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Brštica (Брштица)

Brief Details:

Name: 'Memorial Complex Stolice' (Меморијални комплекс столица) or "Memorial to the Uprising'

Location: Brštica, near Krupanj, Serbia

Year completed: 1981

Designer: Milun Stambolić

Coordinates: N44°24'12.3", E19°19'17.5" (click for map)

Dimensions: Arced monoliths ~6m tall

Materials used: Stone blocks and steel

Condition: Fair, neglected

(BEHR-shtee-tsah)

History:

The spomenik complex here at Brštica, Serbia commemorates the location where the military leadership of various contingents of the National Liberation movement convened on September 26th, 1941 for a council meeting where the group consolidated and unified under a single name, the Partisans, and a single banner, the five-pointed star.

World War II

After the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded and occupied by Axis forces in April of 1941, a wave of armed resistance efforts and violent uprisings erupted during the following summer of 1941. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), under the leadership of Josip Tito, worked towards inspiring rebellion and armed resistance among the people of occupied Yugoslavia, from which point the KJP organized these rebels into a People's Liberation Army (NOVJ), more commonly known as the 'Partisans'. However, the success, participation rates and sustained efforts of Partisan resistance movements were highly variable across the Yugoslav region, with some regions achieving great victories, while the rebellions efforts of other regions were minimal and quickly squashed by Axis powers. In addition, Josip Tito and the KPJ found it increasingly difficult to operate their 'Main Headquarters' command in Belgrade under the city's oppressive German occupation. In order to better unify and coordinate this National Liberation movement as a whole, Tito decided to relocate command operations in August of 1941 from Belgrade into the recently liberated territories of western Serbia.

The location Tito chose for the new KPJ headquarters was the small village of Brštica, roughly 6km northwest of the town of Krupanj. In Brštica, a command post was established in the old administration building for the Zajača mine, just at the Boranje mountain pass, with the adjacent worker barracks buildings used to house fighters and command staff. This whole military post complex there at Brštica was commonly referred to as 'Stolice' (STOH-lee-tsah). Then, on September 26th, 1941, Tito convened at Stolice a council meeting of National Liberation leaders from across the occupied Yugoslav region. In attendance at this council were representatives from not only the KPJ, but also from the provincial resistance commands of Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, as well as such notable figures as Ivo Lola Ribar and Rade Končar (Photo 1), who were later designated as National Heroes. Representatives of Montenegro's liberation movement were not present at this meeting because communications with that region were not possible at the time.

Photo 1: Ivo Lola Ribar (left) and Rade Končar (right)

Photo 2: The Partisan tri-color flag

At the Stolice council, discussions were made about military organization, fighting strategies and the potential of future collaborations with Draža Mihailović's Chetnik fighters, among other issues. However, the most notable decisions reached here were that all liberation fighters aligned with Tito's movement would refer to themselves as 'Partisans' and that the symbol/flag of this army would be the red five-pointed star on the tri-color background (Photo 2). Also, it was decided that Tito's top command post would be henceforth known as the 'Supreme Command', while a decree was also made that any citizens joining the Partisan movement would be made to recite the 'Partisan oath'. These meetings proved to be integral in the future strategic planning and success of National Liberation movement. However, within a few days of the meeting, German reconnaissance planes were increasing their surveillance of the area. Due to this increasing threat, by October of 1941, Tito had moved his Supreme Command to the mountain town of Užice, roughly 100km south of Brštica.

Spomenik Construction

The first efforts to recognize and memorialize the events which tool place at the Stolice complex began in 1954 with the construction of a bronze sculpture named "Partisan Courier", created by Serbian artist Stevan Bodnarov (Стеван Боднаров), which was installed directly in front of the Zajača mine building, where the council meetings were held (Photo 3). At the same time, the Zajača mine building was turned into a museum which was converted to host a wide array of displays related to the 1941 Partisan council meeting and the National Liberation War. Then, in 1976, a reconstruction effort was initiated for the four log-cabin style soldier barracks adjacent to the museum, all of which had been destroyed during WWII. Within these four newly reconstructed barracks buildings, a youth hostel, library, lecture hall and additional museum facilities were all created. Meanwhile, on the 40th anniversary of the Partisan council meeting in 1981, a bronze version of Croatian artist Antun Augustinčić's famous 'Marshal Tito' sculpture was installed at Stolice right in front of the museum (Photo 4).

Photo 3: The 'Partisan Courier' sculpture at Brštica, 1950s

Photo 4: The 'Tito' sculpture by Augustinčić

In addition, also unveiled during the 40th anniversary celebration here at Stolice were three sets of abstract arcing black granite and steel 'gate' sculptures were installed at the complex, created by artist Milun Stambolić. Two of the 'gate' sculptures are located at each of the two historic entrances to the site, while a third (and much larger) gate sculpture is located directly in front of the Zajača mine building and also includes a small fountain at its center. The individual black arcing elements of which these 'gates' formations are composed, standing roughly 6 to 7m tall and half-a-meter wide, each curve inwards towards each other ever so slightly and end at a sharp point. They are not made of solid stone, but are instead paneled with polished black stone squares as a facade.

Photo 5: Tito visiting with Serbian locals on his way to Stolice, 1949

Post-Yugoslav Era

In the era of Yugoslavia, the Stolice complex was an extremely popular destination for tourists exploring the country's culture and history, with the site even being regularly visited by Josip Tito himself during annual commemorative ceremonies (Photo 5). However, the site began to fall into disrepair and neglect in the early 1990s with the dismantling of the Yugoslav state and marginalization of Yugoslav heritage in the face of rising nationalism. During this early '90s decline, the museum facility in the Zajača mine building was closed and was subsequently looted by thieves, with all exhibits either stolen or destroyed. Also during this time period, both the 'Marshal Tito' and 'Partisan Courier' statues were destroyed and their remains tossed into a nearby ravine. Despite this destruction, the Stambolić 'gate' sculptures remain intact, possibly because they were too large and substantial to destroy. It is unknown who the perpetrators of this destruction was, as their identities were never discovered.

Present-Day

Currently, the site still sits in relative ruin and neglect. The Zajača mine museum building is completely derelict, exhibiting extreme decay (Photos 6 & 7), while none of the destroyed statues have been replaced or repaired. Yet, despite the dire state of many elements at the site, the Stambolić 'gate' sculptures remain in reasonable condition. I have found no indications or information that restoration efforts are planned or intended for this site, even though the memorial complex is under state protection as a historically and culturally significant property. Interestingly, the Stolice complex does play host to annual events associated with the local celebration of the Lazarus Saturday celebration, which is an Serbian Orthodox holiday held the day before Palm Sunday.

Photo 6: A photo of the museum at Stolice during the Yugoslav-era

Photo 7: A photo of the ruins of the museum at Stolice in 2018

Memorial Complex Stolice

The museum complex is dedicated to the events of WWII. It is 6km from Krupanj. The complex is under state protection as a cultural monument and is also a protected natural monument.

Plaques, Statues and Graffiti:

While all inscriptions or engravings original to the Stolice complex in Brštica are now gone, either removed or destroyed, there does exist a modern interpretive sign at the entrance to the complex. Next to the gate sculpture at the north entrance, there is a large new brown sign written in both the Serbian and English languages (Slide 1) which alerts passing tourists and visitors to the complex. The text on the sign reads as:

Slideshow

Originally, there was a modest engraved stone plaque which was attached to the front of the Zajača mine building, which had been converted into a small museum. A subtle glimpse of this plaque can be seen in Slide 2, just to the right of the building's main doorway. However, this plaque has since been removed from the building, most likely at some point during the 1990s. However, historical records relate that the inscription on this plaque once read as follows, translated here from Serbian into English:

"On September 26, 1941, in this house, under the leadership of comrade Tito, a military counseling of the General Staff of the National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments was held. The decision was made to further developments of the armed uprising of the people of Yugoslavia against the fascist occupier."

Photo 8: Photo of the "Partisan Courier" sculpture at Utrg, ME [photo source]

Meanwhile, there were originally two bronze memorial sculptures which existed at this site. The first one, built in 1954, was a sculpture named "Partisan Courier" and was created by Serbian artist Stevan Bodnarov. A photo from the 1970s showing the sculpture can be seen in Slide 3. Unfortunately, while this is the only photo I was able to find of the sculpture, it is not of a very high quality. For a higher quality photo of what this sculpture looked like, in Slide 4 you can see an identical incarnation of the same statue that currently exists at the Museum of Yugolsav History in Belgrade. Also, yet another incarnation of the Bodnarov "Partisan Courier" sculpture can be found in the small village of Utrg, Montenegro (Photo 8) at the birthplace of Svetozar Vukmanović (built in 1974). Meanwhile, in Slide 5, you can see all that remains of the location where this sculpture once stood. Finally, in Slide 6, you can faintly see the sculpture in a poor quality photo from the early 1990s visible between the arches of the central 'gate' monument. As for the second statue, which was a Marshal Tito' sculpture by Croatian artist Antun Augustinčić, I have not been able to find any photos of this sculpture as it existed or was situated at Stolice. However, in Slide 7, you can see an identical incarnation of the same statues as it currently exists at the Museum of Yugolsav History.

Old Museum (Zajača Building):

The central memorial element at the Stolice memorial complex here in Brštica is the old museum complex, which is housed in the old Zajača mine administration building. The building, which was built in 1938, was originally the main headquarters for the Zajača ore mine at Stolice. However, it was abandoned with the breakout of WWII. Tito and his Partisan fighters took over the building in the autum of 1941, turning it into their main command facility. It was in this building that on September 26th, 1941, a meeting of National Liberation representatives from across the Yugoslav region met for a major council meeting. After the war, the small building was converted into a military museum about Tito and the Liberation War, however it was looted then abandoned during the 1990s. Today, as can be seen in Slides 1 -7, the building's interior and exterior sit largely derelict and in extremely poor condition.

Old Museum - Slideshow

Symbolism:

According to writer Gojko Jokić, these sculptures symbolize the commencement of Tito's command over the newly liberated territories of western Serbia during WWII. While Jokić is ambiguous in his writings as far as the specifics of his interpretation of these sculpture's symbolism, I think the symbolism here might be taken even further. At the central memorial sculpture, you have six curving stone block and steel arcs all subtly converging, yet not touching. Meanwhile, underneath them is a smaller fully connected arch. My interpretation would be that each of the six larger curves represent the six Yugoslav regions of the time-period, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia, while their curving towards one another symbolizes the cooperation and unity achieved here during the 1941 council meeting. Finally, the smaller completed arch in the center, I believe, represents the Communist Party, or perhaps Tito himself, facilitating and completing that unity.

Status and Condition:

Upon my most recent visit to the Stolice spomenik complex in spring of 2017, I found the site to be in an overall poor and neglected state. Firstly, it does not seem that any regular landscaping or grounds maintenance occurs here, as much of the grass and vegetation at the sites seem overgrown and unkempt. Meanwhile, not only have the two bronze statues destroyed here during the 1990s not yet been replaced or repaired, the Zajača mine building, which once housed a collection of exhibits related to the site's 1941 Partisan council meeting, remains derelict and abandoned. I am aware of no plans on any level to restore or rehabilitate these degraded and destroyed elements of the memorial. However, the three Milun Stambolić 'gate' sculptures still remain in relatively intact and in fair condition, even despite the site's neglect. Meanwhile, a large and well maintained multi-language tourist sign is situated at the spomenik complex's main entrance (Gate 1) along the main highway, a feature which makes the complex highly visible to passing tourists and visitors. However, no other plaques, inscriptions or interpretive signs exist anywhere at the site which might communicate further information about the memorial's cultural or historical significance.

Photo 9: Lazarus Saturday events at Stolice, 2015

When I visited Stolice in the spring of 2017, I saw no other visitors or tourists here, while I also saw no evidence of any honorific wreaths, flowers or candles left anywhere around any of the monument elements. However, the Stolice complex does play host to annual events associated with the local celebration of the Lazarus Saturday celebration (Photo 9), which is an Serbian Orthodox holiday held the day before Palm Sunday (which is generally in April). During these celebrations at Stolice, which are largely attended by children and other youth, a stage is set up in front of the old museum where there is folk dancing, pageantry, singing and other sorts of festive events. Yet, outside of these celebrations, there is little indication that the site is regularly honored or commemorated in any official capacity. However, Krupanj's local Tourist Organization does have a section on their website (written in English) which promotes the Stolice Complex as a touristic attraction, so, it is clear that local efforts are being made to promote and raise awareness about the memorial.

Additional Sites in the Brštica Area:

This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Brštica area that could be interesting to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslav region. Here we will examine in the "Politika" House of Culture in Krupanj, as well as the Monument at Mačkov Kamen.

The "Politika" House of Culture:

Roughly 6km southeast of the Stolice Memorial Complex you will find the small town of Krupanj. A few hundred meters south of the Krupanj's town center is the Dom Kulture "Politika" (The "Politika" House of Culture). Built in 1982, this large modernist complex was given as a gift to Krupanj on behalf of the surviving family of Vladislav Ribnikar, who founded the famous Serbian newspaper "Politika" and who perished during WWI near Krupanj at Mačkov Kamen. The building itself was created by notable architect Ivan Antić, designer of some of the most distinct buildings in Serbia. The building is very 'sculptural' in quality, resembling, as one source puts it, a "ship anchored between two hills". During the Yugoslav-era, the complex acted as a library for cultural learning, a community theatre and as a youth center. It continues to operate to this day in a similar respect. The exact coordinates for the site are N44°21'50.2", E19°21'46.7".

Dom Kulture 'Politika' - Slideshow

The Monument at Mačkov Kamen:

Roughly 6km south, as the crow flies, from the Stolice Memorial Complex, but about 17km driving on mountain roads, you will find the mountain of Jagodnja. On top of this mountain is the Mačkov Kamen (Tomcat's Stone) monument, which is a 8m tall stone blocl crypt which contains a small sanctuary and bell tower on its top. The crypt holds the remains of several hundred fallen Serbian fighters who perished during the WWI Battle of Mačkov Kamen that occurred in September of 1914 and was found against the Austro-Hungarian Army. The battle took place not far from the location of the monument, with it often being described as one of the bloodiest battles for Serbian forces during WWI. The creation of the monument was completed in 1932, designed by architect Momir Korunović and artist Šime Franović. The monument is in very good condition and regularly hosts annual commemorative events, while its exact coordinates are N44°19'43.9", E19°17'34.8".

Monument at Mačkov Kamen - Slideshow

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Soko Grad: Roughly 20km SE of Krupanj is the site of the ancient fortress of Soko Grad. This cultural site, which is now the Orthodox Monastery of St. Nicholas, contains a museum, medieval church, amazing views and stunning scenery. More information about the site can be found at the official Krupanj Tourist Organization website, while the exact coordinates for the location are N44°16'03.0", E19°25'33.7".

  • Dobri Potok Church: About 1km north of Krupanj is a beautiful medieval wooden church complex called Dobri Potok (Good Creek) Church (Photo 10). Founded in the 1500s, the picturesque traditional architecture of this church complex makes this site a place of great cultural significance. More information about the site can be found at the official Krupanj Tourist Organization website, while the exact coordinates for the location are N44°22'20.2", E19°22'24.2".

Photo 10: Etno-village & church at Dobri Potok

Directions:

Reaching the Stolice Memorial complex is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, from the town of Krupanj, head north out of town towards the village of Brštica, following Road 139. Drive about 6km along this road, which will take you through most of the village of Brštica. Just as you are leaving the village, on the left hand side of the road you will see the curved stone arcs of the spomenik entrance. Park here at the entrance (as the road may be grown over) and from here, walking the rest of the way to the spomenik is just about a hundred meters away. The exact coordinates for parking are N44°24'14.0", E19°19'22.0".

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Slideshow

Comments:

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