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Bratunac (Братунац)

Brief Details:

Name: Bratunac Memorial Park (Spomen-Park Bratunac/Спомен-парк Братунац)

Location: Bratunac, Republic Srpska, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year completed: 1978

Designer: Petar Krstić (profile page)

Coordinates: N44°11'02.8", E19°19'43.5" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~17m high obelisk

Materials used: Steel pipes

Condition: Poor, neglected

(BRAH-tuh-nats)

History:

The monument located at the spomenik complex at Bratunac, Bosnia commemorates the fallen soldiers and civilians from this region that perished during the National Liberation War (WWII).

World War II

With the invasion and occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941 by Axis Italian and German forces, the new country of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was soon thereafter created. This newly created territory, which acted as an Axis puppet-state, absorbed much of present day Bosnia, including the Podrinje region region where Bratunac is located. The nationalist Ustaše militiamen who acted as the military arm of the NDH waged a brutal war of occupation and heavy-handed control. Racial laws were immediately instituted which heavily oppressed ethnic-Serb, Roma and Jewish populations. However, ethnic groups such as Croats and Muslims in the NDH were not subject to such oppression unless they were suspected of collaborating with political dissidents or anti-Axis resistance groups. This resistance to Axis occupation began in east Bosnia on August 8th, 1941, when ethnic-Serb rebels in Kravica (a small village a few kilometers west of Bratunac) rang the local Orthodox church bells in defiance, an act which symbolically declared their freedom. Hundreds of angered and disaffected residents of the Bratunac region joined one of the region's two main resistance groups: the communist-led Partisan rebels (Photo 1) or the nationalist Chetnik royalists. During 1941, these two groups worked together to aid in sabotaging and engaging Ustaše and Axis forces, which led to these rebels liberating many towns in southeast Bosnia in the Drina River region from Axis control. Interestingly, while the Partisan and Chetnik groups in west Bosnia turned from being allies to enemies after disagreements during 'Operation Uzice' in the autumn of 1941, the two groups continued to cooperate in the Bratunac region for much of the fall and winter of 1941.

In January of 1942, German forces (aided by the NDH's Ustaše) launched an offensive called "Operation Southeast Croatia" meant to rid the NDH of all Partisan strongholds and resistance groups. Bratunac was under the control of Chetnik rebels at the time, so when the Chetnik commanders got word that the operation was specifically targeting Partisans, the leadership felt that they would be putting themselves in unnecessary risk to intervene. As a result, all Chetnik detachments in Bratunac (along with all of southwestern Bosnia) retreated away from the fight east back over the Drina River into Serbian territory. The loss of the Chetniks severely weakened the Partian's engagement against the German forces -- consequently, the Partisans were heavily bombarded by the Germans, forcing them to give up their territory and evacuate south towards Foča (leaving roughly 2,000 Partisans either dead or captured by the end). Partisans then broke off all cooperation with the Chetniks, as they saw the betrayal of trust as unforgivable. At this point, Bratunac came under Ustaše control.

Photo 1: Troops of the 3rd Partisan Corps in Bratunac, 1944

 Photo 2: Jure Francetić leading the 'Black Legion' against Chetniks, 1942  

Then, in early April of 1942, Serb Chetniks used their guerilla tactics to retake Bratunac from the Ustaše. Bratunac then became part of a large Chetnik 'liberated zone' often referred to as the 'Mihailović's Island of Freedom', in honor of the supreme Chetnik commander Draža Mihailović. However, it was soon retaken again in mid-April during "Operation Trio" by the notorious Ustaše 'Black Legion' unit, led by its commander Jure Francetić. After taking Bratunac, Francetić ordered his Black Legion to burn down all Serb villages in the area, which led to the massacre of dozens of the town's ethnic-Serb civilians. Most notably, in the following May in the nearby town of Vlasenica (~30km west of Bratnuac), Francetić's Black Legion was recounted to have raped and slaughtered nearly 900 of the town's Jewish and ethnic-Serb residents. However, Francetić was killed just a few months later in December of 1942 when a plane he was taking to Gospić was shot down near the NDH town of Slunj. Bratunac continued to change hands during the course of the war through continued back-and forth conflicts but was finally liberated for a last time from Axis and Chetnik control towards the end of the war by Partisan forces in March of 1945. Not only were thousands of resistance fighters killed from Bratunac killed during the war, but thousands of innocent civilians were killed as well, most of whom were Serbs targeted in the NDH's ethnic cleansing campaigns.

Spomenik Construction

In the late 1970s, plans were laid out by the regional government and veteran groups to construct a spomenik complex in Bratunac in order to commemorate the soldiers and civilians from this region who fell and were massacred during WWII. The commission to create and construct this memorial was granted to designer Petar Krstić. It was completed in 1978 and unveiled to the public during a large remembrance ceremony. The central element of the spomenik complex consists of a roughly 17m tall corrugated metal pipe tower which tapers to a point at its top, which has a collection of bulging protrusions halfway up the structure. 

Yugoslav Wars

As the Socialist Republic of Bosnia passed a referendum for independence on February 29th, 1992, leading to the further dismantling of the Republic of Yugoslavia, tensions began to build as Bosnian Serbs refused to recognize this referendum and the independence of Bosnia. This led to clashes and eventually a conflict which would be known as the Bosnian War between the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim Bosniaks who supported Bosnian independence. The conflict resulted in significant devastation and neglect to the spomenik complex here at Bratunac, which was in the middle of a Bosnian Serb held region which came to be known as the Republic of Srpska (RS). The Army of the Republic of Srpska (VRS), commanded by Ratko Mladić, attempted to expel or ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the RS region, which led to many atrocities occurring, most notably the massacre at the nearby town of Srebrenica (10km south of Bratunac), where sources estimate that more than 8,000 Bosniaks were killed in July of 1995. In addition, the war inflcited appreciable damage to the town of Bratunac, along with the reported killings and burials of many Bosniaks (Photo 3) in and around the areas of the detention and internment camps in Bratnuac where Bosniaks prisoners were housed. The war ended in December of 1995.

 Photo 3: Destruction at Bratunac and the site where mass graves were found, 1995  

Present-Day

Today, the WWII memorial site at Bratunac sits in a state of relative neglect and deterioration. The vast majority of the elements at the complex are either damaged, defaced or destroyed all together. While the metal tower monument itself is still standing and seems structurally sound, it is heavily defaced with graffiti while its decorative base is in extremely poor condition. I found no indications that memorial ceremonies are held here any longer, nor I have come across any reports that the municipality intends to repair or rehabilitate the site.

 Photo 4: Cover photo for 2018 Guardian article 

With the international awareness of the monuments from the former Yugoslavia increasing dramatically since the early 2000s, the shape and form of the memorial sculpture here at Bratunac captured the interest of many who were drawn to these monuments. In addition, with this rise in popularity, many artists and creators became inspired by its shape of the Bratunac monument and integrated its form into their art, digital works and other multimedia creations, such as the work by Macedonian digital artist Zoki Cardula or German photographer Marc Schneider. Meanwhile, in a 2018 article titled "Crazy concrete: Yugoslavia's war memorials – in pictures" about the monuments of former Yugoslavia in the British newspaper 'The Guardian', a photo of the Bratunac monument was used as the title photo for that publication (Photo 4).

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

There are a small number of inscribed and engraved elements which still exist at the monument complex here at Bratunac. Adjacent to the primary monument tower there is concrete memorial wall (Slide 1 & 2). As can be seen in the photos of this memorial wall, the vast majority of the engraved white marble slabs that once existed here have been stolen and/or destroyed. Only two of the slabs exist now, and can be seen in Slide 1. These engravings relate the names of local soldiers who either took part in or perished during the National Liberation War. Whether or not engravings or inscriptions other than those located on this memorial wall ever existed at this spomenik complex is not immediately clear or apparent.

Significant amounts of graffiti can also be found at this site, but it seems to be mostly innocuous and not of any political or nationalistic nature.

Slideshow

Symbolism:

From my interpretation (as I have found no official information), the memorial sculpture here at Bratunac, Bosnia, which consists of a roughly 17m tall steel pipe tower created by Petar Krstić, stands predominately as an unambiguous and intentionally imposing monolithic symbol of victory and sacrifice. As the tower reaches towards the sky it slowly tapers to a delicate point just one pipe thick, which possibly represents the 'redemption' or celestial ascent into the afterlife made by those anti-Axis resistance fighters who perished in the defense and liberation of Bratunac. Meanwhile, halfway up the tower is a bulge of haphazardly set metal pipes, which creates a confusing mass through which the tower pierces. This bulging mass may be symbolic for the adversaries and foes which the Partisans fought through and vanquished along their path to redemption and, ultimately, liberation.

Status and Condition:

Overall, the state of the spomenik complex here at Bratunac is very poor. Firstly, while it does appear that the grass at the site is regularly mowed and maintained, weeds untamed grass grow out of broken pavement and concrete across the entire site. So, while the grass is minimally trimmed, no efforts are being made towards proper maintenance or beautification of the complex, as numerous planters and beds are overgrown and in disuse. Meanwhile, the overall structure of the central memorial sculpture tower does appear sound, yet its concrete base is cracked and degraded and the monument itself is covered in paint and graffiti at its lower sections. In addition, all additional memorial elements around the spomen-park are either heavily damaged or destroyed, along with the plaques on the memorial wall, all inscriptions, all engravings, all benches and several other memorial elements around the site which are so degraded that their original purpose for now is unknown. There is no promotional or directional signage anywhere leading visitors to this site nor are there any informational or educational signs or placards located around the complex alerting visitors to the monument's historical or cultural significance. It does not appear that the municipality of Bratunac puts forth any efforts to promote the spomenik site as a point of interest or local attraction.

 Photo 5: Flowers laid during at a ceremony at the Bratunac monument, 2017

Upon my most recent visit to this Bratunac spomenik site, I found no honorific candles, wreaths or flowers left at the memorial sculpture. However, I was able to find reports that modest memorial flower laying ceremonies are still occurring at the site (Photo 5). Meanwhile, I did find a significant number of people patronizing this spomenik park during my visit, as I witnessed many children playing, people going on walks, a couples sitting on the broken benches, which is not surprising, as the monument park exists right near the middle of the town center of Bratunac in a residential area. Yet, few, if any, of these casual visitors appeared to be patronizing the park in any way related to recognizing or commemorating the parks memorial elements. Finally, I have found no information in my research that any efforts are planned or intended to rehabilitate the damage at this spomen-park, either on the local, regional or national level. In fact, I have found no evidence thus far that the park and its contents are legally protected in any way.

Directions:

Reaching the spomenik complex here in the town of Bratunac, Bosnia is a relatively simply endeavor. It is located within the town's 'Spomen-Park' (Memorial Park), which is situated not far from the city center area, just a few meters north of where Road R454 intersects with Vidovdanska Road. Parking can be easily made anywhere in the vicinity where it can be found available, as there are many potential options. There are numerous parking areas where the spomenik complex can be reached by foot, alternatively it can also be reached on foot easily from the city center of Bratunac. The exact coordinates for the street directly in front of the Monument Park are N44°11'02.8", E19°19'40.5".

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Slideshow

Comments:

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