Research on war monuments in Kosovo

I visited Mitrovica (north part of Kosovo, border with Serbia) relatively late – in 2017, five years after my first study visit to Kosovo. The fieldwork started with a contact with the Museum of Mitrovica located on the South part of the city. My main interest primarily was connected with the war monuments of 1999, as I was developing my research on the last war in Kosovo as it is called in the general Kosovo-Albanians discourse. However my attention was attracted by a concrete, uncanny structure that can be visible from all parts of this hybrid city. The first confusion about this object comes with the naming problem that appears in both parts of the city – Albanian and Serbian. Whenever I tried to talk about this monument among the citizens of Mitrovica I have been faced with different terms defining its symbolic function and meaning. And precisely this naming problem made it so strongly appealing to me. This is how through multi-layered perception of one monument one can unleash the whole history of a city abundant in inter-ethnic and inter-cultural components. It shows the process of divisions as well between native populations and dynamics of particular and common values that have transformed during different periods and power systems. This is also how the imagined sense of ethno-national identity has been communicated on both sides of the river.

Bogdan Bogdanović when referring to his monument in Mitrovica built between 1960 and 1973 claimed:

This was one of my most complicated projects. It took some ten or twelve years from the first sketches to realization. The monument is dedicated to the Partisans. The two pylons were often interpreted as a Serb and an Albanian figure. In my interactions with the local clients, Serbs and Albanians seemed to work well together; later, I found it very painful when the trouble in Kosovo began. I wanted to symbolize a gateway or entrance. The main generator for the form was space – the enormous open space with fantastic depth overlooking the city. I explored many different directions before I came up with this version, which stands its own ground against the vast empty space. As it turns out, it now sits precisely on the border between the Serb and Albanian parts of the city (Kulić & Thaler, 2018, p. 60).

The Shrine to the Fallen Serb and Albanian Partisans (1960–1973) designed for Mitrovica (Kosovo) in the oral narratives among the citizens of the city is nowadays most of the times referred to as a Miners’ Monument, a monument on the hill or Partisans’ Hill. In the guidebook promoting Kosovo published in 1982 it is described as memorial site of Partisans, while sometimes it is merged being named the monument of Miners-Partisans. However, in contemporary identity discourses the original name given by the author of the monument barely appears. According to data gathered by Vladimir Kulić (Kulić & Stierli, 2018) and published on the occasion of the exhibition in MoMA in New York (Toward a concrete utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia 19481980, 2018–2019) the monument of Mitrovica is dedicated to the fallen ethnic Albanian and Serb Partisans, members of a miners’ platoon. As the author explains: “They successfully sabotaged the extraction of zinc and lead ore from the Trepča mines, which the occupying German forces needed for weapons production” (Kulić & Stierli, 2018, p. 58).

This oral disparity of the seemingly not important Mitrovica monument’s name shifts is presenting a widespread phenomenon of denying the heritage of Yugoslavia (mostly among Albanians) and strengthening particularisms above the commons. Moreover, it is followed by more radical acts of toppling down the unwanted heritage of Yugoslavia and its main slogan brotherhood and unity, as a consequence of traumatic war experiences in Kosovo, which is exemplified in monuments’ displacement in recent years in the public space of Kosovo.

The reason for introducing the monument in Mitrovica lays in complementing the knowledge of the semantics of “the border space”. Its complexity and symbolic contextualization going far beyond the remembrance of World War II, as referred by the artist Bogdan Bogdanović, was to indicate interactions between Serbian and Albanian communities in a form of a gate, or entrance. Thus this particular monument, more than any other can be perceived an example of verification of ideological and, aesthetic transformation of the system of representations of war and analysis of the mechanisms of their promotion in the collective memory.

The example that I would like particularly refer to in my analysis of performances of patriotic tourism crowned by the slogan of brotherhood and unity is the story of two partisans: Boro Vukmirović (Serbian of Montenegrin origin) – the Regional Committee Secretary of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in Kosovo and Ramiz Sadiku (ethnic Albanian) – member of the Bureau of the same Committee, both captured and executed in Landovica by the Italian Fascists on April 10, 1943, while they were on their way from Gjakova to Prizren to meet Belgrade’s envoy Svetovar (Tempo) Vukmanović. During socialist Yugoslavia they became a symbol of Albanian and Serbian brotherhood and their story was explored in many ways in material and non-material culture in both languages Serbian and Albanian (oral history, poems, novels, busts, monuments, buildings, etc.).

Figures of Boro and Ramiz as an example of brotherhood and unity ideology have been present in a big number of patriotic poems; two of them are worth mentioning: one by Adem Gejtani “Boro and Ramiz[1]” mostly accessible in Serbian language and the other one by Esad Mekuli “Ramiz, Comrade[2]” popularized in school books until late 1980s in Albanian language. Most interestingly during the fieldwork I made in Kosovo when researching cultural presence of Boro and Ramiz most of my informants still remembered the lines of the poem that was obligatory to learn by heart in primary school in the 1980s. Moreover, despite the negative approach towards Yugoslav heritage in today’s Kosovo still the myth of Boro and Ramiz is bringing in rather positive memories.

In November 1963, as stated before with an atmosphere of recurrence of official narrative of Liberation Struggle, on the 20th anniversary of the death of Boro and Ramiz Yugoslav authorities, thanks to the lobbying of local government and veterans’ associations, decided to erect a monument – along with memorial[3] site at the entrance to the village of Landovica (fig. 3.). Monument has been created by 3 authors: Miodrag Pecić, Svetomira Arsić Basara and Hilmija Qatoviqi. The monument was officially unveiled to the public on November 30th, 1963, an event which was attended by Josip Broz Tito and included a reading by Albanian poet Adem Gajtani of his work dedicated to the two comrades “Boro and Ramiz.” The altar-like memorial, with its ten meters tall concrete sculpture, a stylized two-headed figure, suggests a religious devotion, in this case the civil religion of the “active victimhood” of the partisans, in the words of Miranda Jakiša (2015, p. 17).

Certain sources (mostly oral and photographic)[4] recount that while this monument stood in its original condition, it bore an inscription that was engraved directly onto its concrete façade:

[while] holding high their flag of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) in combat against occupiers and domestic traitors for national and social liberation, for brotherhood and unity of our peoples, here, in April of 1943, national heroes Boro Vukmirović, [KPJ] secretary, and Ramiz Sadiku, member of the KPJ District Committee for Kosovo and Metohija, gave their lives.

In greeting postcards from Prizren, the Landovica memorial comes to be also a signpost for the city as much as other older, or more urban sites (fig. 4.). The memorial also appears with the post-war motels and restaurants Vllazrimi, Liria, and Sputnik, modern but modest buildings in style and size, in harmony with Prizren’s small scale (Return to Sender)

As one of the most spectacular performances that it worth mentioning as example of the official narrative of brotherhood and unity in practice was a march organized in May 1986, to commemorate the remembrance of Josip Broz Tito, by Youth of Yugoslavia. This explicit example combing the idea of secular pilgrimage and patriotic tourism took a way from Belgrade to Landovica and Vitromirica in Kosovo. It was associated with 26th meeting of pioneers of Yugoslavia in Landovica with official rituals characteristic for socialist states – with fanfares of victory and raising the flags of the organization, big scale images of Josip Broz Tito and in a gesture of unity creating a circle crowning the monument of Boro and Ramiz Public commemoration transformed the public from passive audience to the active participants. Memorialization or commemoration is different than performativity (the intent to effect, to make something happen or going further – events that attempt to cause social change). The omnipresence of the slogan of brotherhood and unity in the Yugoslav public space have been intensified, as I showed in this paper, not just by material culture (monuments and memorials) that is in the today Kosovo vanishing from a public gaze or is being covered with the representations of the last war (1999) but also by oral manifestations and collective memory, mostly in the generations that grew up in Yugoslavia.

[1] Jedno smo nebo / dva lista s iste grane / dva kamička iz iste rijeke / čiste Bistrice / dva tijela iz iste krvi / prečiste krvi Dukađina / prsti sa iste ruke / jedna smo lasta / ja desno krilo njeno / ti njeno lijevo krilo / oči moje tvoje trepavice / tvoji nabori moje čelo / pričaju o putevima u budućnost / pričaju o putevima ka slobodi / Pušketaše nas / od istog smo metka pali — / jer šta sam ja bez tebe / šta je jedno krilo / bez drugog krila. (Adem Gajtani). Literal translation made by the author: We are one sky / two leaves from the same branch / two little stones from the same river / the clear Bistrica River / two bodies of same blood / pure clean blood of the Dukadjins / fingers from the same hand / together we are a bird (swallow) / I am its right wing / you are its left / my eyes, your eyelashes / your crinkle, my forehead / they speak of roads to the future / they speak of roads to freedom / They gunned us down / we fell from the same bullet / because, what am I without you / what is one wing / without another wing.

[2] Landovicë, a i pe dy trima? / Landovicë, a të rroki shungullima? / A pe, oj, në pritë – / në luftën që s’e ndanë, / nën plumbat e tradhëtarit / Boro e Ramizi kur ranë? / Me ty lulzoi vllaznimi, / dora dorës iu shtri… (fragment, Esad Mekuli). Literal translation made by the author: Landovica, have you seen those two heroes? / Landovica, have you been strucked by a thunder? / o have you seen them in ambush – / the fight that they didn’t leave apart / under the bullets of a traitor / Boro and Ramiz when did they die / With you brotherhood is in blossom / they lied down hand in hand…

[3] In 1999 memorial of Boro and Ramiz was demolished and replaced with the Martyrs’ Cemetery (Varrezat e Dëshmorëve), a burial place where the remains of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) soldiers who died during the Battle of Jeshkova are buried.

[4] Photographic collections from the Archive of the Republic of Kosovo (Arkivi i Republikës së Kosovës) and oral sources based on unstructured interviews I conducted during my fieldwork in Kosovo in 2018–2019. See also: Niebyl, 2018.