Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery and the 75th Anniversary of Liberation

Gjirokaster Martyrs' Cemetery - 18th September - Liberation Day 75 years

Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery – 18th September – Liberation Day 75 years

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Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery and the 75th Anniversary of Liberation

Details about the lapidar, and some of the history, of the Gjirokaster Martyrs’ Cemetery (ALS 376) were posted some time ago. However, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Gjirokaster from the Nazi occupation I was fortunate enough to be, again, in the city.

The Nazi’s were forced from the city by the Partisans, under the leadership of the Albanian Communist Party (that was later renamed as the Party of Labour of Albania) on 18th September 1944. That date is still considered important, even through all the changes and the anarchy that hit Gjirokaster significantly during the 1990s, as the main street in the new town is still called Bulevard 18 Shtator (18th September Avenue).

On that date in 2019 a small celebration was organised both at the cemetery itself and in the theatre in the new part of town – but much less than it would have been during the period of Socialist construction. However, the event did follow certain aspects which were common of such occasions between 1944 and 1990.

There was a march from the centre of the new town to the cemetery (which is on the edge of town on the national road that heads towards Tepelene (and hence Tirana) in the north and the Greek border at Kakavija towards the south) where a short ceremony took place and this was followed a short time later by a cultural performance/speeches in the town’s theatre.

As I have said this was very low key, the rest of Gjirokaster carrying on life as normal, something which would not have happened in the past. Such an anniversary would have been a public holiday and the celebration would have been much more formal and with events taking place all over the town.

However, there are a few points I would like to emphasis from my observation on the day, which include how things were done in the past and how they were done in 2019.

It was obvious that those who still identify themselves with the Socialist past in Albania were those who wore a red scarf around their necks. This was part of the ‘uniform’ of the Partisans. This I have pointed out in many descriptions of the lapidars which have appeared on the page under the heading of the Albanian Lapidar Survey.

The military presence existed but on a much reduced level – just really a couple of officers in regular, i.e., not dress, uniform. Whether it was seen as an obligation I can only surmise. During the Socialist period the military presence would have been in the form of the People’s Militia which consisted of both men and women.

Proud Relative

Proud Relative

The tradition at ceremonies in the Martyrs’ cemeteries always consisted of children from the Young Pioneers standing at each of the tombs and during the ceremony a single red carnation would be placed on each tomb. As time passed it would obviously mean that many of the martyrs would not have any surviving relatives who might be able to place flowers on the tombs. By having the Young Pioneers do so, in a formal and organised manner, it meant that none of the anti-Fascist fighters were forgotten and left out. In 2019 it was again young people who brought baskets of flowers and then placed a single flower on each tomb – but these were older children, in their teens, rather than the younger, primary school children, who would have carried out the task pre-1990. (But someone ‘forgot’ to count the tombs as at the end of the flower distribution there were still quite a number without a flower.)

Child distributing flowers

Child distributing flowers

There was very little ‘formality’ during the 75th Anniversary celebration at the cemetery. People tended to mill around rather than stand in any formal manner. If you want to draw comparisons then the fact that this is being written on 11th November provides an easy and almost direct comparison.

At 11.00 on Remembrance Sunday (in the United Kingdom) in the centre of London at the Cenotaph there will be a very formal presence of politicians and aristocracy. After the Minutes’ Silence there will be a very formal and organised laying of wreaths and then a march past of veterans. To do otherwise in Britain would cause an outcry of indignation from various sectors of the population and media. For people to just walk by and see who had left the wreath at the Cenotaph during the Minutes’ Silence would be considered disrespectful. That was virtually what was happening in Gjirokaster on 18th September 2019.

I’m not saying that is either good or bad. It’s just to remind readers that countries have various ways in commemorating their dead in past wars. It should also be remembered that, in theory if not really in ultimate practice, in the early 1940s the so-called ‘Allies’ were supposed to be fighting on the same side and that the defeat of Fascism was the aim of all the countries. So perhaps people should remember this when they start to make judgements on the past in Albania.

Without significant help from any other army of the major warring Allies the Albanian people were able to liberate themselves from both the Italian Fascist and German Nazi invaders. In some respects that was their greatest crime – at least in the eyes of the British and the Americans. It meant they weren’t beholding to any external power and would fight to maintain the independence they had gained on 29h November 1944. It was for this reason that the British threatened and made attempts at ‘regime change’ in Albania even before the sound of the cannon fire had disappeared in the distance.

But back to the ceremony on 18th September 2019.

One small event that caused a local stir was the presence of an older man who help a portrait of Comrade Enver Hoxha, in a glass frame, high above his head in front of the images of the eight heroes/heroines of Gjirokaster depicted on the lapidar. He drew the attention of the media present as well as a number of onlookers. Though a single incident it was good to see that the spirit of the past still exists within the city.

Holding Enver High

Holding Enver High

Hopefully, readers will be able to get an idea of the event from the pictures in the slide show below.

Event at the theatre

Much of the celebration that continued in the theatre an hour or so after the ceremony at the celebration went over my head as a non-Albanian speaker. However, it was possible to get the general tone in that the Liberation of the town from the Nazis 75 years previously was still an event that needed to be remembered and commemorated.

(This is despite the fact that in Tirana Park, in the capital, there’s a monument to the Nazi fallen – put there to please the so-called democrats of Germany and, no doubt, in a bid to curry favour with a principle player in the European Union – which Albania is desperate to join and which (even though it goes against all the logic of the EU Constitution). This is likely (bizarrely) to happen in the not too distant future. High level talks are taking place in 2021 – when the rest of the EU is starting to implode – and the only reason I can see for this is the huge mineral resources that have so far remained untapped in the (at the moment) relatively inaccessible part of the north east of the country. But how many other countries that fought the Fascists in the Second World War have monuments to the dead of the invaders?)

As part of this celebration there was a small exhibition of Socialist Realist Art in the entrance to the theatre – examples which are included in the slide show below. Some of these had been brought down from the Museum in the Castle for the occasion – and can be seen in the badly maintained and positively dirty museum at present. Others seems to have come from storage – as was the picture of Persefoni and Bule, the two so-called ‘Hanged Women of Gjirokaster’, two young, Partisan women, in their early twenties, who were publicly hung in the main square in the old town on July 17th 1944. This particular picture has been added as an update to the post on these two brave young Communist fighters.

Persefoni and Bula - G Modhi 1966

Persefoni and Bula – G Modhi 1966

Also in exhibition was a brand new, and very fine, tapestry of the Liberation which, I assume, was made specifically for the 75th Anniversary. The artist has signed their name SC – but I have no further information to date.

18 Shtator 1944 - SC - tapestry

18 Shtator 1944 – SC – tapestry

Update on the cemetery

I took the opportunity of a quiet moment to have another visit to the cemetery to try to get an idea of what the Anti-Fascist National Liberation war was all about. I had missed them in the past but was slightly surprised to see that (although there are many young people remembered on the tombs) there were two children of 14 (Sulo Hysi (1929-1943) and Kristo Cavo (1929-1943)) and one 16 year-old (Celo Sinani (1928-1944)) who also fell in the struggle for liberation.

Kristo Cavo

Kristo Cavo

I have been having difficulty in tracking down someone in Gjirokaster who might know exactly who is represented amongst the eight heads which are depicted on the lapidar. In the cemetery there are a few tombstones which carry a red star as well as the name of the individual. These will be officially Heroes of the People. Two of those, Bule Naipi (1922-1944) and Persefoni Koadhima (1923-1944) are the so-called ‘Hanged Women of Gjirokaster’ and are the young female faces on the lapidar.

I am assuming that of the other Heroes of the People whose tombs are in the Martyrs’ Cemetery – Themo-Vasi (no dates), Celo Sinani (1928-1944) and Muzafer Asqueria (1918-1942) – might well be also depicted on the panel but if so I’m not sure which they are.

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Zimbabwe – pre-Independence

Liberation war

Liberation war

More on Zimbabwe …

Zimbabwe – pre-Independence

Here we attempt to paint a picture of what Rhodesia was like under white, colonialist rule and the life of the Zimbabwean people and of those who fought against oppression and exploitation.

Rhodesia – Why Minority Rule Survives, International Defence and Aid Fund, London, 1969, 43 pages.

A Smuggled Account from a Guerrilla Fighter, Africa Research Group, New York, 1970, 4 pages.

The Land Problem in Rhodesia, RC Riddell, Mambo Press, Gweru, 1978, 135 pages.

A Shona Urban Court, GL Chavunduka, Occasional Papers No 14, Mambo Press, Gwelo, 1979, 70 pages.

Birth of Bantu Africa, Aeneas Chigwedere, Books for Africa, Bulawayo, 1982, 141 pages.

Lobola – the pros and cons, Aeneas Chigwedere, Books for Africa, Harare, 1982, 59 pages.

Zimbabwe before 1900, DN Beach, Mambo Press, Gweru, 1984, 88 pages.

The Shona and Zimbabwe 900-1850, DN Beach, Mambo Press, Gweru, 1984, 427 pages.

The Chitepo Assassination, David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare, 1985, 134 pages.

Oral History – The Zvimba People of Zimbabwe, Stanlake Samkange, Harare Publishing House, Harare, 1986, 93 pages.

The Karanga Empire, Aeneas Chigwedere, Books for Africa, Harare, 1986, 174 pages.

War and Politics in Zimbabwe 1840-1900, DN Beach, Mambo Press, Harare, 1986, 165 pages.

From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe

A series of pamphlets that analysed the problems that an independent Zimbabwe would have to face. These were published at a time when independence was inevitable but when how exactly that would be developed (and what trajectory the country would follow) was still unknown.

No 1 Alternatives to Poverty, Roger Riddell, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1977, 23 pages.

No 2 The Land Question, Roger Riddell, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 40 pages.

No 3 The Unemployment Crisis, Duncan G Clarke, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1978, 36 pages.

No 4 Skilled Labour and Future Needs, Colin Stoneman, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1978, 55 pages.

No 6 Beyond Community Development, Michael Bratton, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1978, 63 pages.

No 8 The Food Problem, Vincent Tickner, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1979, 78 pages.

More on Zimbabwe …

To the Seventh Assault Brigade – Sqepur

Seventh Assault Brigade - Sqepur

Seventh Assault Brigade – Sqepur

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To the Seventh Assault Brigade – Sqepur

Time hasn’t been too kind to the lapidar to the Seventh Assault Brigade which is situated beside the main road between Fier and Berat in an place called Sqepur. It’s at the top of a hill and is relatively exposed to the elements and this has taken it’s toll on the plaster work. There seem to have been attempts to paint, ‘renovate’, the images over the years but as this has not been done professionally this has made the images and some of the text more indistinct, filling in spaces and taking away the finer detail.

The lapidar consists of a tall monolith in the shape of the end of a rifle barrel with a flag attached and a panel at 90 degrees to this monolith showing scenes of battle.

The idea of using a rifle as the monolith is not unique, it has been used in Mushqeta and Priske, for example, but this one is slightly different in that attached to it is a stylised representation of a flag, here painted red. Due to the records being destroyed in the 1990s and those pictures of lapidars that were published in couple of books being principally in black and white there is some question if most of the lapidars were originally in colour. For good or ill many have been painted subsequently, probably even during the Socialist period so in that way distorting the aim and intention of the artist and sculptor.

The idea of attaching a flag to a rifle is again something that can be seen on other lapidars, but normally when the rifle is being used as a temporary pole and the flag being waved by a Partisan. This is the case with the female Partisan in the Fier Martyrs’ Cemetery.

The image of the wooden butt of the gun is seen here as it flares out from the vertical at the very bottom left hand corner of the monument, below the panel with the images of fighting.

Joining the rifle and the flag pole, just above the horizontal panel are two wide, concrete bands. On the upper the words

Forcat partizane të ish-qarkut të Beratit are attached in relief,

this translates as

Partisan forces of the former district of Berat

The town of Berat being located only about 15 kilometres to the south-east.

On the lower band, in exactly the same font and manner the words;

Forcat partizane të Brigadës VII Sulmuese appear

this translates as

Partisan Forces of the VII Assault Brigade

The National Liberation Army was made up of a number of such Brigades, guerrilla groups originally but developing into more formal structures as the war progressed, more and more fighters joined and the power of the Fascist invaders was broken. These Brigades were made up from people, men and women, who lived in the area although as the war developed they would sometimes move to other parts of the country to satisfy the military needs at any time.

The spacing of these letters looks a little strange, especially the lower slogan, but it’s not really possible to make out if anything else would be there to necessitate such spacing.

On the left hand side of the lower panel we have images from a battle. On the extreme left is a Partisan, in full uniform, firing a sub machine gun downwards. His right foot is placed in front of him and his left leg behind him to provide stability on uneven ground. This is a common device, used in many monuments of the time, such as the star at Pishkash and the bas relief in Bajram Curri, to tell the story that the War of Liberation was one that was fought, and won, in the mountains and that much of the early fighting especially would have been surprise ambushes from up on high.

It’s not possible to see if there’s a star on his cap but we can make out a scarf flying from his neck so we can have a reasonable assumption that he’s a Communist. One unusual feature is that he seems to be wearing a greatcoat, the bottom end of it seen between his outstretched legs. This is something that hasn’t appeared on other lapidars, to my knowledge. Unfortunately, the very end of the gun is missing, there being quite a lot of small areas of plaster that have disappeared over the years.

Behind him is a standing fighter but who is dressed in civilian clothes, his open jacket flapping in the breeze with his movement. Around his waist can be made out four ammunition pouches.

Photographs of guerrilla groups of the time show a mix of uniformed Partisans as well as those in everyday clothing. (Why do left wing guerrilla groups, from wherever in the world from the 1940s onwards, keep on taking pictures of themselves? It’s OK if you win but these pictures will cause untold problems if they get in the hands of the enemy. Two of the worst disasters that came as a result of this obsession with photographing themselves was the case of Che Guevara’s ‘foco’ group in Bolivia in 1968 and the videoing of an inebriated Abimael Guzman, the leader of the revolutionary Communist Party of Peru – Sendero Luminoso, in Peru in 1991.)

This Partisan is not facing the action but is looking back over his shoulder, his right arm raised, his fist clenched, encouraging other, unseen, comrades to come and join the fight. His left arm is hanging down and he holds a rifle close to the bolt mechanism. The upraised right hand passes outside the main panel and he has lost all the fingers.

The third member of this group is another uniformed Partisan. His right foot is firmly placed on the ground and he is kneeing with his left leg. We see him from his left side and his right hand can be seen just above his left shoulder. It looks like he has just taken out the pin of a Mills bomb grenade with his teeth and is about to throw it at the enemy below. In his left hand he holds the top of a bag, the weight of which is resting on the ground, which looks like it’s full of stick grenades, so he’s well prepared for action. There’s evidence of a scarf around his neck so we are, again, to assume that he is a Communist.

Any facial detail on all three is very difficult to make out. In fact, any fine detail at all is almost impossible to see. To bring this monument up to a condition that it had when first unveiled would take a lot of work and money, an amount nobody would be prepared to pay.

Behind these three Partisans are five stars of varying sizes. They are cut into the panel (the images of the Partisans are in relief) and have been painted red. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to their arrangement and are presumably there to represent Communism but there actual arrangement means nothing more to me.

The centre of the panel is yet another conundrum. Originally here was a lot of text, in relief, on this part. It looks like it was painted out and then a separate plaque placed on top – possibly with the same text, possibly with something completely different. This must have existed for some time as that rectangle is black from the mould that was created in the moist atmosphere behind the plaque. Now the plaque has gone and it’s possible to see some letters that were covered as well as those outside the area but it’s very difficult to make out the sense of what is there. It will need a good Albanian speaker (which, unfortunately, I’m not) to spend some time to unravel this puzzle. It is obviously something important as this text is in the central position on the monument.

The right hand side of the panel has a number of very strange, unusual and confusing elements. Basically what we have is the figure of an officer, we get that impression by the very nature of his uniform. (The National Liberation Army had a ‘traditional’ officer structure but after the success of the Albanian revolution that hierarchical structure was abandoned and the focus became much more on a people based militia rather than one based on ranks and superiority.)

Seventh Assault Brigade Officer - Sqepur

Seventh Assault Brigade Officer – Sqepur

But all the proportions are wrong. His head is far too big for his body. When I first saw this lapidar I thought the artists had created a cartoon figure rather than a serious representation of a Partisan fighter, prepared to give his life for the freedom of his country. Having looked at it a number of times I’m also reminded of Stan Laurel.

His stance is also unusual. As part of his officers uniform he has straps that criss-cross his chest and around his waist there are ammunition pouches attached to his belt. Here we have him with the thumb of his left hand tucked behind these pouches in a very nonchalant manner. His right arm is hanging down but it’s not possible to work out what he might have had in that hand as this is another area where decay has had an impact on the image. There’s also some damage to the shin of his right leg. And the look on his face is a little bit weird. All in all not what you expect from an officer when there’s a battle raging close by.

It also looks as if the original design included a star which was to be behind this officer. The top point is above the rectangle of the panel, to the left of this officers head, but then the rest of the star just seems to disappear. It might be wear and tear but I can’t really work out why this star was placed where it was. It just doesn’t make much sense.

Apart from the neglect that the lapidar has undergone the whole area surrounding it is uncared for and dirty. The grass hasn’t been cut for years and the general area has an accumulation of rubbish and the ubiquitous flimsy plastic bags abound. The only living creature happy there (apart from me) on my visit was the stray dog taking shelter from the sun.

There is no known further information about the date of inauguration or the name of the artist.

Location

At a bend in the road, at the top of a rise just after passing the village of Sqepur when travelling from Fier.

GPS

N40.791619

E19.818821

DMS

40° 47′ 29.8284” N

19° 49′ 7.7556” E

Altitude

122.2 m

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