In 1968, in the wake of the Soviet bloc’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, Albania officially left the political structures of the Warsaw Pact. That year also happened to be the 500th anniversary of the death of the Christian prince Skanderberg (that is, Gjergj Kastrioti, 1405-1468) who had successfully defied the Ottomans. The communist authorities decided to adorn the most important square in central Tirana already named after this prince with an imposing equestrian statue of Skanderberg. It was the hushed beginning of national communism in Albania, national heroes taking precedence before the international heroes of communism.
The statute of Stalin that had stood in the square since 1953 was moved about 100 meters south onto the main boulevard Dëshmorët e Kombit (or ‘Martyrs of the Nation’). This statute was placed opposite the Lenin monument there, both the teacher and the former pupil facing each other.
During the fall of communism in Albania, the ideology’s two bronze paragons were evicted from their pedestals, Stalin on 21 December 1990 and Lenin half a year later on 21 June 1991. Nowadays both lead a quiet life of pensioners in the backyard of the National Gallery of Art in Tirana. I paid them a visit, prompted by a political joke from the communist times, related to me by my Albanian friend, Bardhyl Selimi.
Prior to the eviction, at the opposite ends of the main boulevard Lenin and Stalin used to stand. On a warm spring day Lenin extended his hand (now lost to the vagaries of the violent downfall of the communist system in Albania), over the green expanse of the meticulously tended lawn, toward Stalin, inviting him for a cup coffee in a nearby state-owned cafe.
Stalin, with his palm tucked deeply inside his coat hesitated for a moment. He was feeling around the inside pocket to check whether he had taken his wallet. Unfortunately, he had not, so he was compelled to decline Lenin’s invitation. ‘See you later, Comrade.’