Name: Monument to the Uprising at Debarca
Location: Botun, Macedonia
Year completed: (unknown)
Coordinates: N41°16'43.7", E20°47'01.3" (click for map)
Dimensions: Two 4-5m tall monoliths
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Poor, neglected and derelict
Click on slideshow photos for description
This spomenik at Botun commemorates the brave Macedonian fighters of the Debarca district who gave their lives in the bloody struggle for Macedonian freedom and independence from Axis forces.
World War II
After the Axis armies invaded and occupied the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the region of present-day western Macedonia was incorporated into their Italian controlled puppet-state known as the 'Kingdom of Albania'. An area within this new kingdom deeply affected by this Italian imposed rule was the the region Debarca, located just north of Lake Ohrid. Occupation and oppression by Italian and Albanian Axis-aligned forces imposed upon the people of Debarca began to reach a breaking point in the summer of 1941, at which point plans for rebellion and uprising began to be organized. Anti-fascist resistance was so strong in Debarca, it became a significant center for coordinating uprisings and rebellion efforts across much of present-day western Macedonia, much of which was organized by the communist-led Partisan resistance army. This success was due in large part to its very engaged and angered citizenry, along with the region's tough mountain terrain, which was particularly favorable to the Partisan's guerilla-style of warfare. In the spring of 1943, Partisan resistance fighters over-ran and disarmed all Italian garrisons across Debarca, an action which completely liberated the district from Axis control and created the first free-territory in Macedonia.
Later that year in August, a group of young rebels used these confiscated Italian arms to form the first formal Partisan military unit called the 'Mirče Acev Battalion' (in honor of the recently executed freedom activist). The battalion was created on August 18th, 1943, when about 100 fighters met in secret on top of Mount Slavej, about 10km north of Botun, with command of the battalion award to veteran fighter Naum Vasilevski (Наум Василевски). This was one of the region's most accomplished Partisan units, who operated across the Kingdom of Albania and Bulgarian occupied Vardar Macedonia in a wide range of offensive maneuvers and sabotage missions. This free-territory in Debarca gained support from all levels of the district's citizenry, with nearly every man in the region mobilizing into various militias, while the women took part in supporting roles and organized resistance activities. In addition, the Macedonian language was taught for the first time in schools in the free-territory, something that had been suppressed by the Albanian and Italian occupiers. However, after the Italians surrendered to the Allies in September of 1943, German forces entered the area, an action which instigated a two month long stand-off with Partisan fighters. Partisans eventually lost the battle and Debarca fell under German control by the end of the year. It was not until November of 1944 that the Botun region was liberated again for the final time by Partisan forces.
Photo 1: View of members of the 'Mirče Acev Battalion', 1943
During the time of Yugoslavia, a monument was built just south of Botun to commemorate the struggles of the people of Debarca. However, due to the abandonment, degradation and dilapidation of the site, my research was not able to determine when this monument was created, who instigated its creation or who it was that created and designed it. However, one Yugoslav-era book I found indicated that the location of this monument corresponds to the southern-most border of the Debarca Free Territory during WWII. If you have information on this monument, please contact me.
This spomenik complex at Botun has fallen into complete disrepair, currently sitting in a state of extreme dereliction and neglect. All that remains of the small monument complex are the two deteriorating concrete monoliths which rest on a fractured and overgrown stone-paved platform. There are no signs of any rehabilitation or restoration efforts whatsoever and no signs that any entity is doing anything to preserve or maintain this site. Meanwhile, with the construction of the new A-2 motorway extension through the Sateska River valley (connecting Kičevo and Ohrid), the future of the spomenik complex might be in question, as the memorial site is situated very close to this large redevelopment project.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
Set into the base between the two Botun monolith sculptures is an engraved marble plaque (Photo 2) that is quite weathered. Topped with a communist red star, the inscription reads, translated from Macedonian to English, as:
Good Intentioned Travelers!
"You've stepped on the land of the Debarca Uprising - the first free territory in enslaved Macedonia. Remember these hills, mountains, valleys and rivers. They are immersed with our young blood that we spilled during the watch of the revolution for the freedom of the people of Macedonia."
While other plaques or interpretive signs may have existed in the past before the site's ruin, no others are can currently be found.
As far as graffiti goes at this site, there was none I could find here (either new or old), which is surprising considering the site's dilapidated and degraded state.
Photo 2: Engraved panel on Botun spomenik
It is not immediately apparent what, if any, symbolic significance these two concrete monoliths represent. From all indications and examinations, the sculpture appears to be a complete abstract creation with no specific non-representational or symbolic meaning. However, using the pivotal Yugoslav concept of 'Brotherhood and Unity' as a guide, a common theme employed at many spomenik complexes across the former-Yugoslavia, one could imagine that each of the monoliths represent an highly stylized human form -- from which point it could be guessed that each of these 'human forms' represents one of the two ethnicities which live here in the greater western Macedonian region: the Macedonian and the Albanian. This theory is further supported when ones notices that both figures seem to be very clearly standing in a side-by-side manner (illustrating brotherhood), while also unambiguously moving together in a forward direction (illustrating progress through unity). As there is evidence that these two groups did fight together to some extent during the war, it is not a huge leap to theorize that this memorial could be attempting to capitalize on that fact in order to reinforce the Yugoslav idea of ethnic unity and harmony.
Status and Condition:
This condition of this monument complex at Botun can be characterized as extremely neglected and degraded. It is apparent that no effort has been put into maintaining, servicing or repairing this complex for a long long time. No directional or promotional signs exist leading visitors here, while it is not clear that any real visitors even patronize this complex, apart from the odd curious passer-by on their way to Ohrid. In addition, no sorts of ceremonial wreaths or offerings were found here (old or new), indicating that not even locals pay much respects or attention to this site any longer. However, while it is likely that no commemorative ceremonies are held at this site any longer, the formation anniversary of the 'Mirče Acev Battalion'. August 18th, is still widely celebrated in Macedonia, which is recognized under the name 'Army Day'. The protection status of the site is not clear, but there are no indications that any sorts of efforts are being put forward to protect or rehabilitate any elements of this complex.
It is unknown exactly what circumstances led to the abandonment and degradation of this spomenik, especially as many other symbols of the Macedonian struggle for independence during the National Liberation struggle have been well preserved and maintained, such as those at Kruševo and Prilep. One possible idea of why this spomenik fell into neglect is that some in Macedonia feel that the Yugoslavian era of the country was simply another 'foreign occupation' by outside forces imposing its will on the independent people of Macedonia. For example, Kruševo is thought to retain its status and stature in large part because of its primary focus on the Ilinden Uprising (a struggle of pure Macedonian nationalism). Meanwhile, this spomenik at Botun may be viewed as being wrapped up in Partisan and Yugoslav interests, which are idea that may be of little relevance to Macedonians more interested in cultivating their own unique Macedonian identity. These factors may help to explain why this site is abandoned, yet not defaced or vandalized. Local Macedonians may not necessarily feel anger towards it (as was the case towards many spomeniks in post-Yugoslav Croatia and Bosnia), but more along the lines of ambivalence or apathy.
One question mark over the future of this spomenik complex is the current construction of the A-2 motorway construction between Kičevo and Ohrid along the Sateska River valley. While it currently appears that the pathway taken by the motorway project is being focused on the opposite side of the Sateska River from where the Botun memorial is located, it is still not 100% yet that construction and redevelopments to the area might not affect the spomenik complex in some way. The motorway is slated to be completed by 2018.
Additional Monuments in the Botun Area:
This section will explore various other notable Yugoslav-era modernist monuments and memorial complexes in the Botun area. Among those examples which are examined here are the Monument to Brotherhood & Unity at Beličište, as well as the Monument to Koča Milenku, located along the A2 highway at the Debarca/Drugovo municipality border.
"The Partisan units of the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia, with blood, heart and brotherhood of the Yugoslav peoples, fought for the rising of our great day."
Monument to Brotherhood & Unity:
Located less than 3km from the Botun site, on the way to Beličište, there is a monument honoring the Partisan's resistance efforts during WWII (Slides 1 - 5). Titled "Monument to Brotherhood & Unity", but also referred to in other sources as the "Monument to the Revolution", this work was created by Prilep-based sculptor Jordan Grabul and Croatian architect Fedor Wenzler, being opened in 1958, on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Free Territory of Debarca. In front of the monument (which stands at about 10m tall), is a raised-lettering concrete plaque which can be seen in Slide 6. When translated from Macedonian to English, this plaque reads as:
Monument to Brotherhood & Unity - Slideshow
The primary element of this monument at Beličište consists of a tall relief sculpture attached to the front of the monument. It depicts various scenes of Partisan men and women fighters engaging in combat, as well as humanitarian efforts, in the Debarca region. A high resolution image of this sculpture relief can be found at this link, which leads to the Spomenik Database Flickr page. While the condition of the memorial complex here has somewhat fallen into neglect over time, the site is still honored and maintained. To commemorate Fighter's Day on July 4th, 1967, veterans of the 7th Macedonian Youth Brigade attached a small white marble plaque to the base of the monument to honor their service in during WWII. The exact coordinates for his monument are N41°17'45.0", E20°49'00.5", being situated on top of a hill just north of the small road off of the A2 highway that leads from Botun to the village of Beličište.
Monument to Koča Milenku:
North of Botun along the A2 highway is an additional monument which honors the Partisan fighter Koča Milenku (коча миленку) (Slides 1 - 3). This abstract concrete monument consists of an angular archway around which are various sized pillars. Attached to the archway is a inscribed plaque (Slide 4) which translates from Macedonian to English as:
Koča Milenku "Sašo", 1923-1943
"Veteran of the Kruševo Partisan Detachment "Pitu Guli" who on Jan. 18th, 1943 performed party tasks in the Debarca area and, not falling into the hands of the enemy, heroically took his life."
This monument, whose author and year of creation are unknown to me, is in a very poor condition, especially with the highway construction going on all around it. The exact coordinates for the site are N41°25'30.1", E20°49'07.5", 16km north of Botun.
Monument to Koča Milenku - Slideshow
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Monument to the Partisan Hospital at Slatino: Roughly 13km northeast of Botun is the village of Slatino. On the west end of the village is a monument which is dedicated to a Partisan Hospital for the General Staff of the People's Liberation War which was located near this spot. In addition, the monument commemorates local fighters and veterans who perished during WWII. Created in 1976 by Macedonian sculptor Savo Strezoski, this monument is a uniquely shaped concrete form, roughly ~6m tall, that seems to resemble an oil lamp. From its form, it appears as though the monument once housed an eternal-flame element. After the Yugoslav-era, the monument fell into disrepair and neglect. However, in 2017, the site was restored and the monument rehabilitated. Annual commemorative events still occur here. A photo of the Slatino monument can be seen at THIS Wiki link, while its exact coordinates are N41°20'53.4", E20°51'43.1".
Located the monument site at Botun is a fairly simply endeavor. If you are approaching this site from Lake Ohrid, from the north shore of the lake follow highway A-2/E-65 north past the Ohrid "St. Paul the Apostle" Airport. Continue to follow this highway roughly 15km, then, on the left side of the road, you will see a small pull-off area and the monoliths will easily be visible just off the banks of the River Sateska, even just from driving by them on the main highway. Parking can be made easily directly in front of the site. Click here to see a Google StreetView image of the monument area. The exact coordinates for parking for this location are N41°16'43.3", E20°47'01.2". Be careful pulling out of the site because the curve can make it a bit difficult to see oncoming vehicles.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
Please feel free to leave a message if you have any comments, if you have any questions, if you have corrections or if you have any additional information or insight you feel might be appropriate or pertinent to this spomenik's profile page.