View of the mosaic on the inner side of south wall and courtyard, with the amphitheatre in the foreground, at the "Freedom monument" WWII spomenik complex in Kočani, Macedonia.
Detailed view of the upper mosaic on the inner side of south wall and courtyard, at the "Freedom monument" WWII spomenik complex in Kočani, Macedonia.
Entrance stairs leading up to the "Freedom monument" WWII spomenik complex in Kočani, Macedonia.
View of the mosaic on the inner side of south wall and courtyard, with the amphitheatre in the foreground, at the "Freedom monument" WWII spomenik complex in Kočani, Macedonia.
Name: Freedom Monument (Споменик на слободата)
Location: Lokubija Hill in Kočani, Macedonia
Year completed: 1977 (two years to build), official unveiling in 1981
Designer(s): Gligor Čemerski (глигор чемерски) [profile page] & Radovan Radjenovic (Радован Раѓеновиќ)
Coordinates: N41°55'07.9", E22°24'25.4" (click for map)
Dimensions: 335 square meter mosaic on concrete walls
Materials used: Concrete, rebar, mosaic tiles
Condition: Poor, neglected
This spomenik complex here at Kočani, Macedonia commemorates the historical struggles of the Macedonian people from the Ilinden Uprising up to the events of WWII.
The first historical event this monument memorializes, the Ilinden Uprising, was an uprising of Macedonian IMARO rebels initiated against Ottoman rule on August 2nd, 1903. During this time, resistance fighters across Macedonia proclaimed their territory to be a freshly liberated land to be called the Kruševo Republic (Photo 1), under the leadership of then school-teacher Nikola Karev. As Karev intended this rebellion to spread across all of the region, he split Macedonia up into seven 'rebel districts', with Kočani being included in the 6th District. However, despite intense fights being waged by rebels around Kočani, the region was never fully liberated during this time. These separatist territories lasted less than two weeks before they were suppressed and retaken by 176,000 Turk soldiers and put back under Ottoman control, with nearly 9,000 people being executed at the hands of the Turks. Yet invariably this event became a destabilizing factor contributing towards the fall of Ottoman rule, and the subsequent Macedonian independence. In modern times, this short-lived separatist movement of Ilinden is deeply mythologized as a facet of Macedonia's historical struggle for independence and self-governance.
Photo 1: Flag flown by the Ilinden rebels, 1903
Photo 2: Celebrations in Kočani after liberation , 1944
World War II
On April 6th, 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded and dismantled by Axis forces. Upon reaching the region of Kočani by the end of that same month, the region was integrated into Bulgarian territory and a brutal occupation was then waged against the people of the region by the Bulgarian 5th Army. By October of 1941, armed resistance movements in Kočani and across Macedonia began to be organized by communist resistance groups known as 'Partisans'. Initially, the military success was slow and arduous during those first few years for Macedonian Partisan detachments, especially as Bulgarian forces were particularly vicious and unrelenting in their fights against the rebels. However, as Italy capitulated in 1943, which was followed by Bulgaria re-aligning themselves with the Allies in 1944, success for the Partisans against the remaining Germans dramatically increased. Kočani was first liberated from the occupying German Wehrmacht forces by the 4th Macedonian Partisan Brigade on September 7th, 1944, but just three days later the Germans had retaken the city. A six-week long battle then ensued between the Partisans and Germans, which ultimately ended with a Partisan victory, as the Germans were driven out for good on October 22nd, 1944 by the 14th Macedonian Partisan Brigade (Photo 2). By the end, hundreds of people from Kočani had been killed and the city was left in ashes and ruin.
In the mid-1970s, the Assembly of the city of Kočani, with assistance from the Yugoslav government, began to organize plans for the construction of a commemorative spomenik complex overlooking the city on Lokubija Hill (524m above sea level) which would honor the historical struggles of the people of Kočani, and all Macedonians, which transpired during the first half of the 20th century. Funds to complete this project were collected directly from the people of Kočani, an amount which today would equal roughly 1.5 million euros. A design competition was held to decide who the creators would be for the spomenik complex, with first prize eventually being award to the concept proposed by a design team composed of Macedonian artist Gligor Čemerski [profile page] and architect Radovan Rađenović. Some of the concept art which the team created can be seen in Photo 3. Records indicate that the construction on the project began around 1975 (Photos 4 & 5), while work was completed in 1977. An excellent 1981 documentary about Čemerski working to construct the mosaic of this monument can be found on YouTube at THIS link.
Photo 3: Part of Gligor Čemerski's concept art for the Kočani monument [source]
Photo 4: A view of the Kočani monument under construction [source]
Photo 5: A view of the Kočani monument under construction [source]
While the construction work for the monument was completed around 1977 (Photo 6), costing roughly what would be today about 1.5 million euros, a sum that came largely from community donations. The official public unveiling of the complex, which was given the name "Freedom Monument" (Споменик на слободата), was November 28th, 1981, a date chosen as it was exactly one day before the national anniversary of the forming of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The occasion was marked by a grand commemorative ceremony attended by thousands of Yugoslav citizens and politicians from across Macedonia. The primary element of the spomenik consists of a series of irregularly-shaped concrete walls, designed by Radovan Radjenovic, converging around a central amphitheatre. Then, on these walls, artist Gligor Čemerski created a massive set of mosaic designs depicting the historic struggles of the Macedonian people over the course of the first half of the 20th century. Altogether, the mosaic covers over 330 square meters, making it one of the largest in all of Macedonia.
Photo 6: Photo of Gligor Čemerski (left) just after the monument's completion
During the Yugoslav-era, the Monument to Freedom site was not only a very significant historical site for commemorative events and remembrance ceremonies, but it was also a site of social gatherings for young people and for community activities. For the "Spomenik na Slobodata" Story Project, a young girl named Lilika Strezoska described her time at the monument in the following way (with her comments translated here into English):
"First to the monument, then afterwards we will go do that" is the most common phrase of my time spent in Kočani. Every city has a place where people gather to socialize. In the city where I grew up, Kočani has an inspirational place, the Monument to Freedom, where we often spend the summer nights. It was our favorite destination before and after going out."
End of Yugoslav-era to Present-Day
Since the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the independence of Macedonia during the 1990s, the memorial complex here at Kočani has fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect. Over time, many elements of the monument have been damaged, while significant parts of the walls are covered in graffiti and large chunks of the mosaic had fallen off or been removed (Photo 7). As a result, a significant restoration effort was made by the Kočani municipality in 2004.
Photo 7: An extremely damaged section of the Kočani monument before the 2004 rehab project [source]
This 2004 project involved the artist Čemerski himself overseeing the large responsibility in coordinating the restoration. Čemerski, along with a team of local artists and artisans (Photo 8), took the detached chunks and reassembled them in his studio, then brought them back to the monument to be re-attached. However, since then, the condition of the complex continues to decline and face neglect. In 2015, a group attempted to organize efforts to restore and rehabilitate the spomenik complex here at Kočani, but they failed to raise the needed funds. In 2017, renewed efforts to reclaim the site began, with various small festivals and concerts being held at the complex's amphitheatre, with activists voicing desires to restore and rehabilitate the monument. However, as of 2018, many cultural (and even political) events have begun to be held at the site again, while the Municipality of Kočani has applied for a large grant from the World Bank for a total restoration of the site.
Photo 8: A photo of the team of people who worked on the Kočani monument during its 2004 rehab project, with Gligor Čemerski seen all the way to the right in the black shirt [source]
Finally, it is important to mention that in 2019, Elena Čemerska, the daughter of Gligor, released a book regarding her father's monument here at Kočani which is titled "Spomenik na slobodata – razgovornik" (Monument to Freedom - Conversations). Not only does this book contain archival information and rare photos related to the monument, but it contains as its main focus a series of interviews conducted with various local people about how the monument has touched their lives. The book project was supported by the Ministry of Culture of North Macedonia, as well as the Municipality of Kočani. A video interview with Elena talking about this project can be found at THIS YouTube link. More information about the book can be found at THIS link. Elena also operates a web-based version of this same "Monument to Freedom" conversations project at a website located at THIS link and, also, in 2019, she released a short documentary about the Freedom Monument in Kočani titled "Fatherland: A Monument to Freedom", which can be watched in full at THIS link.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
While a number of inscribed and engraved elements once existed at the complex here at Kočani, most are now missing. Firstly, the walls on the northeast and southeast corners of the monument had large raised letter poetic inscriptions attached to them. However, these inscriptions were removed by vandals in the years after the Yugoslav-era, but I have found an existing image of the southeast inscription, visible in Slide 1. It depicts a 1903 quote by famous Macedonian revolutionary Goce Delčev, which roughly translates into English as:
"To attain freedom, we need to be righteous by day as well as by night. And we will either achieve this or we will die." -Goce
Meanwhile, a pair of sizable bronze reliefs were once installed on walls at both of the front entrances to the complex (Slides 2 - 4). Both of the sculptural reliefs depicted a mythical phoenix bird in flight soaring upward with its wings spread wide. A close-up Yugoslav-era image seen in Slide 5 reveals that these bronze bird reliefs also had inscribed upon them the names of local fighters who perished during WWII. Also, early photographs show these reliefs were not included in the original design of this complex, but were added during some period later, most likely in the early 1980s. However, at some point during the 2000s, these engraved sculptures were removed and/or stolen (Slide 6), more than likely scrapped for their value metal. As far as I have seen, there are no other reliefs, inscriptions, plaques or engravings at this monument site. There may have been at one time, but if so, they are now gone, more than likely suffering the same fate as the above bronze sculpture.
Finally, this spomenik site is rife with graffiti, covering many aspects and elements of the mosaic amphitheatre. Much of it is of a nationalistic nature, including many white-power symbols and swastikas. Meager attempts have been made to paint over it by the municipality, however, many are still plainly visible, as seen in Slides 7 - 9.
The way in which the spomenik complex here at Kočani situated, perched atop a hill with its array of irregular concrete panel walls around a central amphitheatre, very much seems to mimic the remains of a ruinous fortress or maybe even the remnants of a mystical castle or temple. Its audacious and innovative design is imposing and demanding upon the landscape. Understanding the structure in this may leads one to think that these forceful and conspicuous qualities may be an attempt by its architectural designer, Radovan Rađenović, to be a mirror for the ancient Roman ruins found around Kočani on Lokubija Hill, where this spomenik is located. Even further, in a 2018 article in PopUp magazine, the monument is described as having a deeper aspect to it where you can "experience the space as a kind of trans-dimensional Acropolis, where one can simultaneously be beyond time, yet deeply present... feeling sensitive and aware of one's surroundings." When speaking of the intentions behind his design of the complex, Gligor Čemerski stated:
"[I wished] to create a new kind of temple, one which will establish a new ritual that our time would accept, a temple in which there is no cherishing a fake piety, contrary to our present perceptions of life."
... so, in other words, Čemerski is saying that him and Rađenović were attempting to create some nature of 'temple' for the common man, apart from the falseness and pretension of previous types of spiritual hierarchies, where they can actively commune and engage with their own histories and stories in a ritualistic and methodical way. Čemerski's temple thus becomes an open-air space for transcendence and reflection, a place which can act as a repository (or wellspring) for a national mythos and legend of historical existence. The vast amphitheatre at the center of the memorial subsequently acts as a center of 'worship', open and accessible to all people, surrounded by light and the green Macedonian hills. This sort of concept seems to be the goal which Čemerski was pursuing.
Meanwhile, in a 2020 interview with Elena Čemerska, the daughter of Gligor, she speaks about the symbolism of her father's Monument to Freedom in the following terms:
"...being in that place offers an immediate experience that can only be connected with light, or with the sun, or with the geographic location. And the experience gathered in that place has a quality of liberation, which is an important part, I think, from the artistic and architectural message of that place. And that is connected to the ideal of doing something together, that could mean cultivating something collectively... and that is what's notable about the monument, that it is connected to freedom, but connected to love and generosity as well, so to say.
To create the atmosphere for Rađenović's 'temple' structure, Čemerski created a massive array of nine distinct mosaic friezes, covering over 330 square meters, to tell the story of the history of revolution in Macedonia during the 20th century. Each mosaic depicts a particular tale within the greater progression of that journey. We will now look at each mosaic frieze in detail, exploring the historical meaning they are relating and what symbolic significance Čemerski may have hoped to impart. Most of the artistic interpretations of these mosaics are ideas I sourced from a series of articles from 2003 by Kočani art historian Meri Arsova.
Mosiaic 1: Lady of Victory
In Mosaic 1, entitled the 'Lady of Victory', we see a female form who is being presented as a divine embodiment of eternal freedom. This mosaic is located on top of the primary wall at the center of the complex. The 'Lady of Victory' is depicted bare-breasted, flying through the air while grasping on to two fluttering red and blue ribbons, with Meri Arsova suggesting similarities to the mysterious Minoan snake goddess (Photo 9a), who was always depicted bare-breasted and holding snakes in both hands. The scene here is vivid and dramatic, imparting great optimism and exuberance, especially as this the largest and most dominant character found at the site. Arsova also asserts that this form could be a depiction of the protective persona of the Oratna ('The Most Holy Mother of God' from Eastern Orthodox iconography), who is also often depicted draped in red and blue fabrics. Meanwhile, it is important to point out that this mosaic is mirrored on its reverse side, perhaps symbolizing that the goddess is an ever-present force watching over Macedonia at all times. To view a high-resolution version of this photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Photo 9a: Minoan snake goddess
Photo 9b: A view of the MANU mural in Skopje created by Čemerski in 1976. Credit: MANU.edu.mk
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Čemerski used the "Lady Victory" motif in almost the exact same application on yet another work which he completed at the same exact time as while he was work on the Freedom Monument here at Kočani. In 1975, Čemerski was asked by the Macedonian Institute for Sciences & Arts (MANU) in Skopje (which was under construction at the time) if he could make for them a large painted mural as the centerpiece of their central atrium. Čemerski obliged, using many of the same visual elements from the Freedom Monument he was already working on in this new mural for MANU. Most noticeably, the Lady Victory image is used as the central focal point for the MANU mural in the same way that it is here at Kočani. He completed the mural in 1976 (Photo 9b). You can read more about the MANU building, as well as many other modernist buildings created during Skopje's reconstruction after its 1963 earthquake, at my article about at subject at THIS link.
Mosiaic 2: Freedom
Photo 10: Tetova Menada figurine
In Mosaic 2, which is located underneath the 'Lady of Victory' frieze on the south-facing side of the central wall, you find a large group of characters stretched across a long curving wall, which most certainly the largest mosaic at the site. Titled 'Freedom', the actions of the mosaic starts to the left end of it, where you see a woman dressed in green, raising her arms in glee, as she stomps on an anguishing demon, who is reaching out pleading with her to stop. This character symbolizes the casting evil out of this new world of 'freedom'. Then, as the scene moves to the right, you see a parade of dancing figures in Aztec-like masks playing instruments and cheering with smiling faces as they celebrate their freedom, all wearing colorful traditional Macedonian costumes. To the far right of the mosaic, you see a graceful woman dancing in a flowing blue dress leading this festive procession. She is depicted in a graceful pose, which Meri Arsova points out is very reminiscent of the famous Macedonian Tetova Menada figurine (Photo 10) from the 6th century BC. In addition, Arsova also suggests that this dancer's elaborate blue dress is almost like that of the Byzantine angels in frescoes at the Church of St. George in Kurbinovo, Macedonia. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Mosiaic 3: The Great Resistance - Ilinden
In Mosaic 3, which is located on the outer west-facing wall, you find a depiction of the 1903 resistance struggle known as the 'Ilinden Uprising', where the local people of the region battled against the occupying Ottoman Turks. The scene of this mosaic frieze, which is titled 'The Great Resistance - Ilinden', begins on the far-left side, where we see a view of the city of Kruševo, which was the heart of the uprising. To the right of the town, you see a group of vibrant resistance fighters armed as they march to war with their meager weapons. Behind these fighters you can see the group's red banner bearing their motto partially obscured, "Give me death or give me freedom", also seen in Photo 1. Then, as you move to the middle of the scene, you find a black demon-like creature meant to be an embodiment of Ottoman aggression. This creature is violently spewing out body parts (heads, arms, torsos...) as a symbol for what many describe as the brutal Ottoman suppression of the Ilinden resistance fighters.
To the right of this you see a standing skeleton, which is perhaps another symbol for the death sown by the Ottomans, who is standing over a man being crucified on a cross upside-down. This image represents the persecution of Christians by the Muslim Ottomans during the their suppression of the Ilinden rebellion, while also potentially acting as a reference to Saint Peter, who was also said to have been executed on an inverted crucifix (Photo 11). In the final scene to the far right, you see three Ottoman soldiers in uniform wearing their characteristic red fez hats with very demonic looking faces. In their hands they hold three severed heads, which represents the final defeat of the rebel uprising while also being another allusion to killings perpetrated by Ottomans during this time period. Interestingly, the neon-green color in this image seems to be overtly used to illustrate death and destruction, as the color here is used to highlight not only the flying creature and the Ottoman soldiers, but also the crucified Christian, who seems to have the deathly color fed into him by the observing skeleton figure. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Photo 11: Crucifixion of St. Peter, Reni, 1604
Mosiaic 4: Resistance - Revolution
In Mosaic 4, located on the east-facing outer wall of the complex, you see a graphic depiction of a battle scene from the National Liberation War (aka WWII). At the center of this scene, which is entitled 'Resistance - Revolution', you see the clashing of the two opposing forces, the Partisan Army on the left (waving their red flag), with the armies of the Axis forces of the right. Within this clash, represented by the large white oval, you see both sides facing each other off with their weapons. In this confrontation, the Partisans on the left can be seen charging barefoot into the scene waving their red flag and wielding only simple weapons, while the Axis forces on the right wield much larger and more advanced weapons, seen here cartoonishly emitting all nature of frightening rays and colored beams. Underneath this array of Axis weaponry, one victim surrounded in yellow streaks appears to be shot with a bolt of lightning. This difference is meant to illustrate the superiorly equipped adversary which existed in the Axis opponents, but even despite this considerable incongruity in weaponry, equipment and firepower, the Partisans are nonetheless depicted openly and calmly facing this Axis force.
An additional interesting note of comparison of the two sides is their facial depictions. The Partisans on the left can be seen with considerable humanity in their faces, displaying expressions of joy, fear, thoughtfulness. Meanwhile, the Axis soldiers appear almost as lifeless robots expressing red-teethed anger. From this depiction, Čemerski clearly wished to unambiguously portray the Partisans as the righteous and victorious force in the battle. In addition, within the Partisan ranks, you see an angelic winged-figure drifting towards the center of the battle (procedd by a small child). This figure is intended to be Marshal Josip Tito taking on the role as hero to the Partisan Army, while the child no doubt symbolizes the future of Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, within the ranks of those working in league with the Axis forces can be seen a depiction of a Rider of the Apocalypse (in green), seated upon a demon-like war horse. The Rider's arms are outstretched as he disturbingly drips poison from his severed torso, casting death and pestilence across the land (seen here as a neon-green energy, similar to Mosaic 3). In the final scene all the way to the right, you can see the incinerating orange and red fires of a death camp, one of the many Europe played host to during the war, seen here billowing smoke and ash into the sky from a tall smokestack. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Mosiaic 5: Altar of the Victims
In Mosaic 5, which is located on the inner-side of the primary curved center wall, we see a grisly scene of nine severed heads. The mosaic, which is entitled 'Altar of the Victims', is meant to be a surprisingly visceral depiction of those who gave up their lives through fighting the war against Axis occupation. The expressions on the faces of these heads are extremely emotive, some displaying faces of horror, some dismay, some agony and others with signs of visible life whatsoever. Some of these severed heads interestingly retain their hands, which they use bury their faces in style clearly reflective of mourning and sadness. On that note, compared to other mosaics at this site, the color scheme here is particularly muted and subdued, which is more than likely done in an attempt to communicate emotions of pain and sorrow to the viewer. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Mosiaic 6: Warm Country
In Mosaic 6, which is located on the inner side of the west-facing wall, you see a pastoral landscape setting comprised of Macedonian people engaged in daily-life activities. Entitled 'Warm Country', this scene begins all the way to the left where you see a man wearing a black worker's vest with his arms outstretched holding up tools of labor in his oversized hands. This figure is a personification of the 'Freedom of Labor' and the societal 'provider', while also being a celebration of idea of personal productivity for the benefit of the whole. Above this worker's head you see him carrying a basket of fruit as if he has just come back in from the fields bearing the literal 'fruits' of his labor. Moving slightly to the right of the scene, you see a very abstractly-shaped mother figure holding a small baby below a tall bright red and yellow sunflower. The mother, a symbol of fertility, faces towards the worker and stares upon him and his offerings, making it clear that Čemerski wishes us to recognize this couple as a family unit and that this worker's labor and provisions of necessity are the basic building blocks of the family structure.
To the right of the mother figure we see a large plowman along with his horse. This figure is clearly meant to be a symbol and celebration of Macedonia's agricultural workers. In the final far-right scene of this mosaic, you see a group of smiling children dancing and playing around what appears to be a tree. In addition, just to the upper left side of this group of children, you can see a small mythical creature playing a flute for the children's entertainment, adding another layer of idyllic joy to the scene. This whole mosaic, with its celebration and depiction of happy workers, family, children, etc, is a tribute to the new livelihoods and ways-of-life that were gained in the new Yugoslav nation after the revolutions and battles fought by previous generations and that were so viscerally depicted in previous mosaics at this complex. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Mosiaic 7: Man & Light
In Mosaic 7, which is located on the inner side of the east-facing wall, you will find a dynamic scene which is entitled 'Man & Light'. The central action in this mosaic frieze is a two disembodied arms reaching down in a god-like way into the scene presenting man with the gifts of electricity and energy (depicted here by a light bulb and a gas lamp). This action is a celebratory symbol for Yugoslavia experiencing their Industrial and Scientific Revolution in the post-WWII era. It is important to remember that before WWII vast majority of Yugoslavia's population (especially regions like Macedonia) were peasants living without electricity or other sorts of technological or scientific conveniences already widespread across Western Europe. As a result, the mass introduction of such technologies across the landscape at the hands of Tito revolutionized the way people lived and worked, which, in turn, instigated a spiritual revolution of the country's social, cultural and artistic worlds. While Mosaic 6, 'Warm Country', is a testament to agriculture and pastoral life, the 'Man & Light' mosaic glorifies the modern age and the new electrified and scientific world. As the gift of light is depicted being handed down to man (in an almost god-like way), it spreads its bright tendrils through the figures of the scene, igniting their imaginations and setting them into motion. On the left part of the scene, you see a man with a glowing yellow fist, filled with this new energy, sharing it with those around him. Within the right part of the scene, you see radiating wires going into the ground, which then lead right to a group of people dancing around their newfound illumination. This would seem to symbolize the widespread electrification of the country which occurred in this new industrial era. Meanwhile, in the center of the scene, you see men with glowing lights on their heads, which would certainly seem to represent the enlightenment of man (or maybe these are supposed to be miners, its not necessarily clear... maybe both).
Another way to interpret this gift of light is in a political sense, by understanding it as a representation of the 'gift of socialism' being lauded and celebrated by those who upon which it is being bestowed. And with this new socialist energy, man is seen entering a new era of 'progress' and 'spiritual creativity'. Another interesting observation of this mosaic panel, along with the 'Warm Country' mosaic, is that the neon-green color of 'evil' depicted in previous mosaic friezes is absent in these two panel. This would indicate that Čemerski is suggesting the people of this region have entered a new utopian-like era without the presence of evil or oppressive powers. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that the "Man & Light" mosaic is a re-imagining and reworking of a very similar earlier 1975 mosaic that Čemerski created for an NOB monument site by a hydro-thermal power plant in Vrutok, Macedonia (Photo 12).
Photo 12: A view of the 1975 "Man & Light" mosaic at Vrutok
Mosaics 8 & 9: The Pillars of Suffering and Resistance
On the south ends of both of the outer walls, there are located Mosaics 8 & 9, which are entitled the 'Pillar of Suffering' (left photo) and the 'Pillar of Resistance' (right photo). In the 'Pillar of Suffering' (Mosaic 8), you see a scene of black horror and hell which starts at the top with falling naked and contorted bodies writhing in agony. As these falling bodies reach the bottom of the scene, you see them transform into heap of skulls and bones. More than likely, this mosaic is a symbol for the 'dark forces' and 'evil' the people of Macedonia were set upon defeating along their road to revolution. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Meanwhile, in the opposing scene in Mosaic 9, the 'Pillar of Resistance', we see a scene of abstract bodies and faces holding makeshift weapons (spears, sticks, agricultural tools, etc). These meagerly armed fighters in this scene are rising up against the 'evil' and 'oppression' they see manifesting in the opposing mosaic panel. This pair of mosaics can almost be seen as a brief summation and allegory of all the other scenes here put together, or, to put it simply, the message seems to be: 'When darkness manifests, the Macedonians will rise'. To view a high-resolution version of this mosaic photo, CLICK HERE to visit this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
The forms and characters here at the created here at Kočani by Gligor Čemerski are of a style that is highly abstract and extremely deconstructed. Figures are broken down into strong vivid lines and scream with a dynamic expression of color and movement. It is clear that Čemerski's work here is heavily influenced by other such notable abstract and figurative painters such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. In addition, the vibrant and loud artistic style exhibited in this monument was interestingly highly reminiscent of an artistic contemporary of Čemerski, the famous New York City African-American graffiti street-artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Photo 13). In exploring and delving into this modernist and interpretive style of strong colors and bold lines, Čemerski is able to create a highly evocative series of mosaics that communicate a persistently energetic narrative and atmosphere, combining not only Macedonian history and traditional folklore, but also religious and mythical components as well. Upon visiting this site in 1982, famed Serbian designer Bogdan Bogdanović stated, "The Monument of Freedom in Kočani is at the very top of our memorial art. I think with it we can praise the world."
Photo 13: A 1982 work by Jean-Michel Basquiat titled 'Head'
Status and Condition:
As a result of the neglect and deterioration of this site, I would classify the condition of the spomenik complex at Kočani as poor, bordering on completely abandoned. Firstly, there do not appear to be any efforts to maintain or mow any of the landscaping of vegetation around the site, with the only thing seemingly keeping it under control is the farm animals that graze the hillside. Meanwhile, there are no directional or promotional signs leading tourists or visitors to this memorial. Yet, despite this lack of signage or on-site awareness, the site is listed as a noteworthy attraction in Kočani's official 2011 Tourist Guide [PDF] and is also highlighted as a point of interest on the official tourism website for North Macedonia. Most of the mosaics around the complex are still in a reasonable condition, yet, some small sections are significantly damaged. Many other aspects of the site are also in a very poor state: stairs are chipping to pieces, the courtyard/amphitheatre are falling to pieces, lots of graffiti, vandals are destroying/stealing from the site, etc. While minimal in scope, there are even a few substantial holes in the mosaics, but these have not yet reached the point of being unfixable. Along the stairs from the parking area, the memorial's old restroom complex is completely destroyed and in a wretched and disgusting state.
Photo 14: A 2016 ceremony at the Freedom Monument
Photo 15: A 2018 performance of a play at the Freedom Monument
Upon my most recent visit in the spring of 2017, I saw no signs of honorific wreaths, flowers or candles indicating that this site is visited by locals or members of the community at any sort of frequency. The only people it seems who are regularly spending any appreciable time at this spomenik complex are mischievous kids, graffiti makers and vandals. Some small modest commemorative ceremonies have been held here in recent years on September 8th (Kočani Liberation Day) and September 9th (Macedonian Independence Day), but it is unclear whether these events have continued to occur (Photo 14). In 2015, a Pink Floyd cover band called "Pink Floyd Project Macedonia" (Пинк Флојд проект Македонија) attempted to publicly raise funds to work with the city to rehabilitate the site to use it as a venue to hold their concerts and events. Despite their efforts and enthusiasm, they were unable to raise the funds for the planned restoration work.
However, in 2018, the Municipality of Kočani applied for a grant from the World Bank for 345,000 euros for which to rehabilitate the Freedom Monument complex. These rehabilitation efforts were initiated in part by renewed local interest in the monument, most notably manifested in the site hosting a well-attended 2018 theatrical performance of the show "Thessaloniki, City of Ghosts" (Photo 15) (video of this performance can be seen at THIS link), as well as the organization that same year of a youth event called the "Music Festival of Freedom". The Freedom Monument has lately become a place where local and regional politicians gather together with Kočani's young people to discuss community issues, as the town's mayor Nikolčo Ilijev did in Sept. of 2018. Meanwhile, in April of 2019, the then-presidential candidate for Macedonia with the SDSM party, Stevo Pendarovski, organized a campaign rally and political speech which was presented to an audience at the Kočani Freedom Monument (Photo 16). Pendarovski went on to win the presidency and is now the current leader of North Macedonia.
Photo 16: Stevo Pendarovski giving a political speech at the Freedom Monument [source]
As of the 2020s, there has been significant renewed interest and community interface in Kočani towards the Freedom Monument. This has been in large part the result of Gligor Čemerski's daughter, Elena Čemerska, releasing a book regarding her father's monument here at Kočani which is titled "Spomenik na slobodata – razgovornik" (Monument to Freedom - Conversations). An excellent interview with Elena talking about her efforts in renewing the Freedom Monument can be heard at the "Remembering Yugoslavia" podcast. As a result of this renewal, the public of Kočani is increasingly engaging with the space, concerts are being held here, stage productions are organized at its amphitheatre, tourists are coming to visit, and people are even using it to take their wedding photos. Elena herself works to organize cultural events at the monument and aims to attract a wide audience here with offerings aimed at both young and old alike (more info about which can be read HERE).
Additional Monuments in the Kočani Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Kočani region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments, sculptures or architecture of the former Yugoslavia. The sites examined in this section will be the Nikola Karev Monument in Kočani, the Nikola Karev Monument in Trkanje, and the Fallen Fighters Monument in Zrnovci.
The Nikola Karev Monument in Kočani
Situated within the heart of Kočani, poised at the center of Revolution Park, is a life-sized memorial statue depicting the famous revolutionary Nikola Karev (Photo 17). No doubt one of the most significant historical figures in the country, Nikola Karev led the failed Ilinden Uprising against Ottoman occupation and oppression at Kruševo in 1903. When Kruševo and Kočani became twin cities in 1968, Kočani erected a statue of Karev in the center of their town to mark the occasion. The legacy of Karev is central to the Kočani region, as it was only 8km west of town that Karev was ultimately killed. In April of 1905, Karev was attempting to illegally enter Ottoman Macedonia from Bulgaria with a group of IMARO fighters in order to sow further resistance against the Ottomans. While camping near the village of Rajčani, sources recount that one of Karev's group betrayed him during the night, slipping away to nearby Kočani where Ottoman forces were informed of Karev's plan. The following day, Karev was killed near the village of Svilanovo. Today at this spot is situated a modern monument dedicated to Karev.
Photo 17: A photo of the Monument to Nikola Karev located in Kočani. Source: Ajta @ Wikipedia
The statue here at Kočani is crafted out of a large block of white marble and shows Karev standing tall holding his rifle (along with an unknown object in his left hand). Sources credit this sculpture to Macedonian sculptor Boris Nikolovski and a second author only referred to as "Aco I.". This work continues to stand in its original location and has been restored recently after being subject to weathering and graffiti. The exact location of Kočani's Nikola Karev monument is N41°54'56.1", E22°24'46.1".
The Nikola Karev Monument in Trkanje
In an area of the greater Kočani region roughly 4km west of the town center is the suburban settlement of Trkanje. Situated within a small park just along the main highway A3 that runs south of Trkanje is a memorial area dedicated to Ilinden Uprising revolutionary leader Nikola Karev (Photo 18). Sources indicate that this complex was built around 1968, the same time that the Karev monument at Kočani was erected.
The primary element of this memorial complex is a semi-circle arrangement of ascending concrete pillars, with the tallest being adorned with circular medallions bearing the likeness of Karev. Sources indicate that this monument was designed by Macedonian architect Aleksandar Gicev. During the 2000s, the Karev monument here at Trkanje began to fall into a state of disrepair and neglect (with thieves stealing the medallions), however, as of 2020, work has been put into repairing and restoring the complex. The exact location of Trkanje's Nikola Karev monument is N41°54'56.1", E22°24'46.1".
Photo 18: A photo of the Monument to Nikola Karev in Trkanje. Source: Mamli at GoogleMaps
Fallen Fighters Monument at Zrnovci
Situated just 8km south of Kočani is a small settlement known as Zrnovci. At the heart of this green valley town is a central community park complex that has at its center a memorial sculpture dedicated to local Partisan fighters who fought and fell during WWII (Photo 19). Crafted of raw concrete, this monument consists of three hollow star shapes, roughly 1m wide, that shoot upwards in an ascending fashion. A series of polished white stone panels that list the names of those from the local community that took part in the fighting. While I was not able to establish the name of the author of this work or the year it was created, it bears the hallmarks of being crafted in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Meanwhile, the sculptural style is monument very similar to that of Aleksandar Gicev.
This work continues to exist in good condition and hosts regular commemoration ceremonies. The exact coordinates within Zrnovci of this monument are N41°51'18.4", E22°26'38.9".
Photo 19: Monument to Fallen Fighters at Zrnovci
Getting to the Freedom Monument at Kočani can be a little tricky, so it is important to follow the following directions. Firstly, from the city center of Kočani, head northwest along Strasho Erbapche road (R1309). After about 1km, turn right onto Cyril & Methodius road just past the hospital. Follow this road east up the hill until the road begins to curve around the hill heading north, then, after about half a kilometer, you will see an old disused parking area on the left. After parking here, you will see a concrete paved set of stairs heading up the hill. Follow these stairs up the hill and along the trail and it will take you to the spomenik complex. The exact coordinates for parking are N41°55'07.1", E22°24'28.7".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
-Serbian Wiki article: "Споменик Слобода (Кочани)"
-marh.mk article: "Споменик на слободата (Кочани) / Раѓеновиќ и Чемерски"
-Center for Digitization of National Heritage website: "Monument to Liberty"
-Macedonian Wiki article: "Споменик на слободата (Кочани)"
-okno.mk article: "Став / Култура, Златко Теодосиевски"
-Travel2Macedonia article: "Kocani | History & Culture"
-English Wiki article: "World War II in Yugoslav Macedonia"
-Znaci Archive article: "Kočani u oslobodilačkom ratu"
-Актуелности article series: "споменик на слободата" [PDF]
-PopUp.mk article: "„Солун, град на духови“ ќе се изведува на Споменикот на слободата во Кочани"
-The "Споменик на слободата" story project
-Boris Petkovski book: "Македонското монументално сликарство на теми од НОВ и Револуцијата" [PDF]
-Discover BG-MK article: "Споменик на слободата Кочани"
-Remebering Yugoslavia podcast: "Mother Freedom, Father Land: The Revival of Kočani’s Monument to Freedom"
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