Spomenici – What are they?
What are they?
Spomenici means monuments. For the sake of this article I will be referring to Spomenici as state built socialist monuments from former Yugoslavia and other neighbouring Balkan countries. Most of these monuments celebrate victories and battles over nazism/fascism and some are ossuaries. While being the product of a regime, these monuments marked important historic events and dramas, as it is the case of Jasenovac concentration camp, known as the "Auschwitz of the Balkans", where hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in barbaric ways. During the socialist regime, these structures played also an important social role. These were the places where families used to gather during public holidays and where children would visit on school trips.
The architecture of Spomenici is often associated with the movement called "brutalism", where the term comes from Le Corbusier's reference to raw concrete (beton brut). However, while most of the Spomenici are indeed built with concrete, their architecture has more a life of its own, where abstraction and futuristic elements dominate. Among the authors of the most fascinating Spomenici there are: the architect Bogdan Bogdanovic, the sculptors Dušan Džamonja and Miodrag Živković.
Bogdan Bogdanović (20 August 1922 − 18 June 2010) was a Serbian architect and Dean of the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade. He fought as a partisan during World War II and has been also Mayor of Belgrade. When Slobodan Milošević rose to power and nationalism gained ground and Bogdanović became a dissident. Among the Spomenici developed by Bogdanovic there are: Jasenovac (HR), Prilep (MK), Mostar (BiH), Stip (MK), Mitrovica (KS), Cacak (SR), Bihac (BiH)…
Dušan Džamonja (31 January 1928 – 14 January 2009) was a Macedonian sculptor who worked on some of the most famous Spomenici like: Podgarić (HR), Kozara (BiH) and the Memorial Ossuary to the Fallen Soldiers in Barletta (Italy).
Miodrag Živković (1928) is a Montenegrin sculptor who worked also on some of the most famous monuments like Tjentište (BiH), Priština (KS) and Kadinjaca (SR).
Why photographing Spomenici
I am not interested in engaging in a documentary exercise. I approach Spomenici from a fine-art point of view. In this respect, with the exception of Marc Koegel, I claim to be the first fine-art photographer who has applied a fine-art approach to Spomenici in a systematic and comprehensive way. Sure you will find many photographs of Spomenici on the web, but that’s not fine-art photography. Jan Kempenaers, a Belgium photographer, has been the first photographer to document some of the main monuments after the latest Balkan wars and to collect them in a book, disclosing these structures. However, he applied a documentary approach. As a fine-art photographer, my aim is to take the whole subject to the next step. These monuments are spread all over former Yugoslavia. While some don't exist anymore, as they were destroyed during the latest Balkan wars as symbols of previous regimes, others are falling apart, taken over by nature, because of governments in denial of their past or, in some cases, due to lack of interest in maintaining them. Nevertheless, some are indeed looked after as national monuments, like in the case of Jasenovac (HR), Krusevo (MK) and Kadinijaca (SR). Artistically, Spomenici are an incredible basis of departure for abstraction and personal interpretations, which contributes to the revival of these mostly forgotten structures by attributing them a new identity. Recently, there has been an increase of interest in these structures, mostly by alternative tourism. A Croatian film director, Irena Skoric, has presented a superb documentary on Spomenici called "Nezeljena Bastina". The Slovenian Primoz Smajdek has an impressive blog called "Simboli Polpretekle Zgodovine" (symbols of recent history) where he documents the whereabouts of Spomenici throughout the Balkans. He has also a detailed collection of what I call minor Spomenici, smaller statutes, throughout Slovenia. Spomenik Database is an impressive on-line database of monuments.
There is no space for politics in my photographs, they are politically agnostic. In times of photographic anarchy, where everybody take million of pictures with a mobile phone and send them viral on the web in a matter of seconds, photography has ceased to be a safeguard of reality.
Some of the most fascinating Spomenici
It would be very difficult to just pick one, but if I had to, it would be Podgaric (HR), by the sculptor Dušan Džamonja. It is one of the most wired, futuristic structures with a shape that suits the 70's UFO hysteria.
The Makedonium, in Krusevo, is the most beautiful Spomenik in Macedonia. Authors are Jordan and Iskra Grabuloska. It was officially opened in 1974, on the 30th anniversary of the Second Session of the Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia and the 71st anniversary of the Ilinden uprising.
Petrova Gora (HR) is dedicated to the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija. It is located on the highest peak of Petrova Gora mountain range. It is falling apart and is being looted of its metal panels.
Tijentiste (BiH) commemorates the 1943 Battle of Sutjeska and was developed by the sculptor Miodrag Živković. It is massive.
Banj Brdo (BiH) commemorates the fallen soldiers of Kraijna and was developed by the Croatian sculptor Antun Augustinic. It is located on top of a hill, not far from the centre of Banja Luka. It still plays a social role, with people walking to the top.
Jasenovac (CRO) is built on the location of a former concentration camp, known as the "Auschwitz of the Balkans", where hundreds of thousands of people died. It was conceptualized by Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Kadinjaca (SR) is a memorial complex to the Workers Battalion of Uzice Partisan Detachment who were killed in the battle of Kadinjača. It is a huge site, with several structures, which still attracts tourists and locals. Authors were the sculptor Miodrag Živković and the architect Aleksandar Đokić. The memorial complex was officially opened by the Yugoslav President Tito on 23 September 1979.
Buzludzha (BG) is the most important Balkan Spomenik outside of former Yugoslavia. It is massive. It was the house-monument of the former Bulgarian communist party commemorating the events of 1891 that led to the founding of the Bulgarian social democratic party, a forerunner of the communist party. It's located on the top of a mountain in the middle of Bulgaria and it has become a place of pilgrimage for urban explorers. The monument is now sealed, as in danger of collapsing.
Among those that do not exist anymore
Monument to Stjepan Filipović, Opuzen (HR), blown-up in 1991 and Makljen (BiH), blown-up in 2000.
Bijeli Potoci (HR) was looted during the latest Balkan wars
For more fine-art photographs of Spomenici please visit my website http://www.giuliozanni.com/p566783243
Warning: if you decide to visit some of the abandoned Spomenici in Bosnia-Herzegovina or in areas bordering with BiH, please remember that these areas are still heavily mined. Stay on hard surfaces and don't walk out of beaten paths.
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