Name: Monument to the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit (споменик шарпланински Партизански одреда)
Location: Brezovica, Kosovo*
Year completed: 1964
Designer: Svetomir Arsić Basara
Coordinates: N42°13'12.3", E20°59'50.0" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~9m tall monument
Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and steel
Condition: Poor, neglected
The monument here at the WWII spomenik park in Brezovica, Kosovo* commemorates the fighters of the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit, many of whom were from this region
World War II
Just two months after Yugoslav government capitulated to Axis forces April of 1941, the Šar (Sharr) Mountain region was annexed and absorbed into the Italian puppet-state of the 'Kingdom of Albania'. While some Albanians were ingratiated by promises made to them by the Axis Italian forces, other Albanians and Serbs across the region sought to rise up against this Italian occupation. On November 3rd of 1942, rebel fighters from the Kosovo regions of Ferizaj and Brezovica came together in the Šar Mountain region of Kosovo to organize a resistance unit -- this meeting took place at the 13th century hermitage church "Kaluđerski Stone" (Калуђерски камен) near the village of Biluša (Billushë) (approximately 20km west of Brezovica). They called their group the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit (Шарпланински Партизански одреда) (Photo 1) and were under the leadership of Branko Šotra (Бранко Шотра) (Photo 2), as well as Eljhami Nimani (Ељхами Нимани). However, upon their formation, they began to be aggressively pursued by well-armed Bulgarian Axis forces, causing the newly formed Partisan unit to disband. The unit soon reformed in March of 1943 with 20 fighters. After reorganizing, many of the troops in this unit labored in the chromium mines near the Albanian border, as chromium was a much needed mineral during the war to make the nickel-chromium steel for airplane engines. During their efforts in the mines, the unit was attacked by Italian forces who tipped off to their location by anti-communist locals. This attack resulted in many from the unit being killed and taken prisoner.
Photo 1: Members of the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit marching in Kosovo, 1942
Photo 2: Branko Šotra
Then, in May of 1943, the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit absorbed into their ranks the "Zenel Ajdini" and "Emin Duraku" Albanian Partisan detachments, and then a few months later, they also took in the "Boro Vukmirovic" and "Ramiz Sadiku" Partisan battalions, which all brought the unit's total number of fighters to over 220. From here, they engaged in numerous skirmishes with Axis troops, most notably in western Macedonia around the regions of Kičevo and Debraca. In October of 1943, about 50 members of the unit aided Albanian Partisan "ljumsku" Detachment in the defense of the present-day Albanian town of Peshkopi (Пешкопеје) against a take-over by the Axis collaborating Albanian Balli Kombëtar forces, who had surrounded the town with artillery. After 2 days of fighting, the Partisans were successful, driving all Balli Kombëtar out of Peshkopi. In September 1944, the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit came to an end when its soldiers were merged into various other Kosovo-Metohija Liberation Brigades. After the end of the war, 12 former members of the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit went on to be designated as National Heroes, while five others went on to become Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) generals. In addition, the unit's commander Branko Šotra, who was a notable artist before WWII, went on to become the first rector of the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade as well as the first secretary of the Federation of Fine Artists of Yugoslavia. He died in 1960.
In the early 1960s, government agencies and veteran's groups in the province of Kosovo organized the creation of a monument complex to commemorate the fighters of the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit. The complex was to be built in the Šar Mountains town of Brezovica, where many of the original members of the Partisan unit were from. The design proposal (Photo 3) put forward by Serbian sculptor Svetomira Arsić Basara (Светомир Арсић Басара) was chosen as the winning selection to be constructed, which was a notable choice by the selection committee due to the personal connection Arsić-Basara has to the area, as he is originally from the nearby village of Ševc (less than 4km west of the spomenik site). The monument park was opened to the public during an official unveiling ceremony in the fall of 1964. At the far north end of the park resides the primary monument element of the memorial, which consists of two thin curved walls (9m and 7m tall) closely surrounding a 7m tall abstract black steel sculpture. At the center of the park there is a circular stone-lined fountain, from which point stone-paved pathways lead to the park's entrance to the south and up to the monument to the north. Symmetrically located on the east and west sides of the park are small circular stone and concrete courtyards surrounded by decorative concrete circular benches.
Photo 3: Design concept by Svetomir Basara
Photo 4: Basara's work "Srbija Rusija Do Tokija" in Belgrade, 2019
After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and through the ensuing Kosovo War later in that decade, the spomenik park here at Brezovica began to fall into disrepair and neglect. While the vast majority of the park's elements are still relatively intact, many sit abandoned, destroyed and defaced. The primary monument is in reasonable shape, but is completely covered in graffiti, while the fountain has not worked in more than a decade. I have found no evidence or documentation that any sort of commemorative or remembrance events are held at this site any longer. A children's playground has recently been installed in the park, so the complex sees occasional visitors, but for the most part, it appears as though this site has lost its primary function of being utilized and honored as a war memorial.
Interestingly, this monument's creator, Svetomir Basara, showcased during a Belgrade gallery exhibition in 2019 a contemporary work of his, titled "Srbija Rusija Do Tokija" (Serbia, Russia, to Tokyo) (Photo 4) that bears an uncanny stylistic resemblance to this Brezovica monument. Perhaps this new sculpture was meant as a type of homage or inspiration to a work from his earlier creative period more than 50 years ago.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are several inscribed elements at the memorial site here at Brezovica. Firstly, just to the left of the primary monument element, there is a small concrete wall with two engraved metal plaques attached to it (Slides 1 - 3). The inscription on both plaques is the same, with the left one written in Serbian (Slide 2) and the right one written in Albanian (Slide 3). In English, these inscriptions read as:
These engraved metal plaques, and the concrete wall they are attached to, are covered in graffiti, while the wall is also significantly damaged. Meanwhile, while there may have been other plaques here in the past, they are all either stolen or destroyed at this point.
Not only is the engraving wall covered in graffiti, but nearly every part of every element of this memorial park is covered in some nature of graffiti or vandalism, most notably the park's central monument (Slides 4 - 6) and also the park's entrance (Slide 7). A great deal of this graffiti relates to Serbian nationalism, with a great number of spray-painted Serbian Crosses and references to Kosovo and the Republic of Srpska belonging to Serbia. Interestingly, in Slide 4 you can see a Christian Chi Rho symbol, with 'honor' written across the top in Serbian -- it is not immediately clear if this graffitied symbol bears some specific significance.
Upon first viewing the memorial sculpture at this commemorative park here in Brezovica, the symbolic message that the this artistic form is attempting to communicate, with its unique combination of concrete shapes and metal work, is not readily discernible. However, during a series of discussions I had in 2018 with the sculpture's creator and designer, Svetomir Basara, I was given great insight into the themes and ideas that he hoped to imbue within the monument. With his words translated here from Serbian into English, these are some of the ideas he presented:
"The Šar Mountains were a place which the Partisans were using as a hide-out. It was a safe place, like a shelter where they came to have a rest after fighting. So, this monument was built with the idea that [the sculpture's] two forms are two parts of the lungs (Photo 5) of the parent who is protecting its children, while the metal shapes inside act as a symbol for the revolution. So, it is like a parent holding its child close to its chest... the lungs are a symbol of fighting and freedom, similar to how a brave warrior would expose their chest to the enemy in defiance. While, at the same time, the lungs operate similarly as a protector of the revolution, just as when you love something dearly, you hold it tightly to your chest."
Photo 5: A diagram of the human lungs
Status and Condition:
The overall state of this WWII memorial complex here in Brezovica, Kosovo* is fair to poor. Firstly, various elements of this complex are either abandoned or destroyed, such as the fountain and the outer courtyards. The concrete of the central monument's structure and facade appears to be in good condition, however, its facade is completely vandalized by graffiti. Meanwhile, I found no directional or promotional signs leading visitors to this site, nor did I find any nature of educational or interpretive placards here to inform visitors to the site's cultural or historical significance. I found nothing mentioned about the monument on any of Brezovica's websites or social media pages. Furthermore, I found no honorific wreaths, candles or flowers left here, leading me to believe that few in the local community come to pay tribute to this memorial. In fact, the few people I encountered at this memorial park while I was there seemed to be visiting only to utilize the site's newly placed children's playground equipment.
In addition, my research was not able to find any reports, articles, information or documentation indicating whether commemorative or remembrance events still take place at this site -- and upon visiting the site several times, I found not evidence that such events had been taking place there. Furthermore, I found no indications whatsoever that there were any intentions or efforts planned to rehabilitate, refurbish or even remove the graffiti from this memorial. In fact, graffiti visible in photos of the monument from nearly 10 years ago was still faintly visible upon my visit in the spring of 2017. Admittedly, the site appears very marginalized and neglected, nearly to the point of being considered abandoned.
Additional Sites in the Brezovica Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater area of Brezovica which might be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will examine the Rakanovac Monument in Brezovica, as well as Hotel Narcis (also located in Brezovica).
Also in the village of Brezovica, Kosovo is another interesting WWII commemorative monument of significance related to the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit. Just east of the village along the main road (Hwy 115), there is a small modest monument made of stone and brick on the east side of the road (Photo 6). It looks as though it was built in the early 1950s, but as of yet, I have found no specific mention in my research as to its date of creation or its creator. This monument commemorates the execution of 46 people from this area on June 28th, 1944. The monument is often called the Monument at Rakanovac (Споменик на ракановац), but it is also often referred to as the Putnice Monument (Путниче Споменик).
Photo 6: A view of the Rakanovac monument at Brezovica
In June of 1944, the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit was holding a secret meeting in the area of Brezovica. A local Serbian who was collaborating with the Axis forces tipped off nearby Bulgarian Axis troops about the meeting, which allowed these occupiers to track down two of the Partisan Unit's members on their way to the meeting. During the Bulgarian's confrontation with these two Partisan rebels, one Bulgarian soldier was killed. As retribution for this one soldier's death, Bulgarian forces rounded up all of the local family members of the Šar Mountains Partisan Unit and took them prisoner. Then, on June 28th, 1944, Bulgarians executed these prisoners, who all amounted to 46 in all, 34 adults and 12 children.
From what I have been able to determine, the monument to this event here at Brezovica was created at some point around the late 1950s. Since its construction, an annual commemorative ceremony has been held here to honor the execution of these innocent civilians. Unfortunately, the monument was repeatedly vandalized and attacked over the years, leaving it in poor condition. Then, in 2010, the local chapter of the SUBNOR veterans group in Strpce rehabilitated the site. However, since then, it has continued to be targeted and attacked by vandals. Regardless, care and attention from the surrounding community have kept the site in good shape. The exact coordinates for the location of this monument are N42°13'39.0", E21°00'50.1".
Hotel Narcis in Brezovica:
Near the center of the village of Brezovica is a massive resort complex called "Hotel Narcis" (Хотел Нарцис). This massive hotel was opened in 1973 to service the huge ski tourism industry for the nearby Brezovica Ski Mountain, as this area was the most significant ski-hub in all of Yugoslavia during this era. This hotel is nestled high in this high mountain village among traditional homes and buildings, the huge size and modernist architectural styling of the hotel results in it dominating the landscape (Slides 1 - 3), while its bold 70's-era design features position it as a Yugoslav-style monument in its own right. This hotel was a major destination for tourists during its first few decades, however, as rising tensions between Kosovo and Serbia resulted in a war towards the end of the 1990s, tourist traffic to these mountains dried up almost instantly. KFOR military peacekeeping units utilized the hotel for a few years, but after the fighting stopped in the 2000s, the massive amounts of tourists seen before the war did not return.
Hotel Narcis in Brezovica - Slideshow
Since the 2000s, the hotel experienced some brief stints of re-opening, however, with tourism reduced to such a dramatic degree, the hotel has remained closed since around 2008 and has not opened to the public since. Meanwhile, ownership disputes between the Serbian company "Fund Inex" that currently own the hotel and the government of Kosovo (who seek to appropriate the building under its privatization laws) have complicated the hotel's future even further. In 2016, a French-Andorran company attempted to secure a 99 year lease for the hotel and ski resort to redevelop the property, but this bid ultimately fell through. Many sources report that complexities in regards to this site are a result of the region of Brezovica and Štrpce being an ethnic-Serb enclave, with many in the community fearing that a takeover of the hotel or ski resort by ethnic-Albanian owners could lead to further ethnic tensions in the small village. Meanwhile, despite the hotel presently being closed for accommodations, you can still enter the lower floors and explore the lobby area. Various interior photos of the hotel can be seen in Slides 4 - 9, while a historical image of the hotel can be seen in Slide 10. The exact coordinates for Hotel Narcis are N42°13'20.4", E21°00'09.7".
To get to the Brezovica monument site, from Hwy 2 at Doganovi, follow Hwy 115 west roughly 24km to the small village of Brezovica. As you pass through the village center, passing the famous Hotel Narcis, you will see the parking area for the spomenik complex on the left just as you are heading out of town (Photo 7). There is a paved parking pull-off surrounded by dry-built stone walls. From here, follow the stone paved stairs up the pathway to the monument site (Photo 8). If you are coming from Prizren, take Hwy 115 (Sheshi i Lidhjes road) east out of town into the mountains along the Bistrica River for 36km. As you are about to enter Brezovica, you'll see parking on the left. Exact coordinates for parking are N42°13'06.6", E20°59'46.3".
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Photo 7: Parking area along Hwy 115 in Brezovica, Kosovo
Photo 8: Entrance stairs for the Brezovica spomenik complex
All mentions of the designation "Kosovo" on this page are made without prejudice to the position on status, and is in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the International Court of Justice's Opinion of the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.
Selected Sources and More Information:
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