Based on data from the State Archives, we were able to construct the following heatmap of the density of lapidars in Albania per region in 1970, that is, when most lapidars had already been built.
Lapidar density in Albania in 1970.
Mother Albania towering above the hill
Traditionally, May 5 is the day on which martyrs of the fatherland are commemorated all around Albania. This specific date was chosen as it was on May 5 that national hero Qemal Stafa was murdered. Today I went to have a look at the ceremony in Tirana at the large Martyrs’ Cemetery dominated by the Mother Albania sculpture by sculptors K. Rama, M. Dhrami, and Sh. Haderi, on a hill close to Farkë, overlooking the city. PM Edi Rama, Speaker of Parliament Ilir Meta, and Minister of Defense Mimi Kodheli, as well as First Secretary of the Labor Party Muharrem Xhafa were present to lay wreaths. Another group of communists, brandishing images of Enver Hoxha and Qemal Stafa were not allowed in together with Enver’s image, as happened last year during Independence Day.
A while ago I posted a link to the film-poem “Lapidari,” whose screenplay was written by Viktor Gjika. Below I include the photographs of the original screenplay and the technical scenario that I made in the Film Archives.
One of the other articles kindly sent to me by Raino Isto, Naum Prifti’s text “Lapidarër anës Rrugës” (Lapidars along the road), published in Ylli from November 1966. At some point he describes a car trip from Elbasan to Pogradec (where there are indeed quite some lapidars along the road):
The unique experience of a group of architects and sculptors in 1960s and 1970s Yugoslavia, introducing new ways to remember World War II and the victory upon Nazism and Fascism. The curse of history at the beginning of the 90s, with the nationalist forces using those same memories to manipulate the different national communities and lead the country into war. A journey into European memory of the 20th century, the century that started and ended in Sarajevo.
Andi in the digitalization studio
Lapidars were in the news recently, as people start to remember that this year is the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Albania. Most extant lapidars were built around the 25th Anniversary in 1969, so it is only fit that our research takes place in this year of celebration. Unfortunately there is little to celebrate for the monuments themselves; before the weekend, one was destroyed in Krujë by the brother of an official, apparently because “it blocked his view.” And yesterday, the television show Alarm opened with a feature in which a farmer from Gjuzaj explains why he removed a lapidar from his property:
Enver Hoxha’s letter to sculptors Kristaq Rama, Muntas Dhrami, and Shaban Hadëri in Drita. Photo by Raino Isto.
Yesterday I had the pleasure catching up on Skype with Raino Isto, an American scholar of Albanian cultural heritage from the University of Maryland, whom I met about a year ago in Tirana. Raino recently finished his MA Thesis entitled “In It We Should See Our Own Revolution Moving Forward, Rising Up”: Socialist Realism, National Subjecthood, and the Chronotope of Albanian History in the Vlora Independence Monument, a thorough investigation of the motifs and thematics surrounding the Independence Monument in Vlorë, and its contextualization and historicization during both communist and post-communist periods.
Today was the first day I could have a look at some of the microfilms of documents from the archive of the Ministry of Education (later Ministry of Education and Culture) 1945-90. I found several lists and reports from the 70s that give a pretty complete picture of the monumental activity around that time as well as the hilarious situation that there were so many monuments built that maintenance became a serious issue. I should get them all copied in a few days, hopefully, but there is one letter I couldn’t resist typing out in full.
This first circular by the Ministry of Education about erecting lapidars around the country from 1946 is interesting not only because it is one of the first official mentions of lapidars in the archives from the communist period, but also because it insists on recycling old “fascist” lapidars into the new ones. This sounds a lot to me like the more recent recycling of Enver Hoxha’s tombstone for the cemetery of British soldiers, and reusing the bronze of his statue on Skënderbeg Square for the Gjergj Fishta statue in Lezhë. So it seems that this practice of monumental recycling was already in place after WWII.
Here it is:
Matthias Bickert on different attitudes toward cultural heritage.
Today Matthias invited Vincent to give a guest presentation at the University of Tirana, MSc Geography program in a class on cultural landscapes. After a thorough introduction to the development of the concept of cultural landscape, different attitudes and theoretical stances toward it, and practical examples from the Albanian context, where cultural landscape policy still very much needs to be thought through and developed, Vincent introduced the Albanian Lapidar Survey from his practice as artist working in the field of monumentality, and public artworks such as lapidars as a locus of intervention and research. He also introduces the details of the research methodology and different field work strategies involved.
We found it: the Institute for Military Geography in Tufinë!
One of the most important ingredients for successful field work is good maps. The maps of Albania currently available on the market contain gross inaccuracies and don’t have the right scale to display all the dusty backroads that Google Maps and Wikimapia seem to indicate. The only publicly available maps with some detail are the 1:50,000 Soviet Topographical Maps, downloadable on Bunker Trails. The downside of these maps is that they are based on Italian data from the 1930s and are in Russian. It therefore contains few roads built during communism and you need to be able to read the Cyrillic transliteration of Albanian in order to make sense of them.