The most significant memorial of former Yugoslavia commemorating the fallen partisans, the “memorial of victory” by the architect Miodrag Živković, can be found in the national park of Tjentište/Sutjeska. Opened in the early 1970s, the park and the memorial along with the ossuary and the museum constituted one of the most attractive and elaborately designed destinations for groups and individuals travelling within the country. Today, the memorial complex in the national park is once again accessible, though it has lost its attraction to a great extent due to the loss of credibility of the former official narration of the “partisan fight guided by the values of brotherhood and unity.” However, some memorial objects were added in recent years as a result of revisionary history politics. These objects commemorate protagonists from the Second World War who remained excluded from the official remembrance of the war within socialist Yugoslavia being termed “native collaborators”.
The offical website of the national park, which until recently was still active, does not exist any longer.
It is 7.30am. So we are back on the road early on the way to Sutjeska national park. I am still tired but already in a naïve kind of anticipation of perhaps encountering a wild bear. Later on, we are supposed to go on to Goražde. In both places, we want to learn more about the commemoration of former partisans and war veterans, albeit their being from different wars.
On the way, there is no possibility to go to the restroom. Finally, we simply stop in the middle of nowhere. The bus stops and without thinking we rush off to go behind a huge rock. All of a sudden, somebody yells Stop! Stay where you are! Oh my goodness. We had totally forgotten that there could be mines lying around here everywhere. It was a strange feeling to be standing there and to start thinking about which way to go back. Again and again we had been confronted with it and still rushed off into the green without thinking. Back in the bus, I wonder what it would have been like to be a young child in this country. No chance to simply build a secret hiding place in the woods.
We arrive at Tjentište/Sutjeska national park and all gaze over a vast and untouched land. A strong wind is blowing, stroking the grass.
The memorial guide welcomes us and we start off towards the memorial. A small path is meandering its way through the fields and ultimately leads us to the “memorial of victory”. It was created by an architect named Miodrag Živković. It is gigantic and the first question which pops up – and at the same time one which will have to be left unanswered – is who managed to bring these huge rocks up this hill?
So we find ourselves on this hill, let our unobstructed gaze wander over the mountains and the imagination pertaining to the undisturbed space of these woods is left to flow unchecked.
After having taken a group picture in front of the mighty memorial, we follow the path back down again past the museum. The museum is a hall made out of stone, bearing various kinds of graffiti on the inside. Below the graffiti, there are panoramic pictures showing scenes from the Second World War in Yugoslavia. Most of the depicted persons have blood on their hands. Only the partisans do not.
The wall paintings are impressive and very unambiguous. In some cases I begin to shiver when I look at the creepy and grotesque faces and in some cases I feel afraid of the wolves, who once used to be human beings. We go from wall to wall in this resounding cave made out of stone.
The discussion about the way of dealing with the experiences of the Second World War arises automatically. We talk about how well we think our German history has been dealt with. Already in school, everybody naturally learns that each nation is victim and perpetrator at the same time. We naturally take the blame for “our” wars. For decades, Germany has been trying to make amends.
We try to learn that one has a responsibility for the future because of what happened in the past. This place is exactly where one can see how little this process is yet evolving in this country. The partisans were not only the liberators of the country. They also caused and put up with a lot of suffering. Nonetheless, here, at this very place, they acquit themselves of any guilt.
No matter where we go in this country, each side is always depicted as absolutely free of guilt. Rapprochements towards other views occur only very hesitantly. But this is exactly what we need to be satisfied with as a first hope. This is exactly why work needs to be continued in that direction. This is exactly why communication is so important and why one must not lose faith in peace. Otherwise, one would negate the actual task given by history, namely to learn from it.
Upon leaving this place, we are very contemplative as we go back through the wonderful countryside, letting the wind once again blow through our hair. After having arrived at the bottom of the hill, we take a seat and enjoy the sun while inside the small restaurant people are watching the trial of Karadžić on TV.
Everyone is turned towards the warm sun, enjoying the beautiful scenery and most importantly waiting for the sandwiches which are being prepared for us.
Having gulped down our sandwiches, we are already on our way to Goražde. I look out of the window and wonder what will be awaiting me there. I am not quite sure.