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Kamenska

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to the Revolutionary Victory of the People of Slavonia (Spomenik pobjedi revolucije naroda Slavonije)

Location: On Blažuj Hill in Kamenska, Croatia

Year completed: 1968 (~8 years, planning + construction)

Designer: Vojin Bakić (profile page), with Josip & Silvana Seissel

Coordinates: N45°26'46.4" E17°28'36.4" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~30m tall monolith

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and stainless steel

Condition: Completely destroyed (1992), in ruins

(kah-MEN-skah)

Click on slideshow photos for description

 

History:

This spomenik at Kamenska commemorated the soldiers of the 6th Slavonian Corps, along with the civilian victims from the surrounding region of Slavonia, who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII).

 

World War II

In April of 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by Axis powers. The region of Slavonia was subsequently integrated into the Axis puppet-state named the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) which came as  a result of that invasion. Military control in the NDH was left to the authoritarian nationalist militia called the Ustaše. Under the authority of the Ustaše, any citizens or rebels who refused to adhere to this rule or occupation would be heavily oppressed, sometimes even executed, while ethnic-Serbs, Jews and Roma living in Slavonia were especially targeted for persecution and execution. Much of the terror waged against targeted groups was orchestrated by a Nazi collaborator named Milivoj Ašner, who was the Ustaše chief of the nearby town of Požega. According to testimony from many of his victims, he was responsible for a great many crimes against humanity during the war. For instance, not only was Ašner known for ordering the forced deportation and torturing of ethnic-Serbs across the Požega region, but also, on August 26th, 1941, he is said to have ordered the execution of over 400 Serbian civilians by firing squad. Ašner also purportedly ordered hundreds of Serb and Jewish civilians to be sent to the death camps at JasenovacĐakovo and Gospić.

Photo 1: A photo of several members of the 6th Slavonian Corps in 1943

Photo 2: Milivoj Ašner

In response to these persecutions and atrocities, many people across Slavonia, both ethnic-Serb and Croat, joined resistance movements to fight back against the growing oppression and to retake their country from Axis control and occupation. Through the spring of 1943, a great many Partisan units were established across Slavonia, such as the 6th Slavonian Corps (Photo 1) which was made up of the 40th and the 12th Slavonian Divisions -- units were mostly comprised of young men aged 18-20. By the summer of 1943, these Partisan groups has succeeded in the liberation of a great deal of the Požega Valley region, at which point they worked towards sabotaging and dismantling communication and transportation networks of the German and Ustaše occupiers and liberating additional Slavonian regions. Through 1944, Slavonian Partisans battled back and forth across the region with the German and Ustaše forces, losing and regaining ground. The occupation of Slavonia came to an end when the region was finally liberated by the 6th Slavonian Corps and the 3rd Yugoslav Army in April of 1945. During the course of the war, well over 2,000 Slavonian Partisan fighters were killed during occupation and liberation battles.

Meanwhile, after the war concluded in 1945, Požega Ustaše chief Milivoj Ašner (Photo 2) escaped prosecution by the Allies for his actions by fleeing to Austria, at which point he began to live under the alias 'Georg Aschner'. He lived in Austria in relative anonymity until he was discovered in 2004 by Nazi-hunting researcher Alen Budaj. Despite being indicted by Croatia in 2005 for crimes against humanity, Austria refused to extradite him, alleging his health and mental condition left him unfit for trial. He died in June of 2011 at a nursing home in Klagenfurt, Austria, never once appearing in court to be tried for the crimes he was charged with. Up until his death, Ašner was on the Interpol list for the most wanted Nazi collaborators still at large.

 

Spomenik Construction

In the late-1950s, plans were organized by the SUBNOR veterans groups and the Federation of Slavonian Fighters to create a expansive spomenik complex to commemorate the victims of the war on the slopes of Mt. Papuk in Slavonia, right near the town of Kamenska. The area of Mt. Papuk was chosen for the memorial because it was on this mountain that the 12th Slavonian Division was first formed in 1943, which was one of the most fierce and successful fighting divisions of the region. A design competition was held in 1960 to determine the shape and style of the monument, with over 25 entries being submitted to be judged by an respected panel of designers and politicians such as Joseph Vaništa and Ivan Sabolić. Many notable designers submitted entries, such as Dušan Džamonja and Stevan Luketić (Photo 3), but the eventual winner of the competition was famed Croatian designer Vojin Bakić (who would later go on to design other monuments at Petrova Gora and Dotrščina, amongst others).

Photo 3: Design proposals made by Dušan Džamonja (right) and Stevan Luketić (left)

Photo 4: "Foliated Forms" sculpture by Bakić (1957), located in Zagreb

The towering design Bakić proposed was ambitious and unusual. Inspired by several series of sculptural studies he made in 1957, most notably 'Little Bird, Wounded Bird' and 'Foliated Forms' (Razlistana forma) (Photo 4), the large and complex shape required years of research and testing to optimize its structural engineering. A small scale bronze-cast of the sculpture was taken to the Military Technical Institute in Žarkovo to quantify its optimal aerodynamic properties, as one would with an airplane, in order to determine how it would perform under high winds and violent weather. In addition, challenges were also faced finding contractors to build the structure, as something of its scale had never been attempted. Finally, the Zagreb contracting firm "Industromontaža" took up the challenge to construct the monument, aided by the Požega construction company "Pioneer". Actual construction began on the spomenik in 1966, with work taking roughly two years to complete and the efforts of over 150 workers. The landscape design for the monument complex was coordinated by husband and wife architect team Josip & Silvana Seissel, who Bakić had previously work with on his monument project at Dotrščina Park in Zagreb. The project was funded publicly through the collection of donations from citizens and organizations across 19 municipalities in Slavonia and Baranja.

The complex at Kamenska was finally unveiled to the public on November 9th, 1968, a date which commemorated the 25th anniversary of the creation of the 6th Slavonian Corps, which was all celebrated with a massive ceremony hosting thousands of people and inaugurated by Yugoslav President Josip TIto himself (along with his wife Jovanka) (Photo 5). The monument stood as a 30m tall shining monolith, resembling fluttering wings of glistening fabric, covered in 1,600 m² of stainless steel panels that were 2 to 3mm thick (purchased from Sweden and the Soviet Union), all set upon a wide black marble platform. At the time it was built, it was widely considered the largest modernist sculpture in the world. Also, pre-existing at this spomenik site in Kamenska was a memorial grave to Croatian military leader Nikola Demonje, commander of the 12th Slavonian Partisan Division, which was created at this spot at the wishes of the deceased before his passing. Demonje was killed at Blažuj Hill on September 6th, 1944 by gunfire while attempting to take out an Ustaše bunker during an attack on Axis forces in Požega. On June 19th, 1945, he was posthumously proclaimed a National Hero by the Yugoslav Assembly. One of the conditions laid out to Bakić in the construction of his memorial was that the Demonje memorial be left undisturbed.

Photo 5: Tito & his wife during the Kamenska memorial opening, 1968

 

Photo 6: Soldiers in front the wreckage of the Kamenska memorial, 1992

Yugoslav Wars

As the dismantling of Yugoslavia began in the early 1990s, the area of Slavonia around Kamenska was pulled into the conflicts of the Yugoslav Wars, with ethnic-Serb paramilitary groups fighting against the Croatian Yugoslav Army units during spouts of ethnic tensions in August of 1990s, often referred to as the 'Log Revolution'. A peace was negotiated between the parties at a meeting in Sarajevo in November of 1991, called the Vance Plan. Around that same time, Croatia became an independent nation, with the former Croatian National Guard under Yugoslavia re-designating itself as the Croatian Army in November of 1991. During the UN administered military withdraw of Croatian forces from fighting with the ethnic-Serb fighters in December of 1991, soldiers from the 123rd Požeška Brigade moved themselves into the region of Papuk Mountain. Several weeks later, in late Feburary 1992, it is alleged this Croatian army brigade made several attempts to destroy the Kamenska monument with explosives, with these efforts eventually being successful with their third attempt on February 21st (Photo 6).  Reportedly, its strong and resilient construction resulted in the initial bombing attempts failing until succsessive attacks created weaknesses within the structure.

In the initial aftermath of the monument's destruction, many local newspapers and reports falsely indicated that the structure was brought down as a result of excessive wind and weather, yet it is not known if such reports were simply misinformed or purposefully spreading misinformation. A few weeks after the structure was brought to the ground, art historian Zlatko Uzelac visited the site to evaluate the ruins (Photo 7). As some Croatian Army personnel were still occupying the site, Uzelac asked a young soldier Miljenko Crnjac why the monument had been destroyed... Crnjac reportedly responded saying, "It needed to be toppled". The destruction of the monument was especially devastating to the art community of Croatia, as many in this group felt that Bakić's sculpture here at Kamenska was one of the most important pieces of Croatian art of the 20th century.

Present-Day

Some years after the destruction of the spomenik, all remnants and ruins of it were cleared and removed by locals, as the stainless-steel it was made from was extremely valuable, with much of it reportedly being used to make pots and pans. While there has been talk for years about restoring the monument, to this day, no efforts have been made to rehabilitate the site or even to recognize it in any way whatsoever. This spomenik was one among many destroyed across Croatia during the wave of nationalism experienced in the early 1990s after Croatian independence. Currently, the site receives few visitors, while no directional signage points to it, as it lays mostly forgotten and abandoned. However, around 2010, members of some regional anti-fascist organizations did put forth effort to restore the Nikola Demonje memorial grave, which now plays host to annual commemorative events.

Photo 7: A photo of Zlatko Uzelac at the Kamenska site ruins, March, 1992

 
 

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

Originally, there were a great many inscribed memorial elements at the Kamenska site. However, being that every single element of the monument here was completely obliterated, damaged or stolen from the site during the destruction of the monument in 1992, none of the original engravings, inscriptions or plaques which were once present at the site exist any longer. However, historical photographic evidence reveals that the primary written memorial element at this complex was located on a huge black marble wall adjacent to the monument which bore a large metal raised lettering inscription. A photo of this inscription from the late 1960s can be seen in Slide 1. When translated from Croatian into English, this inscription reads as:

Slideshow

A memorial to the liberation of the homeland and the victory of the Socialist Revolution which symbolizes freedom and gratitude to the fallen in the liberation struggle and those in it who participated under the leadership of the Communist Party. Raised by the people of Slavonia.

However, in the aftermath of the destruction of this site in 1992, this whole inscribed wall was completely destroyed and dismantled by vandals. The current state of this wall can be seen in Slide 2.

 

Symbolism:

Included in the original write-up put out by the Federation for Slavonian Fighters which announced the design competition for the Kamenska spomenik, the document plainly stated the following requirements desired:

"...the monument should clearly reflect all the greatness of the struggle of the people of Slavonia with its ideological conception, to be representative, and to preserve with its idea a lasting memory of the struggle, heroism, sacrifice and the final victory of the people of this part of our homeland."

Photo 8: A view of the Kamenska memorial sculpture from the lower valley

To satisfy these demands, the artist whose design was ultimately chosen for Kamenska, Vojin Bakić, decided upon the a stylized depiction of the out-stretched wings of an eagle readied for flight as the symbolic which could satisfy these demands. While the 'eagle' representation is often meant to symbolize bravery and strength (which was certainly symbolic intention in part), the eagle is also a significant Serbian symbol, which could possibly be a secondary symbolic element to this spomenik. As the Kamenska monument is, in part, dedicated to the war-time deaths of ethnic-Serb civilians, this symbolism is certainly a distinct possibility. This inferred 'Serbian' symbolism aspect of the memorial may also explain why the nationalistically fueled Croatian Army may have interpreted it as such a detestable symbol fit for immediate destruction, especially as it was such a large and conspicuous structure visible across the entire valley (Photo 8).

The enormous size of the monument itself, standing at over 30m in height, was most certainly aimed to satisfy the demand that the monument be symbolic of grand victory and heroic struggle of the people of Slavonia. Some have even asserted that the shape of the monument was meant to be an overt reference to the Nike (the goddess of victory) as depicted in the Hellenistic sculpture "Winged Victory of Samothrace" from the 2nd century BC (Photo 9). Meanwhile, the reflective stainless-steel covering of the sculpture was designed to create for the viewer a complex visual sensation of light versus dark, with the gleaming light off of the 'wings' intended to signify the triumph of the 'purity of light' over the 'dark forces of fascism'. Always drawn to integrating the complexities of light into his sculptures, Bakić employed stainless-steel into a number of his spomenik projects across Yugoslavia (such as at Dotrščina, Petrova Gora, Kragujevac, etc), with the idea of 'the search for light' being his ultimate symbol for Yugoslavia itself... this new modern and utopian experiment of a country attempting to chart for itself a more hopeful and promising future.

Photo 9: Winged Victory of Samothrace

 

Status and Condition:

The memorial sculpture here at Kamenska is completely abandoned and destroyed, reportedly being dynamited into pieces by Croatian Army members in 1991. All ruins and remnants of the original monumental tower are gone, with the wreckage being scavenged for material by locals soon after the spomenik was destroyed. Through my research, I encountered several stories that many people used the stainless steel metal from the wreckage to craft pots and pans. All that remains at this site is the overgrown and deteriorating ruins of the stone-block platform the sculpture was once situated on (Photo 10). There are no markers or signs indicating the cultural or historical significance of this site, nor is the site promoted or advertised in any way by the local or regional municipality. There are no signs that any visitors come here and no indication that locals lay offerings or tributes to honor the victims the monument was meant to commemorate. However, some locals still conduct ceremonies at the memorial grave for Nikola Demonje which is located near the ruins of the monument, who is still honored regionally. Furthermore, there are no indications that locals continue to hold ceremonies or events at this ruined site. I am aware of no current plans or initiatives to rebuild or rehabilitate this complex or the sculpture itself.

Photo 10: The ruins of the platform at the Kamenska memorial, 2017

 

Additional Sites in the Kamenska Area:

This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Kamenska region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. This section will look specifically at sites in the nearby village of Kamenski Vučjak, which, from Kamenksa, can be reached by traveling roughly 7km northeast along the road to Voćin. Within this village are two significant Yugoslav-era memorial sites related to the WWII events which took place in this area. The first site explored here in a large mosaic wall, while the second is a small monument to the innocent victims killed in this area during the 1943 Battle of Šušnjari.

Mosaic Wall to the Battle of Šušnjari:

Along the road from from Kamenska to Voćin, as you approach the village of Kamenski Vučjak you will see on your right the turn off for the villages of Šušnjari and Kruševo. Oposite of this turn off you will see a large mosaic created in the hillside just off the side of the road. The GPS coordinates of the monument are N45°28'49.1", E17°31'18.0", while an interactive shot of it can be seen at Google StreetView HERE. To download a high resolution photograph of the mosaic wall, go to the Spomenik Database Flickr page to view the image.

Photo 11: View of the "Šušnjarska Bitka" mosaic around 1968

Photo 12: View of the "Šušnjarska Bitka" mosaic in 2017

This massive mosaic, roughly 12m x 7m in size (one of the largest in Croatia), was created by artist Edo Murtić. Its original condition upon construction can be seen in Photo 11, while its condition as of 2017 can be seen in Photo 12. The mosaic commemorates the Battle of Šušnjar (Šušnjarska Bitka), which was a decisive victory on April 16th, 1943 of the 12th Slavonian Partisan Division against the NDH Ustaše forces and effectively liberated the valley from Ustaše control. This victory acted as a major morale boost for the Partisan Army across Yugoslavia -- furthermore, it also acted as a strategic propaganda tool in helping to mobilize new recruits into the ever growing Partisan resistance movement in Slavonia, as it demonstrated the 'shabbily' outfitted Partisans could indeed defeat the much better trained and outfitted Axis forces. The complex was commemorated and officially opened to the public in November of 1968, at the same exact time as the main Bakić monument at Kamenska. The opening ceremony for the mosaic was also attended by President Josip Tito as well, just as the Kamenska monument was (Photo 13).

Photo 13: Tito attending opening of "Šušnjarska Bitka" mosaic, 1968

The mosaic, in its original form, depicted both armies readied for battle, with the Ustaše forces on the right, portrayed as monsters armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, while the Partisans were depicted on the left, portrayed as hero-like meagerly equipped soldiers, shown along side the dead and suffering victims of the Ustaše (Photo 12). In the middle of the mosaic, Murtić displayed the army maneuvers Partisans engaged in to defeat the Ustaše troops as they moved through the villages of Vučjak, Šušnjari, Mrkoplje and Kruševo. The location of the mosaic here just south of Kamenski Vučjak is directly within the historic conflict path of that battle. However, during the Croatian War of 1990s, the mosaic was heavily bombed and shelled, presumably by the same 123rd Požeška Brigade who reportedly destroyed the memorial sculpture at Kamenska. As of 2017, it continues to sit in the ruins it was left in after its destruction in the 1990s (Photo 6). While there are currently groups actively pursuing the restoration and rehabilitation of this mosaic, other groups vehemently oppose its restoration, such as the police association in Požega, claiming it is a monument to a "former criminal state."

Battle of Šušnjari Victims Memorial:

Just north of the village of Kamenski Vučjak (and at the east edge of the Papak Nature Park) there is located next to the entrance of the Leštat Hunting House (Lovačka kuća Leštat) a modest triangular stone carved monument honoring the innocent victims of the 1943 Battle of Šušnjari. This conflict consumed the region and many hundreds of innocent people perished in the process. This work was created in 1963 to commemorate the battle's 20th anniversary and was crafted by Croatian sculptor Zdenko Kolacio. The site exists in a reaonsable well maintained condition, however, the triangle monument does have a small amount of damage sustained to it. Annual commemorative events and ceremonies are still held here. The exact coordinates for the location of this memorial site are N45°29'48.8", E17°32'16.7". The front face of the monument is covered entirely by an engraved inscription, which reads as (when translated into English):

Photo 13: A contemporary view of the Šušnjari Battle Victims Memorial site [photo by 34 Portal media]

 

"Here are buried 320 people who were killed by the Ustaše and Germans on March 19th, 1943 near the village Vučjak during the 4th Enemy Offensive when these refugees were found sheltering here in the Papak region. The fascists killed the children, women and men, as well a young and old members of the People's Liberation Committees and participants of the People's Liberation Movement from the village of Slavonia Požega."

 

[List of victims names and villages]

"Among the killed were refugees from Kozara. May this monument always be a symbol of remembrance for our brave fighters and for the lives of the unarmed elderly and children who were killed by the cruel enemy. This monument was erected by the Alliance of Yugoslav Fighters."

 

Directions:

From Zagreb, take the E70 motorway east until you get to the Novska/Jasenovac exit. Take this exit, then turn left onto highway 47. Take this highway about 11km to Lipik. From Lipik, turn left onto highway E661 for about 3km until you get to Pakrac. From here, turn right onto highway 38. Follow this highway roughly 14km until you get to Mijači. Once you pass through Mijači, you'll see a small road on the left just before you reach the village of Kamenska. Turn onto this road and follow it up until you reach the end then park. The former platform site where the spomenik once was is a few meters west of the parking area. The exact coordinates for the parking area are N45°26'46.8", E17°28'39.0".

A map to the location of the monument at the spomenik complex in Kamenska, Croatia.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Slideshow

Comments:

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