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The Saga of Belgrade's Marx & Engels Monument and Square

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

The city of Belgrade has many wonderful public squares, each of which has its own special and unique history. However, the one square in the city that encapsulates more than any other Belgrade's Yugoslav-era experimentation in and debate over art, culture and politics is Marx & Engels Square (today called Nikola Pašić Square). Created from scratch in the center of Belgrade as Yugoslavia's socialist period began in 1945, it was named after the two fathers of "scientific socialism", with city political leaders having grand ideas about the square operating as a hub for proletariat gathering. However, things did not go to plan. Efforts to erect a reverent monument to Marx & Engels at the center of the square led to political and artistic scandals, as well as half realized concepts that never fully manifested. As the years went on, what was supposed to be the city's center of socialist thought and action operated during the 1960s as a site of large-scale protest and unrest (the kind of social action the city's authorities weren't so happy about) and then morphed during the 70s into the city center's largest parking lot. The story of Marx & Engels Square is a fascinating saga... of artistic evolution and unrealized hopes, of politics and culture clashing against each other, of protests, of rock concerts, and the forging of a city's identity.

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard view of Marx & Engels Square.

The Development of Marx & Engels Square

Even before the start of WWII, the area at the intersection of Dečanska Street and King Alexander Boulevard in Belgrade was being eyed by city officials for redevelopment. During WWI, most of Dečanska Street was destroyed, so much of the new construction that sprang up was disorganized and poorly laid out. Being so close to the National Assembly Building, ambitions aimed towards creating a grand public square at this location. However, in the year just before the war, that street corner was occupied by a famous kafana called "Topola", as well as the District Court Building. Yet, before much work could begin towards this goal, WWII began, which ultimately resulted in the area around Dečanska Street & King Alexander Boulevard being again pummeled with bombs (by both the Allied and Axis forces), thus leaving much of the intersection devastated and in ruins. As Josip Broz Tito the Communist Party of Yugoslavia came to power after the end of WWII in 1945, the opportunity was firmly taken by the new Belgrade administration and its city planners to finally develop this intersection into a proper square. Huge swaths of ruined buildings were subsequently demolished and cleared away in order to make room for the square, furthermore, significant earthworks were also required to level out the undulating terrain of this new space into a flat uninterrupted plateau.

Image of the Topola Kafana at the corner of Dečanska Street & King Alexander Boulevard. Credit: Arhitektonska enciklopedija Beograda/L. Mladenović

Dubbed "Marx & Engels Square" after the two famous Communist theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, this name was to reflect the goal of Belgrade authorities that this new square would be the beating heart of the city's labor class, where workers would come together in vibrant and impassioned mass gatherings. The first motion made towards achieving this lofty goal was completing the centerpiece of the square, the "Dom Sindikata" (or "Trade Union Hall" in English). This effort began in 1947 and was conceived by Belgrade architect Branko Petričić. To make way for this project, much room had to be cleared, particularly the former District Court Building, which housed the Gestapo's secret prison during WWII. As such, its demolition became quite symbolic. Also around the time of the beginning of this construction of both the Dom Sindikata and the square complex, the name of King Alexander Boulevard was changed to "Boulevard of the Red Army". In fact, the work force initially tasked with the construction of the Dom Sindikata was Soviet laborers. Architect Petričić completed the complex in 1957 after 10 years of construction (a prolonged duration which was ironically the result of politically-rooted labor conflicts). He designed the building style of Socialist Realism, with additional influences from early 20th century modernism, all displayed through the structure's stark unadorned facade. Though unadorned, the Dom Sindikata's front facade elegantly curves across the plaza in such a way that it excellently frames the square, standing tall and enveloping almost as if it were a theatrical stage upon which Belgrade's workers could dramatically gather and celebrate en masse. Interestingly, the building's architecture also borrows heavily from its famous neighbor, the modernist icon "Palata Bioskopa - Beograd", completed in 1941 by Grigorije Samojlov. This stylistic relationship could be evidenced by seeing the two buildings seamlessly transition between each other as the block moved around the corner from Marx & Engels to Terazije Square.

A late 1940s image of the former District Court Building before demolition.
A 1950s image of Marx & Engels Square under construction, with demolished District Court Building at the center.
A vintage 1950s image of the newly built Dom Sindikata.

By the time the Dom Sindikata was completed in 1955, the Marx & Engels Square was nearly completed and fully realized as a socialist ceremonial square. Final alterations to the square to this extent were also made that year when offices of the party's Central Committee took over the building opposite the Dom Sindikata, which was before then called the Privileged Agrarian Bank (built in 1934 by architects Petar & Branko Krstić), but today operates as the Historical Museum of Serbia. One last critical addition to the square that completed it as a center for socialist discourse was the newspaper "Borba", which was the official party paper of the Yugoslav government, taking over the offices of the first Serbian daily "Vreme" just across the street from the Dom Sindikata (that today operate as the "Novosti" newspaper). This era of completion of Belgrade's one "socialist square", with all of its ideological components in place, was accompanied as well by some symbolic street name changes around the square, with Boulevard of the Red Army having its name changed to "Revolution Boulevard" and Dečanska being changed to "Moša Pijade Street" (named after one of Tito's closest political confidantes). With the square fully prepared, all that was left at this point for Belgrade's city planners was to construct an appropriate monument in honor of the namesake of Marx & Engels Square. This is the moment where Zagreb sculptor Vojin Bakić enters the story.


Rejection of the Vojin Bakić Monument Proposal

Born in what is today Bjelovar, Croatia in 1915, Vojin Bakić [profile page] was a brilliantly trained academic sculptor who put his artistic efforts towards designing monumental commemorative works for Yugoslavia almost as soon as WWII ended. However, it was with his memorial sculpture dedicated to the victims of fascism in Kolašin, Montenegro in 1949 that won Bakić considerable praise and attention at the highest levels. A figurative work steeped in the style of Socialist Realism, the bronze sculpture at Kolašin depicted a man and a woman triumphantly rising up in revolutionary action. With the success of the Kolašin monument, it was at this point in 1949 that authorities in Belgrade extended to Bakić a personal and exclusive invitation to submit a proposal for a "Monument to Marx & Engels" that would sit at the center of the Belgrade's Marx & Engels Square. With several years granted to formulate a design concept, Bakić immediately set to work putting together a proposal. However, it was at this very moment in time that Bakić was undergoing his own personal aesthetic crisis, grappling with his desire to escape the confines of artistic realism. In a 1969 interview [related in this paper], Bakić speaks of this dilemma in the following terms: "I immediately sensed the danger inherent in that realism; in that levity, as it were, and the temptation to lapse into mannerism, repetition, and empty rhetoric. And that did happen with my monument in Kolašin, which I wish I had never started."

It was with this new artistic mindset of breaking free from the confines of the formalism which was at the heart of Socialist Realism that Bakić approached creating a design for the Monument to Marx & Engels. For three years Bakić labored over this monument's shape, constantly changing and revising his ideas, with each iteration hinting at a new expression. He focused intently on reducing the figurative form down to more fundamental sculptural gestures, with his efforts aimed more upon communicating geometric brushstrokes of the two historical characters rather than attempting to depict them in any nature of "realist" form. A 1952 self-portrait that Bakić created during this conception period for the Marx & Engels Monument (1950-1953) gives us an impression of his creative thought process during this formative moment of artistic re-invention in his life. However, in going down this path of abstract expression, he was putting himself at hazard with Yugoslav officials, who still very much in the early 1950s, sources recount, viewed abstraction in art as a sign of "social elitism and bourgeois decadence", as well as a symptom of foreign-influenced "Westernization". Even President Tito himself was known to speak out against abstract art during the 1950s and early 60s, for example, during a speech Tito made at the 1962 Youth Congress, he related the following sentiments:" Does not our reality supply sufficient subject matter for creative artistic activities? But the majority of young artists have been paying the least amount of attention to this reality. They escape into the field of abstract art, instead of showing our reality." During the early 50s, Zagreb-based artist collective EXAT 51 was a group in Yugoslavia firmly against state-prescribed socialist realism and openly advocated for free artistic expression, yet, while Bakić was not one of their members, he was no doubt inspired by their struggle.

In 1953, Bakić finally completed his concept proposal for the "Monument to Marx & Engels". His idea consisted of the figures of the two men, with Engels standing and Marx sitting in front of him. Engels holds his hands behind his back while Marx rests his upon a book on his lap. Both figures stare straight forward at the viewer in a piercing manner, almost as if they are having their photos taken. In fact, Bakić remarks in a 1969 interview that he based the composition of this work on late 19th century family portraits, relating how he was attempting to capture how one's wise and dignified grandfathers might sit down together for their first photograph. Meanwhile, all fine detail in the figures is stripped down to the point where sharp edges and angles are the primary means for defining the form. Through this reduction of features to a series of geometric planes, the play of light and shadow over the forms creates sharp contrasts (especially in the faces), resulting in a ghostly and penetrating aura, all the more heightened by the intense gaze. This sculptural concept epitomized a gigantic artistic shift for Bakić from the Kolašin monument he had made just a few years earlier, a change would permanently re-align his creative trajectory and affect all future projects he would undertake for the rest of his life.

A photo of Bakić's 1953 Marx & Engels Monument concept. Credit:šo Dabac

However, while this sculpture had a deep and lasting impact upon Bakić, the same cannot be said for the jury assembled to critique it. When it was completed in 1953, Bakić submitted his proposal in its final form to the official committee tasked with evaluating whether his proposal would act as an appropriate solution for the Marx & Engels Monument. Though the final concept model was only 2.5 meters tall, Bakić envisioned the final form of the monument in the square to be 7 meters tall and carved from a block of Jablanica granite. The evaluation jury he submitted his work to consisted of three members: Croatian writer and poet Miroslav Krleža, Serbian writer and literary critic Milan Bogdanović, and Slovene literary critic and politician Josip Vidmar. Bakić's proposal could not have been further from what the jury was expecting (considering that the invitation to him was based off of his 1949 Kolašin monument) and their rejection of his Marx & Engels concept model was scathing. The following are some excerpts (as sources relate) from the jury's official opinion, translated here into English: "These are two mannequins, of which the seated character acts grotesquely, like a comic figure from some Russian fairy tale. The place of monumental figures that should symbolize one of the greatest historical ideas, the mise en scene, seems exactly the opposite of the functional purpose of such a monument: disharmonious, more than that, repulsive... for these reasons, the jury believes that the model is thus not eligible for realization." In concluding, the jury recommended that a open design competition subsequently be organized for choosing a more appropriate form for Belgrade's Marx & Engels Monument. Some sources even go as far as to recount stories that Tito himself, when first presented with Bakić's sculpture, remarked that it was "no good", as he felt Marx in a sitting position made him look subservient to Engels. Immediately after this rejection, a separate project was summarily canceled that Bakić was working on with the city of Novi Sad to create a monument to poet Jovan Jovanović "Zmaj".

Two photos of Bakić's 1953 Marx & Engels Monument concept. Credit: Tošo Dabac

This rejection of Bakić's sculpture by the jury resulted in an unexpected backlash from many within Yugoslavia's artistic community. Many artists and philosophical thinkers across the country expressed outrage that not only Bakić's work was rejected so resoundingly, but that it was done so with such belittling and harsh language. Many found jury member Miroslav Krleža's name attached to such sharp criticism especially surprising, as he had just the year before spoken out fiercely against socialist realism, ideological constraints and artistic conformity at the 1952 Third Congress of Yugoslav Writers. Ever since the Tito-Stalin split of 1948 and the ensuing Informbiro period, a cultural shift in art had been slowly gaining momentum which emphasized shifting away from socialist realism (which was seen as excessively formalistic and more Soviet than Yugoslav in nature) and moving instead towards nurturing a culture of more artistic freedom and acceptance. As such, this moment of Bakić's work being scuttled by Yugoslavia's political/cultural authorities acted as a breaking point that instigated many to speak out on Bakić's behalf and defend his artistic style. Sources relate how notable Zagreb art historian Radoslav Putar remarked at the time that "Bakić’s maquette for the Monument to Marx and Engels is the first attempt at a serious approach to the problem of creating a monumental sculpture." Meanwhile, some of the most intense defense came from art historian Milan Prelog, who not only had sharp words of criticism for the jury's decision but also high praise for Bakić. In a 1953 issue of the political magazine "Pogledi", Prelog wrote: "The fact that Bakić had the strength to evolve in his artistic expressions before he stagnated, that he had the strength to embark on new unpaved paths, shows that he is a true artist. And in the present state that our cultural arts finds itself, fighting for its new expression, confronting obstacles and roadblocks in its path, Bakić himself pioneers further development in our country's fine arts." The young artistic minds, creators and philosophers of Yugoslavia had been inflamed by this scandal and it would not only solidify Bakić as a defiant artistic maverick for decades to come, but it would also be remembered as a watershed moment in the artistic trajectory of the country. The situation is best summed up in a observation by researcher Nataša Ilić from a 2008 article on the subject: "The importance of the episode certainly does not lie in the inherent artistic qualities of Bakic’s sculpture, but in the fact that to commemorate the fathers of Marxism, he chose... the artistic movement [modernism] that had only recently ceased to be stigmatized for its bourgeois decadence."

Small bronze cast of Bakić's Marx & Engels sculpture.

In regards to the ultimate fate of the large plaster models of Bakić's rejected Marx & Engels Monument concept that he submitted to the jury for evaluation, they were all subsequently returned to him in 1953, with the works then being stored at his studio in Zagreb at Ivan Goran Kovačić Street. However, just three years later on the night of January 26th, a fire which broke out at Bakić's studio destroyed hundreds of his sculptures, drawings, books and other materials. The Marx & Engels sculpture was among those items lost in the fire (including other notable works of his such as the rejected concept for the Jovan Jovanović "Zmaj" Monument in Novi Sad, as well as his plaster model of the "Eternal Gaurd" Monument for Bačkovica, which was realized in 1955).

Yet, despite these significant losses, research by Nataša Ivančević reveals that a small bronze cast which Bakić made of his Marx & Engels sculpture survived the fire, a bitter memento that he later gave to President Josip Broz Tito as a gift. Ivančević relates how the small sculpture then found its way to the May 25th Museum in Belgrade (today called the Museum of Yugoslavia), located right beside Tito's Dedinje residence complex. Then, in 1980, the museum loaned the sculpture to the newly built "Josip Broz Tito" SKJ Political School in Kumrovec, Croatia [profile page], however, after the school was closed and subsequently devastated in the 1990s during the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the Marx & Engels sculpture was lost and has never been recovered. However, recent investigation done by Zagreb researcher Ivica Župan indicates that one surviving small scale bronze sculpture study which Bakić made of his Marx & Engels concept might still survive in a private collection.

A recent photo of the Marx & Engels Monument in Berlin. Credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Wikipedia

Finally, it is worth mentioning that another monument dedicated to Marx & Engels which was created in 1986 by German sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt in Berlin bears a striking resemblance to the form and composition to Bakić's unrealized concept, although Engelhardt's was fashioned in a much more realist artistic style. This Berlin monument still remains in place up to the present day.


A New Design Competition

An open design competition for selecting a form for Belgrade's Monument to Marx & Engels was announced on February 15th, 1955, just under three years after Bakić's proposal was rejected. Proposals would be accepted over the course of 11 months. By the deadline of the competition, which was December 31st, 1955, exactly 42 proposals were submitted from artists, architects and other creative teams from across Yugoslavia. The selection jury this time was chaired by Moša Pijade, who was at that time president of the Federal Assembly of Yugoslavia, who presided over 17 additional members that again included previous jury members Miroslav Krleža, Milan Bogdanović and Josip Vidmar, as well as architect Slovene architect Edvard Ravnikar, Bosnian painter Ismet Mujezinović, Croatian politician Đuro Salaj, Montenegrin politician Veljko Vlahović, Serbian architect Nikola Dobrović, among others. The jury began deliberating over the 42 submitted proposals a week after the deadline on January 6th, 1956. All submissions were kept anonymous so the jury was not aware of the design team responsible for them. After several rounds of intense debate and scrutiny of the submissions over several weeks, the juries final results were announced. The selected first-prize winner of the design competition was Belgrade architect Hranislav Stojanović and his team, the selected first runner-up was Belgrade artist Andrija Spiridonović, the selected second runner-up was Belgrade sculptor Miodrag Živković, while the selected third runner-up was Slovene sculptor Lojze Dolinar (who at that time of the competition was working in Belgrade as a sculpture professor). We will now look at each of these top four winning proposals in detail.


First Prize: Hranislav Stojanović

Photos of the first prize concept model submitted by Hranislav Stojanović. Credit: Godišnjak - Muzeja grada Beograda, Vol. III, 1956

The first prize in the competition for the Marx & Engels Monument was a proposal submitted by a design team headed by Belgrade architect Hranislav Stojanović. This concept consisted of what was intended to be a 23m tall two pronged obelisk sitting upon a two-pronged saddle positioned in the center of the square in front of the Dom Sinditaka. Almost resembling a tuning fork, the two pillars of the obelisk would slowly swell as they grew taller, while at the same time the structure would have sculptural reliefs surrounding its lower segments. Positioned in front of the obelisk aiming down the boulevard would be a long thin pool upon which the monument could reflect from and provide a dramatic perspective. However, in order to accommodate the pool, Stojanović proposed that the intersection of the boulevard and Moša Pijade Street be extended further southeast, which would effectively enlarge the square by a significant amount. Writings about the winning of this proposal shower the concept with praise for its originality, boldness and abstractness. Indeed, while several notable obelisks were constructed in Yugoslavia during the late 40s and early 50s (such as at Batina and Fruška Gora), Stojanović's proposal would be a novel proposition. In fact, through the 1960s, several similar upwardly swelling obelisks akin to Stojanović's would be constructed across Yugoslavia, such as at Prishtina and at Rudo. However, despite this proposal winning first prize and being hailed as innovative and unique, it would NOT be realized or constructed (at least not in full). This matter will be examined more closely in following sections.


First Runner-Up: Andrija Spiridonović

First runner-up concept submitted by Andrija Spiridonović. Credit: Godišnjak - Muzeja grada Beograda, Vol. III, 1956

The first runner-up in the competition for the Marx & Engels Monument was a proposal submitted by a design team headed by Belgrade artist Andrija Spiridonović. The central element of this concept was, yet again, a towering obelisk monument which was specified to rise to a height of 54m tall, situated at the center of the square within a circular plaza. The delicate spire would rise from the ground in a series of connected vertical forms which would slowly taper into one fine point. At the base of the obelisk was planned to be a mausoleum, the interior of which Spiridonović had planned to decorate with memorial mosaics. The model of the monument which was presented by Spiridonović to the jury was met with high praise, however, their most significant problem with the concept was his alteration of the square's road intersection into a traffic circle, which the jury felt would impact too negatively on congestion. Interestingly, while Spiridonović's concept did not win the competition, a variation of it would indeed be erected in the square a few years later in 1961 (if only temporarily), though, it was employed to commemorate something entirely different than it was intended to. This matter will be examined more closely in following sections.


Second Runner-Up: Miodrag Živković

Second runner-up concept submitted by Miodrag Živković. Credit: Godišnjak - Muzeja grada Beograda, Vol. III, 1956

The second runner-up in the competition for the Marx & Engels Monument was a proposal submitted by a design team headed by Belgrade sculptor Miodrag Živković [profile page]. The central element of this monument concept which was being proposed by Živković consisted of a sculptural form intended to be 13m in height right in the center of the square in front of the Dom Sinikata. The sculpture is characterized by the figures of Marx & Engels standing side by side, with Marx holding a book and Engels gesturing dramatically into the sky. Models showed the monument appearing to almost burst from the ground in a solid mass, only for the two figures to materialize with abstract stylized detail as the mass rose upwards. The geometric cubist-like fashion in which the faces of Marx & Engels are rendered in Živković's concept are very similar to the way in which Bakić sculpted his concept, leading one to think that Živković was inspired and influenced to some degree by Bakić's earlier work. Interestingly, just like Bakić, this proposal made by Živković was a complete artistic transformation when compared to his earlier memorial works, such as his early 1950s monuments at Surludica and Raška, which were both crafted in styles reminiscent of socialist realism. As such, the creative process of formulating a monument dedicated to Marx & Engels may have served to be the same catalyzing force of artistic self-reinvention for Živković as it was for Bakić. In the years after this competition, Živković went on to use the distinct modern approach to figurative stylization he had devised with his Marx & Engels concept and employed it on various other monument projects he went on to complete during the 1960s, such as the Monument to Vuk Karadžić in Loznica [1964] and the Monument to Milovan Glišić at Valjevo [1968].


Third Runner-Up: Lojze Dolinar

Third runner-up concept submitted by Lojze Dolinar. Credit: Godišnjak - Muzeja grada Beograda, Vol. III, 1956

The third runner-up in the competition for the Marx & Engels Monument was a proposal submitted by a design team headed by Slovene sculptor Lojze Dolinar. By the mid-1950s when this competition was instigated, Dolinar had already realized several major memorial projects in Yugoslavia, such as his memorial sculpture at Jajinci [profile page] in Belgrade (which was later moved to Kraljevo), as well as his works at Đakovica and Prijepolje. His submission here for the Marx & Engels Monument was largely in line with the artistic style he exercised in his previous works, which closely reflected the aesthetics of socialist realism. In Dolinar's concept, which was to sit at the center of the square, he depicts Marx & Engels in two distinct sculptural forms dressed in flowing robes standing beside and looking at each other while holding expressive poses. While critics praised many aspects of the concept's form and "simplified classicism", it was criticized for its "absence of a decisive main motive as a spatial commander". These small concept models continue to exist and are currently held by the Gorenjska Museum in Kranj, Slovenia.


Additional Submitted Concepts & Analysis

A collage of additional submitted concepts for the Marx & Engels Monument. Credit: Godišnjak - Muzeja grada Beograda, Vol. III, 1956

As can be seen in the above collage image of additional un-awarded entries to the competition for the Marx & Engels Monument, the concepts proposed ranged greatly in scale, style and approach. Some only strayed slightly from former artistic norms and expectations, while others veered wildly into territories of extreme abstraction and hyper stylization of the human figure. Unfortunately, only the top four submissions had their authors revealed, as such, the creators of these additional concepts seen here remain unattributed and anonymous. It is interesting to note that when looking at this body of submitted proposals as a whole which was accepted by the jury for consideration (both awarded and non-awarded entries), many exist as much more extreme and ambitious examples of the modernist figurative deconstruction and abstract expression when compared to Bakić's modest 1953 concept proposal. This is especially noteworthy as far as illustrating the degree to which artistic currents had changed by 1956 when considering just three years earlier Bakić's concept was condemned with such words as "grotesque", "disharmonious" and "repulsive" by his jury of Krleža, Vidmar and M. Bogdanović (all of whom were also on the 1956 competition jury). One of the most significant changes of note which occurred in these three years that could have served to sway cultural sentiments was the final ending of the contentious Informbiro period between the USSR and Yugoslavia with the Belgrade Declaration in 1955, which officially gave Yugoslavia authority to seek its own path free of Soviet political (or artistic) influence.

Ultimately, this massive competition for a solution to the Marx & Engels Monument unleashed a well-spring of creative ideas and diverse artistic expressions that acted as not only as a critical barometer of change for monumental design in Yugoslavia and marked a decisive break in the cultural/political authority's embrace of the style of socialist realism, but it also served as a prophetic testament to the the direction that memorial sculpture would take in the country for decades to come. Thus, Yugoslavia's shift towards rejecting socialist realism and embracing artistic modernism on an official level occurred as the result of multiple factors... of which included not just political factors, such as Tito's split with Stalin and the ending of Informbiro, but also pioneering creative minds willing to push artistic and cultural boundaries. As Zagreb researcher Ivica Župan puts it, "The fate of Bakić's proposal reveals a part of that "hot" period in which Yugoslav society - through rigged ideological and political polemics - tried to turn from a distinctly dogmatic to a quasi-democratic one, and art was to be proof of the success of that transformation".


Yugoslav-era Realizations at Marx & Engels Square

As the obelisk and reflective pool concept proposal submitted by architect Hranislav Stojanović was awarded the winning prize for the competition for the Marx & Engels Monument, he would have no doubt expected that wheels of bureaucracy would have immediately then begun moving towards the full realization its construction and completion. However, this would not be the case. Sources indicate that Stojanović's concept was met with a tepid response by many officials in Belgrade and "quickly provoked criticism". Possibly as a result of this, as well as other factors which are difficult to establish, the reflecting pool element of Stojanović's concept was the only aspect of his plan that was constructed, being completed in 1959. Also per Stojanović's, the size of Marx & Engels Square was extended to the southeast to accommodate the size of the long pool. Unfortunately, little information is available on the reasonings behind this partial realization of Stojanović's concept or what he sentiments were towards this situation.

A vintage 1960s postcard showing the newly created reflective pool & fountain at the center of Marx & Engels Square in Belgrade.
A 1970s Yugoslav-era postcard view of the reflective pool & fountain with the National Assembly in the background.

Interestingly, just a few years later in 1961, it was a variation of the obelisk concept of the competition's first runner-up Andrija Spiridonović who had his work erected in Marx Engels Square. However, the erection of this towering pinnacle was not undertaken to honor the figures of Marx & Engels... it was instead assembled in the months leading up to Belgrade hosting the very first Non-Aligned Movement Summit, which occurred in early September of 1961. The monument which was built resembled Spiridonović's concept in many details, however, it omitted the mausoleum element and instead created around the base of the obelisk an inwardly curving triangular pediment. In addition, the obelisk was unique in that it was illuminated from top to bottom with a series of glowing lights, giving it a hyper modern appearance (very much like Spiridonović's concept artwork depicted the obelisk). The memorial tower was positioned in the center of Marx & Engels Square between the reflecting pool and the Dom Sindikata. Sources cite that the purpose for erecting the monument at this location was to highlight that it was from here within the Dom Sindikata that the summit's press communications headquarters was located, sending out information on the conference to every corner of the globe. Furthermore, I found one sources conveying that some post-hoc symbolism was employed for the obelisk at the time it was built: "The grandiose composition evoked the forms of a tremendously enlarged Tito’s baton, designed every year for the celebration of his birthday. Because it might remind people of Tito’s baton, “that should never stop moving” as it was carried hand-to-hand by Yugoslav youth throughout the entire country, the arrangement could have helped to attach local-national emotions to the broader message of the event." Curiously, while this work was unquestionably based upon Spiridonović's second-place proposal, I found no sources which credited him with realized obelisk. In fact, a 2014 article by the Belgrade newspaper Politika credits the two city architects Aleksandar Šaletić and Aleksandar Petrović with its creation. One reason this may be is that the obelisk was not built as a solid structure — instead, the tower was a prefabricated temporary installation made from metal scaffolding pipes and covered with white fabric. The entire complex was dismantled as soon as the Non-Alignment Movement Summit was over.

Two vintage images of the temporary obelisk commemorating the 1961 Non-Aligned Movement Summit.

Another notable event which took place in Marx & Engels Square in the same year of 1961 were massive protests against the assassination of Congolese politician Patrice Lumumba. Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the square in response to the death of Lumumba, which was carried out in the Republic of Congo after a coup carried out by Mobutu Sese Seko (a move which was seen to be supported by Belgian colonial forces). As a result, some Belgrade demonstrators moved on from Marx & Engels to sack the Belgian embassy at Krunska 18. The demonstrations at the square escalated to such a degree that police were called in to quell the protestors, which subsequently turned violent and resulted in the injury of many demonstrators. The square was used against just a few years later for mass protests during the 1968 Student Revolution. These protests also were also met with extreme police interventions and suppressed by Belgrade's authorities.

A vintage 1961 photo of protests at Marx & Engels Square in Belgrade against Lumumba's assassination.

During the subsequent decades of the Yugoslav-era after the completion of the Marx & Engels Square, apart from the fountain and temporary obelisk, no further significant memorial works were erected in the square, much less any monument dedicated to the square's namesake Marx & Engels. Furthermore, the square did not become the hot bed of Marxist activity nor a gathering space of workers and laborers which Belgrade authorities had hoped it would. In fact, the square would take on a whole different purpose during the 60s and 70s. The periphery of the northwest part of the square in front of the Dom Sindikata had been used for car parking from the beginning. However, as the years went on, the cars crept in ever closer to the point that, by the late 1960s, the entire square began to be utilized as a gigantic parking lot. In fact, many sources of the era refer to it as the biggest parking lot in Belgrade's city center.

Two vintage Yugoslav-era photos from the 60s & 70s showing Marx & Engels Square in Belgrade.

Many of Belgrade's political leaders were quite embarrassed and distraught that Marx & Engels Square, which was supposed to have been the political heart of the city and rallying point for the city's workers and proletariat, had turned into nothing more than a sterile and lifeless parking lot for the city's cars. Despite the efforts made to fashion it as Belgrade's "socialist" square, it had not accrued the cultural or political significance that its designers had intended it to. Even as early as 1955, architects in the city criticized the what they called the "disharmony" of the square's layout. Particularly vocal was architect professor Dimitrije Leko, who criticized the square's amorphous nature, its excessive slope and its incongruity with the surrounding architecture. By the mid-1970s, Belgrade officials' exasperation with the degradation of Marx & Engels Square (both physically and symbolically), was at an all-time high. As a result, in 1976, a nine architects were invited to submit reorganization plans for the square. These nine invitees were some of Belgrade's biggest names in architecture, such as Uroš Martinović, Milica Šterić, Uglješa Bogunović, Bogdan Bogdanović, among others. Even Hranislav Stojanović was invited, whose original winning concept for the square was largely disregarded back in the 1950s. Most of the proposals were rather modest in scope, largely keeping the square as an open pedestrian zone. However, Bogdanović [profile page] was most extreme with his idea, which consisted of the creation of a 10-12m tall artificial hill in the center of the square that would be covered with trees, while he envisioned the facade of the Dom Sindikata being completely draped with creeping vines.

A sketch by Bogdan Bogdanović showing his concept for Marx & Engels Square. Credit: Arhitektonska enciklopedija Beograda

Ultimately, none of the 1976 proposals were implemented in any appreciable way. The square remained a sprawling parking lot until 1982, at which point the cars were finally excised from the space. Also at this point, dozens of plane trees were planted across the square and green areas installed at the recommendation of notable Belgrade journalist Đoko Vještica. A few years later in 1986, the reflecting pool and fountain element of the square was rebuilt and redesigned at the direction of architect Olga Milićević-Nikolić (who at this time was working as an architectural assistant to then Belgrade mayor Bogdan Bogdanović). The fountain largely retained its original shape and location, with its stone border and water feature setup being primarily the aspects of the fountain that underwent alteration. In addition, Milićević-Nikolić also removed the large rectangular tiles of the square and replaced them with small hexagon tile pattern (with much of it still existing to the present-day. Also in the 1980s, Marx & Engels Square began hosting a series of youth gathering that were probably not envisioned by the creators of the square. In 1982, 1984 and 1986, massive rock concerts, free to the public, were held in the square, with some of these events attracting more than 100,000 spectators. While the 1982 concert was held in honor of solidarity with Palestine, the 84' and 86' events were part of the Day of Youth celebrations on May 25th.


The Post-Yugoslav Era

With the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, many changes came to Marx & Engels Square. Firstly, in 1992, the name of the square was changed to "Nikola Pašić Square", Pašić being a famous politician during the era of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia of the 1910s and 20s. In addition, a statue atop a tall pedestal was erected to Pašić in the middle of the square in 1998 (the work of sculptor Zoran Ivanović). Meanwhile, during this same time, Moša Pijade Street had its name changed back to "Dečanska", while Revolution Boulevard was changed back to "King Alexander Boulevard". Both of these names remain up to the present day. Also, in recent decades, the atmosphere of the square has been greatly altered by the addition of massive billboard signs on the top of the Dom Sindikata building. These huge illuminated logos include domestic companies such as Vojvođanska Banka, as well as foreign companies like the Korean-based Samsung and, most recently, the Chinese-based Hauwei. Meanwhile, in front of the fountain was recently installed a large-lettered sculptural sign for tourism photography reading "BELGRADE". Furthermore, after extensive renovations that the Dom Sindikata underwent from 2017 to 2018, its name was officially changed at the building's re-opening to "Kombank Hall" (Kombank dvorana), named after the local Belgrade bank Komercijalna Banka.

A recent photo of the Monument to Nikola Pašić in newly named Nikola Pašić Square. Credit: Branko Graovac
A recent photo of the fountain and reflecting pool at the newly named Nikola Pašić Square. Credit: Branko Graovac

Over recent years, efforts have been proposed and put forward by city planners to make dramatic and drastic changes to the square, some of which even included ideas to remove the fountain element from the square all together. However, after mass popular objection to these ideas and planned proposals, city planners scrapped the ideas. Objections to removing the fountain were based in the feeling that the fountain had become one of the central symbols of the city of Belgrade. Yet, plans are still going forward in some form which would include renovations to Nikola Pašić Square that are set to begin at some point in 2021, according to an article by Politika. As such, the future of change in the square (or its history of opposition to change) continues onward. Just as the creators of Marx & Engels Square back in the 1950s more than likely could not have imagined the current state of the square, its form in another 70 years is something which we may not even be able to conceive of at this point.


Additional Yugoslav-era Works

In the streets and buildings today several hundred meters around what is now Nikola Pašić Square, there are several additional memorial and architectural objects of interest that are worth mentioning in relation to the square's Yugoslav-era heritage and politics. In this last section of the article, I will examine and evaluate each one of these sites individually.


Commemorative Murals to the 1989 Non-Aligned Movement Summit

Being that the story of Marx & Engels Square so intimately involves the history of the Non-Aligned Movement, it seems appropriate to explore a bit more of the history regarding it in the vicinity of the square, in particular, the adjacent square at Terazije. In September of 1989, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit was hosted by Belgrade for the first time since 1961. As such, in preparation to mark this return of notable and historic occasion, significant amounts of memorial artwork was created around Belgrade. There is a significant amount of these surviving public murals from this mass artistic event are just around the corner from Nikola Pašić Square in Terazije Square. Interestingly, all of these murals are very abstract or non-representative of the occasion which they are marking. Each of the mural projects was financed and sponsored by various Yugoslav cities and given as gifts to the city. As the KURS visual art website points out, very little documentation or information survives about these murals and their instigation.

Recent photo of the 1989 Non-Aligned Summit Mosaic at Terazije by Branko Miljuš. Credit: Kabinet Čuda FLU / Virtuelni muzej FLU

Firstly, located on the wall above the stairway heading down to an underground pedestrian crossover tunnel is a large mosaic mural (roughly 4m x 4m) dedicated to the 1989 Non-Aligned Movement Summit that was created by Belgrade artist and university professor Branko Miljuš. The mosaic depicts a wildly abstract scene of geometric shapes, vibrant colors and unusual figures. What meaning or symbolism this artwork is communicating is not at all immediately apparent or clear, with no immediate connection seen with the Non-Aligned Movement. However, this artistic depiction is typical for the style of Miljuš, whose body of work is dominated by similar sorts of abstract scenes. Often overlooked by local pedestrians in the hustle and bustle of Belgrade city life, the mosaic still shows brightly and is in relatively good condition. Sources remark that the mosaic was featured during a scene in the 2014 Hollywood film "November Man" starring actor Pierce Brosnan, which was filmed in Belgrade. The mosaic is located just next to Terazije 1 across the street from the "Palace Albanija". Its exact coordinats are 44°48'52.8"N, 20°27'37.8"E.

Located on Terazije, across the street from each other at the respective addresses of 38 & 43, are two large painted murals on the north-facing upper sides of these two buildings. Dedicated to the 1989 Non-Aligned Movement Summit, these artworks are equally ambiguous and abstract as far as their subject matter and relation to the summit. The first mural, shown in the above image on the right, is located at Terazije 38 and is a work by Serbian artist Miodrag Protić, which consists of a geometric arrangement of red, white and blue triangles and squares. Across the street at Terazije 43 is the second mural, seen in the above photo on the left, by Bosnian artist Ibrahim Ljubović. His mural depicts a trompe l'oeil style painting of an archway with a blue sky and floating hot air balloon. Above the arch is seen a clock pointed at a time that appears to be 9:15. While both appear slightly weathered, over all the works are not in bad condition, espsecially considering their age and lack of maintenance. Both mosaics can be clearly seen from the following coordinates: 44°48'41.6"N, 20°27'42.4"E.

A view of the 1989 Non-Aligned Summit memorial mosaic "The Protector of Terazije" by Mladen Srbinović. Credit: Mladen Cikus

Finally, the last piece of artwork to mention at Terazije that was created in 1989 to commemorate that year's Non-Aligned Movement Summit is a mosaic mural located at Terazije 7-9, just next to the Eurobank complex. Created by famous Belgrade mosaic artist Mladen Srbinović, the mural is titled "The Protector of Terazije" and depicts a white robe-wearing goddess wisely and graciously watching over the square. Behind her is an angelic rainbow, while at her feat is a bowl overflowing with fruit. Sadly, the dark corner that this mosaic is installed within makes it hard to see and often overlooked by passing pedestrians. However, the artwork currently appears in good shape despite its age. Interestingly, the mosaic is positioned directly above where the underground Terazije Traffic Tunnel crosses the square. The exact coordinates for this work are 44°48'51.0"N, 20°27'38.3"E.


"Industrialization" painting by Petar Lubarda

Located within the Dom Sindikata (today called the "Kombank Hall") is a large mural (6.5m x 3m) that is titled "Industrialization" (Industrijalizacija), created by famous Serbian painter Petar Lubarda. This mural painting was unveiled at the nearby National Assembly Building in 1961 as part of Belgrade's artistic commemoration of the first Non-Aligned Movement Summit, at which point it was subsequently moved to be displayed the Dom Sindikata. The painting depicts an abstract scene rendered in red, white, grey and black, showing metal towers, turning gears and a cacophany of energetic motion and billowing smoke. It would seem that this large mural symbolizes not only the sophisticated industrialization of post WWII Yugoslavia, but also the mass rate of industrial improvement occurring within all of the Non-Aligned Movement nations as a result of their cooperation and unity.

A view of the large painting titled "Industrialization" by artist Petar Lubarda. Credit:

Originally, this large painting hung above the main atrium of the Dom Sindikata just above the concession stand. It hung at this location for more than five decades. However, during the renovations which took place at the Dom Sindikata during the mid-2010s, the painting was removed from its place in the atrium. After some confusion about the location of the painting after its removal, it was uncovered in 2017 and re-installed in a much less conspicuous setting within one of the buiding's stairwells. Standing as Ludarda's largest and most evocative works, "Industrialization" stands as one of Belgrade's most famous works of art and was officially declared a cultural property of Serbia on October 31st, 201. The painting remains open for public view in the Dom Sindikata up to the present day.



Behind the Dom Sindikata there is a small public courtyard named "Bezistan" which is acessible by passageways and is set between the towering surrounding buildings. This hidden-away architectural gem connects Nikola Pašić Square and Terazije Square and was created in 1953 by architect Vladeta Maksimović. The square of Bezistan is covered by an open-air concrete lattice, similar to a pergola, and was surrounded by shops and businesses. At the center of the square was a circular colonnade, within which was a fountain. At the center of the fountain was a bronze statue named "Girl with a Seashell" by Serbian sculptor Aleksandar Zarin. It is from this orientation that the square gets its name "Bezistan", which was a type of covered market populated by merchants and fountains traditionally popular in Ottoman architecture. Over the decades, many popular venues existed within the square, such as the "Bezistan" Nightclub and the "Kozara" Cinema.

A vintage Yugoslav-era postcard view of the Bezistan passageway.
A contemporary photo of the central fountain of the Bezistan passageway. Credit:

In recent decades, many of the most popular and signature venues of Bezistan have closed, only to make way for corporate chains such as McDonalds, Raiffeisen Bank and other such businesses. Furthermore, the concrete lattice covering of the square has begun to deteriorate, even falling to the ground in some occasions. Promises to restore and renovate Beizstan have been made by city officials for years, but as of 2021, they still have not materialized. Some articles suggest that this delay might be the result of ownership disputes over the property. Sadly, today Bezistan sits in a poor condition and looks more like a forgotten relic rather than the architectural gem that it is.


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1 Comment

Unknown member
Feb 07, 2022

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