A view of the monument at the WWII spomenik complex at Plovanija, Croatia in the region of Istria.
Name: Monument to Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Fascism
Location: Plovanija, Croatia
Year completed: 1981
Designer: Aleksandar Rukavina
Coordinates: N45°27'02.7", E13°38'07.1" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~12m tall monument
Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and mosaic tiles
This monument at the spomenik complex in Plovanija, Croatia commemorates the civilians and soldiers from the area who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII).
World War II
When Axis forces invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the Istrian peninsula (which had already been part of Italy since 1919), where Plovanija is located, itself also saw a dramatic increase in military presence. This military increase also resulted in an increase in violence and cultural oppression against ethnic Slovenes and Croats in Plovanija and the wider Istrian region (although such oppression had already been going on since 1922 with the onset of the fascist dictatorship in Italy. Not only was speaking any Slavic language outlawed in public (Italian became the new official language), but any sort of Slavic language press, school or cultural traditions were forbidden as well. These heavy-handed actions were part of the fascist's efforts to Italianize Istria. However, by late 1941, armed uprising movements began to sweep across Istria, and the people of Plovanija began to rebel against their occupiers. Through 1942, the rebel groups, which had mostly organized into communist-led 'Partisan' resistance units, were little match for the weight of the Italian Army, however, after Italy surrendered to the Allies in September of 1943 with the Armistice of Cassibile, Partisan forces were emboldened and as a result of this Italian withdraw, a massive liberated in Istria was created by the Partisan forces. Roughly 50km southeast of Plovanija in Pazin, the Partisan rebels held an Anti-Fascist Council on September 13th, 1943, during which Istria's total separation with Italy and inclusion with Croatia was declared (Photo 1).
Photo 1: Pazin declaration of Istrian freedom, 1943
However, German soldiers soon arrived in late 1943 to fill the vacuum of the ousted Italian occupiers, a move that resulted in much of the Partisan's free-territory in Istria being lost. Yet, despite these setbacks, the Partisans in Istria continued to push forward and regrouped during 1944. Finally, on May 9th of 1945, Plovanija was declared fully liberated from Axis control after all German occupying forces were driven out by Partisan resistance units. In the town of Plovanija and in the surrounding area, sources estimate that over 200 local people were killed during the course of the war, while over 50 homes were burnt to the ground.
Photo 2: Free Territory of Trieste
In the months after the end of WWII, efforts were put forth to rid Istria of Italians and undo all of the attempted 'Italianization' of Istra, which resulted in Partisans forcefully expelling thousands of Italian civilians out of the region, deporting them back to Italy -- some Italians in the greater Plovanija region (among other places in Istria) were even executed by Partians in retaliatory killings which later became known as the "Foibe massacres". While exact numbers for the amount of Italians killed across Istria during the massacres is not known and is still hotly contested, it is estimated by many to be in the range of several thousand. After the war, Plovanija did not immediately become part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but was instead integrated into a United Nations (UN) administered independent region called the 'Free Territory of Trieste' (Photo 2). The UN created the state in order to ameliorate post-war ethnic tensions and territorial claims between Italy and Yugoslavia. It was not until 1954 that Plovanija was de facto integrated into Yugoslavia, while those territorial claims were not finalized until 1975.
In the late 1970s, members of local government and veteran groups from the Plovanija and Buje region planned the creation of a substantial spomenik complex to commemorate the fallen civilians and soldiers of Plovanija who perished in defense of Istria from the Axis occupation. Notable Croatian designer, and Istrian enthusiast, Aleksandar Rukavina was commissioned to create the complex. It was completed and officially unveiled to the public on June 22nd, 1981, a date which recognized the 40th anniversary of the Croatian rebel uprising. Located right in the center of the village, the primary element of the complex is a 12m tower composed of three concrete fins in a triangle-like configuration. Halfway up each concrete fin are mosaics depicting traditional Istrian folk characters dancing and play instruments.
Currently, the spomenik complex here at Plovanija, Croatia remains in relatively good condition. As the Istrian peninsula was for the most part unaffected by the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, this spomenik was spared the neglect, degradation and destruction that many others across the former-Yugoslav states endured. This site still receives regular visitors, while elaborate well organized commemorative and remembrance ceremonies continue to be held at this site multiple times annually.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are a number of inscribed elements at the memorial complex here at Plovanija. Firstly, against the northwest edge of the circular boundary of the spomenik complex here at Plovanija, Croatia, a series of four engraved bronze panels are installed within a stone-walled alcove cut out of the wide mound on which the central monument resides (Slide 1). Firstly, on the left-most panel, there is an engraved inscription written out three times translated into three different languages: Serbo-Croatian (top), Italian (middle) and Slovenian (bottom). In English, the inscription reads as:
"They fell as brothers in the People's Liberation Fight, in order to make centuries of the nation's desires become truth in the age of Socialist Yugoslavia."
Meanwhile, again on the right-most stone panel there is another engraved inscription made three times written in the same three languages organized in the same orientations as above (Slide 2). In English, this inscription reads as:
"People built this monument to its brave sons."
It is interesting to note that the Serbo-Croatian sections written here in these inscriptions are written in what has been described to me as 'true' distinctive Serbo-Croatian... meaning that the inscriptions are neither overtly Serbian or overtly Croatian, but an honest and intentional compromise between the two dialects. Most likely, this effort was taken as the area that Plovanija resides within a region which had undergone an intense amount of ethnic tension and flux over the preceding decades during, before and after WWII. As a result, this effort was assumedly made to intentionally not seem to be taking sides with or commiserating with any specific nationality, group or ethnicity.
Meanwhile, on the middle two stone panels (Slide 3) are an engraved a list of names of fighters from the region of Plovanija who fell during the National Liberation War (WWII).
Finally, just northeast of the monument (between the monument and the main road), there is a red circular concrete plate in the ground (Slide 4) a little less than 1m wide. This is a 'gravimetric point' at which the "acceleration of gravity has been measured and the geodetic coordinates, including elevation, have been determined" [source]. This marker was installed by Croatia's State Geodetic Administration, while the marker's signage states that its destruction is prohibited by law.
The is a considerable amount of symbolism designed into the monument here at Plovanija. These symbolic efforts exist in both the three mosaic murals on the memorial sculpture, as well as within attributes of the memorial sculpture itself. This section will explore both of these symbolic angles.
Firstly, the most obvious and overt symbolic representation that is first seen upon visiting this monument is the three massive mosaic murals on the three concrete fins of the memorial sculpture. Each of the three mosaics depict different scenes from daily life of the people of this region: 'Tradition & Camaraderie' (green background), 'Labor & Agriculture' (blue background) and 'Resistance & Revolution' (white background). Presumably, these mosaics were meant to not only communicate the lives and struggles of the people from this region, but also to show the various people's who inhabit this region living together and fighting together. Such depictions would most certainly have been in an effort to further promote Tito's ideas of 'Brotherhood & Unity'. We will look at each of the three mosaics and examine possible meanings and symbolism behind each specific one:
Mosaic 1: Tradition & Camaraderie
In Mosaic 1, which is on the north-facing concrete fin, you see depicted a group of men and women dressed in various forms of traditional clothing while engaging in a classic Slavic kolo folk dance, all set on a green tile background. In addition, on the right side of the scene, you can see a two men playing Zurna-like woodwind instruments. Meanwhile, to the far left of the scene you can see a person holding a bright red piece of fabric, which may represent the Yugoslav or Partisan flag. The purpose of this mosaic seems to be a celebration of the region's cultural heritage and a depiction of a vast array of different ethnicities united in song and dance. Whether this scene is intended to depict a pre- or post-revolution Yugoslavia is not clear, though it may simply be a general testament the local people in the practice of their traditions. To see a high-resolution version of the photo, CLICK HERE to view this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Mosaic 2: Labor & Agriculture
In Mosaic 2, which is on the west-facing concrete fin, you see depicted a group of farmers delivering their harvested food via an oxen-drawn cart to a collection of awaiting men and women, all set on a blue tile background. This scene could be understood to represent the importance of agriculture and labor to the survival and cohesiveness of Yugoslav society. A common component and theme seen in similar memorial mosaics and art across the former-Yugoslavia are scenes which celebrate agriculture as a civic duty and an act which brings together society and family. Such themes were integral to the Yugoslav communist government's effort to promote hard work as a core responsibility and virtue which would honor the family, the community and the state. To see a high-resolution version of the photo, CLICK HERE to view this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Mosaic 3: Resistance & Revolution
In Mosaic 3, which is on the south-facing concrete fin, you see depicted a group of fighters on the right side of the scene engaging in battle with some unseen foe (presumably the Axis invaders during WWII), while on the left side of the scene there are depicted a group of women and children being protected by these fighters. The action of this scene is set on a white tile background. The fighters on the right are seen with simple weapons (modest guns and rifles), with some even wielding what appear to be farm tools -- a reality of many local resistance efforts during WWII was that many revolting peasants and workers faced-off against the fascist forces just as they are shown doing in this scene, bearing only farm implements and tools. One interesting character in this scene is the man seen all the way to the far right holding his arms up in defiance against the enemy. This figure very much appears to be a reference to the executed Croatian resistance fighter Stjepan Filipović, who was famously pictured with his armed held up high in a similar fashion during his execution in May of 1942 in Valjevo, Serbia (Photo 3). Substantial monuments were also built commemorating Filipović at his place of execution in Valjevo, Serbia, along with another at his hometown of Opuzen, Croatia (which was completely destroyed in 1991). The last interesting character of note in this scene can be found on the opposite side of the mosaic to the far left. This figure is holding their hands together with their head bowed in an almost reverent fashion. I would theorize that this figure is mourning for those fighters and civilians who perished in the struggle for the liberation of Plovanija and the surrounding region. To see a high-resolution version of the photo, CLICK HERE to view this image on the Spomenik Database Flickr page.
Photo 3: Stjepan Filipović's execution in Valjevo, 1942
The Monument's Shape
As for the physical shape and structure of the monument itself, the three concrete spires could be interpreted as pointing upward in an almost triumphant and defiant nature, displaying a victory in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. Also, interestingly, while the three fins appear as though they would all be connected when observing the sculpture from afar, if you look up from within the sculpture itself, you notice that the three fins have no connections whatsoever. This could be interpreted as symbolic demonstrating that while the people of Plovanija operate and defend themselves as a homogeneous unified Yugoslav group, upon closer inspection, they are also distinct and unique at the same time, comprised of Croats, Slovenes and Italians. Finally, it is interesting to note that of all three spires, the 'Resistance & Revolution' spire is by far the tallest... a fact which perhaps alludes to the symbolic importance of that endeavor over all others in Yugoslavian society. As such, the complete symbolic message of the monument as a whole may be interpreted that it takes a population adopting the efforts and themes depicted from all three mosaics to form a cohesive and resilient nation.
Status and Condition:
Overall, the state and status of the spomenik complex here at Plovanija, Croatia is fair to poor. The grounds and vegetation are kept in decent shape, while the concrete structure of the monument itself is relatively intact and solid. However, the concrete surface of the sculpture itself is extremely stained and weathered. In addition, the three mosaics installations on the upper part of the monument are in an extremely degraded state, with many hundreds of the mosaic tiles having fallen out of their settings onto the ground. My research has currently not found that there are any groups or organizations who are putting forth any proposals or efforts to repair these decaying mosaics. Meanwhile, there is no directional or promotional signage pointing visitors or tourists towards the monument, while the memorial space itself also contains limited informational or interpretive plaques explaining to visitors the significance or history of the site. However, despite this lack of promotion, the monument and the celebrations which occur at it are prominently mentioned on the official website of the largest regional town, Buje.
Photo 4: A 2017 ceremony at the Plovanija monument
Despite the degraded state of some elements of this memorial sculpture and its surrounding site, it is still regularly visited and paid tribute to, evidenced by the significant amount of honorific wreaths, flowers and candles I found left here on my most recent visit during the spring of 2017. In fact, official major commemorative events are held at this spomenik site every year on the Croatian Day of Anti-Fascist Struggle on June 22nd, which include ceremonies, folk dancing, singing and other events (Photo 4). Additionally, remembrance events are also held at the site annually on November 1st, which are often comprised of multi-national veteran and political delegations from both Croatia and Slovenia.
Additional Sites in the Plovanija Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, architectural cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Plovanija region that might be of interest to those studying the heritage of the former Yugoslavia. The sites examined here will be the Monument to Fallen Fighters at Buje, as well as the Monument to Partisan Sailors at Portorož, Slovenia.
Monument to Fallen Fighters at Buje:
About 5km south of Plovanija in the small Istrian town of Buje is a monument that is dedicated to the local Partisan fighters and civilians who perished during WWII. Created in 1954 by famous Croatian sculptor Vanja Radauš, this bronze monument sits in Josip Broz Tito Square and is composed of three figures, firstly, two figures rifle-toting Partisan soldiers who are carrying between them a third wounded figure. This sculptural work by Radauš is no doubt a reference to the integral Partisan principle of not leaving any soldier behind, with it being a common motif seen in figurative memorial statues across Yugoslavia. On the front of the monument, there is an inscription of raised lettering written in both Croatian and Italian which reads, when translated into English, as: "Fallen fighters of the People's Liberation Struggle and victims of fascism. People of the Buje area".
The monument is in very good condition and commemorative events are still held here. The exact coordinates for this site are N45°24'31.8", E13°39'30.6".
Photo 5: The Monument to Fallen Fighters at Buje
Monument to Partisan Sailors at Portorož:
About 9km northwest of Plovanija, just over the Croatian border into Slovenia, is the seaside resort town of Portorož. Right at the center of the town's famous waterfront promenade is the Square of the Overseas Brigade and is located right in front of the Grand Hotel Portorož. At the center of the square is the Monument to Partisan Sailors, which was created in 1977 by notable Slovene sculptor Janez Lenassi [profile page]. The monument is composed of carved stone pillars arranged in a circle which is fitted with a fountain element at its center. The shape of this monument is meant to appear like a sailor's compass, a natural symbol to commemorate fallen sailors. Stones that are arranged around the fountain are engraved with the names of towns from which Partisan sailors originated.
Today, the monument continues to exist in good condition and hosts annual commemorative events. The exact coordinates for this site are N45°30'49.8", E13°35'23.6".
Photo 6: The Monument to Partisan Sailors at Portorož
Finding your way to the monument complex at Plovanija is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, whether you come from the Croatian border, the A9 motorway or Buje, the spomenik complex is located directly in the center of the town of Plovanija (across the street from the Zeyphr Casino), just west of the major intersection between Road 200 and Road 75 (see HERE for Google StreetView). Parking for the spomenik can be made in a paved parking area direction in front of the memorial complex on the west side of the main intersection along the south side of Hwy D75. Alternatively, parking can also be made at the petrol station across the street from the monument. The exact coordinates for parking are N45°27'04.3", E13°38'05.7".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
-Adria2U article: "Obilježen Dan antifašističke borbe za područje Bujštine"
-CroatiaTraveller article: "Istrian History"
-City of Buje article: "U Plovaniji obilježen Dan antifašističke borbe"
Please feel free to leave a message if you have any comments, if you have any questions, if you have corrections or if you have any additional information or insight you feel might be appropriate or pertinent to this spomenik's profile page.