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What are their present day conditions?

Introduction

The current condition of all of the spomeniks across the former Yugoslav region are all highly variable. Their conditions range from a highly maintained and visited state to a state of complete and utter disarray, neglect and destruction. The ones which fall into either state of condition (or somewhere in between) depends on several factors... such as the location of the monument, what the monument is commemorating, whether or not the monument could be integrated into the post-Yugoslav national narrative in each region, the groups that are living in direct proximity to the monument, etc, etc. Many people inquire about many of the Yugoslav-era NOB monuments in total are in good condition, poor condition, destroyed, expunged, etc, however, such information is not known in any exact terms, as coordinated region-wide systematic inventories of this cultural resource have not yet been completed. There still does not yet exist a full inventory of how many monuments existed up until the end of the Yugoslav state, much less one giving a current comparable assessment of all of their present conditions, but this section will talk about that topic, among others, and what efforts are being done to address the question of the condition and status of spomeniks that continue to still exist across the former Yugoslav landscape.

Maintained & Visited

As you explore the spomeniks, you will find that there are a number which are still in highly maintained and visited state. Of these monuments which remain in good condition, there are a few common attributes among them that are worth examining. Firstly, regularly visited and maintained monuments were often found to be ones that were overtly honoring civilian tragedies (such as the spomeniks located at Šumarice Memorial Park in Kragujevac (Photo 1) or Bubanj Memorial park in Niš, for instance). Monuments which were built to honor civilian tragedies (especially tragedies where the victims were mostly composed up of the local majority ethnic group) were much easier for new governments in the post-Yugoslav era to integrate into the new national narratives of these newly independent nations. At the same time, such monuments were also easy for the people of the country to commiserate and identify with, compared to an overtly political or ideological monument.

Photo 1: A view of Šumarice Memorial Park in Kragujevac

A second point to mention is that monuments integrated within citiy centers or city parks tended to be in much better shape than ones located in remote or far-flung rural locations (for instance, Maribor, Vodice or Kruševac are all sites in realtively good shape). On that note, many efforts have been made at many spomenik sites to better consolidate them into city park settings in order to better preserve and engage them with the public. Furthermore, spomeniks honoring large amounts of fallen soldiers or significant WWII-era battles tended to be better maintained and visited (such as the memorial sites located at Sremski Front, Kozara and Tjentište). However, it is important to note that examples do exist to the opposite of these trends as well.

Destroyed & Neglected

Meanwhile, as one travels across the former Yugoslav region, many spomeniks can be found which exist in a very poor condition, as well as some which are outright destroyed all together. This destruction has often been the result of various detrimental impacts, whether it be general neglect/decay, the result of war, scavenging/looting of materials, demolition by authorities, explosive devices used by vandals, etc, etc. The monuments that were found to be in the worst conditions of damage and neglect were ones often located in hard to access locations, concealed mountain tops, forests and remote hillsides -- for example, Makljen, Kosute, Knin (Photo 2 & 3) and Gevgelia. Such locations give vandals, aggressors and those intent on destroying these sites plenty of cover and protection from being spotted by authorities.

In addition, as mentioned above, Yugoslav-era monuments can be impacted by official actions executed by local/regional authories. This can take the form of moving a monument from its original site to a new nearby site (which is not an uncommon occurred), but it can also manifest in the outright demolition of the monument (either for the installation of a new monument or simply as a means to symbolically expunge the old monument). Examples of spomeniks which were demolished through official actions by authorities include the monument at Landovica, the ruined monument at Opuzen and the monument at Orahovac/Rahoveci.

Photo 2: A Yugoslav-era photo of the Knin monument

Photo 3: A 1997 photo after Knin monument's destruction

Photo 4: A view of the damaged Vukovar monument before repair

Photo 5: A view of the damaged Vukovar monument after repair

Furthermore, other monuments found to be in extreme conditions of decay and neglect are often found this was as the result of current ethnic and political situations existing within the proximity to the monuments, such as with the sites found at Mostar, Vukovar and Mitrovica, for example. In such places as these, the monuments were casualties of wars which occurred around them, or they acted as flash-points within ongoing struggles and tentions against two separate communities, where there is one group who wishes to preserve and maintain the relics of Yugoslav culture and tradition, and then another who is determined to marginalize it. However, it is important to mention that in the last 10 to 15 years, some spomenik sites which had fallen into advanced states of disrepair or damage in the past have recently undergone significant restoration efforts.

Such rehabilitation has been spearheaded by various groups, such as local municipalities, but also by international organizations and political groups. Examples of such recently repaired sites are those at Mostar, Vukovar (Photos 4 & 5), Jabuka, Srb and Priština. Many more spomeniks which have fallen into decay also have local and popular initiatives underway to aimed at improving and rehabilitating their conditions which may very well prove fruitful as both regional and global interest around spomeniks increases.

Changed, Re-Used & 'Updated'

While some monuments are being preserved and others damaged/destroyed, a third phase some are undergoing is re-purposing. In places where these monuments have fell out of favor with the local population or stand counter to current national/social/religious/political interests, some spomenik sites are having built within them additional elements (or even brand new competing monuments) in order to 'update' them or allow them to better communicate a more 'contemporary' or 'politically relevant' message. In some cases this takes the shape of religious/ethnic/national symbols being inserted into the memorial site, while in other cases it results in plaques with messages and names referencing the victims and veterans of the 1990s Yugoslav Wars added to or replacing plaques inscribed with the names of WWII victims (Photo 6). Interestingly, this phenomenon of the spomenik's political malleability being manipulated was a 'problematic inevitability' which many critics pointed out during their initial constructions... asserting that their abstractness and universal nature could potentially lead to their message being 'adjusted' or 'co-opted' to serve new political agendas and purposes in an uncertain future.

Photo 6: A 1990s era plaque added to the NOB monument at Pleso, Croatia

Photo 7: Cows at the Revolution Monument at Leskovac

Meanwhile, in other places, some spomenik sites are being used simply as a utilitarian means to an end. For instance, at such sites as the Monument to the Uprising at Petrova Gora, radio towers and antenna have been fixed to the top of the monument, while at places such as Garavice Memorial Park at Bihać or the Monument to the Revolution at Leskovac, shepards and farmers freely and openly graze their livestock across the grave markers and burial grounds of the memorial sites (Photo 7).

For your convenience, the current conditions, state and visitation situation of over 100 of the spomeniks are described in detail within each profile pages I have created for these sites. You can access these by clicking on the 'Explore Spomeniks' button. In the next section, we will look at what might be the lasting legacy of these monuments.

How Many Spomeniks Remain?

A question that is often asked by people interested in the present-day condition of the Yugoslav spomeniks is how many of the original total built still exist today. For several reasons, this question is very difficult to establish a concrete answer to. In the first place, it is unknown how many memorial sites in total had been built in Yugoslavia up until the moment of its breakup in the 1990s. As stated in the intro, a survey in 1961 established that there were already over 14,000 memorial works in the country (which included monuments, busts, memorial fountains, plaques, etc), and that if that same rate had continued until the early 1990s, that it would have resulted in there being well over 40,000 sites. A number of publications were put together during the Yugoslav era in local regions or in individual republics assembling surveys and inventories of memorial sites, however, they were never necessarily authoritative and mostly were done many years or even decade before 1990s. Furthermore, some republics, such as Bosnia i Herzegovina, never completed any nature of inventory of their memorial sites at any point during the Yugoslav era. As such, it is difficult even to establish a baseline for all of Yugoslavia of what amount of memorial sites in total existed in the first place... however, no doubt it was more than likely of somewhere in the range of 20-40,000 sites and objects.

Photo 8: A monument overgrown with vegetation at Gornji Jelovac, BiH

Meanwhile, determining what number of the total amount of Yugoslav NOB memorial sites were destroyed, damaged, lost or consumed by nature is yet another matter. Firstly, the spomenik destruction was less extensive in some former Yugoslav republics compared to others... for instance, in Slovenia, destruction was minimal, while in Bosnia and Croatia it was quite high. In addition, in places like Serbia and Macedonia, overt destruction was less common, but many feel into neglect and degradation, with some being completely overtaken by vegatation (Photo 8). For Croatia, sources often cite a number around 3,000 for total memorial sites destroyed since the end of the Yugoslav era. However, I have not encountered any conclusive numbers for any of the other former Yugoslav republics. This is the result of such little work being done in the last few decades to survey such damage. Though, a few notable efforts to cataolog such damage must be mentioned. First is a 2002 book by Juraj Hrženjak surveying damage in monuments in Croatia from 1990-2000. Yet, while this book contained a tremendous amount of info about Croatian monuments, it wasn't 100% complete and many have continued to be destroyed (and even repaired) since 2000. Also notable are the current efforts by researcher Andrew Lawler to document and survey all of the NOB spomenik sites of Bosnia. But while Lawler has done a tremendous amount of work to date, many years of additional work is required to achieve a full survey of the country. Also, amazing work is currently being done by Mira Hladnik surveying the NOB sites of Slovenia, which has reached a point of near completion. I must also mention the amazing ongoing work of the blog "Symbols of Recent History" which also concentrates on cataloging spomenik sites mostly in Slovenia. A cross-borders academic group called "Inappropriate Monuments" began in the mid-2010s attempting to catalog spomenik sites across the former Yugoslav region, but it only yielded a small amount of work and has been inactive since 2017. As far as the regions of Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and N. Macedonia, I am not aware of any current or past systematic post-Yugoslav efforts that have or are currently cataloging the spomenik sites of these areas.

So, as can now be see, inquiring as to exactly how many spomeniks sites exist now across the former Yugoslav landsacpe is not a straightfoward question... and one which does not have a definite answer at the moment. Though, which continued research by many dedicated groups in the future, such answers may begin to reveal themselves.