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Makljen

(MAK-lyen)

Click on slideshow photos for description

Brief Details:

Name: "Poet (Pjesnik)" or "The Fist (Pesnica)" or "Monument to the Battle of the Wounded"

Location: On Mt. Makljen, FBiH, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year completed: 1978 (2 years to complete)

Designer: Boško Kućanski (profile page)

Coordinates: N43°50'33.9", E17°35'49.8" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~14m tall and 12m wide

Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar

Condition: Destroyed w/ explosives (2000), abandoned

History:

This spomenik complex at Makljen Pass commemorates the Partisan soldiers who fought and gave their lives during the Battle of the Wounded (aka the Battle of Neretva) where Partisans (under the command of Josip Tito) defended the Neretva River valley and the mountain pass at Mt Makljen, preventing Axis troops (German, Ustaše, Italians & Chetniks) from attacking ~4000 wounded Partisans at the nearby Central Hospital during late February/early March of 1943.

World War II

In the winter of 1942, Hitler became concerned about the situation in the North African Campaign and the hardships facing the German assault on Stalingrad, as it appeared as though that Axis forces were facing a defeat on both of these fronts. Hitler theorized that such defeats could open up the Yugoslav region to a subsequent Allied land invasion and the creation of a new Yugoslav front. To be prepared for this potential Allied assault, Hilter ordered Commander in Southeast Europe, Alexander Löhr, to organize a plan to wipe out all Partisan resistance fighters that might interfere with German planning or operations. Löhr organized what would come to be known as the 'Forth Enemy Offensive' (also known as 'Operation Case White'), whose aim was to not only squash the Partisans, but to also, most importantly, capture the Partisan leader Josip Tito. German offensives for this operation began at multiple locations in early January, 1943. While Tito and his Partisan central command unit, called the Main Operational Group (MOG), was able to evade the pursuing German Army through the following month of Feburary, it became clear to Tito that the MOG may not be able to hold their positions defending against Axis attempts to pursue them across to the east side of the Nevetva River valley at Jablanica. This was especially true as they were carrying with them evacuated wounded troops from the Partisan Central Hospital.

Photo 1: Partisan troops cross the Neretva River over ruined bridge crossing at Jablanica, 1943

After successful missions sending troops past Prozor over the Raduša Mountains via Makljen Pass to attack German positions at Gornji Vakuf, Tito sought escape from the German pursuers, particularly in light of the number of Partisan troops who perished while securing Makljen Pass. Tito then devised a bold strategy of creating a misdirection maneuver -- this tactic involved making the German troops think that, from the position of Gornji Vakuf, Tito was going to head north through the Vrbas River valley towards Bugojno. To create this misdirection, Tito destroyed all the bridges across the Neretva River and Rama River from the towns of Jablanica to Prozor, a feat accomplished by the MOG Pioneer Company from March 1st to 4th, 1943. The misdirection was successful, as the destruction of these bridges consequently led Germans to believe that the Partisans were attempting to prevent Chetnik forces on the east side of the Neretva River from intercepting them on their march towards Bugojno. So, while the Germans headed north on a wild-goose-chase over Makljen Pass through the Vrbas valley to Bugojno, Tito went back south to Jablanica, where his Pioneer company created a makeshift wooden crossing over the ruins recently destroyed Jablanica Bridge (which reportedly only took 19 hours for them to construct). By March 9th, the entire MOG unit (consisting of over +10,000 Partisan fighters) were transported across the Neretva River via this shaky improvised bridge, including roughly 4,000 wounded soldiers and civilians from the evacuated Central Hospital. After having traversed the Neretva with his MOG, Tito had successfully escaped capture by the Germans and headed to safety through the mountains east towards the Drina River.

Photo 2: Yugoslav movie poster for the 1969 film 'Battle of Neretva'

While it could be argued that the Partisans 'lost' this battle by not defeating the Germans units pursuing them, the Partisan goal of avoiding capture and preventing the Axis forces from pursuing them across the Neretva River (and effectively saving the thousands of wounded soldiers from execution), made the overall mission a success for Tito and his Partisans. Not leaving behind wounded soldiers was an important promise Tito had kept to his men, especially after the Germans had executed so many wounded Partisan soldiers at Zlatibor, Serbia during the winter of 1941. Meanwhile, these events also served to be a strong moral and spiritual victory for the Partisans, as they were seen to 'out-smart' and 'out-maneuver' the larger and more well-equipped German Army. The events of these battles and maneuvers were depicted in the 1969 Yugoslavian film 'Battle of Neretva' (Bitka na Neretvi) (Photo 2), which was one of the most expensive films ever produced by Yugoslavia.

The film featured a wide variety of international stars, such as notable Hollywood stars of the era as Orson Welles and Yul Brenner (who were drawn to the project as a result of the huge sums of money being offered), Ukranian actor Sergei Bondarchuk and German actor Curd Jürgens. It was nominated for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' at the 42nd US Academy Awards film competition in 1970, but did not win. This film can be watched in full in Spomenik Database's Video Archive section.

Spomenik Construction

Efforts to memorialize the Partisan efforts at Makljen Pass during the Battle of Neretva were initiated as early as the 1960s. Investigation by Belgrade-based researcher Andrew Lawler suggests that two short obelisk monuments (~4m tall) were built in 1963 as a commemoration marker for the site. Records indicate that this original Makljen complex was of a simple modest design, but unfortunately finding photos of this original site have been elusive. However, this would not be the end of efforts to valorize Makljen.

In the mid-1970s, plans were initiated on the local, regional and Yugoslav levels to create a much more grand monument complex to commemorate the Makljen WWII events. In 1976, an open call went out to artists and architects across Yugoslavia for design ideas for the monument. Nearly 50 plans were submitted, but the 26 member selection committee ultimately chose the concept put forward by famed designer Boško Kućanski (Photos 3 & 4). The budget afforded to the project was roughly 16.7 million Yugoslav dinars (£7.8 million) -- roughly 60% of that cost was covered by Bosnia with the remainder being covered by the other Republics. Construction on the project began in 1976 (Photos 5 & 6) and while explicit information isn't clear, the original obelisk memorials seem to have been demolished to make way for the new monument complex. The new memorial structure was officially unveiled to the public on on November 12th, 1978, with it being personally inaugurated and opened by President Josip Tito himself in a ceremony at the site. Also in 1978, during his first tour of Yugoslavia, Great Britain's Prince Charles visited the Makljen spomenik complex to pay his respects. The central element of the memorial consisted of a large 14m tall white-concrete abstract shape, which is said to be a figurative representation of a blooming flower. Just to the north of that main monument (roughly 150m), there is a large amphitheatre area where interpretive presentations to school groups and visitors were once given.

Photo 3: Original concept sketch by Kućanski of the Makljen monument

Photo 4: A conceptual model by Kućanski of the Makljen monument

Photo 5: A view of the Makljen monument under construction, 1977

Photo 6: The Makljen monument just after completion, 1978

Photo 7: UN peacekeeping forces at Makljen monument, 1998

Yugoslav Wars

This spomenik was a popular and attractive memorial site for many years during the Yugoslav-era, with massive celebrations held here annually on The Day of the Fighter national holiday on July 4th, which attracted thousands of people from across the Balkans.  However, come the rise of the Yugoslav wars and the dismantling of the Yugoslav state, the site and monument began to fall into neglect and degradation. The situation for the monument complex was especially volatile as it was situated right near an intersection of the frontlines of VRS, HVO and ARBiH forces. However, despite its proximity to conflict, the monument survived the Bosnian War. Yet, in post-'Dayton Accord' Bosnia, the situation around the Raduša Mountains was still not fully resolved. As such, in 1998, a NATO-led SFOR military peacekeeping unit of British Army soldiers was stationed at the monument at Makljen Pass in order to secure the area (Photo 7). However, the peacekeepers were pulled out of this position by the middle of 1998.

With the monument complex now unoccupied, in mid-November of 2000, a group of vandals entered the site and used dynamite to completely destroy the sculpture's facade. The exact reasons this act of vandalism was done and who it was that perpetrated the act have still not been established. All that was left standing of the monument was its interior structural reinforced concrete skeleton.

Present-Day

Since the attack on the monument, I have not learned of any efforts or initiatives to repair or rehabilitate the monument structure, either by local, regional or national efforts. But interestingly, in 2010, roughly ten years after the monument's destruction, the Bosnian Commission for the Protection of National Monuments (KONS) declared that the Makljen site would be a protected cultural asset. Included within the language of this decision by KONS are provisions that the organizations should fund the monument's restoration and rehabilitation in coming years. However, nearly 10 years after KONS made this decree, very little has changed at the site.  Also of notability, the Day of the Fighter holiday, which was once celebrated at Makljen site on an annual basis, was delisted as a national event after the fall of Yugoslavia, it is currently no longer officially recognized in any of the former Yugoslav nations.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

It can be assumed that many plaques, placards and interpretive signs once existed before this spomenik here at Makljen fell into ruin. However, at present time, all such plaques and engravings have since all been stolen, removed or destroyed. As of present time, I have yet to locate any records, photos, documents or other materials that might relate the inscriptions that these plaques or signs may have once contained.

Currently, the ruins and remains of this spomenik complex are covered in various sorts of graffiti and vandalism. One notable example I found on the ruins (Slide 1) was, translated from Bosnian to English:

"What weird misery from Prozor city"

Slideshow

This line is a play on a 2003 song by band Mostar Sevdah Reunion titled 'Čudna jada od Mostara grada', which means "What weird misery from Mostar city". This graffiti seems to be making a clear connection between the destruction at Mostar and the destruction of this spomenik at Mt. Makljen, near Prozar. In addition, I also found some fascist and Croatian nationalist symbols (Nazi and Ustaše) spray-painted on the destroyed structure (Slide 2), leading me to believe that there may still be deep ethnic/political tensions from locals towards this monument. Lastly, many other more peaceful graffiti examples can be seen around the site (Slides 3, 4 & 5).

Symbolism:

Before its destruction, the monument at Makljen was often referred to by the public as 'Pesnica', which translates into English as 'The Fist', which was popularly thought to be an allusion to the the strength and might of Tito's 'fist' during this battles with the Axis occupiers. However, this was not the monument's official name, nor is there direct evidence that the monument was specifically intended to be a symbolic representation of Tito's fist. The official name given to this monument by its creator, Boško Kućanski, was 'The Poet', with its form initially appearing to be of a completely abstract and non-representational style, which would not be surprising as the great majority of Kućanski's work is highly abstract and non-figurative (Photo 8). However, some other sources assert that Kućanski intended for the shape of the memorial sculpture to be representative of an otherworldly blooming flower (which would make his title 'The Poet' for the work a confusion attribution). In a statement that Kućanski reportedly made to a Prozor newspaper in 2013 (just before passing away in 2016), he gives the following description of his feelings about the sculpture's meaning (with his words translated here into English):

Photo 8: An abstract Kućanski sculpture titled 'Jedro'

"While approaching the task of this competition, I considered the ancient folk tradition that flowers are laid along the path of the hero. That is why, in the layout of my sculpture, there is a vitalistic floral form of extraterrestrial dimensions, which is written onto the rocks of the battlefield of Makljen and in whose bud is a multifaceted sculptural form standing as a symbol of the struggle and triumph of invincible life. The sculptural elements of the monuments should be related to the volumes of the surrounding rocky hills that, while in motion, carry with them a monumental figure related to historical events and should act as an incentive for heightened exploration within the viewer's imagination."

Status and Condition:

The memorial sculpture at Makljen pass in Bosnia currently exists in a state of complete destruction. During the nights of November 12-13, 2000, a group of unknown persons attacked the monument with dynamite, consequently devastating the entire facade of the structure. Interestingly, this date chosen to destroy the monument was certainly symbolic in nature, as it denotes the 22 years since the official opening of the spomenik complex. The explosion the sculpture was targeted with blasted off all of its outer concrete layer, leaving exposed the scaffolding of the structure's inner concrete framework. The perpetrators of this destruction to this day have not been found or held to account for this vandalism. While there has been talk at some levels of reconstructing the monument, as of yet, there are no officials plans or intentions to do so. Interestingly, this site was listed in 2010 as 'protected' as part of Bosnia's cultural heritage by the Bosnian Commission for the Preservation of National Monument (KONS)s (despite being destroyed 10 years earlier). However, despite this designation, this monument remains as a completely abandoned and destroyed ruins, even though the protection provision specifically indicates the the monument should be 'rehabilitated' in some fashion. As of 2018, no 'rehabilitation' work has yet been undertaken and no information exists at the site giving status or updates on current or future plans for the site.

In its abandoned and degraded state, this site sees few, if any, visitors. There are no directional or promotional signs advertising the monument, nor do any local municipalities advertise it as an attraction. Also, not surprisingly, there are no informational or educational placards or signs at the site relating the historical or cultural significance of the ruined monument. In fact, if a random visitor was to happen upon it by chance, there is nothing here that would give them any indication whatsoever as to the cultural significance or meaning of this ruined memorial.

Additional Sites in Makljen Area:

In addition to the memorial site here at Makljen, there are a number of other interesting Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites that would be relevant to anyone already interested in Yugoslav monuments, heritage and history. The two sites which will be explored here are the Museum of the Battle of the Wounded on the Neretva, located in the town of Jablanica, as well as the Partisan Cemetery at Gornji Vakuf.

 

Museum of the Battle of the Wounded

Also inaugurated by Tito on the same day as the monument at Makljen, November 12th, 1978, was a museum complex commemorating the Battle of Neretva (Photo 9), located adjacent to the ruins of the Jablanica Bridge. This museum, whose full name is "Museum of the Battle of the Wounded at Neretva", is constructed with a glass and concrete modernist facade, which was a design formulated by a team of Sarajevo architects including Branko Tadić, Zdravko Dundjerović and Mustafa Ramić. The museum itself is quite large, having over 3,000 square meters of exhibit space, and contains exhibits on both WWII events as well as events related to the Bosnian War of the 1990s. It is interesting to note that the Jablanica Bridge ruins adjacent to the museum (Photo 10) are not the original bridge ruins which Tito used to cross the Neretva during the 1943 battle. These ruins are, in fact, the remnants of a replica of the Jablanica Bridge that were built, and then destroyed yet again, for the filming of the 1968 film (Battle of Neretva) 'Bitka na Neretvi'. The museum's website states that since its opening, it has been visited by over 3 million people.

Photo 9: A current view of the Museum to the Battle of the Wounded

Photo 10: The current destroyed Neretva Bridge

Interestingly, in contrast to the monument at Makljen pass (which is roughly 35km to the northwest), the Jablanica museum complex, along with its corresponding bridge exhibit, continues to remain in excellent condition and both still play host to many visitors and annual ceremonial events. For instance, when the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Neretva was celebrated at the museum in 2008, it was accounted that over 3,000 people came to take part in the festivities. Finally, around the museum grounds can be found an amphitheatre complex, a historical train exhibit an array of additional smaller memorials and commemorative objects. It is also noteworthy to mention that reports from 2018 indicate that efforts are underway to reconstruct the Neretva Bridge for a 3rd time, at the cost of 100,000 euro. The exact coordinates of this museum and bridge complex in Jablanica are N43°39'15.1", E17°45'37.7". You can get more information by visiting the museum's official website (in English).

The Partisan Cemetery at Gornji Vakuf:

Roughly 12km north of the Makljen memorial complex is a small town on the Vrbas River called Gornji Vakuf. During WWII, the town was a significant center of Partisan uprising during the war, having been liberated for the first time early on in 1942. In the 1950s, a Partisan Cemetery was established in the town on a small hill just south of the town's center which honored the many local citizens who participated in the region's uprising against Axis occupation and Ustaše control. This monument complex consisted on a small obelisk at the center of a well manicured walled-garden complex (Slide 1). However, this complex sustained significant damage during the conflicts of the 1990s Bosnian War, as can be seen in Slides 2 - 5. As a result, the cemetery complex currently sits in a state of advanced decay and disrepair. Since the end of the Bosnian War, no efforts have been made to repair or rehabilitate the cemetery complex. The exact coordinates for the complex are N43°56'10.9", E17°35'09.2".

Partisan Cemetery - Slideshow [images via GornjuVakuf-x.com]

 

Monument at Rama Power Station:

Roughly 20km south of the Makljen memorial complex within the Rama River Canyon is the powerhouse facility for the Rama Hydroelectric Power Station. The powerhouse for this hyrdo-station was built in a natural underground cavern in the canyon's walls called Marina Cave. It was made accessible via a large concrete portal entrance. Above the cave's entrance was was installed a sizeable concrete sculptural relief showing a row of marching Partisan fighters (Slide 1). Created by Dubrovnik sculptor Marijan Kocković [profile page] in 1968 at the time of the original construction of this hydro-dam project, this relief is a stylized depiction of scenes from the Feburary 17th, 1943 WWII battle which occurred at this location where several Partisan units ambushed and destroyed a column of tanks and trucks of the Italian 154th "Murge" Infantry Division. This memorial sculpture still exists at the entrance to the station's powerhouse, but is stained and discolored after years of weathering (Slides 2 & 3).

Monument at Rama Power Station - Slideshow

A diagram showing what the powerhouse looks like through this entrance portal can be seen in Slide 4, while images of the station can be seen in Slides 5 & 6. The facility is owned by the Elektroprivreda BiH power company. The exact coordinates for this site are N43°44'48.5", E17°40'33.0".

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Tito's Two Hunting Lodges at Bugojno: Roughly 30km north of the monument complex at Makljen is the town of Bugojno. Nestled in the hills and mountains around this town are two hunting lodges which President Josip Tito used for hunting excursions (most notably for bear, which he particularly enjoyed hunting). The first lodge was built high in the Koprivnica Mountains in 1972 (Photo 11). However, after Tito found the high-altitude disagreeable with his health, a second villa named 'Gorica' was built in 1974 at a lower elevation closer to Bugojno (Photo 12). After Belgrade and Brijuni, it was at these two villas that Tito spent most of his time, where he received many dignitaries and heads of state (most notably Muammar Gaddafi). However, after the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Bosnian War, both villas were completely destroyed, existing now simply as gutted concrete husks of their former selves. Some discussion has recently been made about the potential restoration of these sites, but as of yet nothing has manifested. The exact coordinates for the 'Koprivnica' villa are N44°01'43.1", E17°18'16.9", while the exact coordinates for the 'Gorica' villa are N44°02'25.3", E17°26'33.9".

Photo 11: A before and after view of Tito's 'Koprivnica' villa near the town of Bugojno, BiH

Photo 12: A before and after view of Tito's 'Gorica' villa near the town of Bugojno, BiH

  • Stećak Necropolis at Dugo Polje: Roughly 10km south as the crow flies from the monument complex at Makljen is the stećak necropolis at Dugo Polje. This complex is part of the 30 medieval stećak necropolis sites in the former Yugoslav region that were declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. These hundreds of medieval tombstones, located in a remote grassland valley, are decorated with an array of fascinating ancient carvings and exist in relatively good condition. Photos of this tombstone site can be seen at THIS Wiki gallery, while its exact coordinates are 43°39'47.6"N 17°32'35.2"E.

Directions:

The Makljen spomenik complex is located along the M16.2 highway, which connects the towns of Prozor and Bugojno. From Bugojno, drive south along this road for approximately 31km through the valley south of Gornji Vakuf and up over the Raduša Mountains, near the summit of Mt Makljen. Just before you are about to reach the downgrade to head into Prozor, you will reach the village of Makljen and just past there, you will see a small dirt road on your left. If you reach the large hair-pin turn, you have gone about 1km too far. Turn into this dirt road and after about 150m, you will see a path on the right leading into the woods. Park here and follow the path. It will take you past the ruins of the old amphitheatre, and then through the trees to the monument complex. Parking can be made anywhere it is accessible. Exact coordinates for parking are N43°50'38.8", E17°35'46.3".

A map to the location of the monument at the Makljen spomenik complex in Bosnia.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Slideshow

Comments:

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