Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism

Lavdi Deshmoreve - Glory to the Martyrs - Edison Gjergjo

Lavdi Deshmoreve – Glory to the Martyrs – Edison Gjergjo

More on Albania …..

Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism

Introduction

It’s relatively easy to make a revolution – the difficult part is being able to survive the fury of the reaction from capitalism/imperialism and the death and destruction it is prepared to rain on any group of workers and peasants who dare to challenge the established order. If a society survives that onslaught – and many have not – then the building of the of a new, Socialist, classless based society is even more difficult. Of the few workers and peasants revolutions that were successful in the 20th century it’s worth mentioning from the start that they were all led by organised Communist parties which followed, and developed, the Marxist-Leninist ideology – thereby putting the Trotskyites, the Anarchists and any other ‘ideology’ in their place.

It’s also relatively easy to re-organise industry and agriculture in a different, collective manner from that which has existed since the early years of the 19th century. The term ‘relatively’ has to be taken in context. Industrialisation and collectivisation in the Soviet Union, for example, from the late 1920s into the 19030s, wasn’t easy and was fraught with difficulties. But the first step – taking the land and the means of production away from the big landowners and capitalists – was achieved by the organised workers (and especially their leadership) who knew force of arms, used by the majority of the population, was a winning argument.

However, the biggest hurdle a new workers’ state has to face in the effort to construct Socialism, the biggest challenge that has to be taken on and the issue that has to be resolved before a truly new society can be established is in the confronting the ideas of the old society which are entrenched within all who have been brought up in a society relying on oppression and exploitation. Some willingly confront these vestiges of the past, some do so reluctantly, some cling on to them in the hope the new social ‘experiment’ will fail but all within the new Socialist society have to take a stance on this matter – whether they are aware of it or not.

Not only do we need to put capitalism and imperialism into the dustbin of history, to the same wheelie bin we also have to consign the old ideas.

And that’s not easy.

In fact it’s so difficult that no society which has attempted to build Socialism has been able to exist for more than 46 years – barely two generations – but even that was a major achievement when we consider that the country in question was Albania which had a tiny population and was faced, from the very beginning, with the open hostility of the capitalist and imperialist forces who came out of the Second World War weakened (especially in Europe) but still hell bent on destroying those societies that had taken up the Red Banner of Socialism. Whilst overcoming those early attempts at the restoration of capitalism Albania later had to face the chaos, both economically and politically, caused by the revisionist degeneration of once proud Communist, Marxist-Leninist Parties.

In this article I want to look at how the Party of Labour of Albania, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, sought to use culture, especially those monuments, mosaics and bas reliefs (known as lapidars in Albania) which were on permanent public display throughout the country, as a weapon in the idealogical battle against the old ideas of the rotten and moribund capitalist system as well as counter-acting the ‘new’ ideas of the equally rotten ‘modern revisionism’ which was aiming to destroy the Socialist state from within.

What is a lapidar?

The simplest English translation of the Albania word ‘lapidar’ would be ‘monolith’. It may also be useful to say it’s a word used to represent monuments in Albania long before the victory of the Communist Partisans in the National Liberation War on November 29th 1944. It is also true the vast majority of lapidars created after liberation were in fact simple monoliths which were often erected in locations where there had been a battle with the fascists – first Italian and then German – and where Partisans had been killed and buried (often hurriedly) in the vicinity.

They were normally a four sided pillar with the sides tapering as it got higher but which were truncated long before arriving at a point. These vary in size from ones just over a metre high to ones slightly more elaborate and 5 or 6 metres high. Normally there would be a plaque attached with the names of the Fallen and often a Red Star at the top indicating these were Communist Partisans. (As you will see later these red stars were like a red rag to the reactionary and fascist bulls after the restoration of capitalism in Albania in 1990.)

But as the revolution and the construction of Socialism in Albania developed, as the issues the country had to face became more difficult and complex, so did the lapidars evolve to encompass more statuary and architectural elements.

To get a visual idea of this evolution in Albanian lapidars it would be useful to have a look at a short film, called ‘Lapidari’ (Director: Esat Ibro, Screenplay: Viktor Gjika, 1984–6) which shows the evolution of a single lapidar in the countryside. From being a simple grave it evolves into a more elaborate structure as the society becomes more wealthy so that at the end it is faced with marble slabs.

There are a couple of interesting touches in this short video which put matters into its historical context. One is the capture of renegades who had attempted to subvert the society with the assistance of the imperialist nations, particularly the British. This is the scene where we hear aircraft noises at night and then the capture of these traitors. As they are led away in handcuffs the villagers surround the lapidar in a symbolic move of protecting what had been fought for in the past.

This lapidar sits in the middle of the community and ‘observes’ the changes that take place over the years with the collectivisation of the land, which brings with it machinery and at the very end we see an image of an electricity pylon which indicates the electrification of the country. Being at the centre of the community it also is the focal point for public holidays and this was an aspect of all the lapidars in the country, in the cities as well as the countryside, where children would play an integral part of the celebrations.

Pioneers stand as guard of honour on Martyrs' Day May 5th

Pioneers stand as guard of honour on Martyrs’ Day May 5th

Children would lay flowers on the lapidars and stand guard at the tombs in the larger cemeteries on those national occasions. This was in an effort to educate children about the past, where their family members had fought against the invading fascists and had provided for the first time in Albania’s history a true liberation for the working people reinforcing the connection between the present and the past.

The Albanian Lapidar Survey

I first became aware of the lapidars on my first visit to Albania, in 2011, when I travelled extensively around the country encountering some of these remarkable structures from the window of a bus or a train. Once I realised what a treasure trove there was of these monuments I decided I would start a project to make a photographic record of these unique structures as the amount of deliberate vandalism I was seeing, together with general neglect indicated they would soon disappear from the landscape. The problem was there were only so many I could visit just based on chance encounters as I went around the country.

In Tirana I met, by chance, some people who were able to direct me to certain sources, especially the National Archive, but the problem is there you need to know what to ask for before you can get it – and then there’s the matter of the Albanian language – which I don’t have.

Then, by sheer chance and extremely fortuitously, I came across the Albanian Lapidar Survey project.

This was where members of the Department of Eagles (a project following artistic development in Albania) obtained funding to go the width and breadth of the country in order to record the locations and document as fully as possible those lapidars still in existence.

As a result of their work three volumes were produced recording the results – all available as downloadable pdfs. Volume One contains a number of introductory articles, some contemporary some historical, surrounding the lapidars. It then lists around 650 lapidars with their location and any other pertinent information, such as any wording on the lapidar, dates of of inauguration and artist/s involved (if known). Volumes Two and Three contain (normally) two images of each of the lapidars surveyed.

For me this was a godsend as in one fell swoop I was provided with a huge database that meant finding these (sometimes) artistic gems was much more than a chance encounter – although it did mean I often had to travel long distances in local transport just to have a few minutes to capture images for my own project and also having to walk long distances along deserted roads to get to, or back from, some of the most remote.

I’m also pleased to be able to say I was also able to make some additions to the list as the information the researchers were working on was never totally complete. Also, for reasons I will go into later, there was a cut-off point in what was considered a lapidar so there are many other artistic works from the Socialist period which I have identified in my travels and which I consider to be ‘lapidars’ but which are not part of the ALS catalogue. These included, especially, mosaics and bas reliefs – sometimes outside and sometimes inside buildings.

Sculptors and architects get involved

Why there was a move (or more exactly a development) from the simple, local, community lapidars to some amazing, truly monumental works of art I will address later. What is clear, however, is from the middle of the 1960s – and for a period of twenty years – the lapidars that appeared in Albania were the creations of trained sculptors and architects.

As was seen in the short video ‘Lapidari’ what might have started out as a simple grave became more elaborate as the wealth and skills in the community increased. Making a monolith higher and facing it with marble was well within the skills of local builders. If there was any decoration it would be in the form of a carved stone which might depict the eagle, the symbol of Albania, with the addition of a star to celebrate the Socialist Revolution. Yes, this needed skill and practice but this was the sort of artistic work which could be produced at a local level by a local artisan.

When it came to producing more than life size human figures, monumental arches or 10 metre high concrete stars, large bas reliefs, mosaics that cover an area of 400 m² or when you cast something in bronze the task and the skills needed rise to a new level.

Lapidars before the mid 1960s

However, as far as I can see there wasn’t a great deal of demand for such skills much before the mid-1960s. From all I have been able to gather (sometimes finding information about Albanian lapidars is like looking for a needle in a haystack) the development of the traditional lapidars depicted in the film ‘Lapidari’ was left very much to the local communities. Apart from a carved memorial stone there appeared to be little decoration – and certainly nothing as ornate as the monuments erected from the late 1960s into the 1980s.

When it came to state involvement in monuments it was very much limited to a few statues of the great Marxist-Leninist leaders, particularly VI Lenin and JV Stalin, as well as some busts of Enver Hoxha.

The first reference I have come across of any of these is a small painting by Abdurrahmin Buza called ‘Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory’ which is dated 1948. This depicts activity in the square in front of the entrance to the factory in the town of Kombinat, just to the south-west of Tirana (along the ‘old’ road to Durrës).

Voluntary work at the Stalin textile factory - 1948

Voluntary work at the Stalin textile factory – 1948

In the middle of the square is a large statue of Joseph Stalin. This is probably the statue which now stands in the ‘Sculpture Park’ at the back of the National Art Gallery in Tirana. I say ‘probably’ as there was an evolution of many of the statues erected in Socialist Albania that started out in plaster or concrete and which were subsequently cast in bronze. This was the work of Odhise Paskali, probably the most famous (and quite prolific) pre-Liberation Albanian sculptor. An exact copy used to stand in the oil producing city of which was called Stalin City, now renamed Kuçove, in the centre of the country, not far from Berat. Unfortunately, I think that one was completely destroyed. It was created in 1949 and originally of concrete – I’m not sure if it was ever replaced by a bronze version.

Joseph Stalin - Kristina Hoshi - Kombinat

Joseph Stalin – Kristina Hoshi – Kombinat

Consider the chunky nature of this statue and compare it with the Russian made statue of Joe, that’s also now in the ‘Sculpture Park’, which was presented to the Albanian people in 1951.

Joseph Stalin - Soviet - 1951

Joseph Stalin – Soviet – 1951

For about 17 years this statue stood in pride of place in the centre of Skenderbeu Square in Tirana until it was replaced by the 1968 version of Skenderbeu himself, the work of Paskali, with Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano. It was around this statue of Uncle Joe crowds gathered in March 1953 when news broke of the great leader’s death.

JV Stalin - Skenderberg Square, Tirana

JV Stalin – Skenderberg Square, Tirana

In 1954 Kristina Hoshi (Albania’s very first female sculptor) created the statue of VI Lenin – this now (sadly) vandalised and damaged statue is also behind the National Art Gallery. This was originally made of concrete, later a bronze version was cast, and it stood in the garden that was between the National Art Gallery and the Hotel Dajit, on the road leading from Skenderbeu Square to the Tirana University. (When Uncle Joe was moved from the main square he was placed across the road from Vladimir Ilyich.)

Hotel Dajit with Lenin statue

Hotel Dajit with Lenin statue

I’ve also seen a number of old pictures with various busts of Stalin in Tirana

Stalin bust - possibly Tirana 1990

Stalin bust – possibly Tirana 1990

and Durrës.

Bust of Stalin, Durres, main mosque, early 1960s

Bust of Stalin, Durres, main mosque, early 1960s

After his death there were a number of statues erected of Enver Hoxha in various parts of the country but I am only aware of one full statue and that was also created soon after Liberation, in 1948 and in concrete, by Odhise Paskali – though not quite a monopoly in the 20 years after Liberation Paskali never seemed to be short of work. This statue stood outside the Tirana Military Academy.

Enver Hoxha, Tirana (Military Academy)

Enver Hoxha, Tirana (Military Academy)

There was another statue which appeared in 1949 and that was the ‘Monument to the Partisan’ by Andrea Mano (another of the ‘old school’ of Albanian sculptors). This still stands in its original location, in the square behind the library and Opera House in the centre of Tirana. This is not one of my most favourite statues. He’s too angry. I’m not against anger but this Partisan seems to be putting all his energy into his anger and not saving it to defeat of the fascist invader.

Partisan, Tirana

Partisan, Tirana

Although the work of a pre-Liberation artist it does contain, in the two panels on the sides of the plinth, many of the ideas and images which were later developed and improved upon by those young artists who were the product of the new, Socialist education system. Many of the ‘old school’ artists (Kristina Hoshi, Odhise Paskali, Janaq Paço, Abdurrahmin Buza, amongst others) became teachers in first the Tirana Artistic Academy and later (from 1960) the Higher Institute of Art – part of Tirana University.

Before moving on it might be pertinent to mention here that in the immediate years after Liberation Albanian artists didn’t have access to foundries to cast any metal statues and therefore depended upon their work finally being realised, and Budapest seemed to be the place of choice. By the 1950s things had changed but artists didn’t use commercial foundries but ones specifically for artists which made the structure in pieces, which were then welded together.

And this was the state of Albanian public lapidars until the middle of the 1960s. So what happened to make a significant change in emphasis in Albanian Socialist Realist Art?

The emergence of the unique Albanian lapidars

The short version of the chronology of events. March 5th 1953 Joseph Stalin dies. February 25th 1956, on the very last day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev gives a ‘secret’ speech denouncing Comrade Stalin – modern revisionism was now entrenched in the first Communist Party to achieve success in a Socialist Revolution. This caused confusion in many Communist Parties world-wide but there was more clarity in the Party of Labour of Albania and also in the Communist Party of China (as well as groups within various parties in some other countries).

From February 1956 until the end of 1960 meetings were held, letters went back and forth and the debate got more acrimonious. This all came to a head at an extended Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers’ Parties in Moscow in November and December 1960. At this meeting Enver Hoxha gave one of the most courageous speeches in defence of Marxism-Leninism (Speech delivered at the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers Parties, in Moscow, on November 16th 1960), with a stinging criticism of the revisionists in their own home.

Enver at 81 Communist Parties Meeting 1961

Enver at 81 Communist Parties Meeting 1961

But for such a stance there were consequences – and a price to pay. Within days any support from the Soviet Union withered away and links with China had yet to be strengthened. For a while Albania was virtually alone – surrounded by hostile forces – whether capitalist or revisionist. A new approach was needed.

Albania’s Cultural Revolution

The new approach was what can best be described as a Cultural Revolution. People know more about the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China but it had an equally important impact upon Albanian society. It’s also no coincidence both countries arrived at the same conclusion at the same time.

The events of the previous five or six years had shown the problems facing the world’s proletariat and the International Communist Movement. If the Soviet Union, the first ever Socialist state, with its achievements in collectivisation and industrialisation, with the huge sacrifice the nation had made in the destruction of the Nazi beast, could succumb to revisionist betrayal then matters were not as secure as all had thought in the heady days of the late 1940s when the number of people attempting to construct Socialism had increased exponentially.

Any comparison with Albania and China in respect of their Cultural Revolutions would serve no purpose here and would be a vast topic. But if I were to choose a particular event when the decision on the way forward for Albania was laid out for the future it was at the 15th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania which was held in October 1965. Ramiz Alia gave the main report (which I haven’t been able to track down) but Enver Hoxha made a contribution towards the end of the meeting where he made (to date) his clearest and most succinct analysis of the role of culture in the next stage in the development of the Revolution.

Enver Hoxha on the Cultural Revolution

The cultural activity with the masses should aim at propagating the ideas of our Party, at creating the materialist world outlook. In this field, attention should be given to the struggle against meaningless prejudices and faiths, by spreading scientific knowledge among the working masses.

[Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 2, p550. Report to the 3rd Congress, May 25th 1956]

The speech in October 1965 was later published as ‘Literature and the arts should serve to temper people with class consciousness for the construction of Socialism’, but the page numbering to the quotes below refer to Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 3.

I won’t comment on what Comrade Enver says in this speech, just list those sections which I think are most relevant in the context of the development of the lapidars.

From this stems the great role which literature and the arts should play in the inculcation and development of this consciousness, closely linked with the period we are going through, with the efforts, the struggles for the construction of socialism, with the struggle on a world scale against imperialism, the bourgeois ideology and its variant, modern revisionism, etc.

The consciousness of man and that of society is not something petrified, unchanging, formed and developed once and for all. It undergoes positive and negative changes, it alters in accord with the material-economic forces, with the class struggle, the revolutionary situations, the relations between the antagonistic and non-antagonistic classes, with the ideas which inspire the class struggle, the revolution, and so on. p833/4

In such conditions the tasks of the Party, and those of literature and the arts in particular, in tempering the people with working class consciousness, with the morality of the working class, in order to go ahead successfully with the construction of socialism, are glorious, but by no means simple. p835

I want to turn to the concrete reality and to emphasize with what a sacred duty and a heavy burden of responsibility our Party and people have charged you writers, poets, artists, composers, painters, sculptors, etc. Like everyone else, you, too, must carry out these tasks conscientiously, with your struggle and toil. Your valuable and delicate work must be inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology, because only in this way and by basing yourselves on the people, on their struggle and efforts, will your militant and revolutionary spirit display itself and burst out in your creative works and activity, and thus you will become educators of the masses who accomplish great works. p836

There are some who think, and think mistakenly, that by making a flying visit to the base, by sitting in a cafe, cigarette in hand, in order to see the various types whom they want to put in their work passing in the street, or who think that by walking through some factory or plant, they have gathered the necessary material and go home, where they start to write superficially, and sometimes entirely back-to-front, about those things and people that they ‘photographed’ in passing. Thus the world of such a person is restricted by the narrow petty-bourgeois concept of the role of the writer, and he thinks that his head is capable of doing great things. But can it be said that the engineers of the hydro-power stations or those who drain the marshes do not work with their heads, and that the writers alone have this privilege? No! But the engineer, quite correctly, works with the people, studies the environment, the nature, draws plans, checks them again with the people, with the best experience of others, encounters difficulties, struggles with them till he overcomes them. But should not our writer and artist work in this way, too? Then why do we have to point this out to him so many times? p838

You cannot become a real writer simply because you have talent, if you do not develop this talent, this means, by learning, if you do not work on it, test it, and hammer it into shape on the great anvil of the people and if you do not study a great deal, and first of all, the social and economic sciences. Only in this way will the writers provide the working class and the peasantry with worthwhile works. p839

I do not want to repeat anything of what was said in the report delivered by Comrade Ramiz in regard to the range of themes and our objective of tempering the new man of the new socialist Albania, of inspiring him with the heroism of the National Liberation War, with the heroism and the sacrifices of the people and the Party, with the ideas of the partisans, with their aspirations and dreams, in order to inspire and educate him with the rich, exalting, living reality of the construction of socialism in our country, this period which is one of the most brilliant in the history of our people. p840

The aim of the Party is to create new values. p842

In order to combat the negative consequences of the past, we have to explain to the younger generation the origin, the reasons that caused the development of these things. Our fathers and our generation have experienced those situations, but the others have not. p843

A great inspiration is urging onward a new generation of wonderful writers and artists, who are winning renown and becoming dear to the people. Our Party, through its work and maternal care, must protect, educate and encourage these young people with all its means. p843

The Party’s policy in the field of art and literature has been and is clear to everybody. It will always give powerful support to the good works, the correctly inspired works, those that educate, mobilize and open perspectives. p846

In regard to literature and the arts which are developing in our country, as in regard to the other issues, there are not two moralities, but only one, the proletarian morality of the working class. The ideas expressed in the works should conform to this morality. p847

The Cultural Revolution and lapidars

However, there were a couple of more elaborate lapidars which proceeded this 1965 meeting. Both were inaugurated in 1964, both were in Përmet and both were by the same sculptor, Odhise Paskali. They also gave an indication of what was to come – both in a positive and in a (possibly) negative sense.

The first one to discuss is called ‘Shokët – Comrades’ and is located in the town’s Martyrs’ Cemetery – a short distance from the town centre along the road to Tepelenë. The image is instantly recognisable by anyone who has ever entered a Catholic church. The ‘inspiration’ for the image was that of the ‘Pietà’ which first appeared in Germany in the 14th century but really took off during the Italian Renaissance.

This is the image of Christ after he had been taken off the cross and is in the hands of his mother – and often the Magdalen or others. In Përmet a wounded/dying Partisan is tended by two of his comrades, one male one female. His situation is desperate and he is unlikely to survive but his comrades attempt everything they can. This is an image of comradeship but, I would argue, too close to the imagery of Christianity. You could even argue there’s a suggestion of ‘resurrection’ in the final Liberation that occurred within a year or two of the death of the Partisan.

Shoket - Comrades

Shoket – Comrades

I don’t think it is surprising Paskali came up with this image. He stayed in the country after Liberation and produced works of art for the Revolution as well as passing on his knowledge to a younger generation. But he was born in a different world where religion held sway. I think it’s certain no such image, even one produced by such an esteemed sculptor as Paskali, would have been produced after 1968 – when Albania pronounced itself the first atheist state in the world. I also think this sort of image falls into the category Enver was thinking about in 1956 when he wrote about ‘the struggle against meaningless prejudices and faiths’. Putting a Partisan uniform on the subjects and a Red Star on their caps doesn’t make the image any less Christ-like. But as an indication of the way forward the placing of such a monument in a Martyrs’ Cemetery was something repeated throughout the country and there is no town of any size which doesn’t have a sculpture of some kind.

The second work by Paskali is a bronze statue of a Partisan, fully armed and looking very determined, which is part of the lapidar commemorating the Përmet Congress of May 24th 1944 – where the Albanian Communists decided on the Provisional Government structure six months before their eventual victory over the Nazi invaders in November of that year. It was inaugurated on the 20th anniversary of the Congress.

Permet Congress

Permet Congress

The trend which this sculpture started was the commemoration of the sacrifice and achievements of the Albanian Partisans and their defeat of the Italian and German fascists. Now I’m not against this trend necessarily. As a tool in the education of future generations they should be made aware of what their (now) great grandparents fought for to finally achieve true liberation of the country and lapidars had a role to play in the process.

But Socialist Realist Art has two functions; remembering the past and indicating the road for the future. It’s a matter of proportionality.

Alongside this celebration of the more or less recent past in the 1960s was also the celebration of the life and Skanderbeu, the 15th/16th century nationalist leader. There are many monuments to him and his acheivements throughout Albania, virtually all erected during the Socialist period including the large equestrian statue which stands in the centre of the main square in Tirana bearing his name. When this statue was first erected in 1968, the 500th anniversary of Skenderbeu’s death (the work of Odhise Paskali, Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano) the Russian made statue of Joseph Stalin had to make way and he was moved down the road to accompany VI Lenin. Most, though not all, of these statues to the mediaeval leader are some of those which get the most attention in the present day capitalist Albania – with one, in Krujë, being totally reconstructed in 2012 (but it’s far from one of the best lapidars.)

Obelisk of the Battle of Zidoll (April 24, 1467)

Obelisk of the Battle of Zidoll (April 24, 1467)

Whatever was to become the trend through the 1970s into the 1980s 1966 did see the inauguration of a lapidar representing the new, Socialist future. This was the Monument to Agrarian Reform (that is the commemoration of the first Cooperative farm established, in 1946, in the area of Krutje, just south of the town of Lushnjë). The lapidar is the work of the sculptor Kristaq Rama (whose son, Edi, is presently Prime Minister of the country) and was unveiled to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the event. Representing a Socialist and collective future it has not been treated with a great deal of respect in the last twenty years.

Monument to Agrarian Reform - Krutje

Monument to Agrarian Reform – Krutje

The movement of monumental lapidar construction takes off

There are close on 200 lapidars, still in existence, in Albania which have some artistic and/or architectural significance (whilst in no way denigrating the simple monoliths commemorating the fallen Partisans), some in better condition than others. I’m in the process of producing a ‘close reading’ of the many I have had the chance to see but it’s a long process and the project has yet to be finished.

Some tell a simple tale, some a more complex one. Here I’ll chose one of each as a means of an introduction to the uniqueness of the Albanian lapidars.

For me the most truly monumental of the monuments is the Arch at Drashovicë, which is located in the beautiful valley of the Sushicë River, which runs parallel to the coast on the other side of the mountain range above the port town of Vlorë. It is the work of one of Albania’s finest post-Liberation sculptors Muntaz Dhrami (with the assistance of architects Klement Kolaneci and Petrit Hazbiu) and was constructed in 1980. It tells the story of two victorious (for the Albanians) battles against the Italian invaders, first in 1920 and then in 1943.

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

This is history written in stone and it’s a joy to look at all its elements and try to interpret that story – a story too long to tell here. However, although the lapidar is really in the middle of nowhere, Drashovicë is only a small country village, there is obviously a great deal of respect for the story it tells and the way it has been told as on my various visits I have never noticed any serious damage or blatant vandalism – something which can’t be said for many monuments whether in towns or in the countryside.

The simple story is represented by a statue of a Partisan and a young girl in the village of Borovë, in the south-east of the country, not far from the mountainous border with Greece. In July 1943 a Nazi convoy was attacked not far from the village and, as was their wont, the fascist retaliated three days later, on the 19th, and ended up killing a total of 107 people (some being burnt alive locked in the local church) and all the buildings were destroyed.

Partisan and child - Borove

Partisan and child – Borove

In 1968 a lapidar was erected to commemorate this massacre but it underwent radical changes a number of years later and the statue of the Partisan and child was separated from the main memorial and placed on a plinth beside the main road running south. Although the separation does take away somewhat from the story (the main monument to the atrocity now being on top of a hill and can easily be missed if you didn’t know what you were looking for) I still think it is one of the most charming of the Albanian lapidars.

Before I move on from the story of the sculptural lapidars it might be of interest to know that until some of the later monuments (basically those constructed after the death of Enver Hoxha) it wasn’t the norm for sculptors to ‘sign’ their work. Although that, today, makes identification of the artist sometimes difficult I’ve always thought it was a good trait in the history of Albanian Socialist Realist Art.

Enver Hoxha and the Vlorë Independence Monument

I’ve already said there was a great emphasis on the historical, pre-Socialist Liberation struggles in the construction of the lapidars from the mid-1960s. One of the largest of these – both in size and in importance to the Albanian nationalist movement – is the Vlorë Independence Monument which commemorates ‘Independence’ in 1912 from the Ottoman Empire. The reason I mention it here is because Enver Hoxha took a personal interest in the design of this monument, visiting the sculptors in their studio to have a look at the proposed maquette and then sending the artists a letter with his ideas.

I have no problem with this as I don’t see why artists who depend for their livelihood upon the rest of the working population shouldn’t be directed and monitored in the work they produce. Although I’ve come across little concrete evidence such discussions took place before some of the lapidars were installed it would have seemed bizarre, to say the least, if a monument was to sometimes dominate a locality was not first discussed with and became a matter of consultation with the local people.

When it comes to the involvement of the leader of the country, from the time of Liberation in November 1944 till his death in April 1985, I think it was Enver Hoxha’s personal enthusiasm for such monuments which pushed their construction after 1965. The latest lapidar I’m aware of is the large statue ‘Toka Jone – Our Land’ in the middle of the main square of Lushnjë, which is dated 1987. Lapidar construction seemed to stall after Enver’s demise.

Mosaics and bas reliefs

As I’ve said before it’s not just in the public monuments and statues the story of Albania, its nationalist past, its victory over the fascist invaders and its hopes for the future, are on display – although as with the lapidars there physical state varies depending where in the country they are found and with what respect they are held by the local community.

The mosaic seen by virtually all visitors to the country is the ‘The Albanians’ on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Skenderbeu Square in Tirana. Images depicting a couple of thousand years of Albanian history covers a space of around 400m². Unfortunately this is starting to feel the effects of neglect and every time I see it the damage looks worse. My real fear here is that one day a catastrophic accident will occur with pieces falling off and it will be removed ‘for safety reasons’.

One point to stress about the images in this mosaic, and which is repeated in virtually all the lapidars I’ve seen, is that when women are represented they are almost invariably armed, when often the men aren’t. Here the policy of the Party of Labour of Albania attempting to overcome the traditional, secondary role of women in Albanian is reinforced by showing them the way to achieve equality.

National Museum Mosaic - original

National Museum Mosaic – original

Of the other mosaics of interest one is on the side of the town hall building in Ura Vajgurore, not far from Berat,

Bashkia Mosaic - Ura Vajguror

Bashkia Mosaic – Ura Vajguror

and those on either side of, what used to be, the main entrance to the Vlorë Palace of Sport.

The Pickaxe and Rifle - Vlora Palace of Sport

The Pickaxe and Rifle – Vlora Palace of Sport

When it comes to bas reliefs a few examples are:

the one commemorating a demonstration by high school students and their teachers against the occupying Italian fascist forces in Gjirokaster,

Gjimnazi School Revolt - Gjirokaster

Gjimnazi School Revolt – Gjirokaster

one with a completely different approach, the bas relief on the front of the Radio Kukes building in the north-eastern town of Kukes, not far from the border with Kosovo,

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi

and the magnificent panel beside the entrance to the historical museum in Ersekë.

Erseke Museum Bas Relief

Erseke Museum Bas Relief

Then came 1990

Immediately after the success of the counter-revolution it was the statues of Enver Hoxha, most of them only having been erected after his death in 1985, in various parts of the country, which were the target for those who hated Socialism.

The first one to go was the large statue erected in Skanderbeu Square, on a platform created between the National Historical Museum and the Bank of Albania. This went down on 20th February 1991.

Enver Hoxha in Skanderberg Square - Inaugaration

Enver Hoxha in Skanderberg Square – Inaugaration

Others were to follow in different parts of the country (although the actual chronology is uncertain). Perhaps the biggest of all was the marble statue placed in Gjirokaster Old Town, Enver’s birth place. This huge statue was destroyed by local reactionary forces from the Greek community in August 1991. The platform created to hold the statue is all that now remains – the site being turned into a bar area in the summer.

Enver in Gjirokaster

Enver in Gjirokaster

I don’t agree with the destruction of these statues or the ransacking of the Enver Hoxha Museum (often called the Pyramid) in Tirana. However, I don’t consider these statues fitted into the concept of Socialist Realist Art. There were many busts of Enver in public buildings and there was a small industry (based in Kavajë) producing ceramic busts for peoples’ homes. But I think it was a political mistake to have created these very big (many times life size) statues after his death.

Or perhaps it wasn’t a mistake. The enforced isolation of the country had been putting strains on the system for a while and as happened in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin and in the People’s Republic of China after the death of Mao it was obvious reactionary forces would come out of the sewers to sow dissension and reap the harvest of discontent. The anger directed at the statues of Enver at least meant they didn’t break the head of Ramiz Alia – who seemed to bow down to any pressure to save himself when the reactionaries were able to convince the enough disaffected of the working class to take to the streets. (He has gone down in my estimation during the process of writing this.)

But once the reactionary wave gained force the lapidars which celebrated the achievements of the Socialist past were soon to be fair game. Statues of Uncle Joe were taken down on the orders of the gutless and traitorous Ramiz Alia on the night of the, then considered, anniversary of Stalin’s birth, 21st December 1990. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was spared that night but was taken down on the June 21st 1991.

And those few that had images of Enver Hoxha also became targets of concerted political vandalism. Such was the fate of Monument to the Berat Meeting (held in October 1944 to decide on the structure of the Government after the imminent defeat of the Nazi invaders). This large lapidar was in the centre of town and was inaugurated in 1969.

Monument to the Berat Meeting, 1969

Monument to the Berat Meeting, 1969

Another tragic loss was the statue of the Four Heroines of Mirdita. This was a monument to four women from the area around the town of Rreshen, in the northern part of the country, who had played a part in the defeat of the fascist invaders before Liberation in November 1944. They were assassinated by reactionary (often foreign supported) forces operating in the north of the country for their continued efforts in both the construction of Socialism (in 1948 and 1949) and in attempting to build a society where women played a full and equal part with men, thereby challenging the old ideas and thinking.

The Four Heroines of Mirdita - and the sculptors

The Four Heroines of Mirdita – and the sculptors

As an example of the hatred in which pieces of bronze are held by the reactionaries in charge of present day Albania is the story of the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig. The original statue stood in the centre of a roundabout in the centre of Shkodra. It was later moved to be beside the town’s Martyrs’ Cemetery – which originally would have been a glorious site, right beside the River Kir but, for a time, it became the town’s rubbish dump. Here the statue was subject to mindless theft vandalism as the pieces of bronze easily removable were stolen for scrap. After a long, and sometimes heated debate, the statue was moved yet again, this time to a roundabout on the northern edge of town on the main road north. Not the place of honour it once occupied but at least a dignified location – for the time being.

5 Heroes of Vig - plaster, 70's

5 Heroes of Vig – plaster, 70’s

And that’s not to mention Red Stars. Obliterated, damaged or painted over. If there was a target second only to Enver Hoxha it was the stars.

What has ‘democracy’ offered in its place?

The simple answer; not much.

When the sitting right-wing government in 2012 realised it was on its way out they went on a spending spree when it came to the commissioning of public monuments. I have no intention in discussing what was produced here, merely to give an idea of what the capitalist Albania considers is the art for the people.

Words aren’t really necessary.

This was placed in the middle of the roundabout close to the bus station for buses and furgons to the south in Tirana;

Fascist Eagle - Tirana

Fascist Eagle – Tirana

And one to make you wonder where the present day Albanians have placed their dignity and pride is a statue of the coward Zog – he ran away when the Italians invaded on April 7th 1939. This one is in Burrel, in the centre of the country, there’s at least one more in Tirana.

Zog in Burrel

Zog in Burrel

By way of a conclusion

I believe the Albanian lapidars (and the other public works of art) produced between 1964 and 1990 were a unique and distinctive addition to the catalogue of Socialist Realist Art. It served its purpose but other factors meant it didn’t achieve, or maintain, what it set out to do – the creation of a socialist mentality.

Whether matters will change in Albanian such that they recover the respect they had in the past is unlikely in the short term but they do provide, at least, an example of what is possible when art and culture is created for the working class.

March 2020

More on Albania …..

Chinese Revolutionary Art – 1975

Chairman Mao Tse-tung

Chairman Mao Tse-tung

More on China …..

Chinese Revolutionary Art – 1975

So far the emphasis on this blog has been on those examples of Socialist Realist art that I have encountered on various visits to Albania in the past few years – especially the ‘lapidars’ (public monuments and sculptures). One of the drivers for starting this project was the fear that due to both active political vandalism and simple lack of care many of these unique works of socialist art were likely to disappear in the near future and would be lost to posterity.

The Albanian Lapidar Survey of 2014 meant that, at least, those monuments that still existed and were identified at the time would be recorded in as much detail as possible, including a comprehensive photographic record of their condition in 2014. The fate of those lapidars has varied in the intervening years, some suffering further decay others suffering inappropriate (if at times well meaning) and destructive ‘renovation’.

With many of the lapidars I have visited I have attempted to carry out a deep reading of what they represent and have tried to put them in their historical context. I don’t even try to maintain that I have always got it right but in lieu of any other such record (much information about the more than 650 lapidars covered in the ALS investigation – and many other works of art, such as bas reliefs, mosaics, etc. – having been destroyed or lost in the chaotic years of the 1990s) I hope my efforts can help in reconstructing a comprehensive data base for the future. Although many have already been written about on this blog there are still many to follow.

Travelling quite extensively around the country I have encountered artistic elements of the socialist past that were outside the remit of the ALS. That includes the likes of the mosaics (Bestrove, Tirana Historical Museum and on the Bashkia in Ura Vajgurore – to name a few) and bas reliefs (for example, the Durres Tobacco Factory and Radio Kukesi) already mention as well as paintings (in the National Art Gallery in Tirana), statues (including the ‘Sculpture Park‘ behind the National Art Gallery and the 68 Girls of Fier), stand alone structures (such as the Party Emblem in Peshkopia) and murals (such as the Traditional Wedding Mural in the hotel restaurant also in Peshkopia), exhibits in museums and a number of other works that have (sometimes) miraculously survived the 30 years following the success of the counter-revolution.

By the time the Party of Labour of Albania had achieved victory over the fascist invaders in November 1944 the idea of Socialist Realist Art as something Socialist countries should encourage had become entrenched in the thinking of revolutionary Marxist-Leninists. I presented my interpretation of this when discussing art in Albania but the same arguments would suit the use of art in the other major Socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union and China.

I intend to look at Soviet Socialist Realist Art, initially, by reading the stories being told in the Metro stations, principally of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow.

When it comes to the People’s Republic of China there are already examples of the use of art in the struggle to establish Socialism in the pages of Chinese Literature. Various issues of that magazine are available from 1953 to 1981 (the final 5 years an example of how literature and art can be used to turn back Socialism in a similar way it was used to promote Socialism from 1949 till just after the death of Chairman Mao in 1976).

The Chinese approach to literature and art can also be gleaned from the works of the writer and cultural theorist Lu Hsun.

Here I present a slide show of a collection of posters from the last, full revolutionary year of the People’s Republic of China (1975) to give an idea of how Chinese poster art had developed to that date.

More on China …..

Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures in the National Art Gallery, Tirana

Skender Kamberi - The Bread Strike 1942 - 1971

Skender Kamberi – The Bread Strike 1942 – 1971

More on Albania ……

Socialist Realist Paintings and Sculptures in the National Art Gallery, Tirana

This post will consist of images of the paintings (and a few sculptures) from the Socialist period of Albania’s past. The first floor of the National Art Gallery is almost now solely (with one notable exception, which I’ll come to later) devoted to the period before 1990 when things fell apart.

Some of the paintings have been on display for many years and, in a sense, have become the core of the exhibition. There must be many more in storage but as politics gets into everything there may be some which are not even allowed to be on public display for specific reasons. There are a couple that show images of Enver Hoxha but there must be many more – in fact I’ve seen reproductions which are in the national collection but which never see the light of day. I hope, and don’t think, they have been destroyed.

Other political and economic reasons might prevent certain works from being seen. One subject which comes to mind are those paintings which celebrated the developments of the Collective and State Farms. In the selection below the co-operatives are mentioned but only when they are showing people, There are no images of mass industrialisation of the countryside – with tractors and combine harvesters – as those would, perhaps, make the viewer wonder why such images cannot be seen in the countryside of the 21st century as land ownership has gone back to that of the feudal period with virtual strip farming.

The images that are presented are all those that are on display in the National Art Gallery in Tirana at the moment. They are presented here in an effort to encourage anyone who visits Tirana to make an effort to go to the art gallery. It is a unique collection and one that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately you don’t have to push and shove to get a good view of the works.

As to the structure of the presentation they are presented in the alphabetical order of the artists’ first name – only because that’s how Windows organises files in folders. This is followed by the title of the work in English. Sometimes the title seems inappropriate but that is probably down to a poor translation from the Albanian. I have given the title as printed on the card beside each exhibit. Next comes the year in which the work was painted. Two were not dated and have ‘nd’ in place of a year.

There are advantages of placing works by the same artist together. The individual style becomes more obvious and if the work cover a long period of time it’s possible to see a development of that style.

The dates are also important as with some of the early works it’s not really possible to describe the works as ‘Socialist Realist’ – the artists’ training and development taking place under a completely different social system. Comparing the dates with events that were taking place both nationally and internationally can also help in the understanding of the various elements in many of the pictures.

I would hope (at some time in the not too distant future) to look at some of these works in a more forensic manner. As it is with time constraints I will only make a few comments on some of the works if I think such snippets helpful in understanding the whys and wherefores of the image and also how such images fitted into the society that the Party of Labour and its leader, Enver Hoxha, were hoping to achieve.

Hey, I might get it wrong but if I do I would appreciate being put along the true path of enlightenment.

Abdulla Cangonji - The fishermen - 1965

Abdulla Cangonji – The fishermen – 1965

It might be just chance but although Albania has a long coastline, in relation to the size of the country in general, and that the fishing industry would have been quite important during the period of the construction of Socialism there aren’t many paintings which celebrate that fact.

Abdurrahmin Buza - The refugees - 1957

Abdurrahmin Buza – The refugees – 1957

Buza was one of those painters who established his reputation before Liberation but did develop his work to deal with events and circumstances in the young Albanian Socialist State.

Abdurrahmin Buza - Voluntary work at the 'Stalin' textile factory - 1948

Abdurrahmin Buza – Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory – 1948

The factory, which was established in the town of Kombinat, to the west of Tirana along the ‘old road’ to Durres, is now (and has long been) an abandoned ruin. The statue of Stalin that dominates the scene is the one that is now at the back of the National Art Gallery.

Alush Shima - Portrait of a worker - 1971

Alush Shima – Portrait of a worker – 1971

You’d have to look hard to find a miner in Albania today. Even so there’s an interesting bas relief in the ex-mining village of Krrabe, on the way to Elbasan from Tirana.

Andon Lakuriqi - Testing - 1969

Andon Lakuriqi – Testing – 1969

Heavy industry was crucial for a self-sufficient Socialist society. This created problems as resources were not able to be directed to the production of consumer goods that people craved – especially when these were becoming ever more plentiful in the capitalist countries – whatever the consequences for the general well-being of the population. That is why images of heavy industry were so common in paintings of the period. This matter became even more extreme when first the Soviet Union and then the People’s Republic of China pulled the economic plug due to ideological reasons i.e., the fight against Modern Revisionism.

Arben Basha - I will write - 1971

Arben Basha – I will write – 1971

The title causes confusion – but that might simply be down to a problem with the translation from Albanian to English. In Albania working men and women were encouraged to write about their experiences and thoughts there being many outlets at a local and national level where amateur writers were encouraged to send in their work.

Aristotel Papa - From constructions - 1969

Aristotel Papa – From constructions – 1969

The construction of new houses was crucial in the early years of the republic and these 5/6 storey buildings are common throughout Albania. There not exactly pretty to look at from the outside but the few I’ve had the opportunity to visit were more than comfortable on the inside. What also went hand in hand with the construction of the flats were the communal heating plants, especially important in the mountainous regions and those towns and cities situated over a few hundreds of metres above sea level.

Bajram Mata - Portrait of a volunteer - 1969

Bajram Mata – Portrait of a volunteer – 1969

It will become noticeable the number of women – especially the young – who are depicted as playing a full role in the construction of Socialism. And not just as the manual labour but in positions of responsibility, reflecting how (between 1944 and 1990) Albania was succeeding to turn the world upside-down when it came to women’s liberation. Why women reverted to the ‘traditional’ role – which is the case when you look around 21st century Albania – is a question I’ve not been able to answer.

Bajram Mata - The Co-operative work - 1972

Bajram Mata – The Co-operative work – 1972

Some of the work on the Collective and State Farms would have been done by hand but the areas covered in some of these enterprises would have been impossible to have farmed without serious mechanisation. Albania wasn’t totally self-sufficient in the production of such items as tractors and combine-harvesters but it was aiming to be so.

Bajram Mata - The dance of Dibra - nd

Bajram Mata – The dance of Dibra – nd

Throughout the period of Socialist Construction a great deal of effort was put into maintaining traditional folk culture. What was represented in the paintings was not something of the past but of the present where tradition and the the goals of the future were working in tandem.

Bajram Mata - The volunteers 1969

Bajram Mata – The volunteers 1969

One of the aims of Socialist Realist Art is to maintain the dignity of manual labour, in both the town and the countryside, and to challenge the idea that certain jobs were more prestigious than others. As all Socialist societies have developed the fight against the development of an ‘intelligentsia’ that saw itself better than the majority of workers became one of the on-running battles. Efforts to challenge this, by sending intellectuals, Party functionaries and those in comfortable occupations, were tried in all the four Socialist countries (the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Albania) but not continued for long enough to put the intellectuals into their place. The Cultural Revolution in China between 1966 and 1976 was the highest point in this struggle but even that eventually failed.

Bardhyl Dule - The construction woman -1971

Bardhyl Dule – The construction woman -1971

Women started to take on skilled manual jobs.

Bardhyl Dule - The Partisan courier - 1973

Bardhyl Dule – The Partisan courier – 1973

A similar theme is explored in the sculpture ‘On the road to war’ which can be found in Tirana Park. In the sculpture a peasant woman is giving water to a thirsty Partisan. This is by the sculptor Hector Dule. I don’t know for certain but I assume there’s a familial relationship and one piece of art nurtured the other.

Bardhyl Dule - The weeding of the olive trees - 1973

Bardhyl Dule – The weeding of the olive trees – 1973

I like the little joke in this painting where whilst all the others are working there’s a man in the bottom right hand corner, who is leaning against a tree reading a newspaper.

Clirim Ceka - July 30, 1978 - 1978-9

Clirim Ceka – July 30, 1978 – 1978-9

The date in the title of this painting could be a reference to the first steel being made in Albania after the ideological and economic break with the People’s Republic of China and a return to self reliance.

Dhimeter Mborja - freinds of the factory - 1969

Dhimeter Mborja – freinds of the factory – 1969

One of the principles established with the construction of Socialism was that the workers would live and work in the same place. This is not always possible but when we are talking about Collective and State Farms as well as major industrial complexes this makes sense. Apart from anything else this reduces the working day as people have less of a commute. This is not something ‘invented’ by Communism, it existed in the early days of the Industrial Revolution in Britain and hence you had the creation of ‘mill towns’ and ‘mining towns’. For the capitalists this was a method of control – with the mine/mill owners also being the landlords of any housing. This, the capitalists hoped, would be a barrier to industrial action. Under Socialism it was a way of bringing people closer together with the creation of a true community where amenities could be shared. This also happened in the capitalist situation with the development of mutual societies and clubs. But not everyone in a community would be necessarily working at the enterprise. They would be servicing the population in other ways, such as education, health and culturally. Hence the idea of those people visiting a works to understand exactly what went on behind the factory walls.

Edison Gjergo - The epic of the morning stars - 1971

Edison Gjergo – The epic of the morning stars – 1971

When I was in the National Art Gallery a few years ago this painting had an additional card beside it indicating that this painting, and the artist, had been criticised for its formalist style. However, presently there’s nothing to bring such a criticism to the viewer’s attention.

Edison Gjergo - The Founder - 1971

Edison Gjergo – The Founder – 1971

If Gjergo had been criticised for the previous painting on matters of style this one should have been criticised for its content. Here we have the worker as some Christ/John the Baptist like character. There’s something cold and dead about the expression which I don’t like, either.

Fatmir Haxhiu - Skroskie 1944 - 1966

Fatmir Haxhiu – Skroskie 1944 – 1966

This documents an event during the War of Liberation. This was another painting that previously indicated that it had been the subject of political criticism during the period of Socialism. This time due to the fact that the figure in the centre is that of Mehmet Shehu when he was a commander in the Partisan army. The painting was removed from display when he fell from grace in 1981.

Fatmir Haxhui - The Victor - 1979

Fatmir Haxhui – The Victor – 1979

A portrait of one of the victorious Partisans who liberated Tirana from the Nazi occupiers on the 17th November 1944. We know it’s Tirana with the image of the Et’hem Bey Mosque (Xhamia e Et’hem Beut). It wasn’t used much during the Socialist period and is now undergoing an extensive renovation.

Franc Ashiku - At the hydropower plant - 1971

Franc Ashiku – At the hydropower plant – 1971

The Albanians were always proud of the way they were able to electrify the country and the opening of a new hydro-powered plant was always celebrated. Immediately after the liberation of the country in 1944 one of the first aims was to electrify the country, just as Lenin had declared for the young Soviet Union after victory in the War of Intervention.

Fuat Dushka - The metallurgist - 1979

Fuat Dushka – The metallurgist – 1979

One of the few sculptures that are displayed inside the Art Gallery. There are, of course, the fine sculptures of Marxist leaders and other examples of Socialist realist art behind the Gallery building.

Harrilla Dhimo - The work of our hands - Fierze - 1979

Harrilla Dhimo – The work of our hands – Fierze – 1979

This is another painting that celebrates the production of electricity, this time the power plant at Fierze. The construction of the dam for this plant created the magnificent Lake Koman.

Hasan Capari - Portrait of a girl - 1972

Hasan Capari – Portrait of a girl – 1972

Not all the art created by painters during the period of Socialism concerned either the world of labour or the events of the War of Liberation.

Hasan Nallbani - Lifting up a garden hoe - 1966

Hasan Nallbani – Lifting up a garden hoe – 1966

Women were well represented in Albanian Socialist Art.

Ismail Lulmi - Landscape - 1974

Ismail Lulmi – Landscape – 1974

A landscape painting which depicts a State or Collective farm – which made Albania almost self-sufficient in food production during the period of Socialism. Following the counter-revolution of 1990 the land was distributed amongst the population and now Albanian agriculture resembles more what you would seen in Britain during feudal times with ‘strip’ farming being the norm.

Isuf Sulovari - Partisans resting - 1971

Isuf Sulovari – Partisans resting – 1971

Notice the young female Partisan teaching her older comrade to read during a respite from the fighting. Illiteracy was rife in pre-Liberation Albania and education was one of the early priorities of the Socialist state. That can be seen by the number of books that are printed in the Albanian language still to this day, totally out of proportion to the level of the population.

Isuf Sulovari - The giant of metellurgy - 1974

Isuf Sulovari – The giant of metellurgy – 1974

This painting depicts the construction of one of the factories in Elbasan – the centre of Albania’s metallurgy production during Socialism. This huge area is now almost totally abandoned for its initial purpose. Notice also the central character is a woman. Women were not reduced to manual jobs but also took on responsible roles.

Isuf Sulovari - The milkwoman - 1971

Isuf Sulovari – The milkwoman – 1971

A female dairy farm worker. From the size of the herd and the structures in the background this is another depiction of a State or Collective Farm.

Jorgji Gjikopulli - Flowers of life - 1970

Jorgji Gjikopulli – Flowers of life – 1970

Sunflowers used for the production of cooking oils. There were also extensive areas of olive oil plantations, especially in the south of the country close to Saranda.

Kristaq Rama - A contemporary of the Republic - 1964

Kristaq Rama – A contemporary of the Republic – 1964

A celebration of the working class – those who had the potential to make a new and glorious future. A task, eventually, the Albanian working class were unable to fulfil. Rama was involved in the creation of a number of some of the most important of Albanian lapidars such as Mother Albania in the Tirana Martyrs’ Cemetery; the 1912 Independence monument in Vlora; the monument to the artillery in Sauk; the monument to the year 1920 outside Vlora; the bust of Shota Galicia in Kukes. Rama is the father of the present Prime Minister, Edi Rama – who was also trained as an artist. Whether the father would be proud of the fact is not recorded.

Llambi Blido - At the commanding unit - 1971

Llambi Blido – At the commanding unit – 1971

The poster on the right argues that it is only the work of the Party and the system of Communism that will ensure the true emancipation of women.

Llambi Blido - Portrait of a girl - Alma - 1994

Llambi Blido – Portrait of a girl – Alma – 1994

This is the only painting in the present exhibition on the first floor of the Art Gallery that was created after the counter-revolution of the early 1990s. And it sticks out like a sore thumb. Although painted by the same artists as the painting that goes before it above if lacks any meaning. It’s the sort of kitsch that gets re-produced in thousands and gets a pride of place in the homes of some people who refuse to look at art with a critical eye. All that can be said of it is that it is ‘pretty’ but conveys nothing. It’s a chocolate box image. There’s no character in the face, we can deduce nothing about the sitter. Compare this image with the other portraits of young girls and women in the rest of the exhibition. Blido in his dotage.

Lumturi Blloshmi - At the industrial plant - 1974

Lumturi Blloshmi – At the industrial plant – 1974

Environmentalists might look on this picture in horror but in the early 1970s the building of these industrial complexes was seen as a great achievement of the Albanian people. And indeed it was. Under attack from the very first days of the revolution, especially by the British, it was crucial that the Albanian people were able to be as self sufficient as possible.

Muntaz Dhrami - Invigorate the Revolutionary Spirit - 1984

Muntaz Dhrami – Invigorate the Revolutionary Spirit – 1984

An allegorical sculpture from one of the finest sculptors produced by Albanian Socialism and he was involved in the creation of some of the best examples of Albanian lapidars. His work includes: Mother Albania, at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana; the 1912 Independence monument in Vlora; the Monument to Heroic Peze; the monument to the Peze Conference; monument to the battle of Mushqete in Berzhite; the amazing arch at Drashovice; the monument to the year 1920 outside of Vlora; the Priske lapidar; and the obelisk to education in Gjirokaster.

Musa Qavri - Paving the road - 1972

Musa Qavri – Paving the road – 1972

Before Liberation there were few paved roads in the country, even in the towns and cities. It would take time to improve communication throughout the country. What Socialism didn’t achieve capitalism has not ‘rectified’ as there are still many parts of the countryside without metalled roads.

Nexhmedin Zajmi - Partisan ambush - 1956

Nexhmedin Zajmi – Partisan ambush – 1956

The success of the Partisans in the fight against both the Italian and German Fascists was their control of the mountains of Albania – which were as much as an antagonist in the war as the combatants.

Nexhmedin Zajmi - Still life with chicken - 1955

Nexhmedin Zajmi – Still life with chicken – 1955

Like landscapes still lifes were not really the fare of Socialist Realist art but, obviously, artists turned their hand to various subjects.

Nexhmedin Zajmi - The cascade of the Drin - 1969

Nexhmedin Zajmi – The cascade of the Drin – 1969

These I understand to be a trio who would have been working on the construction of one of the hydro-electric projects, the Drin being the river that runs close to the northern city of Shkoder.

Pandeli Lena - The operators - 1981

Pandeli Lena – The operators – 1981

Albania has extensive oil reserves and workers in the industry were often depicted in paintings.

Pandi Mele - Beyond the window - 1972

Pandi Mele – Beyond the window – 1972

This picture borders on abstraction and I’m not sure how this would have been received in certain circles at various times during the Socialist period.

Pandi Mele - The highlander - 1971

Pandi Mele – The highlander – 1971

If he plays with abstraction in his previous painting above here Mele captures the character of a peasant from the mountains.

Pandi Melo - Soldiers of the Revolution 01 - 1968

Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 01 – 1968

Pandi Melo - Soldiers of the Revolution 02 - 1968

Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 02 – 1968

Pandi Melo - Soldiers of the Revolution 03 - 1968

Pandi Melo – Soldiers of the Revolution 03 – 1968

The three paintings above were painted as a triptych and show soldiers of the Albanian People’s Army showing them involved in various activities, practising shooting skills (note it’s the woman who has the gun), in manual labour helping in civilian activities and in study of Marxist texts.

Petro Kokushta - At the height of light - 1981

Petro Kokushta – At the height of light – 1981

Constructing the dam, referenced by the lake below, is only one part of the electrification of the country. The distribution infrastructure also needed effort and, in this case, a head for heights.

Petro Kokushta - The assembler - 1979

Petro Kokushta – The assembler – 1979

The worker at the top of everything and this one is waving a red flag.

Petro Kokushta - The driver - 1971

Petro Kokushta – The driver – 1971

In place of aristocrats and other hangers on Socialist Realist places the ‘ordinary’ man and woman on the walls of the Art Galleries.

Petro Kokushta - To the Assembly with a cannon - 1979

Petro Kokushta – To the Assembly with a cannon – 1979

Here the attack on the Quisling Assembly, between German Nazis and so-called ‘Nationalists’, on 18th October 1944 is depicted. A section of the 3rd Partisan Brigade dragged a canon up to the hills above Tirana, in the area of Sauk, and fired down on the meeting as it was taking place in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace – which is just across the road from the National Martyrs’ Cemetery on the Elbasan Road from Tirana. The remains of the fascist, Quisling and coward Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King Zog’) were buried in the building’s grounds in 2012. After Liberation in November 1944 the 18th October was declared ‘Day of the Artillery’.

Rafael Dembo - Going to work - nd

Rafael Dembo – Going to work – nd

Here we have a representation of the solidarity that comes with collective labour – directed to a common goal.

Sadik Kaceli - The crossing of the striking division of Brigade No 1 - 1954

Sadik Kaceli – The crossing of the striking division of Brigade No 1 – 1954

Many of the early Socialist Realist paintings concerned themselves with incidents from the National War of Liberation.

Sali Shijaku - Ilic Kici Dashi - 1978

Sali Shijaku – Ilic Kici Dashi – 1978

Dashi was one of the many who were designated ‘Hero/Heroine of Socialist Work’ after the War of Liberation from the invading fascists.

Sali Shijaku - The oilman - 1966

Sali Shijaku – The oilman – 1966

Oil workers were distinguished by their distinctive hats and combination cape. In any circumstance not a particularly pleasant job.

Sali Shijaku - The opening of new lands - 1970

Sali Shijaku – The opening of new lands – 1970

To prepare the land for the establishment of the Collective and State Farms, after the Agricultural Reforms of 1969 would have required and enormous amount of hard physical labour. What so few people achieved in such a short time is admirable. It is a tragedy that so much of that labour has gone to waste and the land they made workable now being left fallow – until some big corporation steps in and reaps the fruits of the millions of men and women hours needed to make the land productive.

Sali Shijaku - Vojo Kushi - 1969

Sali Shijaku – Vojo Kushi – 1969

Vojo Kushi was a young Partisan who, when surrounded in a house in Tirana by Italian fascists with two other comrades, rushed the enemy and attempted to throw a grenade into one of the tanks of the occupying forces. This is one of the largest paintings in the exhibition.

Seli Shijaku - At the Enver Hoxha Autotractor Combine - 1979

Seli Shijaku – At the Enver Hoxha Autotractor Combine – 1979

As a predominantly agricultural society it was imperative, in order to make collectivisation of the land a success, that machinery was introduced into the process. This both created an industrial working class in the creation of the tractors, ploughs and combine harvesters that were produced in the industrial centres as well as converting the peasant farmers into agricultural workers with skills commensurate with the workers in the cities. It is only this year that I’ve seen any development in the use of machinery in the countryside – and that on a small scale. What it took Socialism to achieve in 20 years capitalism has barely made any impact in 30 when it had a solid base to start from whereas Albania in the 1940s was starting from scratch.

Shaban Hysa - Beyond - 1969

Shaban Hysa – Beyond – 1969

The ‘Beyond’ here is not just the route of the electricity pylons but what this will mean for the construction of Socialism and the building of a new future for working men and women.

Skender Kamberi - The bread of our hands - 1976

Skender Kamberi – The bread of our hands – 1976

Here the various phases in the development of a wheat crop are conflated into one scene – semi-lyrical, semi-romantic. But the title is important and it stresses that what the workers receive is due to their own efforts. The land and all its fruits belong to them as a whole, as workers in the countryside and in the cities, co-dependent.

Skender Kamberi - The Bread Strike 1942 - 1971

Skender Kamberi – The Bread Strike 1942 – 1971

This is one of the most interesting of the paintings in the present collection – and I’d never seen igt before. This is an action filled canvas. There’s so much going on there’s too much to go into here. And I’m not exactly sure where this strike took place. Even before the Partisan war against the invaders took off in an organised manner there were many actions by unarmed workers against the invading Italian fascists. One other notable example was the strike of tobacco workers in Durres in 1940. There were also many demonstrations on the streets of towns throughout the country.

Skender Lako - Landscape of Pogradec - 1972

Skender Lako – Landscape of Pogradec – 1972

A charming landscape scene of the entrance to the town of Pogradec, on the shores of lake Ochrid, in the south-east of the country. The first painting in the exhibition to include a lapidar – which is way out of scale to the actual monument still in existence.

Skender Milori - A letter to the family - 1970

Skender Milori – A letter to the family – 1970

Two young women outside their tent in the south of the country – the sea and the olive trees on the terraces in the background suggest that this is close to Saranda. Young people were sent to the countryside in an effort to ensure that as city dwellers they didn’t get separated from the hardships of labour in the countryside. This was similar to what happened in China during the Cultural Revolution of 1966. As in China so in Albania some loved it, some hated it. Education given them by the revolution was then used to denigrate the Revolution’s achievements and eventually to undermine it.

Sotir Capo - The wireworker - 1969

Sotir Capo – The wireworker – 1969

A young woman working in a wire factory – where that might have been I’m not sure. What is certain is that there is no wire factory in Albania now. The building might, and probably does, still exist but it will be a mere shell, looted of anything valuable. The wire factory was in Shkoder and was supplied with raw materials from the copper enrichment plant at Rubik, Mirdite.

Spiro Kristo - Children - 1966

Spiro Kristo – Children – 1966

Albanian children were brought up with the idea that one day they might have to fight to defend their country. Unfortunately when it came to it they ran away and allowed their country, fought for with such bravery and with the loss of so much blood by their parents and grandparents, to disintegrate into chaos and disaster. A friend of mine was horrified when he saw this idea of children being taught about war but he seems to forget how that is entrenched in the culture of the capitalist ‘west’. He is also old enough to remember that many children in Britain, especially boys, had toy guns at a very young age – and ran around attempting to eliminate the entire indigenous population of America.

Spiro Kristo - The Brigade woman - 1976

Spiro Kristo – The Brigade woman – 1976

Another example of where a woman was in a position of responsibility – here a woman is keeping a record of what the Brigade has produced and who would have contributed what.

Spiro Kristo - The days of flying - 1968

Spiro Kristo – The days of flying – 1968

The idea of combat training is represented by the airman on the right playing with toy aircraft as they are involved in a dog-fight. In the background are lined up Russian or Chinese made MIG jets. Now there’s no such thing as an independent Albanian air force – I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a single trained fighter pilot in the country. Now Albania’s ‘independence’ is protected by NATO.

Stavri Cati - Electrification 02 - 1969

Stavri Cati – Electrification 02 – 1969

The emphasis that was placed upon the electrification of the country in the 1960s is demonstrated by the number of paintings that were created in that time and which would have been exhibited in museums and art galleries throughout the country. Some of these galleries still exist – however many have been closed and quite possibly looted in the early 1990s. There are some, however, where materials from the Socialist period are being ‘stored’, often haphazardly, so there is a chance of the material being available to the public view in the future.

Vasil Talo - The opening of the terraces - 1966

Vasil Talo – The opening of the terraces – 1966

A vast amount of man and women hours were expended on the creation of terraces in order to increase cultivable land in the hilly parts of the country. The sea in this picture would indicate that this is, again, in the south of the country in the area around Saranda. Until the the early 1990s the whole area on this southern part of Albania – opposite the Greek island of Corfu – would have been covered with olive and citrus trees. Many exist but many more have been destroyed to provide the ugly holiday resort of Saranda and further south still, the holiday ‘resort’ of Ksamil.

Vilson Halimi - On the frontline everywhere - 1976

Vilson Halimi – On the frontline everywhere – 1976

The only family scene in the exhibition. Note the red banner with a slogan at the entrance to the village down on the left and the white lapidar in the background on the right – a little to far away to identify exactly which one it is or where.

Vilson Kilica - Declaration of the Republic - 1982-3

Vilson Kilica – Declaration of the Republic – 1982-3

A painting which celebrates the declaration of the People’s Republic of Albania in Tirana in 1946. (The country was declared the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania in 1976.) This is one of only two images in the exhibition of the leader of the Party of Labour of Albania and the country, from 1944 till his death in 1985, Enver Hoxha. He’s the figure to the right of centre, under the flag wearing a long, grey overcoat and saluting the crowd.

Vilson Kilica - In the studio - 1986

Vilson Kilica – In the studio – 1986

This is a strange one. It’s an intimate scene of an artist’s studio where we see both the artist and one of his sitters. That sitter is Enver Hoxha, who was painted a number of times by Kilica. BUT – Kilica has depicted himself as he would have been in 1986 but the image of Comrade Enver is of him as a relatively young man at the time of the Liberation of the country in 1944, or in the few years after. Also the painting was created the year after Enver’s death. Can’t work that one out.

Vilson Kilica - The Brigadiers - 1971

Vilson Kilica – The Brigadiers – 1971

A colourful and joyful picture of a couple of young women going to work on a Collective or State Farm. The various crops are represented by the different colours in the fields in the background.

Zef Shoshi - Establishing a co-operative in Malesia - 1974

Zef Shoshi – Establishing a co-operative in Malesia – 1974

The establishment of a Co-operative would have involved long and detailed negotiations and here we see the success of those discussions with all generations of the population of this mountain village being present at the closing ceremony. The Banner to the right states: ‘Glory to the Party of Labour of Albania’.

Zef Shoshi - The turner - 1969

Zef Shoshi – The turner – 1969

Another picture of a female worker in a skilled occupation, this time as a turner in an engineering works. Again it’s unlikely the place depicted is still working and I would have thought it is very unlikely, also, that a young woman would be following such a profession in today’s capitalist Albania.

Guardians of the country - 1969 - Spiro Kristo

Guardians of the country – 1969 – Spiro Kristo

A painting which seems to be very much influenced by the early Soviet artist Alexander Deineka.

Building the hydroelectric plant - 1971 - Ismail Lulani

Building the hydroelectric plant – 1971 – Ismail Lulani

A character portrait with the construction work as a background.


This is the exhibition of Socialist Realist Art as it is as of September 2019. There are a few pictures which have been in previous displays but – for whatever reason – were not considered for this particular phase. A few of those follow:

In the industrial complex - 1974 - Lumturi Blloshimi

In the industrial complex – 1974 – Lumturi Blloshimi

A picture created before the problems of air pollution were generally accepted as being important even at the time of industrial development in a country which before Liberation had virtually no heavy industry. Albania has little problem with that 30 years after the counter-revolution as the factories and works constructed during the time of Socialism were looted and now, in the main, exist only as ruins.

The Partisan Oath - 1968 - Guri Mahde

The Partisan Oath – 1968 – Guri Mahde

A painting that puts the Party at the centre of everything – the oath is to the liberation of the country from the Fascist invader but also to the cause of Communism.

Tree Planting - 1971 - Edi Hila

Tree Planting – 1971 – Edi Hila

Another painting that celebrates collective endeavour in the countryside.

Partisan School - 1969 - Sotir Cano

Partisan School – 1969 – Sotir Cano

This is an interesting one as Cano painted at least another version. Here we have the important task, even in times of war, of the education of the Partisans – the majority of whom would have been illiterate. This version has been displayed in the National Art Gallery in recent years.

Partisan School 2 - 1969 - Sotir Cano

Partisan School 2 – 1969 – Sotir Cano

This version used to be displayed in VI Lenin Party School in Tirana. Whether it still survives may be in doubt. This has the same general composition but there are changes in the genders of some of the main figures.

Worker with hammer - 1938 - Sofia Papdhimitri

Worker with hammer – 1938 – Sofia Papdhimitri

Not a ‘Socialist Realist’ painting as it predates the Liberation of the country.

I also have the intention of adding to the blog images of other art works I have encountered in other art galleries/museums in the country. Sometimes they are difficult to find but there are still a few places where the art of the Socialist period of Albania’s history can be appreciated.

There are very few contemporary reference books on Albanian Socialist Realist Art – although there are albums of work from the erstwhile Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China nothing comparable has been produced for Albania – but material was produced during the time of Socialist construction. Here we reproduce two of those albums, any others will be added if they become available.

Figurative Art in the People's Republic of Albania - 1969

Figurative Art in the People’s Republic of Albania – 1969

Albanian Figurative Art - Paintings - 1978

Albanian Figurative Art – Paintings – 1978

More on Albania …..