Name: Monument to Sava Kovačević (Uprising & Revolution Memorial Park)
Location: Umac Hill, Grahovo, Montenegro
Year completed: 1978
Designer(s): sculptor Miodrag Živković [profile page] & architect Ivan Vuščić
Coordinates: N42°39'03.3", E18°40'20.3"
Dimensions: 7m tall statue composition
Materials used: bronze casting on stone pedestal
Condition: Fair to good
This monument located at Grahovo, Montenegro is dedicated to Partisan military commander and war hero Sava Kovačević, who was born near this site 1905. In addition, this site also honors over 270 local Partisans who perished during WWII.
The Life of Sava Kovačević
On January 25th, 1905, Sava Kovačević was born in the small village of Nudo (about 30km west of Nikšić) in what was then the Principality of Montenegro. Born into a poor peasant family, Sava only received a modest amount of schooling before beginning a traditional life of agricultural work. However, despite coming from a family background dominated by pastoral work, many members of his family were very politically active. Sava's older brother Nikola, with whom he was very close, was fiercely against the royal Karađorđević family and advocated for the unification of the regions of Serbia and Montenegro. It was also through his brother that Sava was inspired to join the, at that time, illegal Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) at the age of 15. From here, Sava quickly rose up through the KPJ leadership through the 1920s and 30s, all as he jumped around the region working various jobs (such as Trepča Mines at Mitrovica and the "Vreme" newspaper in Belgrade), most of which he was fired from after his employers learned of his communist activities. In his revolutionary activities, he began operating under the code name "Mizara" as a way to protect him true identity.
Photo 1: A photo of Sava Kovačević in his Partisan uniform [source]
After being expelled from Belgrade in the early 1930s for his political activities, Sava returned to his home region around Nuda and Grahovo in Montenegro. Here he continued his political activities with the KPJ, as well as encouraging local workers to organize and strike. These continued defiant actions by Sava brought him to the attention of the authorities many times through the 1930s, for which he was arrested numerous times, but always subsequently released because of the police's lack of evidence against him. Through his persistence and unrelenting tenacity to continue speaking out against royalist regime, Kovačević became one of the most prominent KPJ political leaders in the Nikšić region of Montenegro. Then, as WWII began in 1941, which led to the collapse of the Karađorđević royalist government, the KPJ political community took control of the Grahovo region, with Sava Kovačević being one of the main leaders of this region's uprising. After hearing of the successful KPJ revolutionary activity occurring at Grahovo, KPJ Central Committee leader Josip Broz Tito sent his representative Milovan Đilas to help organize the uprising there. With Đilas' coordination, by July of 1941, Kovačević had organized the people of the Grahovo and Nikšić region into six companies of soldiers (collectively known as the Nikšić Partisan Detachment), over all of which Kovačević was the primary commander. On July 13th, 1941, Kovačević and his fighters waged a coordinated attack (along with other Partisan units across the region) against Axis forces stationed at Grahovo from a point on Umac Hill, an act which kicked off the armed Partisan uprising in Montenegro.
Through late 1941, Kovačević and his companies had numerous successful incursions against Axis occupying Italian forces against the region, during which they made great strides in pushing liberating numerous areas from Nikšić at the way to the Bay of Kotor from Italian control. As his companies began pushing into the Herzegovina region in early 1942, Kovačević was appointed as the Commander of the Provisional Operational Staff for Herzegovina. Then, just a few months later in June of 1942, when the Fifth Proletarian Montenegrin Strike Brigade was established, Kovačević again rose up in rank to take leadership of this significant Partisan command. From here, he led this brigade in battle at Prozor during the Battle of Neretva, making the crossing with Tito over the perilous bridge maneuver at Jablanica. After success during this battle, Kovačević was again promoted in June of 1943 to be the commander of the Third Strike Division, whose responsibility it was to protect the Main Operational Group (MOG), which included Tito and the heart of the Yugoslav Partisan Army leadership. The military leadership of Kovačević would become crucial as his division and the MOG were surrounded by Axis forces within the Zelengora Mountains in the summer of 1943. It was Kovačević and his division that helped lead the breakout of this Axis trap in what was known as the Battle of Sutjeska. However, in succeeding in his defense of the MOG, allowing for their safe escape out of the Axis encirclement during the Battle of Sutjeska, Kovačević was subsequently shot and killed by Nazi soldiers on June 13th along the slopes of Ozren Mountain, along side his father Blagoje and his brother Janko. He was buried near the site where he fell. Less than a month later, on July 6th, 1943, Sava Kovačević was proclaimed a National Hero of Yugoslavia, among the first national heroes to be named.
Photo 2: A photo of Sava Kovačević during WWII [source]
Photo 3: A photo of Ljubomir Tadić playing Sava Kovačević in the 1973 film "Battle of Sutjeska" [source]
During the era of socialist Yugoslavia, Kovačević became one of the most significant and popular Partisan folk heroes of the domestic legacy of WWII. Not only were both folk songs and modern songs dedicated to him, but, in addition, untold numbers of buildings, schools, parks, neighborhoods, city streets, military installations and factories were named after him. Furthermore, many monuments were constructed in his honor, such as at his place of death on Ozren Mountain and at an agricultural factory named after him in Vrbas. Furthermore, the house in which he was born in at Nudo was converted into a museum dedicated to his legacy (which still operates up to the present day). When the Yugoslav Partisan war film "Battle of Sutjeska" was released in 1973, the role of Kovačević was prominately played by Serbian actor Ljubomir Tadić (Photo 3). Even to the present day, Kovačević is a widely regarded and respected historical figure in numerous parts of the former Yugoslav region, with many still paying homage to him at the honorific sites which continue to be dedicated to his life and legacy. Finally, it is important to note that Sava's brother Nikola went on to survive WWII, subsequently becoming one of the most important and respected politicians in Montenegro after the war and serving as the head of state of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro from 1950 to 1953.
In the mid-1970s, a memorial project was initiated in Montenegro towards the goal of completing an expansive monument complex at the village of Grahovo upon Umac Hill, which was the spot where revolutionary fighter Sava Kovačević and his followers unleashed the first shots of uprising and resistance against occupying Axis forces in the region (which was part of a larger planned uprising at locations across Montenegro). The details of the realization of this project are not clear and little information is available about the process through which this monument was constructed or completed. Funded by local and regional governmental bodies (as well as by public contributions), it can be assumed that some nature of design competition was organized for determining the form that this monument would take (as was a customary logistical practice during this time period of Yugoslav monument building). The winning proposal put forward in this competition after a jury evaluated all submissions was a work put forward by Belgrade sculptor Miodrag Živković [profile page]. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any of Živković's early concept art for this project.
Photo 4: A vintage 1970s photo of the Monument Complex to Uprising & Revolution in Grahovo while it is in its last phases of construction. Credit: Archive of Miodrag Živković
Work on this project began in 1977, with the construction and realization of Živković's concept and plans put in the hands of architect Ivan Vuščić. Completed in little less than a year, the memorial complex at Grahovo was unveiled during a grand ceremony on July 13th, 1978, a date commemorating 37 years since the mass uprising of Montenegro Partisans during WWII. This monument complex that Živković created, which was officially titled "Memorial Park of Uprising & Revolution/Memorijalni park Ustanka i revolucije", covered an area of 7,500 sq m in size and consisted of several elements. The monument begins with an entrance located at the center of the town of Grahovo, which is presented as an open stone paved courtyard. On the edges of this courtyard are four bronze busts of local Yugoslav national heroes: Nikola Kovačević (Sava's brother), Luka M. Vujačić, Ilija S. Milović and Gojko L. Samardžić. From here a stone paved pathway leads to a set of stone terraces containing 276 concrete cubes, all arranged along the edge of the terraces in straight lines. Each cube is roughly 50cm in diameter and has upon its face inscribed the names of local people who perished during WWII. Of these inscribed names, 230 are the names of local Partisan fighters and 46 are the names of civilian victims of fascist terror. The pathway then leads up a series of stone steps to the top of Umac Hill. At the top of the hill is a plateau at the center of which is a large statue of Save Kovačević on a stone pedestal. Created by Miodrag Živković and standing on the pedestal 7m tall, the statue is a bronze work which is dominated by an abstract mass of shapes descending from the sky that gradually converges into more recognizable human forms, all culminating at the apex in the recognizable form of Kovačević. Characterized by his distinctive mustache and Partisan cap, the statue shows Kovačević stepping forward with his hands clasped thoughtfully behind his back.
From Yugoslav-era to Present-Day
As Sava Kovačević was one of the most significant folk heroes of Yugoslavia, this memorial site here at Grahovo, just a few kilometers away from his birthplace, was a notable pilgrimage location for tourists, schools groups and patriotic travelers during the Yugolsav-era. While official visitation figures of the complex are not readily available, its sheer size of the monument's layout testifies to the size of the crowds which were anticipated by its creators, both in the form of regular visitors and for large commemorative ceremonies. However, Just two years after the monument opening, the town of Grahovo was sharply affected by the devastating 1979 earthquake which struck Montenegro. Many homes in Grahovo were destroyed by the quake, with many still sitting in ruins up to the present day. As a result of this destruction, many people left the community to rebuild elsewhere. Furthermore, in the years after the dismantling of Yugoslavia began in the early 1990s, visitation to the Kovačević monument decreased even further and mass ceremonies ceased. Over the subsequent decades, the monument fell into a state of neglect and began to slowly deteriorate as a result of lack of maintenance and preservation.
Photo 5: A 2020 photo of the restored monument at Grahovo. [source]
Work towards repairing the damage at the monument finally began in 2019, as the Montenegro Ministry of Culture put forward considerable funds (nearly 100,000 euro) to restore and refurbish the site. This work, which was coordinated by Biljana Brajović of the Montenegro Center for Conservation & Archeology, was completed by the summer of 2020 and this progress was unveiled during a ceremony at the Uprising & Revolution Monument on July 13th, 2020 (Photo 5), marking the 79th anniversary since the start of the antifascist uprising here. A drone video showing the finished renovations can be watched at THIS YouTube link.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
The primary inscribed element at the Monument to Uprising & Revolution at Grahovo is located at the summit plateau adjacent to the Sava Kovačević statue. It consists of a white marble plaque installed at the top of the stairway leading up to the plateau (Slide 1). Translated into English, the panel reads as:
"Here, on July 13th, 1941, the national hero Sava "Mizara" Kovačević, with the Grahovo Partisans, fired the first shots at the occupier and disarmed a large enemy column."
Meanwhile, the second inscription at this monument site to mention is one located at the entrace courtyard of the complex which is made into a set of stacked concrete blocks (Slide 2). The inscription reads "Меморијални парк устанак и револуције" or in English "Memorial Park of Uprising & Revolution", which is the official name of the complex. Also at the entrance courtyard of the Grahovo memorial park is an inscribed stone block set into the ground that relates the creators of this site (Slide 3). It reads in English as: "Author of the Grahovo Memorial Park: Miodrag Živković, sculpture. Realized by: Ivan Vuščić". Finally, as noted above, the terrace courtyard at this monument at the base of the hill is covered by 276 concrete cubes that have upon them inscribed the names of the local fighters and victims who perished during the war (Slide 4).
Finally, in remarking upon the question of graffiti, at no point upon my most recent visit to the site did I observe any graffiti or spray paint vandalism nor any indications that it has been cleaned off or been a problem in the past. This is interesting to note, as the site has been in such a state of neglect and dereliction for so long up until recently. However, despite this, I found no evidence that graffiti at the Grahovo monument site has been a problem.
The first element of this memorial complex at Grahovo to examine for its symbolic qualities is the statue of Sava Kovačević by Miodrag Živković. Standing at the top of Umac Hill, it is composed of a bronze sculpture that is part figurative and part abstract in its expression. It depicts two indistict sculptural forms that seem to descend from the sky that proceed to morph into increasingly human-like forms that then merge and culminate into the figure of Kovačević. In examining the symbolism of this work, Slavica Stamatović-Vučković, a professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Montenegro, is quoted in an article as making the following observations:
"Stairs lead to the top of the hill, the highest part of the memorial park, to a smaller plateau than the ones below, over which is dominated by an imposing sculpture that symbolizes two Partisan columns in motion that merge into one led by Sava Kovacevic, as a leader. This outline of human bodies was created as a single mass of movement that symbolizes the unity and determination of the Partisans."
So, using this perspective as a starting point, the symbolism sculpture seems to be illustrating the amorphous components of the work as the people of Grahovo before the war, but as they are unified and brought together as Partisan fighters behind the cause of revolution and uprising, they take one more defined features, culminating in their commander Kovačević as the one who gave them meaning and leadership.
Photo 6: A photo of the concrete memorial cubes at the Grahovo memorial site
Meanwhile, the next element which contains obvious symbolism is the terraced courtyard containing the 276 concrete cubes bearing the names of local fallen fighters and civilian victims (Photo 6). However, while it is clear that some nature of meaning is being conveyed here, it is more ambiguous and more difficult to decipher. Why are the cubes arranged is such deliberate clusters and rows? What meaning does the cube have in operating as a commemorative device? As one source notes, "it is a symbol of stability and permanence, of geometric perfection. It represents the final stage of a cycle of immobility, it can be seen as the truth, because it looks the same from any perspective...", while another source states, "Esoterically, the cube is a symbol of the regenerated and perfected soul, living in a state of permanence". So, perhaps the reason that Živković chose the cube as a memorial marker for these fallen fighters and victims was its power to communicate a more universal and non-denominational sense of reverence and veneration, as opposed to using the traditional sorts of religious markers more commonly used to commemorate a fallen individual.
Status and Condition:
As mentioned in the above sections, the condition of the Grahovo memorial complex was in a poor condition and state of repair until its recent 2020 renovations. Before that point, the space saw little in the way of regular maintenance or preservation, while many elements of the complex had began to deteriorate. An initiative put forward by the Montenegro's Ministry of Culture in 2017 resulted in the restoration project to the Grahovo monument, with the work itself coordinated by Biljana Brajović of the Montenegro Center for Conservation & Archeology. Roughly 100,000 euros was spent on the project, which included refreshing broken stone elements, removing overgrown vegetation, cleaning debris and trash, renewing and chemical cleaning memorial plaques and markers, among other actions. Many young locals and people in the community took part in this restoration effort. The completed work was unveiled on July 13th, 2020.
Photo 7: Workers repairing the central memorial sculpture of the Grahovo monument [source]
However, despite these extensive improvements to the site, several significant components remain absent. Firstly, no promotional or directional signage along the main highway that goes through Grahovo alerts motorists to the monument's presence. In addition, at the site itself, no interpretive or informational placards are in place that might inform or educate visitors about the site's history or cultural heritage. Though, it is important to mention that the Grahovo site was included in a 2020 touristic and promotional booklet put out by the non-profit EXPEDITIO (supported by the Montenegro Ministry of Culture and written by Slavica Stamatović-Vučković) which highlights important WWII monument sites across the country. Another aspect of this site to remark on is that my research was unable to find any articles or reports mentioning the convening of remembrance or commemorative events being held at this monument in recent years. Furthermore, upon my most recent visit to the site, I found no residual signs of flowers, wreaths or candles left behind that might indicate that recent events were held here (though, they may be occurring but news documentation of them may be limited). Currently, the Grahovo memorial complex is protected under a designation by the Municipality of Nikšić and the Montenegro Administration for the Protection of Cultural Heritage as a "memorial plaque", which one news article remarks as being an "inadequate" status consideration the size and scope of the complex.
Additional & Related Sites:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Grahovo region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments, heritage or architecture of the former Yugoslavia. In addition, this section also examines sites which are related to the Sava Kovačević monument here at Grahovo. The sites examined here include the Sava Kovačević birth house in nearby Nudo, as well as the Sava Kovačević monument located at Sutjeska National Park in BiH which was also created by sculptor Miodrag Živković.
Sava Kovačević's Birthplace at Nudo:
Roughly 14km west of the town of Grahovo, nearly to the border of Bosnia, is situated the small village of Nudo. It is here where one can find the birthplace of Sava Kovačević (Photo 8). Built more than 110 years ago by his father Blagoje, this house was a crucial center for the resistance efforts and revolutionary activity the Kovačević family put forward both before and during WWII. During the Yugoslav-era, the house operated as a museum, which contained many artifacts and documents related to Sava and the rest of his family. However, after start of the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the house began to fall into disrepair over the subsequent decades. It was not until the mid 2010s that actions to restore and renovate the decaying Kovačević homestead were initiated by the Nikšić Association of Veterans of the People's Liberation Struggle. These renovations were completed in 2019 and inaugurated during a large ceremony. Today, the house is protected as a cultural asset.
Photo 8: A recent photo of the birthplace of and museum dedicated to Sava Kovačević [source]
The house is of a rough stone block and masonry construction with a red tile roof. After the 2019 renovation of the house, it now contains numerous exhibits related to the revolutionary exploits of the Kovačević family. In 1983, the Municipality of Nikšić installed a large black polished stone plaque on the front of the house to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Sava's death during the Battle of Sutjeska (seen in Photo 8 on the left hand side). Translated into English, the plaque reads as follows:
"Blessed is he who lives forever. He had something to be born for." -Njegoš
IN THIS HOUSE WERE BORN:
Nikola Kovačević: 1890-1964, member of the KPJ from 1920, Secretary of the [Provinvial Committe] of the KPJ of Montenegro, Boka, Sandžak, Kosovo & Metohija, member of the Central Committee of the KPJ & the League of Communists of Montenegro, hero of socialist work.
Sava Kovačević: 1905-1943, member of the KPJ from 1925, member of the Central Committe of the KPJ of Montenegro & Boka, commander of the Nikšić NOP detachment, the Operational Staff of Herzegovina, the 5th Montenegrin Proletariat Brigade and 3rd Strike Division of the NOV, member of the General Staff of Montenegro & Boka, and Supreme Staff of the NOV and POJ, legendary hero of the People's Liberation Struggle and the Socialist Revolution.
Three generations of Kovačević family grew up under this roof and fought and died together during the famous Battle of Sutjeska on July 13th, 1943: father Blagoje, born 1867, son Sava, both 1905, son Janko, born 1903, grandson Dragan, born 1929.
Lived and born in this house were holders of the "Partisan Monument of 1941" Award:
Ljubica "Špadijer" Kovačević: 1894-1976, member of the KPJ since 1934.
Ljubo Kovačević: 1910-1973, member of KPJ since 1932
Mitar "Mujo" Kovačević: 1916-1979, member of KPJ since 1941, national hero
In a sign of thanks and gratefulness on the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Sutjeska, this memorial plaque was installed.
-Republic Headquarters of the Socialist Republic of Montenegro, SUBNOR, the Municipality of Nikšić, July 13th, 1983.
Today, the house is in a completely restored state and it contains a museum that is available to be explored by tourists and visitors. The exact coordinates for the memorial house within the village of Nudo are 42°40'36.6"N, 18°34'16.4"E.
Sava Kovačević's Tomb at Sutjeska:
Interestingly, after completing the monument to Sava Kovačević here at Grahovo in 1978, Miodrag Živković went on to create eight years later in 1986 a memorial sculpture at the grave site of Kovačević at Sutjeska National Park near the settlement of Krekovi, BiH.
This monument that Živković created is much smaller in scale than his work at Grahovo, but it is just as significant being that it is located directly next to the final resting place of Kovačević. Živković's sculpture is composed of a white concrete pyramidal form that is indented with a series of geometric facets that cut across the entire body of the work. Its dramatic thrusting motion from the earth no doubt is symbolic for the gravitas cultivated by the heroic actions of this fallen fighter echoing through the generations. In addition, this sculpture acts as an interesting comparison to the Grahovo monument, which conversely appears to descend from the sky. This work stands in good condition up to the present day.
Photo 9: A vintage photo of the Kovačević memorial sculpture at his gravesite at Sutjeska. Credit: Miodrag Živković Archive
Photo 10: A vintage photo of the Kovačević gravesite at Sutjeska National Park in BiH
To learn more about this monument and gravesite, as well as the many other monument sites around Sutjeska National Park related to the 1943 Battle of Sutjeska, check out Spomenik Database profile page which explores this locations at THIS link. This site is still well visited and hosts regular annual ceremonies and commemorative events. The coordinates for parking for the Sava Kovačević gravesite complex are N43°21'03.4", E18°40'42.6".
Monument at Grahovo Dam:
Northwest of the town of Grahovo roughly 4km is a sizable dam, standing at 30m tall, which impounds the Grahovo River, thus making the 700m long Grahovo Lake in the steep dolomite canyon. Work on the dam began in 1952 and was completed ten years later in 1962.
In the middle of the top deck of the dam is a concrete memorial marked that was established in 1988 during a reconstruction project (Photo 11). Created by Nikšić sculptor Ljubo Vojvodić, the monument is composed of an arrangement of a circular form standing atop a gear-shaped pedestal (which is a similar style to much of the memorial work created by Vojvodić). A plaque set within the center of the monument's face relates that national hero Vasilije "Čile" Kovačević laid the foundation stone of the dam in 1952. Vasilije fought in WWII with the Grahovo Partisan Battalion, along side his relative Sava Kovačević. The exact coordinates for this monument are 42°40'08.0"N, 18°37'51.8"E.
Photo 11: A photo of the monument at Grahovo Dam.
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Monument to the Krivošije Uprising: About 10km south of Grahovo in the foothills of Orjen Mountain is a historic settlement called Crkvice. Established as a Austro-Hungarian military base in the 1850s, two forts were built here, Fort Kom and Fort Stražnik. It was from near that that local people of the Krivošije clan rose up in revolt against the Austro-Hungarian forces in 1969 when their government tried to force the Krivošije people into military conscription. The Krivošije fighters invariably defeated all of the Austro-Hungarian armies that were sent to defeat them. On the 100th anniversary of this conflict in 1969, a memorial sculpture was erected at Crkvice to commemorate the victory. The work consists of a Krivošije fighter holding a rifle and standing up tall in defiance (Photo 12). The sculptural composition was created by Kotor sculptor Luka Tomanović. It was not unusual during the Yugoslav-era for the government to erect monuments dedicated to pre-WWII popular uprising, as these events were often integrated into the Yugoslav revolutionary narrative of standing up against oppression. The exact coordinates for the memorial statue are 42°33'50.4"N, 18°37'52.7"E. In addition to the statue, the ruined remains of the settlement of Crkvice, Fort Kom and Fort Stražnik are all fascinating historical sites to explore.
Photo 12: A photo of the monument dedicated to the Krivošije Uprising.
Monument to the Battle of Grahovac: About 5km northwest of Grahovo is the small village of Grahovac. It was at this location that a large battle took place in April of 1858 between Montenegrin Grand Duke Mirko Petrović-Njegoš against an incursion by Ottoman forces. The conflict, which came to be known as the Battle of Grahovac, ended with a decisive victory for the Grand Duke, but at the cost of many lives. On the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2008, an traditional white stone obelisk was erected along the main highway near Grahovac to commemorate all those who perished in this conflict. Its exact coordinates are 42°41'17.6"N, 18°38'12.6"E.
The location of the Monument to Uprising and Revolution in Grahovo, Montenegro is located right in the center of the town of Grahovo on Umac Hill. Parking can be made anywhere along the street near the town's main shop. There is no fee for parking. From here, the entrance courtyard for the monument facility is located just across the street from the shop. Parking can be made at the following coordinates: 42°39'08.6"N, 18°40'19.4"E.
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Selected Sources and More Information:
-Serbian Wiki page: "Спомен-парк Устанка и Револуције (Грахово)"
-Serbian Wiki page: "Сава Ковачевић"
-Prostor magazine article: "Osvijetljen spomen park na Grahovu"
-Jadran Radio article: "Obnovljen spomen – park “Ustanka i revolucije” na Grahovu"
-Vijesti article: "Spomenik na Grahovu - jedna kolona i na čelu Sava"
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