Name: 'The Fork' (Виљушка) or 'The Monument to Hanged Patriots' (Споменик Обешеним патриотама)
Location: Vranjske Njive, Montenegro, village just north of Podgorica
Year completed: 1970s
Author: architect Milorad 'Mišo' Vukotić
Coordinates: N42°29'19.9", E19°13'27.7" (click for map)
Dimensions: 6m tall monument
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Fair, neglected
This monument at the spomenik complex in Vranjske Njive, Montenegro commemorates a group of local citizens who were executed by hanging on this spot in 1943, towards the end of the People's Liberation Struggle (WWII).
World War II
Through most of World War II, Podgarica and its surrounding villages, such as Vranjske Njive, were under the control of Axis Italian forces. However, in September of 1943, the Italian Army surrendered to Allied forces with the Armistice of Cassibile. After this pull-out of Italian troops from Montenegro, they were immediately replaced by German Army occupying forces. According to many sources, these German replacements (along with their royalist Chetnik collaborators) were exceedingly more brutal and oppressive to local Montenegrin peoples than the former Italian occupiers. In order to more effectively shock and frighten local populations into submission, German forces would often perform grisly executions. Often, these executions were carried out for either captured Partisan resistance fighters or for local civilians who had been previously captured as 'hostages', then executed in retaliation for subsequent Partisan attacks on German soldiers.
One execution method German commanders in Montenegro felt was most effective in discouraging the local communities to rebel against occupation were public hangings (Photo 1), as they were extremely visceral and fear-inducing displays of brutal power. In the month of December 1943 alone, well over 100 Partisan fighters in total were publicly executed in the Podgorica area. One of these sets of December executions occurred at Vranjske Njive, when a group of 9 captured Partisan rebels were hung by German and Chetnik soldiers just at the base of Velje Hill (Веље Брдо) in the Zeta River valley. As the Zeta River Valley leads directly south towards the major city of Podgorica, this corridor beside Velje Hill was a strategic location and pathway into the city, thus making any hangings done here particularly visible and symbolic for any who might come across it. Furthermore, because of this area being a crucial access point, Partisans vigorously struggled to wrest control of it from Axis forces. As a result, many Partisans viewed the struggle at Velje Hill as integral to the greater fight for the liberation of Podgorica itself. The hangings themselves were done from utility poles along the road. In a 2020 news article, architect Andrija Markuš gives an account of what these hangings would have been like (translated here into English):
Photo 1: Suspected rebel informants hanged in Cetinje, Montenegro, 1944
"They were driven to the place of execution in open trucks. They hung them by the roadside on wooden poles - poles used for regional utility wires. As such, a noose was put around the victims neck while they still stood in the back of the truck, at which point the truck was driven forward to carry out the hanging. Then, a few meters away they would start the next hanging at the next pole in the same way. To the Germans, it was a form of intimidation, that people were hanged by the road, which did not have the intended effect. On the contrary, the desire for resistance and struggle grew only greater."
The village of Vranjske Njive (and the rest of the Podgorica region) were finally liberated by Partisan forces on December 19th of 1944. During the war, it is estimated that nearly 5,000 civilians and soldiers from the region of Podgorica perished. On July 13th, 1946 the city and region of Podgorica changed its name to 'Titograd' in order to honor the Partisan military commander Josip Tito.
The monument here at Vranjske Njive was commissioned in the early 1970s by local municipality officials and veterans groups. As far as who the author was who created this memorial work, when I started doing research into this question several years ago, the majority of sources I came across at that time were attributing this monument's authorship to prominent Montenegrin designer Svetlana Kana Radević [profile page], which, admittedly, seems to bear some stylistic similarities to her other Yugoslav-era memorial works in Montenegro. However, in 2019, after the sister of Radević donated the architect's archive to academic researchers in Montenegro and in examining this treasure trove of newly available information it was found that this work, which was unveiled in the mid-1970s, was indeed NOT one of the works created by Radević. Subsequent research, notably by researcher Slavica Stamatović Vučković, found that the actual author of the Vranjske Njive monument was Montenegrin architect Milorad 'Mišo' Vukotić. Unfortunately, very little information is currently available on him, not only in regards to Vukotić's creation of this monument, but even anything about him as an architect or memorial author.. As future research unveils more about him and his creation of this work, I will update this section with that relevant information.
The primary sculptural element of this memorial is a roughly 8-9m long and ~6m high concrete fork-like sculpture jutting out of the ground at an angle, which dramatically sits elevated over the site, almost as though it is defying gravity. At the base of the sculpture is a small red eternal-flame sculpture resting on an altar.
Since the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the memorial site here at Vranjske Njive has fallen into neglect and disrepair. The grounds of the memorial are overgrown with vegetation, while few visitors in the community visit or pay respects to the site any longer. In addition, I was unable to find any evidence that any sort of official (or unofficial) commemorative events or functions are still held at this monument. However, while the site does seem very much abandoned, the overall structural condition of the memorial elements of the memorial are relatively good, indicating that if local officials were to put effort into any rehabilitation efforts, it could readily be brought back to a restored state.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
The "Monument to Hanged Patriots" here in the village Vranjske Njive, located at the base of Velje Hill (Веље Брдо), has several sets of notable raised lettering inscriptions attached to it. Firstly, there are a set of red metal raised letters (in the Cyrillic alphabet) spelling out an inscription on both sides of the main structure of the memorial sculpture (Slide 1), with the inscription on each of the structure's sides reading exactly the same as each other. These inscriptions read, when they are translated from Montenegrin to English, as:
"Look at the sun above this hill, may its light warn you what it feels like to be in the darkness."
Then, attached to the concrete block at the front of the base of this monument is another set of red metal raised lettering, just in front of the red metal flame sculpture (Slides 2 & 3). This inscription reads, when translated from Montenegrin to English, as:
"They were hanged on one December morning 1943 by German occupiers and domestic traitors."
Then, underneath that text is a list of the names of the nine people who were hanged at this spot: Brković, M. Stanko; Đurović, I. Milovan; Miličković, P. Boško; Miličković, R. Stanoje; Perović, O. Tomo; Sinanović, Ć. Nikola; Šaranović, Dimitrije Garo; Šaranović, Milosav and Škuletić, Niko.
Knowing what we do about the events that occurred here, the shape of Vukotić's memorial sculpture here at Vranjske Njive, Montenegro appears to communicate very straightforward symbolism. The concrete fork-like shape, which is suspended right overhead of any visitors to this site, would seem to be indicative and representative of the idea of being hung, possibly from a tree or branch (as many across Montenegro were during WWII). The strange and seemingly impossible gravity-defying nature of the monument itself hanging in mid-air not only reminds us of those who were hung here in 1943, but the effect also seems to be communicating an atmosphere of "misbalance, anxiety and fear" in a very similar way that art historian Sanja Horvatinčić observes at the spomenik complex in Zaječar, Serbia (Photo 2). Horvatinčić calls this phenomenon a "geometry of fear", where the architect attempts to force the viewer to experience feelings of unease and tension simply with the incongruous nature of the structure itself. Such a design approach then allows the viewer to identify with and internalized the feelings of the executed victims without actually confronting any morbid or visceral imagery.
Photo 2: The 'Gallows' monument at Zaječar, Serbia
In addition, I also find it very interesting about Radević's choice of using this 'fork' imagery to represent the idea of a 'hanging'. Using an everyday object like a fork, a tool we all use to pierce and suspend food and other objects, to embody the process of lynching humans brings the viewer mentally closer to such horrors of war, thus, allowing an act that may have before seemed distant an unthinkable suddenly seems much more present and conceivable.
Photo 3: A view of the monument in relation to the street and the utility poles
However, in a 2020 news article, Podgorica architect Andrija Markuš gives us another symbolic interpretation of the monument. In this article, he explains how the sculpture can be understood as a disembodied arm reaching out across the street towards the wooden utility poles that were used in the 1943 executions, which originally existed on the other side of the street. Understanding the monument in this fashion reinterprets the work as a indicational becon directing the attention of the passer-by towards the spot in which the atrocity occurred (Photo 3), almost as if it is the arm of one of the victims reaching out from beyond the grave to say to us "LOOK HERE! This is where they killed me!". This interpretation of the monument, seeing it as overtly gesturing to us, offers a visceral connection between all three experiential components of the space: the monument, the viewer and the landscape itself. In modern times, the original wood utility poles are long gone, while the new ones have been moved to the side of the street on which the monument resides, yet this interpretation can still be understood.
Yet, taking into account this interpretation which Markuš offers, what must also be remembered is the above-mentioned inscribed warning which is written onto both sides of the arm: "Look at the sun above this hill, may its light warn you what it feels like to be in the darkness." Considering this, the arm can be further understood not only as a gesture towards the execution site, but also as a physical upwards gesture towards the sun itself as an illustrative component and accompaniment for the inscribed quote (Photo 4). We can then see this sculpture evolving as a work of art with multiple symbolic layers for us to interpret, explore and understand... as an embodiment of the concept of hanging, as a beacon fervently motioning us towards the scene of the crime, or as a literal gestural motion operating as a warning to us about what can be learned from the suffering these victims faced and endured here.
Photo 4: A gesture towards the sun
Status and Condition:
In general, the state of the "Fork" spomenik complex here at Vranjske Njive is very poor, with the site sitting in relative abandonment. The grounds of the site are completely overgrown and running wild with tall grass and vegetation. However, despite the neglect of landscape maintenance and lack of use, the structural state of the monument itself appears to be in relatively good condition, as I saw little damage, cracking or deterioration of the sculpture's facade. Meanwhile, there is no directional or promotional signage in the area which might lead tourists or visitors to the site, nor does the site itself contain any multi-lingual interpretive plaques or signs relating to visitors the cultural or historic significance of the site. There is some lettering on the monument relating briefly what happened here, however, it is written only in Montenegrin and does not relate at all any deeper detail of the site's history. In addition, I found no information on the official website for the city of Podgorica which promotes the Vranjske Njive spomenik as any nature of tourist attraction or point of interest. In fact, there is very little information anywhere on the internet whatsoever about the Vranjske Njive spomenik.
While this monument is located literally right at the foot of the main road through this part of the Zeta River valley, it is clear that the site sees few visitors. Upon my most recent visit in the spring of 2017, I found no forms of honorific candles, flowers or wreaths, possibly indicating that the memorial receives very little engagement and patronizing from the local community. Meanwhile, I found no information or evidence that any annual commemorative or remembrance events are held at this site, official or otherwise. From my evaluation of the complex, the spomenik site appears to be completely abandoned, with seemingly no care or maintenance being paid to it.
Additional Sites in the Vranjske Njive Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Vranjsje Njive area that could potentially be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. We will examine here the Piperi Monument on the nearby Trijebač Hill, as well as the Monument to Fallen Fighters at Mareza.
Piperi Monument on Trijebač Hill:
Roughly 2km east of the "Fork" monument at Vranjske Njive just across the Zeta River, there is monument complex on top of Trijebač Hill (Slides 1 & 2) near the village of Rogami which commemorates the fallen fighters from the Montenegrin Highland clan of the "Piperi". This hilltop memorial, which offers amazing views across the whole valley below, honors the fallen clan fighters from not just World War II (1945 Liberation of Montenegro), but also from the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) and the First World War (1914-1918). The Piperi clan, whose ancestral lands are between the Zeta and Morača Rivers, are known to be one of the fiercest fighters of the seven Highland clans. The Piperi overwhelmingly supported the Yugoslav Partisans during WWII, especially as Piperi efforts constituted some of the original revolts of the July 1941 Uprisings against Axis occupation.
Piperi Monument - Slideshow
The Piperi Monument on top of Trijebač Hill was built in July of 1967 and designed by architect Dragan Marković (Драган Марковић). It consists of concrete obelisk roughly 15m tall, which is then bisected by a triangular roof at its base, under which are sets of plaques inscribed with the names of fallen Piperi clan veterans and victims of fascist terror (Slide 3). While it underwent extensive renovation in 2001, today it largely sits abandoned and the surrounding site has fallen into a state of disrepair and vandalism. It is not clear if any remembrance ceremonies are still held here. However, despite this seeming neglect, the structural condition of the monument itself is still rather good. The most significant engraving at on the spomenik is a inscription from the 19th century poet philospher Njegoš (Slide 4 - bottom left plaque), who is considered one of the most important figures in Montenegrin and Serbian cultural literature. The inscription reads, when translated from Montenegrin to English, as:
"A generation born to be sung about, those goddesses will fight for centuries, to make a wreath worthy of your heroism. Montenegro and its freedom is the monument of that heroism."
The exact coordinates for this spomenik complex are N42°28'28.3", E19°15'34.7", while the site itself can be access by a long and winding paved road just a few hundred meters north of the village of Rogami. Heading north from the village, the unmarked left-hand turn needed to be made to reach the site can be seen HERE in Google StreetView.
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Monument to Fallen Fighters at Mareza: Roughly 2km SW (as the crow flies) from the "Fork" monument at Vranjske Njive, on the opposite side of Velje Hill, is the small village of Mareza. In the park complex in the center of the village, there is a modest concrete memorial sculpture (about 7-8m tall) at the center of a stone-paved courtyard. The monument consists of four long thin fins arranged in a radial pattern, which are each hooked at the top (Photo 5). The exact coordinates for the site are N42°28'15.0", E19°11'13.1".
The Roman Ruins of Duklja: Roughly 5km SE of the "Fork" monument at Vranjske Njive are the Roman ruins of the 1st century AD town of Duklja. These impressive excavated ruins are spread out over a wide area and give a great impression of the layout of an ancient Roman town. Since 2010, this site has been on a tentative list of locations that Montenegro has been attempting to have recognized as UNESCO heritage sites. More info and photos of the ruins can be found at the Living in Montenegro blog, while the exact location of the site is N42°28'03.3", E19°15'59.4".
Photo 5: Monument to Fallen Fighters in Mareza
To get to the "Fork" memorial complex, from the center of the village of Vranjske Njive, head northwest out of the village along the road which follows the Zeta River. Continue for roughly 4km and you will see the spomenik complex on the left hand side of the road (see HERE for Google StreetView). Parking can be made across the street from the monument along the gravel shoulder. The exact coordinates for potential parking are N42°29'20.4", E19°13'27.6". Take note that there is not much room at all to park here and that traffic can zoom along this road rather fast, so it is good to be aware of your surroundings in order to avoid getting your car, yourself or anyone else hit.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
Please feel free to leave a message if you have any comments, if you have any questions, if you have corrections or if you have any additional information or insight you feel might be appropriate or pertinent to this spomenik's profile page.