Name: Monument to the National Liberation War (Spomenik palim borcima Zaostrog)
Location: Zaostrog, Croatia
Year completed: 1979
Designer: Rudolf Matutinović
Coordinates: N43°08'21.9", E17°16'41.9" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~10m tall obelisk
Materials used: Marble, poured concrete and rebar
The monument at the spomenik complex in Zaostrog, Croatia (on the Makarska Riviera) commemorates the local fighters of the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and those who fell during the National Liberation War (WWII).
World War II
After the invasion of Yugoslavia in April of 1941 by Axis forces, the area of Zaostrog in the Dalmatian region became absorbed into the newly formed Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a puppet-state of the Axis powers and under the primary military control of the ultra-nationalist Ustaše militia. In addition, Italy began annexing a significant number of islands and coastal zones along the Dalmatian coast. Many citizens of the central Dalmatian region were angered by this power accumulation, land grabbing and occupation by Italian and Ustaše forces in their region. As a result, anti-fascist Axis opposition rebels, organized by the communist-led Partisan resistance, began to rise up against occupation. Fighting units of what were called 'Biokovo Partisans' were formed, comprised of both land-based detachments but also naval units which often employed simple sailing and fishing vessels (Photo 1). These rebels waged constant offensives against Italian and NDH and Italian vessels and units from 1942 onwards, sinking and capturing dozens of ships in the Makarska Adriatic zone.
Photo 1: Makeshift Partisan naval vessel on the Adriatic Sea near Zaostrog, 1942
Photo 2: Italian convoy preparing for attacks during 'Operation Albia', Aug. 1944
Infuriated by these Partisan actions, commander of the Italian VI Corps General Renzo Dalmazzo initiated 'Operation Albia' in August of 1942. The objective of this operation was to eliminate the growing Partisan resistance which was spreading along the Makarskan coast of Dalmatia. To supplement this operation, Italians brought in Serbian Chetnik fighters to assist in 'cleaning out' these Partisans -- this was a controversial move for the NDH leadership, who had no interests in Serbian forces of any sort fighting in their territory. On August 18th, the defensive line that the 3rd Battalion (nicknamed 'Josip Jurčević') of the Biokovo Partisans had created in the hills above Zaostrog were broken by Chetnik and Italian troops. These roughly 650 Partisans fled west into the mountains, however, they were all intercepted just west of Kokorići and wiped out by Italians of the 'Bergamo' division. For the Axis troops, the destruction of the 'Josip Jurčević' Partisan Battalion was especially salient, as this battalion was well known for having killed a number of Ustaše soldiers and 'enemy' civilians at Vrgorac in June of 1942, just on the opposite side of the Biokovo range from Zaostrog. This attack by the 'Josip Jurčević' Battalion, among other of their notorious anti-Axis offensives, is often cited as being one of the reasons Operation Albia was organized in the first place. By the end of the operation, nearly 1,000 Partisan fighters across the Makarska/Biokovo region were killed, with only losses of 17 soldiers being lost on the Italian side -- in addition, hundreds of civilians were killed, with innumerable homes burned to the ground in Zaostrog and other coastal towns.
In response to losses incurred from offensive, Partisan commanders met with Marshal Josip Tito to strategize a response. It was concluded that a Partisan Naval Headquarters would be established in the close-by coastal city of Podgora, where continued naval offenses against Italian and NDH forces would be organized from, who would protect and defend up and down the Makarskan coast. Partisan sailors and soliders from Zaostrog continued to fight, engaging Axis forces in naval and ground conflicts, until the liberation of the region by Partisans in May of 1945. During the entire course of the war, hundreds of soldiers and civilians from the Zaostrog region were killed.
In the early 1970s, local governments and veteran groups organized the creation of a spomenik complex on the Zaostrog waterfront to commemorate the victims of the National Liberation War (WWII). The commission for the creation of this this memorial complex was eventually awarded to local Croatian sculptor Rudolf Matutinović. This choice for designer was seemingly an apt one, as Matutinović was not only born in Zaostrog, but much of his family, including his mother, father and many of his siblings died in the terror which overtook the region during the war. The complex was officially unveiled to the public during a commemorative ceremony in May of 1979. Located just a few dozen meters off the beach and harbor in the town Zaostrog, the spomenik stands as a roughly 10m tall concrete obelisk with a number of flared protrusions at the top, giving it the resemblance of a flower.
Currently, the monument is in reasonably good shape and appears to be well maintained and kept-up. It is observed and visited by many people every day, mostly as a virtue of the monument itself existing in the center of a heavily trafficked tourist area within the town of Zaostrog. However, to what extent the local community honors this memorial structure, pays tribute to it or conducts any sort of commemorative or remembrance events is not fully clear, as I was not able to find any reports or articles that it hosts any nature of events or ceremonies whatsoever. However, the site did undergo a restoration project in 2019.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
At the base of the monument here at Zaostrog are attached are four flat engraved concrete panels on each of its four sides (Slide 1), each with a unique inscription. The north-facing panel is engraved with a segment of a poem by Vladimir Nazor (Slide 2). It roughly reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"Blessed be the pain of our ancestors, their blood, sweat, tears, fear, hunger, thirst, sorrow and bitterness. Blessed be that ugly monster and that dark evil force that we wrestled with because now she has now given us wings for soaring and force for leaping."
Meanwhile, there is another engraved inscription on the monument's west-facing panel (Slide 3). The engraving here reads, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"Your name flourished out of bravery & rebellion, and now, crowned with glory, we are returning you to the soil which you belong to."
-People of Zaostrog
Monument built in 1979 by Rudolf Matutinović
Finally, on the south and east-facing sides panels (Slide 4), there are inscriptions of the names of many of the National Liberation War fighters from the Zaostrog area who perished during the war, categorized into three separate lists. The headers of each of the three lists read, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
[South-facing panel] (Slide 4)
Zaostrog fighters of the National Liberation War who died from 1941-1945
[East-facing panel] (Slide 5)
Zaostrog fighters of the National Liberation War who died from 1941-1945
(continuation of previous list)
Victims of fascist terror who died from 1941-1945
Interestingly, in the list here of people from Zaostrog who died during the war, there are a number of people listed with the name "Matutinović", which is also the last name of the creator of this spomenik, Rudolf Matutinović, who grew up here in Zaostrog. Among the names on this list of war casualties are Matutinović's father, Ante, his mother, Ivana, and his brother Stipe. With such a direct family link to the tragedies which occurred in Zaostrog, it can only be imagined the intense personal investment Matutinović had in the construction of this memorial complex.
The shape and form of this monument here at Zaostrog, created by local artist Rudolf Matutinović, seems to be, upon initial examination, an unambiguous stylized depiction of a six-petaled blooming flower. The flower blossom is a form which is is often understood to be universal and ubiquitous symbol representing the concepts of life, youth and rebirth. The flower symbol, in its various incarnations, is one which is found repeated and employed in various forms at a number of WWII/NOB abstract memorial sculptures at spomenik complexes across the former-Yugoslav states, such as those at Jasenovac, Vodice and Veles, among others.
Status and Condition:
Overall, the state in which the monument here in Zaostrog is currently in is fair to good. Firstly, the concrete and marble panels of the memorial are fully intact, with their structure exhibiting few, if any, cracks, breaks or chips. However, a great deal of the surface of the monument is discolored by staining and weathering, but, if effort was taken, this could be easily cleaned off if the local municipality. Meanwhile, the landscaping around the memorial is well kept and manicured, while the pathways and courtyard surrounding the monument are in good shape and well maintained. While this memorial does seem to be one of the central points of the town, I found no directional or promotional signs leading visitors to it nor any interpretive signs or educational placards informing visitors to the site of the monument's significance or cultural importance. While most traditional advertising outlets for the town of Zaostrog have used imagery of the monument in advertising or emphasized it as a local point of interest or attraction in recent decades, in April of 2019, the official Facebook page for Zaostrog featured an image using the monument front-and-center as a promotional feature for the town.
Photo 3: A 2019 photo of the Zaostrog monument by Mark Rampa
On my most recent visit to the site in April of 2017, I found no honorific wreaths, candles or flowers left here. As a result, it is not clear to what degree the immediate community pay regular tribute or respects to this site. Furthermore, I was not able to find any indications or documentation of commemorative ceremonies being held at this site in any form. While many visitors and tourists come into contact with this water-front monument on a daily basis, as Zaostrog is a popular Adriatic beach destination in the summer, it is unclear how many recognize it as a significant WWII memorial commemorating the lives of local fighters and victims. Yet, despite this seeming lack of engagement with the site, in 2019, the town of Zaostrog underwent a project to beautify the circular courtyard in which the monument is situated by re-developing it with a set of brand new decorative triangular tiles (Photo 3). This restoration greatly increased the visual aesthetics of the site.
Additional Sites in the Zaostrog Area:
This section will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in the general and greater area around Zaostrog, Croatia. The two sites which will be examined in this section are, firstly, Revolution Park in Ploče, as well as the Monument to Stjepan Filipović (formerly) located in Opuzen.
Revolution Park in Ploče:
Roughly 22km southeast from Zaostrog down along the Adriatic coast you will find the small town of Ploče, Croatia. In front of the town's municipal buildings is situated a small greenspace called 'Revolution Park', within which is a set of memorial sculptures which is dedicated to local Partisan fighters who fought and fell during WWII (Slides 1 - 3). Unveiled in 1976 and created by Dubrovnik sculptor Marijan Kocković [profile page], this monument is characterized by a series of long rectangular stone columns set around a courtyard in a semi-circular pattern. On these stones are engraved the names of nearly 700 of the region's fallen fighters and victims of fascist terror, as well as the villages and locales from which they originated. Several bronze busts of local folk heroes were once located on pedestals around the complex, but these were removed over recent years out of fear of their being stolen or vandalized.
Revolution Park in Ploče - Slideshow
Commemorative events are still held at this site annually, generally on June 22nd, a date which marks Croatia's Anti-Fascist Struggle Day. Meanwhile, the site itself sits in relatively reasonable condition, but many of the memorial park's elements show signs of neglect and a lack of regular maintenance. The exact coordinates for this site are N43°02'56.4", E17°25'59.0". A historical image of this monument from the 1970s can be seen in Slide 4.
Stjepan Filipović Monument in Opuzen:
Roughly 35km southeast from Zaostrog down along the Adriatic coast you will find the small town of Opuzen, Croatia, right near the delta of the Neretva River. This town was the birthplace of famous young Partisan leader Stjepan Filipović who was a commander of one of the units of the Valjevo Partisan Detachment. After being captured by the German Army in 1942, he was executed by hanging in Valjevo, Serbia on May 27th, 1942. Just before being hanged, he famously threw his arms into the air and defiantly screamed out "death to fascism, freedom to the people", which was a mantra of the Partisans. This defiant moment was famously captured in a dramatic photo (Photo 4). During the Yugoslav-era, Filipović became one of the country's most revered folk heroes. In 1960, a famous statue of Filipović was built by sculptor Vojin Bakić at the site of his execution. This eponymous work by Bakić captured Filipović in that famous moment of defiance.
Monument to Stjepan Filipović in Opuzen - Slideshow
Photo 4: Filipović about to be hung, Valjevo, May, 1942
The memory of Filipović was commemorated yet again in 1978 when the young sculptor team Miro Vuco and Stjepan Gračan together created a bronze memorial sculpture honoring the killed Partisan fighter in his Dalmatian hometown of Opuzen, Croatia. Similar to the Bakić monument, the memorial work by Vuco & Gračan in Opuzen also captured Filipović in that famous rebellious stance with his arms raised, the noose around his neck and poised defiantly standing on the hangman's stool (Slides 1 & 2). The bronze sculpture was 5m tall and was situated on a 4m tall base of concrete steps. While the memorial site was well patronized and visited during the Yugoslav era, just a few months after the start of the Croatian War in 1991, the memorial sculpture was rigged with explosives on the night of July 17th and was found shattered into mangled pieces the next morning . Those who committed this act of vandalism were never apprehended by the authorities. The concrete base of the monument with its vacant bronze hangman's stool stood idle and derelict at the site for 19 years (Slides 3 & 4), with various groups debating and wrangling over the reconstruction of the monument. However, the remaining ruins of the monument were completely cleared in September of 2010 to make way for a business park project (Slide 5), which itself never came to fruition. Even though the former site is now completely cleared of any lingering traces of the sculpture or monument complex, many groups continue to advocate for the reconstruction and restoration of the memorial site.
The exact coordinates for the monument's former site are N43°01'01.0", E17°33'11.3", situated just off the main Adriatic Coastal Highway. Keep in mind if you visit this location, no remnants or ruins exist of the former monument. The site is now merely a flat cleared vegetated lot whose future use is unclear. Starting in 2011, an event called the Opuzen International Film Festival was held for several years in the town, the awards for which were stylized versions of the Filipović sculpture.
Monument to the Uprising in Gradac:
Roughly 7km southeast from Zaostrog down along the Adriatic coast you will find the small town of Gradac, Croatia. Atop a small hill near the seaside town's center is a small spomenik complex where a memorial sculpture was built in 1972 called "Monument to the Uprising". When it was originally constructed, the work consisted of a tall stone block pillar which had a bronze figurative sculpture of an 'Unknown Soldier" standing at its top, with his arms out-stretched towards the sea. Three sets of sculptural stone reliefs adorned the sides of the base of the pillar. The bronze sculpture was created by famous Croatian artist Antun Augustinčić, while the stone reliefs were created by a student of his, Luka Musulin, who was from the nearby town of Podaca. The monument was built to honor the 1941 uprising of the local people against Axis occupation, as well as the Partisan Navy's capture of the Italian ship "Merkur" off the town's coast in January of 1942.
Monument to the Uprising in Gradac - Slideshow
A view of this monument in its original form can be seen in a vintage postcard in Slide 1. On the northeast facing side of the pillar there is an inscribed panel (Slide 2), which translates from Croatian into English as: "From the heart of life and breath and dreams and blood and dust glow the freedom of the everlasting sea and stone. This monument elevates the people of the Biokovo-Neretva region and the Middle Dalmatian islands to testify to the generations of the birth of this country."
During the Yugoslav-era, this monument stood as one of the symbols of the town of Gradac, as evidenced by postcards from the era. However, reports indicate that on January 12th, 1992, just three days shy of international recognition of Croatia's independence, a group of vandals (which some sources name as Croatian Army personel) used a truck and ropes to pull the bronze sculpture off of its pedestal and onto the ground. Since 1992, the mangled remains of the Augustinčić sculpture have been sitting in a heap at the base of the old pedestal pillar (which still stands in suprisingly good shape) (Slides 3 & 4). In a 2017 article, the newly elected young mayor of Gradac, Matko Burić, expressed hopes that the monument could be repaired and rehabilitated, even examining the option of crowdfunding the project. Reports estimate repair costs would be around 500,000 kina (67,500 euro). The exact coordinates for this site are N43°06'22.0", E17°20'27.3".
Getting to the monument complex here at Zaostrog is a relatively easy endeavor. The memorial sculpture is situated directly in the center of the beach area in the main part of Zaostrug, at the corner of Ulica Hrvatskih Domoljuba (Croatian Patriots Street) and Andrije Kačića Miošića Street (see HERE for Google StreetView). More specifically, it is located directly in front of the town's harbor and marina. Parking can be made directly across from the monument in front of the harbor. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°08'21.5", E17°16'42.3". The fasted way out is to take the one way street Andrije Kačića Miošića Street north back up to Highway 8, at which point you can chose to go either up or down this Adriatic coastal road.
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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