The Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade

With a few parallels in aviation history, especially in the years immediately following WWII, former Yugoslavia benefited from supplies by a great number of countries. As a matter of fact, the air force of this newborn communist republic was formed at first from leftovers of retreating Germany and conquering Britain, followed by the establishment of a supply line initially from the USSR, and later the US and again Britain.

The special political ability of marshal Tito, who ruled uncontested as a communist dictator since the foundation of Yugoslavia in 1945 until his death in 1980, and the credit he benefited from especially in Britain, allowed him to keep out of the sphere of influence of the USSR since 1948. In a strategic position on the border with NATO countries like Italy and Greece, Tito adopted a detente policy of ‘equal-distance’ between the two opposing blocs over the Cold War period (even though NATO did not trust him fully, as testified by the deployment of a SAM defense line in northeastern Italy, see this post).

Of course, most of the military supply was of Soviet make, especially after the death of Stalin and well until the end of communism in Europe and the bloody fragmentation of the Yugoslav state. However, concerning civil aviation, autonomy from Moscow allowed the adoption of western aircraft, like the French Aerospatiale Caravelle and much of the Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas inventory, in the major national airline JAT – something which happened very rarely anywhere in the communist bloc over the years of the Cold War, another notable instance being Romania, again a ‘semi-autonomous’ communist dictatorship, who refused the Soviet Tupolev Tu-134 in favor of license-built British BAC 1-11s.

Another effect of the autonomy from the USSR was the creation of a national aviation industry, which especially in the case of SOKO, produced military trainers and light attack aircraft of good success, which despite ageing, are still flying today.

More recently, the fierce conflicts raging over the Balkans in the 1990s have created a major active front for modern aviation, where the air force of Serbia – which inherited the geographically central part of Yugoslavia and its capital city, Belgrade – confronted the NATO alliance in an open conflict. The unbalance of forces allowed the western coalition to quickly establish air superiority, which did not come without a few notable material losses however.

A rich display of this peculiar aviation history, actually tracing back to WWI and the early years of aviation, can be found in the Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade, which despite being in today’s Serbia, acts as a kind of Yugoslav Aviation Museum. As a matter of fact, it was founded as such back in the years of Tito, and opened in its current building nearby ‘Nikola Tesla’ civil airport of Belgrade in 1989, when Yugoslavia was still a reality.

This short post provides an outline of what you can find in this museum, with photographs taken on a visit in April 2019.

Sights

The museum occupies a relatively large area in the vicinity of the airport of Belgrade, and is made of an open-air exhibition, open-air storage area, and big mushroom-shaped building hosting an indoor exhibition.

The ‘gate guardian’ is a SOKO J-21 Jastreb, a nice light multi-role aircraft from the 1960s, powered by a British Rolls-Royce Viper jet engine.

Indoor exhibition

The entry hall of the mushroom-shaped building features is a good example of the architectural style from the late communist era. The ground floor hosts a small exhibition about the early days of aviation in the former region of the Balkans, with documents from WWI years. Among the items on display, you can find early pilot’s licenses from notable war pilots, likely granted after training abroad, and actually written in French.

The main hall of the museum can be found upstairs. This large can be walked on two levels. Most aircraft are to be found on the lower level, but a few are suspended to the glassy circular sidewall of the mushroom, lighted from behind by the sunlight – so that taking pictures is just a nightmare!

The centerpiece of the collection is an exemplar of the SOKO J-22 Orao, a twin-engined – two Rolls-Royce Viper turbofans – light ground-attack and trainer aircraft from the 1970s. Designed jointly by Yugoslavia and Romania, this model equipped the Yugoslav (then Serbian) air force during the 1990s, where a handful exemplars are still flying today.

Indeed a clean design with an interesting performance, this aircraft was possibly the last heir of the Ikarus-then-SOKO lineage, originated back in the years before WWII. In this respect, some unique exemplars of aircraft are preserved in this museum, witnessing the existence of a school of skilled aircraft designers in Serbia, not much known in the western world.

A key figure of the Ikarus design bureau, Dragoljub Beslin led the design of Ikarus S-451, a nice, very small, twin-prop attack aircraft flown in 1951, especially designed to sustain high load factors in maneuvers at high speed.

Another unique specimen is the twin-jet Ikarus 451M, the first jet aircraft built by Yugoslavia. Same designer as the S-451, this unusual jet-engined taildragger flew in 1952, but was soon superseded by more modern models, in those years of quick-paced development of aviation technology. Again, the engines were from the West, in the form of two French Turbomeca Palas turbojets.

Another member of the ‘Ikarus 451’ family – it must be said this Yugoslav one is likely the oddest model numbering systems ever created… –  the T 451 MM Strsljen (Hornet) features a more convincing configuration, resembling the single-engined British BAC Jet Provost and the Italian Macchi MB 326, both rather successful trainers from the late 1950s. On display is actually the ‘Strsljen II’ version, which is a attack/training version with more thrust than the first series aircraft. This model was conceived to operate from unprepared runways, and featured two Turbomeca Marbore II French turbojets. The aircraft flew in 1958, but an air force contract was not granted.

Some functional wind tunnel models of other aircraft, actually never reaching the 1:1 prototype stage, are on display. These include a rare ekranoplane design, the UTVA 754. With a mechanic-monster-like appearance like all ekranoplanes (the most famous being probably the Bertini-Beriev preserved at the Russian Air Force Museum in Monino, see here), this machine was designed in 1982 in the then-Yugoslav town of Zagreb, today the capital city of Croatia.

A medevac aircraft conceived for easy conversion between floats and wheels, the UTVA 66H can be visited also inside. The indigenous SOKO is represented by a number of models. These include the SOKO G-2 Galeb, a successful trainer/light attack aircraft from the 1950s, built around a single Rolls-Royce Viper turbofan. During its long history it was exported to several international operators, and gave birth to the more recent SOKO J-21 Jastreb. The Galeb was in service with Serbia until 1999.

Another section of the museum features aircraft of foreign make which witness the intricate history of alliances of both the pre-WWII Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the post-WWII communist Yugoslavia. Most remarkably, these include a Messerschmitt Bf-109-G! The history of this particular aircraft is not very clear, some sources stating it was captured from Bulgarian air force. As a matter of fact, Yugoslavia acquired about 70 Bf-109-E from Germany in 1940, which in turn furiously invaded from north in a quick an violent campaign in spring 1941.

Next in line is nothing less than a British Hawker Hurricane! A group of Hurricanes were acquired from Britain in the immediate pre-war years, and even license-built in Belgrade in a small number – Yugoslavia apparently purchased aircraft seamlessly from both opponents at the outbreak of WWII. Later on, Hurricane-equipped squadrons of Yugoslavia fought back on the side of the Allies from bases in southern Italy, finally regaining control over the Balkans.

In a similar fashion, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V witnesses the involvement of British-supplied national air force squadrons in the liberation of Yugoslavia from the German invaders.

In the closing years of WWII, Yugoslavia benefited also from the help of the USSR. This is witnessed by a massive – and pretty rare, out of former soviet republics! – Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik. This big attack aircraft, possibly the most famous Soviet aircraft of WWII, equipped three squadrons in the Yugoslav air force, and helped in the fight on the so-called ‘Srem front’ north of Belgrade. An often overlooked sector of the European front, substantial operations were carried out since late 1944 until April 1945, with the forces of Nazi Germany slowly retreating under the offensive of the Red Army (including Bulgarian divisions) and of Yugoslavia from the south. These operations involved 250’000 troops on either side, thus engaging the Germans and draining resources from mainland defense. At that time, an entire division of the Yugoslav air force were equipped with this aircraft type, kept in service until the 1950s.

Similarly, an elegant WWII Yakovlev Yak-3 fighter of Soviet make can be found nearby in the colors of Yugoslavia.

After the end of WWII, Tito was determined not to surrender his political and economic independence to Stalin. In this high-stake gamble, he made no secret of his thoughts, and sought international recognition from the west. As expected, Stalin showed no sense of humor in that matter, and as the USSR broke relationships with Yugoslavia, this country faced the risk of isolation and of Soviet invasion in the early stage of the Cold War (late 1940s).

Over the years, the good relationship established with the western Allies during WWII were strengthened further, and most incredibly for a communist country, the US provided aircraft and helicopters, in the form of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, Republic F-84G Thunderjet and (much later, in the early 1960s) North American F-86D ‘long-nosed’ Sabre.

The years of Kennedy administration saw a significant improvement of the relationship between Tito and Khrushchev, and this led to a switch to Soviet aircraft in the form of the supersonic MiG-21, which equipped the Yugoslav air force in substantial numbers over the following two decades. An exemplar of this iconic and ubiquitous aircraft, an unquestionably well-performing aircraft in his age, is preserved in the museum. By the way, the early 1960s saw also the widespread adoption of SOKO Galeb trainers and the phase out of older British/US models.

Other peculiar exhibits in the indoor part of the museum are the wrecks resulting from air fight operations during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s. On the national (Yugoslav) side, the tail cone of a SOKO G-4 Super Galeb – a totally different design from the quasi-homonym G-2 – damaged by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile in 1991.

But much more material is from NATO countries, resulting from combat during operation ‘Allied Force’ against Serbia in 1999. Most notably, you can see a substantial part of the wing of a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the famous stealth aircraft downed by a vintage Soviet SA-3 Goa surface-to-air missile in March 1999, as well as a landing gear, ejection seat, pilot’s helmet, Vulcan cannon and some smaller parts of a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon downed the following May, again due to an SA-3 missile. The first stage of the missile which hit the Nighthawk is on display too.

These are basically the only aircraft lost in action over enemy territory during that operation.

An apparently easier prey, General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs were used in great numbers, some twenty of them being downed. One wrecked example is put on display.

More items of the kind include parts of NATO missiles, including HARM anti-radiation missiles and cluster-bombs containers.

On the upper level, you can find a mostly photographic exhibition mainly about the national carrier JAT. Interestingly, not a single Soviet-made model appears in the pictures, whereas you can find Boeing 707s, 727s, 737s, Douglas DC-9s, McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s, Aerospatiale Caravelles and ATR-42/72s – clearly a strong commercial bound with the West, pretty unusual for a communist country!

Another Yugoslav airline started operations to a later date – Aviogenex. This apparently did use aircraft from the USSR, in particular Tupolev Tu-134s, later flanked by Boeing 737s. Aviogenex ceased operations much later than the end of Yugoslavia, and operated as a Serbian company for some years.

One of the most iconic brutalist monstrosities in northern Belgrade is the skyscraper which used to host the headquarters of this airline – it looks like a good setting for some ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Judge Dredd’ movie…

Some more panels include descriptions of airport history and modern operations in the nearby airport of Belgrade. The history line of the national aviation industry is also presented in detail through historical pictures.

Some more aircraft can be found on this level, as well as a SA-3 Goa missile in a non-operative paint scheme, likely for training or telemetry tuning purposes.

Outdoor exhibition

The large area around the building is split between a small outdoor exhibition prepared for the public, and a larger storage area with many more aircraft which can not be neared nor walked around.

The displayed aircraft include an Aerospatiale Caravelle in the colors of JAT. This exemplar was one of three operated by this airline, and was active between 1963 and 1976.

A much elder transport, a German (French license-built) Junkers 52 with P&W engines represents a fleet of four such aircraft operated by the Yugoslav air force, complementing another group of originally German aircraft captured during the war.

An aircraft of historical significance is an Ilyushin Il-14 twin-prop transport. This aircraft was a personal goodwill gift from Khrushchev to marshal Tito, and the founding member of Yugoslav presidential fleet.

A couple of Lisunov Li-2 and some original Douglas C-47 Skytrain, of which the former is a license-built Soviet version, are on display, albeit not all complete. A MiG-21 Fishbed and a Kamov twin-rotor helicopter are also on display.

Another extremely rare item from the post-WWII years, a Short SA.6 Sealand amphibious aircraft of British make has made its way to Belgrade, after years as a transport aircraft in the Yugoslav air force.

The non-visible part of the museum features a rather impressive collection of MiG-21 in several versions, SOKO J-21 Jastreb and SOKO J-20 Kraguj in a large number, a SA-2 Guideline soviet-made SAM launcher with two missiles, and a number of partly assembled aircraft and wrecks.

A mystery item is a part of an allegedly US aircraft, apparently a part of the tail empennage of a bigger transport – any suggestion about this item welcome!

Visiting

The museum is located to the northwest of the airport of Belgrade. It can be easily reached by car from the access road going to the main terminal area. Website with info in English here. Parking ahead of the entrance.

The museum can be visited in about 2 hours by an interested subject, much less if you have just a mild interest in aviation. Much paneling is in double Serbian and English language, allowing to get the most from your visit.

Despite being fully operative, the place has a somewhat rotting appearance especially from the outside, as mostly typical to former state-run institutions in former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, some form of protection for the aircraft in the outside exhibition is hopefully to be considered by the management, otherwise the aircraft with literally disintegrate to the action of the elements in a matter of some years.

Spomenik – Iconic Modern Art from Tito’s Yugoslavia

Soon after the end of the war Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia started a fight against the Soviet Union to escape Stalin’s direct control – a fight where they succeeded, creating in Yugoslavia a unique, truly communist dictatorship totally under Tito’s power, and not just another soviet satellite country.

To make differences from the USSR more apparent, artistic production, often representing an internationally recognized value for a country on the international stage, needed to part from the rhetoric of socialist realism of Stalin’s years. New, original aesthetics were sought, capable of expressing the modernity of Yugoslavia, while being not free from the control of the State, celebrating and promoting unity in a country which had never enjoyed national unity – something later reflected in the bloody split of the 1990s.

Tito’s aesthetic views for the new post-WWII Yugoslavia are greatly reflected in the project for the realization of an array of hundreds of monuments, to be designed and erected in locations scattered over the whole territory of the former Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. These monuments go under the name of ‘spomenik’ – an internationally known word in the local idiom, simply translating into ‘monument’.

Most of these spomeniks commemorate some bloody facts of the Second World War – most often a local battle between Yugoslav communist partisans and the German Wehrmacht, or the Italian Army of the ‘Duce’, but also clandestine congresses of local subversive communist groups, mass murders by the Axis invaders, and so on. The realization of the project, sometimes fueled by the local interest to keep the memory of a historical fact of regional relevance, but in any case coordinated by the Communist Party, took a long time span, with most of the monuments designed and built over the 1960s and 1970s, before Marshall Tito died (1980).

Besides the historical significance bound to the events they commemorate, two facts make spomeniks an interesting target for curious travelers. The aesthetics of these monuments is often non banal, showing an attention to details and an artistic sensibility which is not usual to communist-ruled countries. In this sense, spomeniks sometimes stand out as very original, interesting – and pretty massive… – works of art. Secondarily, as the events they commemorate often took place in remote areas, spomeniks can be found in incredible natural spots of the former territory of Yugoslavia, immersed in the wilderness or in the middle of a gorgeous natural scenery, not easy to reach and isolated from civilization.

After the end of communism and following the secession wars of the 1990s in the Balcans, many spomeniks fell into disrepair. Today, some of them have been refurbished, while others have been completely demolished, reflecting a mixed feeling of the local population towards this artistic heritage. A good share of them has been simply left behind, gaining the typical ‘ghost aura’ of the architectures of former communist countries.

For hunters of historical relics, spomeniks are double-attractive – not only are they tangible traces of a bygone communist dictatorship with unique traits, but they stand out for their often severe appearance, like traces of a mysterious alien civilization, now long gone.

This chapter presents a handful of these monuments, which you can find along an ideal itinerary connecting the capital cities of todays republics of Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Hercegovina and North Macedonia. These are just a very small set out of the total, yet some of them are among the most famous and artistically valuable. Furthermore, except those in North Macedonia, they can be reached without any substantial detour from the major roads connecting Podgorica, Belgrade and Sarajevo, thus making for an interesting ‘side visit’ on your way from one of these nice cities to the next, on a cultural trip to the area. Similarly, many spomeniks in North Macedonia can be found close to touristic locations. Photographs were taken during two visits, a week-long tour in Spring 2019 (Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Hercegovina) and a long week-end in late Summer 2019 (North Macedonia).

If you are interested in a deeper analysis on the history and art behind spomeniks, or you are looking for a more complete directory of these monuments, please refer to this great resource site.

Map

The following map shows the detailed location of all the spomeniks listed in this post. I personally checked all of them, so the location is very precise. As you will notice, most of them are fairly easily accessible from major or paved roads. Some of them will require a little bit of walking from a parking area to the monument itself.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

Sights

Kolašin, Montenegro

This spomenik is actually a one-of-a-kind example of ‘spomen-dom’, i.e. a monument not designed just to be admired from the outside, but conceived as a building, to host meetings and services inside. The site is right in the central square of the village of Kolašin, in the southeast of Montenegro not far from the Serbian border. This town has been a vital center of the anti-fascist resistance in WWII, when the territory was first subjugated by the Italians, and later by the Germans.

The spomenik was designed and built under the supervision of the renowned architect Marko Mušič in the early 1970s. Its age is especially reflected in the use of gray concrete for most of the visible structure. The triangular shape dominating the highest part of the building may recall the typical shape of the traditional houses built in the area – chalet-type, with a triangular roof – or even the tops of the Dinaric Alps all around.

Being a building more than a monument, this spomenik is rather big. Today, the village is an active skiing center, thanks to the great position in the mountains. The spomenik is being used for administrative functions, and blends effectively in the central square of the village. Yet its appearance is today so-so, and maintenance is clearly not enough to preserve it for long. As a matter of fact, inspite of the architectural value which gained it a place in books of architecture, a long future for this spomenik is reportedly not assured.

Getting there and moving around

The spomenik is easily reachable right in the city center of Kolasin, a small town with some up-to-date touristic structures for the winter season – the location is really gorgeous. Free parking all around the central square. You can walk around the spomenik without restriction, but stepping inside is possible only compatibly with the local administrative functions.

Berane, Montenegro

Possibly one of the most elaborated spomeniks, the monument in Berane was built on the spot of an ancient Turkish fortress, now totally gone, in a secluded location immersed in a forest close to this contended town. In the close vicinity of the spomenik, nine students suspected of being part of the resistance were executed by the Italians in 1941. The town of Berane changed hands several times during WWII, and it is estimated that about 6’000 people were killed in the area in the military and para-military actions over the war years.

The spomenik, designed by the Serbian designer Bogdan Bogdanović, was inaugurated in 1977 on a small grassy field, a really nice spot in the forest. It is mainly composed of a more than 50 ft tall conical dome, with a number of massive dark stone slabs delimiting a regular curved perimeter around it. These slabs are carved with interesting symbolic ideograms, telling – among other things the story – of a local clan.

Today, despite its relative remoteness with respect to the town center, the place is actively maintained, frequented by the locals, and in a definitely good shape. Thanks to the secluded position, as well as to the inscriptions in a fantastic archaic language, this spomenik is very mysterious and particularly fascinating – it resembles a megalithic alignment, or a setting from the Lord of the Rings!

Getting there and moving around

The spomenik in Berane cannot be approached by car directly. You will need to face a steep climb uphill on a well-prepared and maintained trail. A 10 minutes walk uphill is needed for a well-trained person. The location has been used for local concerts and commemorations, and is carefully maintained as a park area.

Ostra, Serbia

This spomenik was built on the site of a battle which took place between opposing factions of locals – some of them collaborating with the Axis forces – in 1943. This was just an episode in the larger confrontation between these groups, taking place in the area of the nearby center of Cacak. Notably, the soviet Red Army contributed to the struggle in the last stages of the Axis occupation period, obviously on the side of the local communist partisans.

The monument, designed by Miodrag Živković and Svetislav Licina, was inaugurated in 1969, and was composed of a concrete slab with an inscription in Cyrillic, and a perspective leading to the focal point of the spomenik – an abstract aluminum sculpture, with a sober appearance, pointing diagonally towards the sky. By looking closely to this monument, you can see stylized human faces in the side of it. The metal sculpture is located on top of a hill, with a very scenic view of the surrounding hills.

Despite the metal sculpture being today still in a fairly good condition, the original appearance of the site has been heavily altered by the building an Orthodox church between the concrete commemorative stone and the prominent sculpture. This happened around 2010. Strangely enough, at the time of my visit the church was not open, with parts of furniture provisionally stored ahead of the main door, giving a bad sense of neglect.

Clearly, a church built right in the middle of the spomenik area means that there is not a particular good feeling about this monument. Also the inscriptions by the entrance of the perspective are largely spoiled, with many letters now missing. Yet somebody put flowers by the metal sculpture, which is not heavily spoiled by writers.

All in all, despite the bad general shape and the strong alteration, the location dominating the area and the imposing, sober appearance of the aluminum part is particularly suggestive, and makes for good photo opportunities.

Getting there and moving around

Accessing this spomenik is rather easy. The road reaching the top of the hill is a local asphalt road, which does not pose any special difficulty. Close to the church there is a small parking area, and the metal monument can be reached from there walking on a flat, open grassy area.

Kragujevac, Serbia

What you can find in Kragujevac is not just one spomenik, but a huge and very nice city park with several monuments scattered around. Construction of this park was started by an official decree back in the early 1950s, on the site of the major massacre of Kragujevac. This bloody episode is one of the worst suffered by the civilian population in occupied Yugoslavia, when by the order of the Nazi governors, more than 2’300 from the local population – selected based on race, political views or religion – were systematically killed in a field. The general governor of Yugoslavia responsible for issuing the order – which can be traced back to the German OKW in Wünsdorf – was later trialled for this in Nürnberg after WWII.

The park is still today very well-kept, interdicted to road traffic and only open for walking. Several spomeniks can be found scattered over the park, together with a museum dedicated to the massacre close to the main road access. One of them, and likely the oldest, is the monument called ‘Pain and Defiance’, dating from 1959.

The most famous, and one of the most internationally well-known, is dedicated to pupils and teachers killed in the massacre. It was designed by architect Miodrag Živković in a distinctive ‘V’-shape, about 25 ft tall and 45 long. Despite looking granite, it is made of almost-white concrete. On the face of the monument, it is possible to spot the shapes of human faces and figures. This monument was inaugurated in late 1963.

Located on a gentle slope on the side of a grassy valley, this spomenik occupies a really nice and quiet spot. The nice and peaceful walk leading to it encourages remembrance.

Getting there and moving around

The park is a very well-kept city park, crossed by a few roads which are interdicted to general traffic – basically no cars can enter, I guess these roads can be accessed by car only on special commemorations or similar occasions. Parking is easy close to the museum – itself a rather distinctive construction. A big map of the site can be found on a post close to the parking area (see pics above), and several signs allow you to tour the park, meeting the many monuments according to your interests. Reaching the ‘V’-shaped monument from the main access involves a 10-15 minutes walk along a perfectly prepared road.

Kosmaj, Serbia

Possibly one of the most iconic of all spomeniks, the Kosmaj monument is located on top of a hill, and partly visible from quite a distance, emerging from the treetops. The location was chosen as the foundation site of the Kosmaj partisan detachment, who contributed substantially to the resistance efforts against German occupation forces, with thousands effectives killed or wounded.

The monument was designed by sculptor Vojin Stojić, and unveiled in 1971.

The sinister shape of this monument, looking like an alien creature landed on top of the hill, on an isolated spot far from civilization, may strongly appeal to hunters of weird places. What further adds to the ‘mystery aura’ of the place is the fact that, while generally not in a bad shape and far from rotting, the monument appears somewhat forgotten – far from everything, little maintained or looked after.

Another impressive feature which is rarely captured by photographs, is that this object is about 90 ft tall! Access is via a poorly maintained stair, or by a little longer access walkway. Getting closer, you have a clearer impression of its gigantic size. The five concrete pinnacles composing the monument and making for a spiky whole from the distance, are actually separated from each other. The monument appears to change shape continuously as you walk around and under it, making it very interesting to watch from different angles.

Considering the remote, silent location, the late evening time of my visit, and the wind blowing in the trees, this was possible the most mysterious and magnetic of the spomeniks I could see on this trip!

Getting there and moving around

Due to its size and prominence, the Kosmaj spomenik was conceived as the focal point of an area for war commemorations, as well as for more widely themed social events. The area on top of the hill comprises a football field, a playground and parking areas. All this today is far less used than in the communist era, and its ‘ghost appearance’ adds greatly to the mystery aura of the place. The spomenik can be accessed along a one-way loop road, going around the top of the hill. Today you can freely get access to this road and get very close to the spomenik with your car. The monument can be finally reached via a poorly maintained, short concrete staircase, or via a longer walkway. I would say access is of course very easy. The location is also reasonably close to Belgrade, with a modern highway connecting the area with the Serbian capital city.

Avala, Serbia

This monument stands out of the crowd of the Yugoslavian spomeniks for it is not built to commemorate an event of WWII, but instead it remembers the fatal crash of a passenger flight, which occurred in approach to Belgrade. The year was 1964, and the flight was carrying 22 Soviet war veterans, who had participated in the ‘Liberation war’ of Yugoslavia against the Germans, from Moscow to a commemoration ceremony to be held the following day. The cause of the accident was never clearly determined, but it was likely due to a technical mishap.

The bronze spomenik you can see today was designed by sculptor Jovan Kratohvil on the very location of the crash, and inaugurated in 1965 on the first anniversary of the fatal accident. The names of the war veterans who perished are recorded on a stone.

This monument is more modest in size than most famous spomeniks, and the good quality of materials, its proportion and the great view over the hills leading to Belgrade – the famous Avala tower, with its famous panoramic deck, is less than a mile from here – make for a very nice and scenic ensemble. Furthermore, the mint state of conservation is really noteworthy.

Getting there and moving around

This spomenik can be reached along the same loop road going to the Avala WWI memorial and to the Avala tower with its panoramic view. There is a small parking nearby, and access is via a short staircase which is already part of the monument. The monument is well cared for, and the area is rather busy with local and international tourists.

Kadinjača, Serbia

The scenic spot where this extensive monumental ensemble has been arranged was the setting of one of the first battles between the partisan army – a group called the ‘Workers’ Battalion’ – and the German Wehrmacht. The latter was trying to reach the town of Užice, giving shelter to the top ranking staff of the Liberation army, including Marshal Tito. The battle was finally lost by the partisans in 1941, but they allowed the local population and the partisan commanders to flee the area, before the Germans troops poured in.

The area of the final fight was selected for a national monument as soon as 1952. A plain obelisk was put in place. Years later, in 1979, a huge monument designed by Miodrag Živković was unveiled at the presence of Tito, with a huge crowd attending.

The plan of the monument has its focus in the old prismatic monument of 1952. Around it, an interesting ensemble was added in 1979, with an amphitheater on one side, and two sets of granite and concrete abstract sculptures on the other.

A first group of sculptures, with very stylized human faces emerging from the sides and on top of the stones, constitute a first circle.

A second group is made of massive white slabs, culminating in one loosely resembling an armor pierced by a bullet. The installation is about 300 ft long, and the ‘pierced armor’ piece is about 45 ft tall. Yet the group is well proportioned and blends perfectly in the panorama around it.

The great state of conservation is testified by a modern multi-language placard with explanations about the history of the place. The spomenik is complemented by a museum and by a few weapons permanently displayed outside – themselves a memorial of the battle fought in the area.

This is a popular tourist destination, on the road going to nearby Visegrad (in Bosnia & Hercegovina), with its famous ancient Ottoman bridge.

Getting there and moving around

This spomenik is difficult to miss, visible from quite afar and perfectly accessible from a major road. Extensive parking ahead of the museum. Walking around does not pose any particular difficulty.

Tjentište, Bosnia & Hercegovina

Really an iconic masterpiece in the panorama of Yugoslav spomeniks, the monument in Tjentište benefits also from the fantastic location in the mountain range marking the border between Bosnia & Hercegovina and the republic of Montenegro. The proportions of the scenic views of this mountainous area are really more typical to the Americas than Europe!

This famous ‘winged’ monument is located on the area of a bloody battle fought in spring 1943, when the Axis force attacked some partisan groups commanded directly by Marshal Tito, in a deliberate attempt to kill their commander, hoping that in so doing they would succeed in undermining the rebel force. In the ensuing battle of Sutjeska around 7’000 besieged partisans were killed, but Tito finally was able to escape the area.

This battle acquired a special, almost mythological meaning in the history of communist Yugoslavia. A first commemoration stone – actually a mass grave for some thousands partisans – was put in place already in 1958, whereas the huge spomenik you see today, designed by Miodrag Živković, was unveiled in 1971 at the presence of Tito, who reportedly put much personal attention on the realization of this very monument.

The two massive concrete wings are enriched by human faces, only sketched and arranged so to form the roots of the wings themselves. Looking closely, you realize that the two monoliths are different from one another. Furthermore, their irregular, strongly 3D shape makes them look different depending on the point of view.

The monument is located half way on an ascending slope. Going further uphill you meet a termination point of the perspective, where the names of several partisan brigades are recorded. Looking down to the wings, you see them taking yet another shape!

This monument blends really well with the majestic scenery around. While being a sober and proportioned work of art, it is at the same time massive and sinister. The ensemble is really an artistic masterpiece, yet it bears some authentic ‘Yugoslav-communist style’ marker, making it a somewhat paradoxical ‘official communist ghost’!

On the side of the perspective leading to the winged monument, there is another spomenik – actually a ‘spomen-dom’ – which is known for hosting commemoration inscriptions and rare war-themed artistic frescoes, which were unfortunately damaged in the 1990s wars.

While in the years of Tito this was one of the most visited national monuments in the Country, its fame went down dramatically with the end of communism and with the following wars of secession, which struck heavily in this uninhabited valley reaching to ill-fated Sarajevo. With this in mind, the main perspective and the winged monument are surprisingly well kept, and they are gaining further popularity among relic-hunters, thanks to the undeniable charm of this spomenik. There are reportedly several other less prominent spomeniks in the area of the 1943 battle, including the ‘spomen-dom’, but unfortunately I had not the chance to investigate further about their state of conservation.

Getting and there and moving around

Getting there is possible along a national road going from Sarajevo to central Montenegro. Free parking is available at the base of the perspective leading to the winged monument. Getting closer to the latter involves climbing a flight of stairs. To get to the far end of the perspective you will need to climb another conspicuous flight of stairs. The winged spomenik is very well kept, and the area is really scenic – today it is a national park -, really justifying a detour from Sarajevo, or choosing this road to go to Montenegro from the Bosnian capital city.

Obadov Brijeg, Montenegro

This spomenik is an example of smaller designs, which constitute the majority of these monuments around former Yugoslavia.

The ‘bird-like’ monument in Obadov Brijeg, not far from the famous Or