Click on slideshow photos for description
Name: Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija (Spomenik ustanku naroda Banije i Korduna)
Location: Petrova Gora National Park, just east of Vojnić, Croatia
Year completed: 1981 (10 years to plan & build)
Coordinates: N45°18'58.6", E15°48'17.6" (click for map)
Dimensions: 37m tall and 40m wide
Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar, steel frame and stainless steel plates
Condition: Abandoned, destroyed (see warning below in red)
This spomenik is dedicated to the deaths of ethnic-Serb peasants who died fighting against the Ustaše militia in the Petrova Gora mountains, most notably during 1941 and 1942.
World War II
Beginning in the summer of 1941, ethnic-Serbs across the newly created Independent State of Croatia (NDH) were starting to be forcefully removed from their homes by the NDH's Ustaše militiamen, who were then deported to Serbia and replaced by newly transplanted Axis-friendly Slovenes. As it had already been seen happening in the Plivitice area, ethnic-Serbs peasants in the Kordun and Banija regions feared the same fate awaited them. In mid-1941, the communist fighters of the Kordun Partisan Detachment, learning of this unrest among these persecuted ethnic-Serbs, infiltrated the heavily occupied Kordun and Banija region. On July 19th, 1941, representatives from the Communist Party of Croatia met in Abez forest, on the northern slopes of Petrova Gora range, and made the decision to launch an armed uprising. The Partisan forces then proceeded to convince hundreds of ethnic-Serbs to rise up and create an organized resistance against the Ustaše's deportation efforts. After forming this alliance, the Kordun Partisans, who number around 2,500, then established a headquarters to coordinate this co-operative Partisan/ethnic-Serb resistance effort near the summit of Mali Petrovac hill in Petrova Gora mountain range. In this area, fortifications were laid, infrastructure was created and a significant military hospital complex was built in the nearby Pišin gaj ravine. Around 15,000 people, men, women and children, from the surrounding region came to the mountain to over-winter under the protection of this Partisan stronghold. The uprising officially began on July 27th, 1941.
As a result of this instigation from the Kordun Partisan resistance fighters, who had began making repeated raids on towns surrounding Petrova Gora, tensions between Axis forces in the region heightened and NDH pressure against the resisting ethnic-Serbs increased. Then, on March 19th, 1942, in response to this uprising, the Ustaše militia began "Operation Petrova Gora", an Axis offensive intended to rid the Petrova Gora region of all ethnic-Serbs resistance and all Partisan rebel fighters. However, the Ustaše offensive only escalated the uprising and ethnic-Serb anger increased further, a fact which allowed Partisans to grow stronger and rally more peasants to arms (many just being simple shepherds and farmers). However, during a sudden breakthrough of defenses in early April of 1942, Ustaše forces stormed multiple Partisan positions around Petrova Gora. Surprised and only minimally armed with pitchforks and crude weapons, many hundreds of ethnic-Serb peasants who sought refuge on the mountain top charged towards Ustaše soldiers. They stood little chance against the trained and armed soldiers, and over 300 ethnic-Serb peasants were killed.
Photo 1: Evacuation of the Partisan Hospital at Petrova Gora, 1942
As the control of the Petrova Gora range fell into the hands of the Ustaše in early May of 1942, a few Partisan units managed to evacuate and fled from Mali Petrovac towards east into the foothill around Perna and Katinovac (Photo 1). Of the hundreds of ethnic-Serb peasants captured by the Ustaše, the ones who were not executed were sent to concentration camps across the region, most notably Jasenovac. During the course of the war, roughly 27,000 people from the Kordun region were killed (approximately 30% of the pre-war population).
Photo 2: The 1970 design proposal made by Vojin Bakić
The original concept to create a grand memorial on Mali Petrovac, the tallest summit in the Petrova Gora range, had its genesis directly after the war. The site was chosen not only because of its relation to the bloody events of WWII, but also because it was the location of the 1097 Battle of Gvozd where the Croatian lord Petar Svačić battled against King Coloman I of Hungary. A cornerstone for the anticipated monument was laid near the hill's summit on May 6th, 1946 by Ivan Ribar, head of the Yugoslav National Assembly an father of war hero Ivo Lola Ribar. However, economic issues prevented the start of immediate construction at the site. Then in the late 1960s, efforts were being initiated to revitalize and redevelop many of the Petrova Gora memorial sites and battlefields. As a result, in 1970, a design competition was organized which was headed by notable WWII Partisan veteran Rade Bulat and close Tito confidant and politician Vladimir Bakarić. However, during the process of organizing the project, Bakarić clashed with Bulat who insisted that the monument be recognized as a strictly a site of 'Serbian uprising'. Because of disagreements as to the nature of the monument, Bulat soon stepped aside and was replaced with politician Rade Pavlović, and which point it was decided the monument would have a decidedly more inclusive commemorative approach. The site decided upon for the memorial structure was the summit of Mali Petrovac, the tallest mountain in the Petrova Gora range. After a selection committee evaluated the 17 proposals submitted for the design of this spomenik complex, the commission was eventually awarded to concept proposal put forward by the young architect Igor Toš, with a design by Vojin Bakić coming in as the runner up (Photo 2). However, as the project began to proceed, it was realized that the complexity of the design put forward by Toš (as well as the one proposed by Bakić) would be too costly to build, as the project was being predominately funded by public contributions from the people of Karlovac. As a result, the monument project was temporarily suspended.
However, four years later in 1974 a second design competition was initiated, tasked to select a more practical and efficient design solution for the monument. It was during this second competition that a new design concept submitted by Bakić was chosen as the winner. Construction efforts began quickly on the project, as the deadline called for the monument to be completed in 1981 for it to be ready for the 40th anniversary of the start of National Liberation movement on July 4th (Fighter's Day).
This was difficult, as not only was the structure Bakić envisioned extremely complex in its design, but also a paved road to the top of the mountain needed to be built, as well as securing electricity, water and infrastructure. As far as the realization of Bakić's sculptural design, Zagreb architect Berislav Šerbetić was the instrumental force in bringing the scale-model sculpture of the building to a set of fully conceived and laid out architectural plans (Photo 3) which could then be constructed. During the monument's construction, Bakić was commonly found onsite supervising and overseeing the project, even despite being nearly 70 years in age at that point. Meanwhile, funding for the project was achieved with both publicly and privately donated funds, as well as via a loan taken out by Yugoslavia from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sources relate that the total cost of the project at the time was roughly 223 million Yugoslav dinars.
Photo 3: Blueprints for the monument
Photo 4: A view of the 1981 inaugural ceremony at Petrova Gora
Yet, at the end, the deadline was not met and the exterior of the building was not officially completed until October 4th, 1981, during which time it was inaugurated during a ceremony (Photo 4) by the President of the Parliament of the SR of Croatia, Jure Bilić, which was attended by nearly 4,000 people. This date was chosen to commemorate exactly 40 years since the founding of the underground Partisan hospital on at Petrova Gora. Interestingly, an additional official unveiling ceremony was held later during the following July 4th, 1982. Yet, though the building hosted these 'grand opening' celebrations, the interior of the structure was far from being fully completed. Furthermore, because of the political turmoil that resulted through the 1980s as a consequence of the death of President Josip Tito, the building never achieved a finished state before its abandonment. The building, at its time of semi-completeness, consisted of a 37m tall concrete structure clad in stainless-steel panels, an expensive material which was imported from Sweden, arranged in five oblong undulating layers, perched atop Mali Petrovac, the highest point in the Petrova Gora range. At the base of the sprawling complex, a long stairway leads up to it from an expansive visitors center and parking lot. Within the structure, which had over 3,000 sq. meters of floor space, was originally a 250 person congress hall, a library, reading room, a cafe and a museum which housed hundreds of documents, relics and artifacts related to the battle and the history of ethnic-Serbian struggles in the region.
With the onset of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s the monument at Petrova Gora fell into disrepair and was targeted and attacked by vandals. Over the subsequent decades it became completely defaced, looted and demolished, with all its historical artifacts and relics contained within its museum and archives being taken or destroyed. This site may have been targeted with a particular amount of abuse and neglect on account of its cultural importance to the region's ethnic-Serb minority. Tensions in the region first began during the Croatian War of the 1990s in which Croatia worked to gain independence from Yugoslavia. During this struggle, ethnic-Serbs who did not wish to be part of this new Croatian state created their own break-away region inside Croatia called the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK), within which Petrova Gora found itself. As such, when the ethnic-Serb rebels in the RSK break-away region were subdued in 1995 after the Croatian military's 'Operation Storm' offensive, the Petrova Gora monument, which honored WWII victims who were mostly ethnic-Serbs, would have been a prime target for Croatian nationalists bitter towards ethnic-Serbs over the destruction and casualties caused by that 1990s war (Photo 5).
Photo 5: Croatian soldiers at Petrova Gora, 1995
Interestingly, during the 1990s Croatian War, ethnic-Serbs of the RSK break-away region used the area around the Petrova Gora memorial park as a makeshift hospital complex to treat military and civilian casualties of the war (very much mirroring the events of WWII). The hospital complex, which also acted an RSK military compound, was organized by Petrova Gora's former park director turned military commander, Mile Dakić. After the war, Dakić was convicted by the Croatian judiciary of war crimes in 1999, but was eventually acquitted of the charges in 2014.
Photo 6: Cover art for 2011 self-titled debut album of 'Unknown Mortal Orchestra'
To this day the Petrova Gora site is still under no official protection, and, having unclear ownership, it continues to fall into further degradation. Despite protests from veterans groups and anti-fascists organizations, little effort is made by local/regional governments and municipalities to prevent the structure's further degradation nor have meaningful attempts been made to hold those destroying it responsible for such vandalism. What appear to be security cameras are in place around the complex, but it is unclear to what degree such measures have been effective or utilized in intercepting vandals or those who wish to destroy the complex. In an additional insult to those who still honor this monument site and wish it to be repaired, a series of communication antennas were mounted on top of the structure over recent decades. Some sources estimate that the full cost of rehabilitating and repairing the entire Petrova Gora complex would cost well over tens of millions of euros. Yet, despite this large cost, within the last few years, numerous organizations and groups have come forward with creative concepts for using the monument space, as well as developing restoration initiatives.
Meanwhile, as the popularity of Yugoslav memorial architecture has spread internationally over the last decade or so, the monument at Petrova Gora has become one of the most popular sites attracting international attention. Not only has the monument been a draw for a growing number of international tourists, but artists, designers and other types of creators from around the world have become inspired by its unique architectural form, leading to its depiction appearing in a whole host of artworks, photographic collections, digital designs and other multimedia projects. Notably, the popular American-based New Zealand psychedelic band 'Unknown Mortal Orchestra' used a photo of the monument at Petrova Gora in their 2011 self-titled debut album (Photo 6). Meanwhile, in the fall of 2019, it was reported that the Petrova Gora site would be used as the backdrop for the filming for the German-produced Netflix series named "Tribes of Europa", which is to be released at some point in 2020. Meanwhile, in November of 2019, heavy rains resulted in the access road to Petrova Gora being washed away roughly 2-3km away from the site. Until this is fixed, the only access to the site is either by foot or over mountainous dirt roads to the north of the monument.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
Along the walkway up to the spomenik from the parking lot, halfway up you will find a circular granite stone altar about 2m wide (Slide 1). Around the top outer edge of it, there is an engraving written in both Croatian and Serbian. The engraving roughly translates to:
"Within the foundation of our earned freedom is the peak of Petrova Gora, always our mother mountain."
In addition, there was originally a large relief inscription located to the right of the grand staircase leading up to the monument from the visitors center. The inscription, which is now destroyed, was a quote from Mile Dakić, a former director of the Petrova Gora National Park and can be partially seen in an historic image in Slide 2. The inscription read, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"Petrova Gora, with its symbolism, dignity and scars of war points to the price of freedom, fraternity and religion, on the painful and victorious path of Tito's revolutionary generation which selflessly gave itself for freedom and socialism."
Last, the site is heavily defaced with graffiti, tags and other types of spray paint vandalism, both on the inside and outside of the central monuments structure (Slide 3). However, very little of the graffiti seems to be politically or ethnically motivated in its nature, appearing more as simply casual defacement of youth vandals.
Tucked away in a steep ravine called 'Pišin gaj" roughly 2km southwest of the Petrova Gora monument site are the remains of region's Central Partisan Hospital. Initially founded at this spot in the spring of 1942 by Partisan doctor Savo Zlatić, it grew through the war to contain over 30 facilities and treated over 5,000 wounded and sick soldiers and civilians by the end of the war. Interestingly, the hospital complex was never discovered by any Axis incursions. As many treated patients at the hospital succumb to their wounds, roughly treated 1,000 Partisan fighters are also interred at grave sites around the hospital. After the war, the hospital complex began to deteriorate as a result of neglect and weather. However, in 1961 the complex was refurbished and converted into a museum and educational complex. Then, in 1971 the hospital site was awarded by Yugoslav President Josip Tito with the "Order of the National Hero" award in recognition of the efforts put forth here during WWII.
'Partisan Hospital ' - Slideshow
The layout of this 'Central Partisan Hospital' (Centralna Partizanska bolnica) consisted of a series of wooden structures spread out along the length of the Pišin gaj ravine (Slides 1 & 2). In addition, there were underground segments of the hospital as well meant for evacuation during raids. These underground compounds were accessed by hidden above ground access points (Slide 3). Graveyards were built around the periphery of the complex (Slide 4). Historic photos of refurbished hospital rooms after the 1961 renovation can be seen in Slides 5 & 6. A historical photo from 1944 of patients at the Partisan Hospital can be seen in Slide 7. As the Yugoslav Wars began in the 1990s and conflict began in the Pertova Gora region between newly independent Croatian forces and ethnic-Serb separatists, the hospital complex began to fall into disrepair. The hospital complex was subsequently damaged to an extreme degree during the 1995 Operation Storm. Presently, while the hospital complex still receives visitors, the site continues to exist in a state of neglect and devastation, with many of the structures falling apart and all of the historical exhibits completely destroyed (Slide 8). However, in 2016 the Israeli Embassy in Croatia has committed funds to help restore the hospital complex, while in 2017 discussion began at the Croatian Ministry of Culture to consider exploring the idea of proposing the hospital complex for recognition as a UNESCO Heritage site. The exact location of the hospital site is N45°17'45.8", E15°45'14.4".
Photo 7: The Youth Mountain House during the 1980s
Photo 8: The Youth Mountain House in 2019
One additional point of interest to describe here which resides in the vicinity of the Partisan Hospital Complex is the Youth Mountain House "8th Kordun Division" (Omladinski planinarski dom "8. kordunaška divizija") (Photo 7). This complex was a sort of hostel and recreation center for young people coming to Petrova Gora to hike, engage with the hospital museum and to stay during Youth Action projects. The building is a steep roofed A-frame-style rustic log-cabin which had over 20 beds and various other facilities geared towards accommodating youth groups and hikers. Its style suggests it was built around the 1970s.
Leading out from the Mountain House is a steep trail heading straight up the hill to the Hospital Museum complex. It was a very popular location during the Yugolsav era, hosting youth groups from across the country. However, the building was severely damaged during the region's conflicts of the 1990s and, since then, has sat in a degraded state of total abandonment and devastation (Photo 8). The exact coordinates for the ruins of the Youth Mountain House are N45°18'04.4", E15°45'16.3".
Photo 9: A piece from the Vojin Bakić series 'Sliced Segments'
This spomenik at Petrova Gora, created by designer Vojin Bakić, is not necessarily directly or overtly symbolic of any specific aspect of the battle or tragedies which occurred at this site. Instead, it is a work of pure abstract sculpture. Bakić drew his inspiration for this design from a series of sculptures he created in the 1970s called 'Sliced Segments' (Photo 9). However, as this monument's form does not seem to be directly created or imbued with any specific symbolism in its general appearance, the personal emotions Bakić imbued in its creation was certainly significant, as he dedicated the monument to his four brothers, all of whom died at the Ustaše's Jadovno death camps in 1941. However, while the structure's form does not necessarily communicating any specific symbolic messages, its reflective surface and organic form do seem to create an atmosphere of calm through the energy it radiates, almost as if the building's silver curves pulsate with light. This process of shaping reflective materials to transform light is a dominate feature of Bakić's work which can be seen at other WWII monuments he created in Yugoslavia, such as those at Dotršćina, Kamenska and Kragujevac. Through this use of reflective stainless-steel on his memorial works which honor significant tragedies, perhaps Bakić hoped to symbolically shine new light on a region which endured so much darkness for so long. On that note, Bakić himself is quoted as saying, in relation to his approach to monument building:
"...sculpture, especially monuments, ought to be architecture which is deprived of its utilitarian function, something as a pure poetic conquest of a space and establishes a new human relationship with it.”
Photo 10: Sunset reflections off of the Petrova Gora monument's metal exterior
Furthermore, on the subject of the symbolic meanings of the reflective properties of the Petrova Gora monument, when the sun is set at just the right angle on the horizon, the polished metal panels of the structure is illuminated in a bright red show of colors. This effect is especially apparent when looking up at the monument from a distance in the lower valleys towards Vojnić. This amplification of the monument's reflective effect not only reinforces the above-mentioned symbolic properties of 'light overcoming darkness', it also results in the monument giving off the appearance of being a sort of beacon or lighthouse (Photo 10). As such, this further symbolic 'lighthouse' dimension suggests that this complex at Petrova Gora is a force which, in addition to giving light, is also intended to act as a guide or compass for the region. This idea of a monument to the 'People's Uprising' acting as a symbolic guide for Yugoslavia's citizens was a concept that was at the heart of Yugoslav Communist Party's teachings.
Meanwhile, it also seems evident that the location of the Petrova Gora monument, located at the highest point of the surrounding landscape, was most certainly intended to be symbolic, as the building's highly reflective form dominates the countryside for miles around. Its dominance creates an effect which unquestionably affirms the space as an area of memory and reflection. Yet, while many in Croatia are still confused and bewildered by the ambiguous form and unconventional appearance of this now decaying structure, many nonetheless describe it as "a symbol of suffering and heroic struggle foremost of the ethnic-Serbian population in this region".
Status and Condition:
There is no way to describe the state of this spomenik here at Petrova Gora other than complete destruction, decay and abandonment. After the start of the Yugoslav Wars in 1991, the neglect and degradation of the exterior of this site began almost immediately, then, after 1995, the interior museum was also destroyed. What remains now is a hollow husk of a structure, being held up by a massive concrete skeleton. The majority of the stainless steel panels have been removed and/or stolen, while fallen pieces of rotted insulation are scattered around the entire monument, inside and out. The basement level is flooded and inhabited by animals. Meanwhile, the elevator-shafts lay wide-open, exposing an eerie pitch-black void. The front of the building is gated and fenced in, however, holes have been made in the fences to allow entrance to the structure. Yet, I would not recommend attempting to gain entry, not only because it is (probably) illegal to do so, but also as many parts of the interior levels are can be extremely dangerous. In addition, the structure is littered with concealed open shafts and extreme falling hazards. If you do enter, you do so at your own risk and be extremely cautious. Meanwhile, the old visitor center for this site at the base of the monument complex by the parking lot is also completely destroyed and abandoned, picked clean of anything even remotely of value. However, despite the derelict condition the site exists in, the 2007 version of the visitor's guide [PDF] for Petrova Gora Park does list the monument as a feature within the park to explore.
Photo 11: 2012 Galerija Nova show
Despite all the destruction, defacement and neglect here, there are efforts in progress to bring public awareness to this site and to work towards repair and rehabilitation. Some rehab efforts are instigated by local ethnic Serbs afraid of the loss the destruction of this monument represents to their history and heritage, while others wish to preserve it because of loss of the sculputral legacy of Vojin Bakić. However, efforts to make repairs and improvements here have become difficult over determining ownership of the site, as the grounds around it are technically under the jurisdiction of three difficult municipalities and two separate counties. In 2012, a workshop was organized by the Galerija Nova in Zagreb within the Petrova Gora monument where the public was invited to brainstorm ideas and plans for the optimal form conservation or restoration efforts for the monument might be (Photo 11).
In recent years, radio towers and other communication structures have been attached to the top of this spomenik, which take advantage of the site's strategic positioning and elevation at the top of Petrova Gora mountain. However, this move has angered certain groups aiming to eventually restore and rehabilitate this monument, who argue that these towers deface and disfigure a piece of Croatia's historic and cultural legacy. As of yet, there have been no signs that the Croatian government has any intention of ordering the communication companies to remove the towers. While modest commemorative events have been held in recent year past, in May of 2018, a very large anti-fascist commemorative event was held at Petrova Gora, which hosted hundreds of people (a video of which can be found here). Yet, the looting, vandalism and destruction continue at the site. Interestingly, in August of 2018, a public 'open-air cinema' event club from the nearby city of Karlovac put on a movie-night at the courtyard area of the Petrova Gora monument's abandoned visitor center (Photo 12).
Photo 12: A 'movie night', Aug. 2018
Meanwhile, over the last two decades, many astronomy-enthusiasts have found that the memorial park here at Petrova Gora is a prime place to enjoy the night sky, as this location experiences very little light pollution. Notably, this site permits unique and rare glimpses of the Milky Way (Photo 13). As a result, a group called the Beskraj Astronomical Society formed in 2006 and began to organize community star-gazing events adjacent to the Petrova Gora monument. As a consequence of their efforts, in 2019 Petrova Gora was proclaimed an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, making it one of only 15 sites in Europe and the only in Croatia. The most significant annual event of Beskraj star-gazing group is observing the Perseid Meteor Shower every year in August.
Photo 13: Milky Way from Petrova Gora [credit: Mark O'Neill]
Petrova Gora Monument
From Highway 6 in Vojnić, turn onto Gornji Vojnić road heading towards Radonja. Once in Radonja, follow the signs leading you into Petrova Gora Nature Park up through the Radonja River valley. From here, follow the "Spomenik" signs, which will take you all the way up to the monument at the top of the mountain. Once at the top of the mountain, parking can easily be made right in front of the monument (see HERE for Google StreetView). Exact coordinates for parking are N45°18'49.7", E15°48'17.8". Watch out for forestry operations going on in the area, as they can often block the road and appear around the curvy mountain roads unexpectedly. Also, I encourage visitors not to come in to the park from eastern roads (which may appear shorter from some directions). However, they are unpaved and may not be in the best conditions.
Petrova Gora Monument Map - Click to open in Google Maps in new window
UPDATE: I was informed in mid-November of 2019 that the paved access road which goes up the mountain to the Petrova Gora monument was washed out in one section during heavy rains roughly 2-3km from the memorial site. As such, this means that the site can now only be access by foot, or, if you have a sturdy 4x4 vehicle, you can take the mountainous dirt roads directly to the north of the site which originate at Gzvod/Vrginmost. If anyone has updates on the condition of the rehabilitation of this road, please contact me.
Photo 14: A sign for the Petrova Gora monument site (left) and the Partisan Hospital complex (right)
Photo 15: A view of the Petrova Gora park map: view HQ version of this map HERE!
Partisan Hospital Complex
From Highway 6 in Vojnić, follow the road heading east towards Petrova Gora park. Roughly 4km from outside of Vojnić along this road you will see a sign pointing towards the Partisan Hospital Complex (Photo 14), which will read "Centralna Partizanska Bolnica". Follow this very rough (but thankfully paved) road up into the valley for roughly 2km, at which point you will pass through an open metal gate painted in red and white stripes. On the other side of this gate will be a Y-intersection. Take the left road. After about 500m, you will see the Youth Mountain House ruins on your left. You can choose to park just past here at Parking Site 1 (P1) and hike up the trail to the Hospital complex. However, if weather conditions permit and your car is strong enough, you can continue up the steep curving road to Parking Site 2 (P2) in front of the Hospital complex site. The exact coordinates for the Partisan Hospital complex are N45°17'45.8", E15°45'14.4".
Partisan Hospital Complex Map - Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
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