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MY ISTRIA GUIDE

Yugoslavia's forgotten modernist monuments and their radical diversity

Yugoslavia's forgotten modernist monuments and their radical diversity

Mysterious, abstract and yet wonderful - About colossal relics from Croatia's past

They seem futuristic, utopian - as if from another world. Some are only as tall as their viewers, while others are mammoth: imposing giants of concrete, steel and stone scattered across the impressive and varied landscape. They seem lonely and abandoned and yet they exude a magical fascination.

We are talking about the mysterious, gigantic monuments that can be found on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. But what makes them so special? After all, they are "only" socialist monuments some might say.
These monuments, hundreds of which were erected in the period 1950-1990 in the second Yugoslavia, had the primary function of honoring the partisan movement and the resistance against the occupation by the Axis powers. Many people see them only as memorials from past times. A perception that does them no justice. They are far more…

These epic, futuristic monuments do not meet the expectations one might have of World War II memorials. This is not surprising, if you consider their historical context. Yugoslavia's break with the USSR in 1948 led to the rejection of everything Soviet, which among other things affected art.

The ideologically based art style of socialist realism, which had been dominant until then and originated in the Soviet Union, was rejected. The main characteristic of socialist realism lies in the aspired closeness to reality that was used to express themes from everyday socialist life. Abstract or purely aesthetic expression was considered decadent, western and modernist and was therefore rejected by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

large-stone-monument-that-appears-like-wings-to-victims-of-WWII-in-Bosnia-and-Herzegovina

This was only partially the case in Yugoslavia. The aforementioned political break with the USSR and openness to the West allowed Yugoslav artists to travel, literally broaden their horizons, educate and inspire themselves, and enjoy a certain freedom denied to their colleagues in the USSR.

The fruits of this are reflected in the diverse plastic style of the unconventional monuments. Whether modernism, minimalism or expressionism - many styles are combined in these sculptures. One art style that certainly stands out is brutalism. Masses of concrete in abstract and geometric shapes give the monuments a cosmic, surreal, yet powerful appearance. In contrast to the classic war monuments of socialist realism, these Yugoslav monuments avoided the graphic representation of the horrors of war.

Thus, they also avoided to arouse negative sentiments in the viewers, which could endanger the idea of "brotherhood and unity". Their abstract language is universal. One could say that they are as revolutionary as the revolution itself they honor. And even if they recall the past, their unorthodox appearance expresses at the same time an orientation towards the future.

monument-called-stone-flower-in-Jasenovac-Croatia-for-the.-vicitms-of-the-war

Among the most famous monuments are the Battle of Sutjeska Memorial Monument Complex in the Valley of Heroes in Tjentiste (Bosnia & Herzegovina), the Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina in Podgaric (Croatia), Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija in Petrova Gora (Croatia) and the "Stone Flower" in Jasenovac (Croatia).

So, when walking through seemingly untouched nature, you may suddenly find yourself in front of such an impressive sight like in an open-air museum. The placement of the monuments is as surprising as the bold and ambitious design.
You can find them sometimes in the most remote places, where they dominate the landscape. They can emanate an incredible power and in some moments it seems as if they have violently erupted from the earth.

Over the years, unfortunately, many monuments have been damaged or even destroyed, such as the Monument to the Revolutionary Victory of the People of Slavonia in Kamenska (Croatia). However, this does not change the fact that regional and global interest in the monuments have been growing dramatically.

In 2018, the exhibition "Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980 " at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York attracted great interest. Numerous international papers, such as The Telegraph, reported on the "weird and wonderful monuments of the Balkans." Meanwhile, there are even tours on which you can try to uncover the mystery of the monuments. Use your stay in one of our luxury villas in Croatia to experience history and art in its radical diversity.


Maja Kovacevic

15.02.2021
+385 1 222 70 50