The Unofficial View of Tirana (81)


The former “Obelisk of Democracy” a.k.a. “Monument with Two Fingers” in Kavajë

by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

Being the son of a famed sculptor from the communist period who co-created, amongst many other works, the Independence Monument in Vlorë, and the Mother Albania statue on the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tiranë, one may expect Edi Rama to have picked up a keen sense about the form and function of monumental public art. He displays this sense, which he has put to his considerable political advantage, in constructing monumentality (such as painting the city), but recently also in the impeccable timing of the destruction of a monument.

On the October 27–28, 2014, the PD (Democratic Party) hosted, for the first time since their dramatic election loss on June 23, 2013, a party congress, aimed at fortifying Lulzim Basha’s leadership of the party, as well electing members to several party organs. Already tainted by stories of fraud, exclusion, and divisive politics, the PD congress saw its news coverage overshadowed by the decision of INUK (National Urban Building Inspectorate) to destroy the “Obelisk of Democracy,” a.k.a. “Monument with Two Fingers” in Kavajë, officially in the context of the “reorganization” of the central square and boulevard, as part of the ongoing city renovations in urban centers around the country.

After INUK took care of it

The “Obelisk of Democracy” was dedicated to the anticommunist protests that started in Kavajë on March 25, 1990 and was built on top of the former lapidar commemorating the National Liberation War (this was told to me during a visit to Kavajë in the context of the Albanian Lapidar Survey, I have no images of the square before the construction of the “Obelisk”). According to sculptor Musa Qarri, it was placed in 1997, although never officially inaugurated, as Albania was in de middle of a crippling financial meltdown and a semi-civil war fanned by then President Sali Berisha. Somehow, the monument managed to emerge from this violent period unscathed. Qarri claims that the monument is inspired by the V-sign for victory, freedom, and democracy, and has nothing to do with the emblematic V-sign formed by two fingers, made popular by Berisha, and now even used, albeit unconvincingly, by Basha. Even if – and I find this hard to believe – the monument intended to be politically “neutral,” it was clear to everyone that it was a monument dedicated to the Democratic Party, and most of all to its “historical” leader, Berisha.

Sali Berisha making the V-sign, a sign associated with the Democratic Party

Lulzim Basha making the V-sign, while casting a vote in a fish bowl

In spite of the total absence in Kavajë of any protest from supporters of the Democratic Party, PD leaders were swift in their – divided and confused – response, thus successfully deflecting media attention from whatever content was still left from their congress. Minority leader Edi Paloka stated that

Edi Rama has violently provoked the democrats of the country, but also the citizens in general, by demolishing the symbol of freedom and democracy in the center of Kavajë. The symbol of two fingers represents the sacrifice of our entire nation, for the difficult days of bringing down the communist system. Kavajë was a pioneer of the future of democracy in this country and deserved with dignity a symbol in the middle of the city. […] With this act, Edi Rama has lit the fuse of a popular revolt.

As always, Berisha doubled the ante through one of his classical “Dear friends!” Facebook posts, which, because of its over-the-top pathos, is worth citing in full:

In an act of blind paternal hate, Edvin Kristaq Rama and his criminal phalanxes with rruspa [?] and bulldozers demolished the monument, symbol of democracy “Two Fingers Up” on Democracy Square in Kavajë.

By destroying this monument, erected 20 years before to immortalize the spilled blood and the historical contribution of the brave girls, boys, women, and men of Kavajë at the front of the Albanian anticommunist movement from the years 90–92, Edvin Kristaq Rama spurns the spilled blood, bravery, courage, and heroism of the brave citizens of Kavajë for freedom and democracy.

With this primitive act, the nephew of Spiro Koleka, the man who tried to send tanks to the student movement in the winter of 1990, and son of sculptor Kristaq Rama, who in those years signed the hanging and public execution of dissidents and innocent Albanian citizens, realizes his bleak dream of revenge in the name of his uncle and father toward those who overthrew their cruel regime.

Edi Rama, nephew of the hangman of the Albanian technical intelligentsia and son of a criminal sculptor, actor in the human and cultural genocide of the Hoxhist dictatorship, took revenge today on the democrats and people of Kavajë but also all of Albania for the overthrowing in the year 1991 of the statue of the dictator Hoxha, the Albanian post-war Hitler.

Today, Edi Rama declared an open war not only to democrats and citizens of Kavajë, but also to democrats and citizens in all of Albania. The protests “Rama GO AWAY” are the only answer to the clique in power.

This highly emotional response has at least a clarifying function. First, the usage of cliches such as “heroism,” “brave girls, boys, women, and men,” and the general pathetic tone reminds one of the less well-written tracts of communist propaganda, which should not surprise us, as Berisha was until his volte-face in 1991 a stable part of the communist regime. Then there are the attempts to place PM Rama into a family lineage of the “worst” communists, up to the point of declaring his father a “criminal sculptor.” But the most telling aspect of this Facebook post is the fact that contrary to sculptor of the “Obelisk of Democracy,” Berisha clearly considers it dedicated to the Democratic Party, or even himself, by naming it “Two Fingers Up,” a title no one else has used before or after. Moreover, he himself draws a parallel between the tearing down of the Hoxha statue in 1991, and the demolition of this “Monument with Two Fingers” in 2014. Does he perhaps feel as if it is not Hoxha, but this time Berisha who is pulled from his pedestal (as suggested in Res Publica), at the same time that the “historic” congress of the PD is about to fortify his (and by proxy Basha’s) grip on the party, through the inclusion of multiple family members on key positions? Whatever the reasons may be, it is clear that, in contrast to the average citizens of Kavajë, who couldn’t be bothered by any monument, demolished or not, Berisha feels very strongly for what I could only describe as a semi-abstract snail.

Democratic realism: The Monument for Independence in Tiranë

A few days later, Edi Rama chose to reply to all the consternation in a slightly oblique – and may we say baroque? – way, not without merit, however, in the sense that it introduces the term “democratic realism,” which seems to cover the entire post-communist monumental production, from roadside monuments for traffic victims and lapidars erected for victims of communist terror, to the tasteless Monument for Independence in Tirana, countless of cheesy double-headed eagle statues, and the Monument with the Two Fingers in Kavajë, up to the beginning of his reign. (The translation is somewhat shakier as Rama’s Albanian is much more literary than Berisha’s, and I don’t have my trusted Albanian-German dictionary with me in Singapore.)

I don’t know who the inventor of the genre of roadside monuments is, where the tragic and comic coexist in such a macabre form. But I know that this kind of creativity has not caught my eye anywhere else in the world but Albania. As for me, those lapidars built by family members or friends of the deceased or traffic victim, are the most sincere form of the decomposition of Socialist Realism into a “Democratic Realism.”

This was carried, motivated, and financed for years on end as active conduit of esthetic violence, by the central and national government of Albania through their ridiculous attempt to counter the bronze heroes of the hagiography of the former regime with heroes of a history rewritten according to political whim, or with bronze martyrs and concrete torches of the time that came upon the empty pedestals. Albania is filled with such iron and concrete parables that, in fact and unfortunately, are the greatest mockery of the past in the new life of our country. This country did not deserve this great mockery for two decades done by Enver from his grave, through shortsighted politicians infused with the spirit of proletarian dictatorship and mediocre artisans, crookedly forged on the proletarian anvil.

But obviously this mockery is made even more poignant by the astonishing seriousness of the decision makers that are engaged in the planting and cultivation of these ridiculous grafts stuck onto pedestals and grotesque stairs. Not only do they think that they have done the right thing by insisting all way on a disfiguration of every esthetic norm or otherwise simply every logical criterion, but with the courage of him who only has his own ignorance as an argument, and seem to us ready to explode in revolt to defend their own argument. According to them, to touch this type of monumental edifice, is not a sin, but a crime.

Even these absurd edifices are not simply useless monumental volumes that can be ripped out from the country when the country needs a different work, but they are themselves history! They are the spirit and blood of the people! They are democracy and party! They are what they are not except the anti-esthetic reaction that they certainly are! I know of only two historic and hysteric forces that identify artistic parables with themselves and touching a parable from wood or plaster as if they themselves, their honor, their history, and so on were touched: Inquisition and Dictatorship!

What appears to us these days with the revolt of the touched self, touched honor, touched history, to continue with other touched parts by the uprooting of a concrete gollogungë in Kavajë, is a third force, heretofore unknown. Precisely like the unknown Democratic Realism that came to life under its hyqmi, when he came to power here with the impetus of the anticommunist revolution, twenty and some years ago, and then wreaked havoc with his anti-esthetic reaction. A force recently fallen from his meal with his historical leader, which, different from the Inquisition and Dictatorship, has neither Bible nor Manifesto, but only Ignorance as its only argument.

Looking at the party born from the student movement of the 1990s, reduced to a batch of deputies on the empty stairs of the “obelisk” in Kavajë, I was reminded of a batch of secret service officers gathered on the empty stairs in front of the Enver’s monument, just after it was torn down. The ones of today with two fingers, those of yesterday with a fist. The ones firmato like on a color television, and the others from teritali like on a black-and-white photograph. But both sides, belly brothers of the same totalitarian culture erected on the pedestal of anti-esthetic reaction.

From this feast of suggestion, irony, and reversal (e.g. by referring to Enver as “historic leader,” which is a term that is normally reserved for Berisha), there is one point that I would like pick out. The phrase “new life [jetën e re] of our country,” which resonates clearly with the communist “new world” and “new man.” Rama at least invites us to consider his electoral victory in 2013 as a complete break with the past, a past in which Enver Hoxha, even after his death and the fall of communism, continued to reign (if first as tragedy, then now as joke) through the many communists-turned-democrat that however were unable to wrest themselves from the esthetic regime they were now all swift to denounce. This also implies that the monumentality that Edi Rama himself will establish, perhaps already with the new monument that was promised to rise from the rubble of the “Obelisk of Democracy,” will be of a radically new form – a form different from either the anti-estheticism of Socialist Realism and its perversion in Democratic Realism. Whatever that form may be – and let’s see if it is truly a form that can do without pedestal or square, that is, a form without “Realism” – it is still, and ironically, in the best of communist traditions, built on the monumental debris of the previous regime.

About the Author:

Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei is a Dutch philosopher, writer and conceptual artist.