“Socialist realism boils over, it is in constant and continuous development, since he too is at war, a war of opposites, a class war, a war between the old and the new.”
Author: Ermir Hoxha
At first glance (a quick look, but also a functional one), the socialist realism of Albania is structured into themes having clear functions. It seems to culminate in what is known as the Cult of the Leader; a product dedicated to the image of the dictator. In fact, Enver Hoxha, Albania’s leader during the early days of the postwar period, along with his consolidation of power, began to build his own cultlike following. Like his spiritual father, Joseph Stalin, he began to care for his manners, clothing, military parades, and speeches. Over the years, all this would be reflected in the art of the time, where Hoxha is depicted as the highest-ranking military commander leading war comrades and as the supreme leader of the new Albania. As such, he appears in the country’s north and south, among workers, students, children, the elderly and intellectuals, on the mountain, field, in a meeting room, or office. His multifaceted dimension required, at all costs, his total involvement in the construction of socialism and the new socialist society. He was self-defined as the soul of the nation itself, synonymous with the party, with communism, and the modernization and industrialization of the country, its harmony, and its abundance. In art, his portrayal was entrusted to only a small group of artists who were always under the maximum supervision of the state’s superstructure. Even objects like the house where Hoxha lived and the shop where he worked were immortalized as cult-like places, so that in the end, his death left more gaps than even when he was alive.
Next in line is the theme of the “new person,” which echoes the figure of Nietzsche’s superman. This figure in socialist realism was carefully constructed by the engineers of the propaganda machine. This new person, clearly depicted by the figure of the worker and forming the true spirit of the promised paradise, is portrayed in different ways in different countries, or as Mihnea Mircan puts it: “Regardless of differences between national variants, the main ones being propagandistic intensity and iconographic proliferation, socialist realism glorifies labor, and – directly or obliquely – the power in whose service labor toils.”
In the most classic versions, this figure is often presented alone, almost always in half-profile – simple, modest, but aware of the trusted role it has in building socialism. In exceptionally photographic poses, the figure is associated with work tools as a way of identifying their profession, while the everbright sunlight upon them justifies their enthusiasm, in harmony with the state’s ideology. The man’s physiognomy is always strong and muscular; he is always short-haired and never bearded, with strong, magnified hands visible to the body, with minimal gestures and an intense look. In front of monochrome backgrounds, or the open trenches of a shipyard, the figures stare off to the distance toward what they hope to achieve.
“The Communist of the Village”
Artist: Lumturi Blloshmi, 1977,
Dimensions: 63.5 x 43.5 cm, Pencil on paper
Their monumental stature imposes a bottom-up view, like monuments on the squares – their wide shoulders, strong jaws, and respectable look – is the model to be followed. Simple, modest, but proud and confident, the worker – synonymous with the new socialist man – knows no insurmountable challenges, no ideological hesitations and fluctuations, and above all knows no gender divide, because in the process of building socialism, the figure of man and woman enjoyed equal status.
Women occupy the center of the picture in fields, plants, and factories and are visually depicted near industrial machines, on farmland, or while transporting cement wearing work uniforms as one with their comrades. They are young, healthy, and physically strong, with wide shoulders and hair gathered under a handkerchief. Immersed in revolutionary momentum, women often show extremely modest charm. The male and female figures represented in the visual arts were characterized by dozens of stereotypes, all different according to the function they served. For example, the male figure can be divided into two large groups, favorable and unfavorable, respectively by their function. In regard to favorable figures, the main position is occupied by the workers, who are depicted in many uniforms according to their respective profession,
“Going to work”, Artist: Zef Shoshi, 1970, Dimensions: 92 x 56.5 cm, Tempera on paper
and then by the soldiers with their corresponding uniforms (according to their specialization – infantry, marine, air force, etc.), partisans (with or without mustaches), guerrillas, rural men (highlanders from the north or south), and villagers, cooperative workers, veterans, and intellectuals. Along with the male figure, beside him or alone, the stereotypical female figure is portrayed. In an attempt to complete every aspect of socialist life, she is presented as a worker, cooperative worker, inheritor of ethnographic values (in popular costume), highlander, communist, underground militant, martyr or veteran, intellectual, or a loving and caring mother to the younger generation.
In contrast, unfavorable figures also took shape as the best way to appreciate the new socialist person because the whole ideological structure of socialist realism was built from counter-values. They are depicted as ugly, dark, and often with distinct physical defects such as hunching over and squinting. Having long beards, hair loss, and glassy eyes, they represented religious communities, invaders, collaborationists, as well as ideological enemies abroad. These figures (strangely) were represented only by males. In the socialist realist visual art of Albania, there were no unfavorable feminine characters. Backed by massive financial contributions, the socialist cause aimed to obscure some historical periods by mythicizing others; retelling them as a continuous storyline of patriotism undoubtedly peaked with the last dictator-led war. According to Alex Stadish: “In the process of building his own myth, Hoxha synchronized Albanian history, selecting those historical figures who, like the Old Testament prophets, would provide support for his purposes.”
Another important theme in the structure of socialist realism was the figure of the soldier, the symbol of the territorial defense of the country, a guaranty over possible invaders and protector of the ideological revolution. Socialist Albania, out of the Warsaw Pact (1968) and facing the Cold War, stormed into a climate of fear, with an enemy always ready to strike, and the Albanians always ready to answer. Included in this strategy was the image of the soldier coupled with the workers (always male and female), together in everyday labor, defending and building socialism. As such, it was reformulated under the slogan: “Unity between the army and the people,” which accompanied more than one propaganda platform – entire crowds of students, workers, or intellectuals during their military training.
Also, other themes have to be added to the structure of socialist realism (i.e., the reality of the abundance of everyday life, known as the socialist paradise, the industrial and historical landscape, and other subthemes), which always aimed to contribute to the same purpose – glorifying the ideology and promoting the socialist system as victorious.