Have you ever heard of the ‘Spomeniks of Yugoslavia’? Hidden across the war-torn landscape of the dismantled Yugoslav states, formerly called the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), I’ve found hundreds of overgrown and forgotten relics scattered everywhere. What were once space-age triumphs, more appropriate on the set of Transformers rather than lamenting Nazi tragedies, are now bitter-sweet testaments to a broken country’s unrealized future.
Built from 1960-1990 as a network of monuments (nicknamed ‘Spomeniks’) and intended to be universalist symbols for a new Yugoslav utopia, their now ghostly presence still seems to scream out “Ahead! Forward!” Yet now, their cries go unheard as the future they speak of is already past, and the audience they spoke to are no longer listening.
Their context is all but invisible now, with their stories all but forgotten by many. These relics sit not only neglected or abandoned but also destroyed and even bombed in some case. Through my new website, the SpomenikDatabase, I hope to bring these sculptural marvels to the attention of the world once again.
However, as I do this, I fight against others who are struggling to ensure these symbols and their history are forever wiped from the world’s memory.
Here are Some of the Spomeniks of Yugoslavia
Monument to the Uprising
Petrova Gora, Croatia (Vojin Stojić, 1981)
This 37m tall stainless-steel behemoth is perched atop Petrova Gora mountain. It originally commemorated the victims of a brutal slaying of hundreds of ethnic-Serb peasants by Axis soldiers during WWII. In its prime, was a fantastic memorial complex which contained a grand theater and museum. However, since the wars of the 1990s, it has been looted and destroyed.
Thieves strip its stainless-steel exterior, while governments squabble of who it even belongs to. Some want it torn down, others want it restored. In the meantime, the only people it seems to attract are vandals. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
Monument to the Fallen Soldiers
Kosmaj, Serbia (Vojin Stojić, 1970)
Sitting atop Kosmaj Mountain, this spomenik was intended to commemorate the brave fighters who organized resistance against Germany’s WWII occupation. At 40m tall, it can be seen for miles across the countryside. It Symbolizes the Yugoslav ‘Red Star’ which represented power over people’s collective resistance. However, government officials now neglect it, perhaps disinterested in the legends it speaks of. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
Garavice Memorial Park of the Victims of Fascist Terror
Bihać, Bosnia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1981)
On the outskirts of the Bihać, a lonely collection of 15 monoliths stare into the distance. They commemorate the site of the execution of 12,000 Serbs, Roma and Jews during WWII. It now stands ravaged. It looks more like ancient-Mayan ruins than an 80s WWII memorial.
An atmosphere of bitter sadness lingers here in both the tragic loss and in its ruin brought about by vandalism and the 1992 Siege of Bihać bombings. The goats who roam the hills here are the only force keeping the grass from consuming the spomenik entirely. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
The Flower of Freedom
Gevgeilja, Macedonia (Jordan Grabul, 1969)
The “Flower of Freedom” spomenik is situated atop Mrzenski Hill and was built to commemorate Gevgelija’s WWII veterans. However, it was originally on nearby Vardar Hill. When ancient Roman ruins were discovered under the monument at that location in 2005, the memorial was cast off to remote Mrzenski Hill.
While officials initially planned to make a proper park here, the idea was soon forgotten. Today, thieves strip the sculpture of its valuable aluminum covering, leaving only its skeleton. As a consequence, it may soon be gone. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
The Battle of Sutjeska Memorial
Tjentište, Bosnia (Miodrag Živković, 1971)
Commemorating one of the most bloody Yugoslav battles against the Nazis, the imposing spomenik at Tjentište once represented Yugoslavia their most defining symbol of resistance. However, since Bosnia’s nationalist risings, this strange monument now stretches its wings over an empty valley. Where thousands once gathered to recognize the memory of this space, few make the journey this far into the Bosnian wilderness. Those who do marvel at the sight of this tremendous sculpture, even without knowing its purpose, can feel the energy it exudes. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
Monument to Split Partisans
Košute, Croatia (Vuko Bombardelli, 1961)
At the time of its initial creation, the spomenik at Košute honored executed soldiers. Towering into the sky to nearly 20m and situated on a hillside overlooking the Dalmatian countryside, it marked a site of unspeakable fascist brutality.
However, as nationalists flooded 1990’s Croatia, many sought to silence the spomenik. In 1992, a dynamite bombing brought the structure to the ground. No one was ever held accountable for the act. These ruins now lay forever forgotten. For more info, visit the SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
Necropolis for the Victims of Fascism
Novi Travnik, Bosnia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1975)
In an empty field in rural Bosnia, the faces of 12 otherworldly monoliths gaze intensely upon the countryside. Their stare is so piercing, you can almost see the horror in their eyes. The horror contained is of the 1941 massacre where over 700 Serb civilians were executed. They were witness again to horror in the 1990s as the hill became a Bosnian War battlefield. During that conflict, many of the monoliths themselves became casualties, wounded by bullets and bombs. As the area is surrounded by landmines, few ever venture here. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
Monument to the Battle of the Wounded
Mt. Makljen, Bosnia ( Boško Kućanski, 1979)
This spomenik is perched atop Mt. Makljen, nicknamed ‘The Fist’, once represented the mighty hand of the Yugoslavian President Josip Tito. It stood as a fierce symbol of Tito’s cleverness, as it was in this spot in 1943 where he outsmarted the German army. However, not long after the passing of Tito, his union dissolved while his once united ethnic groups fell into war.
In 2000, unknown persons bombed the Fist’s gleaming white concrete skin until it was a crumbled heap, leaving behind nothing but its bones. For more info, visit its SpomenikDatabase profile page HERE.
Among the ruins of this nation’s forgotten relics, you can still hear the whispers of their hopes and dreams. Then, as you place your hand upon them, ghostly visions of an unrealized future appear.
However, those visions cease violently as you remember that these dreams were so dangerous to some, even their symbols required destruction.
Now, pondering these adventurous bygone ruins, we struggle to make sense of them. What can they teach us? Are the Spomeniks of Yugoslavia more important now than ever or are they simply an epitaph to a dead republic?
We then can realize the ultimate question: will the surviving spomeniks ever be left to simply exist in their own right, even innocently as ‘pure art’, or is the process of injecting politics into art an unavoidable recipe for disaster?