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Kozara (Козара)

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to the Revolution (Spomenik Revoluciji/Споменик Револуцији)

Location: Mrakovica area of Kozara National Park, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia

Year built: 1972 (roughly 1 year to build)

Designer: Dušan Džamonja (profile page)

Coordinates: N45°00'49.7", E16°54'32.9" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~33m high and 8m wide

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and steel plates

Condition: Very good, well maintained

(KOH-zah-rah)

Click on slideshow photo for description.

 

History:

This spomenik at Kozara is dedicated to the Partisan fighters, fallen soldiers and civilians victims who died in the bloody Kozara Offensive in the spring of 1942.

 

World War II

In the spring of 1942, Axis German and Ustaše leadership in Banja Luka learned that Partisan resistance forces had liberated several towns in the central and west Bosnian regions, most notably Prijedor and Bosanski Petrovac. With this Partisan push, Axis forces came to recognize that their regional headquarters of Banja Luka, along with their critical iron mines in Ljubija, were now potentially vulnerable to attack and invasion. In response, Germans mobilized 15,000 soldiers along with 22,000 Ustaše soldiers, 2,000 Chetniks and 5 Hungarian monitor ships for what would come to be known as the Kozara Offensive (which is also sometimes referred to as Operation West-Bosnien). Not only did these Axis forces plan to suppress the Partisan threat, but also, they intended to eliminate any and all citizen support for the Partisans from villages in the Kozara region. Meanwhile, the anti-fascist Partisan opposition forces were only made up of roughly 3,000 soldiers, while aided by 60,000 recruited untrained civilians from the freed land who volunteered to aid in the fight. The fighting at Kozara began on June 10th, 1942, with the Axis coalition of forces, under the command of German General Friedrich Stahl, descending upon the region of Kozara from all directions.

Photo 1: Kozara civilians being marched to camps by Axis forces, 1942

Photo 2: Yugoslav poster for the 1962 film 'Kozara'.

Over the first 10 days Partisans were met with some success defending their positions, however, they began to tire and lose their fighting momentum. By July 3rd, German forces began to break through Partisan defenses, which led to a subsequent Partisan defeat. During the final throes of battle, Tito and a small handful of Partisans were able to retreat just as the enemy closed in, escaping towards Grmeč Mountain. He moved on to west Bosnia to reorganize his remaining forces after this loss. Of the original 3,000 actual Partisan soldiers who engaged in the battle, roughly 900 fighters survived, leaving the vast majority killed in action. In the aftermath of the battle, some of the surviving Kozara Partisans banded together in September of 1942 to create the 5th Krajina Assault Brigade. It is important to note that while this loss was tragic for the Partisans, it became an important component of the Yugoslavian post-war mythology of how the brave and selfless Partisan soldiers readily gave their lives in the righteous battle against the fascism of German and Croatian forces, even in the face of overwhelming odds and inferior firepower. Meanwhile, of the peasant civilians who aided in the fight against this Axis offensive, it is estimated that a upwards of 10,000 were killed during the battle itself (with some estimates ranging even higher), while an even greater number perished after the battle after being sent to the nearby death camps at Jasenovac (Photo 1).

The Battle of Kozara was by far the largest and most significant battle in the region of the NDH during the course of WWII. A Yugoslav film about the events which took place during the 'Battle of Kozara' was released in 1962, which was titled 'Kozara' (Photo 2) and directed by Veljko Bulajić. The film was submitted as Yugoslavia's entry for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' in the 1963 US Academy Awards, however, it was not selected for consideration. If you are interested in watching this film, it can be watched in full and for free at Spomenik Database's Video Archive section.

 

Spomenik Construction

In the years directly proceeding the war, the Kozara site was certainly recognized as significant to Yugoslav heritage, but it was not on the same level as other notable Bosnian sites (Sutjeska, Neretva, etc). The initial annual commemorative gatherings held here after the war were small, but as the years went on and the legend and myth of the events that occurred here grew, the crowds which came to honor this site grew as well. In 1957, as the site was officially designated as a place of historical significance by the SR of Bosnia, plans began to take shape for a construction of a massive memorial complex. Several years later, on January 26th, 1962, a 38 member selection committee was formed, who initiated an open competition for deciding the design of this new memorial complex. Of the 49 entries made (which were submitted by such notable artists as Slavko Tihec and Šime Vulas, among others), the committee ultimately selected the design concept proposed by Macedonian artist Dušan Džamonja.

Photo 3: The cornerstone being laid by Hamdija Pozderac (black suit), 1971

Photo 4: A view of the Kozara monument under construction

Construction began on August 2nd, 1971 (Photo 3), with the cornerstone of the project laid by SR of Bosnia president Hamdija Pozderac, while the construction project itself (Photo 4) was undertaken by the Zagreb-based contractor 'Tehnika', the same contractor who built the Jasenovac monument just 5 years earlier. The funding of the monument was secured nearly exclusively from the donations of roughly 400,000 individuals and over 1,000 separate organizations. While the complex was fully completed on July 27th, 1972, the official unveiling did not occur until the following September 10th, at which point there was an elaborate commemorative ceremony (Photo 5) that was inaugurated by the President of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito (Photo 6). During this opening ceremony, Tito reportedly gave tribute to the memory of Kozara with the following words:

“Kozara has survived one of the most difficult and one of the most famous epics in the history of our people at the same time. [The] Kozara epic had a great significance for the Yugoslavia National Liberation Front (NOB) in whole because it was the first great battle where unarmed people participated as well... In the battle at Kozara many victims have fallen for what we have today. It was the beginning of the greatest struggle for brotherhood and unity in our country."

The spomenik complex here at Kozara consists of three main elements, the primary monument structure, a memorial wall to the rear of the monument and a small museum. The primary monument is a cylindrical monolith approximately 33m tall, comprised of 20 vertical fins with intermittent curved bulges whose outer-faces are covered in strips of polished stainless steel. The construction of this sculpture required 1000 tons of cement, 4000 cubic meters of aggregate and 200 tons of structural steel to create. It is situated at the center of Kozara National Park on a plateau near the top of Mrakovica mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Kozara Mountains. The monument complex was constructed by not only professional workers, but also members of Youth Work Action (Omladinske radne akcije - ORA) groups (Photo 7). Meanwhile, the memorial wall, located behind the main monument, consists of dozens of bronze plaques bearing the names of 9,921 fallen Partisan soldiers, which are all installed into a long concrete wall among the pines (Photo 8). According to one of the site's curators in 2017, Čika Mića, this inscribed list is one of the longest of its type in Eastern Europe. The names of the walls are arranged by the villages in which the fallen persons originated.

Photo 5: Kozara grand unveiling ceremony in 1972

Photo 6: Tito at the Kozara grand unveiling ceremony in 1972

Photo 7: A Youth Work Action group on a project at Kozara

Photo 8: A view of the memorial wall behind the Kozara monument

Photo 9: Hundreds of people at a youth event at the Kozara amphitheatre during the 1970s

A final interesting feature of the memorial site is that from the main automobile entrance at the base of the complex, there is a large array of concrete steps which lead up to the plateau, built directly into the hillside through and around the forest and trees-- at one time, these steps acted as a massive amphitheatre for when school groups came to this site during the days of Yugoslavia and on which ceremonies were preformed (Photo 9). After the initial opening of the complex, mass commemorative ceremonies were held at the site annually on the national holiday of Fighter's Day (July 4th). Since its opening, it has continued to be a popular location for tourists and visitors alike. During the days of Yugoslavia, it was said that nearly everyone in the entire country had visited Kozara at least once in their life. In a 2007 interview with the creator of the Kozara monument, Dušan Džamonja, he is quoted as saying (his comments translated here into English):

"It was a common saying that in Yugoslavia lived those who were going to Rome, those who were going to Mecca, and those who were going to Kozara. Kozara was visited every year by a million visitors, in tens years it is ten millions, it is a very isolated place, you have to want it."

 

Yugoslav-era

As mentioned above, Kozara became one of the most significant memorial sites in all of Yugoslavia. Some sources estimate that between 1970 and 1980, well over 3 million visitors came to the Kozara memorial complex. In addition to visitors, another group who spent a significant amount of time at the Kozara memorial park were the Youth Work Action (Omladinske radne akcije - ORA) groups. The ORA groups not only aided in building this monument complex, but they also continued their engagement with it after completion by spearheading maintence projects and further development efforts. Massive facilities were built at Kozara to accommodate over 1,500 young people at a time, who would all voluntarily spend their summers here engaged in various construction, maintenance and development projects aimed at improving the site. In addition to working on developing and maintaining Kozara's facilities, ORA groups would take part in political & cultural education, sports, recreation and other types of social activities.

Photo 10: The rock band Bijelo Dugme at Kozara Work Action project, 1976

 

While ORA groups were hosted across Yugoslavia, Kozara was one of the largest and most notable sites for such groups to work. To illustrate the significance of the Kozara Work Actions events, the Yugoslav rock band 'Bijelo Dugme' (widely considered to be the most popular rock bands of the Yugoslav-era) played an concert for youth at the event, as well as contributing to work efforts themselves (Photo 10). During the height of the trend, they were a very popular and considered a critical tool in youth socialization. The Yugoslav tradition of ORA reached its peak in the late 70s and early 80s, by the end of the 80s and the lead up to the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the tradition was all but dead.

Present-Day

Due to its remote location and its protected status within a national park, the monument was spared much of the destruction and vandalism that many anti-fascist monuments endured during the fall of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. The only elements stolen from the site were a series of stone panels listing entities that had donated to create the spomenik. One change that was made after the end of the wars was the addition of a Serbian Orthodox cross within the entrance circle at the base of the amphitheatre. The whole site is still very well maintained and regularly visited, while many annual commemorative and remembrance events are still held here.

Meanwhile, as the global popularity of the abstract monuments of the former Yugoslavia have increased since end of the 2000s with the proliferation of images of them on the internet, the monument here at Kozara has become one of the works that has drawn particular attention not only from curious international online users, but also from many in the artistic, creative and academic communities both within the former Yugoslav-region and around the world. For instance, the Zagreb-based design group Mireldy included an artistic rendering of the Kozara monument in a 2017 design book about Yugoslav monuments they created called "U Spomen Spomenicima" (Photo 11), while India-based architect Amey Kandalgaonkar used the Kozara monument as an inspiration in the creation of a 2018 digital sculptural work (Photo 12). Furthermore, Booklyn-based academic artist Yi Luo used the imagery of the Kozara memorial sculpture as the centerpiece for a dissertation analysis of Yugoslav monument sites

Photo 11: Kozara inspired art by the Mireldy group

Photo 12: Kozara inspired art by Amey Kandalgaonkar

 

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

To the rear of the memorial monolith within the woods, there is a large sanctum area where the walls are covered with dozens of bronze plaques with relief text listing the names of 9,921 fallen Partisan fighters who were killed on the territories of Kozara and Potkozarje during the Kozara Offensive (Slide 1). This is an area commonly visited by veterans and mourners who lay flowers and wreaths for those lost. At the entrance to the large sanctum area, there are two long vertical bronze plaques next to each other (Slide 2), which bear verses from the traditional dance song "Kozaracko kolo" that originated in the region. The verses translate roughly from Serbian into English as:

Oh, Kozara, you do not need the rain, Heroes and blood are poured.

Slideshow

Meanwhile, as you enter the memorial wall sanctum area through the above-mentioned entrance, you will see the long list of inscribed names begin on the inner walls to your left. Before the list begins there is one bronze plate bearing an introductory inscription (Slide 3). This inscription translates from Serbian to English as:

"They fell in the struggle for freedom and socialism."

When observing the wall, it is important to notice that some of the inscribed names on the wall appear in Latin letters while others appear in Cyrillic letters. The reason for this is that during construction of the complex it was agreed that all fallen fighters from the area around Potkozarje (which is predominately an ethnic-Croat region) would have their names inscribed with Latin letters. Meanwhile, fighters from the majority ethnic-Serb towns and villages around Kozara (such as Banka Luka, Dubica and Gradiška) would have their names inscribed with Cyrillic letters.

Interestingly, in Slide 4 you can see an image from what looks to be the early 1980s which shows a different set of engraved plaques than exists presently at this specific spot. I have not found any historic records relating what this original set of plaques said nor was I able to determine why exactly they were removed.

As this memorial complex is well maintained, I found very little graffiti anywhere on any of the monument components or surrounding walls. However, inside the center of the monolith within the spiral of 20 concrete fins, there is a small bif of graffiti on the inner side of the fins, but that was all that I found. None of the graffiti was of any sort of notable nature.

 

Mrakovica Museum:

Just to the south of the top of the hill where the Kozara monument is perched, there is a small circular concrete museum complex built into the hillside called "Memorijalni muzej na Mrakovici" (Slide 1). This modernist structure was also designed by Dušan Džamonja and was unveiled on July 4th, 1973, roughly one year after his central Kozara monument. Within and around the museum section of the building are various photos, documents, objects, articles ,displays and exhibitions that relate to the events of the Kozara offensive (Slides 2 - 8). In addition, there are also exhibits pertaining to the history of Partisan aviation and the notable doctor Mladen Stojanović, who was made famous after his heroic actions during the battle of Kozara. All interpretive displays in the museum also have accompanying English translations. This museum works in close cooperation with the nearby Museum of Kozara in Prijedor.

Slideshow - Mrakovica Museum

Photo 13: A view of the Džamonja relief sculpture inside of the Mrakovica Museum

While a number of significant exhibits and artistic works exist within this museum, one of the most interesting is a large wall-mounted memorial sculptural relief work which was also created by Dušan Džamonja (Photo 13). This curtain-like sculpture is composed of electro-welded chain links textured and molded to create a series of horizontal tightly packed bulges. This sculpture was created in 1973 at the same time as the buildings construction. A similarly styled sculptural relief, also by Džamonja, exists at the museum complex at the Jasenovac memorial site. Meanwhile, within the north section of this circular concrete building exists the museum's theatre (Slide 9). Originally, during the Yugoslav-era, this theatre space would have been used for historical presentations and other similar educational/political events. Until recently, this theatre is left largely closed-up and un-utilized, being predominately employed in current times as a makeshift storage space for old museum exhibits and other un-used elements. However, as can be seen in Slide 10, it has been cleaned up significantly and is being used for organized events once again. A historic view of the original appearance of this museum complex from the 1970s can be seen in Slide 11.

Various accusations have been made in academic publications against the museum which assert that the museum, after the fall of Yugoslavia and region's subsequent wars, changed the focus of its exhibits from being about ethnic unity and brotherhood to, instead, focus on creating a set of exhibits which many consider to be largely pro-Serb and ethnically antagonistic against Croatians. Sources indicate that the cultural & historical heritage head of Kozara National Park, Milenko Radić, has stated that these exhibits are older relics from the 1990s and the reason they have not been replaced is due to deficits in the museum's lack of funding. Also, in reference to such assertions, the museum's curator Marina Ljubičić has stated that, firstly, the exhibits referred to in these accusations were only meant to highlight the atrocities committed against ethnic-Serbs during WWII by the Ustaše occupiers, while secondly, these exhibits were only temporary and, as of 2017, the original exhibits have been restored.

 

"Monument Hotel" at Kozara:

In front of the large concrete set of stairs leading up to the monument is a large resort complex called "Monument Hotel". Built in the early 1970s during the original touristic development of Kozara National Park, this modernist chalet-style hotel was a popular destination during the Yugoslav-era, both for tourists visiting the Kozara monument, as well as those coming here in the winter for skiing. Originally named "Hotel Kozara", it adopted its current name during the post Yugoslav-era, during which time it re-styled itself and underwent renovations to become a more 'luxurious' accommodation, now boasting a 4-star rating. As a result, very little of its original period interior design & aesthetics are intact. Yugoslav-era images of the hotel can be seen in Slides 1 - 3, while contemporary images can be seen in Slides 4 & 5. Its official website is linked to HERE, while its coordinates are N45°00'45.5", E16°54'52.4".

"Monument Hotel" at Kozara - Slideshow

Symbolism:

The overall design of the central monument at Kozara is a tall 33m concrete cylindrical monolith, comprised of 20 vertical fins with interspersed bulged sections capped with textured steel plates, with long horizontally-sited fins radiating from its center along the ground. The structure exists on such a massive scale that it resides on a spectrum somewhere between sculpture and architecture. Its designer, Dušan Džamonja, relates that his intention in building this monument was to create a structure that was a 'game of light and darkness'. The bulges in the concrete fins are meant to be 'positives' while the recessed non-bulging areas are the hollows or 'negatives'. These 'negatives' represent death and defeat, while the 'positives' represent life and victory. Džamonja experimented with this form in several incarnations before settling on his final design (Photo 14). In an interview in which he describes the symbolism of his memorial sclulpture at Kozara, Džamonja is quoted as saying:

Photo 14: Early variations of Džamonja's final design concept

"I built a tower divided along vertical lines in four sections with a rhythmic profile, negative and positive. These patterns change four times and create a unity, the tower. The symbology represents the antagonism between life and death and between life and heroism. To strengthen the sacred character of the symbol, I built the vertical structure with concrete and steel layers, so that the steel layers can reflect the sun, unveiling the light."

Photo 15: Tunnel view

Meanwhile, the 20 tall narrow fins that make up the circular chimney-like tower are spaced in such a way that the average person is able to just barely squeeze into the hollow center of the structure. Inside of this strange environment, one feels trapped, confined and encircled (and squeezing back out of this space is difficult and cumbersome), almost as though some dark and oppressive force is bearing down onto you. This imposing atmosphere forces one to recall the similar oppressive feeling of the Axis forces bearing down on Partisan rebels and peasant fighters at this spot during the Battle of Kozara in 1942. Then, as you look upwards through the eerie tunnel-scape of the tower, the circle theme is seen again at the top of the monument where all of the fins converge (Photo 15), which reinforces not only the claustrophobic nature of the structure, but also seems to be a reference to the traditional kolo (circle) folk dance which was historically very popular in the Kozara region. In fact, up until the 1990s, an integral part of celebratory events at this monument was performing large kolo dances in the grassy field in front of the sculpture (Photo 16). Finally, the long concrete slabs which radiate out the from the center of the monument along the ground represent the opposing forces of the fascist Axis powers oppressing and subverting Partisan efforts, through the killing of soldiers and murdering of civilians.

Another interesting way in which to analyze this monument observing how the structure is built upon the mountain in such a way that it seems to force itself upon the landscape, its height and appendages thrusting outwards and imposing their will upon the rolling earth and surrounding forests, almost as if it is defying the mountain's contours and curves. Džamonja seemed to take no heed of the mountain itself, but instead expanded his small-scale sculptural concept into a gargantuan form, then plopping it on top of Mrakovica peak. This imposition upon nature could be seen as a symbol for the forceful and unrestrained way in which the Yugoslav government imposed its 'revolution' narrative upon the landscape and upon the people of Yugoslavia or, as art historian Bojana Videkanic phrases it, the Yugoslav state saw the people as "sculptural material to be molded and shaped into a particular political will."

Photo 16: Large group engaging in kolo dance at Kozara memorial event, 1970s

 

Status and Condition:

The condition of this memorial complex here at Kozara National Park is very good. The monument and its grounds are maintained extremely well, with regular grass cutting and landscaping done on the vast grounds the monument resides on. Meanwhile, no graffiti is noticeable on the monument or any surrounding structures, although there are some small graffiti marks within the inside cylinder on the inner side of the concrete fins. The structure and state of the concrete the monument is constructed from seems to be fully intact, though a few cracks and chips are apparent, but nothing serious. Signage and directional markers to the monument are abundant, even all the way back to Prijedor.

Photo 17: A 2015 event at Kozara

Within the on-site Kozara museum, significant amounts of history and information about the site and the memorial complex are available in multiple languages. For the foreseeable future, all indications I see point to this monument remaining well maintained and in good shape. Furthermore, I found many signs of veterans, family and locals in the surrounding community leaving honorific wreaths, candles and flowers at the memorial wall in the rear of the central monument. Significantly attended annual commemorative events are held every year at the site on July 3rd, the date which honors the start of attacks during the bloody Battle of Kozara (Photo 17). Meanwhile, the site is widely promoted and advertised by towns and municipalities in the surrounding region as a significant cultural attraction and historic point of interest.

 
 

Directions:

From Prijedor, follow Highway M4 east, then at the town of Kozarac, take paved road R477 north into the National Park. Follow this road for 12km to the top of the mountain and you will find the Kozara spomenik complex. Taking the northern route into the park from Gradiška is not recommended, as the road is gravel and not paved. It is important to note, do NOT take any other secondary route into the park, as many GPS units may try to take you on one of these alternative routes. These are invariably dirt roads and non-through routes, so be wary. The exact coordinates for parking at the memorial are N45°00'49.6", E16°54'44.9" (click for map). It is also important to note that there is a 2 Bosnian Mark fee to enter the National Park, so, make sure you have some Bosnia change handy when entering. You can find an official park map of the memorial complex HERE.

Kozara spomenik monument map location

Click map to open in Google Maps in new window

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