Name: 'Monument to Freedom' or 'Jasikovac Hill Monument' (Споменик на брду Јасиковац)
Location: Berane (formerly Ivangrad), Montenegro
Year completed: 1977
Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović (profile page)
Coordinates: N42°51'01.2", E19°52'48.7" (click for map)
Dimensions: 18m tall conical monument
Materials used: Sandstone and gabbro blocks
This monument at the spomenik complex in Berane, Montenegro commemorates the thousands of soldiers and civilians from this area who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII).
World War II
Like much of the rest of the Montenegro, turmoil and conflict hit Berane and the surrounding Polimlje region of the Sandžak (the fertile valley areas along the Lim River) in 1941 when Italian forces occupied the region during the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1943. While the Italians initially anticipated the people of Berane would be happy with occupation (as there was a close relation between the Montenegrin monarch Nicholas I and Queen Elena of Italy), citizens soon became angered by and intolerant of the Italian's occupation. There was not just dissatisfaction due to the take over of food resources, but also because of the mass influx of refugees and oppressive living conditions. Some of those most opposed to the Italian control of Berane/Andrijevica region were those of the Vasojevići clan, who claimed this region as their ancestral home.
In early July of 1941, Berane native and communist dissident Milovan Đilas returned to Montenegro, sent by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), where he laid the ground work for an armed uprising against Axis forces, which would come to be known as the 'Partisans'. Meanwhile, another Berane native, Pavle Đurišić, rose as a regional leader among ethnic-Serbian nationalists in Montenegro within the Chetnik resistance movement. Then, starting on July 14th of 1941, these two resistance groups collaborated in a rebellion waged across Montenegro against Italian occupation and within three weeks they had re-taken nearly the entire country, making it one of the few liberated regions in all of occupied Europe. Three days later in Berane on July 17th, Italian troops conducted a retaliatory execution of nine students on Jasikovac Hill suspected of being communist rebels (Photos 1 & 2). However, three days after the killings on July 20th, the Italian 93rd Division surrendered to resistance forces in Berane. The very next day, July 21st, the town quickly established a National Liberation Committee. At this Committee (which was convened in a small schoolhouse in Berane, today the Museum of Polimlje/Polimske), elections were held to determine a government for this newly liberated region, making this among the first governments formed during WWII in a liberated region of Europe. However, within six weeks Italy's Mussolini retaliated, sending nearly 90,000 troops from the XIV Italian Corps to put down the uprising, under the command of General Luigi Mentasti. During this Italian backlash, the Berane resistance was destroyed, resulting in thousands of rebel deaths.
Photo 1 & 2: Executed students on Jasikovac Hill, Berane, July 17th, 1941
Photo 3: The 8th Montenegrin Brigade during Grand National Assembly, Berane, 1943
After Italian forces brutally squashed this uprising, many of the nationalist Chetnik fighters who participated in the failed rebellion wished to give up the fight against the Italians, while the communists and Partisans wished to continue. Đurišić and his other Chetnik commanders felt that continuing to fight against the Italians would come at too high a cost to civilian life, but Partisans felt no costs were too high in fighting against the Axis occupation for their freedom. This caused a split in the uprising movement which resulted in the Chetniks leaving the resistance, changing sides to instead fight with the Italian/Axis collaborators against the Partisans. By January of 1942, open fighting began to break out between the Chetniks and Partisans. While there were only 5,000 Chetniks, compared to the 8,000 Partisans, Italian support enabled the Chetniks to drive the Partisans out of Berane by the end of January and out of most of Montenegro and the Sandžak by following May. During their retreat, Partisans brutalized the citizens of villages they encountered who did not support them, especially ethnic-Albanians and Muslims, as many from those groups had aided the Italian occupiers. However, the conduct of the Chetniks was equally as brutal after the Partisan's retreat. In the Chetnik stronghold of Berane, these forces perpetrated similar violence upon the town's Muslim residents, as it was one of the Chetnik's goals of the war to clear Montenegro of Muslims in order to make it a purely ethnic-Serbian state.
By September of 1943, after the Italians had surrendered to the Allies in the Armistice of Cassibile, Partisans re-entered the region to battle against the Chetniks, primarily lead by the KPJ commander Ivan Milutinović. By Febuary of 1944, Partisans had retaken Berane, at which point the town hosted a Grand National Assembly of Montenegrin Partisan leaders, while a new combat unit of 900 soldiers was formed who were named the 8th Montenegrin Brigade (Photo 3). Germans arrived in the spring of 1943 to reinforce Chetnik efforts against Partisans, yet, despite these efforts, the city of Berane was liberated for the last time from Chetnik control by the 7th and 9th Montenegrin Partisan Brigades on September 16th of 1944. During the war, it is estimated that over 6,000 civilians and soldiers from the region of Berane perished. In addition, over 6,500 members of the Berane and Andrijevica region's Vasojevići clan participated in the Partisan uprising -- of these, 26 were awarded with Yugoslavia's highest military honor, Order of the People's Hero. A few years after the end of the war in July of 1949, the city of Berane decided to change its name to 'Ivangrad' to commemorate and honor the accomplished Partisan commander of Montenegro, Ivan Milutinović.
In the mid 1970s, regional and national government groups organized a plan to construct a spomenik complex in Ivangrad to commemorate the region's many victims of the National Liberation War (WWII). The location chosen for the monument was the forested hilltop area just east of Berane's town center (and east of the Lim River) called Jasikovac Hill, where nine students were executed on July 17th, 1941 in retaliation for the uprising. This particular spot, which was the former location of a now vanished Turkish fortress, was notable in that its landscape was characterized by a unique sunken grassy opening settled among the elevated terrain, which allowed visitors to be atop the Jasikovac Hill, but see only sky and trees above. The project commission to construct this memorial was ultimately granted to famed Serbian designer Bogdan Bogdanović. After about a year of construction on the project (Photo 4), the completed complex was unveiled to the public on September 15th, 1977, with the dedication for the memorial given by famed Montenegrin war veteran and politician Đoko Pajković (Photo 5) himself an ancestral member of the Vasojevići clan. During this dedication speech at the Jasikovac site, Pajković is reported to have made the following statements, translated here into English:
Photo 4: During monument construction, 1976
"This magnificent monument is a duty of acknowledgment to our ancestors, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, daughters, sons and comrades who built their homeland with their lives. This symbol of national gratitude is a sign of a brighter tomorrow, without betrayal, alienation, service to the unknown... without hatred, violent assaults, ambushes or fratricide... "
Bogdanović titled the memorial sculpture, 'The Monument to Freedom'. The central element of the monument complex is a 18m tall sandstone cylindrical pyramid, which itself is surrounded by a circle of 40 cuboidal engraved gabbro stone blocks. These engraved blocks tell the history of the ancient Vasojevići clan, a vast family whose ancestral people originated in this region. Within this circle of stones is a vast sloping courtyard laid out with stone pavers. The monument sits with the open sunken depression at the center of the forest park on Jasikovac Hill.
Photo 5: Đoko Pajković
With the fall of Yugoslavia, the ensuing wars, the rise of nationalism across the Balkans and many people's disillusionment with Partisan tradition, popularity in this memorial diminished. In addition, in November of 1991, Ivangrad changed its name back to Berane after a citizen referendum. However, the conflicts and wars of the 1990s did not result in the destruction or abandonment that many spomeniks across the former-Yugoslavia experienced. Currently, the municipality of Berane does a relatively good job at maintaining this spomenik -- it is regularly patronized by locals while also still hosting a number of annual commemorative events. During the early and mid-2010s, a set of extensive rehabilitation and restoration efforts were undertaken to improve the condition of the complex. Restorations on the primary spomenik complex were finished in late 2015, with future efforts focused on the surrounding infrastructure for the wider areas of the park.
In addition to conditions at the Jasikovac monument site improving, the central sculpture of the memorial continues to be an important local symbol for the region, being used by numerous organizations. Among the most prominent examples of this use is a local youth organization called "Mladi Berana" employing a depiction of the monument in their organization's primary logo (which also includes a depiction of the old Yugoslav-era 'Hotel Berane') (Photo 6). Furthermore, local touristic agencies in Montenegro put for considerable effort into publicizing Jasikovac as a location attraction, even putting out English language web-pages for international audiences.
Photo 6: Logo for the youth organization 'Mladi Berana'
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are a significant number of engraved elements at the memorial complex here at Berane. Firstly, along the stone paved pathway leading up from the bottom of Jasikovac Hill, at the point near where the pathway reaches the top of the hill at the entrance to the monument complex, there is a small engraved stone (Slides 1 & 2) set into the uphill side of the this path. In addition, a small set of stairs leads to the stone from the pathway. The inscription on this stone reads, when translated from Montenegrin to English, as:
"On this very spot, on the 17th of July, 1941, Italians shot [nine] patriots."
Arranged around the cone spomenik in a circle are forty individually carved gabbro stone blocks (Slide 3). These blocks relate the history of struggle of the people in the Berane region, specifically the people of the Vasojevići clan, who claim this region as their ancestral lands. The blocks are all uniformly of a rectangular box shape, around 2-3m wide and 1-2m tall. Each of the forty stone blocks have a unique set of artistic carvings on them (with over 10,000 engraved letters) -- some carvings are ornate traditional Montenegrin designs and motifs, while other engravings are part of an extensive series of inscriptions relating the history of the Vasojevići clan. Both primary engraved faces of all forty of the blocks (eighty in all), along with translations of each of the inscriptions, can be seen in Slides 4 - 83 in the above slideshow -- the translations for each block are made directly on the photos. I have classified the blocks in the photo slideshow into two sets, the 'A sides' and the 'B sides'. The 'A side' block faces are those faces on the outer ring of the circle, while the 'B sides' are those on the inner ring of the circle. Standing inside the circle of blocks facing the large conical monument, I have designated the first block to the right side of the monument as BLOCK 1, with the designations continuing sequentially around the ring until they end at BLOCK 40 just to the left side of the monument.
All of the inscriptions on the blocks can be read in a sequence which relates a chronological timeline of the history of the Vasojevići clan and the Berane region. The timeline sequence begins in the 16th century with BLOCK 32 Side A, then descends numerically counter-clockwise on Side A to BLOCK 1, then continuing starting at BLOCK 1 on Side B going clockwise, finally ending at BLOCK 37 at the year 1945. Translating the inscriptions on the blocks from Montenegrin to English, I will relate a continuous simplified version of the timeline below:
The memorial sculpture here at Berane, created by designer Bogdan Bogdanović, is characterized by a very geometic conical shape. While sources vary as to the specific symbolic meaning of this shape, some sources relate that it could possibly be meant to symbolize the sharp point of a bullet, asserting that such symbolism is designed to represent this region's continual struggle for liberation from oppressors and invaders.
However, I find this symbolic interpretation unlikely, as Bogdanović has taken issues in past situations where critics and fellow artists have attempted to interpret his monuments as weapons of war. For instance, Bogdanović was reportedly angered by the nickname 'The Sniper' which his monument at Popina, Serbia was commonly referred to as. However, as Bogdanović was very secretive about the symbolic meanings behind his works, the exact intended symbolism is not clearly known. Yet, in light of the severity of the executions which occurred here, the symbolic impact in which a bullet would communicate would certainly be a powerful message. Some sources contend that Bogdanović had a non-committal and ambivalent attitude towards the cone's symbolic significance or function, hoping, perhaps, that each viewer of the monument would interpret it in their own personal way. A more likely symbolic reference of Bogdanović's monument may be the cone-shaped roofs of traditional sheppard-huts (katuns) which can be found across the Dinaric alps of Montenegro (Photo 7). Another monument in the nearby town of Kolašin, created just two years earlier by Slovenian architect Marko Mušič, also makes overt symbolic references to the distinct roof styles of traditional Montenegrin huts and houses.
Photo 7: A cone-shaped katun at Kapetanovo Jezero, Montenegro (Photo taken by Montenegro-for.me)
Photo 8: Sketch by Bogdanović of the Berane memorial site
Meanwhile, the 40 gabbro stone blocks around the monument are are artfully decorated with engravings depicting the region's history, culture, weaponry, jewelry and costumes, as well as massive array of elaborately inscribed script (almost like word pictures) that memorialize the many battles and great events which occurred in the area over the centuries. The stone blocks themselves are organized in a loose dance-like circle around the cone monument in such a way that creates the illusion of a secret room separate and distinct from the surroundings forest (Photo 8). The sloping contours, unusual dimensions and otherworldly engraved imagery give this 'room' the feeling of being a space of great sacredness where ritualistic gatherings might occur. In his book 'A Flower for the Dead', Friedrich Achleitner points out that the 'walls' of this room-like space are interesting in the fact that not one of them touches each other (with each block separated by just a few centimeters), making this wall impenetrable yet highly porous at the same time. This fact, paired with the observation that each stone is raised 20cm off the ground, leads Achleitner to assert that these properties give the ring-wall a 'wreath-like' quality, which would seem to elevate it as a space for reflection and ceremony.
Status and Condition:
The overall condition of this spomenik complex here at Berane, Montenegro is quite good. The physical structure of all the memorial elements are is considerably decent shape, with no significant damage or deterioration noticeable upon my most recent visit to the site. Remnants of old cleaned-up graffiti made by vandals in the past is visible, so it is clear that the municipality is making efforts to keep the memorial clear of spray-paint and vandalism. The vegetation and landscaping around the complex are well taken care of, while the pathways and courtyard around the monument are well manicured and maintained. I saw no indications of neglect or abuse to this memorial anywhere around the site. However, records indicate that neglect and defacement are issues the monument is confronted with from time to time, but the Berane municipality is often quick to address it. In fact, in 2018, the Berane municipality made an open plea to the townspeople to treat the monument with respect, saying: "We appeal to everyone to conscientiously treat the Jasikovac monument as a cultural and historical asset, while contributing to its preservation". Also in 2018, a community action initiative of several hundred people engaged in a massive clean-up and restoration effort of the Jasikovac site (Photo 9).
Photo 9: A photo from the 2018 clean-up effort at Jasikovac Hill
While I saw no overt directional signs leading visitors or tourists to the site (nor any sort of touristic interpretive plaques), I did find that the spomenik complex is highly used and greatly appreciated by the local community, as I found many remnants of wreaths and flowers left around the memorial and a significant number of locals strolling the complex. In addition, the website for the city of Berane shows numerous photos of the spomenik complex, openly advertising it as a local tourist attraction. Furthermore, numerous commemorative and remembrance events are held at this site annually, including Victory Day on May 9th and Uprising Day on July 13th.
Photo 10: A view of a 2017 outdoor concert being held at the Jasikovac memorial site
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, a large project was undertaken to work towards restoring and rehabilitating all of the memorial elements of the Berane spomenik complex, paid for with roughly 18,000 euros in funds given by the Montenegrin Ministry of Culture, with additional money coming from a partnership between Montenegro and Austria. The project was coordinated by the Museum of Polimlje in Berane. Work on the initial restoration of the primary elements of the complex was completed in late-2015. Future restoration efforts will be focused on the wider areas around the rest of the 24ha of the Jasikovac park complex, while also potentially building a nearby gazebo and restaurant to make the area more attractive to tourists. In the summer of 2017, live outdoor concerts have begun to be held at the monument complex (Photo 10).
Additional Sites in the Berane Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater area of Berane which might be of interest to those learning about Yugoslav monument sites. Here we will examine the Museum of Polimski in Berane, the Lokve Hotel along the road from Berane to Rožaje, as well as the Monument to Fallen Fighters in the town of Rožaje.
Museum of Polimski:
Soon after the first liberation of Berane, on July 21st, 1941, a National Liberation Committee gathering for Montenegro was held in a small schoolhouse in the town's center. The schoolhouse looked similar to that seen here in Photo 1. This committee elected representatives for the liberated region, which was unique in that it was one of the first governments elected in occupied Europe during WWII. In 1955, the old schoolhouse was re-formed into a museum complex (Photo 2) which housed exhibits concerning the history and heritage of the Polimski region, from the National Liberation War to the town's Ottoman occupation, all the way back to the area's neolithic history. As the building was re-purposed into a museum, significant changes were made, with additions of more exhibit space built onto the original structure. Currently, the Polimski Museum still resides at its location and is open to the public Monday to Friday. Its phone number is 051 234 276 and its exact coordinates are N42°50'38.5", E19°52'21.4".
Museum of Polimski - Slideshow
In the early 1980s, Montenegrin architect Radosav Zeković created 'Hotel Lokve', which acted as a ski lodge and serviced the nearby Lokve Ski resort. The complex was built roughly 15km east of Berane (then Ivangrad) along the road to Rožaje, situated just before the long highway tunnel. Zeković's split cone-shape of the hotel was very possibly inspired by Bogdanović's nearby monument on Jasikovac Hill, which had been built just a few years before the Lokve Hotel. However, it is not known for sure if the Jasikovac monument was used as an inspiration by Zeković, or if he was simply also referencing Montenegrin conical katuns. While the hotel was prosperous for a number of years, it went into steep decline after the fall of Yugoslavia. Then, as it sat in decline during the late 1990s, the hotel was used to house Kosovo refugees starting around 2000. Then, in the later 2000s, a Russian investor Alan Alikov promised to redevelop the site, but the plans fell through. The hotel is currently closed and still appears to be inhabited by refugee families. The exact coordinates for Hotel Lokve are N42°49'51.6", E20°01'18.6".
Hotel Lokve - Slideshow
Monument to Fallen Fighters in Rožaje:
Roughly 30km to the east of Berane as you head up into the higher mountains you will come across the small town of Rožaje, not far from the Kosovo border. Located right next to the Hotel Rožaje (an impressive Yugoslav-era modernist building in its own right) is situated a modest WWII memorial sculpture known as the Monument to Fallen Fighters. This white marble sculpture was designed by architect Šefćet Pećanin and painter Hilmija Ćatović and unveiled in 1971. This was an especially meaningful commission for Ćatović, as Rožaje was his family's ancestral home and the monument specifically commemorated family members of his who died during the war, specifically his uncle Hivzija Ćatović, whose name is engraved on the plaque connected to this monument. The monument appears to be depicting two hands opening up towards the sky, or perhaps some sort of flower blossom. In addition to the sculpture, a small bronze relief is in the middle of the five plaques situated in front of the monument. Most of these plaques bear names of fallen WWII fighters, but the middle bears a message which reads in English as:
Monument to Fallen Fighters in Rožaje - Slideshow
"The citizens of Rožaje raise this monument in gratitude and eternal memory of those who fell in the People's Liberation Struggle."
September 30th, 1971
The date September 30th is significant because this was the date that the town of Rožaje was liberated by Partisan forces in 1944. A photo of this plaque, as well as the bronze sculptural relief plate, can be seen in Slide 3. This monument is in reasonable condition and is still maintained, having gone through a recent renovation in 2017. The site also continues to host commemorative ceremonies. The exact coordinates for this location of this monument is N42°50'35.5", E20°10'04.6".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Hotel Berane: Perched on a rocky outcrop on the east banks of the Lim River not far from the town-center of Berane is the local architectural landmark known as "Hotel Berane" (Photo 11). Completed in 1964, this complex is one of the earliest buildings created in the modernist architectural style in the region, thus making it a local symbol during the Yugoslav-era. However, after the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the hotel was privatized in the 1990s, then closed. Over the next two decades it sat vacant, suffering extreme neglect and set on fire by vandals during three separate occasions. However, a project began in 2015 to rehabilitate this historic landmark, with it then being subsequently re-opened as a public hotel in 2017. The official website for Hotel Berane is found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N42°50'45.2", E19°52'41.9".
Photo 11: Yugoslav-era image of Hotel Berane
Photo 12: Factories at Rudeš Industrial Park
The Rudeš Industrial Zone in Berane: On the northern outskirts of Berane on the east side of the Lim River in an area called 'Rudeš' is located a large industrial business park. Built during Berane's large industrial boom of the 1960s, a number of significant factories were concentrated in this area (Photo 12), including the "Beranka" Paper & Pulp Mill, the "Polimka" Leather Factory, "Obod" Appliances, among others. These factories employed many thousands of people and were the economic backbone of the entire region. However, as a result of Yugoslavia's economic turmoil of the 1980s and the country's eventual dismantling in the 1990s, a significant amount of the town's many factories became defunct or were privatized and closed during that period. Today, the abandoned ruins of many of these huge factories still haunt the town, with their future and ownership contested and unresolved even to present day. Berane's loss of its primary economic infrastructure has resulted in it existing now as the poorest region of Montenegro. The exact coordinates for the center area for this industrial park are N42°51'44.8", E19°52'36.9".
Assuming you are heading towards Berane along Hwy 2/E65 from the direction of Mojkovac, as you are approaching the town of Berane, you will see signs for a left turn heading towards Novi Pazar and Kraljevo. After taking this turn, take the very first right turn immediately after going across the Lim River bridge onto Voja Maslovarica road. After roughly 1km, tale a left where the road makes a 'T'. Follow this road uphill past the IDEA market, then follow it as it curves left going even further uphill. Park at the corner of the first sharp curve you come to. From here, walk uphill a bit and you will see the entrance markers and stairs for the spomenik complex. Follow these stairs uphill along a stone-paved trail and it will take you to the monument. The exact coordinates for parking are N42°50'56.3", E19°52'47.2".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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