February the 8th 2021 – the centenary of the birth of Nexhmije Xhuglini (Hoxha)

Nexhmije Hoxha

Nexhmije Hoxha

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February the 8th 2021 – the centenary of the birth of Nexhmije Xhuglini (Hoxha)

On 7th April 1939 the Italian Fascists landed an invasion force in the port city of Durres and the Albanian people (led by those who considered themselves Communists) organised a demonstration in Tirana calling upon the self-crowned ‘King’ Zog to arm the people and resist the invaders. Nexhmije was one of those demonstrators.

In response to the invasion Zog ran away and spent the rest of the Second World War in luxury and safety in Britain while the country of his birth was occupied by first the Italian and then the German Fascists.

Barely out of her teens, on 8th November 1941, Nexhmije was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party along with Qemal Stafa (who became leader of the Party’s Youth section – of which Nexhmije was also a member) and Enver Hoxha, later to become leader of the Party and the country.

Following the occupation Nexhmije was involved in the production and distribution of anti-fascist propaganda, mainly in the Tirana area, working in the youth section as well as being a women’s organiser.

For a couple of years there was no united resistance movement to the invaders – although various guerrilla groups made life as uncomfortable as possible for the fascists. There were also many demonstrations, in various parts of the country, where unarmed Albanians took to the streets protesting against the occupation, such as the demonstration of college students and teachers on 6th March 1942 in Gjirokaster.

On 16th September 1942 a conference was held in the farm of Myslym Peza, a few kilometres to the west or Tirana, called and organised by the young Communist Party, where the National Liberation Front was established, which, eventually was successful in clearing both the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis from the country.

Nexhmije Xhuglini

Nexhmije Xhuglini

In her early twenties Nexhmije joined the Partisans fighting the invaders, as did many young women in the country at the time. The example of Liri Gero and the 68 girls from Fier being a prime example of this. Young Albanian women decided that if they wanted to achieve freedom then it had to be fought for by themselves rather than it being bestowed upon them by men at some time in the indeterminate future.

Final victory over the German Nazis was achieved with the liberation of Tirana on the 29th of November 1944. Albania being one of the few countries in the Second World War who liberated themselves without the aid of either the Soviet Red Army from the east or the forces of the British and Americans coming from the west.

Having fought and struggled together with Enver Hoxha in the partisan movement Nexhmije married him in 1945 and from then on was known as Nexhmije Hoxha.

After liberation she became chair of the Albanian Women’s Union and in the early 1950s she was elected to the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania (which the Albanian Communist Party had renamed itself after 1948).

In 1966, after the ten-year long struggle against revisionism within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other parties in the International Communist Movement, Nexhmije became the head of the Marxist-Leninist Institute. This was a school for Party cadres and was an important, and crucial, development in the struggle within the Party to oppose revisionism and the re-introduction of capitalism within the country.

This was at the time which can be called Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’. This revolution was not as extensive as the very well-known Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, not least because the population of the country was much smaller and had, literally, many enemies right at their borders.

This was a struggle of ideas and this was the time when much of the anti-revisionist, revolutionary material produced in Albania started to be published, translated into various other languages and distributed worldwide.

In 1985 Enver Hoxha died. However, Nexhmije continued to play an important role within the Party and country. However, the increased isolation in a hostile world, which followed the counter-revolutionary coup in China after the death of Comrade Mao Tse-tung, meant that the economic situation became untenable and allowed reactionary forces to use the people’s discontent to rally against the Party and all those in the leadership.

Chaos and anarchy took control of Albania and in 1991 Nexhmije was put on trial as a scapegoat for those in power at that time to hide their inability to run the country – along capitalist lines and even with the support and backing of the capitalist and imperialist nations.

Nexhmije Hoxha 1991

Nexhmije Hoxha 1991

She was accused of embezzlement of government funds and ludicrous stories were spread by the reactionaries in an effort to make her conviction more convincing.

Anyone who has visited Tirana and has seen the building which used to be the home and the office of Enver Hoxha and his family will realise that this was not a family which surrounded itself with luxury, as is the case and the norm in capitalist countries. It’s a modest, two storey building – which people can actually enter part of nowadays as one side of it is a cafe.

Enver Hoxha's Residence and Office in Tirana

Enver Hoxha’s Residence and Office in Tirana

No evidence was ever presented of a luxurious lifestyle. If they were living in the sort of luxury it was claimed, then images of that would have been presented many years ago.

Even when Comrade Enver left Tirana to holiday in the mountains he stayed in, again, a very modest building in Peshkopia which is no more than a large, family house. People can actually stay in this building now as, for a number of years now the building has been used as a cheap hostel. This just goes to show that the claims of a luxurious lifestyle are hardly proven.

Summer House - Peshkopia

Summer House – Peshkopia

When Nexhmije died on 26th February 2020 she was really one of the last people who would have been around at the time to actively fight against the fascist invaders and then, after liberation, attempting to construct socialism in Albania. Her death was really a definitive break between the present era and the construction of socialism.

Although being a small country, in the 1960s and 70s Albania was able to construct a modern agricultural system based upon state farms and an industrial base which produced much that the country needed – following the concept of self-reliance.

All that capitalism has given to Albania in the last thirty years is the destruction of all those factories which produced so much. For Albanians the largest export the country has now is its people.

There are some who now consider the exploitation of the extensive mineral resources of Albania, although located in the more inaccessible parts of the country, is the way ‘forward’ but this will just turn it into a producer of prime materials. All the real profits from such a move would be gained by huge transnational companies and other foreign financial institutions.

Albania now has no real leadership which isn’t corrupt, inept and more intent on currying favour with the European Union than it is in working for the interests of the Albanian people.

Nexhmije, along with many other members of the Party of Labour of Albania, struggled – between 1944 and 1990 – to construct something which would mean true independence.

For the Albanian people now that independence is well and truly lost.

Tributes to Nexhmije – on the occasion of her death on 26th February 2020

Writings of Nexhmije Hoxha

Unfortunately there’s not a great deal published in England but what is available will be reproduced here.

Some fundamental questions of the Revolutionary Policy of the Party of Labour of Albania, 1977

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Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade - Elbasan

Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

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Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade – Elbasan

I must admit I have a little bit of a difficulty in working out exactly what the shape of this monument is supposed to represent. It’s like a huge belt or a ribbon. It starts at the back on the left-hand side and then comes back on itself in a big curve towards the front, where you have the main sculptural group, and then gently curves towards the back of the monument and finally straightening out slightly as it gets to the edge at the right-hand side – it’s a bit like a huge hook.

Not sure exactly the dimensions but it’s roughly 3 metres in width, which remains the same along its whole length, which I would estimate around about 15 metres in total.

There’s a sense of movement in this static, heavy concrete structure.

There’s a physically large clue on the left-hand side that it might be representing an ammunition belt because there are huge bullets on the extreme left. However, these cartridges seem to get absorbed by the lapidar and apart from the top of the casings disappear as they get close to the main sculptural group, only to re-emerge again at the edge of the flag.

The whole structure is about 2 metres above the ground – sometimes slightly less, sometimes a bit more – and the monument itself sits on two piles of rough rocks which are cemented together. This introduces the idea of the mountains, which is quite common in Albanian lapidars. On the left these rocks provide support directly underneath the sculptural group and then towards the right-hand side is another pile taking the weight.

The principal artistic element and the image which immediately draws your attention is the stone bas relief of four Partisans, grouped together above the left-hand support pile.

The individual which dominates the image is the male figure of the standard bearer who is on the left of the group – and slightly higher. We also see much more of him, virtually the whole of his body above the waist. He stands face on but his head is turned to his left so we get a right profile. His right arm is raised and his hand grips the flagpole near its top point whilst his left hand grips the pole at waist level. He is a Partisan in full uniform, wearing a cap with a star at the front and tied around his neck is what would have been a red scarf. On his left hip is a buttoned-up, leather holster, only the butt of the pistol visible.

The flag, the flag of the Communist Partisans, flutters in the wind that’s coming from the left as we look at the image. The very top of the flag is the only part of the tableau that breaks the confines of the concrete shape. This would have been a red flag and on it would have been a black, two-headed eagle (an image used by Skenderbeu in the 15th century, through the period of Socialist construction between 1944 and 1990 and to date). However, during the National Liberation Anti-Fascist War and the period of Socialism there would be a small gold star in the space just above where the two heads separate.

The stars were the target for the reactionary, fascist, nationalist forces that gained control of Albania in the early 1990s and many of them on lapidars throughout the country have been the subject of masking or obliteration. Although most of the monument in Elbasan remains in good condition the star on the flag has been erased. If you look carefully at the space above the eagle heads, almost to the top of the lapidar, it’s possible to see that someone has applied ‘fresh’ plaster to level out the area and erase the star. The parallel marks as evidence of this ‘alteration’ are to be found nowhere else on the lapidar.

Monument to the 15th Partisan Assault Brigade - Elbasan - missing star

Missing star

Two of the other Partisans, one female the other male, are similarly looking towards their left. This is where the action is and they are on the way to the battle. They are also in profile but there’s still a lot of information, even though we don’t see much of them.

The female Partisan is partially hidden by the standard bearer but she is also in uniform. She wears a cap and the edge of the star is evident on the front, her long hair flying behind her as she moves quickly forward. It also looks as if she has a red scarf around her neck. In virtually all the lapidars relating to warfare when a woman is depicted she is always armed (as in the mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana) although the men aren’t. This lapidar is no different and the sharp end of her rifle is seen poking out behind the head of the fighter on the right of the group.

In front of her is a young male Partisan from the countryside. In the lapidars the distinction is often made about those Partisans from the countryside by depicting them in the traditional clothing of the mountain people. He’s not in a formal uniform but is dressed in a woollen vest, his shoulders and arms bare. Around his forehead is a sweat band, the knot tied at the back of his head. But his political allegiance is shown by the (red) scarf around his neck. At waist level he holds a sub-machine gun, his right finger on the trigger and his left hand holding the gun at the magazine. His posture is the same as the woman, moving forward towards the battle, his left knee bent to give the impression of the effort to get there quickly.

The fourth member of the quarter is not moving forward. He is an older man from the countryside, he is wearing a waistcoat and on his head a traditional cap (a qeleshe) but one on which is a star. All the people in this image are Communists. Additionally, it’s almost a trope when it comes to depicting older men from the mountains, he’s boasting a bushy moustache. He’s aiming his rifle and pointing downwards with his right finger on the trigger and holding the barrel of his rifle in his left hand. The Partisans, knowing the terrain, would always aim to select the location that was to their greater advantage and this representation of firing downwards appears in other lapidars such as the amazing star at Pishkash. And the mountain top design of the plinth supporting the monument adds to this impression of mountain warfare, he seems to be shooting out of the bas relief into a mountain environment – like someone walking out of a screen of a film.

Everything indicates that this is an ambush of a Nazi column in the mountains.

Where the right hand side of the flag ends we can see the top casings of three gigantic bullets. These then merge into a large, five pointed star which appears to be leaning away from the lapidar at the top but which merges into the concrete at the bottom. It’s more than half the width of the concrete ribbon, so more than a metre from point to point. The very tops of the casings of the cartridges then reappear briefly on the other side of the star until they finally disappear.

The concrete base on which the bas relief sits has curved slightly towards the back of the lapidar creating a partial circular space in the rear but then the panel straightens up and extends for about half the of the total length to the right.

The top left-hand quarter of this now unadorned panel has been plastered so that it provides a smooth face on which are painted (now) in red letters the following;

Partizanet e Brigadës XV S. duke luftuar me popullin kundër pushtuesit nazist gjerman e tradhëtarive çliruan më 11 nëntor 1944 qytetin e Elbasanit

which translates as

To the Partisans of the XVth Assault Brigade who, with the people, struggled against the German Nazis and traitors to Liberate the city of Elbasan on 11th November 1944

(This re-writing of the inscription in red paint must have been completed around the beginning of 2015 as the image in the Albanian Lapidar Survey (Volume 2, page 205) catalogue shows a different version.)

Towards the extreme right-hand edge of the monument there is something attached to the concrete – looking like a rectangular box. I’m not too sure whether this is something which was there originally and supporting another element of the story (but can’t really imagine what). There are signs, holes and general markings, that indicate that whatever was there was more extensive.

(One of the problems of there being so many lapidars to document is that I don’t always ‘see what’s there’ at the time of my visit. It’s only when time and magnification on the computer screen that some aspects become ‘visible’. If I ever get the opportunity to return to Elbasan I’ll try to remember to ask the pertinent questions.)

Generally, this lapidar is in a very good physical condition. There doesn’t appear to be any damage (apart from the mystery markings on the extreme right-hand side) and although it’s unlikely that the bas reliefs would have been painted in gold paint originally at least the painting has been done with an element of care and professionalism, as has the signwriting of the inscription.

Unfortunately, there’s no information available of the artist who created this lapidar – nor of the date of its inauguration. The features of the quartet are very clear, distinctive and detailed – you would recognise the models (I’m sure, if you saw them. This would seem to indicate one of the more accomplished sculptors and it’s very pleasing to see that the detail has remained intact despite the troubled times the country, and consequently the Socialist monuments, went through – especially in the 1990s.

Its present condition and the fact that has had a relatively recent ‘renovation’ and attention would seem to indicate that it has local support and protection. Whether that be from the local community or the municipality is impossible to say.

Nonetheless, this is an important lapidar in the country as it has attributes which I haven’t seen repeated elsewhere.

Location

In the large square created at the junction of Rruga Kadri Hoxha and Rruga Çerçiz Topulli. This is a bit of a transport hub and looks like it might be the site of a recently installed roundabout. It’s just over half a kilometre east of Elbasan Castle in the centre of the town.

GPS

41.11280498

20.07384798

DMS

41° 6′ 46.0979” N

20° 4′ 25.8527” E

Altitude

137.4

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Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

Monument to the Partisan - Tirana

Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

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Monument to the Partisan – Tirana

The ‘Monument to the Partisan’, the work of sculptor Andrea Mano, was created in 1949. It is one of the oldest lapidars in Albania created in the Socialist period and is the monument that has survived (relatively undamaged) the longest in its original location.

The monument consists of a larger than life size figure of a Communist Partisan in full uniform and fully armed. He’s depicted running forward, the element of speed being indicated by the right edge of his jacket flapping in the wind. In his left hand he carries a rifle (his hand is gripped around the barrel in front of the trigger mechanism) but his arm is fully extended downwards so it’s not ready to be used – this rush of his is not to join the battle but to join the celebration of the victory.

His right arm is raised above his head, slightly bent so his hand is pointing behind him but the fist is clenched. This is a visual representation of ‘We have done it’, and a sight that is quite common in present day sporting events. His mouth is wide open and so we know he is shouting but to whom and what we do not know. However, we are given a clue to the event by the inscription – and also the actual location of the statue.

For it was in this area of Tirana, on 17th November 1944, where the last remnants of the Nazi invaders were either killed or surrendered to the Partisan army.

Bukurosh Sejdini - 17 November 1944 - 1957

Bukurosh Sejdini – 17 November 1944 – 1957

He’s not a particularly young man and might be an officer, his uniform is quite smart and over his left shoulder is a strap to which is attached a satchel – which rests on his right hip. However, he doesn’t have a pistol – a normal sign of an officer. (It might be worth commenting here that although the Partisan force was very much a Communist organisation, organised along Communist lines, there still existed a hierarchy of officers and ‘men’ – although a huge percentage of the ‘men’ were female.) On a belt around his waist are a number of pouches with reserve ammunition.

It’s difficult to see (without climbing up the plinth) exactly what he has on his feet but it appears to be the more traditional Albanian footwear than an otherwise more usual heavy boot of the majority of the armies fighting in the Second World War.

However, what we can be certain of is his political allegiance. On the front of his cap can be seen the star and around his neck a scarf, both of which would have been red in actuality. This partisan is a Communist. Perhaps, as his political status is clear – and would have been to all who knew this statue at the time of the reactionary uprising of 1990 – I’m slightly surprised he didn’t suffer any serious vandalism.

The statue of Enver Hoxha, which was pulled down on 20th February 1991, was only a few minutes walk from where the Partisan still stands and it wouldn’t have been too much of a surprise if some neo-fascist (having pulled itself from its hiding hole) hadn’t tried to damage a representation of Communist success. At the same time all the failings in Albanian society were being placed on Enver’s shoulders and personalising matters was a useful tactic for both the reactionaries and those in the higher leadership of the Party of Labour of Albania.

I’m afraid I’m not a big fan of this statue – and didn’t really like it when I first saw it just under nine years ago. At the time I thought he looked too angry – but not in a good way. That was before I fully realised what the statue represented – which was the liberation of Tirana and the soon to be victory of the Partisans over the fascist invaders.

However, it is still important in that it was one of the very first lapidars to be installed in the country – and the first one that attempted to tell the story of the National Liberation War (the earlier statues were of Joseph Stalin).

Bas reliefs

On either side of the statue, on the plinth, there are two bas reliefs. They are not in a particularly good condition and are showing the signs of wear but through time rather than any vandalism. Nonetheless they play an important role in the history of Albanian lapidars as they start to establish artistic ‘tropes’ which were emulated, with various adaptations, by later Albanian sculptors.

Monument to the Partisan - Bas relief 1

Monument to the Partisan – Bas relief 1

The one on the right of the monument as you look face on to the Partisan (i.e., on the left of the statue itself) depicts a small squad of Partisans – in this case seven – in the middle of a battle. However, the juxtaposition of the figures seem to represent more than one event.

The backdrop to the scene is the Communist flag. This is a red flag upon which, in the centre, is a black, double-headed eagle. This symbol was taken from the emblem used by Skenderbeu in the nationalist battle against the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. It was brought into the 20th century with the addition of a gold, five pointed star, which sits exactly in the central space between the two heads. This flag was later adopted as the national flag of Albania after the defeat of the fascists on 29th November 1944. (The present national flag has exactly the same arrangement but without the gold star.)

The principal figure in this panel is a full length, left profile of a Partisan officer. He’s in a full partisan uniform, military jacket and trousers, with the jacket unbuttoned and the left edge being pulled away from his body by the action of his raised left arm. As is usual we know he’s a Communist as there’s a star on his cap – but he doesn’t have a scarf around his neck.

Hanging from his left shoulder, and going across his chest, is an ammunition belt. We can see three clips with five bullets each which are for the rifle he holds in his right hand. We can’t see it but his right arm is fully extended downwards and he must be holding the rifle around the trigger mechanism as we only see the spurting end of the barrel and a small piece of the strap attached to the wooden stock.

The rifle could be a Delaunay-Belleville Model 1907-15 (there’s an example of it in the National Historical Museum (National Liberation War room) in Tirana). The company was a luxury car maker before the First World War but went into war production after 1914. The fact that the Partisans used, in the main, either such old weapons or those they took off the fascist invaders (first Italian and the German) gives an indication of the nature of the force that destroyed Nazism in Albania – using anything and everything to defeat the invaders.

On the belt around his waist there’s a pistol holster thus indicating his officer status (as mentioned above when talking about the statue). His left arm is raised fully above his head and his partially open hand is indicating for all those behind him to come forward for battle.

Finally for this figure we can see that although in full military uniform he is wearing opinga on his feet – the traditional Albanian shoe with a distinctive turned up nodule at the toe.

Above the left shoulder of this officer we can see two partial faces of two male Partisans. Neither is wearing a cap. The figure at the back is the standard bearer as we can see his right hand gripping the flag pole just beneath where the material is attached to the pole. The other figure has a gun raised closed to his face as if he is aiming. Part of the gun is seen running parallel to the top of the officer’s shoulder and the end of the barrel appears behind his face, at the level of his mouth.

This could be a Bereta, 1938, 9mm calibre, automatic rifle. Again there’s one of those in a glass case in the Tirana National History Museum, just in front of the impressive ‘Death to Fascism’ mural. This would more than likely have been taken off a dead Italian invader earlier in the campaign.

The Partisan with the automatic rifle seems to be wearing the traditional trousers called tirq, which don’t quite extend to the ankle and are split the last few inches. He also appears to be barefooted.

Behind of, and seen below the raised arm of, the officer is a female fighter – the first of two on this panel. Her face is in profile, she has long hair (tied up) and she appears to be wearing a cap and I think there’s a hint of a star on the front of the cap. (The problem here is that wear and tear makes some of the detail difficult to make out.) She’s dressed in military uniform but all we can see is an ammunition clip (the same sort as we saw on the officer’s belt) at her waist. We can’t see anything else of her as she’s hidden by the other figures but we have to assume that she too is armed.

The next part I don’t fully understand. This is, if you like, a tableau within a tableau and is reminiscent of the sculpture in Permët Martyrs’ Cemetery called ‘Shoket – Comrades’ by Odhise Paskali.

In the centre is a male figure who has obviously recently been seriously injured as he is slumped backwards although still (just) on his feet. He is depicted as if he were crumbling, without the strength to stand up by himself. Both his knees are bent and his body is so close to the ground his left hand almost touches the earth. The reason he is not on the ground is that another of his comrades has his hands linked so that he provides a supportive loop around the body of his wounded comrade’s waist. The other reason the wounded Partisan is not on the ground is that a female fighter has her left hand gripping his left arm, high up by the armpit and we have to assume her other hand, unseen, is supporting him on his right side.

There is no evidence of any weapons for the two males and it’s difficult to make out exactly how they are dressed. They appear to be in uniform but the male really struggling to keep his comrade from falling down has the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbow. Again strangely, for me, he is also looking forward, in the direction of the advance rather than looking down at his comrade.

There’s also a difference in what they are wearing on their feet. The wounded man is wearing the opinga whilst the ‘healthy’ fighter has the more recognisable military boot.

The female Partisan is the only one we see in full face. In supporting the fallen soldier she has turned so that she is the only one not looking in the direction of the battle, whether taking place or about to start – although the injured Partisan indicates that bullets have already started to fly. She is also in full uniform, seems to be wearing boots but not a cap to cover her long hair. There are two straps coming from both her shoulders across her chest, one of which supports a bulging satchel resting on her left hip the other on the end of which is a huge rifle (almost like a cannon) the end of the barrel of which points to the edge of the panel.

What I don’t understand here is why are they supporting him in the middle of an attack. The bulging satchel indicates she might be a medic but the big rifle indicates she’s definitely a fighter and not a non-combatant. Are they, perhaps, taking the wounded man away from the action but if so, again, why? Yes you want to look after your fallen and injured comrades but if the two carrying the wounded man are also combatants then three, and not just one, fighter is being taken out of the fight at a crucial time. Perhaps he represents the last to die in the liberation of Tirana and only days away from the liberation of the whole country. Whatever the idea it’s a bit of a mystery to me – and something I’ve not come across elsewhere, as far as I can remember.

Finally we have more of a silhouette than a bas-relief. Between these last male and the female, and just above the body of the falling man, is the shape of another male Partisan. Again the figure is in left profile and appears to be in uniform, including a cap. But further than that it’s difficult to say.

Monument to the Partisan - Bas relief 2

Monument to the Partisan – Bas relief 2

If the story in the first bas relief is, at times, difficult to follow the second one is much more basic and straightforward. Here we also have seven partisans (this time all male) in a full on attack. Here no one is holding back and it’s full of action.

All seem to be in full Partisan uniform. Half of them have caps, with signs of the red star, but half do not.

Mallakaster Partisans - possibly 1943

Mallakaster Partisans – possibly 1943

(Here it might be worthwhile to say that before the beginning of the organised Partisan onslaught against the Italian invaders, following the Peze Conference of 16th September 1942, the Albanian forces were more of a guerrilla force. Their tactics were very much that of hit and run – and they were very successful at that even before the Conference. However, the Conference gave structure to the struggle and as part of that uniforms started to become more common. Whether that brings with it certain negatives is a debate for another time but what it did lead to was a more organised opposition and by the time of the liberation of Tirana, on 17th November 1944, most of the troops that entered the city would have been in uniform.)

At the front we have two Partisans, one kneeling one standing, both with their rifles on their shoulders and they are firing whilst looking through the sights. Those two are heavily armed, both have extra ammunition on their belts and the one who is kneeling has a pistol holster on his right hip.

Behind them, also standing and firing with his rifle at his shoulder, is another Partisan. Again heavily armed but this time with a grenade attached to his belt. This is, in fact, a Mills bomb, a British made grenade. This is the grenade that looks like a very small (yet lethal) pineapple. The end of the barrel of his rifle pokes out behind the standing marksman in the front rank.

As the British weren’t fighting the Nazis in mainland Europe until June 1944 – whilst the Albanian Communists had been fighting them for almost two years – the Partisans were more than happy to take any weapons that came their way. Consignments of Mills bombs were part of that ‘support’. The problem was that the British thought that by providing such assistance they had the right to determine what sort of society should be developed in Albania after the end of hostilities. The Albanians didn’t agree and had to endure decades of attempts by the British imperialists to subvert Albanian Socialism.

We only see part of the head of the next fighter so we can only speculate what he is doing, but probably the same as the first three.

The next figure is the most dynamic of the lot. The strap across his chest is for his rifle and the top of the barrel can be seen over his left shoulder. He is leaning back and his right arm is slightly bent but extended behind him. In his hand he holds a Mills bomb and his stance is one that will give his body the greatest chance of throwing the grenade with the greatest force to where he wants it to land. To make sure he is steady he has his legs wide apart giving extra stability as well as more force for his throw. As on the other panel there is a variation in the clothing and this ‘grenadier’ is wearing traditional tirq trousers (short of the ankle and split at the bottoms) as well as wearing the opinga. He is also the only one with his mouth open – announcing to the Nazis what they could expect from his British present.

Although he doesn’t wear a cap he has a scarf around his neck indicating, yet again, that he is a Communist. Always, on Albanian lapidars, the star and scarf, both of which would have been red, indicate a Communist. Although not all Partisans were Communists they were the majority in the National Liberation Front.

The next figure is also rushing forward, indicated be the bottom edge of his jacket being thrown back in his haste. This allows us to see that he, too, has extra rifle ammunition clips (two) on his belt. But he’s not seen with a rifle but with another grenade.

However, this is not one ‘kindly donated’ by the British, this one is a present he is returning to the original owners as this is a German made stick grenade. He isn’t ready to throw yet so he just grips it tightly in his right hand, his arm extended downwards. The advantage the stick grenade had over the British version (unless the thrower was good at cricket) was that the long stick provided a lever motion and so increased the distance thrown. However, its size went against it as less could be carried. But here we are shown that the Partisans used weapons from all sources, none being rejected.

Finally, and barely discernible, behind the two grenadiers is part of the head of another male Partisan. The star can be made out on his cap but there’s little else that can be said about him.

Establishing the artistic ‘tropes’

The ‘Monument to the Partisan’ was, as I’ve already said, the very first true sculptural lapidar. The sculptor, Andrea Mano, also spent a great deal of his working life teaching his art – first in a High School and then at the finest Art School in the country, the University of Arts in Tirana (from 1954-1982) – and therefore coming into contact with the young and upcoming, post-Liberation trained sculptors. So there’s no real surprise that some of the images he used in his early work re-appeared in an often more sophisticated manner.

Those artistic ‘tropes’ I think can be seen in this monument are;

the raised arm, often with the individual looking in the opposite direction to where the action was taking place, signalling for those unseen in the work of art to come and join the fight, battle or general struggle. This can be seen in the Arch of Drashovicë,

armed women, of all ages. If the lapidar (be it a sculpture, bas relief or mosaic) is telling a story of armed conflict then the women (if not all the men) will be armed. This references the fact that if women want true liberation they will have to be prepared to take arms to achieve and/or retain those gains. This can be seen in ‘The Albanians’ mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana, the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Lushnjë and the statue of Liri Gero, in the ‘Sculpture Park’ behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

the footwear telling a story. The traditional opinga mixing with the European boot (indicating the changing culture as well as a connection with the past), or even sometimes individuals will be barefooted, referencing the extreme poverty of a huge part of the population, yet still prepared to fight for freedom and liberation from oppression.

images of traditional clothing. This is similar to the issue with the footwear but from a slightly different angel. Clothing would indicate from which part of the country an individual might call home. This was in an effort to indicate to the viewer that the revolution, and the war against the invader, was something that involved all of the country, with its different ethnic groups. This also helped to show that the struggles involved men and women of all ages, with the older perhaps still hanging on to the traditional when it came to dress but prepared to fight together with the young with more modern ideas of fashion.

its quite interesting to see how often the clothing being shown as if it has been caught in the wind so as to give the impression of speed, especially when rushing to a battle. This was often seen in conjunction with ‘the hand calling to action’ motif.

Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that visiting the ‘Monument to the Partisan’ will mean you have seen all that the lapidars have to offer but it would be a good place to start to compare with any you might encounter in other parts of the country.

Inscription

Plaque on the Monument to the Partisan

Plaque on the Monument to the Partisan

If you look at the picture at the very top of this post you will notice the inscription (although the same wording) is different from what is in place today. I have no information about when the old, stand alone metal letters and numbers might have been removed. It might have been political vandalism at some time in the 1990s or it might have been simple theft – all societies will always have scumbags who will steal the smallest items for a minor profit – in the past, the present and the foreseeable future.

Whatever the fate of the inscription what is noticeable is that the star did not reappear on the replacement marble plaque. I have seen it in other locations, where a carved star will be at the top of the new plaque but not here. (I’ll have to write a post one day bringing together the fate of the ‘Communist Star’ in Albanian lapidars.) Here it might be enough to just say that for the reactionaries in Albania the Red Star is second only in the hate league table to Enver Hoxha. But as Chairman Mao said ‘To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing’.

The wording on the front of the monument, originally and at present is

in Albanian;

Populli i Tiranës partizanëve të rënë për çlirimin e kryeqytetit 28/X–17/XI/1944

which translates as;

The People of Tirana to the Partisans who fell during the Liberation of the capital, 28th October to 17th November 1944

Sculptor

Andrea Mano (1919-2000) was a pre-liberation sculptor, in the sense that he was born in 1919 and followed his education in Italy – before the Italians decided to invade Albania on 7th April 1939 as part of the Fascist plan to take control of Europe. That would seem to indicate he came from a relatively privileged background. He returned to Albania in 1942. I have no information whether he took an active part in the National Liberation War – or not. He couldn’t have been all that bad as, in 1946, he was given a scholarship to study in Zagreb, Yugoslavia – before Tito decided that he could take the country on a road to ‘Socialism’ different from that of the one indicated by Marxism-Leninism. This meant Mano had to return to Albania in 1948 and that must have been when he was awarded the commission for the Partisan Monument.

He was involved (together with Odhise Paskali and Janaq Paço) in the major sculpture of the equestrian Skanderbeu, which was installed in the central square in Tirana which bears his name in 1968 – the 500th anniversary of his death. In the process ousting the Soviet made statue of Joseph Stalin to a little bit down the road.

He was also one of the sculptors responsible for ‘The Four Heroines of Mirdita’ (1970) – together with Fuat Dushku, Perikli Çuli and Dhimo Gogollari. Tragically this amazing structure was one of the first victims of the reaction and was destroyed in 1993.

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Four Heroines of Mirdita, Rreshen

Although he produced smaller works that have been displayed in the National Art Gallery in Tirana he seems to have devoted most of his time to the teaching of his craft.

Location

Sheshi Sulejman Pasha

Tirana

This square is behind the building that houses the Opera House and the National Library and also where the buses leave to go to the airport and those that will take you to the cable car of Dajti.

(This is just beside Rruga George W Bush – which makes me almost want to vomit to type the words. There’s even a statue to ‘GW’ in Fushe Krujë, can you believe it?)

GPS

41.32813901

19.82198697

DMS

41° 19′ 41.3004” N

19° 49′ 19.1531” E

Altitude

113.1m

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