Almost by default, whenever there’s something historical to be said about Bosnia and Herzegovina, it's the Ottoman period that’s under the spotlight. In a way, it’s perfectly understandable: the larger part of the country’s history was spent under the Ottoman rule or maybe it’s because it’s one of the most documented. In any case, Bosnia and Herzegovina has many crown jewels in its royal tiara and the post-World War II period is one of those precious stones.
To be more precise, we’re taking you back to the socialist roots and one very important symbol in particular: the Tjentište monument.
No ordinary monument
Designed by Miodrag Živković, approximately 19m high and 25m wide white-grey concrete behemoth symbolically reflects the push that surrounded Partisan forces made through enemy lines. The monument is comprised of two symmetric wings in sharp geometric abstract forms, appearing to arise from the ground and fitting perfectly in the landscape. The passage between the wings leads to a plateau where the names of all the Partisan units that took part in the battle are carved in stone tablets.
Image credit: http://www.spomenikdatabase.org
There are a lot of curiosities regarding the monument itself. Tito himself showed great interest in the creation of the Sutjeska memorial, being thoroughly involved with all the major matters. Despite booming industrialization and modernization, the monument was built almost entirely by hand, with very little machinery involved in the day-to-day construction. It’s even rumored that the initial design was far greater in size, spanning far across the Valley of Heroes and going over the river Sutjeska. Supposedly, the project was scrapped due to the enormous cost.
However, what you see today is not all that once was. In fact, there was a much more elaborate memorial complex that was ruined and vandalized under the control of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) in the Bosnian War. It included a stone altar (the first memorial element to be built) that housed beneath a crypt containing remains of some 3300+ fighters, a memorial house filled with intricate frescos (now vandalized for the better part), a pavilion where commanders of youth work actions rested, hotel that’s now been partially restored, a museum showcasing various memorabilia regarding the battle and the construction of the monument first looted and then destroyed, along with many sculptures of noted individual fighters and exhibits. Some sources say that even the monument itself was marked for complete destruction, only to be saved by the lack of sufficient explosive to bring it down.
Interestingly, the monument was not fully completed when publicly unveiled on September 5th, 1971. The work on the structure resumed after the opening ceremony. Even as such, it was one of the largest and most complex memorial projects completed in Yugoslavia at the time.
The World War II ended, life moved on but victims of the Nazi ideology were never forgotten. The Yugoslav authorities established numerous memorial sites and monuments, with over 30 of them located in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Out of those, the Tjentište War Memorial is arguably one of the most recognizable monuments, with its otherworldly concrete look and generally large anatomy.
The structure, erected in 1971 after two years of construction, commemorates the fallen soldiers and fighters of the Battle of the Sutjeska. Axis forces aimed to destroy the main Yugoslav Partisan force - Yugoslav National Liberation Army (YNLA), near the Sutjeska river in south-eastern Bosnia. The failure of the offensive marked a turning point for Yugoslavia during World War II. Around 22.000 partisans fought the Nazis and more than a third of the initial force lost their lives, including nurses, government officials, cultural workers, ordinary people…
The monument sometime in the 80s | Image credit: miodrag-zivkovic.com
Years later, the area was declared as Sutjeska National Park, making it the oldest and largest national park in BiH. The immediate location of the monument was dubbed the Valley of Heroes to honor the victims of this both tragic and triumphant event.
And heroes they were. Even though they were plagued with various medical issues (mostly typhoid fever) and had little to no food and medical supplies, the brave fighters endured and defeated the vastly superior opponent, both in terms of manpower and firepower. About 127.000 Axis forces were said to be on the heels of Partisans and their leader Marshal Josip Broz Tito, complete with artillery and air support. The importance of the Battle of Sutjeska is huge because it was a turning point in the regional WW2 terms. The tide shifted and YNLA regrouped and staged a counteroffensive, growing stronger with each battle and driving the liberation effort. What’s more, the Battle of the Sutjeska has a special place in Yugoslav culture as a creation point for the Yugoslavian post-war identity and mythology. Tito’s evasion and outsmarting of the Nazis served as a clear-cut demonstration of how fighting for the just cause and freedom, even in the face of overwhelming odds, was enough to subvert the oppressive fascist regime and ideology.
A symbol of chivalry
June 15th this year marks the 75th anniversary of the pivotal battle. Here at Bazerdžan, we see it as an example of humanity, the heroic struggle and sacrifice in the face of adversity, where everything that you believe in and what makes you you is facing annihilation just because you think differently than the other side.
The creative team of Bazerdžan commemorates in its own way the historic magnitude of Tjentište with an original design. We feel strongly about every aspect the monument represents and see this t-shirt as both a reminder and a message for everyone who wears it.
The importance of the Battle of Sutjeska mustn’t fall into oblivion, and this is our little way of keeping it out there. We like having and wearing things that mean something to us, that empower us and carry a strong message while also inspiring us to do what we love. That’s something the Battle of Sutjeska and it’s fascinating monument more than fulfill.
Like the majority of the memorials erected during the socialist 70’s in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Tjentište War Monument is an abstraction of the decisiveness and moral firmness when faced with an ideology that’s fascist. The impulse to resist and persist is deeply ingrained in all of us and that’s what this monument represents. the majestic strangeness of the monument cannot be denied. Even the recent landslide, that gave quite a scare to every lover of this architectural beauty, failed to reach the monument. The heavy wings of freedom outlasted once more, soaring into the sky to keep the memory and ideals alive.
For Sarajevo, with love.