Name: Monument to the 1st Split Partisan Detachment
Location: Košute, Croatia
Year completed: 1961
Designer: Vuko Bombardelli (profile page)
Coordinates: N43°37'40.1", E16°41'29.9" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~17m high triple obelisk
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Derelict and destroyed (explosives, 1992)
Click on slideshow photos for description
This monument at Košute was built to commemorate the 1st Split Partisan detachment, a squad of mostly inexperienced young men from Split, Croatia who, in August 1941, decided to take up arms against the occupying Axis forces, just months after Dalmatia was annexed by the invading Italian forces.
World War II
In the months leading up to the Italian annexation of Dalmatia, the occupying Ustaše were increasingly escalating their oppressive tactics against the local population, persecuting and arresting any dissidents or people suspected of being anti-fascist rebels. In April of 1941, united resistance began to crystallize in Dalmatia, with members of the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia stockpiling arms, raiding and stealing from Ustaše weapons depots. Then, in August of 1941, as the city of Split was officially annexed by Italy, Yugoslav Partisan recruiters Pavle Pap Šilja and Mirko Kovačević arrived in Split with orders to enlist rebels to form three organized detachments of men with the intention of creating armed resistance units to combat the Ustaše and Italian troops. The first of these detachments was being led by the commander of the Dalmatian Partisan forces Mirko Kovačević (Photo 1), who was a young 25 year old Montenegrin and longtime Yugoslav Communist Party member, while also being a seasoned war veteran, having recently returned to the Yugoslav region after fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
When these detachments were assembled that August, the plan was to relocate to a Partisan rallying point at Dinara, a mountain roughly 80km north of Split, just east of Knin near the Bosnian border. The three detachments departed for the mountain from Split on August 11th. From the beginning of the journey, the group ran into troubles with the guides the units had commissioned to take them to Dinara. Then, in the middle of the journey, Kovačević's 1st detachment (of 45 young soldiers) became separated from the 2nd and 3rd detachments after they lost contact with their guide and became disoriented in darkness as they were traveling under the cover of night. Famished and thirsty, on August 14th, Kovačević, in desparation, sent two members of the group, Vladimir Marković Inđo and Veljko Neškovčin, into a small village named Košute they had come across during a search of water, food and supplies. The villagers were reportedly not welcoming, and responded with anger and violence, which summoned soldiers the local Ustaše and Italian brigades. Fighting then ensued between these Axis soldiers and the Partisans, with the Partisans quickly becoming overwhelmed during the day long struggle. Mirko Kovačević was the first to die during skirmish, which severely affected the unit's morale. Eventually, the Partisans were overcome and defeated by the Axis forces. Altogether, four Partisans died in battle, while 28 were captured, with only 13 escaping. Of the 28 captured after the battle, 24 were executed (three at the battlefield and 21 at Sinj twelve days later).
Photo 1: Mirko Kovačević
The first act of commemoration for the events which occurred at Košute was Mirko Kovačević being designated a National Hero of Yugoslavia on December 21st of 1951 by the Yugoslavian government. Then, in the late 1950s, plans were organized by regional government and veteran groups (most specifically the association of reserve officers and non-commissioned officers of the district of Split) to create a spomenik complex at the site of the August 1941 skirmishes near Košute, just above the village of Krnjača. The commission for this project was given to Croatian designer Vuko Bombardelli, who lived in the nearby city of Split. The monument complex was officially unveiled in August 14th, 1961, commemorating the 20 year anniversary of the executions which occurred here. The primary element of the spomenik was a 17m tall triple-obelisk balanced on a tripod, set upon bare rock. During the years of Yugoslavia, the memorial complex was a significant cultural and historic landmark for tourists, veterans and locals wishing to pay respects to the memory of those who were lost.
It is important to note that a counterpart monument to this Košute memorial was created at the site of the Partisan soldier executions in Sinj at the Ruduša forest (link to profile page). It was created roughly 1 year after the one in Košute and was also created by Vuko Bombardelli. The two monuments share many characteristics, both stylistically and symbolically. This concept of a 'monument pair' is a unique phenomenon in the history of Yugoslav WWII memorials, as I can think of no other such monumental duo. Furthermore, Zagreb researcher Sanja Horvatinčić also points out that these works are some of the "earliest examples of the conscious departure from the traditional approach of memorialism (figural composition on a pedestal)".
Photo 2: The monument at Košute not long after destruction, 1993
Come the fall of Yugoslavia and onset of the Croatian War of Independence, the monument here at Košute became a symbol of 'the old system' for many nationalistic Croatians. One reason that this monument may have stood as an especially visceral target for vandals was because of the especially contentious situation going on nearby with the breakaway region of The Republic of Serbian Krajina. Possibly as a consequence, at some point around August 21st/22nd of 1992, the monument was laden with explosives, brought to the ground and destroyed. To this day it is still unknown who the persons were who destroyed the monument. Efforts by researcher Jelena Buljan to ascertain more information about the destruction, detailed in her 2017 paper [PDF], yielded no clear answers, being told by authorities that all relevant documents related to the investigation of the monument's destruction have been destroyed. In subsequent decades after its destruction, no efforts have been made to repair or rehabilitate the structure or the site in any way. Presently, all that remains of the monument complex are chunks of broken concrete and twisted rebar, scattered across the hillside above Košute, destroyed, abandoned and forgotten.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
At the base of the mangled remnants of the monument, laid into the bare rock is the remains of a relief plaque that is now destroyed (Slide 1). Presently, it is nearly completely illegible. However, within old records I found sources relating that the plaque once read:
KOJI DADOŠE I MLADOST I ŽIVOT
ZA ŽIVOT DOSTOJAN ČOVJEKA
Or, translated from Croatian into English:
To those who brought us freedom, who gave their youth and their lives, so that we may live and value our own lives.
In addition, a metal plaque was originally installed onto the southeast leg of the tripod-like base of the monument, as can be seen in a historical photo in Slide 2. However, this plaque is not gone after the destruction of the sculpture. The inscription on this plaque read, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
To commemorate the first battle of the Split Partisan Detachment on August 14th, 1941
As far as graffiti, nearly every single remnant of the spomenik complex is completely covered in layers and layers of spray-paint and graffiti. Interestingly, none of the graffiti or spraypainted symbols I documented there seemed to be, from my interpretation, of any overt nationalistic nature, which was curious to me given the history of the monument. One instance of graffiti I did see here which I found quite compelling and amusing, photographed in Slide 3, reads as:
"Better the hand on the pussy
Than on the machine gun."
Taking into consideration the bloody history, unrest and anger which has transpired at and been associated with this location, this message was fittingly apropos.
The previous shape and form of the of monument at Košute (before its destruction) was a triple cone obelisk (all roughly 17m in height), supported by a tripod base of shorter cone-shaped legs, which was all anchored directly into the bare rock. The sculptor, Vuko Bombardelli, is said to have intended the triad of skyward pointing cones to symbolize youth's eternal struggle of defiance and its quest for internal purity. Meanwhile, art historian Sanja Horvatinčić suggests that the anchoring arms grounded in bare rock were meant to be representative of the idea that while youthful rebellion is a universal condition. However, this rebellion is always grounded by the horrors of reality, as the young men who perished at Košute were tragically reminded.
Status and Condition:
This spomenik complex at Košute has been completely destroyed and is fully abandoned. It was dynamited by unknown persons at some point during August of 1992, and since then there is no clear evidence that any groups have made any substantial efforts to repair or rehabilitate the structure. Those responsible for this destruction have never been found or investigated for this act of destruction. Furthermore, I saw no signs that efforts were being made on any level (national, regional, local or otherwise) to prevent continued damage or degradation to what ruins remain. This is particularly notable as the site continues to fall into further decline. Every inch of the fallen ruins of the monument are covered in graffiti with no indication, unsurprisingly, that any attempts are being made to remove or clean it off.
As far as directional markers, there is no signage of any sort which might alert visitors or tourists to the location of this monument, nor is there present at the site any informational or interpretive placards which could allow those visiting the site to understand its historical or cultural significance. Even the parking area for the trail-head of the deteriorated stone-paved pathway up the hillside has no marker and gives no indication of where the pathway leads. Meanwhile, upon my most recent visit to the site I found no flowers or wreaths (new or old) left by any visiting individuals, which leads me to believe that few, if any, from the community visit it or pay respects to it. Furthermore, in my research I was unable to establish that the site receives any nature of protection status or official historical recognition extended to the site by the Croatian government on either the local, regional or national level. The only other observable presence of those visiting the monument, other than those wishing to deface it, were the goats and other animals that herders continually using the graze the hillsides (Photo 3).
Photo 3: Part of a herd of goats relaxing on the monument at Košute (credit: Igor Grubić)
The spomenik complex at Košute is located on the top of the hillside just northwest of town, above the small village of Krnjača. If you are heading on Hwy 60 (Vukovar Sreet) south from Sinj, after about 5km, you'll see a sign for Krnjača on the left (Photo 3), take that street (Liščice road) up to the main square of the village of Krnjača and park there. The exact coordinates for the square are N43°37'54.8", E16°41'39.5" (click for map), and click HERE for a Google Streetview shot of the turnoff. In the south corner of the square, you'll see a small stone staircase leading to a stone-paved pathway that goes up the hill. Follow that and it will take you to the monument.
Photo 3: Turnoff sign for Krnjača village onto Liščice road.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
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