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Zenica

Brief Details:

Name: Monument to the Fallen Partisan Detachment from Zenica

Location: Zenica, FBiH, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year completed: 1968

Designer: Arfan Hozić

Coordinates: N44°14'41.1", E17°57'34.8" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~13m tall obelisk

Materials used: Steel frame covered with aluminum plates

Condition: Fair, some neglect and disrepair

(ZEH-nee-tsa)

Click on slideshow photos for description

History:

The monument here at the Zenica spomenik complex commemorates the fighters of the Zenica Partisan Detachment who perished during struggles with Axis forces and Chetnik fighters in May of 1942.

World War II

After the Axis invasion and occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the area of present-day Bosnia was integrated into the Axis-run puppet-state of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), whose defense was administered by the Croatian nationalist militia called the Ustaše (Photo 1). The town of Zenica, which was included within the boundaries of the NDH, faced brutal oppression by their Ustaše occupiers, which led to the creation of armed resistance units being organized by the region's anti-fascist communist rebels ( who called themselves 'Partisans'). In the spring of 1942, Axis German, Croatian and Italian military forces organized a counter-insurgency plan against this Partisan uprising called 'Operation Trio', which was intent on undermining their advancing brigades in the Bosnian region. The plan consisted of creating a violent schism between royalist Serb Chetniks and the ethnically diverse communist-led Partisans, who had, until that point, cooperatively fought in organized brigades against Axis forces across the Yugoslav region. Not only were military engagements and maneuvers part of this Axis operation, but the plan also included the use of racial-based propaganda in order to exploit the ethnic tensions and hatred within the brigades between the royalist ethnic-Serb Chetniks and the anti-royalist communist Partisans. Furthermore, another facet of Operation Trio was to use anti-Partisan propaganda to turn Zenica's ethnic-Serb population against the Partisans, which they achieved by leading these local ethnic-Serbs to believe that the Partisans were a foreign-led and controlled force there to hurt them and not help them.

As Operation Trio was put into effect, many Chetnik-led coups were instigated within brigades against their Partisan partners, resulting in many Partisan soldiers being murdered by Chetniks within their own ranks and units. One of these coups occurred in the town of Zenica on Smetovi Hill on May 8th, 1942, when angry and disaffected Cheniks massacred roughly 32 of their own Partisan fighters within the 3rd East-Bosnian Strike Battalion and the Zenica Partisan Detachment. After these coups, the Chetniks switched sides and began collaborating with the Axis Italians and the Ustaše regime, taking control of eastern Bosnia for the rest of 1942, while Partisan forces withdrew and re-organized in western Bosnia. Then, in the fall of 1943, Partisan recruiter Ivan Rački arrived in Zenica and began to  enlist disaffected local Muslims in Zenica to join the uprising, as the Muslim community were one of the few groups left in Zenica who were sympathetic to the Partisan rebellion. In June of 1944, Rački organized the Vlašić Partisan Detachment, named after the nearby mountain and comprised mostly of Bosnian Muslims, whose ranks swelled to over 600 fighters by the following August.

Photo 1: A view of the market in Zenica just weeks after the town was taken over by Axis forces, 1941

The Ustaše waged massive attacks against the Muslim community in Zenica in response to these actions, however, by early 1944, hundreds of Muslims were still eagerly joining the Partisans. Then, on 10th of April, 1944, the day after the liberation of Sarajevo, a group of fighters from the 5th Partisan Corps sneaked into the city disguised as German soldiers in order to secure the town's industrial infrastructure from Axis destruction during the upcoming liberation battle. The next day, the Partisan fight for the liberation of Zenica began. Finally, on the 12th of April, 1944, the city of Zenica was liberated by the Partisan 10th Krajina Division, but not before the Germans and Ustaše went on a mass killing spree of civilians during their final retreat.

Spomenik Construction

In the mid 1960s, local communist party officials and veteran groups in the Zenica area (with aide from the Yugoslav government) made plans to construct a commemorative complex near the summit of Smetovi Hill (in the mountains northeast of Zenica), where the Chetnik massacre against Partisan fighters occurred. A selection committee was assembled to organize the creation of the monument, with the group being chaired by Zenica cultural luminary (and metal-working union organizer) Mensur Serdarević. The selection committee then initiated an artistic competition in which members of the public could submit design proposals. Of the five proposals submitted, the one put forward by notable Sarajevo-based designer Arfan Hozić was selected. The memorial sculpture, which resides at an elevation of roughly 940m atop Smetovi Hill (just north-east of Zenica), was officially unveiled to the public on July 27th, 1968, a date which marked the Day of Uprising of the People of Bosnia. The primary element of the complex consists of an aluminum-plated flared pylon/obelisk situated on paved stone base, with the pylon/obelisk topped with three points and a large red star painted on its north face. Attached to the base of the pylon are two marble panels bearing engraved inscriptions. Surrounding the monument is a modest iron fence, within which several tall conifer trees are presently growing (however, they are not original to the site). Just north of the spomenik (about 30m) a small amphitheatre was included within the complex, which was originally used for historical presentations and cultural events.

Photo 2: View from Smetovi Hill

Present-Day

During the Yugoslav-era, this monument at the Smetovi Hill site was well patronized and memorialized with official ceremonies, especially on the Day of the Uprising holiday on July 27th. However, the holiday was abolished after the independence movement began following Bosnia's first free elections in 1990, which lead to a drop in attendance to the site and no further official recognition. Then, with the ensuing Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, the amphitheatre and many other elements of the spomenik complex have fallen into neglect and disrepair. The upper part of the aluminum memorial obelisk even appears to be riddled with what look like scores of bullet holes. Yet, despite this damage, a significant number of people still visit this monument site, mostly by virtue of the top of Smetovi Hill being a popular recreation destination for locals (given its amazing panoramic views of Zenica and the surrounding mountains) (Photo 2). As a result, while the monument's condition is certainly not pristine, it is not as neglected or degraded as some other spomenik sites in Bosnia (such as Makljen or Grmeč, for instance). However, much work would need to be done if the Zenica municipality wished to fully rehabilitate and renovate the structure, along with all its accompanying memorial elements.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

This obelisk-shaped spomenik has engravings on both sides done in speckled black marble. The north facing side of the obelisk (Slide 1) translates  from Bosnian to English as:

"To the soldiers of Zenica, partisans, regiments and the 3rd Bosnian Battalion, who all died in a Chetnik attack from the 8th to the 15th of May, 1942."

Then the names of the lost soldiers and fighters are listed below, and at the bottom of the plaque, the construction date is listed as July 27th 1968 and that it was organized by Federal Association of Veterans in the Municipality of Zenica. On the south side of the obelisk (Slide 2), there is a poem by Bosnian poet and historian Izet Sarajlić (Photo 2), which roughly translate as:

Slideshow

"And don't ask if they could come back, and don't ask if things could be back as before, because, red as Communism, burned the horizon of their desires."

Photo 3: Izet Kiko Sarajlić

This verse is from Sarajlić's famous 1953 war poem "Mala, Velika Moja" which roughly translates into English as something like "My Big, Little One". This poetic verse is essentially attempting to say that one should not ask for the fallen fighters of the Liberation Struggle to return or for things to go back to as they were before, because those fallen people had given their lives for what was felt at the time to be a world of 'glorious socialist revolution' in which many, at the time this poem was written, felt they lived within. This also would have been a sentiment that the Yugoslav government certainly would have wanted to communicate to the populace.

Graffiti is covering a good amount of the lower part of the obelisk, however, none of it appears to be of any significant note or consequence. Finally, also in the vicinity of the monument complex is a small memorial (Slide 3) which commemorates the Zenica-based 303rd Knight's Mountain Brigade who were a part of the 1st Zenica Brigade, who were all fighting units of the Army of the Republic of BiH who battled against separatists during the 1990s Bosnian War.

Symbolism:

Upon viewing, it is not immediately clear or apparent what the artist's symbolic intention was in creating this pointed 'horned' obelisk, and unfortunately, my research was not able to yield any specific information on what the creator of this monument, Arfan Hozić, meant to communicate with this abstract metallic sculpture. More than likely the work was intended to be a purely abstract and non-representional form, as was common practice with most sculptures created by Hozić. However, the one symbol that is clear and overt as far as its meaning is the large red star painted directly onto the metal near the top of the structure's north side (Photo 4). The red star was one of the primary symbols used to represent the government of Tito's Yugoslavia and the nation's ruling Communist Party, though, such large and brazen depictions of it on abstract monuments, as seen here, were rare. Perhaps the red star here was not original to the sculpture, but was instead a hasty last minute inclusion by the municipality of Zenica to imbue the sculpture with a touch of vivid and unambiguous Yugoslav 'patriotism' and Communist Party symbolism. However, as the inscribed Sarajlić quote on this monument does make reference to Partisan fighter's passion being as "Red as Communism", maybe the star was indeed an original symbolic element of the memorial.

Photo 4: Close-up of red star

Photo 5: A 2017 clean-up on Smetovi Hill

Status and Condition:

The Zenica spomenik is located at the summit of well-utilized Smetovi Hill Park at an elevation of 940m, as such, it remains relatively protected and reasonably maintained. The grass is regularly cut and the grounds are kept in decent order. The park is a scenic popular place for locals to sight-see and relax (as the park has amazing panoramic views of the Zenica valley), consequently, visitorship to the spomenik is quite high due to its proximity within the park. However, it is not clear to what level visitors are coming to see the monument specifically nor is it clear to what degree or level locals conduct any sort of annual remembrance celebrations or events occur at this site. As a result of this high visitorship, the park can often be scattered with trash during high traffic periods. In response, local youth clean-up efforts (Photo 5), initiated by the local Zenica government, are often carried out around Smetovi Hill, as well as calls by local organizations pressuring the municipality to do more about the trash issue at the memorial site.

The overall condition of this monument is fair, yet, there exists levels of disrepair and damage via neglect and vandalism. Some of the marble sections at the base of the monument have fallen off, while the aluminum plates covering the upper part of the obelisk are covered in graffiti towards their base. Furthermore, the aluminum plates themselves are deteriorating and in need of cleaning. In addition, there is an amphitheatre just to the NW of the spomenik. It has fallen into complete disrepair and neglect, with very little of its original infrastructure remaining. From my observations, it does not seem as if any efforts are being made to restore or repair the spomenik complex or the amphitheatre. Yet, despite this neglect, remembrance events and commemorative activities are still being held at this monument by area veteran's groups and other social organizations (Photo 6), though they do not appear to be officially recognized by any local or regional governmental bodies. These events are generally held on July 27th, Bosnian Uprising Day, which, since 1991, is no longer recognized as an official holiday by the Bosnian government. It is notable to point out that during these events which pay tribute to the WWII Partisan obelisk, the 1990s Bosnian War memorial to the RBiH 303rd Knight's Mountain Brigade is also recognized and commemorated. As of 2018, efforts have been underway to include the area of Smetovi Memorial Park within a new officially protected nature zone which will be called "Babino". Meanwhile, in 2019, city officials from Zenica pledged to conduct infrastructure improvements across the complex, including video cameras in order to inhibit vandalism, while local 'spring cleaning' efforts were also organized.

Photo 6: A 2017 event at the Smetovi Hill memorial complex

Additional Sites in the Zenica Area:

This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites that are around the Zenica area which might be relevant to those already interested in the Yugoslav monuments. The two sites which will be examined here are, firstly, the monument at the Zenica train stain, as well as the Dušan Džamonja sculpture at Zenica's Bosnian National Theatre (Bosansko narodno pozorište).

Train Station Monument:

Originally in front of the central train station in Zenica was a reasonably sized 6-8 meter wide five-paneled Yugoslav-era bronze monument. Historic photos of how the monument originally looked during the Yugoslav-era can be seen in Slides 1 - 4. Sources indicate that this work was created in 1970 by employees of a thermal power plant in Zenica in order to celebrate 20 years of the company operating under workers' self management. Unfortunately, I was not able to establish the author of this work (if you know, please contact me). During the Yugoslav-era, this monument was one of the major symbols of Zenica, made evident by the monument appearing on many of the city's Yugoslav-era postcards. However, the monument was completely devastated during the Bosnian War, and nothing is left now except its base (Slides 5 & 6). The exact coordinates for these ruins are N44°12'33.9", E17°54'43.0".

Train Station Monument - Slideshow

 

Bosnian National Theatre at Zenica:

Near the center of the city is Zenica's Bosnian National Theatre (Bosansko narodno pozorište) (BNP). This very modernist creation was opened in 1978 and designed by Sarajevo architect Zlatko Ugljen, along with Jahiel Finci, for which the team won several awards for the building's pioneering design (Slides 1 & 2). Upon its completion in 1978, it was the largest theatre in Yugoslavia. One of the most fascinating elements of the exterior was a massive metal sculpture suspended from the front entrance portico which was designed by one of Yugoslav-era's most famous sculptors, Dušan Džamonja, a keen artist known for the creation of some of the most ambitious and visually striking Yugoslav monuments such as those at Kozara and Podgarić. This hanging sculpture, which is reportedly titled 'Curtain' (Zavjesa), which resides in front of the BNP is made up of thousands of chain links welded together into a captivating flowing form of organic fins and folds.

Bosnian National Theatre at Zenica - Slideshow

In the years after the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the ensuing Bosnian War, the exterior of the theatre complex began to fall into a state of disrepair and neglect, with Slides 1 & 3 showing images from 2016 of broken windows, graffiti, chipping paint and degraded concrete (more photos can be found here at ZenicaBlog). However, in 2017, an initiative began to restore and rehabilitate the exterior of the theatre and by 2018 you can see photos in Slides 4 & 5 showing the renewed and repaired structure. The Džamonja sculpture, which had also experienced some degradation, was also restored during this time. In Slide 6 you can see Džamonja working on creating the sculpture, while in Slides 7 & 8 you can see historic photos from the Yugoslav-era of the site. The exact coordinates for the main entrance of the Bosnian National Theatre at Zenica are N44°12'05.6", E17°54'19.1".

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Zenica City Museum: In the city center of Zenica off of the south banks of the Bosnia River is the Zenica City Museum. Housed in an expansive 3,000 square meter yellow traditional 19th century building with a modernist glass addition, this museum contains hundreds of exhibits exploring the region's cultural, archeological and ethnographic history. The museum's official website can be found at THIS link, while the exact coordinates for the complex are N44°12'00.3", E17°54'40.1".

  • The Lamela Building: This massive residential tower block is the tallest building in Zenica, standing as a prominent and monumental structure (Photo 7). Opening in 1976 and built by Sarajevo architect Slobodan Jovandić, this imposing structure stands 101m tall with 232 apartments over 27 floors and is locally known as the "Zenički Empajer" (a play off of the NYC Empire State Building). Built in the brutalist style, this ascending staircase six-tower block was the tallest residential building in Yugoslavia until the Genex Tower was built in Belgrade in 1980. A photo of the tower can be seen at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N44°12'14.4", E17°54'27.3".

Photo 7: Photo of the Lamela Building by Dean Djakovic [source]

Directions:

From the north side of the Bosna River in Zenica, while driving along Aleja Sehida, turn north at the Sparkasse Bank at the traffic circle onto Crkvice Road heading uphill towards Novo Selo. Before reaching Novo Selo, turn onto Smetovski Put (Road) which will take you through Novo Selo and all the way to the top of Smetovi Hill. Near the top of the hill you will find a wooden green-roofed tourist center/restaurant. From there, take a left continuing up the hill following the directional sign that says "Spomenici Smetovi". This road will take you to the top of the hill where the spomenik complex is and parking can readily be made anywhere on the hillside park area. However, you should be careful as the road's final approach to the top of this hill is very steep, while the road itself is very narrow.

Parking map to Zenica spomenik.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Comments:

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