The more ‘humble’ Albanian lapidars

September 1942 - Lec Shkreli

September 1942 – Lec Shkreli

More on Albania …..

The more ‘humble’ Albanian lapidars

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.

However, this is not the basis of the vast majority of the lapidars identified in the almost 700 locations in the Albanian Lapidar Survey. As is described in Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism the concept had a very humble beginning, often the simple marking of a grave of a fallen Partisan/s and as time, and prosperity, developed the grave taking on a focal point to celebrate important dates and the lapidar being made more elaborate over time. This story of the lapidars is shown in the short film ‘Lapidari’.

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

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

Victims of Fascism – 03

Më 22 tetor 1942 u var në litar Shyqyri Ishmi

meaning

On October 22, 1942, Shyqyri Ishmi was hanged

and

Victims of Fascism - 02

Victims of Fascism – 02

Më 29 shkurt 1944 u var në litar Muhamet Gjollesha

meaning

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

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

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

Victims of Fascism – 05

The authorities saw an end to that.ast

Past location

GPS

41.33026198

19.82448704

Altitude

121.2m

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

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

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

meaning

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

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.

Location

GPS

41.33455703

19.82600098

Altitude

122.9m

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

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

meaning

Here on May 5, 1942, during the anti-fascist war, the People’s Hero Qemal Stafa fell

Qemal Stafa 02

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.

Location

GPS

41.34165298

19.82614196

Altitude

106.8m

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

Location

On the corner of Rruga Mina Peze and Rruga e Bogdanëve.

GPS

41.331718

19.81121102

Altitude

99.3m

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.

Location

In Rruga Sami Freshëri, just a short distance on the Lana River side from the new police station.

GPS

41.32364597

19.81337003

DMS

41° 19′ 25.1255” N

19° 48′ 48.1321” E

Altitude

111.5m

More on Albania …..

Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini

Vojo Kushi - 1969 - Sali Shijaku

Vojo Kushi – 1969 – Sali Shijaku

More on Albania …..

Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini

The representation of the last military action of Vojo Kushi, Sadik Stavaleci and Xhorxhi Martini in Albanian Socialist realism is an interesting one as it has been depicted in a number of formats so offers a (possibly) unique opportunity to compare how the event has been presented to the Albanian people, history and posterity. Although the sacrifice of the three is commemorated it is Vojo Kushi who is in the forefront of these representations, his last action of storming an Italian tank being an act of bravery that has transcended even the counter-revolution of the 1990s.

The Actors

Vojo Kushi 1918-1942

Vojo Kushi

Vojo Kushi

There’s also much more information available about Vojo. He was born in Vrakë, near Shkodër on August 3rd 1918 from a Serbian minority which was suppressed under ‘King’ Zog, one aspect of whose rule was to ban names with Serbian suffixes. At that time there was no unified Albanian Communist Party and it was in Shkodër where the first Communist revolutionary organisation was established. However, all Communist Parties go through difficult struggles before (and after formation) and it wasn’t until November 8th 1941 that the Communist Party of Albania (later to become the Party of Labour of Albania) was formed in Tirana. Vojo was chosen as a member of the regional committee and also appointed as commander of the local guerilla unit. Apart from other activities he was tasked with the discovery and elimination of traitors and collaborators.

Sadik Stavaleci 1918-1942

Sadik Stavaleci

Sadik Stavaleci

All I know about Sadik was that he was born in Kosove (considered then and now as part of Albania) and obviously seemed to have joined the partisan/guerrilla movement soon after the Italian invader had entered the country.

Xhorxhi Martini 1921-1942

Xhoxhi Martini

Xhoxhi Martini

There’s not a lot more I’ve been able to discover about Xhorxhi. He was from Tirana and the youngest of the three People’s Heroes to have died on that day.

The Action

On October 10th, 1942, due to either a mistake on their part or more likely due to the activity of collaborators, spies and traitors (always to be found ready to creep out from under the rocks in any struggle for national liberation) the three found themselves surrounded in the Red Hills district of Tirana. After a 6 hour battle, during which time they were facing up to six Italian tanks, running out of ammunition and wounded, it was at this time, knowing they had nothing to lose, that Vojo Kushi carried out his suicidal attack. Running out of the building he shot a number of soldiers before he jumped up on to the turret of a tank and attempted to throw a grenade into the hatch he was trying to open. So exposed he didn’t last long out in the open.

The Bust

Vojo Kushi - Odhise Paskali

Vojo Kushi – Odhise Paskali

The first piece of art to commemorate the event was put on show to the public in 1949 and is a bust of Vojo Kushi by the sculptor Odhise Paskali (whose other public works include ‘Shoket – Comrades’ at the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Permet). Whether it is in its original location or not I can’t say for sure but it has obviously been kept well and has had a recent coating of gold paint. It also sits on a new pedestal with the words ‘Heroi i Popullit, Vojo Kushi, Tarzani, 1918-1942’ on the plaque. This translates as ‘People’s Hero, Vojo Kushi, Tarzan, 1918-1942’.

This is a classic bust of the time, a head and (cut off) shoulders view of a man in his early twenties. His head is held high, he’s confident and looks into the distance/future. What is very distinctive about Paskali’s representation, and I’m not sure where he picked it up, is the very pronounced quiff, that extends over his forehead like the peak of a cap. This is not particularly the image you would get from the two photos I’ve seen of Vojo but this style has been picked up by other artists, particularly the (unknown) sculptor of the bas-relief a few streets away.

If the bust is the original the plaque certainly is not. Placing the word ‘Tarzan’ in the description acts to take away the politics of the whole episode. There is an increasing move to ‘renovate’ lapidars and other monuments throughout Albania but in certain places there is a definite agenda of de-politicisation being followed. What this agenda seeks to demonstrate is that these individuals were patriots fighting for the liberation of the country from the foreign invader. The fact that during the National Liberation War the invader was the Fascist, first the Italian and then the German, is conveniently forgotten as, in the forefront of that struggle, was the Communist Partisan Army. In Albania today many don’t say ‘forget the war’ they say ‘forget who led the country to victory’. By putting that simple word ‘Tarzan’ on the statue they seek to infantilise, fictionalise and mythologise into insignificance the actions of those Communists who refused to surrender.

There’s a sense of irony in the present location of the statue. Vojo has his back to a Euro Lloto pop-up store. Here Albanians can gamble on an infinite variety of events in sporting fixtures, a quick way for most (the off the street punters) to become poor and an equally quick way for others (the shop owners, either in Albania or elsewhere) to get rich. Considering that in the 1990s many hundreds of thousands of Albanians were cheated out of their personal wealth and privatised land through criminal Pyramid Schemes its interesting that so many still see their future through touching the big one – such places are all over the country.

Vojo Kushi amongst the debris

Vojo Kushi amongst the debris

(In June 2019 I came across the image above on the Albanian Lapidar Survey tumblr blog. Don’t know exactly when it was taken but assume quite recently. What’s being demolished is a cheap and nasty betting shop come gambling den. There were a lot of them around a few years ago. Whether the demolition is due to a political decision or just one of new buildings wanting to take the space I don’t, as yet, know. What is certain is that it is unlikely to have any effect upon the Albanian desire to ‘get rich quick’. They haven’t learnt from the pyramid/Ponzi schemes that robbed so many ordinary Albanians of the little they had in the early 1990s.

When I last saw the bust it was in a good condition – but it looks slightly neglected in this picture. The bulldozer is evidently attempting to miss it but that doesn’t mean it never got damaged in this exercise. It should be valued as a work of art even by the present government and political establishment in Albania. The Peoples’ Heroes and Heroines are still, in the main, respected and this is also the work of one of Albania’s most renowned (internationally) sculptors – Odhise Paskali. I’ll try to remember to check its fate when next in Tirana.)

Location:

Rruga e Dibrës, just south of Sheshi Selvia

GPS:

41.33278

19.82270

DMS:

41° 19′ 58.0080” N

19° 49′ 21.7200” E

Altitude:

127m

The Paintings

Vojo Kushi - Zef Shoshi

Vojo Kushi – Zef Shoshi

There are, at least, a couple of paintings of Vojo Kushi. One is a simple full length portrait by Zef Shoshi. I don’t know the exact date it was painted nor where it might be at the moment, I’ve never personally seen it on display. Here he is placed in an urban environment, presumably somewhere in Tirana. This is a simple, figurative painting, showing a young man, with a determined expression on his face, looking out of the picture, into the future. The impression of determination, and anger, is reinforced by his clenched fists, his arms hanging down at his side. In this painting he looks very different from the other representations of him in Tirana. Here art is used as a record of someone who died fighting for his country.

The other, more famous, on permanent display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana, is a different affair. This was painted by Sali Shijaku in 1969 and is a huge painting, measuring 200 x 300cm. It depicts a recognizable Vojo Kushi performing his final act of heroism for which he is well-known, that is, just about to throw a grenade into the hatch of an Italian tank (depicted at the top of the post).

Discussing this painting is where the understanding of Albanian Socialist Realism becomes more complex. The painting follows the conventions of political art: it represents an event that actually took place; the individual is recognizable; it serves to commemorate and celebrate an heroic act, a sacrifice, that occurred during the National Liberation War; it seeks to inspire the viewer (especially the young); it declares that the act was committed by a Communist; and it tells the history of the Albanian people.

But, and this is a big but, it is fantastical. Most of the painting is quite dark, a good half of the background and the tank itself (which is in the bottom foreground). There are white flashes in the background indicating either fire or smoke, giving the impression that this is in mid-battle.

It is when we get to Vojo himself that things become strange. For some reason he has lost his shirt and is bare from the waist up, apart from what looks like a cape, fluttering out behind his left shoulder. This cape is red and either represents the red flag of Communism or the Albanian Partisan flag (although it’s not possible to make out the black, double-headed eagle). This flag/cape isn’t attached to his body in any way, one corner just resting over his raised right arm.

His left hand grips the edge of the hatch lid, giving the impression he has just wrenched it open and in his raised right hand is a grenade, ready to throw it inside the tank. The image and what he is attempting is OK but why is he dressed in such a way? Not only is he bare-chested he is also bare-footed, his right foot on the barrel of the tank’s gun, his other foot out of sight as he straddles the turret. The other aspect that is strange is the lighting. A shaft of light comes from some unidentified source at the lower right of the painting, illuminating his upper torso and thus separating him from the dark background.

I think all these devices cause to separate Vojo from the ordinary man and woman. When you look at the picture you get the impression that he has flown there like some sort of superman (the red cape adding to the image of the character in the American Marvel comics). The lack of even a shirt or shoes indicates that nothing can harm him, that he is impervious to the bullets of the enemy. But he wasn’t. If this picture depicts anything at all it’s the last moments of a partisan willing to give his life for the cause of freedom from fascism. The way the light shines on his face is reminiscent of some Christian religious paintings and the cape, as it gives a backdrop to his head, resembles a halo (a common artistic device that Christian painters stole from the Roman Empire – amongst many other tropes).

As I’ve written before, until workers are able to freely develop a manner in which to represent themselves, free from the influences of the past, such an interpretation will always be possible.

However, it was obviously a favoured painting in the past, it being chosen to be one of the paintings that were depicted on Albanian postage stamps (although the reds are always much brighter in printed sources than the original).

Vojo Kushi - postage stamp

Vojo Kushi – postage stamp

The Monument

To the best of my knowledge the monument to the action on October 10th, 1942 is located close to where things actually happened, although building development in recent years has meant that it’s now slightly hidden away on a quiet street corner.

Vojo Kushi Lapidar

Vojo Kushi Lapidar

It’s a relatively small lapidar following a typical design. There’s a concrete base which has a column just over two metres tall on the right hand side. The concrete is covered with marble slabs – but these have fallen away in a few places. Half way up the lapidar is a marble plaque (which looks original) which bears the words:

Herojte e Popullit – meaning People’s Heroes

Vojo Kushi

Sadik Stavaleci

Xhorxhi Martini

Above the words there’s a star and this star, and the letters, are picked out in gold. There’s a little bit of vandalism on this plaque, a felt tip pen has been used to fill in the star and there’s a tiny figure of a man between the words Vojo and Kushi.

To the left of the column a bronze bas-relief is attached to a concrete panel. This is just over a metre high and just over two metres long. On it is depicted a version of the attack on the tank seen already in the painting by Shijaku.

However, the dynamism of the relief is different. Vojo is virtually sitting on the barrel of the tank’s gun which is pointing to the left. Vojo’s left hand is stretched out fully in front of him and is gripping the closed edge of the turret hatch. In his right hand, which is fully stretched out behind him, is a grenade. He is keeping his profile low, as it would have made sense in reality, offering a smaller target to the enemy.

There’s a repetition of the image in the Shijaku painting as although not completely bare-chested he is only wearing a ripped shirt, which is in tatters, but which also flutters out behind him, creating the image of a flag or a banner.

Although the face is in profile it’s quite recognizable from images of Vojo. However, things are slightly strange when we look at the very top of his head where it, and his hair, extend above the main body of the bas-relief over the top of the concrete. This produces a three-dimensional effect on that small part of the sculpture. This also includes a huge quiff, even more exaggerated than that on the Paskali bust on Rruga e Dibrës.

The sculpture is in a reasonable condition, not seeming to have suffered from any malicious vandalism but merely suffering from lack of care, as are many lapidars throughout the country.

Location:

Rruga Mahmut Fortuzi

GPS:

41.33513999

19.81903997

DMS:

41° 20′ 6.5040” N

19° 49′ 8.5439” E

Altitude:

168.9m

More on Albania …..

Shoket – Comrades – Permet

Shoket - Comrades - Permet, Odhise Paskali

Shoket – Comrades – Permet

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Shoket – Comrades – Permet

Shoket – Comrades – was one of the early sculptures to be placed in the Martyrs’ Cemeteries throughout Albania, a simple monolith (lapidar) being the most common form of monument. It is the work of Odhise Paskali and was inaugurated in 1964, the same time as the monument to the Permet Congress was unveiled in the main square of the town.

The role of art in a Socialist society

The important role of art in the construction of a socialist society has been a matter for discussion since the first writers started to posit the idea that society doesn’t have to be one created for the benefit of a few parasites who decide what should be the fate of the overwhelming majority of the population. However, no real conclusion was arrived at because such a question could not be answered until the concrete conditions existed when a new departure in art could flourish. That only became a practical problem to overcome once the first workers and peasants state was established in the Soviet Union following the October Revolution of 1917.

When Lenin started to consider this matter from a position of the workers holding state power, even when the outcome of the Civil War was still uncertain, this was at a time when artistic ‘isms’ abounded, mostly from the ‘left’ but, in the main, the majority of them were transient. This huge melting pot had many causes: the increasing speed of technology; the anger and disillusionment caused by the meaningless slaughter of the 1914-18 war; the search for a meaning in life in an increasingly alienating world; the victory of the proletariat in Russia; the defeats in Hungary and Germany; and a general environment that things didn’t have to be as they always had been.

However forward thinking the revolutionary the political ideology of the revolutionaries, first in the Soviet Union, then in the People’s Republic of Albania and later the People’s Republic of China, all those involved had been brought up surrounded by an ideology (economic, political, social, religious, and cultural) that was the antithesis to what they saw as the path into the future. What made the finest of those revolutionaries ‘great’ – at all levels of the Party and society – was their ability to suppress those influences from the past and to create a new set of values for the construction of a society seeking to abolish classes and all that a class based societies entailed.

It took some years and not a little experimentation but eventually the form of propaganda to be used in public art was what is now called ‘socialist realism’. It is country specific as to be effective such artistic endeavours have to have a relationship with the history and culture of the different people’s who have attempted the construction of socialism.

As with all the other major Marxist-Leninist leaders Hoxha understood, and took on board the consequences of, the famous sentence of Karl Marx from the Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, of 1859.

‘It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being, but on the contrary it is their social being that determines their consciousness.’

Yes, the building of socialism had to mean the improvement of the material conditions of all the working population and that task began, initially, with the nationalisation of all the land and the means of production which later led to collectivisation and industrialisation of countries that were economically backward.

But for socialism to succeed and to move to a higher stage it was the thinking of the people which had to be changed. The ‘old order’ had encouraged and nurtured self-serving selfishness, individuality and a concern primarily for personal survival and enhancement and the aim was to change this mindset to one of considering the common good of all as paramount, working and thinking collectively and considering long terms goals, not only for themselves but for generations to come.

All previous social systems have had to address this issue yet it is only when peoples in different countries attempt to move away from class systems and build socialism (with communism being the ultimate goal) that this education and discussion within society is called ‘propaganda’, used in a pejorative sense. If we just take the last two thousand years of world history we have seen the rise (and fall) of slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. Can anyone really argue that capitalism, for example, could have established itself if a sizeable proportion of the population were thinking in the way of slave-owners or actual slaves. Of course not. Their thinking had to adapt as otherwise the ‘new’ social system would simply remain in a rut.

If people think that capitalism doesn’t also use public art as a weapon in its cultural battle to maintain its control of people’s minds then all you have to do is study the statues and monuments that are the products of their class war in the UK – but it’s the same in all other countries. On war memorials to those who died in the world wars of the twentieth century the phrase ‘died for King and Country’ is repeated constantly. This is carved in huge letters on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Statues to the monarchy are in every major town and city. Statues and memorials of individuals who played a role in the colonialist and imperialist expansion of Britain in the past can be found everywhere, as are statues of individual capitalists as well as those to politicians who ran and controlled the country for the benefit of feudalism and capitalism.

A society reinforces its control in many more ways, too many to go into here, but it might be worth citing a recent example in the UK. The newly elected leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was criticised for not singing the national anthem at yet another event to ‘commemorate’ a specific date in World War Two (these constant, never-ending commemorations are yet other examples of that constant cultural reinforcement of the capitalist state). So even an atheist Republican it is expected and obliged to play the game – is there a greater indication of a sycophantic and pusillanimous population than its general willingness to sing an anthem that contains the words ‘long to reign over us’?

I don’t want to labour the point. I just want to stress that ALL forms of society fight a battle to win the minds of the population, even more so in the early days. The nascent socialist societies were doing nothing different. What was different was that socialism was a society that sought to break completely with the past by doing away with oppression and exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. That meant that the mountain communists had to climb was much steeper and more difficult than had confronted those ‘progressives’ of the past. This was new ground and hence the difference in approach and also accounts for the hostility that capitalism has had to all such efforts – remembering that this attack on any of the achievements and products of a socialist society are all part of the continual class war.

But back to Albania.

From the very first days of the People’s Republic of Albania the Party placed the development of a new, socialist culture to the fore. The Albanian Film Institute was established in 1945 and this became the Kinostudio Shqipëria e Re (New Albania Film Studio). And throughout the period of socialism Albania produced probably more film footage per head of population than any country in the world. Literature, painting and sculpture were also encouraged as was an imaginative approach to folk-lore and folk culture through music and dance. However, monumental sculpture (or ‘monumental propaganda’ as Ramiz Alia described in an article published in 1968, reprinted in ALS Vol. 1) didn’t seem to play much of a role in the early cultural revolution carried through by the new socialist state.

Lapidars and monuments in Martyrs’ Cemeteries were being created but they were simple affairs and it seems there was a trend to construct higher and higher monoliths rather than create sculptures and images to which the people could relate. Interestingly, in the same article mentioned above, Alia commented on the lack of care in the maintenance of those structures that did exist.

In fact, prior to the mid-1960s there were few monumental sculptures in the country. The first that I can find in the records is the Monument to The Partisan, in the centre of Tirana, the work of Andrea Mano, which was inaugurated in 1949. (This is in no way a socialist realist statue. It’s the same sort of statue of a soldier that can be found anywhere. It is also not one of my favourite Albanian statues, he looks too angry, but in the wrong way. Compare this partisan to the one who stands atop the monument at the sea front in Durres.) The next monuments of note to be erected were ‘Shoket – Comrades’ and ‘Monument to the Permet Congress’, both in Permet and both the work of Odhise Paskali, and the ‘Monument to Agrarian Reform’, the work of Kristaq Rama, in Krutje e Sipërme, unveiled in 1966.

Monument to The Partisan, Tirana

Monument to The Partisan, Tirana

The decision to erect the two sculptures in Permet, on the 20th anniversary of the Congress of Permet, indicates that ideas were changing. Thinking in Albania of the role that the construction of ‘monumental propaganda’ could play in the promotion of the socialist ideal seems to have developed much more quickly after the decision was taken, also in 1964, to re-locate the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery and to place an iconic and inspirational sculpture in the new location, replacing the simple monolith that stood over the old cemetery in Tirana Park.

On 26th October 1965, in an intervention at the end of the 15th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania, Enver Hoxha stated:

‘The further revolutionization of the life in the country cannot be understood without the development and deepening of the ideological and cultural revolution.’

In a sense this could be considered to be the opening shots of what became recognised as Albania’s Cultural Revolution – with capital letters as this was a conscious and considered attempt to counter old ideas and promote the new, mirroring a similar decision in the People’s Republic of China. In both Albania and China this was prompted by the betrayal of the Soviet Party to the ideas of Marxism-Leninism and the revolution. Over a period of just under 20 years this was to lead to the construction of the many impressive lapidars that are found around the country to this day.

One of the reasons there weren’t that many monumental sculptors in the country prior to the late 1960s might be simply due to the fact that the socialist sculptors – meaning by that those artists who had grown up in a society constructing socialism and who had an idea of what the society was attempting to build – simply didn’t exist until that time. A look at the sculptors whose names can be associated with the socialist realist lapidars would seem to support such a proposition. If we just take the case of three of the finest (and most prolific) sculptors during the twenty year period (Kristaq Rama, Shaban Hadëri and Mumtaz Dhrami) they were all born in the late 20s or early 30s and were reaching their artistic maturity at just the right time. They were from a generation who knew what they were being asked to represent in the period of the Cultural Revolution.

(The fact that some of them turned their backs on the society that had given them an education, even to the extent of getting paid to vandalise some of their own work when the social system was different – as was the case of Agim Nebiu and his ‘modification’ of the Tirana Historical Museum Mosaic – is beside the point.)

One of the most prolific sculptors in the country prior to the war let alone prior to national liberation was Odhise Paskali. He produced works which are still to be seen today throughout the country. The earlier works include: The National Fighter in Korçe (1932); The Standard Bearer in Vlore (1932); Çerçiz Topulli in Gjirokaster, (1934); and The Kolonje Martyrs’ in Erseke, (1938) and the bust to Vojo Kushi (1949) in Tirana. However, these are all inspired by Albania’s nationalist struggle of the past.

Nonetheless, he did produce important works after liberation. Among these are: a bust of Vojo Kushi in Tirana (1949); Shoket – Comrades and The Partisan in Permet (both 1964); The Partisan Triumphant, the original now at Mauthausen, Austria – with a copy in the Armament Museum in Gjirokaster Castle (1968); The Two Heroines in Gjirokaster (1974); and the most recognisable to visitors to Tirana, the Statue of Skanderberg in the centre of the city (1968). However, these are all conventional, they are well done and some of them are very evocative, but he has not brought a lot new to the idea of public sculpture. The fact that he was honoured by the Albanian state for his contribution to the sculptural heritage of the country doesn’t change that at all.

Paskali’s work proves the case that even though works are commissioned and displayed during a period of socialism that doesn’t automatically make them examples of ‘socialist realist’ art. In the same way a piece of art produced before an era of socialism, depicting the struggle of the working class, doesn’t become ‘socialist realist’ after a revolution. This non-socialist realist status is also the fate of those works produced after the socialist state has ceased to be in existence. Perhaps the best term for those particular works would be ‘neo-socialist realist’. ‘Ersatz-socialist realist’ would be the best way to describe the stone bas-reliefs outside one of the private universities in the centre of Tirana, used in a cynical move to attain some after-the-fact credibility.

Socialist Realist art has a reason for its existence, other than art for art’s sake. It’s created for a specific purpose, under certain distinctive circumstances and has a special and unique relationship with the people for whom it was created. It commemorates goals already achieved (as in the victory over Fascism and national Liberation), landmarks in the development of the new society (as in the Monument to Agrarian Reform in Krutja) or a declaration of intent (as in ‘Our Land’ in the centre of Lushnje).

Monument to Agrarian Reform - Krutje

Monument to Agrarian Reform – Krutje

Now we come to ‘Shoket – Comrades’ in Permet Martyrs’ Cemetery.

It’s almost impossible to think that such a monument would have been installed three years later, when the atheist campaign began. The reason it wasn’t removed as part of that campaign, which effectively was in existence until 1990, is a sign of the respect that the Albanian state had for works of art produced during the socialist period which were created to commemorate those who had died in the fight for national liberation – whatever its imagery might imply.

To all intents and purposes it’s a religious piece of art. It’s the type of monument you’re more likely to see in a capitalist country where Christianity is nominally the state religion. It’s an image that abounds in many Catholic churches, on canvas, in marble or in stained glass windows. But you won’t find such an image, created in the socialist period, anywhere else in Albania. It’s atypical of Albanian lapidars, it’s unique in its imagery. And that’s important to remember.

However, being created in Socialist Albania it’s not just a copy of earlier religious images. There are three figures in this sculpture. A seriously injured fighter is on the ground and has his upper body supported by a male comrade. (The title of this sculpture is sometimes translated as ‘Friends’ but that’s totally inaccurate when dealing with Communist Partisans and the correct translation is ‘Comrades’.) The injured partisan’s shoulder rests against the thigh of his comrade, who is kneeling behind him, and his head is being support by the left hand of his helper.

The injured partisan has lost his cap and his shirt is open at the front. They are all in the uniform of the National Liberation Army and we know he is a fighter as there is an ammunition belt around his waist. The male helper is in full uniform, with a star on his cap and has a pistol in a holster attached to his belt on the left hand side. He is bent over and is looking down, sympathetically, onto the face of his fallen comrade, whose eyes are closed. It looks very much as if he is in his death throes. What makes this very different from the Christian myth of the pieta (the name given to those depictions of the moments after Christ had been taken from the cross after his death and he is being mourned by his mother and, sometimes, the Magdalen) is the presence of the rifle that is on the ground between the fallen soldier and his comrade, the top of the barrel of which is just sticking out between the two.

The other figure is a female partisan. She is also in uniform, wearing a cap with a star at the front but there’s nothing to indicate she’s armed. (I’m not aware if there was a specifically devoted corps of medics in the Albanian partisan army.) She holds the right hand of the fallen partisan in her own right and seems to be looking for a pulse with her left. However the composition seems to indicate that this is futile, that they are too late to be able to help him. The injured’s left arm rests on the ground with the hand loosely open as if all life has gone out of the body. Also the right hand of the male partisan hovers over the hands of the dead, or dying soldier, and the female fighter. This seems to be him about to say that there’s no point in checking his pulse, it’s already too late.

Shoket - Permet - Hands

Shoket – Permet – Hands

There’s a very tranquil feeling emanating from this scenario. It’s a sad picture. As hard as they try they can achieve nothing. Death is final. Something precious has been lost.

But this is a pessimistic approach to death in war, the capitalist approach. This is the impression we get from the memorials that abound throughout Europe to those who died in the war of 1914-1919 – those who died in previous conflicts seemingly not worthy of remembrance in such a widespread manner.

Capitalism convinces workers to fight and possibly die for reasons that don’t benefit those same workers. This has been the case since capitalism became the dominant political and economic system a few centuries ago – the war against Fascism between 1939 and 1945 being, conceivably, the only exception. However, capitalism cannot celebrate the deaths that are a consequence of their predatory wars. It’s best if these deaths are mourned, quietly. There are annual services of remembrance but these always separate the actual deaths from the reason why they were placed in such a situation in the first place.

To celebrate those deaths might make people wonder what they actually got out of the war. To celebrate the defeat of Fascism might make people think that instead of fighting against something they should fight for something, a change in the system, a new tomorrow.

On the other hand the impression from the overwhelming majority of Albanian lapidars, and socialist realist art in general, is one of defiance, displaying a positive, optimistic, forward-looking and triumphant approach. They celebrate the deaths in the National Liberation War as those men and women fought for a future, for a new society.

In Volume 1 of the Albanian Lapidar Survey report there’s an article by a psuedo-academic called Gëzim Qëndro. In this article he attacks and attempts to denigrate ALL the production of Socialist Realist art (or at least ‘monumental propaganda’) as being the victory of Christian thinking over a proclaimed atheist state. In this article he displays a total lack of understanding of Albanian history, is unable to see any aspect of development in public sculpture from the 1960s onwards and certainly has no understanding of the aims of the country’s Cultural Revolution.

This makes the last sentence in Qëndro’s article, ‘ … the monument Shokët is a clear testimony of the presence of the religious connotations in the atheist art of Albanian socialist realism,’ a totally erroneous and ignorant reading and understanding of Albanian lapidars, their reasons for existence and the story they are attempting to convey.

Like so many bad academics Qëndro chooses his thesis and then looks for ‘facts’ to back it up, relying on most people’s lack of desire or ability to check matters for themselves.

Behind the sculpture there’s a concrete panel to which is attached a monolith (lapidar) that is positioned so that it rises exactly from the middle of the group of three. At my visit the panel was a somewhat sickly pinkish colour and the lapidar yellow. On the right hand side of the panel are the words ‘Lavdi Deshmoreve’, meaning ‘Glory to the Martyrs’.

The only other marking on this panel are the dates 1939 and 1945. This is slightly confusing. On WWII monuments throughout Europe the end date is normally the one where the war was considered to have ended in that particular country. I’ve always worked on the basis that in Albania that was the end of November 1944 so the year 1945 being on this monument is a mystery to me. It has nothing to do with treaties (the reason why some memorials for WWI in the UK show the date 1919 as the end of the conflict) as Albania was not invited to conferences where the likes of reparations were discussed and decided upon.

The sculpture has been ‘cared’ for over the years. Unfortunately this seems to be the sort of care that has more good intentions than actual skill in preservation. Whitewashing of the plaster is gradually causing some of the detail to be lost. However, considering it is now just over 50 years old the statue still allows the viewer to get an understanding of Paskali’s intentions.

As is the case with most of the Martyrs’ Cemeteries a small building was dedicated as a museum of the area, any battles that might have taken place in the vicinity and also a remembrance of the local people who died in the war. The one in Permet seems to be still acting as such (many are either totally abandoned or empty shells of what they used to be). Unfortunately on my visit there was no one around and it was all locked up but there were some busts and pictures still on display.

Shoket - Permet - Museum

Shoket – Permet – Museum

To the left of the door of the museum is a rectangular, marble plaque. This doesn’t list the names of the those buried in the cemetery but makes reference to those from the Permet region who are commemorated in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana.

Shoket - Permet - Plaque

Shoket – Permet – Plaque

The words at the top of the plaque – ‘Dëshmorët që kanë eshtrat në varezat e kombit në Tiranë’ translates as ‘Martyrs whose remains are in the National Cemetery in Tirana’. This is something I have not seen elsewhere.

Location:

GPS:

40.23658999

20.35561496

DMS:

40° 14′ 11.7240” N

20° 21′ 20.2139” E

Altitude:

246.0 m

How to get there:

From the main square in the centre of Permet head down towards the bridge over the river. Once on the other side walk straight ahead, in the direction of Tepelene, and the cemetery is about 200m on the right, a short avenue of pine trees lining the path to the cemetery gates.

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