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Bihać (Бихаћ)

Brief Details:

Name: Garavice Memorial Park of the victims of Fascist Terror (Spomen-područje Garavice)

Location: Bihać, FBiH, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year completed: 1981

Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović (profile page)

Coordinates: N44°49'20.0", E15°50'24.3" (click for map)

Dimensions: 15 monoliths, ~4-6m tall

Materials used: Bihacite stone blocks

Condition: Fair to poor, very neglected

(BEE-hach)

Click on slideshow photos for description

 

History:

This spomenik at Bihać commemorates the many thousands of ethnic-Serb and Jewish civilians, including children, that were executed on this hillside by Ustaše forces in July of 1941.

 

World War II

At the beginning of the war Axis Italian and German forces occupied Croatia and Bosnia -- they then assisted in creating and supporting the Independent State of Croatia, with the Ustaše ultra-nationalist group acting as their military enforcement division. As these new borders were drawn, Bihać found itself situated within this newly created Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which was something that worried many of the city's Jewish, Roma and ethnic-Serb residents, as the NDH quickly passed racial laws in order to oppress them. In June of 1941, the mayor of Bihać, NDH-aligned Ljubomir Kvaternik, decreed that no ethnic-Serbs or Jews would be allowed within Bihać or the outlying areas of the city. However, as July set in, many ethnic-Serbs and Jews still remained in the city. As a consequence, Kvaternik ordered that all ethnic-Serbs and Jews in the city, regardless of gender or age, should be rounded up and arrested. Over the following weeks, from July into August, thousands of these civilians were executed at sites across Bihać, most notably at Garavice Hill, just west of town. It is reported that some civilians pleaded for their lives, converting from Orthodoxy to Catholicism on the spot, but it is not exactly clear if such actions always saved such desperate people from death.

Photo 1: AVNOJ meeting, Bihać, 1942

Photo 2: Partisans during liberation of Bihać, 1945

The first liberation of Bihać occurred on November 4th of 1942, when roughly 6,000 Partisan fighters stormed the city with five brigades, overpowering the Ustaše and Homeland occupational forces (who numbered only about 4,000). The newly liberated city was declared a independent territory and designated as the Bihać Republic. A few months after the creation of the Bihać Republic, on November 26th, 1942, Josip Broz Tito organized in town of Bihać the very first Yugoslav Anti-fascist Council (AVNOJ) meeting (Photo 1), an event which could be considered to be the birth of the government that would take over Yugoslavia after the war. During this council, the governance and organizational structure of the Bihać Republic was outlined, which would come to be the groundwork of governance for a future post-WWII Yugoslavia. Also, a month later in December, the first Yugoslav Anti-Fascist Youth Congress was also held in the same location. However, the victory and freedom of the Bihać Republic was short-lived, as German troops from the SS 7th Division retook Bihać and much of the territory of the republic just a few weeks later starting in January 29th, 1943.

 

The town of Bihać was not again fully liberated from Axis control until April 26th of 1945 (Photo 2), when Partisan troops from the 4th Yugoslav Army during Operation Lika-Primorje descended on the town, at which point they wiped out the occupying German 15th Mountain Corps. During the course of the war, estimates of the number of people killed across Bihać (most notably at the Garavice execution grounds) vary widely from 7,000 to 12,000 to even higher. Debates over these numbers continue to this day, and work gathering documentary evidence is ongoing.

Photo 3: Early sketches by Bogdanović of the memorial sculptures

Spomenik Complex

In 1949, a modest memorial plaque was constructed at the foot of Garavice Hill in order to commemorate the massacres that occurred at the site However, by 1969, plans were being organized by the the municipality of Bihać to create a more ambitious memorial complex at the Garavice site. Yet, nearly a decade would pass before plans and designs were prepared, and then even longer before the project's construction actually began. Some allege that these delays were related to uncertainties about the exact numbers killed at Garavice, as well as accusations that the Yugoslav government wished to minimize the site due to the incendiary ethnic tensions for which Garavice acted as a flash-point. Ultimately, it was famed architect Bogdan Bogdanović who was eventually approached to design the memorial complex, who had already distinguished himself creating memorials for mass tragedies, such as with his monument at Jasenovac. He was the unanimous choice for all parties involved. Sources assert that Bogdanović was especially attracted to the Bihać proposal as its main focus was to be 'universality', while issues of ethnicity and victim numbers were to given a less central focus.

Funding for the Garavice project was a shared venture between the municipality of Bihać, the Bihać chapter of SUBNOR, the government of the SR of Bosnia, the local community and supporting groups in other areas of Yugoslavia. The completed memorial was officially unveiled to the public on July 27th, 1981 (Photo 4), a day chosen as it marked the 40th anniversary of the start of local resistance efforts against Axis occupation. The main speaker during the inaugural ceremonies was Hamdija Pozderac, who was part of the Presidency of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. During his speech, sources relate that Pozderac referred to the monument at as a symbol of "togetherness, humanism, freed om, and Brotherhood and Unity" The memorial in which Bogdanović created was 15 stone column monoliths (4-6m tall) (Photo 3), which he referred to as his 'Mourning Women'.

Photo 4: Opening day at the Garavice Memorial Complex in Bihać, June 1981

 

These sculptures were spread across a wide area where the killings occurred, with 13 columns on the Garavice hillside, with a paved stone path twisting through them, while two additional stone columns were included at a nearby mass grave along the main road roughly 1km north of Garavice hill, just on the other side of the Kolkot River (a site which will be referred to here as Memorial Site #2). Interestingly, none of these columns are constructed using mortar - the stones are kept together only by the heft of their own weight. Also, it is interesting to mention that Bogdanović included little to no mention in his design or layout of the memorial complex to national identity, religious symbolism or numbers of victims.

Photo 5: A shelled apartment block in Bihać, 1992

 

Yugoslav Wars to Present-Day

After its completion, this was an extremely popular memorial complex, which was enthusiastically visited by many locals, students and tourists every year. However, after the fall of Yugoslavia, the site immediately began to fall into neglect, not only being subject to vandalism, but also Yugoslav War destruction from the battles and shellings which occurred throughout the Siege of Bihać (1992-1995) (Photo 5), during which an estimated 5,000 people were killed. Today, the spomenik complex at Garavice lays in poor condition, with many elements vandalized and in a state of neglect. While some modest remembrance ceremonies are still held here occasionally, the site sits mostly un-utilized, playing host mostly to the grazing sheep who flock across the hillsides. In recent years however, some talk has manifested about restoring the complex, yet, as of 2017, work towards this end is yet to be realized.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

As you walk up the trail from the parking area towards the Garavice Memorial, you will see a smaller engraved stone (Slide 1). Translated into English, the engraved inscription reads as:

"Memorial Park for

Victims of Fascist Terror"

Then, further up the trail as you approach the foot of the hill, you will see another larger engraved stone (Slide 2). Translated into English, the engraved inscription reads as:

"Life is stronger than death, justice is stronger than crime, love is stronger than hate."

Slideshow

At the entrance parking lot, there is a large stone which once bore a large engraved plaque (Slide 3), but it was stolen (maybe even destroyed) at some point within the last few years. It is not known at this point where the plaque has gone, who took it or what inscription or words the plaque even bore. However, sources refer to a plaque that once existed at this site here which read:

"With the continuing memory of the twelve thousand innocent and brutally murdered Serbs by the Ustaše villains."

Though, it is not clear that this is destroyed plaque is the one being referred to in these old records and if these were the were the words indeed inscribed on it. However, if this is not the plaque in question, two mysteries then remain: what did the destroyed plaque say and where did the plaque go that bore the above inscription? Due to the fog of understanding regarding many aspects of this site, determining such information may continue to be difficult and/or elusive.

Finally, another destroyed plaque at this site that we do know more about can be seen in its original form in Slide 4. It was a small half meter tall stone panel installed within a roughly 2m tall stone block column, situated on the north edge of the main parking area. This plaque actually predates the 1981 Bogdanović memorial, with this plaque being installed in July of 1949, just a few years after the end of the war.  The engraved inscription which it bears translates into English as:

"The people of the county and the town of Bihać, erect this monument as a permanent memorial of 12,000 guiltless Serbs who were brutally murdered by villainous Ustaše between June 1941 and October 1941.
Glory and eternal memory to these innocent victims.
"
Garavice - July 27th, 1949

During the 1990s, the plaque on this column was severely damaged, as can be seen in a photo from that time period (Slide 5). However, upon my most recent visit to the site in 2017, I found the plaque even more destroyed and the column knocked over all together (Slides 6 & 7).

Meanwhile, there is a huge amount of graffiti and spray-paint covering nearly all elements of this spomenik complex, from the box columns to the entrance gate to the interpretive plaques. Much of it is just general childish vandalism, however, some nationalistic and fascist-stile graffiti exists here as well. One particularly interesting instance of graffiti can be seen in Slide 8, which depicts one particular box column with a Turkish flag scrawled into its lower half, while the initials 'SDA' are spray painted above that. The 'SDA' graffiti more than likely is a reference to Bosnia's Party of Democratic Action (Stranka demokratske akcije), which is a Bosniak political party and also became the largest political party in the country after the country's 2014 elections. One of the SDA's primary missions is to defend the interests and rights of Muslim South Slavs across the Balkan region.

 

Memorial Site #2:

North roughly 1km of the main Garavice hill memorial site, you will find another mass grave mound memorial site located just off the main highway M5, just on the west other side of the Kolkot River bridge, next to the first gas station you come across on your right. The site consists of two of the same exact shape and size memorial columns as those found at the primary memorial site on Garavice hill (Slides 1 - 4), with both columns situated directly in front of the long mass grave mound they are intended to commemorate. As these memorial columns are a good distance away from the primary memorial site, the sculptures are in much better condition, showing very little signs of damage or graffiti. However, the site itself seems very neglected and forgotten, as it is extensively overgrown with grass and vegetation. The exact coordinates for Memorial Site #2 are N44°49'48.6", E15°50'06.8".

 

Slideshow - Memorial Site #2

Photo 6: Head-block showing tear-like carving

Symbolism:

In the words of Bogdan Bogdanović, the creator of this monument park, "My philosophy [is] very abstract, inspired by the ancient dualistic thinking of good and evil..." This approach was very much used in Bogdanović's design of the spomenik here at Bihać. Firstly, the obvious dominating element of this complex is the 15 identical bihacite stone column megaliths arranged around the Garavice hillside ( and wider area), which Bogdanović referred to as his 'Mourning Women'. In describing these women figures (who represent symbols of life), sources account Bogdanović making the following remarks towards his figures: "They are standing, but seeing. They are standing and are filled with worry. They are catching sight of the past and looking towards the future." Looking at these sculptures as female figures lamenting the loss of their loved ones, the way the top-most block on each column is situated slightly over the edge of the one one beneath it could be interpreted as these figures hunched-over hanging their heads in sadness, while the carvings on each side of this head-block could be viewed as tears of sadness flowing from these figure's eyes (Photo 6).

Looking at the spatial arrangement of the figures, we see them further apart as you go down the hill, but clustered tightly at the hill's summit. This arrangement may represent the figures at the place of burial engaging in 'collective mourning' (as Friedrich Achleitner points out in his book 'A Flower for the Dead'), while those figures who wish to engage in more personal isolated mourning find themselves in more lonely locations on the hill's lower slopes.

Meanwhile, other sources view this collection of column sculptures as a creation of the city of Atlantis... an analogy for a place neither in the heavens or on the earth, with the stacked boxes themselves symbolizing the persistent memories of the tragedies that exist within this foggy, in-between space of suspension and limbo. Furthermore, the serpentine path that twists through the column sculptures is suggested by some to signify the Minoan labyrinth (the mythical structure built by Daedalus to trap the deadly Minotaur) (Photo 7). As such, the path itself becomes a symbol of salvation from hopelessness and the triumph of life over the forces death. The concept of 'life overcoming death' is repeated in the fact that the monument is located on top of the mass grave which contains thousands of executed civilians, illustrating that even at the scene of such a brutal crime, a celebration of life and memory can take place.

Photo 7: The symbol for the Minoan Labyrinth

 

Status and Condition:

This Garavice spomenik complex at Bihać is currently in a state of extreme neglect and is severely vandalized. As of 2018, no meaningful efforts have been put forward to maintain or preserve this complex, even despite it being protected as a national heritage site by the Bosnian government. Furthermore, it is apparent that this site sees no regular visitors or locals leaving offerings, much less any regular tourists or foreign visitors. Meanwhile, there is no promotional or directional signage leading visitors to this place nor does the local municipality promote the site in any way. In fact, the gates at the entrance to the site were once padlocked and closed to the public by the municipality, but, as of spring 2016, the gates have since been broken open (presumably by vandals) and are again accessible to the public. Though, despite this level of neglect, the site was officially designated in September of 2011 as a 'National Monument' by the BiH Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments. While the Bosnian government has recognized need to rehabilitate Garavice, as documents show they have "called on the competent state authorities to work within all legal means and with concrete actions to preserve and improve this anti-fascist heritage". However, much work would be needed if officials are intent on achieving this goal.

Photo 8: A 2015 commemorative ceremony being held at the Garavice memorial

The columns themselves are covered in graffiti and spray-paint, with some displaying serious signs of damage, both from vandalism and from 1990s war-time conflict. However, for the most part, the majority of the box columns are in good shape and could easily be restored and cleaned of graffiti if such attempts were made. In addition, an interpretive plaque that once existed at the entrance parking lot of this spomenik has since been stolen at some unknown point in time. It is not know where it is, what happened to it or what words it once contained.

Since the early 2010s, official annual commemorative ceremonies and events have begun to be held here at the Garavice memorial again, which are often attended by notable local and regional government officials (Photo 8). Furthermore, as of mid-2017, there are news reports which indicate that restoration and rehabilitation efforts may soon be underway at Garavice in order to bring the site up to a more presentable and respectable state. Meanwhile, in 2018, discussions began about the possibility of constructing an Orthodox chapel at the Garavice site, however, this proposal has been met with opposition.

 

Additional Historical Sites in the Bihać Area:

This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites located around the town of Bihać that would be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. Those examined here are the Borići Partisan Battalions Monument and Cemetery in Bihać, the Monument to the Liberation of Bihać, as well as the Museum to the First Session of the AVNOJ.

Bihać Partisan Battalions Memorial:

Just south of the Bihać city center in the area of Borići, across from the football stadium complex, is a modest memorial cemetery which honors 868 of the town's fighters of Bihać's Partisan Battalions who perished during the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII) (Slides 1 - 4). Presently, my research has not yielded exactly who was the author of this monument and what year it was created. The central element of the monument is a 5-6m tall pointed triangle shape covered in marble panels, while next to it is a lower and long triangle. The tall shape has engraved onto it a victorious Partisan fighter, while the lower triangle has engraved upon it a wounded fighter. Among the pine trees behind the monument are 868 stone markers commemorating the Partisan fighters from Bihać who died during WWII. Remembrance ceremonies are still held at this site by local veterans groups. To the right of the central monument is a row of bronze sculptural busts on pedestals depicting local folk heroes from WWII (Slide 5).

Partisan Battalions Memorial at Borići - Slideshow

A historical photo from the 1980s can be seen in Slide 6. The exact coordinates for the spomenik site are N44°48'18.9", E15°51'52.4". In addition, it is important to point out that at the center of the monument is an black polished stone panel that engraved with a poetic inscription. This inscription roughly reads as, when translated into English:

"You live your life in the foundation of our freedom, so you live alive. You live like a spring welling up inside each of us, and you wash over the ground in the school, the factory and over the field of flags colored with your red blood flowing in the hands of young people who continue your work."

It is worth pointing out that this monument complex has fallen into a state of neglect over recent decades. While the structure and monument itself are still relatively intact, the grounds around the complex are overgrown and many of the memorial markers are damaged and suffering vandalism. To complicate matters for the memorial site further, as of 2018, a large incomplete building here in Borići called "Đački dom" (roughly 50m to the east of the monument) has been the housing location for over 600 Middle Eastern migrants and refugees. Local news agencies have documented that this complicated situation has resulted in further damage to the monument complex.

Monument to the Liberation of Bihać:

In the center of the town of Bihać, right near the edge of the Una River, is a park-like memorial complex which honors the Yugoslav Partisan fighters who perished during the liberation of Bihać from Axis occupation at the end of WWII in 1945. The fighters who fought during this liberation of Bihać's were largely Slovene Partisan fighters from the 3rd Overseas Strike Brigade. About 50 fighters from this brigade fell during this battle over the town. The memorial complex itself is located directly adjacent to the Kapetanova kula (Captain's Tower) complex, which are the remains of a large medieval fortress right on the Una River. The central element of the memorial complex is an elegant bronze sculpture of a nude female figure which is titled "Lady of the Una River" (Djevojka sa Une), created by Zagreb artist Vladimir Herljević and placed at this location in 1986 (Photo 9). This sculpture is still a very popular local attraction and stands as one of the symbols of Bihać.

Photo 9: An image of the "Lady of the Una River" monument

Photo 10: Monument to 700 years of Bihać

From this sculpture, if you look north towards Marshal Tito Street, you will see a large  stone wall within which are two long bronze sculptural reliefs depicting various scenes of battle (Photo 10). This wall memorial, constructed in 1960 by Vladimir Herljević, commemorates 700 years since the founding of Bihać in 1260, as well as honoring the city's liberation in 1945 during WWII. The central elements of the monument are two long sculptural reliefs. The left relief (Photo 11) depicts King Béla IV of Hungary at the center of the scene (as the area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 1200s), while scenes of Bihać's founding and battles against the Ottomans flank either side of the relief. Meanwhile, the right relief (Photo 12) depicts what appears to be Josip Tito at the center, with scenes of WWII battle against the Axis occupiers, as well as images of Yugoslav unity, depicted on either side. The coordinates for the location of this monument complex are N44°48'49.4", E15°52'13.9".

Photo 11: "The founding of Bihać" sculpture relief

Photo 12: "Josip Tito and WWII liberation" sculpture relief

 

Museum of the 1st Session of the AVNOJ:

Built by architect Stjepan Podhorski in 1939 as a cultural center by Bihać emigrants in the United States, this building served as the location where Partisan leadership held the first session of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) on November 26th, 1942. This session was held at the onset of the creation of the Bihać Republic (an region the Partisans freed from Axis control). It was during this first session that first outline of what the governance of post-war Yugoslavia would look like. To honor the 10th anniversary of this first session, the building was set up as a museum in 1952 to commemorate the 1st session of the AVNOJ. Photos of the museum and its exterior from the Yugoslav-era can be seen here in Slides 1 - 6. The museum complex was significantly damaged during the conflicts of the Bosnian War. However, in 2014 the museum was rehabilitated with ~200,000 euros. Modern photos can be seen in Slides 7 - 10. The exact coordinates of this museum are N44°48'45.8", E15°52'05.2".

Partisan Battalions Memorial - Slideshow

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Dom Kulture Bihać: In the city center of Bihać, right next door to the AVNOJ Museum, is a civic community complex called 'Dom Kulture' (The House of Culture) (Photo 13). The building is of a rectangular shape which is designed in the International Style of architecture. The most striking feature of the building is a large colorful abstract mural on its east facing side, which was created by Sarajevo artist Vojo Dimitrijević. The building contains numerous classrooms, activity spaces, as well as a large theatre. The building was originally constructed in 1959 as a 'Worker's University', while in 1977 the complex was reorganized as a JNA House with additional AVNOJ museum exhibits. In 1999 it was again reorganized as a local cultural center. The exact coordinates for this building are N44°48'43.5", E15°52'04.7".

Photo 13: A vintage photo of the House of Culture in Bihać, BiH

 
  • Restaurant "Sunce": Roughly 3km east of Bihać is the architecturally impressive Restaurant "Sunce", an establishment contained within an ambitious modernist building which almost seems to hover above the Una River (Photo 14). While the views alone are stunning, the building's unique design is a notable example of the creativity of Yugoslav architecture, sitting atop a platform perched on a small island several dozen meters out within the Una River, only accessible by a narrow wooden bridge. Built in the early 1970s, it continues to this day to operate as a popular dining spot. Next to the restaurant is Hotel Ada, built in a similar architectural style. The restaurant's Facebook page can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N44°48'02.6", E15°54'27.7".

  • Ostrožac Castle: Roughly 17km north of Bihać along the Una River is Ostrožac Castle (near the town of Cazin). Perched on a cliff overlooking the Una, it was f irst mentioned in the 1200s, it began to take its familiar form by the 1500s, during which point it was under possession of the Ottoman Turks. Today the castle has been turned into a tourist attraction that is open to the public. A photo of the castle can be seen at THIS Wiki link, whil its exact coordinates are N44°54'22.3", E15°56'14.5".

Photo 14: A photo of Restaurant 'Sunce' outside of Bihać, BiH

Directions:

Assuming you are accessing Bihać from from the Plitvice Lakes region of Croatia, as it is the most touristic area nearby, from Hwy 1, take Hwy 504 east, then turn right (continuing east) onto Hwy 217 after about 6km. Then, follow this road until you reach the Croatia/Bosnia international boundary. After crossing into Bosnia, the road name changes to Hwy M-5. Continue east on this roughly 10km. After that point, just after you pass over the Kolkot River (about 300m), you will see an inconspicuous road to the east of the MAJ Commerce business (Photo 15). Go down this road (Photo 16), through the gate, following the old stone-paved drive, and you will come to a cobblestone parking lot. You will see the spomenik up on the hill. It can easily be walked to from here. Exact coordinates for parking are N44°49'26.5", E15°50'30.2".

A map to the location of the monument at the spomenik complex at Bihać, Bosnia.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Photo 15: Entrance is just to the left of MAJ Commerce

Photo 16: A view of the driveway to the spomenik parking area

 

Slideshow

Comments:

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