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Nikšić (Никшић)

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to Fallen Fighters of WWII (Spomenik Palim Borcima U Drugom Svjetskom Ratu)

Location: Nikšić, Montenegro

Year completed: 1987

Designer: Ljubo Vojvodić

Coordinates: N42°45'47.2", E18°57'34.6" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~20m tall structure

Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar

Condition: Fair to poor, neglected and degraded

(NIK-sheech)

Click on slideshow photos for description

History:

This spomenik at Nikšić commemorates the fallen soldiers from this city who fought against Axis occupiers during the National Liberation War (WWII). In addition, this spomenik is a memorial to the 32 Partisan soldiers and anti-fascist fighters who were executed on Trebjesa Hill where this monument is located.

World War II

Like much of the rest of the Montenegro, turmoil and conflict hit Nikšić on April 17th, 1941 when Italian 9th Army marched into the city. All of Montenegro was subsequently invaded and besieged with an Italian military occupation. In early July of 1941, communist dissident Milovan Đilas was sent to Montenegro by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ), where he laid the ground work for the creation of organized armed resistance units called the 'Partisans'. Such efforts by Đilas to instigate communist rebellion were not difficult in Nikšić, as it had long been known as the center of progressive forces led by the Communist Party in Montenegro. Then, starting on July 14th of 1941, Partisan fighters, along with other resistance groups such as the Chetniks, in Nikšić and across Montenegro living under occupation began to rise up. Within just a few days, not only was Nikšić was completely liberated, but a significant amounts of weapons were captured from disarmed Italian soldiers. Partisans even secured four Italian planes from the local airport. However, within six weeks, Italy's Mussolini retaliated, sending a force of nearly 90,000 troops from the Mentasti's XIV Corps to put down this uprising. During this Italian backlash, much of liberated land in Nikšić was retaken by the Italian Army, resulting deaths of hundreds of local fighters. Across Montenegro, nearly 10,000 rebels killed during these Italian offensives. The Nikšić Partisan Liberation Squad, formed on October 29th, 1941, attempted to regain this lost territory, but they were unsuccessful. Many Chetniks who had cooperated with the Partisans in the resistance fighting wished to give up the fight against the Italians, feeling the fight was futile and was resulting in the deaths of too many civilians. However, the communist-led Partisans refused to capitulate. This caused a split in the uprising movement, which resulted in the nationalist Chetniks changing sides to collaborate with Italian and German Axis forces.

Photo 1: Ljubo Čupić before execution

Photo 2: A view Ljubo Čupić as he is being executed by Italian soldiers, 1942

By January of 1942, open fighting began to break out between the Chetniks and Partisans. While there were only 5,000 Chetniks, compared to the 8,000 Partisans, Italian support enabled the Chetniks to drive the Partisans out of Montenegro by May of 1942. During the Partisan retreat, 32 Partisan fighters from Nikšić were caught by the Chetnik and Italian forces as they were attempting to flee the town. In retaliation for the losses they received during the battle, the Italian commanders in Nikšić ordered that all 32 of these be executed. On May 9th, 1942, the 32 men were taken to the foot of the south end of Trebjesa Hill and shot, then thrown in a mass grave. One notable fighter killed during this spate of executions was Čedomir "Ljubo" Čupić (Photo 1). Born in the United States to Montenegrin parents, Čupić returned to Montenegro in the 1930s for university, but he was caught up in the occupation resistance movement of 1941. He had reached the position of commissioner of his Partisan unit in Nikšić before he was captured by Chetniks in April of 1942 and later executed by Italian soldiers (Photo 2).

Čupić is most often remembered for the defiantly wry smile he beams at the camera in a photo taken of him while in handcuffs in the moments just before his execution (seen in Photo 1). Josip Tito posthumously awarded Čupić with the 'Order of the People's Hero' award on July 10th, 1953. In July of 2018, a bronze statue of Čupić was built in Nikšić's Freedom Square to honor his efforts during WWII.

By 1943, after the Italians had surrendered to the Allies in the Armistice of Cassibile, Partisans re-entered the Nikšić region and resumed battle against the Chetniks. Germans soon arrived in 1943 to support Chetnik efforts against Partisans, however, the support was not enough and by the beginning of 1944, Chetniks and Germans began to retreat from the Montenegro. The city of Nikšić was finally liberated on September 17th, 1944, however, unsuccessful Axis offensives attempting to re-occupy the city continued until early 1945. Over the course of the National Liberation War, roughly 11,000 citizens of Nikšić participated in the war, with over 1,200 of them perishing during combat. Of the those who fought during the war in Nikšić, 45 were declared National Heroes by the Yugoslav government.

Spomenik Construction

The first efforts to mark the area around the base of Trebjesa Hill where the 32 captured fighters executed by Italian forces in 1942 came first at the 10 year anniversary of the massacre in 1952. During this time a small white polished stone panel was installed directly into the rough stone near the base of the mountain. Then, in 1961 a new more substantial monument was created not far from this initial plaque. Sources describe this 1961 monument as a two 11m tall concrete "arms" stretching into the sky. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any photos of what this 1961 monument looked like. In the mid-1980s it was subsequently torn down to make way for an even more substantial monument project.

Somewhere around 1985 the local/regional government and veterans organizations began to coordinate the construction of this new more elaborate memorial complex. The commission for this project was awarded to local Nikšić sculptor Ljubo Vojvodić, an artist who had created a significant number of memorial sculptural works around Montenegro's municipalities of Nikšić and Danilovgrad during the late 1970s and 1980s. The completed memorial complex was officially opened to the public on September 17th, 1987, a date which commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the liberation of Nikšić from Axis forces. The dedication for the monument was given by Montenegrin politicians Dragiša Maksimović and Gojko Mitrov Kilibard. In the speech given by Kilibard, who was the president of the Socio-Political Council of Nikšić, he made the following statements [sourced from a 2014 book by historian Veljko Bijelić], translated here into English:

"Here we are under Trebjesa Mountain, a symbol of liberty for the Nikšić region, gathered at the end of the dust of the 30 armies of the liberators who fell for our beautiful sunsets, that on this sunny day we pay due respect to them and bow to their shadows... They all bravely stood in front of the hideous fascist [gun] barrels, they defend their honor, name and sacred freedom with blood and tears. Having these ideals in front of them, these liberators left us and generations yet to come with this message: to never forget them and the magnificent efforts for which they have fallen, that freedom has no price, and that only a free man can be happy and live a humane life."

In the handful of years this monument existed before the dismantlement of Yugoslavia, this complex was a thriving attraction, however, the regional turmoil of the 1990s and 2000s brought a decline in the region's enthusiasm towards their Partisan heritage, which resulted in the monument falling into a state of neglect and marginalization.

Present-Day

Currently, the memorial site at Nikšić has been subject to damage and vandalism over the decades since the 1990s. As recent as 2016, the structure and grounds of the monument have been subject to defacement and damage. However, the overall condition of the monument's facade and concrete remains relatively good overall. Meanwhile, some annual ceremonies and remembrance events are still held at the site, especially in relation to the Yugoslav National Hero Ljubo Čupić, who is still a celebrated figure in the region.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti: 

There are a number of engraved elements at the monument here at Nikšić. Firstly, the base of the central memorial sculpture, which is adorned with a number gear-like shapes, has exactly 32 engraved circular black stone panels fixed onto teach 'tooth' of the base's gear-shape (Slide 1). The engravings on these stone plaques are the names and lifespans of the 32 Partisan soldiers executed at this spot during WWII by Italian forces. Meanwhile, set into a recess at the front of the central monument there is a tall rectangular inscribed black stone panel (Slide 1 & 2), which is engraved with circle designs and an quote at its center. Translated from Montenegrin to English, this plaque roughly reads as:

1941 - 1945

"Your valor will be revered by your descendants for centuries."

Slideshow

Meanwhile, several meters to the northeast of the monument, there is a small modest marble plaque set into a large rough boulder sitting at the foot of Trebjesa Hill (Slides 3 & 4). This is the original 1952 plaque which was the very first memorial element construct at this site. The inscription on this plaque reads, when translated into English:

In 1942, on this spot, disgusting Italian occupiers and their repulsive Chetnik collaborators shot 29 heroic fighters of the People's Liberation movement. They fell to a heroic death for freedom and the joyful future of our people and they will serve as an eternal memorial to younger generations on how you should love your country and its freedom.

July 13th, 1952

(Montenegro Uprising Day)

Interestingly, this plaque only mentions 29 killed Partisan fighters, while the newer memorial counts 32 fighters among the dead of this incident. Perhaps between 1952 and 1982, additional victims were discovered.

Symbolism:

The shape of the memorial sculpture here at the Nikšić spomenik site appears highly complex, being comprised of a extremely layered forms and abstract shapes. The central motif of the sculpture is the large forward-most circular face. At first glance, this circular face seems very reminiscent of a turning gear, with this 'gear-shape' motif repeated several times around the memorial complex. The creator of this work, Ljubo Vojvodić, employs this gear motif at many of the monument sites he has created around the region. Perhaps this gear-shape is meant to reflect the concept of the spinning 'gears of war' that churn up the lives of normal citizens. However, at the same time, the shape of the monument could be considered to be very floral at the same time, with the large circular face perhaps symbolizing that of a flower pointed towards the sun.  This is also a strong possibility, as the symbolism of the flower is repeated at many WWII abstract memorials across the former-Yugoslavia, often representing 'rebirth' and 'renewal'. Another apparent symbolic gesture within the circular face of the monument is that of the 5-pointed star (Photo 3), motif that stood as the symbol for the Partisan anti-fascist army (NOVJ) as well as the Yugoslav communist government.

Photo 3: The star shape drawn in red on the monument's face

Photo 4: A hammer and sickle shaped monument in Atka, Russia

The 5-pointed star shape motif was a symbol seen on many of the NOB monuments created across Yugoslavia as part of their unifying visual language of communicating the socialist revolution. However, as seen here, the star symbol was often inserted in a very subtle or understated way as to not be glaringly obvious or heavy-handed in its political symbolism. This commonly observed Yugoslav approach of subtlety with the integrating of political symbols into monuments stands in sharp contrast to the approach of making political symbols an unambiguous central focus of their memorial works, something more commonly seen in regions under Soviet control/influence during the mid-20th century (Photo 4).

Meanwhile, in a 2014 book by historian Veljko Bijelić called "Spomen-obilježja oslobodilačkih ratova u opštini Nikšić" (Memorial Features of the Liberation Wars in the Nikšić Municipality), the symbolism for this monument is described as such:

This memorial, with its monumental and artistic design, symbolizes the phenomenon of the smiles of the soldiers and patriots sentenced to death before being executed by the occupier, as a reflection of the sorrows of the killers, of the future overthrow of the occupying inhumane part, of the pleasure they enjoy for the freedom they see in the thoughts and the sun felt in the heart of the "victory of the abject, but undefiled peoples under the five-pointed star," a sign of belonging to the Partisan units of the Yugoslav People's Army, unselfishly brave, casual, human and invincible fighters. From the overwhelming bloodshed and the victims of the growing fight for freedom, a new life will develop. This is in essence symbolized by all the monuments designed by the architect Vojvodić.

Status and Condition:

Upon my most recent visit to this spomenik complex in Nikšić, Montenegro, I found it to be in a fairly good statue, however, it was subject to a considerable amount of neglect and damage. Firstly, the grounds and landscaping around the memorial are very well kept, as the memorial resides within a massive and well-used public park that follows around the south end of Trebjesa Hill. Meanwhile, the structure of the memorial sculpture itself is very good as well, which is not surprising, as the large concrete mass of the sculpture would be very difficult to inflict damage upon. Even so, most of the memorial elements on and around the sculpture are well kept and maintained, including all of the engravings and plaques. However, there have been instances of damage and vandalism over the years. Recently, in April of 2016, one of the memorial's courtyards was significantly damaged, with many of its paving stones stolen or disturbed (Photo 5). Meanwhile, in attempting to navigate to the spomenik site, you will find no markers or directional signs to lead you there from the main road, nor are there any sorts of interpretive tourist signs or multi-lingual informational placards at the site informing visitors of the site's historic or cultural significance. The 1952 engraved stone does give some information about the site, but it is certainly not readily apparent to visitors or sufficient as far as telling the complete story of the site or memorial. Furthermore, the city of Nikšić itself puts little to no effort into promoting or advertising the memorial as a tourist attraction or point of interest.

Photo 5: A view of 2016 damage to the monument

Photo 6: A 2016 ceremony at the memorial

The memorial site here does see a great deal of daily visitors, as the monument is situated in the center of a sprawling park complex at the base of Trebjesa Hill. However, it does not seem as though many of these visitors are there exclusively to patronize the memorial or pay any nature of honorific tribute to it. In fact, upon my most recent visit there, I found no forms of honorific candles, flowers or wreaths, leading me to believe that such tributes here are not a regular occurrence. Yet, I did find indications that annual wreath laying commemorative ceremonies continue to be held at this site annually (Photo 6), generally by veterans groups such as SUBNOR, generally on May 9th, which is the anniversary day of the death of the Yugoslav National Hero Ljubo Čupić, who was executed at the spot of the memorial site in 1942 and is still a figure locally celebrated by many. These events are often attended by local dignitaries and notable politicians.

Additional Sites in the Nikšić Area:

This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial works that area located around the greater area of Nikšić, Montenegro. The following sites which are examined are the House of the Revolution complex in the Nikšić town center, as well as the monument at Kapino Polje, west of Nikšić by the airport.

 

House of the Revolution: 

In 1976, construction started on a massive project to create an expansive cultural center in Nikšić based around the idea of Yugoslavia's 'socialist revolution' against anti-fascist forces during WWII. The project was titled the "House of the Revolution" (Dom Revolucije) and was designed by well-known Slovenian architect Marko Mušič (who had also created the Spomen-Dom at Kolašin). Located just north of Nikšić's central square, the overall character of the building is defined by an escalating series of angular concrete levels, with vast open spaces covered with panes of bright blue glass. The project cost a huge some of money, with some sources estimating upwards of 25 million euros in today's values. This vast ambitious project, whose size is was roughly 22,000 square meters, continued to be constructed until the late 1980s, at which point the political crisis of Yugoslavia's dismantling began to threaten the project's continuation.

House of the Revolution - Slideshow

Then, in 1989, as Yugoslavia's crumbling situation meant that the city of Nikšić could no longer rely on supportive funds for the project from other Yugoslav republics (much less other Montenegrin cities) the construction at the Dom Revolucije came to a complete halt. As such, since then, the unfinished and exposed structure has sat largely abandoned and neglected through subsequent decades (Slides 1 - 3). Furthermore, it has been extremely defaced and damaged over the years as the massive concrete husk is exploited by vandals, derelicts, animals and encroaching vegetation. Consequently, its degraded state has stood for years as a sore spot and contentious issue among the citizens and politicians of Nikšić. However, recent attention has been extended to the complex. In 2014, the Montenegro pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale included the Dom Revolucije among the country's architectural wonders in the 'Treasures in Disguise' presentation. Meanwhile, in 2016, a team of architects came up with plans to complete and rehabilitate the ailing structure. However, as of early 2019, these plans are yet to be fully realized.

The exact location of the Dom Revolucije complex is N42°46'36.4", E18°56'57.1", with parking available in many places around the vicinity. Officially, I must recommend that you not enter the building, as its interior is very dangerous and many people have died within the structure since its abandonment in 1989. However, if you do feel compelled to enter regardless of this warning, beware of exposed openings and drops, which are in many cases filled with deep pools of water from which escape is difficult or impossible.

Monument at Kapino Polje: 

In the late 1960s, efforts were organized to create a monument at a location on the western outskirts of Nikšić, known as Kapino Polje, where 25 Partisan fighters were executed on June 25th, 1943 by Axis occupiers during WWII. The commission to create the monument was awarded to local Nikšić architect Slobodan Vukajlović. The completed monument, which was unveiled to the public on July 13th, 1971, was a sculpture (roughly 7-8m tall) composed of 5 concrete pillars which all connect at the structure's apex (Slides 1 - 4). Viewed from above, a hexagonal motif can be seen within the form, which was a design element typical of Vukajlović's work. Sources assert that each of the five pillars represent the five pillars which the 25 Partisan fighters were tethered to and executed against, and exist within the sculpture all united as a 'torch of freedom'. Meanwhile, attached to each of the fives pillars are inscribed plaques (Slide 5) which bear the names of all Partisans executed at this site in 1943.

Monument at Kapino Polje - Slideshow

Since the fall of Yugoslavia, the monument complex here at Kapino Polje has somewhat fallen into disrepair, with the structure showing significant signs of degradation and neglect. However, commemorative events are still held at the site. A historic photo of the monument can be seen in Slide 6. The exact location of the monument complex is N42°46'51.7", E18°55'12.3", just on the right hand side of the road as you head out of Nikšić west over the Zeta River along the M6 highway (across from the airport).

And Additional Sites of Interest: 

  • Monument to Fallen Fighters at Vidrovan: Roughly 9km north of Nikšić is the small village of Vidrovan. Within the center of the villages main square, right in front of the post-office, is a small concrete monument in the shape of a stout monolith (~3m tall) with many decorative design features (Photo 7). Created by local Nikšić sculptor Ljubo Vojvodić, this monument commemorates local fighters who perished during WWII (1941-1945), as well as during the 1st & 2nd Balkan Wars and WWI (1912-1918). A photo of the monument can be seen at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N42°51'23.2", E18°56'31.2".

  • Monument to Fallen Fighters at Trubjela: Roughly 21km west of Nikšić is the small village of Trubjela, right along the M6 highway. Just a few dozen meters west of the village center (which is really just one restaurant and a couple abandoned buildings) can be found a small monument complex. Created in 1982 by Nikšić architect Slobodan Vukajlović, this memorial consists of a series of elaborately carved stone triangles. The monument commemorates local fighters who perished during WWII (1941-1945), as well as during the 1st & 2nd Balkan Wars and WWI (1912-1918). A photo of the monument can be seen at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N42°44'39.1", E18°46'42.7".

Photo 7: A photo of the monument at Vidrovan

Photo 8: A photo of the Nikšić Catholic Church [photo from onogost.me]

  • Nikšić Regional Museum & Gallery: Just south of the Nikšić city center near the base of Trebjesa Mountain is the Nikšić Museum & Gallery. Housed in a reconstruction of King Nikola's 1890 castle, this institution houses hundreds of exhibits about the cultural, enthographic, archeological and historical heritage of the Nikšić region, as well as exhibits related to its WWII history. The museum's official website can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N42°46'09.5", E18°57'05.8".

  • The Nikšić Catholic Church: Just north of the Nikšić city center is the city's Catholic church, which stands as a fascinating architectural example of concrete modernist architecture employed for a house of worship (Photo 8). Opened in 1986 and designed by local Nikšić architect Slobodan Vukajlović, this ambitious structure took 10 years to complete and exists as a Yugoslav-era landmark for architectural innovation and forward-thinking design. A photo of the church can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N42°47'09.4", E18°56'38.1".

Directions:

To reach the Monument to Fallen Fighters in Nikšić , the most common way to approach is from driving along the E726 Highway from the direction of Podgorica. As you approach Nikšić, take the first exit you see on the right for the Nikšić city center. Follow this road roughly 1km, at which point you will cross over the Boulevard 13 July. After your made this crossing, take your first right after about 100m, which continues as Trebješka Road. Then, continue about 400m, passing a football pitch on your left and crossing a creek, at which point you'll take a left into a entrance to Štedim Cemetery (you'll be able to see the monument on the left at this point). Parking can be made outside the cemetery, from which point the spomenik can be easily walked to at the base of the hill. The exact coordinates for parking are N42°45'44.4", E18°57'31.4".

A map to the location to the monument at the spomenik complex at Nikšić, Montenegro.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Historical Image(s):

Photo 9: A 1980s photo of the Nikšić monument

Comments:

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