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Mitrovica (Митровица)

Brief Details:

Name: 'Shrine to the Revolution' or 'Monument to Fallen Miners' (Споменик рударима)

Location: On Partisan Hill in Mitrovica, Kosovo (aka: Kosovska Mitrovica) (formerly Titova Mitrovica, 1980-1991)

Year completed: 1973

Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović (profile page)

Coordinates: 42°53'45.3"N 20°51'36.4"E (click for map)

Dimensions: 19m tall trilith

Materials used:  Poured concrete, rebar and copper

Condition: Fair to poor, neglected (read red travel alert below)

(mee-troh-VEE-tsah)

Click on slideshow photos for description

 

History:

This monument was built to commemorate the memory of the local Serbian and Albanian fighters who worked at the Trepča mines in Mitrovica who bravely revolted against German occupation, forming the Miner's Troop (Rudarska četa).

 

Trepča Mines

The mines at Trepča in the present-day town of Mitrovica (aka Kosovo Mitrovica) have a history of ore extraction going back roughly 2,000 years, all the way back to the ancient Roman era. Throughout the following centuries the mines were continually developed and expanded by the successive kingdoms and regimes which ruled the region. However, after the Great Turkish War of the 1680s, the mines were left largely destroyed and abandoned. After World War I, the mines were re-opened and sold by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to a British company named 'Selection Trust'. Trepča mines became not simply the most significant industry in the region, they were arguably the largest and most productive industry in all the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. However, many of the local workers who toiled in the mines felt that the British company was forcing them to work unreasonably long hours under very dangerous conditions (Photo 1). As a result, there were significant worker strikes organized by the Trepča Miner's Union in both 1936 and 1939 in an effort to improve conditions. While the company capitulated to the demands of the workers during the 1936 strike, the strike in 1939 was violently suppressed by the company. The mine continued to be operated by Selection Trust until March of 1941, just before the start of World War II.

Photo 1: Workers within the mines at Trepča, 1936

 

Photo 2: A view of the Trepča Mines main facility at Zvečan during World War II.

World War II

During April of 1941, when the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was taken over by invading Axis forces, the highly productive Trepča mines (Photo 2) were put under German control, overseen by Nazi political leader Hermann Goering, with daily shipments of over 500 tons/day of zinc and lead being taken out of the mines and directly shipped to Germany for the manufacture of munitions, armament and other war supplies. The mine's workers were forced to work for the Nazi's enrichment against their will, being under constant observation by soldiers during operation hours. Refusal to work was considered a "violation of the interests of the German state" and met with severe punishment. In addition, warnings were issued to all workers that the punishment for the sabotage of mine operations was death. In addition to the mine's pre-war workers being forced to work in the mines, the German occupiers set up a forced labor camp within Trepča, where all prisoners were used as slave labor to dig and labor in the mine's pits.

It was not long after this German seizure that these Trepča mine workers began planning an uprising against this Nazi oppression and collectively formed the organized Partisan-aligned 'Miner's Troop' unit to combat and rebel against this occupation and abuse. Just before midnight on July 30th, 1941, workers detonated backpacks full of explosives on three pillars of the mine's cable car system which transported ore to the processing plant at Zvečan (Photo 3). This act suspended all production at the mines until the structures were rebuilt. The date of this rebel action, July 30th, occurred only 20 days after the resistance shooting at Bela Crkva (the incident which instigated the popular uprisings in the German-occupied Serbian/Kosovo region). After this act of sabotage at Trepča, this 'Miner's Troop' headed north into the mountains to join forces with the Kopaonik Partisan detachment. These Partisan rebels engaged in additional attack on the mine's infrastructure over subsequent months. These revolts and attacks severely impacted Germany's ability to source raw ore for their war waging efforts, not only because this was one of the most productive mines in Eastern Europe, but also because the Trepča mines, specifically its Stari Trg section, supplied Nazi Germany with more than 40% of their lead ore consumption while also producing the batteries used in the submarine fleets. Through the course of the miner's revolt and rebellion against occupying German forces, hundreds of fighters lost their lives. The city of Mitrovica was finally liberated by Partisan forces on November 23rd, 1944.

Photo 3: A cable car tower at Trepča Mines that was to be destroyed by Partisans, 1941

 

Spomenik Construction

In order to honor the fighters of the Miner's Troop unit (along with the Trepča miners pre-WWII history of standing up for worker's rights), the regional governments and veterans groups of Kosovo and Mitrovica commissioned a grand monument complex on a hilltop (named 'Miner's Hill' or 'Partisan Hill') in Mitrovica on the north side of the Ibar River (which splits the city). The designer chosen for the project was famed Serbian sculptor and designer Bogdan Bogdanović, well-known for his WWII monument projects at Jasenovec and Mostar. While the planning process for this memorial began in 1959, it was not completed until 1973. Bogdanović admits that this project was among the most complicated he undertook, while going on to explain that it took 12 years of deliberation, redesign, rethinking and negotiation to settle on the final completed form of the monument. Several of Bogdanović's design concepts through the years for the monument can be seen in Photos 4 - 6. As can be seen, he explored several structural formats before settling on a concept which he finally was happy with. The monument's final form, which came in the form of a sculpture titled 'Shrine to the Revolution', was a massive 19m tall trilith Stonehenge-esque structure, with two massive fluted concrete columns supporting a stylized ore-cart shaped concrete block. The ore-cart block was once sheathed in copper plates, but those have since fallen off or been stolen. In addition, near the base of the monument there are several limestone cenotaphs in which are interred the remains of fallen soldiers from the 'Miner's Troop' unit. Interestingly, these cenotaphs were constructed around 1959, predating the construction of the main monument.

Photo 4: An early concept for the monument by Bogdanović

Photo 5: A sketched design concept for the monument by Bogdanović

Photo 6: A more finalized design concept for the monument by Bogdanović

After its opening in 1973, it was one of the most popular cultural and historical attractions in the region, with thousands visiting it from across Yugoslavia. Bogdanović's design for this monument was so widely acclaimed by art critics of the era that it was awarded an 'honorable mention' at the famous São Paulo Art Biennial in 1973. The memorial complex was especially popular with those from the 'Young Pioneers' movement, which generally consisted of children learning about the Partisan Revolution by going on pilgrimages to various historic sites around Yugoslavia. After the death of Yugoslav President Josip Tito in 1980, Mitrovica changed its name to 'Titova Mitrovica' in order to honor the late leader. The name change was kept until 1991, when it was then reverted as Yugoslavia's republics began to claim independence.

 

Photo 7: Yoga practitioners at the Miner's Monument, 2015 [source]

Yugoslav Wars to Present-Day

With the dismantling of Yugoslavia through the 1990s and following Yugoslav Wars, interest and visitor-ship to this monument fell dramatically to the point where it is currently rarely visited by those wishing to pay honors or respects to it. As a consequence, the upkeep and maintenance of the complex have drastically reduced. Furthermore, the subsequent separation of Kosovo from Serbia has made access and the tourism potential here rather tenuous, as the monument resides on the ethnic Serb-majority side of the Ibar River, where tensions between Serbs and Albanians can occasionally run quite high. As of today, the monument has a lessened cultural or symbolic significance to the people of Mitrovica. Researcher Alexandre Mirlesse relates that when local residents are asked about the monument, some refer to it as a  "communist memorial", others see it as a "monument to the glory of Milošević", while others just derisively call it "the barbecue", illustrating the feelings of apathy which permeate both sides of the Ibar River. As of 2019, it is unclear whether the monument is protected on either the local or national level. Meanwhile, the Trepča mines also fell into a cascading failure of disrepair, neglect and vandalism during the region's post-Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990s. As of 2017, only two small operations at Leposavić and Kopaonik are still functional.

 

Various groups can still be found using the monument site, however. Modest annual memorial events are still taking place here, while many local people in the community use it for park strolls and as a panoramic viewpoint for recreation and relaxation. Interestingly, in 2015, the Yoga Federation of Serbia used the monument site as a location to hold their International Day of Yoga celebration (Photo 7). Meanwhile, New Orleans-based artist Srdjan Loncar (himself a 1991 Yugoslav emigre) recently created after being inspired by the monuments of former Yugoslavia a scaled version of the Mitrovica Miner's Monument, which was then covered in an unusual orange colored slime-like substance. An image of the artwork can be seen in Photo 8. This monument was also among the Yugoslav monuments which was used as inspiration for a commercially available series of miniature bronze monument sculptures by the New York City-based architecture group called "Yunicorns".

Photo 8: Work by artist Srdjan Loncar depiction of the Miner's Monument

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

There are several inscribed elements at this memorial site here at Mitrovica. Firstly, near the base of the monument (on its northwest side) are two white limestone cenotaphs (Slide 1) installed horizontally in the ground, within which are interred the remains of fallen fighters from this city's 'Miner's Troop' unit. One of the cenotaphs bears a long engraved inscription (Slides 2 - 4), while the second cenotaph appearsblank and uninscribed (Slide 5). The cenotaph which is engraved bears one inscribed message set in two parts translated into two different languages, with Serbian on the left side of the stone (Slide 2) and Albanian on the right side (Slide 3). Underneath the primary text, engraved on the lower half of the stone, is listed the names of the fallen soldiers (Slide 4). The primary text on the cenotaph translates into English as:

Slideshow

"Faithful to the traditions of freedom, workers of Trepča responded to the calls of Yugoslavia's Comunist Party and, under leadership of Comrade Tito, took part in The People's Revolution. In the hard struggle, they gave their lives in the hundreds, which serve to the new generations as a bright example of dedication to their people and the party. Gathered from the high and low places across this land, the remains of brave miners who lost their lives between 1941 and 1945 rest in this tomb."

Jovanić Jovo, Desnica Jovo, Hajdari Bislim, Mirić Mima, Čolaković Đorđe, Кorać Ljubo, Čolaković Nikola, Stanković Đuro, Osmokrović Todor, Isufi Habib, Rapajić Vaja, Zec Mile, Кalezić Ljubo, Bursać Milan, Miljuš Mile

August 18th, 1959

The Collective Workers of Trepča, Mitrovica

However, a historical image of this same inscribed cenotaph element from not long after its construction shows a different appearance. In Slide 6 you can see that this element was originally sheathed in a metal (maybe bronze) covering upon which was what appears to be the same inscription that it presently contains. Perhaps this metal covering was stolen at some point in the far past and the same inscription was simply carved onto the stone tablets that metal covering was placed on. Meanwhile, the second cenotaph that now appears blank, uninscribed and vandalized also originally contained a metal sheathing on top of it as well (Slide 7). Sources indicate that this cenotaph was a memorial marker for the local Partisan fighter Muharem Bekteši (Photo 9), who was killed in prison in Tirana in 1944 and proclaimed a Yugoslav National Hero in 1952. Reports indicate that in 1999 this memorial marker to Bekteši was defaced and destroyed.

As far as graffiti goes at this site, the base of the two massive columns of the monument are covered is various types of graffiti, including some Serbian nationalist graffiti, as evidenced by the Serbian Cross symbol graffitied in Slide 6. The presence of such Serbian nationalist graffiti is not surprising, considering this monument resides on the ethnically Serb-majority side of Mitrovica. One bit of non-nationalistic graffiti I found compelling at this site was spray painted on the cobblestone walkway between the two columns (Slide 7), written in Croatian, surprisingly. It reads, translated from Croatian, as:

Photo 9: Muharem Bekteši

"All you need is love to last."

Given the continued ethnic tensions and hostility associated with this region, I found this a particularly inspiring message. In 2017, municipal caretakers of the site used white paint to cover over all graffiti on the bottom 10 feet of the two pillars.

 

Photo 10: An old ore cart

In addition, the structure of this monument can be understood to be a doorway of sorts, opening both to those living on the south side of the Ibar (ethnic-Albanians) and on the north (the ethnic-Serbians). Perhaps Bogdanović felt that only when passing through this doorway together can both groups reconcile past grievances and contentious feelings. Interestingly, due to the dramatically tapering nature of these two supporting columns, the doorway appears wide and open from afar, but as you approach it at ground level, it is actually quite a narrow passage. Perhaps this is a symbolic allusion to the fact that a problem such a reconciling past ethnic tensions can seem easy from a distance, but once you are met face to face with such issues, things become much more precarious.

Another interpretation of the monument's symbolism I have encountered is looking at it as a type of 'cradle'. Trepča mines was always a powerhouse of raw materials for the the country during the Yugoslav era. As a result, many saw Mitrovica as the heart of Yugoslav strength and cradle of production. There was even a saying during the 1980s which captured the essence of this idea: "Trepča radi, Beograd se gradi" (Trepča works, Belgrade creates). Thus, it would seem more than reasonable to symbolically view the sculpture as a "cradle of industry" which provided for and was nurtured by the entire country.

Finally, a more poetic and colorful interpretive rendition analyzing the symbolic nature of the Miner's Monument can be found in a 1974 issue of the Yugoslav art journal called 'Umetnost' (number 37). A section of this analysis article, written by Dušan Đokić, which pertains to the monument is related below (translated here into English):

"...This robust, almost grim memorial marker, Apollonian in character, but in its concreteness Hellenistic, which, like a gigantic antique altar, dominates the appearance of the volcanic formation and is built on a combination of two varied materials: strong, reinforced concrete pillars of Doric provenance carry the reverse vaulted construction, coated with copper sheeting; meanwhile, the so-called cosmological structures, according to the ideas of the author, separate its upper and lower hemispheres. Regardless of this somewhat artificial connection, the impression remains powerful and comprehensive, caused by the formidability of the form, and still sharp details, almost negligible it could be said, but yet significant - forms of acrobatics - which stretch towards the sky in the trace of the edges of the sides of the worn structure -- they contribute somewhat to the revival of an almost tense, ominous static. In the hours of the twilight, when the faded moon emerges from the darkness, the work's silhouette reveals, in visual terms, that it appears as if the sculpture was crafted from one single piece, but then it can be determined with regret the way the work would be received had it been created from a single mass."

 

Status and Condition:

The status of this monument can be described as fair to poor. The actual physical structure of the monument is in relatively decent shape. There is a relatively small amount of any intentional damage or excessive weathering to the concrete facade itself, although, the original decorative copper-covering that once paneled the top-most ore-cart block has nearly vanished -- either having been stolen for scrap or fallen off due to neglect. Only a few small sections of the original copper covering (Photo 11) still exist on the northeast side of the monument. There is some graffiti around the lower columns, but nothing excessive. However, it is clear that little to no maintenance or upkeep is being put into this memorial complex, as I saw no active signs of grass cutting, repairs or trash cleaning, while no infrastructure existed whatsoever for lighting, protection or security within the complex. However, occasional efforts are put into graffiti removal, but this amounts to only covering the lower portion of the monument in white paint in order to obscure the vandalism. Meanwhile, it is evident from exploring the complex that many former elements of the memorial (plaques, plates, signs, etc) have been destroyed, removed or stolen in recent years. No local, regional or national governmental protection is extended to this site.

Photo 11: Historic photo of original copper covering top of monument

Photo 12: A 2017 commemorative event on Partisan's Hill

When attempting to navigate to the memorial, no signage or directional markers exist leading visitors to the site, which is frustrating, as Mitrovica is not an easy city to navigate around. However, despite the lack of signage, the local Mitrovica tourist website does promote the monument as a local tourist attraction. I found no other visitors while I was there, or any signs (in the form of flowers or wreaths) that locals came to or paid respects to the monument at any recent point. However, some locals do visit this site for leisure and recreation, as it is contained within a city park and does have excellent views of the city. Yet, reports do show that modest annual commemorative ceremonies have been held at the site at recent times, generally on the November 23rd, the WWII liberation day of Mitrovica (Photo 12), as well as on July 4th, Fighter's Day. Such events are generally organized by the SUBNOR veterans group. Some ceremonies in recent years have also used such ceremonies at the monument to recognize victims who were killed by the NATO bombings of 1999. Finally, from readings I've made and discussions I've had, the general attitude from both ethnic groups (Serbs and Albanians) towards this monument and what it stands for is, more than anything, a feeling of distance and apathy, with many in the city giving the structure the derisive nickname 'the barbecue', in reference to its shape. Yet, there are some in the Mitrovica community who do see the monument as a cherished symbol of the city, especially as it is one of the most prominent and recognizable features of the city.

As far as repairs being done to the memorial site, much work has been done over the last few years to remove and cover up much of the old graffiti across the complex. Meanwhile, in the summer of 2019, efforts were ut forward by local authorities towards restoring and rehabilitating the stone paved walkway and landscaping around the monument.

Additional Sites in the Mitrovica Area:

This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Mitrovica area that may be of interest to those interested in the monumental heritage of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will look at the Mitrovica's New Bridge over the Ibar River, as well as the Jadran Hotel.

New Bridge on the Ibar River:

In the center of the city of Mitrovica is a steel truss bridge which crosses over the Ibar River (Slides 1 & 2). Usually refered to as the 'New Bridge' (Novi most), this particular concrete version of the bridge was built in 1974, however, numerous bridge incarnations have existed at this site over the centuries. Over the years, this bridge has acted as acted primary connection between the city's ethnic-Serb population (on the north side of the Ibar) and its ethnic-Albanian population on the south side, resulting in the bridge serving as a viseral symbol for these two groups. However, after clashes between these two ethnic communities broke out in 1999, KFOR peacekeepers blocked all public access to the bridge (Slides 3 & 4). In 2001, the bridge was renovated under French supervision and decorated with a pair of metal arches on its two edges. Yet, over the following decade, the bridge continued to be a flashpoint for violence between the two ethnic groups.

The New Bridge on the Ibar River - Slideshow

As a result, during the 2000s and early 2010s, the bridge has been mostly closed to any sort of pedestrian or vehicle crossing traffic, being constantly monitored and occupied by KFOR peacekeeping forces. However, tensions seemed to subside at the bridge since the late 2010s, and much work and improvements upon the structure have been undertaken, with decorative lights even being added to the bridge's arches. As of 2019, the bridge continues to be closed to vehicular traffic, but some pedestrian traffic seems to be allowed presently. To cross the Ibar River by car, use the bridge roughly 600m NE of here just past the Mitrovica Railway Station. A vintage image of the New Bridge during the Yugoslav-era can be seen in Slide 5. Meanwhile, two images of the old bridge over the Ibar pre-1972 can be seen in Slides 6 & 7, while the pre-1930s wooden version of the bridge can be seen in Slide 8. The exact coordinates for the New Bridge are N42°53'28.6", E20°51'57.9".

Hotel Jadran:

Located on the south side of the Ibar River in what is today called Adem Jashari Square is the former Hotel Jadran (Slides 1 - 3). Built in 1928 during the era of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Hotel Jadran is built in the Vienna Secession/Art Nouveau style, with a central tower which dominates the front facade of the building. Upon completion, the hotel was the most upscale establishment in the city and quickly became one of the symbols of Mitrovica (which is still is to this day). Towards the end of the Yugoslav-era, the hotel ceased functioning and the building passed into private hands. From the 1990s to the 2010s, the site was occupied by several tenants, with it currently being operated by a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise (Slide 4) as of 2019. The building appears in good shape and looks well maintained despite its age. Today the building is protected as a cultural site of historic importance. The exact coordinates for this site are N42°53'20.7", E20°52'10.2".

Hotel Jadran - Slideshow

 

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Mitrovica Youth & Culture Center: On the south side of the Ibar River in the center of Mitrovica (just across from the New Bridge) is the city's youth and culture center. Designed in a very dynamic modernist style, this unique structure stands as a landmark to Yugoslav-era architecture and visual aesthestics. Since the 1990s, the structure has been given a new honarary designation commemorating the controversial WWII-era figure Rexhep Mitrovica. Meanwhile, the site remains in a reasonable condition, still being well patronized by the local community. A photo of the center can be found at THIS Flickr link, while its exact coordinates are N42°53'25.4", E20°51'55.5".

Directions:

The Miner's Monument at Mitrovica, Kosovo can be a bit tricky to get to, so if you are driving there, you'd do best by following these directions. Firstly, I would recommend instead of exiting into Mitrovica directly from Hwy 31, try as an alternative getting off Hwy 31 at Zvečan and taking Mbreti Petri road south into the north side of Mitrovica, as crossing the Ibar River within the city of Mitrovica can be confusing, hectic and disorienting, as bridges may be blocked or closed all together. From Mbreti Petri road heading south into the north outskirts of Mitrovica, then turn onto Çeta e Minatorëve (Miner's Road) on the left, following it around the bends to the top of the hill where there is a open parking area next to a caged football pitch (Photo 10). The exact coordinates for the parking area are N42°53'50.6", E20°51'29.9", From there, follow the cobblestone walkway to the top of the hill to the monument site.

Notice:

A few cautions I would give about travel here are, firstly, take and prepare multiple forms of navigation (phone, GPS, maps, aerials, etc) before you leave, as navigation in this city and region can be extremely difficult and unpredictable, even with the best of technologies, especially as NATO forces have closed the primary city center bridge across the Ibar River (at least as of 2018). Second, north Mitrovica has several international travel warnings set against it, with NATO and UN peacekeepers being a constant presence in the greater region due to continuing ethnic conflicts and tensions. Take all appropriate precautions and do your research before you travel to this area! It may be advisable to hire a local guide before you attempt to venture into this area.

Map to the location of the spomenik complex at Mitrovica, Kosovo.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Photo 10: Parking area, caged football pitch & pathway to memorial

 

Comments:

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