Name: Monument to the 50th Macedonian Partisan Division (Споменик на 50. Македонска партизанска дивизија)
Location: Mitrašinci, Macedonia
Year completed: 1974
Designer: Radovan Rađenović (Радован Раѓеновиќ)
Coordinates: N41°46'40.3", E22°45'09.7"
Dimensions: ~10m tall sculpture
Materials used: Concrete
Condition: Poor, neglected
This monument in Mitrašinci, Macedonia was constructed to commemorate thirty years since the formation of the 50th Macedonian Partisan Division resistance unit in the hills just outside of the village.
World War II
After the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, much of present day Macedonia was besieged by a military occupation by the Axis aligned Bulgarian forces, which was set up as a district called 'Vardar Macedonia'. While anti-Axis Partisan resistance efforts in this Vardar region against this Bulgarian occupation began as early as October of 1941, their initial efforts failed to achieve any significant successes due to the level to which Bulgarian soldiers brutally stamped out these uprisings. However, with the capitulation of Italy in September of 1943 and Bulgaria switching sides to join the Allied forces in 1944, momentum dramatically swung towards the favor of the Vardar region's home grown Partisan resistance forces. The small village of Mitrašinci (in the far eastern extents of the Vardar) was a particular hotbed of Partisan activity and recruitment. On September 17th, 1944, well over 1,000 new recruits and veteran Partisans amassed in the hills just east of the village to form the formidable 50th Macedonian Partisan Division. This division, commanded by Toše Jordanov and Boro Pokov, was comprised of soldiers from several smaller Partisan units, including the 4th, 13th and 14th Macedonian Brigades.
From Mitrašinci the 50th Division immediately began engaging German fighters from Army Group E who were on their retreat northwards from Greece, particularly around the nearby town of Kočani. They were so successful to this effect that by the end of that September the 50th Division had wrestled control of the town of Strumica away from German control and, by the end of October, the Division had liberated Kočani as well. Finally, by the end of November, the Division had succeeded in pushing the Germans and remain Axis occupiers out of the Štip and Tetovo, as well as the capital city of Skopje. Through these efforts, the 50th Macedonian Division operated as one of the most significant domestic units in freeing the wider Vardar Macedonia region from Axis control during the final months of the war. After the liberation of the Macedonian region, many fighters from the 50th Division choose to continue pursuing the retreating German forces northwards, where they engaged them at such locations as Sremski Front, Slavonski Požega and Zagreb up until the end of the war.
In the early 1970s, local veterans organizations and political groups began to formulate plans to commemorate the forthcoming 30th anniversary of the 50th Macedonian Division with with the construction of a monument complex near the site of its creation in Mitrašinci. The accomplished Macedonian architect Radovan Rađenović was commissioned to create the work. The exact spot chosen to construct the monument was the summit of a small hill just to the east of the village of Mitrašinci. Only after the entire hill was cleared of trees and vegetation did work on the complex begin. It was officially opened to the public on September 17th, 1944, a date which recognized 30 years since the formation of the unit. The central element of the memorial complex is a roughly 10m tall concrete sculpture which has five long concrete spires arcing into the sky. Additional elements may have existed as part of the original complex but due to the post-1990s degradation the site experienced, any trace of them is now has been wiped clean.
As mentioned above, the memorial site here in Mitrašinci underwent significant degradation after the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Firstly, the hillside the monument resides on was allowed to become completely overgrown with trees, an effect which drastically altering the memorial from its original presentation. Furthermore, from evaluating the current condition of the site, it is clear many of its original components and elements are now missing or destroyed. Occasional remembrance events are still held at the memorial, but it seems that much of the site has been allowed to deteriorate. However, two engraved plaques on the monument do appear brand new and recently installed, so, it would seem that on some level efforts towards restoration of the site are being attempted.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are two primary inscribed elements at the memorial complex here at Mitrašinci. Firstly, as you walk up the concrete approach pathway to the monument, two small engraved polished black granite plaques can be seen attached to the base of the structure (Slide 1). The good condition of these plaques (compared to the monument itself) leads me to believe they are newly installed. The engravings on both of these two plaques make up a single poetic stanza (Slides 2 & 3). This inscription roughly reads, when translated from Macedonian to English, as:
The heroic past is a path that teaches us a heroic future. We are who we are, search not within your revolutionary being.
-Fighters from the 50th Division-
The overall shape and form of the monument here at Mitrašinci very much appears to be a representation of a flower. Firstly, the five tall spires can easily be understood as the 'petals' of the flower, while the shorter stubby protrusion rising from the center of the sculpture appears exactly like a flowers 'pistil', which is the biological part of the flower the receives the pollen. This 'pistil'-like structure on the sculpture even has a flared-tip at its top, an effect which exactly mimics what the pistil's 'stigma' would look like. Understanding this sculpture as being representative of a flower then allows us to make guesses at what its creator, Radovan Rađenović, wanted to symbolically communicate with this work. Generally, the flower shape in sculptural forms is meant to symbolize ideas of rebirth, regeneration or new beginnings. As such, this monument could be understood as an homage to all those fighters of the 50th Division who perished in the war, with its tall spires reaching up towards the heavens almost as if in exhalation. On that same thought, within the form flower is communicated a universal message that from the ground where death resides, new life can emerge, which, as a result, allows for overt allusions to spirituality and the afterlife but in a completely secular, de-contextualized and non-specific way.
Status and Condition:
The current state of the Mitrašinci monument is very poor, with the complex residing in a very neglected state. Firstly, the vegetation and grounds around the complex appear to be only minimally maintained at best (if at all), while weeds and grass grow up between much of the sites cracked concrete and pavement. The memorial sculpture itself is currently experiencing a significant deterioration of the concrete facade, with cracking, staining, and chippings able to be seen all across its surface. In addition, in some places the concrete has chipped away to such a degree that the structural steel underneath is visible. Much my evaluation of the structure, no efforts have been made to repair this deterioration. However, newly created (presumably replaced) memorial plaques have recently been added to the sculpture, so it is clear that at least some efforts towards preservation of this aspect of the site are being made. Also, a large communications tower has been constructed directly adjacent to the monument, a presence which considerably detracts from the site as a solemn place of remembrance and memory. Meanwhile, no directional or touristic signs exist which might lead visitors to the site or alert passers-by along the main road to the monument's existence. Furthermore, no educational or interpretive signs exist at the site which might inform visitors to the monument's historical or cultural significance. Overall, there are few signs that the site see many regular visitors or patrons of any sort, especially as I found no flowers, candles or wreaths left at the site during my most recent visit.
Yet, despite the state of neglect this monument resides in, I found indications that some modest annual remembrance and commemorative events are still being held at this complex. These events, organized by local SUBNOR and other veterans groups, are generally held around September 17th, a date which is meant to recognize the founding of the 50th Macedonian Partisan Brigade at this spot in 1944. Such events generally are accompanied by song and dance presentations and are attended by notable local politicians and dignitaries.
Getting to the memorial complex at Mitrašinci can be rather tricky, so it is important to follow these instructions. Firstly, from highway P527 between Kočani and Berovo, as you approach the turn-off for the road which takes you to the village of Mitrašinci, you will notice a dirt road on the south side of the highway at a sharp angle heading south. You will notice a barn just down the dirt road roughly 100m. Follow this dirt road roughly 1km, as the road follows you towards the wooded hill in the distance. On top of this hill you will see a communication tower sticking up from above the trees. As the road turned right up hill, follow the path towards the tower. Depending on the weather and season, the road may not be fully passable, so park where-ever you can, keeping in mind you may have to walk a bit. As you head uphill you will see a set of concrete stairs. Follow them to the site.
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