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Zrenjanin (Зрењанин)

(ZREN-yah-nin)

Brief Details:

Name: Memorial to the Uprising in Vojvodina (Споменик Обележје Подизања Устанка у Војводини) or "Raonik"

Location: Zrenjanin, Vojvodina, Serbia (formerly Bečkerek and also Petrovgrad)

Year completed: 1985

Designer: Mladen Marinkov

CoordinatesN45°22'07.3", E20°22'08.5"

Dimensions: ~3m tall and 5m wide sculpture

Materials used: Bronze

Condition: Fair, neglected

History:

This monument in Zrenjanin commemorates the beginning of the uprising in Vojvodina against Axis occupation by Partisan rebels which occurred in this area on June of 1941.

World War II

The present-day town of Zrenjanin, Serbia, located in the historical region of Banat, was formerly named Petrovgrad during the era of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, a name which it has adopted in 1934 to honor the previous monarch King Peter I of Serbia (before which it had been known as Bečkerek). However, the reign of Yugoslavia's monarchy came to an end in April of 1941 when the nation was invaded by Axis forces. Through this invasion, Petrovgrad was subsequently taken over and occupied by German forces, who immediately changed the town's name back to Bečkerek. The German Army made Becskerek their headquarters of operations for the region of Banat. One of the first actions the Germans undertook in their takeover of Bečkerek was immediately executing 17 local ethnic-Serbs who were accused of committing an array of petty crimes. On April 19th, 1941, the condemned were taken by German soldiers to the neighborhood of Bagljaš, just on the south-west edge of Bečkerek, at which point they were executed by firing squad. Brutal executions of this style continued in the town throughout the war (Photo 1).

Photo 1: Public hangings in Bečkerek, September, 1941

Photo 2: A photo of Sonja Marinković (left) and a photo of Žarko Zrenjanin (right)

As a result of this and other oppression against local Serbs and Jews by the occupying German forces, anti-Axis resistance groups began to coalesce around the "People's Liberation Movement" of the Yugoslav communist rebels. On June 23rd, 1941, just one day after Germany invaded the USSR, a group of local Communist Party rebels gathered on the farm of local party member Žarko Turinski on the south edge of Bagljaš, near to where the April 19th executions had occurred. From here the rebels decided that the time had come to initiate an armed resistance against the occupying Axis forces and thus, they designated their group as the headquarters & Main Staff for the planning and operation of all National Liberation Partisan Detachments in Vojvodina. One of the persons most instrumental in the creation of these plans for anti-Axis uprising in Vojvodina was the revolutionary fighter Žarko Zrenjanin (Photo 2) from the nearby town of Vršac. Zrenjanin remains heavily involved in the liberation struggle in the Vojvodina and Banat regions up until his death in November of 1942 by German troops. Another notable revolutionary in the integral to planning these local uprisings was Sonja Marinković (Photo 2) However, she too was also killed when captured by German troops in July of 1941. She was executed along with 89 other people via firing squad by a unit of local Banat ethnic-German Nazi collaborators on July 31st at Bagljaš, right near where the uprising in Bečkerek had began.

Post-1942, much of the early formed communist Partisan resistance in the Banat had been eliminated through harsh German backlash and fierce reprisal killings across the region. It was not until 1944 upon the assistance of the Soviet Red Army that efforts towards pushing occupying German troops out of the region was fully successful. Then, on October 2nd, 1944, the Red Army finally persevered in driving out the final German soldiers of Bečkerek, effectively liberating the town. Soon after liberation, local politicians officially changed the town's name from Bečkerek to 'Zrenjanin' in honor of the newly declared Yugoslav national hero Žarko Zrenjanin. In addition, the father of Sonja Marinković, Đorđe, was named Zrenjanin's first president of the city's National Committee.

Spomenik Construction

In the late 1970s, the local committee of the SUBNOR veterans group, along with Communist Party officials in Zrenjanin, began to organize the creation of a monument to honor the creation of the Main Staff group for Vojvodina's Partisan Detachments. The monument was set to be located on the site where the creation of the group is said to have occurred. The commission to design and create the monument complex was awarded to the concept proposal (Photo 3) made by Novi Sad artist Mladen Marinkov. Just a few years before being commissioned to create the monument here at Zrenjanin, Marinkov had distinguished himself by creating a significant WWII memorial complex in the Bosnian town of Zavidovići, a fact which might explain why he was selected for the project. Marinkov completed the Zrenjanin monument in 1985 and it was officially unveiled to the public during a large ceremony on October 2nd, a date which commemorated 41 years since the town's liberation from Axis occupation. This ceremony was reportedly overseen by Đorđe Stojšić, the then leader of the Presidency of the League of Communists of Vojvodina. The central sculptural element of the memorial is a roughly 5m wide bronze sculptural work in the shape of a plowshare.

Photo 3: Concept models of 'Raonik' sculpture, courtesy of Mladen Marinkov's "Skulpture" monograph

The informal name given to the monument by Marinkov was "Raonik" (Раоник), a name which not-surprisingly translates into English as "plowshare". Marinkov received numerous accolades and art awards/recognitions for his efforts in the creation of this memorial sculpture.

Present-Day

Since the fall and subsequent dismantling of Yugoslavia through the 1990s and 2000s, the Raonik memorial site in Zrenjanin has fallen into significant neglect. While the sculpture itself is still relatively intact, the primary engraved plaque in front of the monument has been stolen while the grounds themselves are quite well overgrown and un-managed. Yet, despite this poor condition the site currently finds itself in, local groups still conduct regular annual commemorative events at the site. So far, I found no indications that any nature of restoration or rehabilitation efforts are planned or intended for the site.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

At the Raonik memorial complex here at Zrenjanin, there was originally a number of inscribed elements around the site. Firstly, a plaque was installed on a small concrete pad on the ground directly in front of the bronze monument (Slides 1 & 2). However, at some point in the late 2000s, this plaque was removed from its setting and is now missing. I have not yet been able to find any photographs which depict an image of the plaque before it was stolen, so what this plaque's inscription said is still not known to me. If you have a photo of this plaque, please contact me. Other inscribed elements may have originally existed at this site as well.

Meanwhile, the bronze sculpture has significant staining on its (Slide 3) while also having a considerable amount of scratched graffiti and vandalism on its metal facade (Slide 4).

Slideshow

Symbolism:

The bronze shape of the Raonik monument at Zrenjanin is unquestionably meant to be a stylized depiction of a plowshare (Photo 4). The symbolic intention of this memorial sculpture by its article, Mladen Marinkov, could have multiple meanings. Firstly, the imagery of a plow seems to be an overt reference to the strong farming tradition of the Zrenjanin region, which is located in the rich fertile zone of the Pannonion Plains. Furthermore, in communications with Marinkov, he explains that this abstract and stylized depiction of the plow is meant to be a symbolic form which "aspires for the heavens".

 

Meanwhile, an additional intended symbolic reference of the plow-shape may be the famous quote from the Bible's Book of Isaiah:

"And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

This verse is meant to be a representative illustration of the the tools of war and destruction being re-shaped and transformed into the tools of human ingenuity and progress. Therefore, Marinkov's plow-shaped sculpture could be understood as an anti-war symbol which celebrates an end of fighting along with the destruction of the violent tools which perpetuated it.

Photo 4: An antique plowshare and plow

Status and Condition:

The Raonik memorial sculpture in Zrenjanin currently sits in a exceedingly neglected state. Firstly, the grounds around the memorial are in an unmaintained state of disarray, with few signs that grass is regularly cut or that landscaping is kept up. Local farm equipment and tractors can often be found driving across the memorial complex to access fields and roads, something which is severely impactful upon the site. In addition, while the sculpture itself is relatively intact and in fair condition, its metal surface is heavily graffitied and vandalized with scratches and scrawlings. Meanwhile, upon approaching the site by road, there are no directional or promotional signs leading visitors or tourists to the site, nor can there be found any nature of educational or interpretive signage at the site itself which might communicate its historical or cultural significance. Any visitors who find their way to this site in its current state will be given no indication whatsoever to what it commemorates or who it honors. Furthermore, there can be found very little, if any, promotion of the site in any local online or print resources about tourism or history for the Zrenjanin region. In fact, some publications indicate that many people in the region of Zrenjanin are not even aware of the existence of the Raonik memorial, much less why it exists.

Photo 5: A 2011 commemorative event being held at the Raonik memorial

Upon my most recent visit to the Raonik memorial site in the spring of 2017, I found no signs of any flowers, candles, wreathes or other forms of honorific tributes left in front of or around the monument structure. However, despite this evidence of a general lack of regular community engagement with the site, I did find evidence that some modest annual commemorative events are still being held by local SUBNOR veterans groups at the site (Photo 5), generally on June 23rd, a date which is meant to recognizes the 1941 formation of the Main Staff for the Vojvodina Partisan Detachments. These remembrance events are often attended by notable local politicians and personalities. But despite the fact that the site is still being utilized for commemorative celebrations, I found no indications that any form of restorative work or efforts are planned for the rehabilitation or repair of the memorial complex. The creator of this work, Mladen Marinkov, has expressed his desire to the city of Zrenjanin his desires for it to be relocated to a more centralized and urban location for its protection. However, he relates that thus far he has received no response.

Additional Sites in the Zrenjanin Area:

In this section we will explore additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Zrenjanin area that might be relevant to those interested in the art, architecture or heritage of the former Yugoslavia. Here we explore the Monument to Executed Partisans along the road to Mihajlovo, the Monument to Fallen Fighters in Aradac, as well as the Black Ćuprija Monument on the Tisa River.

Monument to Executed Partisans:

Roughly 2-3km north of Zrenjanin along the road to Mihajlovo is a small memorial sculpture which honors the lives of five fighters of the Greater Bečkerek Partisan Detachment who were executed at this spot on July 26th, 1941 (Slides 1 & 2). These five Partisan fighters were executed by the occupiers in relatiation for Partisan grain burning sabotage operations which had been occurring in the region. Legend has it that one of those executed, a 24yo girl named Ruža Šulman, was offered a pardon in exchange for information, but reportedly responded by saying "Never! I'm dying for freedom!" The monument is composed of three red metal spikes pointing up from the ground towards a flat concrete shape hanging overhead, roughly 3m tall. The symbolism of the monument most certainly focuses around the hard concrete block representing the Partisan's resolve in attacking the occupier, who are represented by the three sharp spikes. This work was created in the 1970s by Zrenjanin architect Tibor Bence.

Monument to Executed Partisans - Slideshow

On the base of the monument is a polished stone plaque which contains a short description of the events which occurred here, as well as a list of the names of the five fighters who were killed here (Slide 3). In addition, at the top of this black plaque is a short poetic verse which roughly reads in English as: "Violet dusk is rising and calling. Calling into the bright day which will come." While the condition of this monument is a bit degraded and neglected, the site still continues to host commemorative events, generally around the day of the executions, June 26th (Slide 4). A historical Yugoslav-era image of this monument can be seen in Slide 5. The exact coordinates for this work are N45°25'58.8", E20°23'31.1".

Monument to Fallen Fighters at Aradac:

Roughly 8km west from the center of Zrenjanin is the small village of Aradac. In a small park near the center of the village is a leaf-like shaped white concrete monument (split in two sections), dedicated to roughly 58 local fighters who perished during WWII. The work, which was created in 1974 by Banat sculptor Milorad Berbakov, is roughly 3m tall and sits on a circular concrete platform. Originally, the monument had a set of black polished inscribed stone tablets in front of it. However, these tablets became damaged and defaced in the post Yugoslav-era. The monument was renewed and restored in 2016, with new white stone plaques now replacing the old broken ones. The inscription on them reads in English as: "Honoring the 30th anniversary of the liberation of this region, the residents of Aradac who were victims of fascism and the fallen from the April War & the People's Liberation Struggle. -- You shed blood. We wove strength. You gave birth to freedom, its beauty and the realization of your dreams".

Monument to Fallen Fighters at Aradac - Slideshow

Underneath the Serbian inscription, the same message is repeated again in the Hungarian language. Around these inscriptions are written the names of the 59 local people who perished during the war. In the above slideshow, Slide 1 shows the monument just before its 2016 restoration, while Slides 2 - 4 show it just afterwards. Slide 5 depicts the present-day inscribed stone panels. I was not able to find any online articles reporting on commemorative events being held here in the recent past, however, old wind scattered wreaths around the site indicate that some level of community commemoration continues to be held here. The exact coordinates for the monument are N45°22'47.8", E20°17'50.0".

 

The Black Ćuprija on the Tisa River:

Roughly 15km west from the center of Zrenjanin, near the town of Žabalj, is a monument which honors local Žabalj victims of the Novi Sad Raid who were killed near this location by the Hungarian fascist Honvédség forces during January of 1942. During this raid, over 660 residents of the town of Žabalj were murdered, with over 250 of those being women and children. Many victims were executed by firing squad, but some were also thrown into the frozen waters of the Tisa River. This monument, created in 1962 by Serbian sculptor Jovan Soldatović [profile page] and titled Black Ćuprija (Crna Ćuprija), is composed of three bronze figures standing roughly 9m tall (Slides 1 - 5). These naked figures are depicted as thin and gaunt, with grotesque holes covering their bodies, perhaps as a means to reflect the horrors committed upon the local people during the raid. In addition, this work also honors all victims from here in the Šajkaška region who perished during the war. In 1991, this site was proclaimed by the Serbian government to be a Cultural Monument of Great Importance.

The Black Ćuprija on the Tisa River - Slideshow

While I was not able to find any internet articles related to commemorative events being held here, remnants of wreaths found at this site indicate ceremonies still occur. While no signs from the main road point to or promote this monument, the site is promoted as a site of interest in the tourist guide for the town of Žabalj. Interestingly, in 2001, a 9-hole golf course was built across the low fields which surround the monument. Historic Yugoslav-era images of this monument can be seen in Slides 7 & 8. The exact coordinates for this site are N45°24'05.6", E20°12'10.5".

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • Concentration Camp at the Old Town Mill: On the north edge of Zrenjanin, a large brick mill facility was built in 1868 which eventually ceased operations in 1936. When the town was occupied by Germans in 1941, the Old Mill building was converted into a concentration camp. It was given the nickname "Kоmunistički lоgоr" or "Communist Camp". Many thousands of people pass through this camp during the course of the war. Many victims were executed here, while many others were sent onwards to other death camps across Europe. When the town was liberated in 1944, the Yugoslav Army used the camp until 1948 to house German prisoners. Despite it being recognized by the government of Serbia as a significant historical landmark, it has never propertly undergone restoration since the end of WWII, with it primary being used as storage space. This article from Zrenjanin Heritage states that the reason the building has fallen into neglect and has not been turned into a museum or perserved as a part of the town's heritage is because the owners of the building are not interested in pursuing any efforts of that nature. A small plaque is installed on the east side of the building which briefly describes its importance. The Old Mill's exact coordinates are N45°23'41.0", E20°23'31.7".

  • Memorial Park at Bagljaš: On the western side of Zrenjanin there is an area known as Bagljaš which contains a small memorial park complex. The park was created to mark the site where many Partisans were executed during WWII (notably Sonja Marinković). The park contains two monuments, the first being a white stone obelisk created in 1945 by the architect team Aleksander Milanov & Aleksander Petričić. This obelisk is dedicated to the victims of fascist terror during the war. Also in the park is a box-shaped memorial crypt containing the remains of 220 Red Army fighters who perished in this region during WWII. This crypt was created in 1962, also by Milanov & Petričić. Commemorative events continue to be held here. The exact coordinates for this memorial park complex are N45°23'03.4", E20°21'50.0".

Photo 6: Four images showing the progression of statues that have occupied the main square of Zrenjanin from 1906 to present

  • Monument to Žarko Zrenjanin: In 1952, a 3m tall bronze statue of WWII hero and fighter Žarko Zrenjanin was erected in the central town plaza (known after WWII as 'Freedom Square') of the newly dubbed town of Zrenjanin (formerly Bečkerek). It was created by Belgade sculptor Rade Stanković and unveiled by President Tito himself. The spot this new statue was located within Zrenjanin's main square in 1952 replaced a former statue of Yugoslav King Peter I Karađorđević (1926-1941), which itself was a replacement for a statue of Hungarian General Ernő Kiss just after WWI (1906-1920). While the former two statues were on tall plinths, the statue of Zrenjanin was low to the ground, most likely to reflect that he was a man 'of the people'. The Zrenjanin statue stood in Freedom Square until 1964, when it was moved to a spot in front of Zrenjanin's local Union of Communists HQ building during reconstruction of the square into a parking lot. The Zrenjanin statue remains at this same location to this day, in front of what is now simply referred to as the 'Committee Building'. Annual commemorative events continue to be held at the statue, most notably on Uprising Day (July 7th). Its exact coordinates are N45°22'53.3", E20°23'27.0". At the end of the Yugoslav-era, Freedom Square was turned back into a plaza and in 2005 the former site of the Zrenjanin statue in that square was replaced by the old statue of King Petar I.

Photo 7: A vintage postcard of the Zrenjanin Cultural Center

  • Zrenjanin Cultural Center: In the city center of Zrenjanin, right next to Plankov Park, is the building complex that is today known as the Cultural Center of Zrenjanin (Kulturni centar Zrenjanin) (Photo 7). Originally built in 1978 by famous Zagreb architect Svetislav Ličina as the Zrenjanin 'Youth Center' (Dom mladosti), this highly modernist and charismatically shaped building has been a cultural gathering spot for people of this city for over 40 years. It continues to host musical preformances, theatrical productions, and many other community events. This building and its unique architetural design have changed little since its construction and remains in reasonable condition. The official website for the center can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N45°22'41.6", E20°23'23.6".

  • Monument at Žitni Square: In Zrenjanin, at the center of Žitni Square (which is now a parking lot), is a monument of three stone pillars which marks the location of where 30 civilians were executed by German military occupiers on January 9th, 1942. Unveiled in 1986, this monument is in good condition and continues to host commemorative events. The exact coordinates for this monument are N45°22'41.9", E20°23'56.6".

  • Monument to Fallen Fighters at Elemir: Roughly 13km NW of Zrenjanin is the village of Elemir. Situated in a open pasture field just west of the village known as 'Bari' is a monument which honors local fallen fighters from WWII (Photo 8). Created in 1972 by sculptor Pavel Radovanović, the work is composed of a 6m tall roughly hewn stone pillar around which are elevated metal triangles pointing towards it. On the pillar is an inscribed poetic verse from Serbian poet Mika Antić. Other stones around the site are engraved with the names of locals who perished during the war. The work is in reasonable condition and continues to host commemorative events. Its exact coordinates are N45°26'30.6", E20°15'32.2".

  • The Burning Bird sculpture: Along the main road in front of the Serbia Gas building on the SE edge of Zrenjanin are several small bronze sculptures. One particular notable sculpture here is one called "The Burning Bird" (Žar ptica) (Photo 9) by famous Subotica sculptor Nandor Glid. The design for this work was originally the winning submission put forward by Glid in a 1972 competition for the creation of a monument in Belgrade which would honor Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. However, this Lenin monument project was never realized. As such, Glid created a smaller version of the sculpture here in Zrenjanin in 1987. The exact coordinates for this work are N45°22'27.3", E20°24'47.4".

Photo 8: Monument at Elemir

Photo 9: The Burning Bird sculpture

Directions:

From the city center of Zrenjanin, follow highway 12 (Bulevar Mulitina Milankovica) west away from the city center. After roughly 1km, you will pass over a yellow railing bridge which passes over the railroad tracks. As soon as you've passed over this bridge, take your immediate left at the bottom of the bridge onto Milana Stanivukovića Road heading south. The, take your immediate left onto Brigadira Ristića heading east and then after one block you will hit a "T" intersection. At this "T", take a hard right onto Dr Tihomira Ostojića Rd, keeping the AVIA petrol station on your left. Follow this road ~1km until you cross over the small canal and then turn right onto Baštenska Road heading west (which is a dirt road). Then, after about 100m, you'll a stone paved drive on the left heading uphill to the memorial complex. Coordinates for parking are N45°22'08.2", E20°22'08.7".

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Historical Images:

Photo 7: Historic image from the 1980s

Comments:

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