Stalin in Georgia

The republic of Georgia, located on the Caucasian isthmus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, was founded in the turmoil following the collapse of the Czarist Empire during WWI. Located on the border with Turkey, at that time this region tried to untie from neighbor Russia, and proclaimed a libertarian socialist state.

Following the seizure of power by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, producing a devastating civil war which would go on raging all over the former Russian-controlled territory well into the 1920s, Georgia lost its independence, being sucked into the Soviet Union, similar to many other nations sharing a border with Russia – like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Latvia, etc.

A country with a remarkable wealth of history, inhabited since when traces of mankind started to appear on earth, with a deeply rooted Christian culture since centuries, a strong independence movement started to show in Georgia already in the 1980s, when the Soviet system was still destined to last for long in the eyes of many western observers. This independence feeling would culminate in the republic of Georgia leaving the USSR months before its actual end, already in early 1991. Since then, the country is openly hostile to Russia, and the formation in the early 2000s of two de facto Russian-backed independent states – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – over the sovereign territory of Georgia witnesses a mutual state of tension between Tbilisi and Moscow, still lasting today.

Despite this, and almost paradoxically, the Georgian individual possibly best known to the general public and to the world is an eminent communist character, a one-of-a-kind contributor to the history of the USSR and of the world – and someone would say, the most authentic incarnation of a communist leader – Stalin.

While Georgia, most comprehensibly, is striving to delete every tangible trace of the Soviet era – from statues to symbols and pieces of architecture – a few notable exceptions include some of Stalin-related relics in the country. In Gori, Stalin’s hometown, the house where Stalin was born is preserved under a bombastic Soviet-era canopy. Nearby, a unique museum dedicated to the Soviet leader, opened back in the late 1950s with a display of incredible memorabilia, is reportedly the most successful attraction in town, with crowds of visitors still today.

In an old district in Tbilisi you can find another unique point of interest – the so-called Stalin Printing House Museum. It was in this unapparent house that young Stalin operated as a pro-communist clandestine agitator in the early 20th century, well before the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

This post covers these Stalin-related remains in the man’s home country, with photographs taken in summer 2019.

Sights

Joseph Stalin Museum – Gori

Stalin’s hometown, where he was born in 1878, is dominated by a scenic ancient fortress, sitting on top of an isolated mound. At the time of Stalin’s birth, that was also the geographic center of the town. When Stalin became… Stalin, his birthplace was turned into a place of pilgrimage, and a new purely-Soviet master plan was implemented in the city, creating a new gravitational center around the modest house of his parents.

The long axis which drives you from the major access road and the railway station south of the city to the house follows an almost north-south direction. A typically Soviet alley – straight, too wide and with mostly sad-looking buildings to the sides – links a bridge over the local river to to the house, going through a square with the town hall, built in a Soviet classicist style. A tall statue of Stalin used to stand on the side of the square, and it was torn down only in the 2000s.

Closer to the house, the alley bifurcates into a ‘Y’. Between the arms of the ‘Y’ you can find a garden with fountains and flowers.

To the far end of the garden, the small half-timbered house where Stalin’s parents used to live is preserved under a Soviet-style canopy.

Stalin’s parents were not well-to-do, and they actually rent the house, where they occupied only one room. Back in the 19th century, it was just one in a row of similar buildings. Following the radical reshaping of the area for celebrating the Soviet leader, the whole neighborhood was completely demolished, and only this block was left.

On the side and front facade of the house are marble signs in Russian and Georgian. The ceiling of the canopy features a stained glass light, with hammer and sickle signs by the corners.

To the back of the birthplace you can find a smaller statue of Stalin. Considering his generally acknowledged status as a bloody communist dictator, similar open air statues have been removed almost everywhere in the world – this is one of the few remaining exceptions (another being in Belarus, but most likely apocryphal – look for Stalin’s line museum here).

The most conspicuous building in this celebratory installation is the actual Joseph Stalin Museum, which occupies a pretty large palace in Stalinist style. The master plan dates back to the final years of Stalin, and its realization was carried out during the 1950s.

The building is interesting from an architectural viewpoint, and features a colonnaded porch giving access to a main entrance hall.

The latter is rather formal, with another colonnade and a perspective leading through a staircase to a mezzanine. In the focus of the perspective you can see another statue of Stalin. Every particular in the architecture here is extremely Soviet – grim, menacing, heavy.

The ticket and toilets can be accessed to the sides of the hall on the ground floor, which acts also as a meeting point for groups – but guided visits are not compulsory, you can tour the museum on your own.

Upon reaching the first floor, you meet two busts of Stalin, and a couple of interesting paintings, portraying the young Josip Vissarionovich Dzugansvili – Stalin’s its real name – as a student talking to his class mates at the seminary of Tbilisi, and later as grown-up, well-established Stalin talking to his collaborators.

The museum is composed of a few big halls. The first rooms retrace Stalin’s personal story, and are based on a mix of documents, original or reproduced, newspapers, paintings and photographs. The latter are often reproductions, often magnified – since when he was not yet famous he mostly appeared in group photographs.

Here you learn about his humble origins, and you can see the photographs of his parents, his early school reports and the first known photographs of Josip as a young boy.

A rather brilliant pupil, he was granted access to the Orthodox seminary in Tbilisi – which back then was called Tiflis – where he moved to attend lectures and to grow to become a priest. Some works of poetry from the time, published on local newspapers in Georgian, are part of the exhibition.

Something went wrong at that time, as he got excessively fascinated with the leftmost socialist theories, spread by several authors including Lenin. A rare naive portrait of his meeting with the principal of the seminary, when he was expelled for his unacceptable and dangerous views, is part of the collection.

This was the beginning of a militancy period, when he became known to the department of internal affairs of the Czar due to open subversive propaganda activities. He worked irregularly, publishing clandestine works in Tbilisi (see about his printing house below), holding open-air meetings in port town Batumi, and so on.

Finally, he was arrested and deported by the Czar to inland Russia. As his fame grew, he was tasked with some role in the apparatus of the clandestine political formations headed by Lenin – the factions against the Czar and even in the socialist area were many, and the intricate civil war that followed the 1917 revolution was also the result of the struggle for power of these opposing forces.

Between internment periods, he started traveling to the capital – St. Petersburg. He also met Lenin in Tampere, Finland, a country politically bound to the Russian empire until 1917. Photographs and documents from the time, a suitcase and models of the houses where Stalin resided can be found in this part. Busts including one of Stalin as a young agitator, pretty rare and likely taken from the few portraits from the time, are also parts of the collection.

Again following a historical timeline, you can find more documents and portraits of a grown-up yet young man of the apparatus. It is well known that Lenin, after the 1917 revolution, saw Stalin as a potential problem for the future of the Party. A copy of Lenin’s ‘testament’, telling his comrades to get rid of Stalin, is on display in the exhibition. As a matter of fact, Lenin’s illness and demise in 1924 started a period of transition.

Stalin, by 1922 general secretary of the communist party of the USSR, fought and won against all other members of the communist party, making his appointment in the government the most powerful. He managed to maintain his role until his death in 1953, reigning as an unopposed tyrant at least since the end of the 1920s, when he prevailed over his most strenuous opponent, Trotzkij.

As he started to gain power, official portraits started to appear, both paintings and photographs. These pieces of the collection are also interesting, for not many portraits of Stalin have survived in official displays, after he was condemned by his political heirs.

Also books from his speeches and prints from his personal history, to be distributed to the general public, are displayed here.

Prominence in the communist party of the USSR gained a special status also to Stalin’s family. His mother had a decent place to live, and his son payed a visit more than once – this is the subject of some portraits. A porcelain set from Stalin’s mother household is on display.

Curious artifacts in this part of the museum include a desk from some communist office of the time of Stalin’s purges.

As a marshal in WWII – the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 as it was known in the USSR – Stalin reached international recognition and world fame. His ability as a general is open to critics, for he managed to kill most of the most experienced staff in the purges of the 1930s, and appointed generals – mostly like Hitler – based on their political attitude. It is questionable whether without substantial help from the then-allies of the Soviet Union (Britain and the US) a victory against Germany could have been reached, despite a disproportionate number of casualties in the rows of the Red Army. However, the final march to Berlin, which gained him control over half of Europe, raised him to the level of a world leader. The exhibition reflects this recognition, with books by Stalin translated in several languages, gifts from generals of the Red Army – including an authentic monstrosity donated to the museum by WWII hero General Zhukov in the 1960s – and many pictures from the war years.

A showcase is dedicated to Stalin’s sons and heirs. He had five sons, from two wives and other women, and his descent is still existent today.

A corner hall hosts a kind of monumental installation, a small Soviet monument not among the best of the kind. Made of lighted reproductions of photographs, it is a kind of recap of Stalin’s triumphs and special moments.

The next hall concludes the climax, and is really unique. It is a circular room padded with black leather panels. At the center of a circular colonnade you can see at the level of the ground one of the few – apparently 12 – original reproductions of Stalin’s head from his death mask.

Thanks to the special installation featuring a strong symmetry and a special lighting, the head is really magnetic.

Stalin died at 75 in March 1953 in undisclosed circumstances, possibly to the hand of somebody in his entourage. Some paintings from his funeral can be seen around the room, together with a model of the mausoleum of Lenin on the Red Square in Moscow, where Stalin was interred for a few years, until removed when finally condemned by his party – note the writing in Cyrillic ‘Lenin – Stalin’ on the mausoleum, later reverted to ‘Lenin’ only.

The next hall is dedicated to international relationships, displayed through photographs, memorabilia and the plenty of gifts Stalin received in his years as a communist dictator.

There are presents from Georgia and other Soviet republics, and from international delegations. The latter were from both the eastern bloc – Eastern Germany, Poland, China – and most strikingly from the West, and even from NATO countries like France and Italy!

Back to the top of the staircase, you get access to one of the highlights of the exhibition. In a final room you find on display the original furniture of Stalin’s office at the Kremlin. There is a desk with an armchair, a sofa, and a set of smaller chairs. Stylistically not very appealing, this furniture is of course of great historical relevance.

Close by, more unique items are on display in two showcases – Stalin’s personal belongings. There are a few cigars – now decomposing to age – some cigarettes, a cigarette box, a ruler, two pipes, a pen, a chessboard, a hand-written message to a friend, and some other trinkets. Finally, there is a military uniform, with boots and coat.

When you have got intoxicated by the Soviet aura of this place, you can finally get out and visit the last item in the park, Stalin’s personal railway car. This was actually used by Stalin, who did not like flying, to travel around the Union and abroad. He went to Teheran and Jalta conferences during WWII in this car.

The car is special in having a bullet-proof armor all around – which produces a weight comparable to that of a Diesel railway engine… – and some special services, like a bathtub, a personal studio and a meeting room.

Stalin’s ‘memorial park’ in Gori is really a one-of-a-kind museum, of exceptional interest for people interested to his period and his historical figure. You may be surprised by the very existence of this place, primarily because of the well-known and heavy responsibility of this man in mass-murders and misconduct as a head of state, and also because it is located in Georgia, a country openly hostile to Russia and its hard political domination, implemented through the institution of the Soviet Union. It is one of the expressions of the contradictory attitude of most peoples touched by the USSR – including Russians – towards that era. It remains a thought-provoking collection of historical value though – gifts from international delegation from the West are a vivid memory of the recognition obtained by this mass-murderer during his lifetime. They are particularly instructive about how propaganda can draw international consensus to the most unthinkable subjects.

Getting there and moving around

Getting to Georgia from the West will be hardly for Gori alone. Despite the nice, well-kept town center, with the castle and several refurbished churches and alleys, and of course the Stalin-related part, there are far more significant places to visit in Georgia, at least if you are coming from far away to this relatively hard-to-reach angle of the world. Yet Gori is located in a convenient position along the major road and railway connecting Tbilisi to Kutaisi and the coast of the Black Sea, which makes for an ideal one-day or even half-day stop.

The town is a good place to sleep, for there are a number of guesthouses and restaurants, and it does not look derelict or unsafe, differently for instance from more prominent Kutaisi. The whole Stalin-themed park, with the birthplace, museum and railway car, is rather compact, and not big, so visiting may take from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on your level of interest. This is the main attraction in town. Strangely, I could not find an official website – this is strange for most labels are translated also in English, and there is even some merchandise, so the place is run as a modern museum. However, Google or TripAdvisor timetables were correct at least when I visited.

Plenty of public parking space around the museum.

In town there is also a war museum dedicated to the Great Patriotic War (covered here), as well as other non-communist themed attractions.

Joseph Stalin’s Underground Printing House Museum – Tbilisi

This museum was opened in Soviet times in the place of a house where young Stalin spent some time as a political agitator. His main activity related to this place was printing clandestine material.

Access it through modern Soviet buildings, with a hall which unfortunately cannot be visited.

The house is presented inside a small garden. There are two light buildings, a half-timbered house and a smaller hut.

The two are connected by a deep underground passage. This double access to the underground was of great help to evade controls by Czarist authorities. The main underground hall is original.

Possibly intended as a food cellar, it was used to store a 19th century printing machine – made in Augsburg, Germany, as witnessed by the rusty but still readable factory label!

The half-timbered house is apparently a Soviet-era reproduction of the building originally in place. It is a two-rooms house, very similar to Stalin’s birth house in Gori (see above). The two rooms have been furnished with a few berths and tables, to provide an idea of the original look, and with tons of artifacts from Stalin’s and Soviet times.

These include portraits, photographs, books and emblems. There is also a model of a similar clandestine print house in Baku, Azerbaijan.

All in all, this place has a historical significance as Stalin’s early headquarter, and as a Soviet place of pilgrimage. Differently from Stalin-themed park in Gori, it has been basically forgotten – it is kept open by aged volunteers.

Getting there and moving around

The museum is located at the following GPS coordinates – 41.690454, 44.829999. It is located west of Tbilisi city center, at a walking distance from it, but the walk is not recommended for the neighborhood is nothing special. Going by car or taxi is more time-efficient. Public parking on the street available around the block.

There is no official website to my knowledge. Entrance is by cash only, free offer. See Google for opening times, which are mainly in the central hours of the day. You can visit on your own, but one of the local enthusiasts running the museum will likely provide some information, and there is also a basic leaflet in English. Visiting may take about .5 hours.

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.