cemetery of Erseke. The other is the straight armed, clenched fist, stretching up high salute as can be seen given by the Partisan in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Korça (and which is also seen on this arch at the very top).
Further up on the left hand side and behind this group of three is an older man, moustached, who must be the Partisan artillery commander. He is in full uniform and a Communist, the standard star on his cap. Criss-crossed over his chest are a couple of ammunition belts and although he is the middle of the task of working out the range for the artillery he still has hold of his rifle by the barrel in his left hand. In his right hand he holds a stubby gun sighting telescope to his right eye. It’s difficult to make out exactly what type but it is similar to a number made by the British at the time. They tended to be shorter than anything that might have been captured from the Italian or German Fascists. Just to his right and little above him are two artillery pieces.
The role of artillery commander at the battle of Drashovice was held by Hysni Kapo, who later went on to become a member of the Politburo of the Party of Labour of Albania and a close comrade in arms to the Party’s General Secretary, Enver Hoxha. However, this is not an image of Kapo, he was a much younger man at the time.
Hysni Kapo was born in Tërbaç, a village that is further up the Shushicë River valley, (where there’s an interesting mosaic dedicated to the 5th Brigade as well as the Martyrs’ Cemetery on the outskirts of the village) so he was very much fighting on home ground. He was wounded in the leg during the fighting. The valley at Drashovice is not particularly wide and control of the mountains on either side would have given that force a decided advantage, both in terms of visibility as well as being able to do significant damage with the artillery. The mountain guns shown on the arch were effective weapons and the partisans developed the ability to move them around to great effect. It was this type of short-barreled mountain gun that was used on 18th October of the same year to shell the Quisling Assembly from the hills above Sauk, just outside of Tirana.
Behind the artillery commander’s left shoulder is another group of three partisans, slanting down from left to right. Almost obscured by the commander’s head is the face of a very young male, about the age of the boy running with the rifle below. Next is an older male partisan, the normal star on his cap and we can see the top of the barrel of his rifle sticking up in front of him.
The last of the group is a young female fighter. She wears a cap with the star and her long hair falling down over her shoulders. What we see of her dress it is more the tradition wear of women of the countryside. However, she has a modern cap rather than the kapica headdress. I would have thought such flowing dresses were not the most appropriate of attire to go fighting fascists but perhaps Dhrami’s idea here was to show a process of transition, from the way women were seen generally in the country and how they were starting to take matters into their own hands. She has webbing across body and in her right hand holds a rifle close to her chest. There are few occasions when women depicted on Albanian lapidars are not armed and dangerous.
Above this group, and at the topmost part of the 1943 arch are two, from the waist-up, images of a male and female partisan. This is Victory. This is a celebration. But it also shows preparedness for the future.
The male is virtually in the centre of the panel. He’s dressed in the full partisan uniform, webbing across his chest and although his face is in profile we can clearly see the star on his cap. Both his arms are fully extended and the form the victory symbol ‘V’. In his right hand he holds his Beretta Model 38 Sub-machine gun (it seems a lot of these were liberated from the Italian invaders). The fist in his left hand is clenched, in the revolutionary salute. As his arms are raised this allows the wind to blow out his loose jacket which flows out to his right, just as the partisan flag below him.
Whereas the man is demonstrative in victory the woman is pensive, looking to her left. She wears the traditional style of clothing of the countryside, the long flowing dress, including the kapica. Over that dress she has webbing which includes an ammunition belt that crosses left to right over her chest. Her rifle she holds in both hands, hugging it to her. Her left hand is holding it by the stock whilst the forefinger of her right hand – and here it’s something different and unique in the depiction of a weapon that is not being fired at the time – is on the trigger. The battle might be over, the war is yet to be won!
The positioning is also important and relevant to the general ideas that were developed during Albania’s Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s onwards. It was a stated aim, from the very beginning, that emphasis should be made on the role of women both in the National Liberation War and in the building of a new society. Here we have both a male and female partisan at the very top of the monument and at the moment of victory. They are physically at EXACTLY the same level depicting equality in a formal manner.
Drashovice Arch – Victory
Now whether there was full ‘equality’ is another matter. And anyway, the issue of ‘equality’ in a socialist society has to take into account many factors that aren’t even recognised as existing in capitalist societies. In a patriarchal society, such as Albania was before the revolution, this elevating of the role of women in past and present struggles was part of the campaign to turn what was a formal equality into actual reality. Although the female partisan is shown as vigilant her daughters and grand-daughters weren’t as concerned (for reasons which are far too complex and numerous to go into here) as she was to maintain, and develop, the status of women in their country. Old attitudes, which were never totally defeated (merely pushed underground waiting to sprout once the opportunity arose) are returning and although some women might be able to ‘advance’ in Albania the position of women in general will not be anything like was attained during the Socialist period from 1944 to 1990.
On the arch the battle against the Nazis continues as we come down on the right hand side of the main panel.
At the female partisan’s left elbow we see the heads of two male fighters. Well only the woollen hat of one of them and head, in profile, on the other. Again the star just peaks out in outline as the two of them use their machine guns against the enemy. One of the tripods appears to be balanced on the top of the flag that flutters in the mountain breeze just below the victorious couple.
The banner, with the star midway between the two heads of the double-headed eagle flutters back, from right to left, as the standard-bearer runs forward, holding the flag pole with both hands behind him, the right higher on the pole than the left. This fluttering is similar to that of the jacket on the victorious male above. Involved in other work the flag carrier is not shown as armed but with his bandana and the star on his cap he has the task of rallying the troops and reminding them for what they are fighting.
Now back to the Commissar, but this time on his left hand side, we see the faces of three partisans. These are part of the group that will go off in the direction he is indicating. We only see the heads of the first two closest to the Commissar. The first, with a moustache, looks straight out at the viewer whilst the other is in profile. It’s impossible to tell how they are armed as the scene is so crowded.
The third, a young woman is also in profile but we see much more of her. She is in full uniform and her hair is seen falling down over her neck underneath her cap. This depiction of young women with their hair flowing free is very common in Dhrami’s work. Traditionally the women had their hair covered, with the kapica, which would be part of the Moslem tradition but this style of dress seems to have encompassed the other two principal religious sects in the country (then and now) Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians.
This freedom of young women to display their hair is an indication and declaration of modernity. It’s turning it’s back on feudal traditions, on the past and on the obligation that women had to comply with the norm, with the accepted styles. Each time I return to Albania I am more aware of the number of women wearing hair coverings, not just Moslem women. It is said that many of these women do so out of ‘choice’ but it is possible to imprison oneself as well as being imprisoned by force. Examples in other countries that had the modernity bombed out of them by the combined enlightenment of the imperialist ‘alliance against terror’ shows that, perhaps sometimes, choice is limited to doing one thing – or else.
Back to the young female partisan. She has a rifle close to her in her left hand and her right seems to be looking for, or perhaps she is holding something, around her waist. There are ammunition pouches attached to her belt and at times I think I see the outline of a pistol – but that’s not particularly clear and wouldn’t seem to make sense.
And, it will come as no surprise, the Communist star is on all their caps. Even though I keep repeating it the implications are important. In 1920 it was a nationalist victory over the Italian Army of Victor Emmanuel. There were more than likely some Communists involved, after all this was only three years after the October Revolution in Russia, revolutions had taken place (and failed) in Germany and Hungary and the ideas of socialism were widespread throughout Europe following the slaughter of the 1914-18 War. But it was a nationalist victory that, because the ideology with a long-term strategy wasn’t dominant, collapsed first into local monarcho-fascism and later occupation by the Italian forces of Mussolini.
Drashovice in 1943 was different. An organised Communist Party had been able to unite various forces in a National Liberation War against any invader. By the autumn of 1943 the Italian’s had been defeated. In just over a year the German Nazis would be defeated. Small Albania would then have to face the ire of the British, later the Yugoslavs and then, in too rapid succession, the abandonment by the Soviet Union and then the People’s Republic of China. That had all happened before the construction of the Drashovice Arch when the People’s Republic of Albania had isolation forced upon them (rather than descending into xenophobia as it is often described).
The second battle of Drashovice was a Communist victory and the images cry that out from the roof-tops. Virtually every individual Albanian depicted has at least one indication of their political allegiance, whether it be the star, a bandana or otherwise outward sign such as a carving on the stock of a rifle.
Up to now what has been described has been those forces heading towards the action. The next part is in the thick of the battle. From now on everyone is fighting for his or her life.
The young male at the end of the Commissar’s finger is not in uniform, nor wearing a cap, but the webbing, on which spare ammunition is attached, shows some element of organisation. But the extra ammunition is of no use. For whatever reason, perhaps it jammed, perhaps he didn’t have the chance to re-load, he is using his rifle as a club. He holds the barrel close to the end with his right hand and his left is just above the bolt. He is using all his strength to put as much force down on a fallen Nazi. As in the 1920 tableau, if you don’t have what you would like use what you have.
This is an old rifle, possibly from the time of the earlier conflict, you can tell that from the shape of the butt. The age would suggest a malfunction but if he has taken the weapon from the past he’s also taken a local, Balkan tradition with him into battle. Carved into the wood of the butt that’s about to crush the enemy is a star below which are the letters ‘VFLP’. This stands for: Vdekje Fashizmit – Liri Popullit! (Death to Fascism – Freedom to the People!) which appears on a number of lapidars, such as the Monument to Heroic Peze as well as in many paintings.
We can’t see the person he is about to attack but just inside his left leg is a German helmet on the side of which is the Nazi SS symbol. Alongside the helmet s the tip of a bayonet, indicating that we are back to the same sort of hand to hand fighting as was seen on the other side of the arch. Here we have the anti-fascist slogan crashing down on Fascism itself.
Drashovice Arch – VFLP v SS
There aren’t many images of the Nazi dead on the monument (that would take up too much space) but what Dhrami has done to indicate fatalities is to show a number of helmets, together with weapons in a non-firing orientation. A small group of helmets can be seen to the young partisan’s left, together with the tops of a couple of rifles and a bayonet, no longer a threat. On one of these helmets is the eagle and swastika symbol of the Waffren-SS, the principal regiment fighting in Albania (and another reason why the German War Memorial in Tirana Park is an insult to all those who fought and died in the National Liberation War).
But this fighter hasn’t finished yet. His left foot is stamping down on a Mauser MG34, heavy machine gun, rendering it useless any more in the battle.
From the level of his rifle butt there’s a group of four Partisans, going down from right to left. First is a male, we only see part of his face in profile but he has a bolt-action rifle up to his shoulder and his finger on the trigger. Next to him is a young female partisan. She seems to be standing up higher than the others in her group, and we see slightly more than a head and shoulders view. She is in uniform and has an ammunition belt across her chest, going from right to left. The reason she’s making herself taller is that she is about to throw a hand grenade down onto the enemy below and she’s looking down on to the group of Nazis in the bottom right hand corner of the panel. This grenade is the Model 24 Stielhandgranate (translation: ‘stalk hand grenade’), the stick grenade which was the standard used by the Germans during the war. As opposed to the Mills bombs that would have come from the British this would have been taken off previously defeated Fascist forces and she is returning it, with interest.
Below her is the face in profile of another male. He is armed but this time with a pistol. It’s difficult to make out exactly what type, but it looks like a revolver – there’s signs of wear on this part of the statue. This is a little bit unusual but it seems that Dhrami is introducing all the types of weapons used at the time. Next to him is the fourth of this particular group, an older male, wearing the woollen cap and the sheepskin cloak, with a moustache, thereby reinforcing the idea this was a war fought by all generations and from all parts of the country. He also has rifle up to his shoulder, pointing in the direction of the entrapped Germans, his finger on the trigger.
Moving further down, by the right hand edge, we are into a situation of, literally, hand to hand fighting. Their faces only inches apart we have a partisan struggling with a Nazi officer. The Nazi has a Lugar P08 pistol in his right hand but this has been made ineffective by the action of the partisan who has gripped the hand, and the pistol, in his own left and has forced the muzzle into the air. In order to get an advantage the partisan also has his right hand at the throat of the officer, gripping him by his uniform at the top of his jacket.
Drashovice Arch – Life or Death Struggle
We get an idea of the status of the officer by his uniform. He wears the field cap of a Waffren-SS officer, with its badges of the eagle with the symbol of the swastika in its talons and beneath that the Totenkopf (the ‘death’s head’ symbol of the skull and crossbones). On the pocket on left hand side of his jacket he wears the Iron Cross medal, together with the swastika in the centre (a variation of the ancient military medal introduced by the Nazis from 1939). Above the medal is another example of the eagle with the swastika, indicating that he is a member of the Nazi Party.
This is a life and death struggle. Only one can come out of this confrontation alive. The stack of German helmets to the officer’s back suggests that he will soon be joining the Nazi fallen.
Possibly due to damage it’s difficult to see if there is a star on his cap but as I’ve said before there are other signs to look for to denote allegiance, and this partisan has what would have been a red scarf around his neck, the main body of it laying over the top of his back.
Going down from right to left from this mortal struggle are the final four Albanians depicted on this tableau. They are the ones in the actual front line. In front of them are the enemy. The impression of the intensity of the battle can be seen in their stance and the determination on their faces.
The first is an older man, moustachioed and firing a Beretta sub-machine gun. On his cap he has the symbol seen once before (the partisan giving a clenched fist salute) of the star with the double-headed eagle below. Around his waist he wears an ammunition belt.
The next is a young male partisan. Whereas all the others are, more or less, facing the viewer, he has his back to us. His rifle is not operative, either jammed or out of ammunition, so he holds his weapon high, the right hand gripping it behind the firing mechanism whilst his left holds it on the barrel. His aim is to use the muzzle, in a stabbing action, to attack the enemy right in front of him.
Next is a young female partisan. She also has a sub-machine gun, supporting it with a strap that goes over her left shoulder. This is not a Beretta, with its distinctive recoil compensator, but she is using it to effect nonetheless. Although in uniform she is wearing a woollen jumper rather than a jacket.
The final member on the front line is a male with a bolt-action rifle up to his shoulder, finger on the trigger and firing into the Nazis only feet away. He has extra ammunition around his waist and across his chest. Like all the others he has a star on his cap.
The remaining images are all of the Nazis, in retreat, dying or fighting for their lives. The tips of their weapons form a curve that goes from the officer in hand to hand combat on the right hand side down to the bottom left, to end up with the Nazi standard in the dirt. They are crushed into a corner, with nowhere to go. They are so close to each other it’s even difficult for them to defend themselves. The dead make the situation even more difficult and the bodies make the living even more aware of their fate.
The helmets and the muzzles of weapons pointing away from the action indicate the toll being taken on the German invaders. Then we start to see some faces. Right at the edge of the tableau there’s a helmeted head tipped back, the eyes are closed, as if he has just been shot or injured. In front of this dying Nazi are two faces in profile but with only one weapon between them, one is holding a dagger in his right hand, not much use against the grenades, sub-machine guns and rifles that confront them. This again demonstrates the ferocity of the conflict. (There’s some slight damage to the stone work on the edge of this Nazi’s helmet.)
Further into the melee matters start to get confusing. There’s a Nazi with a rifle up to his shoulder, firing at the attackers. Just behind him can be seen the almost full length of a bayonet, but it’s impossible to know to which soldier it is attached. On the very edge of the panel there’s a disembodied right hand, held up high into the air, below that a helmet and then below again a muzzle pointing away from the battle. Is this again suggesting surrender and defeat, if not by all the Germans at least by some?
Then there’s the end of a rifle barrel with a bayonet attached. This is also a weapon that doesn’t seem to have an owner. Two, the last ones, soldiers seem to be capable or willing to fight. The one in the front has a rifle in a stance that would indicate he is ready to fire. On his back there’s the circular gas mask container. Behind him there’s an individual whose importance is not so much that of how he is fighting but in how he is dressed. On the left lapel of his jacket we can see the ‘runic’ representation of the SS symbol, the letters being constructed with straight lines. This soldier also is a bearer of the Iron Cross, which would almost certainly make him an NCO if not an officer.
After them there’s nothing left of the Nazi fighting force. On the right hand edge there’s a field gun which looks like it might have lost is caterpillar track, but I’m not totally sure here. Next there’s a machine gunner who is obviously dead as he is slumped over his weapon, his left arm hanging loose as he rests his chin on the gun. There’s the Nazi Party eagle and swastika symbol on his rolled up sleeve. This weapon is again the Mauser MG34, bullets are ready to go through the chamber but there’s no one to pull the trigger. Three empty shell casings lie on the ground beneath the gun.
Drashovice Arch – Fate of the Nazis
Behind him is another fallen Nazi. He has his back to us, crumpled into the bottom corner of the panel, his rifle muzzle pointing away from battle. At the feet of the attacking Partisans another German lies on the ground, his arms are covering his head, whether to protect himself from the onslaught or indicating his death is not clear. Finally, in the gap above this prone body are further weapons, including a field gun, that is no longer involved in the battle.
And that’s it.
In an earlier post I described this as the ‘War and Peace’ of Albanian lapidars, perhaps it would be better to describe it as a complex graphic novel. There’s lots going on and the symbolism is stronger here than on many other monuments in the country. A truly masterful piece of work!
The other two sides of the arch are, in a sense, mirror images of the similar locations for the 1920 battle. That was simply for independence, the battle of 1943 was under the leadership of the Communist Party and for that reason, on the south-facing panel, the central motif is of a large star. Peeking out behind the star, at the top left, are the weapons that were used by the partisans in the battle. Gone are the agricultural tools of 1920, replaced with modern (and sometimes not so modern) firearms.
Just above, and to the right of the star are the words:
E tunde, parti, e tunde, me djema e vajza si nure.
Translated this is:
You’ve done great, the Party has done great things, with the amazing boys and girls
And as with the flag of 1920, the right hand star disappears into the stone and we read the words:
Moj Mavrovë e Drashovicë, ç’hata bëre atë ditë, me topa me alitrik, e bëre natëne ditë.
Moj Mavrova of Drashovicë, what great things you did that day, fearlessly, both night and day.
(I’ve not been able to find out anything about Moj Mavrovë, apart from the fact that Mavrovë is a small village just a little further up the valley.)
And below those words:
Hysni Kapua si petrit, përmbi tela ç’u vërvit, gjermanët në gjuh u flit, dorëzohu mor jezit.
The young Hysni Kapo, with iron determination, withstood all that the Germans could throw at him, until they surrendered.
Hysni Kapo was a long-standing member of the Politburo. He died in 1979.
The final panel, at the back of the monument, follows exactly the same pattern as that for 1920.
A huge hand tightly grips a rifle near to the top of the barrel. The wrist morphs into the number 1943, in a large font. To the left of the year is the date: 14 shtator 4 tetor, stating that the battle took place between September 14th and October 4th of that year. This date is followed by a small star (any such comparable symbol missing from the 1920 panel).
Then there are the words:
Lufta heroike e Drashovicës që zhvilloi populli i rrethit të Vlorës nën udhëheqjen e shokut Hysni Kapo kundër pushtuesve gjermanë përbën një ndër betejat më të lavdishme të Luftës Nacionalçlirimtare.
Which translates as:
The heroic battle of Drashovice that the people of Vlora district, under the leadership of Comrade Hysni Kapo, fought against the German occupiers is amongst the most glorious battles of the National Liberation War.
I’ve found the best place to pick up a furgon that goes along the Shushicë Valley is by waiting beside the road in the square opposite the Vlora Baskia on Rruga Perlat Rexhepi (the Historical Museum is at the Vlora end of this road). Other furgons leave from this point but you want a furgon that comes the centre of town. Just flag down any one that comes from that direction (possibly going to Mavrovë or Kotë) and ask for Drashovice.