Name: 'Broken Ring' (Probijanje obruča)
Location: Pleso suburb of Zagreb, Croatia
Year completed: 1978
Designer: Marijan Burger
Coordinates: N45°43'51.6", E16°03'53.3" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~11m tall square-like monument
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
This monument at the spomenik complex in Pleso area of Zagreb, Croatia commemorates the acts of sabotage committed by Partisan units on Axis controlled airports in the Zagreb area during WWII, while it also commemorates the liberation of Zagreb in 1945
World War II
In April of 1941, German and Italian forces entered the Zagreb region, at which point the city became the capital for the newly created Axis controlled puppet nation called the "Independent State of Croatia" (NDH). During this occupation, many race laws were passed by the new NDH government, which resulted in ethnic minorities not only being oppressed and persecuted, but also tortured and executed. In May of 1941, many in Zagreb, as well as the surrounding regions such as Pleso, began to rise up against this occupation and persecution, forming what were called 'Partisan' resistance groups. Some of the first actions taken against Axis occupiers by the Partisans was the sabotaging of infrastructure and networks critical to Axis communication and supply. In December of 1943, members the Turpolje Partisan Unit conducted major sabotage actions at the Axis controlled airports at the Pleso and Kurilovec areas of greater Zagreb, which left the Kurilovec Airport (Photo 1) all but destroyed. These efforts were part of the Partisan plan to dismantle the defensive circle which the Ustaše and German troops had created around the city. Then, between February 1944 to March 1945, the American 15th Air Force launched twelve separate bombing campaigns at Zagreb, heavily targeting the airports at Pleso and Borongaj. However, many civilian buildings were inadvertently struck during the bombings as well (Photo 2). These actions even further weakened the Axis circle (or 'ring') around Zagreb.
Photo 1: 725th Squadron of the Allied US 15th Air Force on a bombing mission over Zagreb
Photo 2: Zagreb church struck during Allied bombings, 1944
On the 5th of May, 1945, the final fight over Zagreb between Axis forces and the 1st Yugoslav Partisan Army began. The next day on May 6th, the NDH government fled the city towards Austria as the battle seemed to lean in favor of the Partisans. On May 7th, the 1st Yugoslav Army Division experienced their bloodiest day of fighting during the entire course of the war, with over 150 of its soldiers killed in one day during liberation fighting on the city's outskirts. However, after the end of this brutal day of fighting, all German troops in Zagreb unconditionally surrendered to Partisan forces, finally breaking the 'ring' around the city of Zagreb. On May 8th, Partisans entered and liberated Zagreb with little resistance, during which time well over 15,000 Axis troops were captured. Over the entire course of the war, tens of thousands of Zagreb residents perished as a result of executions, reprisal killings, concentration camp deportations, in prisons and through the course of rising up against Axis and NDH oppression and terror.
In the mid-1970s, politicians and veteran groups around Zagreb were making plans to create a spomenik complex in the Pleso area to commemorate the efforts of fallen Partisan fighters to liberate the city. The commission for this project was given to Croatian designer Marijan Burger. The complex was officially unveiled to the public on May 8th, 1978, a day which recognized the 32 years since the liberation of Zagreb. The primary element of this spomenik complex is a 11m tall square-shaped monument with a 4m wide circular opening at its center, creating a stylized fractured-ring sculpture. However, the top of the ring does not connect and is offset about 1m.
From 1991 to 1995, the city of Zagreb was significantly affected by the conflicts and fighting during the Yugoslav Wars and the Croatian War of Independence, with bombings and rocket attacks being carried out at various locations in the city by the break-away region of Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK). The most significant rocket attacks on Zagreb happened on May 2nd, 1995, when RSK forces fired M-87 Orkan rockets directly into the city center (Photo 3), which resulted in 7 deaths. These RSK attacks were in retaliation for Croatians seizing RSK-held territory in Operation Flash. Thousands of Croats fought and died in this war for Croatian independence. In 1997, a small plaque was added to the Pleso spomenik to commemorate two local fighters from Pleso who died during that war. The addition of Yugoslav War-era commemorative plaques added to National Liberation War monuments is not unusual and is something I have noted at a number of spomenik complexes across the former-Yugoslavia
Photo 3: Destruction from rocket attack on Zagreb, May 2, 1995
Currently, this spomenik complex is in reasonable condition -- while the monument itself exhibits little direct damage from the 1990s Yugoslav conflicts, there is considerable discoloration from weathering while some of the concrete seems to be chipping. The grounds of the immediate park setting is well landscaped and in good condition, as are the engraved stone elements surrounding the spomenk. Many wreath and flower tributes can be seen left here, indicating that the monument is still respected and honored, however, to what degree annual commemorative or remembrance events are held here is not clear.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
Set into the west-side of the monument's mound, there is a walled alcove within which resides an elevated polished engraved black marble slab (Slide 1). The engraved inscription on the stone reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
Monument for the village of Pleso whose heroes died in the People's Liberation battle for Yugoslavia, 1941-1945.
For 35 years after the attack by the Turpolje Partisan Unit on the Pleso and Kurilovec airport, this monument symbolizes the breaking of the enemy's ring and is made for the city's government, alliance fighters for the People's Liberation fighters and the people of Velika Gorica and the people of Pleso.
July 4th, 1978
Included within the above inscription are a list of names and lifespans of ten fighters from the Pleso area who died during the National Liberation War (WWII). Meanwhile, just behind this engraved stone slab, there is another smaller black engraved stone slab installed directly onto the concrete wall of the alcove (Slide 2). This is a modern plaque installed in the late 1990s, commemorating the casualties of the local Croatian nationalist fighters of the Yugoslav Wars. The primary inscription on this stone slabs reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"An important sacrifice of life for the country of Croatia."
June 21st, 1997
Finally, stamped into the southern-side base of the monument is the official signature of the creator of this sculpture (Slide 3). This stamp inscription reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
Marijan Burger, Affiliated academic sculptor
The shape of the memorial sculpture here at Pleso is a deliberate reference to the Yugoslav Army breaking the Ustaše and German defensive ring around the city of Zagreb in 1945, an event which subsequently led to the liberation of Zagreb from those Axis powers. The form of this abstract concrete sculpture consists of a standing squared-off tapering ring, with the ring broken at the top and offset roughly 1-2m. This 'broken ring' is very deliberately meant to be symbolic of this Partisan victory.
Status and Condition:
Overall, the state of the memorial sculpture in the spomenik park here at Pleso, Croatia is relatively fair. While there do appear to be a few cracks, stains and chips on the facade and paint of the sculpture, the general structure of it seems to be intact and does not exceed what can potentially be repaired. The landscaping and grounds around the monument are kept in good order, being regularly mowed and manicured, while the stone-paved pathways around the park are clearly cared for and maintained. However, there are no directional or promotional signs leading to or advertising the site, while I found no indications that the local municipality of Pleso or the city of Zagreb was attempting to advertise the park or monument as a local tourist attraction or point of interest.
As the park complex exists within an active community, it sees a great many visitors utilizing the site. However, it appears very few from outside the community (tourists or visitors) are coming here to explore the park or to see the monument. Yet, on my most recent visit to the site, I did find honorific flowers and candles left on the monument, so it is clear some in the community are still respecting and paying tribute to the monument, but it is interesting to note these were clearly left on the plaque for the Croatian Independence fighters and not on the Partisan fighters plaque. While I found no direct evidence or documentation that commemorative or remembrance ceremonies were still being held at this site, I suspect small scale events may still be taking place, especially as a modern Croatian Independence plaque has been installed here.
Finding the memorial sculpture in the Zagreb suburb of Pleso is a realtively easy endeavor. Firstly, the site is located within a long grassy park situated right in the center of the village. The park is nestled between Ulica Šandora Brešćenskog and Ulica Vladimira Nazora (see HERE for Google StreetView), and is also just a few hundred yards east of the Zagreb Airport. Parking can be made anywhere around the periphery of the park along either of those streets. Exact coordinates that can be used for parking navigation are N45°43'51.2", E16°03'52.2".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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