“glory to the martyrs of the fatherland. your works are a source of inspiration for the generations of today and of the future.”
For decades the communist government of Albania constructed monuments all over the country honoring those Albanians who fought in the “War of National Liberation,” also known as world war 2. The war not only liberated the country from fascism but facilitated the take over of the country by Enver Hoxha and his fellow communists partisans. The communist government made the most of this connection and even today “national liberation day” is still celebrated, albeit some what begrudgingly given this association with the communist regime.
What interests me about these monuments is how they survived or didnt in post-communist Albania because these monuments find themselves in a kind of limbo: yes they are patriotic and yes they recognize Albanians who died for Albania but they also are products of arguably the worst communist regime in Europe. As a result of this ambiguous psychic and legal space they find themselves in, some are now destroyed, some are only neglected, some have been rebuilt, some are unchanged but symbols of communism have been removed, some are now features of restaurant patios, and some have survived the last 23 years maintained as they always had been.
Albania’s most prominent mural was “de-communist-ified” and thus no longer has these prominent stars.
A project to document each lapidar, or monument, has been completed. See the project’s tumblr account here. The result of their entire project is available for free here. I definitely recommend checking out volumes 2 and 3 if you are interested in looking at lots of Albanian monuments 🙂
At the time this project was only just seeking funding I had coffee with the Dutch man behind the project and sent him the google map I had been making of each partizan veterans’ cemetery in the country. It was nice to finally chat with someone who shared an interest in these ubiquitous relics.
After living in Albania for two years and seeing these monuments and the completely destroyed industrial sector of the country, I realized that modern Albania displaced a dramatically different country. Modern Albania is living in the ruins of a lost civilization known as the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania with which it shares little in common although this lost civilization ended less than 30 years ago. These monuments are perhaps the clearest physical reminder of that lost civilization but the built legacy is everywhere from the architecture to the shape of cities. The psychic legacy lives on as well- just greet an older Albanian with “Death to Fascism” and watch as they reflexively respond “Freedom to the people.” This greeting and other communist era slogans or “parrulla” are to the Albanian psyche what these monuments are to the Albanian landscape.
Will these monuments survive? I’m afraid for many of them the Lapidar Survey will serve as their de facto obituary. Others will be safe until the Veterans Organizations that protect them today finally die off as their members die. Urban monuments, cemeteries nationwide, and monuments in the south will probably survive. With some cities and towns preserving their monuments and others disregarding them, the fate of these communist era monuments is, rather ironically, being chosen democratically.
Click on the images to see the full captions and translations.
Shkoder. This statue of the “5 heroes” was moved recently from the city’s busiest traffic circle to the veterans cemetery outside of town. It has been moved again since I left Albania to another traffic circle.
Shkoder. This veterans cemetery is now next to a garbage dump.
shkoder. an interesting monument in that it is of the albanian communist era style but it recognizes the people who protested the regime in 1990. “The anti-communist peopel of Shkoder, the first in Albania, brought down the bust of the hated dictator”
Kucove, the oil region of Albania. this monument celebrates a workers strike during the Italian occupation.
Durres. This veteran cemetery is literally guarded by very old men.
Durres. Little kids slide down this monument.
“shqiperia shkemb graniti / albania, a granite boulder” peshkopi
tirana. You can see the communsit star is still there but it looks liek someone wanted to obscure it with the helmet of Skenderbeg, Albania’s national hero.
a bunker made into an exhibit along with parts of berlin wall and parts from a work prison.
“nene shqiperia / mother Albania” Tirana. Statue designed in part by Current prime minister’s Father.
Apartments designed by purged architect Maks Velo. Not really a monument but notable because it is the only attempt to make communist era housing look somewhat interesting or novel. Tirana
former dictator’s museum, tirana
current mosaic modified from original design. history museum. tirana
Burrel. Whenever I traveled I always tried to see at least one communist star a day. discovering this hidden one was a very pleasant surprise.
burrel. The previous picture is from looking up the center of this little tower.
village in diber
saranda. Southern cities tend to care more about their communist era monuments and cemeteries.
ksamil. Note the communist star is still there above the heads of the eagle.
bulqiza. Interesting how someone in town cares enough to keep the inscription legible yet the monument finds itself in such disrepair. this lapidar has since been repaired.
The same lapidar, recently restored.
fier. It looks like part of an old monument grafted onto a new base. Its interesting to see how some are destroyed, some neglected, some protected, some rebuilt. translation: september 14 1943 Girls from fier became partisans.
permet. Probably the most pro-communist part of Albania. They still celebrate communist holidays there.
permet. Compare this to the graffiti’ed monuments in durres.
burrel. “Defense of the fatherland is the duty above all duties.” this was a well known communist saying. This is now completely painted over.
pretty typical nearly forgotten monument in the middle of no where. It looks like a new plaque was added recently.
This a poorly rebuilt monument in the center of Himara. The local population is Greek and not sympathetic to communist history despite being in the south..
Southern monuments tend to be better taken care of as the south was preferred under communism. Even today the north-south political split in Albania has the southern half firmly with the modern socialist party.
One of my favorite monuments outside of Peza. “Glory to heroic Peza – The people on their feet, the party in charge”
image borrowed from Albanian Lapidar Survey. This has got to be one of the most impressive memorials in the country. Outside of Pishkash.
This is by no means a complete collection. For my other posts on communist era art and architecture from Albania, see these posts below
Surviving communist era public Art
Translated Albanian communist Era propaganda
Albanian socialist realist art
An imgur gallery of more of my monument pictures.