Oteševo

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to the Prespa Party Conference (Споменик за Преспанското советување)

Location: Oteševo, N. Macedonia

Year completed: 1973

Designer: Jordan Grabul [profile page], w/ Boro Josifovski

Coordinates: N40°58'35.3", E20°54'43.0"

Dimensions: ~9m tall

Materials used: reinforced concrete

Condition: Poor and neglected

(Отешево)

(OH-teh-sheh-voh)

History:

The memorial sculpture here at Oteševo, N. Macedonia commemorates the Prespa Party Conference which occurred near this location on August, 2nd, 1943, which was attended by members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Macedonia.

World War II

When the Axis armies invaded the region of present-day N. Macedonia in 1941 during the beginning months of WWII, the region was partitioned in two sections: the western 1/3 was annexed by Italian-controlled Albania while the eastern 2/3 was annexed by Bulgaria (which was dubbed 'Vardar Macedonia'). While resistance efforts against these occupying forces by the local population began almost immediately, yet, such actions were met with harsh and brutal retaliation by Axis powers which slowed the resistance and uprising efforts in Macedonia compared to other parts of the Yugoslav region. Though, through 1942, small Partisan resistance units were formed which worked towards subverting Italian and Bulgarian military efforts in the region through sabotage and guerilla actions. However, at the beginning of 1943, representatives from the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) arrived in the Macedonia region to being coordinating a more organized resistance effort.

As a result, the Communist Party of Macedonia (KPM) was founded in March of 1943 (concurrently in Skopje and Tetovo), at which point they began working to coordinate the region's resistance efforts. However, in order for the KPM to effectively wage a fight against Axis forces, they needed to devise a strategy and plan for the organization's future activities, which would require the KPM's leadership all needed to meet together in one place (Photo 1). As a result, a meeting of the KPM's Central Committee was held on August 2nd (Ilinden Uprising Day) of 1943 on Lake Prespa at the small village of Oteševo. In attendance at what became known as the Prespa Party Conference (also known as the 'Prespa Council') were notable Partisan resistance fighters, such as Kuzman Josifovski Pitu, as well as top representatives from the KPJ leadership such as Svetozar Vukmanović Tempo.

Photo 1: A 1943 image of attendees to the Prespa Party Conference at Oteševo

During this pivotal meeting, many major decisions were made in regards to a variety of issues, which include the development of more formal and regimented Partisan military units, the continued armed opposition to Axis occupational forces, the expansion political networks, and, most importantly, the first discussions for the creation of the Anti-Fascist Assembly of People's Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM), which was intended to operate as Macedonia's supreme legislative and executive body. The first session of ASNOM would occur exactly one year later on August 2nd, 1944 at Prohor Pčinjski Monastery. Being that the groundwork for ASNOM was laid by the KPM at the Prespa Party Conference at Oteševo, the meeting was widely exalted during the Yugoslav-era as the first step towards what would become the Socialist Republic of Macedonia.

Spomenik Construction

In the lead up to the 30th anniversary of the Prespa Party Conference, Macedonian authorities made the decision to erect a monument at the site near where the conference occurred in 1943. The commission for the creation of this memorial project was awarded to famous Prilep-born Macedonian sculptor Jordan Grabul [profile page], whose monument concept was selected as the winner during the course of a design competition for this project. Grabul had already distinguished himself through the previous two decades creating a number of notable WWII memorial works across Macedonia. Construction on the monument project began in 1972, with architectural work on the project being done by architect Boro Josifovski. The monument was completed in time for it to be unveiled on August 2nd, 1973, during which time a large commemorative celebration was held.

Photo 2: Concept art for the Monument to the Prespa Party Conference at Oteševo. Credit: Raino Isto & DARM

Photo 3: A scale model for the Monument to the Prespa Party Conference at Oteševo. Credit: Raino Isto & DARM

The central element of the Monument to the Prespa Party Conference is a roughly 9m tall reinforced concrete sculpture composed of two deeply curved walls pointing towards the sky, with two small inward and upwardly curving nubs protruding off of both walls. The monument itself is perched on a steep hillside overlooking Lake Prespa. The sculpture sits in a small concrete courtyard which is accessed from the road below by a stone-paved stairway.

Post Yugoslav-era to Present-Day

In the years after the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, the Monument to the Prespa Party Conference at Oteševo began to fall into a state of neglect and disrepair. As the Yugoslav socialist republic of Macedonia gained its independence in 1991, the history of the Prespa Party Conference was no longer emphasized by the country's new government, which resulted in the suspension of official commemorative events at the complex as well as any regular maintenance at the site. As a result, the monument is in a poor state of repair, with its concrete facade chipping, vegetation overgrown and its surface becoming extremely weathered. In recent decades, the site has seen few visitors and has had little attention paid to it. However, a modest commemorative ceremony was held at the monument on August 2nd, 2018 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Prespa Party Conference. It is interesting to point out that roughly 7 weeks before these 2018 anniversary events were held at the Oteševo monument, another historic conference related to Macedonia also took place on Lake Prespa roughly 20km away at the lakeshore town of Psarades, Greece, where the Macedonian and Greek foreign ministers signed the "Prespa Agreement", which resolved the longstanding name dispute between the two countries. As a result, Macedonia, which before then had been legally known as the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', officially changed its name to "North Macedonia".

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

The Monument to the Prespa Party Conference contains one central inscribed element which consists of a roughly 1.5m tall flat stone panel which is engraved with a lengthy text describing the 1943 council meeting (Photo 4). As of 2020, it is in a very degraded and weathered state, but it is still reasonably legible.

This plaque roughly translates from Macedonian into English as follows:

"In conditions of the most severe persecutions and atrocities committed by the occupier, on August 2, 1943, the Prespa meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Macedonia was held at this location, which was attended by Kuzman Josifovski-Pitu, Strahil Gigov-Andro and Cvetko Uzunovski-Abbas... to form larger units of the People's Liberation Struggle; to intensify the activity for the establishment of legal bodies of ruling power; to begin preparations for the convening of ASNOM; and to establish a provincial committee of SKOJ for Macedonia. Delegate Svetozar Vikmanovik-Tempo and CK KPJ instructor Dobrivoje Radosavljevic-Ortse attended the meeting. The decisions made here marked a new stage in the revolution led by the Macedonian people and the peoples for social and national freedom."

Photo 4: Plaque at the monument

In regards to graffiti, while there is a small amount of scratching and minimal defacement on a few lower sections of the facade of the monument, overall, the graffiti and vandalism at this site are minimal. Upon my most recent visits to the site, I found no examples of gratuitous spraypaint markings or defacement.

Symbolism:

When viewing the Monument to the Prespa Party Conference at Oteševo, it is immediately clear that Jordan Grabul's sculpture is working to communicate its meaning on a symbolic level. Upon first viewing of this work, it is easy to initially interpret the form as some nature of flame or fire, which seems even more likely when looking at early drawing which Grabul did for the project (seen in Photo 2), which could lead some to infer that the symbolic meaning could be something akin to the "burning fire of freedom". However, a 1988 retrospective book about Jordan Grabul by Grabul and Sonja Abadžieva Dimitrova explains the symbolism for this monument in the following terms (translated here into English):

"Romantic egoism", specific to modernism, is not present in the Monument of Prespa Council at Oteševo. The liberation from the semantic code in sculpture is achieved by the purity of references, in order to attain an artistic essence in the true sense. Access is limited to minimalist conscious sensations generated from the relations between the work's playful white leafy forms. Understanding them is directed through two parallel perceptions. One is when the focus is on the consistent elements of the work, and the other is when that design of the leaf form is abstracted and the attention is focused on the spaces that wrap around the form (the principle of Rudolf Arnheim's 'Duck-Rabbit'). The shapes are primarily linear and the surfaces are curved and shaped in a way that presents opportunities for viewing the monument's shape in a variety of ways. The multiplicity of orientations and how they balance significantly animates the sculpture and together with the linearity of its form gives the illusion of a third dimension. The monument at Oteševo is more consistently resolved in terms of the minimalist code than its early renderings (exhibited in 1970 at the MoCA, Skopje) in an effort to better communicate symbolic meaning, thus, deviating from reality and more closely approaching the idea true ontological art.

Photo 5: The famous 19th-century "Duck-Rabbit" illusion drawing [source: Illusions Index]

While Grabul remarks in these comments about his approach behind creating the form and shape of the Oteševo monument that he intended the work to be representative of a leaf-like shape (instead of a flame), he, unfortunately, does not overtly mention what ideas or concepts he had behind choosing that shape. Perhaps he meant the 'leaf' shape to be symbolic of the idea of 'new life', 'renewal' or 'hope', ideas which are all commonly attributed to the symbol of the leaf and very relevant when looking at the Oteševo monument as an embodiment of the first steps of the creation of Macedonia as a new land.

At the same time, Grabul mentions in the above remarks the idea of "parallel perceptions", as well as the famous "Duck-Rabbit" visual illusion (Photo 5), which is a simple drawing that can be seen as both a duck and a rabbit at the same time. As such, Grabul is essentially saying that he designed this work to be seen and understood in a myriad of ways, not just one way. So, perhaps there is no one 'correct' way to understand the symbolic meaning of this work and so it is thus up to the viewer to interpret it as their senses dictate.

Status and Condition:

The condition of the Monument to the Prespa Party Conference here at Oteševo is in a very poor condition. Firstly, the grounds and vegetation around the memorial sculpture are overgrown and in an unmaintained state. The stone access stairway and the courtyard around the monument are deteriorating and falling apart. As far the monument itself, it seems structurally solid and appears relatively intact, however, its facade is replete with chips and cracks, while its white paint is extremely spotty and peeling. Overall, the monument appears very degraded and neglected. The engraved interpretive plaque which sits at the base of the monument also appears extremely degraded. While it is still relatively legible, it appears in a poor condition and exhibits extreme staining and weathering. Outside of the main original engraved plaque, the site contains not contemporary interpretive or informational placards. Meanwhile, there are no directional or promotional signs along the route to this monument that might bring it to the attention of passing motorists or tourists. In addition, there exists no online information from any local tourist agencies (private, municipal or otherwise) which promote this monument as a local historical site or point of interest. As a result, this site sees almost no regular visitors whatsoever, either from local people from the community or outside visitors.

Photo 6: 2019 events at the Oteševo [source]

For more than a decade, no official commemorative or ceremonial events were held at this monument. However, when the 75th anniversary for the Prespa Party Conference approached in 2018, the local Resen municipal authorities, along with regional veterans groups, organized the first official remembrance events at the monument in many years (Photo 6). Follow up commemorative events were also held in 2019. All of the events which have been held here in recent years have been held on the day of the original Prespa Party Conference, August 2nd (Ilinden Day). However, despite this renewed interest for the local community hosting honorific events here, there are yet to be any indications that efforts will be made in the future to either rehabilitate/repair the monument site or promote/develop it as a local attraction. I was unable to find any evidence that this monument site is protected or landmarked on any governmental level as a significant historical or cultural site.

Directions:

When taking highway R1307 south from Resen along the western shore of Lake Prespa, you will come to the small coastal village of Oteševo. After you enter the village, you will see the distinctive 'Two Arm" concrete entrance portal which leads into the now-abandoned 'Hotel Evropa'. Approximately 500m after passing this sign, you will see an overgrown stone staircase leading up the hill on the right-hand side of the road. Park on the side of the road and follow these stairs up the hill and in less than 50m, you will find yourself at the foot of the monument. The exact coordinates for parking are N40°58'33.2", E20°54'42.9".

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Historical Images:

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