Details in Brief:
Name: Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Kosmaj Detachment (Споменик борцима Космајског одреда)
Location: Kosmaj Mountain Park, Serbia (just south of Belgrade near Sopot)
Year completed: 1971
Designer: Vojin Stojić (profile page) & Gradimir Medaković
Coordinates: N44°28'04.3", E20°34'18.3" (click for map)
Dimensions: Five 30m tall fins
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Fair, neglected
Click on slideshow photos for description
The central monument at the spomenik complex at Kosmaj Mountain, Serbia commemorates the Partisan regiment from the Kosmaj area and Sava region (Posavina) and honors those who died during the National Liberation War (WWII).
World War II
During the summer of 1941, many angry and disaffected people who were opposed to the brutal Axis occupation of Serbia began to organize themselves into armed resistance groups. Dozens, if not hundreds, of towns across Serbia played host to gatherings of rebel who sought to ban together to take back their country from German control. Much of this organizing was done by Tito's communist Partisan rebels and also by the Chetnik Nationalists run by Draža Mihailović (Дража Михаиловић). On July 2nd, 1941, a secret meeting of 45 members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) gathered within a mountaineering house on top of the mountain of Kosmaj (roughly 55km south of Belgrade). It was here that two separate Partisan detachments from the Kosmaj region and Sava River region were brought together and combined into one larger cohesive unit. The first commander of the Kosmaj Detachment was Koča Popović, who before WWII was a notable surrealist artist, but had also travelled to Spain to fight during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Popović was also a confidant of Tito's from his time organizing with the CPY pre-WWII (Photo 1). Popović appointed local CPY member Rade Jovanović as his detachment's deputy commander. The detachment was initially composed of about 95 soldiers, but by the end of 1941, their numbers had swelled to nearly 300. Also, by the end of that first July, a unit of German soldiers patrolling Kosmaj found the Partisan's mountaineering house hideout and it was demolished.
Photo 1: A photo of Josip Tito (left hand side) and Koča Popović (right hand side), 1943
Photo 2: Rade Jovanović
In September of 1941, the detachment adopted the nickname 'Rade Jovanovic' in honor of the unit's deputy commander (Photo 2) who had been recently killed during the unit's first major battle near Sopot. Then, after the brutal fall of the Partisan's 'liberated' territory of the Republic of Užice during the German's First Offensive in December of 1941, the Kosmaj detachment fled to the Sandžak region of western Serbia. After regrouping in early 1942, on Feburary 22nd, the unit then attempted to disrupt German supply lines to Belgrade from the small village of Tulež -- however, upon being discovered, they were quickly overwhelmed and outnumbered by German troops. Hundreds of Partisan fighters were killed during the ensuing battle, with only 13 of the 300 Partisan fighters able to escape. In May of 1943, the Kosmaj Detachment was reformed in the Makovic forest at Kovačevac from a small group of 60 soldiers of the First Šumadia unit, but it grew quickly. By September of 1944, it expanded to over 1,000 fighters, renaming itself the Kosmajska Brigade. The next month, this new brigade took part in the Liberation of Belgrade from German control and then went move onto the Syrmian Front where they drove the German Army out of Mandjelos and the Matore forest. The brigade was disbanded towards the end of the war in March of 1945. During the four years of its existence, this troop lost hundreds of its soldiers in combat.
After the end of the war, Koča Popović, the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment's first commander, went on to become a significant politician and leader within the Yugoslav government. Although Popović was an accomplished surrealist artist and art critic before WWII, he never returned to the art world, instead dedicating the remainder of his life to military service and politics. Directly after WWII, he acted as the Yugoslav Army's Chief of General Staff until 1953, at which point he was awarded with the title of "People's Hero of Yugoslavia" and transfered into civilian political life. From his WWII days, Popović is best known for organizing the Partisan escape from Axis forces during the dramatic Battle of Sutjeska. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Popović acted as the country's Foreign Minister, operating as the head of the Yugoslav delegation to the United Nations in New York (Photo 3) doing significant work to develop Yugoslavia's prominance and standing within the international community. Furthermore, in 1966 and 1967, Popović served in the position of Vice-President of Yugoslavia. He passed away in Belgrade in 1992 at the age of 84.
Photo 3: Koča Popović (left) at the United Nations in New York, 1960s
Photo 4: Proposal by Stojić & Medaković
In the late 1960s, plans began to be assembled by local committees of the SUBNOR veterans organization, (along with many regional and local community groups) to construct a monument complex on top of Mount Kosmaj to commemorate the Kosmaj Detachment for its efforts during the People's Liberation Struggle and to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers from the region who perished during the war. A Monument Construction Committee was assembled to oversee the affair, which was presided over by Serbain politican Moma Marković (who was interestingly the father of Mira Marković, the wife of Slobodan Milošević). After a design competition was announced in March of 1969, a review of all 26 submitted design entries that met the tender's requirements was held at Belgrade's Kalemegdan Castle the following November. During this review process, all of the proposals were evaluated by a jury to determine which proposal most satified the committees requirements. While significant proposals were submitted by many prominent notable Yugoslav artists (such as Nandor Glid and Ante Gržetić) (Photos 5 - 8), the competition's grand prize was ultimately awarded to the proposal put forward by Belgrade artist Vojin Stojić & architect Gradimir Medaković (Photo 4). In their write-up for granting the grand-prize award to the design proposal submitted by Stojić & Medaković, the selection jury of the Construction Committee wrote the following statement (translated here into English):
"...by purely visual means, without narration, [this sculpture] announces the magnificence and character of the [Kosmaj] Detachment. They met, grew up and immediately rushed into battle. The sculpture is so composed that its dynamic movement of mass expresses itself, combining, unifying, then, immediately afterwards, a violent surge, striving upwards and downwards, a radiating and far-reaching action."
Photos 5 - 8: Here are a selection of the top ranked runner-up proposals submitted for the Kosmaj monument design competition. Image 1 is the proposal by sculptor Jovan Kratohvil (this design was later built at the Prvi Maj factory in Pirot, Serbia as the 'Brotherhood & Unity' monument), Image 2 is a proposal by an un-named artist, Image 3 is the proposal by architect Miodrag Stanković & sculptor Ante Gržetić, and Image 4 is the proposal by sculptor Nandor Glid and architect Vera Kovačević.
Photo 9: The 1971 inauguration
After several years of construction, the monument was finally completed and unveiled to the public during a mass remembrance celebration on July 2nd, 1971 (Photo 9), a date which recognized 30 years since the creation of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment on this hill. News articles from the era report that the cost of the monument's cost to build was 6 million Yugoslav dinars, and that the project was financed by the SR of Serbia, the city of Belgrade, as well as by the municipalities of villages and towns surrounding Kosmaj mountain. The central monument structure of the complex consists of five separate 30m tall concrete double-pointed fins (organized in a circular radiating pattern), which all come together make a shape which resembles a shining star. In the center of the circular arrangement of fins is an engraved circular stone altar. On top of the altar was a large circular bronze relief plate. The setting for this huge sculpture is an wide open stone paved courtyard. A grand concrete staircase from the road leads up to the monument while the complex itself is surrounded by a large forested park setting with trails and recreational activities. After the construction of this expansive project, this monument became a significant symbol for people of not only the Kosmaj region, but also the much wider region of the Šumadija.
While the memorial complex was quite popular and well visited in the years after its opening, after the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the site began to fall into a state of neglect and disrepair. Many elements of the monument have been spray-painted, damaged and vandalized, while the stairs and stone-pavement around it are extremely cracked and crumbling. Significant efforts have been made to restore certain elements, but on the whole, the memorial complex still requires a serious amount of restoration and rehabilitation if it is to brought back up to its original condition. However, while the memorial complex itself is not in a prime condition, the site itself is still quite popular, playing host to not only annual commemorative events, but also various types of social functions, club meetings, cycling events, and other of community engagements.
Photo 10: The crest of the town of Sopot
Photo 11: A 2018 techno festival held at the Kosmaj site
Furthermore, an image of the Kosmaj monument was included on the crest of the nearby town of Sopot during the Yugoslav era, and has remained there as part of the town's crest even since break-up of Yugoslavia (Photo 10), illustrating how many in the local community still strongly value the memorial sculpture as a local symbol. In addition, the Kosmaj nature park itself continues to be heavily used for camping, hiking and other recreational uses. Furthermore, even to present day, the Kosmaj monument is still widely seen as a significant and enduring symbol of the Šumadija region. Additionally, in November of 2018, a techno festival featured by the bands Time:Code and Jelly for the Babies was held at the courtyard directly underneath the monument (Photo 11).
Photo 12: Concept art for the 2017 film 'Ghost in the Shell', by Nivanh Chanthara
As international awareness and popularity of the abstract monuments of the former Yugoslavia have increased since 2010, the monument at Kosmaj has been one around which there has been particular interest. Many artists around the world have been inspired by the sculpture's ambitious form and integrated its shape into their work. Most notably, Cuba-based art group Los Carpinteros have created two large Lego block versions copying the monument's form almost exactly which they titled "Kosmaj Toy", with a red version exhibited at the Art Basel Fair in Miami Beach in 2012 (now housed at the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus, OH) and a black version exhibited in 2018 at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey. Meanwhile, the Kosmaj monument is also a site sought out by photographers and drone-operators from around the world attempting to capture and film its evocative shape. Interestingly, a likeness of the Kosmaj monument was employed in scene in the 2015 film 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2', as well as in concept artwork for the 2017 live-action remake of the Hollywood film 'Ghost in the Shell' (Photo 12).
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There is one primary inscribed element at the Kosmaj site. At the SW corner of the monument complex, there is a granite boulder (Slide 1) engraved with the following words, translated from Serbian to English:
"On the second of July 1941, at this place, the Kosmaj/Sava-area Partisan regiment was formed. At the end of July, this regiment expanded to become two regiments of Kosmaj and Sava. In all four years of the war, within the gates of Belgrade, the rifle of freedom never ceased to fire. Over 5820 fighters and allies of the resistance died for freedom, of which 3411 young men and girls (along with 16 fighters from this regiment) were proclaimed to be national heroes."
At the center of the monument, there is a circular plinth (or stone slab) (Slide 2), topped with red polished marble, that has a series of engravings on the outer edge around it which read, when translated from Serbian, to:
“Kosmaj, Mladenovac, Groča, Smederevo, Podunav, Jasenica, Pomorav, Belgrade, Posav, Vračar”
This is a list of place names around the Belgrade/Kosmaj region of Serbia and it is from these places where Partisans gathered at Kosmaj Mountain in 1941 to organize and plan their battles against occupying Axis forces. However, this plinth photographed here (Slide 2) is actually a newly renovated version of the plinth (done in by the Municipality of Sopot); it restores and replaces a previous version which was defiled, stolen and destroyed in an act of vandalism and theft in 2014. The previous version (Slide 3) was topped with a large circular bronze relief plate (which was stolen), depicting stylized caricatures of the people of Kosmaj, with Serbian writing around the edges of the plate which translates as:
"April one-thousand nine-hundred one - May one-thousand nine-hundred five"
Which obviously refers to the years of duration (April 1941-May 1945) of World War II (aka the National Liberation War) in the Balkan region. It is unknown who stole this bronze plaque and what ever became of it -- more than likely, it was taken for use as scrap metal and melted down.
Graffiti across the monument is extensive, and exists across all parts of it. However, there are clearly efforts that some small attempts are being made to occasionally remove it as it accumulates. I found no significant or interesting examples of graffiti at this site, nor did I find any examples of political or nationalistic graffiti here.
There are numerous ways to interpret the memorial sculpture here at Kosmaj, created by sculptor Vojin Stojić. Firstly, the most readily apparent symbolic quality embodied in this sculpture is that of the five-pointed star. This star (specifically the red star) was a pervasive and essential symbol to Yugoslavia, which represented strength and resistance, most specifically against fascism and the Nazi occupation this region suffered under during WWII. As such, the star shape of this spomenik, would seem to be very appropriate given the resistance and uprising efforts which occurred at this location.
In addition, the five points of the star are quoted by some sources as being symbolic for the five fingers of the worker's hand. While this might seem like a stretch at first, the proletariat worker is a theme commonly addressed and referred to in memorial sculpture in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, looking at the spomenik from a certain perspective, the fins could appear to be very finger-like. Meanwhile, another interesting symbolic element of this monument is that, from a distance, the unified star-like quality of the monument appears to be one continuous and fully connected sculpture. However, it is only when directly underneath of the structure do you realize that each 'finger' is indeed a completely separate and free-standing element (Photo 13). This visual effect may represent the idea that, from afar, the Yugoslavian workers/fighters operated together as a singular uninterrupted unit, while, up close, the unit could indeed be seen to be comprised of unique individuals cooperating and collaborating. In addition, creating a stunningly sophisticated piece of structural engineering where a thin 30m tall concrete fin can stand completely un-tethered and unassisted would most certainly stand as a symbol to the skills of Yugoslav designers, construction engineers and architects.
Photo 13: Looking up from the center of the Kosmaj monument
Photo 14: A 2017 memorial event at the Kosmaj monument
Status and Condition:
The condition of the monument is fair, but there is also a good deal of neglect visible on at the same time. The main structure of the monument itself seems uncompromised, however, the grounds and complex are in a very poor state, enduring not only neglect, but vandalism, theft and structural degradation as well. The main plaza under the monument is crumbling and severely deteriorated, as are the stairs and pathways leading up to and around the complex. A significant amount of work would be needed to repair these elements. Furthermore, the landscaping around the complex does not seem to be maintained to any sort of reasonable level, while graffiti and trash and spread across a good deal of structures and complex. Yet, despite the neglect the complex has experienced, the site still hosts regular annual commemorative events (Photo 14). These events are generally held around July 2nd in order to recognize the founding day of the Kosmaj Partisan Detachment in 1941.
In 2014, the main plinth at the center of the complex plaza under the monument was destroyed, with its large circular bronze relief stolen. It is not known who stole it and what ever happened to it. Later in 2014, the monument was renovated with a new plinth of much lower quality and craftsmanship compared to the original. However, it is nonetheless notable that the structure was repaired in any way, as many Partisan memorials across the former-Yugoslavia never see repairs to their broken or damaged elements.
Despite the neglect the monument has received since the Yugoslav Wars, the area is well visited, well marked, highly promoted in tourism literature and still seems to be honored and payed tribute to by locals (as I saw evidence of flowers and offerings left here). This monument is protected and preserved as a result of it being in the center of the Landscape of Outstanding Features "Kosmaj" park, which is operated by the Serbian government.
Additional Sites in the Kosmaj Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Kosmaj Mountain area which might be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will examine the Monument to Fallen Fighters at Sopot, as well as the Monument to the Victims of the Banjica Concentration Camp near the town of Mali Požarevac.
Monument to Fallen Fighters in Sopot:
Roughly 5km north of the Kosmaj monument is the small town of Sopot. Situated on the front terrace of the town's Cultural Center is a modest memorial sculpture dedicated to local fighters from Sopot and Ropočevo who took part in the resistance effort during WWII (NOB) (Slides 1 - 4). Nicknamed "Nika" and created in 1972 by Croatian artist Momčilo Krković, the work consists of a ~3m tall angular white concrete sculpture that rises in two pillars and then splits off into a v-shape at its top. Mounted in front of the sculpture along the terrace is a line of seven bronze plates which bear the names of roughly 85 local fighters. On the middle bronze plate (Slide 5) is an inscription that reads: "The life of generations we have forged on this day". The monument exists in reasonably good shape, but I was not able to determine if commemorative events are still held here. The exact location of the monument is N44°31'09.1", E20°34'36.6". A historical photo of the monument can be seen in Slide 6.
Monument to Fallen Fighters at Sopot - Slideshow
Monument to Victims of Banjica Camp:
Roughly 12km as the crow flies NE of the Kosmaj monument (~21km driving over twisty roads) is the village of Mali Požarevac. Just east of the village next to the access road and toll booth for the A1 motorway is situated a memorial complex (Slides 1 - 6) dedicated to victims of the Banjica Concentration Camp in Belgrade who were brought to this site and killed during WWII on May 26th, 1943. These executions of mostly educated young people were in retaliation for an attack that Partisans made 13 days earlier on German occupation soldiers at the nearby Dražanj-Šepšin train station. Created in 1966 by Croatian artist Momčilo Krković, this monument consists of a 12m tall white concrete geometric obelisk-like form that flares out into curved protrusions at its summit. Upon inspection, the monument appears to be very weather stained and afflicted by cracking and chipping of its facade. The stairs that access the site up the side of a small slope are very deteriorated and degraded.
Monument to the Victims of Banjica Concentration Camp - Slideshow
However, despite the poor condition of the sculpture and stairway, at the base of the slope just to the right of the start of the stairs is a small set of well-kept memorial plaques adjacent to a pair of mass grave sites. In addition to the many plaques bearing the names of massacre victims is a central plaque bearing an inscription (Slides 7 & 8) which reads, when translated from Serbian to English:
"At this site on May 26, 1943 the German occupier killed 129 Serbian patriotic detainees of the Banjica Camp."
-Municipalities of Grocka, Mladenovac & Sopot, May 26th, 2013
This plaque was installed in 2013 on the 70th anniversary of the massacre, presumably replacing an earlier plaque. Interestingly, an additional plaque bearing a similar message can be found at the far left of this row of engraved plaques. Meanwhile, at the top of the small slope between the monument and the on-ramp for the motorway is a large blue sign at the fence-line (Slide 9) that identifies the monument for passers by driving along the road. It reads in large white letters: "Memorial marker to executed patriots - May 26th, 1943". This site continues to host annual commemorative events, generally on May 26th to mark the day of the massacre. The exact coordinates for this site are N44°33'51.3", E20°40'12.0". Historical images of the monument can be seen in Slides 10 & 11. Information regarding
And Additional Sites of Interest:
"Serbian Warrior" WWI Monument: Roughly 14km east of the Kosmaj Monument in the town of Mladenovac is a small marble monument which commemorates the local fallen fighters of WWI. Created in 1926 by Serbian sculptor Mihailo Milovanović, the work consists of a ~3m tall sculpture of a soldier situated on an ornate pedestal. The monument is in good condition and has been a symbol for the town since its construction. A photo of the site can be found here & its coordinates are N44°26'23.8", E20°41'37.5".
Ruins of Kastaljan Monastery: Roughly 1km NE of the Kosmaj Monument are the ruins of a 14th century monastery situated on the slopes of the mountain. During the late 1600s, the monastery was completely destroyed and subsequently buried. It was excavated in the late 20th century. A photo of the ruins can be found here, while the coordinates are N44°28'30.8", E20°35'16.1". The site can either be walked to via trails from the top of Mount Kosmaj or the long route via car.
The monument to Kosmaj Partisan Detachment resides at the top of Kosmaj Mountain, which is inside a large natural park perserve. Whether you approach the park preserve from the direction of Sopot or Mladenovac, you will take twisty Road 147 into the park (there is no fee to enter the park and this road is in very good condition). When you reach the top of the mountain and approach the mountain village compound, there will be a road to the south which is a one-way loop road that goes around the monument complex (follow the signs). Park off to the side of the road at one of the many turn-offs along the loop and take the stairs to the top of the mountain where the monument complex is situated. There are also camping spots along this loop, so go slow as you drive around. The exact coordinates for the most optimal parking location is N44°28'06.4", E20°34'16.1" (click for map).
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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