Extraordinary Tito-era monuments from former Yugoslavia

Writing about any niche subject is always tricky, particularly when there is already only one truly definitive source on the subject. You either need to come up with something completely original and unique or use that one definitive source to garner the information required to create an article of your own.

Kirsty and I have now made three trips in as many years to the Balkan countries that originally formed the Republic of Yugoslavia with the express purpose of searching for, and photographing Tito-era World War II-related monuments and memorials known as spomeniks. Of the few hundred or so that are still in existence, we have now seen just over seventy of them, yet, apart from a post we wrote about our road trip around Serbia (our first time in the region specifically looking for spomeniks) in which we briefly touched on the subject, and the occasional post on Facebook, we haven’t written that much about them.

It’s not that we don’t want to, or that we haven’t had the inclination to put something detailed together. What’s stopping us is something quite simple. Every time we’ve researched each of the three trips, we’ve used just one point of reference, a website called Spomenik Database. The person behind the creation of this site is a guy called Donald Niebyl and he is so generous with his information, which not only includes detailed knowledge about spomeniks (both general and specific) but also photographs, maps, GPS coordinates, details about road conditions and so on, that we question what we can add that would either be completely different, or improve what he has already provided. Not a lot, is the honest answer but having now spent a reasonable amount of time and energy tracking these fascinating memorials down, we want to at least showcase some of the spomeniks we have photographed and that is what this post is all about.

I will endeavour to explain in my own words a little more about what spomeniks are and how they came into being and a little background history, but I won’t go into any more detail than that. If you want to know more, either go to the general Spomenik Database website or click on the specific links for each spomenik alongside our photographs.

Lepoglava Memorial Graveyard Lepoglava Croatia-10Lepoglava Memorial Graveyard in Croatia (Stevan Luketić, 1981)

What are spomeniks and why were they created?

Spomenik is a Serbo-Croat/Slovenian word meaning “monument”.

There was a strong resistance movement in Yugoslavia during World War II, which is more commonly known as the National Liberation War or National Liberation Struggle in this part of the world. The communist-led Yugoslav Partisans, under the command of the revolutionary (and future president) Josip Broz “Tito”, fought numerous battles against Axis forces (Germany and her allies) throughout many parts of Yugoslavia. Thousands died, not only soldiers but civilians also (including numerous inmates of concentration camps), and to commemorate the loss of life, battles fought and atrocities that took place during that time, over one thousand spomeniks were erected all over Yugoslavia from the 1960s through to the 1980s. In short, spomeniks are memorials to anti-fascism.

Bubanj Memorial Park (The Three Fists) Nis Serbia-2Bubanj Memorial Park (‘The Three Fists’) (Mihajlo Mitrović and Ivan Sabolić, 1963) on the outskirts of Niš in Seriba is an example of a spomenik that commemorates atrocities that were initiated at a nearby concentration camp

The reasons (there are a few) for their bizarre and often futuristic design, are interesting ones. After the end of the Second World War and the eventual establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in 1963), Tito and his government did all they could to repress ethnic nationalism within the country and present a united Yugoslavia (*).

(*) He managed to achieve this while he was alive (and in power) but in the decade after his death (in 1980), racial tension worsened and eventually culminated in what is collectively known as the Yugoslav Wars, a series of ethnic-related conflicts that are often described as the deadliest in Europe since the Second World War.

Tito was in charge of a newly formed federation that included both former partisans and those who fought alongside the Axis forces (Croatian fascists known as Ustashe for example) during World War II and one of the reasons for the unusual design of many of the spomeniks is because architects and sculptors alike were briefed to try and create something that would not offend either side.

Another consideration was the fact that Tito had distanced himself from Stalin and the Soviet Union after the war ended and he wanted to get away from the Soviet-style monuments that were being erected in neighbouring countries such as Bulgaria and Romania. And the final rationale behind why they look so surreal is simply related to the era. Abstract and modern creations were in fashion, especially during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Yugoslavian architects and sculptors were naturally influenced by the style.

When you begin exploring spomeniks in earnest, you soon realise the huge contrasts in their current state and condition. Some are immaculately well kept, some have museums (and even hotels) attached to them and are located in specifically created parks, while others are, at best neglected and in poor condition, and worst case, vandalised and/or heavily destroyed with barely a skeleton shell remaining.

Unfortunately, these days the number of poorly maintained spomeniks outstrips those that are kept in good condition. As mentioned above, of the thousand-plus that once existed, only a couple of hundred of them remain today. Not everyone in the region saw or does see them for what they truly represent and many spomeniks were destroyed during the Yugoslav Wars, while others were either vandalised, plundered for anything of value, or simply forgotten about and reclaimed by nature. 

Monument to the 1st Split Partisan Detachment Kosute Croatia-2Monument to the 1st Split Partisan Detachment in Košute, Croatia is an example of a spomenik that was deliberately destroyed during the Yugoslav Wars

Oddly enough, it is some of the less-maintained spomeniks that fascinate us the most (although we couldn’t resist predominately showcasing the most imposing ones here). They are often more atmospheric and in most cases, harder to reach which in turn provides us with a greater sense of achievement when we succeed in locating them. Even with a set of reasonably accurate coordinates, quite a few of the seventy-something spomeniks we have visited so far have been quite difficult to find and/or to get to. With the remote ones, on several occasions we have found ourselves on unpaved roads or dirt tracks wondering if we are going in the right direction and worrying about whether our hire car is going to handle the terrain or not (*).

(*) The Spomenik Database will often highlight roads (read tracks) that should be avoided. This is sound advice and should be adhered to, even if it means making a lengthy detour. Another word of warning: don’t always trust Google Maps in this part of the world!

We try and read up on the events that took place at the scene before arriving at a spomenik as it helps to put it in perspective. Another thing I would add is that in about 70% of our visits, we have the memorial to ourselves, and can appreciate the history in solitude. It’s only when a spomenik is situated in a park or within the boundaries of a city or town, for example, that we normally encounter other people – the elderly taking the air, dog walkers, kids who are simply hanging around, and sometimes groups of people having a picnic or a BBQ. Normally, however, we are the only two looking at the monument.

Freedom Hill Monument Gligino Brdo Bosnia and Herzegovina-7Freedom Hill Monument (Ahmed Bešić, year unknown) in Gligino Brdo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. We didn’t like the look of the track leading up to this spomenik and so parked the car quite a distance away and trudged through horrible slippery mud to reach it. And when we did finally get there, it was completely covered in fog

Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Battle of Kozara (artist and year not known) near Gornji Jelovac in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Completely overgrown and nothing much to look at, it took us about four attempts of driving up and down the same road to finally locate this one

We enjoy visiting each and every one of the seven countries that once constituted Yugoslavia and we are always keen to return. I think, even without searching for spomeniks as our primary goal, we would keep returning to this part of the world again and again but the beauty of creating an itinerary based around spomeniks is that it means we get to spend time in little-visited pockets of the region, see lots of incredible scenery and, more often than not, have the opportunity to sleep in random places which, in turn, has resulted in us experiencing some wonderful Balkan hospitality. Every now and then, we wonder why on earth we’ve travelled 100km or more to some back-of-beyond location that is well off our intended route to see a monument that, at best, can only be described as mediocre, but this is the exception rather than the norm and our three spomenik-road-trips rank as one of the highlights of our ten years of full-time travel.

We’ve got another trip in the pipeline, this time to Slovenia, Istrian Croatia, and northern Serbia but, as of yet, no firm dates. In the meantime, below are some of what we consider to be the most captivating spomeniks we have seen.

Standout spomeniks for us include Kadinjača Memorial Complex near Užice in Serbia. Situated high up and with outstanding views of the surrounding countryside, we’ve visited this memorial on two occasions, once when it was covered in knee-deep snow and then again in the late afternoon on a glorious summer’s day. There was a marked difference between each visit as the weather conditions produced contrasting landscapes.

Kadinjaca Memorial Complex Uzice Serbia-21 copyCold but happy at Kadinjača Memorial Complex near Užice

The ‘Seagull Wings Monument’ in Podgora, Croatia really fascinated me. The design is such that it looks completely different depending on the viewing angle and we spent ages wandering around the base of this particular spomenik. Another one we also spent quite a while looking at was the ‘Monument to the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija’ inside Petrova Gora National Park (also in Croatia). Although not strictly allowed, you can enter this hulk of a memorial and eventually reach the rooftop.

I defy anyone to not be impressed by the sheer scale of the ‘Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex’ in the Valley of Heroes in Tjentište, Bosnia & Herzegovina. In fact, this is Kirsty’s favourite spomenik, while mine is the abstract ‘Necropolis for the Victims of Fascism’ (Monument on Smrike) in Novi Travnik (also Bosnia & Herzegovina), which I could sit and look at all day.

The spiky ‘Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment’ is one of the region’s most photographed spomeniks. It’s high up on Kosmaj Mountain and, when we arrived, we had to sit in the car for about an hour as the monument was completely covered in fog and there wasn’t much point in trying to take any photos until it cleared.

We’ve never encountered any issues with other humans (or canines come to think of it) while visiting spomeniks but the ‘Monument to the Revolution’ (aka Monument to the Bosanska Krajina Partisan Hospital/Monument to Korčanica) in Grmeč (Bosnia & Herzegovina) seriously spooked us both out. It was another one that was shrouded in mist and it also happens to be in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We had to park the car outside an abandoned hotel (that was originally constructed as part of the memorial complex) and then walk into the forest along a single (muddy) track for about 300 metres before eventually finding it. The creaking of the trees as we gingerly made our approach was seriously sinister, to say the least, and we very nearly didn’t enter the derelict hotel upon returning to the car, although ultimately our curiosity got the better of us and we did take a peek inside. For once, though, I couldn’t persuade Kirsty to come to the roof with me. I had to tackle that little adventure by myself!

Probably overall, Šumarice Memorial Park in Kragujevac, Serbia is the most interesting place to visit if you want to see several spomeniks. Dedicated to the thousands of men and boys who were executed here by German soldiers in October 1941, there are more than a dozen memorials and sculptures in this well-kept park as well as an engaging museum. You need either a car or a bicycle to get around as the area is pretty large but, visiting Šumarice Memorial Park is a rewarding experience and the spomeniks within its confines are in good condition and their designs are interesting.

In no particular order, here are the best-looking spomeniks, according to us…

The Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes

Tjentište, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Completed 1971

Architects Miodrag Živković and Ranko Radovic

Further reading: spomenik database: tjentiste

The Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes Tjentiste Sutjeska National Park Bosnia and Herzegovina-3

 

The Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes Tjentiste Sutjeska National Park Bosnia and Herzegovina


Monument to Fallen Fighters and Victims of Fascism from Slabinja

Slabinja, Croatia

Completed 1981

Architect Stanislav Mišić

Further reading: spomenik database: slabinja

Monument to fallen fighters and victims of fascism from Slabinja Slabinja Croatia-5

Monument to fallen fighters and victims of fascism from Slabinja Slabinja Croatia-6


Monument to Liberty (Monument on Jasikovac Hill)

Berane, Montenegro

Completed 1977

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: berane

Monument to Liberty (Monument on Jasikovac Hill) Berane Montenegro-1

Monument to Liberty (Monument on Jasikovac Hill) Berane Montenegro-12


Mausoleum of Struggle and Victory

Čačak, Serbia

Completed 1980

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: cacak

Mausoleum of Struggle and Victory Cacak Serbia-15

Mausoleum of Struggle and Victory Cacak Serbia-21


Monument to the Revolution

Kozara National Park, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Completed 1972

Architect Dušan Džamonja

Further reading: spomenik database: kozara

Kozara Memorial Monument Kozara National Park Bosnia and Herzegovina

Kozara Memorial Monument Kozara National Park Bosnia and Herzegovina-11


Monument to the Revolution (Monument to the Bosanska Krajina Partisan Hospital/Monument to Korčanica)

Grmeč, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Completed 1979

Architect Ljubomir Denković

Further reading: spomenik database: grmec

Monument to the Revolution (Monument to the Bosanska Krajina Partisan Hospital-Monument to Korcanica) Grmec Bosnia and Herzegovina-6

Monument to the Revolution (Monument to the Bosanska Krajina Partisan Hospital-Monument to Korcanica) Grmec Bosnia and Herzegovina-9


Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija

Petrova Gora National Park, Croatia

Completed 1981

Architects Vojin Bakić and Berislav Šerbetić

Further reading: spomenik database: petrova-gora

Monument to the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija Petrova Gora National Park Croatia-34

 

Monument to the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija Petrova Gora National Park Croatia-14


Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment

Kosmaj Mountain, Serbia

Completed 1970

Architect Gradimir Medaković and Vojin Stojić

Further reading: spomenik database: kosmaj

Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment Kosmaj Mountain Serbia-19.jpg.jpg


Courage – A Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Cacak Partisan Detachment

Ostra, Serbia

Completed 1969

Architects Miodrag Živković and Svetislav Licina

Further reading: spomenik database: ostra

Monument to Courage (Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Čačak Partisan Detachment)

 

Courage - A Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Cacak Partisan Detachment Ostra Serbia-25


Monument to the Fallen Fighters of People’s Liberation War

Vogošća, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Completed 1969

Architects Petar Krstić and Zlatko Ugljen

Further reading: spomenik database: vogosca

Monument to the Fallen Fighters of People's Liberation War Vogosca Bosnia and Herzegovina-10

Monument to the Fallen Fighters of People's Liberation War Vogosca Bosnia and Herzegovina-4


Šumarice Memorial Park (October in Kragujevac Memorial Park)

Kragujevac, Serbia

Created 1963

Lead architect Miodrag Živković

Further reading: spomenik database: kragujevac

Monument from Croatian People (Circles) Sumarice Memorial Park Kragujevac Serbia-3‘Circles’ by Vojin Bakić (1981), part of Šumarice Memorial Park

 

Stone Sleeper Monument Sumarice Memorial Park Kragujevac Serbia-1‘Stone Sleeper’ by Gradimir and Jelica Bosnic (1970), part of Šumarice Memorial Park

Monument to Executed Students and Professors (Interrupted Flight) Sumarice Memorial Park Kragujevac Serbia-4Monument to Executed Students and Professors (‘Interrupted Flight’) by Miodrag Živković (1963), part of Šumarice Memorial Park


The Memorial Ossuary of Fallen Fighters

Kavadarci, Macedonia

Complete 1976

Architect Peter Mulichkoski

Further reading: spomenik database:.kavadarci

The Memorial Ossuary of Fallen Fighters Gradski Park Kavadarci Macedonia-10


Kadinjača Memorial Complex

Užice, Serbia

Completed 1979

Architects Miodrag Živković and Aleksandar Đokić

Further reading: spomenik database: kadinjaca

Kadinjaca Memorial Complex Uzice Serbia-3

Kadinjaca Memorial Complex Uzice Serbia-8

Kadinjaca Memorial Complex Uzice Serbia-15


Necropolis for the Victims of Fascism (Monument on Smrike)

Novi Travnik, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Completed 1975

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: novi-travnik

Necropolis for the Victims of Fascism (Monument on Smrike) Novi Travnik Bosnia and Herzegovina-9


Monument to the Revolution

Leskovac, Serbia

Completed 1971

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: leskovac

Monument to the Revolution Leskovac Serbia-8

Monument to the Revolution Leskovac Serbia-5 (1)

Monument to the Revolution Leskovac Serbia-2


Seagull Wings Monument

Podgora, Croatia

Completed 1962

Architect Rajko Radović

Further reading: spomenik database: podgora

Seagull Wings Monument Podgora Croatia-11

 


Stone Flower

Jasenovac, Croatia

Completed 1966

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: jasenovec

Stone Flower Jasenovac Croatia-14

 

Stone Flower Jasenovac Croatia-16


Slobodište Memorial Complex

Kruševac, Serbia

Completed 1965

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: krusevac

Slobodiste Memorial Complex Krusevac Serbia-7

Slobodiste Memorial Complex Krusevac Serbia-10


Burial Mound of the Unbeaten (Prilep Partisan Necropolis)

Park of the Revolution

Prilep, Macedonia

Completed 1961

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: prilep

Burial Mound of the Unbeaten (Prilep Partisan Necropolis) Park of the Revolution Prilep Macedonia-1

Burial Mound of the Unbeaten (Prilep Partisan Necropolis) Park of the Revolution Prilep Macedonia-12


Ilinden Memorial (Makedonium)

Kruševo, Macedonia

Completed 1974

Architects Jordan Grabulovski and Iskra Grabulovski

Further reading: spomenik database: krusevo

Ilinden (Makedonium) Krusevo Macedonia-27

Ilinden (Makedonium) Krusevo Macedonia-26 (1)

Ilinden (Makedonium) Krusevo Macedonia-18


Spomen-dom (Kolašin Municipal Assembly)

Kolašin, Montenegro

Completed 1975

Architect Marko Mušič

Further reading: spomenik database: kolasin

Spomen-dom (Kolasin Municipal Assembly) Kolasin Montenegro-9-2

Spomen-dom (Kolasin Municipal Assembly) Kolasin Montenegro


Monument to the Fallen Victims of the National Liberation War (‘The Fork’ or ‘The Monument to Hanged Patriots’)

Vranjske Njive, Montenegro

Completed mid-1970s

Architect Svetlana Kana Radević

Further reading: spomenik database: vranjske-njive

Monument to the Fallen Victims of the National Liberation War (The Fork) Vranjske Njive Montenegro -1

Monument to the Fallen Victims of the National Liberation War (The Fork) Vranjske Njive Montenegro -3 (1)


Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina

Podgarić, Croatia

Completed 1967

Architect Dušan Džamonja

Further reading: spomenik database: podgarica

Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina Podgaric Croatia-16


Mausoleum to the Fallen Insurgents against Fascism ‘The Sniper’ (Popina Monument Park)

Štulac, Serbia

Completed 1981

Architect Bogdan Bogdanović

Further reading: spomenik database: popina

Mausoleum to the Fallen Insurgents against Fascism (The Sniper) Popina Monument Park Stulac Serbia-12

Mausoleum to the Fallen Insurgents against Fascism (The Sniper) Popina Monument Park Stulac Serbia-5


Monument to Fallen Soldiers (Monument on Trebjesa)

Nikšić, Montenegro

Completed 1982

Architect Ljubo Vojvodić

Further reading: spomenik database: niksic

Monument to Fallen Soldiers (Monument on Trebjesa) Niksic Montenegro-20.jpg.jpg

Monument to Fallen Soldiers (Monument on Trebjesa) Niksic Montenegro-1

So, tell us, in the comment section below… which spomenik fascinates you the most? How many have you seen?


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