Name: 'Freedom' or 'Liberty Monument' (Spomenik Pobjede/Споменик Побједе/Përmendorja e Lirisë)
Location: Ulcinj (Ulqin), Montenegro
Year completed: 1985
Designer: Miodrag Živković (profile page) & Đorđe Zloković
Coordinates: N41°55'25.8", E19°12'20.6" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~12m tall and 15m wide monument
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Poor, neglected
This monument at the spomenik complex at Ulcinj, Montenegro commemorates the fallen fighters and civilian victims from the city and surrounding region who perished in during the National Liberation War (WWII). In addition, some sources relate that this spomenik is also a tribute to the efforts of airmen and pilots during the war.
World War II
Like much of the rest of the Yugoslav Adriatic coast, turmoil and conflict struck the region in April of 1941 when Italian forces invaded during the Axis takeover of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. When the city of Ulcinj was captured, it was integrated into the adjacent Kingdom of Albania, another puppet-state Italy had created after invading the Albanian region in 1939 (Photo 1). While the Italians initially anticipated a people of the region would be happy with occupation (as there was a close relationship between the Montenegrin monarch Nicholas I and Queen Elena of Italy), the people of Montenegro and those along the Italian-occupied Adriatic soon became angered by the Italian occupation. There was not just dissatisfaction due to the take over of food resources, but also because of the mass influx of refugees. Ulcinj residents were particularly angered by this take-over not only because of the oppressive climate they were forced to live under, but also because the Italians annexed all of Ulcinj's salt-producing facilities, industries which were crucial to their local economy. While it was originally the Italian's plans to create an Italian run 'Kingdom of Montenegro', these plans were squashed when, in the summer of 1941, those living across Montenegro and the Adriatic coast began to rise up against Italian occupation in a revolt organized by the communist-led Partisan resistance movement.
Photo 1: A view of Ulcinj waterfront just after Italian occupation, 1941
Within six weeks of this uprising, Italy's Mussolini retaliated, sending a force of nearly 90,000 troops to put down this uprising, comprised of not only Italian troops, but also some Albanians and Kosovars. During this Italian backlash, nearly 10,000 were killed across Montenegro, with over 20,000 interned at camps, which included many Ulcinj citizens. However, by 1943, the Italians had surrendered to the Allies in the Armistice of Cassibile, which resulted in the Italians evacuating Ulcinj (along with all other parts of Montenegro and Albania), who were then replaced by German occupiers. However, not long after the Germans entered, they were themselves expelled after being defeated by Partisan fighters. The city of Ulcinj was liberated on November 26th, 1945. Then, after the final fall of the NDH, Ulcinj was officially integrated into Montenegro, which itself became part of Tito's Republic of Yugoslavia in November of 1945.
Photo 2: Here we see an image of a Yugoslav-manned BAF squadron of Spitfires, Italy, 1944 [source]
Yugoslav Air Warfare
While it is not established with 100% certainty, some sources relate that this memorial at Ulcinj commemorates, in part, the efforts of the Yugoslav pilots units during the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII). At the time of the invasion in 1941, the Royal Yugoslav Air Force of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia consisted of roughly 500 aircraft (8 fighters and 14 bombers) and 2000 pilots. However, as soon as the Axis forces invaded, these resources became null and void, as the majority of the aircraft and pilots were pillaged by the invading Axis powers. Through the war, the Partisans were able to form a few small air units from captured Croatian planes and conducted occasional air missions, but nothing of any formidable power or organized impact. However, on June 1st, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower oversaw the reformation of many of these former Royal Yugoslav pilots into a substantial air unit under the name "Balkan Air Force (BAF)" in Bari, Italy, where they provided air support for Partisan operations by bombing German and NDH positions across occupied Yugoslavia, as well as delivering troops and evacuating the wounded.
The BAF was composed of roughly 100 planes split up into 8 squadrons, which was all under the direct command of British RAF Air Marshall Sir William Elliot. The BAF disbanded on July 15th, 1945, with the Yugoslav pilots enlisted into the newly formed air force of the Republic of Yugoslavia. During the short life of the BAF, they flew over 38,000 missions, dropped over 6,000 tons of bombs and evacuated over 19,000 wounded fighters and civilians.
There had long been plans by the municipality of Ulcinj to create a spomenik complex to memorialize the victims of the People's Liberation Struggle in that town, with evidence of efforts as early as the late 1960s. A design competition to select an appropriate shape for the monument occurred around 1970. As sources indicate, by 1971, the commission for the project was awarded to the proposal submitted by artist Miodrag Živković and architect Đorđe Zloković. The location of the monument designated to be on the hillside overlooking Ulcinj's popular Mala Plaza beach. There was some alleged controversy over the choice of this location of the monument, as the land in question was reportedly possessed by Albanian property owners who did not wish to cede it for the project. Despite objections, the land was subsequently nationalized and the monument was built. This controversy may explain why it took nearly 15 years for the monument project to be completed. The project was officially unveiled to the public during a ceremony in 1985. The monument structure is four wing-like concrete shapes emanating from the concrete courtyard, standing a striking 11m tall and roughly 15m wide, making it visible across much of the waterfront of the city of Ulcinj.
Photo 3: A view from the 1980s of sculptor Miodrag Živković in his studio designing the Ulcinj monument
Originally, the memorial was meant to be expanded into an elaborate complex hosting a large public square at the center of a substantial amphiteatre (some of which are hinted at in the model seen in Photo 3), around which would be restaurants, cafes and hiking trails. However, with the dismantling of Yugoslavia a few years after the completion of this memorial, the plans were never realized.
The few informational sources which are available for this spomenik complex give conflicting reports on its secondary honorific attributions -- for instance, some sources relate that, in addition to fallen Partisan fighters, it is meant to commemorate the Yugoslav airmen and pilots during the war, while other sources say it is meant as a tribute to the victims of Kragujevac. Yet, in evaluating structure's sweeping wing-like shape, it seems much more logical to assume it is a memorial to airmen and pilots rather than the victims of the Kragujevac tragedy. For the purposes of this profile, I will continue to operate under this assumption until for clear and clarifying information is available.
Photo 4: Poster by Nevena Katalina
Today, the spomenik complex here at Ulcinj lies in a mostly derelict condition. The area around it is routinely used for dumping, the monument's facade is cracking & chipping, its lower section is covered in graffiti, while there are no clear signs it is being maintained or cared for in any appreciable way (much less any restoration). The site sees little in the way of dedicated visitors and no known annual commemorative events are known to still take place here. No educational or interpretive signs exist at the site, while there are no directional signs to lead tourists or visitors to the monument through Ulcinj's confusing and congested roads. From the information available on the site, I have found no indication of any events or community activity taking place here.
However, while there has been little interest in the site locally in Ulcinj, the monument's unique and dramatic form has become an inspiration to many artists and creators (both regionally and internationally) as images of it have permeated through the internet since the early 2010s. For example, the form of the Ulcinj "Freedom Monument" was used in a digitally created poster series created by Banja Luka artist Nevena Katalina (Photo 4) as well as another poster series created by Macedonian artist Zoki Cardula.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There exists no form or style of any inscribed or engraved elements here at the spomenik complex at Ulcinj, Montenegro. Presumably, at one point in time there were some that did exist some here spread around the site, but if so, after the state this site has descended into, they have all either been stolen, destroyed or removed. However, it is difficult to determine, because upon evaluating the site, I see no empty or vacant spots where a plaque would have been placed.
Graffiti at this memorial site is rampant, as can be seen in Slides 1 & 2. Vandals have covered most every space available at the lower reachable extents of this monument in graffiti and spray paint. In addition, a significant amount of this graffiti is nationalist Serbian graffiti, mostly in the form of Serbian cross symbols. It does not appear that any efforts are being made by the city to remove or even prevent such vandalism.
The meaning of the shape and imagery present here at the Liberty Monument in Ulcinj is not immediately clear or apparent upon an immediate viewing of the work. While it is not clearly verified, some sources relate that part of the commemorative intention of this spomenik is to memorialize the Yugoslav airmen who fought during World War II, with the four concrete wing-like shapes central to the memorial sculpture being directly intended to represent the wings of a soaring aircraft. These would symbolize not only the aircraft used to defend Yugoslavia but also the fighters who perished while flying them. That human element of the spomenik can be seen in the abstract faces seen peering out of the concrete wings. These sorts of abstract peering faces are a signature trait seen in many of the spomenik structures designed by this sculpture's creator, Miodrag Živković. Furthermore, being that the wings are pointed towards the ground, this would seem to indicate the crashing of a plane, which could thus be another interpretation of the monument as a tribute to fallen (crashed) pilots. A final point to remark on that would seem to indicate this site honors Yugoslav pilots is that Živković himself went on to make a monument in 1994 in Belgrade that overtly memorializes fallen Yugoslav pilots (Photo 5). Therefore, it might be assumed that Živković had an affinity for creating memorial works to the Yugoslav pilots of WWII.
Photo 5: The 1994 monument to Yugoslav pilots by Živković
Photo 6: A "David and Goliath" scene at the Monument to Krajina Fighters at Banja Luka
However, being that this monument is officially titled "Monument to Liberty", this form could also be a representation of the concepts of "freedom" and "uprising" in a pure and abstract depiction. For instance, from a small footprint on the ground, a mass emanates that quickly grows into a large hulking force. This could symbolize the fact that while the Partisans started small and originated from a modest grassroots initiative, it eventually grew into a huge force that dominated and defeated the occupation by Axis forces. The mass of the object radiates to four points, possibly symbolizing that this 'liberty' and 'uprising' start in a small spot but subsequently spreads to all four cardinal directions, overtaking Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, it is important to observe that the monument itself seems to stand in such a way that would appear impossible. Živković no doubt put considerable effort into engineering this form to stand even against the force of gravity. The monument standing when all visual logic indicates it should not could possibly be a concept symbolic of how the Partisan uprising movement succeeded victoriously as a small homegrown resistance force even against the seemingly overwhelming odds of facing off against the entire force of the formidable and well-equipped Axis armies of Italy, Germany, and so on.
In other words, the monument seemingly defying gravity represents the "David and Goliath" idea of a small force vanquishing a larger one against all expectations. This "David and Goliath" symbolism is one seen one many WWII monuments across the Yugoslav region, both in abstract depictions as seen here, but also in much more overt depictions, such as at the Monument to the Krajina Fighters at Banja Luka, BiH (Photo 6).
Status and Condition:
This spomenik complex is in poor condition. Vegetation is overgrown in many areas, while trash and debris are accumulated throughout. It does not appear there have been any appreciable rehabilitation efforts or restoration efforts in quite some time. There are no directional signs that lead to this monument and the city makes no efforts to promote it as a point of interest or tourist attraction. The only people that seem to make their way up here are those looking to use it to get a view of the beach and the Adriatic, which is understandable, as there are great views from this vantage. However, I see no evidence that tributes, honorings, flowers or wreaths have been left here by any locals or during any commemorative events. In fact, at some point, locals have re-purposed the space into a makeshift playground by erecting a basketball hoop. Meanwhile, the entire lower half of the spomenik is covered in graffiti, much of which is nationalistic in nature. The site does not appear to be in any way protected locally or nationally. There is no lighting and no security cameras do prevent vandals from defacing it. Yet, despite this neglect, a local Ulcinj group called "Art in Ulcinj" has put forward efforts to bring attention to the Liberty Monument as a site of cultural heritage.
Photo 7: Redevelopment concept art by Blckrckr real estate [source]
Additionally, another factor compounding the uncertainty of the future of this spomenik is that there are political efforts at work to have Ulcinj added back to the 'Natural Albanian' territory. People point to the fact that a Ulcinj was given to Montenegro on a 100-year concession during the London Conference of 1912, and since that time has now expired, some argue that it should now be returned to Albania. As roughly 60% of Ulcinj is ethnic-Albanian, if such a movement gained traction, such an initiative could have significant popular support. This could be problematic for the future of the monument as many in Ulcinj find it unattractive and feel it degrades the skyline of the city. Even the local "Visit Ulcinj" tourist website has published an article advocating for its removal. As such, if Ulcinj became part of Albania, leaving the monument without any protection from Montenegrin officials, this could mean that popular negative sentiments against this Yugoslav-era monument could result in significant changes to the site. Yet, alternatively, it must also be mentioned that there have also been proposals put forward by local developers to retain the monument as part of redevelopment efforts. A video showing an extensive proposal (Photo 7) put forward by Ulcinj developer Blckrckr can be seen at THIS link.
Additional Sites along Montenegro's Adriatic Coast:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites which are situated in the general area around Ulcinj, Montenegro (mostly along the country's Adriatic Coast) that would be relevant to anyone who is interested in exploring Yugoslav monuments. We will examine the sites which are located in the towns of Pečurice, Pobori as well as at Petrovac na Moru.
Monument at Pečurice:
About 16km north of Ulcinj in the Adriatic coastal area known as Mrkojevići, you will find a modest memorial sculpture in the small mountain village of Pečurice next to the local school house (Slides 1 - 4). This monument was built to commemorate 33 local fighters from the area who fought and perished during WWII. Built in 1977 by sculptor Cvetko Bošković, the memorial sculpture is characterized by a 7 to 8m tall white concrete spire which is encircled by a floating concrete loop halfway up its form. To the left of the monument is a set of three engraved blocks (Slide 5). The center and right-most blocks contain the inscribed names of the 33 fighters this monument commemorates, while the left-most block contains an inscription which reads as: "Let this memorial forever radiate the names of our sons who perished in the People's Liberation War and in the Revolution, 1941-1945". To the right of this set of three blocks is a small inscribed stone set into the concrete describing who built this monument (Slide 6).
Monument at Pečurice - Slideshow
In a description of the monument here at Pečurice from the 1978 book "Spomenici Revolucije", it is written that "it symbolizes the struggle for freedom and the great sacrifices that this little town gave on the battlefields throughout Yugoslavia: breaking the chain of eternal backwardness and slavery." The most interesting aspect of the symbolism of this monument is that the white spire piercing a concrete hole. The concrete hole itself is notable in that it is in the shape of a star, a characteristic of this element that often goes unnoticed, as seen in Slide 7. Perhaps the spire piercing the star symbolizes Partisan forces breaking themselves out from oppression and occupation. Today the monument still resides in reasonable shape and underwent restoration in 2017. Finally, one last set of elements to note for its symbolic qualities are the two concrete protrusions on the front of the monument, which both have circles piercing them (Slide 8). These elements look very similar to the window protrusions seen on the homes in the old city of nearby Ulcinj (Slide 9), which perhaps act as a cultural reference to local architecture and historical design. A historical image of the monument from the Yugoslav-era can be seen in Slide 10. The exact coordinates for the monument are N42°01'55.9", E19°10'24.6".
Fallen Fighters of Pobori monument:
Roughly 80km up the coast from Ulcinj in the hills above the seaside town of Budva you will find a small memorial sculpture in the small mountain village of Pobori at a scenic overlook spot called Gomila (Slides 1 - 4). Created in 1972 by famous Montenegro born sculptor Stevan Luketić [profile page], the artist more than likely accepted such a small commission in an out-of-the-way village because Luketić was born here in this area of Budva. The monument site is dedicated to the many people from Pobori village who have struggled and fought to defend their lands during the region's of the 20th and 19th centuries, most notably the first (1868) and second (1882) Krivošije Rebellions, the First (1912-1913) and Second (1914-1918) Balkan Wars and WWII (1941-1945). As such, Luketić titled this monument as "To the Fallen Heroes of Pobori". This title is inscribed on a metal panel on the reverse of the monument (Slide 5). On the monument's front are several inscribed panels bearing the names of the local fighters who perished during the war.
Monument to Fallen Fighters of Pobori - Slideshow
Set among these stone panels which list names,there is situated at the center of of the structure (which is roughly 5m tall) one large stone panel with an inscribed commemorative message (Slide 6). This engraving reads, when translated into English, as:
"Slow down your walking and stand for a moment. It was here that the Pobori freedom fighters gathered before their uprising. A monument to their heroism, Montenegro and its freedom!"
Meanwhile, the most prominent element of the monument are a set of 6 bronze sculptural relief panels. The reliefs depict various scenes of people in uprising/rebellion.
This memorial site, which I have seen referred to under the nickname "Guvno", continues to exist in good condition, is well maintained and hosts annual commemorative events (Slides 4 & 5). The City of Budva has marked and listed the monument as a locally protected cultural site. The exact coordinates for the monument are N42°19'23.0", E18°49'51.0".
Memorial Tower at Petrovac na Moru:
Roughly 47km north of Ulcinj along the Adriatic coast is the small resort town of Petrovac na Moru (or 'Petrovac on the Sea'). At the north end of the town's famous beach is a rocky point called Lazaret on which is a 16th-century Venetian fortress called Kaštel Lastva. Among the fortress ruins at the very tip of Lazaret point is located a veterans memorial tower (Slides 1 - 4). The tower and its memorial complex were designed by Aleksandar Prijić, Uroš Stojić and A. Kraljić in the late 1960s. This tower commemorates 143 of the region's fighters who fought and fell during WWII (most specifically those fighters from the local Paštrovići tribe), as well as the local fighters from WWI and the Balkan Wars. Originally the tower had a gas flame which burned from its top (Slide 5), but that has ceased to operate in recent times. In addition, a set of four or five bronze sculptural relief panels depicting Partisan fighters were installed in a small stone courtyard just down the steps from the tower.
Memorial Tower at Petrovac na Moru - Slideshow
There has been some degradation to the site in recent decades. During the 2000s, many of these bronze relief panels previously mentioned had been stolen over the years, with only one being left (Slide 6) as of 2016. However, by 2019, all of these relief panels had been stolen. A Yugoslav-era photo of the panels can be seen in Slide 7. Also installed next to the bronze relief was a set of five white stone plates engraved with the names of local fighters who perished in the region's various wars (Slide 8). These plaques still exist today in reasonable condition. Above these white stone panels is a set of bronze plates bearing a phrase which reads, when translated into English, as: "It burns for a common name and freedom". The 'burning' this phrase speaks of more than likely refers to the gas flame which originally burned from the top of the tower, while the 'common name' probably refers to the people of the Paštrovići tribe whom this monument was built for. In addition, the 'freedom' this quote speaks of the monument burning for has all the more symbolic meaning with the placement of the tower on the tip of Lazaret Point, almost as if it is a lighthouse broadcasting the message across all the land. An additional inscription at this site is located directly on the concrete tower itself (Slide 9), which reads, when translated into English, as: "Paštrovići fallen in the National Liberation Struggle and the Socialist Revolution". Overall, this site is well patronized by many people, as the location has incredible views and as Petrovac na Moru is a significant tourist town. However, I found no reports indicating that annual commemorative events are held here. However, other than the stolen bronze panels, the site resides in fairly good condition and appears sufficiently maintained. Historic images of the site can be seen in Slides 10 & 11. The exact coordinates for this monument site are N42°12'18.5", E18°56'14.2".
There are two interesting side notes to mention about Petrovac na Moru. Firstly, it was on beaches less than 1km west of this monument in the neighboring village of Perazića Do that, in February of 1942, two British Special Operation officers landed for a secret WWII mission called "Operation Hyrda" during which they were supposed to make contact with the Partisans. The mission ended in tragedy. Secondly, it is notable to point out in the 2006 James Bond film 'Casino Royale', the Montenegro casino which the primary action of the film occurs is meant within the story to be located here at Petrovac na Moru. However, the film was not shot in the town, nor anywhere in Montenegro for that matter.
And Additional Sites:
Ulcinj Regional Museum: Housed within the ancient fortifications of the old city of Uclinj is the Ulcinj Regional Museum. This sprawling complex explores this region's thousands of years of history, including the ancient Greek times, Ottoman period, through the medieval era. Attention is also paid to the region's archeology and ethnographic history. However, this museum contains very little about the region's WWII or Yugoslav heritage. The exact coordinates for the museum complex are N41°55'28.7", E19°12'03.8".
Izbor Department Store: Roughly 27 km north along the Adriatic coast within the town of Bar is the Izbor Department Store (Photo 8). This fascinating structure is an impressive example of Yugoslav-era architecture & design aesthetic, with its series of three angular spaceship-like pavilions. It was built in 1984 by Montenegro architect Batrić Mijović and continues to be well used in the community while standing in reasonable condition. The exact coordinates for this structure are N42°05'55.0", E19°05'42.5".
Photo 8: A Yugoslav-era photo of the Izbor Department Store in Bar
Photo 9: Vintage photo of the old House of the Revolution in Bar
The House of the Revolution in Bar: Roughly 27km north along the Adriatic coast with the town of Bar is a building complex that was originally called the "House of the Revolution" (Photo 9). Built in 1963, this concrete circular building is a unique expression of mid-century Yugoslav architecture. After the end of the Yugoslav-era, the complex changed its name to the "Ivo Vučković" National Library and Cultural Center and it continues to operate to this day. Its exact coordinates are, N42°05'54.0", E19°05'35.1".
The House of Culture in Bar: Roughly 27km north along the Adriatic coast with the town of Bar is the "House of the Culture". Built in 1976, this complex is yet another dynamic example of Yugoslav-era modernist civic architecture in the town of Bar. The center continues to be kept in good shape and remains a significant cultural institution in Bar. Its exact coordinates are N42°06'00.3", E19°05'32.9".
Valdanos Military Resort at Ulcinj: Roughly 5km west of Ulcinj, hidden within a narrow cove along the Adriatic, is Valdanos Beach. This scenic location, known for its vast ancient olive grove, was appropriated by the Yugoslav military in the 1960s. Initial plans by the military were to construct a naval base there, but local outcry over potentially destroying the historic olive grove resulted in the project being canceled. Instead, the military built an exclusive resort beach camp for Yugoslav military personnel, opened in 1983. The resort included cabins, auto-camping, trailer space, while on the waterfront at the center of the complex was a set of elaborate modernist concrete terraces with restaurants, shops and other facilities (Photo 10). However, after the dismantling of Yugoslavia, tourism to the area dramatically declined. As a result, by 2007, the resort closed. With it sitting vacant, the resort complex quickly fell into dereliction. While efforts have been made to redevelop the complex over the years, it remains in a decayed and dilapidated state. Much more info about Valdanos can be found at the "Something Interesting" blog. The exact coordinates for this site are N41°57'10.4", E19°09'58.4".
Photo 10: A recent photo of the beachfront access to the ruins of the Valdanos Camp Resort at Ulcinj [source]
Photo 11: A view of the "TITO IS US" sign located in Ulcinj, Montenegro
"TITO IS US" sign in Ulcinj: In front of the municipal utility building of Ulcinj is a tall red metal Yugoslav-era honorific sign dedicated to President Josip Broz Tito which read as "Tito to smo mi" or "Tito is us" when translated into English (Photo 11). Next to Tito's name in the sign is appropriately fitted a bold red star. Even far past the era of Yugoslavia and 40 years after his death, this sign remains in place relatively untouched, while operating as a conspicuous monument to a time period long past. It is in such good condition that it very much appears as though it has been maintained and re-painted in recent times. Interestingly, the town of Ulcinj holding onto such historical artifacts goes beyond this sign. In fact, two of the schools in Ulcinj have retained their original names "Marshal Tito" School and "Brotherhood & Unity" School. Today the sign sits in front of a Kalamper Petrol station and is largely unnoticed by the thousands of tourists and visitors who pass through this beautiful Adriatic location each year. The exact coordinates for the sign are 41°55'37.3"N, 19°13'45.0"E.
From the city center of Ulcinj, follow Bulevar Đerđ Kastrioti Skenderbeg west, then turn left at Xhamia e Kryepazarit mosque towards the sea on Rr. Hafiz Ali Ulqinaku road. Then, after a few dozen meters, veer left uphill onto Mujo Ulcinaku (see turn HERE on Google StreetView). This is a narrow street and looks like a one-way at first, but if you are careful, you'll be fine. Continue on this curvy road up the hill and in less than a kilometer, you'll see the spomenik on the right overlooking the sea (see HERE on Google StreetView). Parking can be made right along the road, from which point the spomenik can be easily walked to. Exact coordinates for parking are N41°55'27.0", E19°12'21.4". Alternatively, the spomenik can be easily walked to up the hill from the Mala Plaza beach as well.
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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