Enver Hoxha returns to Tepelene

Enver Hoxha with the people of Tepelene

Enver Hoxha with the people of Tepelene

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Enver Hoxha returns to Tepelene

although he probably never left, just ‘hiding’ for a while.

Almost thirty five years after his death and thirty years since the reaction was able to gain control in Albania it is very difficult to come across public images of Enver Hoxha, the leader of the country for just over forty years. In the 1990s the reactionaries needed to personalise any difficulties in the country and someone who had been dead for five years was an ideal candidate – even to the extent that Comrade Hoxha was considered responsible for events that had happened after his death. So he had to disappear from view.

This was not something new and peculiar to Enver Hoxha or Albania. Joseph Stalin was held personally responsible for anything considered untoward whilst leader of the Soviet Union. How a single person can be held personally responsible for everything that happens in a country that covered one sixth of the Earth’s land mass is something I have never understood. At the same time this ‘superman’ with God-like qualities is denigrated by Trotskyite neo-fascists as being an ignorant Georgian peasant.

Some of the ignoramuses who state things would have developed differently in the Soviet Union if Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had not died (partially as a result of the part of an assassins bullet still being lodged in his brain) prematurely in 1924 just don’t understand either the man or the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Such people who indulge in these ‘what if’ scenarios are often superficial in their approach and especially in the case of Lenin display a total ignorance of what a strong leader he was and how he knew – long before Chairman Mao put it in poetic language – that ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’. Hard acts and decisions are needed to reverse centuries of exploitation and oppression and the stultifying effect this has on the thinking of those on the receiving end of such treatment, i.e., the vast majority of the world’s population.

But it is always easy to blame an individual and even more so when they are not around to defend themselves. It’s also useful for reactionaries (and here I’m talking about both the ‘capitalist roaders’ – to use another term from Chairman Mao – who might have hidden themselves within the Party structure just waiting for a chance to show their true colours and the reactionaries who had hidden themselves in some hole just waiting for the chance to get their revenge on a system that had deprived them of their wealth and power – the latter group always having assistance and support from those countries of the so-called ‘capitalist west’) to personalise matters as that means there’s no real discussion about ideology, either the past or the future.

Successive governments in Albania – when the country wasn’t at its own throat in an almost open civil war or depriving a huge number of relatively poor people of whatever savings they might have had due to criminal pyramid/ponzi schemes – have displayed an unbelievable propensity for corruption. And to divert attention away from their criminal activities of the past and present (and they hope for the future) they heap all manner of calumnies upon the leader, and ruling Party, of the past.

But after thirty or more years blaming everything on persons who are either dead or out of any position to determine events starts to wear thin.

The first Socialist state (which was established in Russia in 1917 and which became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – USSR) was established in a world where the overwhelming majority of the population had been oppressed and exploited by various social systems for thousands of years. Changing the relationships of the people to the means of production was a difficult enough task but to change ideas was even more so. Yet within a matter of months, in the new Soviet state, those peasants who might have taken advantage of the chaos that accompanied the Civil War were pointed at and highlighted as ‘Communists exploiting the situation’. (Here I’m referring to photographic images with captions such as ‘Communists selling human flesh’ during the worse days of the Civil War – if not caused by certainly sponsored by the previously warring parties of the 1914-1919 War.)

The stupidity of such an assertion – that those who had never encountered Socialist ideas before and more than likely were illiterate would become clear thinking and committed Communists in a matter of days – shouldn’t really need to be refuted. However, the world is full of stupid people who will lap up such dross as a hungry dog eats its own vomit.

But when those Socialist societies tragically collapse (due to a mixture of both internal and external contradictions) and the world is ‘opened up’ to the population of those countries to enjoy the ‘benefits of capitalism’ they find that all that was promised on the other side of the rainbow is not quite what they expected, in fact it was all a con.

There was a price to pay for all those promises and when it was paid the wherewithal to achieve the capitalist dream was denied to huge sectors of the population. From being members of a Socialist society where they were the owners of all they became mere cogs in the capitalist machine where a privileged few were in real control and only a mere handful could ‘raise themselves from their menial position’ and get to have a real feed at the trough. But the more the few stuffed themselves the less there was for the majority.

In Albania, apart from taking out their frustration on statues of Enver Hoxha, especially in Tirana and Gjirokaster, the population (probably egged on by foreign supported neo-fascist forces) decided to destroy virtually all the means of production. This resulted in factories being looted of anything of any value and in every town and city, now 30 years later, there are still the empty shells of these one time thriving factories.

When I first went to Albania in 2011 I couldn’t really understand this. I couldn’t, and still can’t, get my head around why, if people for whatever reason don’t like a social system they then destroy the places where they used to work. If they thought the Party of Labour of Albania wasn’t allowing them the full rights to control their factories why didn’t they take them over and run them themselves? If they were tired of having the responsibility of making decisions and having to think for themselves why didn’t they just turn the factories over to those who would be quite happy to exploit the workers ‘in the good old fashioned capitalist manner’. Then at least they would have work.

One argument given to me as some sort of excuse for such actions was that the machinery was old and needed replacement. That might well have been the case due to the country’s forced isolation but that doesn’t mean the solution is to loot everything and leave a useless shell. That doesn’t make sense in any society. This was especially so as in the 1980s workers in Britain were occupying factories when the owners wanted to close them down. Why this great divide between the intentions and activities of the workers in the two different countries?

In Albania they just destroyed the means of production and then realised there was nothing for them to do but leave the country in order to be able to keep their families alive. So in the 1990s vast numbers of workers went to various neighbouring countries but mainly (at least initially) to Italy and Greece. And this continues to this day – although the crisis that followed the capitalist disaster of 2008 has had an effect on that once reasonably easy form of making a living.

But thirty years on capitalism has not turned Albania into a thriving country – as was ‘promised’. But then capitalism never has, doesn’t now and never will provide for the vast majority of the population. Even in the countries of the so-called ‘prosperous industrialised world’ we see vast differentials in the incomes of their populations and the next capitalist crisis is always around the corner – each one more severe than the last.

So a generation after the ‘fall of Communism’ (six generations if you are a Scottish nationalist) some people are starting to think that perhaps they threw out the baby with the bath water in the 1990s.

This is not just a recent revelation. In my travels in Albania since 2011 I have met a number of people who bemoan what they allowed to happen. Yes, they were isolated (I would argue that was not Albania’s fault but the hostility of the capitalist and revisionist world which was annoyed that such a small country held on to its principled stand in the face of such fierce and overwhelming opposition) and yes, perhaps they didn’t have all the consumer goods that seemed to be falling from heaven in the capitalist countries.

But they did have a functioning and effective health system free for all, they did have an equally free education system, there were guaranteed jobs – which came with apprenticeships and training – they had a society that was functioning and where the majority of the family would be in the country, they did have enough to eat (although toward the end of the 1980s the chaos that was being whipped up by reactionary elements meant that supply routes were continually being disrupted).

This has been a long introduction to a post which announces that Enver Hoxha is now starting to appear in (still a few) public locations in the country. The damaged large, white, marble bust that appeared behind the National Art Gallery a couple of years ago has now been unwrapped – even if the sculpture does have a broken nose. And the general area is now easily accessible to visitors (after years of me having to time my approach when the security guard was otherwise engaged) and the area is generally clean. That doesn’t mean that the ‘well-informed’ local guides don’t spout the same anti-Socialist, anti-Communist, anti-Hoxha line but visitors can appreciate some of the culture of the Socialist era.

And in 2020 the picture at the head of this post was visible to any visitors to the Tepelene (in the south of the country) historical museum.

Right at the back of the museum, attached to the room that commemorates the struggle of the Albanian people in the War of National Liberation against the Italian fascists and then the German Nazis, is a small room (I am almost certain in its original condition, i.e., pre 1990) which contains this picture of Enver Hoxha during a visit to the town of Tepelene. As well as the painting there are boards pinned to the wall that celebrate the achievements of the Albanian people in various fields such as industry, agriculture, health, education and social well being.

The painting bears the name of Aljosha Billbilli and is dated 1985 which indicates it could have been commissioned following Comrade Enver’s death in April of that year. It shows the leader of the Party looking down across the Vjosa River with the mountain range that separates Gjirokaster and Permet in the background.

Across the river can be seen terraces which had been constructed in the Socialist period, now no longer in use as individual, small holder farming (which is what exists in the vast majority of the country) doesn’t allow for the labour power to maintain such collective systems. Terraces also need irrigation which is another collective enterprise.

As is often the case in Albanian Socialist paintings there is a representation of the different ethnic backgrounds of the people of the area. This is shown primarily through their dress but also by their physical characteristics. Being a small country Albania presents a huge variety of ethnic types.

It’s not possible to exactly place the location of the picture but there’s a lapidar alongside the road that skirts the town of Tepelene which offers a very similar aspect to the one in the painting.

So if you are in the vicinity of Tepelene (and most visitors to the country will be as Gjirokaster, one of the most visited towns is a mere 30 minutes or so down the road) then call in to the Tepelene Museum, just up a few steps up the hill on the left where the road, on entering the town, widens on the approach from Gjirokaster or Permet.

Unfortunately opening times of the museum can be slightly erratic but it should be open during the early part of the day from Monday to Friday.

Tepelene Historical Museum - Pickaxe and Rifle

Tepelene Historical Museum – Pickaxe and Rifle

One other aspect of the museum building which is quite unique is the symbol of the Party of Labour of Albania on the facade, just above the main entrance.

This is a metal image of a Pickaxe and Rifle (which can also be seen on the top of the building which used to be the Party’s headquarters in Peshkopia). The idea here is that Socialism will be built by the labour of the workers but the new social system needs to be prepared to use arms in order to defend what has already been gained. Capitalism never rests when it sees that it’s control of various parts of the world has been, is and will be challenged and a strong and determined response is crucial for the survival of the Socialist system. Joseph Stalin and Enver Hoxha were very clar and united on this matter.

That’s why, to repeat what I’ve already stated above, ‘a revolution is not a dinner party’ and once down the road of the construction of Socialism there are certain steps that need to be taken if the attainment of Communism is to be achieved.

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Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia

Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia

Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia

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Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia

Originally my project to describe, in detail, the magnificent examples of Socialist Realist Art that are embodied in some of the lapidars throughout the country has now expanded as I’ve encountered other incidences of the unique manner used in Albania in its attempt to impart the message of Socialism. Whereas some of these are truly monumental in all senses of the word, such as the Drashovice Arch, many others are, if not actually hidden, difficult to find unless you are looking for them or, as in this case, are directed towards it by a knowledgeable local. The emblem over what used to be the Headquarters of the Party of Labour of Albania, in the mountain town of Peshkopia in the north-east of the country, is one such example.

I don’t even know what such an item is called. It’s made from sheet steel (to tell by the way it’s now rusting) and must be about 3 metres high and about as much wide when the slogan surrounding the design is taken into account. The basis of this emblem is the outline of the whole of the country of Albania on to which have been welded, on the left, a pickaxe and, on the right, a rifle. This is a reminder of the slogan of the Party during the years of Socialist construction, between 1944 and 1990, signifying the that the workers can only construct and maintain Socialism if the efforts of the workers are backed up by arms. The revolution was born out of armed struggle against Italian and German Fascism and the preparedness to use arms would be necessary to defend any gains from outside interference.

In a large semi-circle in metal letters attached to a metal wire frame are (presently) the letters ‘SH I ERI SHKEM ANITI’. This is not complete and originally would have been SH[Q]I[P]ERI[A] SHKEM[B] [G]RANITI meaning “Albania, hard as a rock” (like granite).

Although in its early existence the building would have been the centre for the Party in the Peshkopia area it has now been divided into individual offices, one of which is that of the Albanian Socialist Party (presently in power nationally) but which is a party that has ditched and denied any revolutionary credentials and is no more nor less than a typical, capitalist, social democratic party, far from being immune from the corruption that seems to have become endemic in the country.

What I don’t understand in this case is why, if the emblem hasn’t been taken down, why it hasn’t been looked after and the missing letters replaced. If such a party wants to deny its past then don’t hang on to the credibility that some people in the country might place on the new party due to its antecedents with a reminder of the past, historic, slogan. Be honest, make a break with the past and start ‘anew’. But then that would be endowing such a party with scruples and principles to which it doesn’t posses.

Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia - lightbulb

Emblem over Party HQ, Peshkopia – light bulb

It must be stated that it’s not all easy to see this emblem. It’s high up on the roof of a three storey building and the nearby trees means you are directly underneath the symbol before it is visible. On closer examination you will be able to see a single incandescent light bulb, half way down on the right hand side. There are a series of holes marking the boundary of the country and I assume that all of these, in the past, would have such a bulb installed and would be lit up at night.

I don’t know if it was always a unique creation but I have certainly not seen anything of its like in other parts of the country.

Location

The emblem is on the building just across the road from the Korabi Hotel, in whose restaurant is the mural of the traditional wedding.

GPS:

N 41.685405

E 20.426697

DMS:

41° 41′ 7.458” N

20° 25′ 36.1092” E

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National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana

Uncle Joe - Art Gallery 'Sculpture Park'

Uncle Joe – Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’

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National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana

Each time I’ve been to Tirana I’ve made it a point to visit the impromptu ‘sculpture park’ that has been created behind the National Art Gallery, just down from the main Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

The Art Gallery itself has only a very few actual sculptures on display inside the building, the emphasis being on paintings, especially those from the period from 1945 to 1990, where the dominant style was that of Socialist Realism.

But the area behind the gallery was constructed not for the display of works of art but as a service access to the building. And as the gallery is a public building this area shows the lack of care and investment in maintenance that is the general fate of public spaces in the whole of Albania, not just the capital of Tirana.

The statues that are now there would have previously held pride of place in some public square in different parts of Tirana but there is no indication of their provenance. Some have been damaged, either by accident or design, the statue of the great Marxist and first Soviet leader, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (the work of Kristina Hoshi, the original of which was created in 1954 in cement) in bronze, missing his right arm from the elbow. This once stood proud close to its present position, in the park across the road.

Many of the statues of individuals from the socialist era take on the pose of some famous meeting and the stance that Lenin takes in this statue can be seen on a number of photos from his relatively short time as leader of the first socialist state (his life no doubt being cut short as a consequence of an assassin’s attempt in 1918 which failed in its aim but which meant that a fragment of the bullet could not be removed from Lenin’s brain).

VI Lenin in Tirana - 1970

VI Lenin in Tirana – 1970

When it comes to the great Marxist leaders they are always (at least here in Albania) depicted with their right arm making some sort of gesture or greeting whilst slightly behind their bodies, in their left hand, they hold a roll of paper as if they are about to make an important proclamation.

Although this damage is unfortunate at least it allows an insight to the form of construction of these statues. They are not made of solid bronze, as many would think, but of a hollow bronze that’s only about a couple of centimetres thick. This relatively cheap construction technique explains why so many statues were erected in virtually every town in the country (it also explains why it was so easy to topple these statues in the counter-revolution).

Although few in number this small group provides quite a deep insight into the thinking of the Party of Labour of Albania during the 45 years it was the dominant political force within the country and attempting to construct a socialist society.

Uncle Joe - in happier times in Tirana

Uncle Joe – in happier times in Tirana

Socialist Albania gave women a role in society and assigned them an importance that has never been surpassed, either in the Soviet Union which proceeded the victory of Socialism in Albania or any other country that has attempted to construct socialism since. This is not the role of women in the higher echelons of society, the breaking of the so-called ‘glass ceiling’, the breaking of which only benefits a minuscule percentage of women in any society yet which gets most coverage in the capitalist media.

In Albania it was the women from the working class and peasantry whose lives were changed beyond recognition. In a patriarchal society where women were oppressed by virtual feudal social and economic conditions, as well as by the stultifying traditions of the church (of various trends) by the taking up of the gun during the war for national liberation against the Italian and German Fascist invaders they stated unequivocally that they would no longer ‘live in the old way’.

In many of the extent monuments to the struggles of the past a woman takes a central position and virtually always with a weapon in hand. Albanian women weren’t prepared to have ‘freedom’ given to them, they would fight for it themselves, freedom that would have real meaning. The clearest example of this idea can be seen in the huge mosaic on the façade of the National Historical Museum in Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

The young woman depicted in the dirty shambles of the rear of the Art Gallery (in bronze) is of Liri Gero and exudes confidence in her own ability, looks the viewer straight in the eye (not looking down as ‘traditional’ society would have her do), has a gun strapped to her back and clutches a small bunch of flowers in her left hand. Communists fight for bread but for roses too!

Female Liberation Fighter clutching flowers

Female Liberation Fighter clutching flowers

The smallest of the collection depicts a male fighter (also in bronze) from one of the ethnic groups from the mountains of Albania demonstrating that the fight for freedom is not restricted to the ‘sophisticated’ city dwellers or a self-selected intellectual elite but should involve everyone from all sectors and strata of society.

Liberation Fighter

Liberation Fighter

Another of the statues is a physical representation of one of the fundamentals of Albanian Socialist society, the Pickaxe and Rifle (Hector Dule, 1966, Bronze). Here we have a male holding a rifle, the butt resting on the ground, in his left hand whilst in his right he holds high a pickaxe. These two items are the equivalent of the Soviet Hammer and Sickle. Whereas in the Soviet Union the symbol represented the unity of the industrial worker and the peasant the Albanian Pickaxe and Rifle declares that the successful construction of a Socialist society depends upon physical labour protected by the determination of the population to defend any gains by force of arms.

Pick Axe and Rifle

Pick Axe and Rifle

The fact that far too many Albanians forgot this necessity during the counter-revolution of the early 1990s (and then seemed to lose all common sense in the chaotic years that followed, basically throwing out the baby with the bath water) doesn’t detract from the validity of this revolutionary concept.

JV Stalin - Skenderberg Square, Tirana

JV Stalin – Skenderberg Square, Tirana

Finally we have the statues of JV Stalin and VI Lenin, the great Marxist Russian leaders so admired by the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. I’ve already mentioned the damaged statue of Lenin. This statue, along with one of Uncle Joe, was covered by a tarpaulin just prior to the 100th anniversary of Albanian ‘independence’ in November 2012 – true independence for Albania (if only for 46 years) was achieved on November 29th, 1944. They have now been released from their dark penance but they have been joined by another new comrade who is, presently, covered with a white tarpaulin. I have been told this is a damaged bust of Enver Hoxha.

The hidden stranger

The hidden stranger

I was pleasantly surprised on my visit in October 2014 to find that there had been a new arrival to the small, select group. This was another, but somewhat larger, statue of Stalin. The ‘new’ arrival is in a less formal stance, without cap and is depicted as if greeting the viewer with his right arm stretched out. This is made out of bronze and as far as I can tell it used to stand in the square in front of the Bashkia (Town Hall) in the town of Kombinat – to the south-west of Tirana, on the old road to Durres.It’s at this point you would get off the bus if you wished to visit the grave of Enver Hoxha in its present location in the main city cemetery after being ousted from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery.

On one side of this square was the main entrance to the huge textile factory that gave the town its name (Kombinat means factory in Albanian). This has been derelict for many years and the ruins have slowly disappeared as the land has been cleared for other uses. The only noticeable remains of the factory is the main gate itself – with interesting decoration over the arches. You can get an ideas of how things used to look from a small painting called Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory by Abdurrahmin Buza and painted in 1948 which is on permanent exhibition in the Art Gallery itself.

It’s exactly the same as a statue that was placed in the oil and industrial town of Qender Stalin (now renamed Korcova, not that far from Berat) but there the statue was made from concrete and unlikely to have survived the chaos of the 1990s.

The original design was by Odhise Paskali whose other works number the statue of Skanderbreu on the horse in the square to which he gives his name in the centre of Tirana, as well as another of the national hero in the National Museum, this time not being a burden to a poor animal but standing on his own two feet. Paskali was also the artist for, among others; the group Shokët (Comrades) in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery; the standing Partisan on the monument to the Congress of Përmet in the town itself; a double bust of the Two Heroines of Gjirokaster; and a bust of Vojo Kushi, now in a small square on Rruga Dibres to the north of the city centre.

Perhaps one down side of a new Joe arriving is that the statue of the female Partisan, Liri Gero, has been moved to make way for the Man of Steel and is now facing the other statues, with her back to the Art Gallery. Is this yet another example of the return of a patriarchal society or is it, the reverse, that the female fighter is going to give a lesson to the men?

If I will ever be able to find out more details of these statues, i.e., who was the sculptor, where they originally stood, how they survived the counter-revolution and why they ended up in the shadows of the National Art Gallery remains to be seen.

One slight difficulty that has arisen since my last visit a couple of years ago is the presence of a ‘security’ guard who has to be circumvented in order to get a close view of the statues. Why he is so conscientious in this I don’t understand. If the authorities don’t want anyone to see them why place them out in the open? However, he can only be in one place at a time and when he is watching the world go by at the southern end of the gallery grounds, just creep towards the north.

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