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Zlatibor (Златибoр)

Click on slideshow photos for description

Brief Details:

Name: Monument on Šumatno Hill or Monument to the Executed Partisans (Споменик стрељаним партизанима)

Location: Šumatno Hill in Zlatibor, Serbia

Year completed: 1967 (complex built over 6 years)

Designer: Jovanka Jeftanović & Ana Bešlić (profile page)

Coordinates: N43°42'40.4", E19°42'43.0" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~10m tall obelisk

Materials used: White marble blocks

Condition: Very good, well maintained

History:

This spomenik at Zlatibor commemorates the wounded soldiers murdered by German forces after the Partisan retreat from Užice.

World War II

In September of 1941, Josip Tito (the commander of the National Liberation Army in Yugoslavia) and his Partisans were losing ground and battles at Užice against the advancing forces of the German army. As casualties and losses mounted, Tito finally made the decision in November of that year to flee from their Supreme Headquarters at Užice and retreat towards the Sandžak. During that retreat through the deep mountain snow, there were a great many wounded soldiers that were brought along, however, to Tito's dismay, there were not enough Partisan soldiers to assist in carrying all the wounded. While traveling through Palisad, in the Kraljeva Voda (present day Zlatibor) region, during December of 1941, Tito was reluctantly convinced to leave behind over 100 wounded soldiers along the road and at the hospital in Palisad. Tito naively believed that as these soldiers came to be inevitably captured by the pursuing German Army, they would be taken as prisoners of war and have their wounds properly treated, per the international rules of war.

 

When the Germany Army soon caught up to Palisad on November 29th, 1941 and found the abandoned wounded soldiers, they were all summarily executed over the course of several days, with many shot in the head while with others met even more grisly deaths. Many were even captured, brought back to Užice, and executed there. Tito was shocked when he heard the news of this executions, especially as wounded soldiers had always been cared for when retrieved by Germans up until this point. After this episode, Tito decided to never again abandon wounded soldiers to a fate of being mercilessly executed by the enemy. Tito later held his word on this matter to the extreme, as he ordered the evacuation of the entire Partisan Central Hospital as German troops were bearing down on their position at Jablanica, Bosnia, at which point Tito had soldiers carry all of the wounded across a ruined bridge over the Neretva River to safety. After World War II, in 1946, the region of Kraljeva Voda was renamed to 'Partizanske Vode' (Partisan's Water) to honor these murdered wounded soldiers.

The memorial here at Zlatibor also commemorates the 'Battle of Zlatibor' (Битка на Златибору), which was a series of major confrontations between Axis and Partisan forces that began in May 1944 and ultimately ended with the liberation of the town several months later. At the beginning odds in this fight were heavily stacked against the Partisans who possessed only 5,000 troops in their ranks (commanded by Milutin Morača), while the Chetnik and German Axis units they faced had well over 10,000 fighters. As a result of this imbalance, in the first months of fighting, the Partisans were readily pushed out of the region. However, three months later, the Partisans reformed their ranks to wage yet another assault on the Axis occupation of Zlatibor. On August 24th, 1944, the fight for the final liberation of Zlatibor began against the German, Chetnik and Bulgarian forces which were holding the town. The Partisan offensive was spearheaded by the 1st, 3rd and 13th Proletarian Brigades, along with local fighters from the Zlatibor Partisan corps (Photo 1). Three days later on August 27th, all Axis forces had been driven from the city and Zlatibor was liberated.

Photo 1: Young fighters in the Zlatibor Corps, 1944

Spomenik Construction

In 1961, a modest engraved marker was installed at the summit of Šumatno Hill (also known as Glavudža), just outside Zlatibor. Underneath this marker, a crypt was laid which housed roughly 150 Partisan soldiers, including those who fell at Zlatibor along with the remains of local Zlatibor heroes Savo "Sirogojno" Jovanović and Aleksandar Jovanović, and veterans from several other locally active Partisan brigades. However, as soon as this was built, national and regional government groups (along with veteran organizations) immediately made additional plans to supplement the Šumatno Hill marker with an even more substantial memorial complex. The commission for this project was given to notable designers Jovanka Jeftanović and Ana Bešlić.

Photo 2: Monument just after construction

The expanded spomenik complex was unveiled to the public in November of 1967, with the event marked by a commemorative ceremony (Photo 2). The central element of the new addition was a 10m tall outwardly-tapering obelisk made of roughly hewn white marble blocks. On the front face of the obelisk was a figurative deeply-engraved design along, with underneath it being inscribed a poem by Serbian Poet Vasko Popa. In 1995, the region's name was changed from Partizanske Vode to 'Zlatibor'. While it is often explained that this change was made to better recognize the similarly named mountain in which the village sits on, the change invariably was also connected to the Yugoslav Wars going on at that time, as many people during that time wished to minimize the region's Partisan heritage. Thankfully, the monument was spared the vandalism and destruction that many spomeniks across the former-Yugoslav states endured.

Present-Day

Today, the spomenik complex here at Zlatibor is very well maintained and visited by many thousands of people each year from across the region. While some instances of defacement and vandalism against the monument are still found here occasionally, the municipality has been thorough about addressing such problems in a timely manner. Meanwhile, reports indicate that annual commemorative and memorial events are still held at this site regularly. In addition, literary and community cultural events have began to be held at the site as well. It might even be argued that the monument here on Šumatno Hill act as one of the integral symbol for the region, especially as the monument is often used in promotional and marketing materials for various local tourist organizations (Photo 3).

Photo 3: A promotional graphic used by a local Zlatibor tourism agency

"I won't let go of this sunshine in my eyes, I won't let go of this bread in the palm of my hand"

On the right side of the obelisk, there is an inset engraved marble panel laid within the stone (Slide 2). This inscription reads as, when translated from Serbia to English, as:

"This monument is to the wounded fighters of the Uzice Republic, who were vengefully shot by Germans on Nov. 30th, 1941."

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

On the front side of the obelisk, there is a poem engraved into the stone near the base (Slide 1). The inscription is a stanza from the poem 'Branim' (I Defend), by Serbian poet Vasko Popa. Translated from Serbian to English, the stanza reads as:

Slideshow

The vandalization in red spraypaint highlights the word "wounded". It is not clear if this was done to make a specific political statement or if it is completely random.

On the raised platform the obelisk is on, there is a granite interpretive plaque to the right side of the platform (Slide 3). This is in very good condition and barely weathered. It translates roughly from Serbian to English as:

"In this memorial crypt are buried the remains of 100 severely wounded people who were treated at the Central Partisan Hospital of the Užice Republic, who the fascists brutally murdered on the 30th of Nov. 1941 at Zlatibor mountain. To this crypt are also relocated and interred the remains of the national heroes Savo 'Sirogojno' Jovanović and Aleksandar 'Otrov' Jovanović, esteemed fighters of the People's Liberation War, who died in May of 1944. To this crypt are also buried 36 fighters of the 1st Proletarian Brigade, 18 fighters of the 13th Proletarian Brigade 'Rade Končar', and 12 fighters of the 3rd Proletarian 'Krajina' Brigade, who died in the Battle of Zlatibor in August of 1944."

--Erected in 1961 by the Association of Veterans of the Town of Čajetina

Along the paved walkway from the parking lot, I found upon my most recent visit in 2016 an interpretive sign (Slide 4) which has been severely vandalized with spray-paint. It is of the same color as the graffiti in Slide 2, which leads one to believe they were by the same vandals. If there is political or social significance to this graffiti, it is not immediately clear.

On the reverse side of the obelisk, there is one last piece of notable graffiti (Slide 5), which is of a simple red Christian cross of the same color spraypaint as the graffiti in Slides 2 and 4. Other photos from the very recent past of this spomenik I've found have revealed that similar such graffiti has been sprayed upon this monument in recent times (but was removed). Furthermore, I have also witnessed this exact same type of graffiti on other war monuments in the Zlatibor region. This localized nature of vandalism seems to indicate that tension in the area towards the region's Partisan heritage still may exist to some degree.

Symbolism:

On the front of the obelisk, above the engraved Vasko Popa (Photo 4) poetic stanza inscription, there is an abstract line engraving which is meant to be a depiction of the Popa stanza. The line engraving shows a stylized human figure with its head pointed upwards towards the sun while reaching for what we can assume to be a piece of bread. Popa himself fought as a Partisan during the World War II and was even held in a German concentration camp at Zrenjanin, Serbia during the war, so, he had visceral personal experiences with the crimes of NDH and German Axis fores. As such, it is no surprise that this spomenik's designers Jovanka Jeftanović & Ana Bešlić founds Popa's hopeful and optimistic words so appropriate for engraving and depicting on this large obelisk. 

Status and Condition:

The overall state of the spomenik complex here at Zlatibor is very good. The grounds and landscaping at this complex are excellently maintained, while the structural state of the monument's facade also appears to be in good condition. I found very little overt degradation or deterioration here, and what I did see had been repaired by the local municipality. There were small amounts of recent graffiti on a few elements of the complex, but seeing evidence that prior graffiti defacement here is quickly removed, I anticipate that this most recent graffiti will also be removed. Furthermore, the 3/4km long stone-paved lit pathway from the parking lot to the spomenik is in excellent condition, as well.

Photo 4: Vasko Popa

Photo 5: "Poetry of Fire" event, 2017

Reports indicate that the monument, as of yet, has no official protection as a 'cultural asset', but certain 'technical protections' are currently extended to it. Meanwhile political efforts are underway to solidify this protection so the area around the monument cannot be commercially developed. Meanwhile, it is clear that the town of Čajetina, and other surrounding municipalities, are putting great efforts into keeping up the memorial and its grounds. This site's well manicured condition may partly be a result of the region being an extremely popular tourist destination. There were a great number of tourists present here during my visit, with both coming to see the mountain's spectacular views and to pay homage to the monument. At the top of the mountain, amenities have even been put in place to cater to visitors and tourists, such as lounge chairs and a small cafe. Furthermore, even the municipality of Zlatibor goes to considerable lengths to promote the spomenik complex as a historic attraction and point of interest, as they advertise the site on the official Zlatibor website. In addition, there is also a multi-lingual interpretive sign along the path up to the monument explaining the historical significance of the area in Serbian, Russian and English.

While I was not able to find specific reports testifying to the degree that annual commemorative or remembrance events are still held at the site, I did find multiple reports about ceremonies being held at the site in July of 2018 by members of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) which were in protest against the municipality of Čajetina taking out a mortgage on the property the monument resides on. In addition, I also found reports about a writing and poetry group holding events at the memorial complex in September of 2014 (Photo 5).

Directions:

In order to reach this monument site at Zlatibor, head south from Užice along highway E-763, driving all the way through the town of Čajetina. Approximately 3km outside of town along the same road, there will be a right hand turn for Cigota Zlatibor (see Google StreetView location here). Take this right turn and then immediately take your first left turn onto Ulica Sportova. Just after this turn you will immediately see the parking area for the Zlatibor memorial complex by a dark red roofed building. Park here, then follow the signs SE across the concrete walking bridge and take the paved pathway uphill  (which is roughly 3/4 km long) to the top of Šumatno Hill where the monument is located. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°43'07.7", E19°42'06.5".

A map to the location of the monument at the spomenik complex in Zlatibor, Serbia.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Comments:

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