Borderlands of Memory. Croatia (Istria-Kvarner) – Slovenia (Primorska) – Italy (Friuli-Venezia Giulia)

The Memory of War and Violence in the 20th-century northeastern Adriatic

Route and destinations of the study trip:
Lipa (Croatia) Gonars (Italy)
Basovizza (Italy) Risiera di San Sabba (Italy)
Kobarid (Slovenia) Pula (Croatia)
Log pod Mangartom (Slovenia) Rijeka (Croatia)
Redipuglia (Italy)  
Map Study Trip Route and Destinations

29 May 2012: Gonars (Italy)

Martina Draščić

Gonars is a town in the province of Udine, Friuli in northeastern Italy. The fascists built a concentration camp here in 1942, during the Second World War, where they brought mostly Slovene and Croat prisoners from Yugoslavia. The camp was closed soon after the capitulation of Italy in September 1943 and the buildings were destroyed. Today, near the former camp site, a local graveyard as well as a flower-shaped monument can be visited. The remains of the victims were placed in the two crypts beside the monument.

The official web page of the Gonars memorial:

Photo Impressions

Photos of the previous destination Photos of the next destination

Travel Diary


... The sun is too bright now and Italy is too beautiful to commemorate the war.

Non presente. Trying to escape the sun I put on my glasses to see the cemetery in Gonars. Just some 15 miles to the northwest the memorial site of the concentration camp Gonars showed us only vivid life colours. Hidden and unwanted, it has no monumental forms: a rural cemetery with a small chapel and lots of flowers. And then you see just one more cemetery flower, but this time a steel flower. Its life seems to have a lot of modesty commemorating and forgiving at once.

The sunglasses don’t help. Vivid colours and gleaming steel cannot hide the true story. And once again you see their names: Antun and Nikola, Marija and Franjo, Milo and Ivan. The circle is round. They disappeared, just disappeared – “nestali”. They are not present, nowhere any more.



In Gonars, which was our next stop, we first took a wrong turn and were able to see some beautifully designed house exteriors. The existence of this suburban space suggests that the Gonars of today is very unlike the village containing a concentration camp it was during WWII. While looking for our way, Magomed, a German student (and an excellent researcher, may I add!) gave a great lecture on Gonars – it was a real lecture and not a simple presentation because he used actual diaries as literature. For me, he cast a whole new perspective on Gonars, which I had considered a minor camp before hearing his lecture– it was in fact brutal and contained not only men, but also women and children.
Our Gonars guest lecturers who awaited us (our group resembled a dame always keeping people waiting) were a representative from Gonars municipality and Alessandra Kersevan. During the lecture we sat in the middle of the newly arranged ossuary because the actual position of the former camp was not commemorated. We saw it, however, while driving back to Croatia. Pula was our destination for the following day, which called for a drive around the Brijuni archipelago.

In Croatia, this plan means vacation, which I can’t wait for! We finally settled in our Pula hostel but I wouldn't dare go to sleep now – I heard rumors the crew is meeting for a beer in front of the Augusts’ temple. Guess where I’m heading, dear diary?


Diary of the previous destination Diary of the next destination

Gonars: The forgotten Italian concentration camp of WW II

Magomed Anasov

The history of concentration camps during the Second World War is mostly concentrated on the study of concentration camps in Germany and Poland. The history of concentration camps in other countries is not researched in the same way. In particular, there is not so much information about the system of concentration camps in Italy, the main ally of Nazi Germany. This situation cannot be called satisfactory. My personal interest in this field was one of the main reasons for writing an article about Italian camps during WWII with the focus on the camp in Gonars.

The objective of the article is to give a historical background about concentration camps in Italy, to touch on some memories of the former internees and to try to show how the memory of the camp in Gonars was established including how it was supported by authorities, what aspects of the past they concealed and what has been done in order to keep the memory of this camp alive. I conclude with an assessment of the camp’s current situation. The article is based on the English-speaking literature, on the information from the website of the Gonars Memorial and on the notes from the speech of Alessandra Kersevan during the student trip to Gonars on the 29th of May 2012.

First, there one term which is of great important for this article must be explained. This term is lieux de mémoire (“sites of memory”) introduced by the French historian Pierre Nora who is known for his work on French identity and memory. These places have a certain connection with historical events and are fixed in people’s memory. They can be geographical places, buildings, monuments and works of art, but also historical persons, commemoration days, philosophical or scientific texts or even symbolic actions. Paris, Versailles and the Eiffel Tower as well as Jeanne d’Arc, the French flag, the 14th of July and the French anthem are all sites of memory. According to Pierre Nora, lieux de mémoire are some kind of substitute for the collective memory which does not exist anymore.
There are 3 criteria for places that allow them to be called lieux de mémoire:

If we apply these criteria to the concentration camp in Gonars we can say it meets Pierre Nora’s requirements to be considered a lieux de mémoire. It is a place where there were historical events, but the people today do not know about them, there is not much information about it in the books. It has a material dimension because it was the place where some events of history have happened. It had a function then and now the monument in Gonars also has its own function. The symbolic function implies in the case of Gonars that this monument is a symbol of crimes of the Fascist regime in Italy and of the many lives which were destroyed at that place.

The first camps in Italy for citizens of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia were established immediately after the collapse of the state, for all soldiers and officers of the former Yugoslav army who were captured after the occupation of Yugoslav territory carrying weapons or wearing a military uniform. Later, they also imprisoned officers of the Yugoslav army who the German authorities had released from prisoner of war camps, because on the basis of their ethnic affiliation, they belonged on territory which was occupied by the Italians. The Italian occupation powers in the province of Ljubljana started interning civilians in 1942. The arrested people were transferred to the concentration camps. (2)

The police measure of confinement was introduced in Italy by the Fascist regime according to the New Public Security Act № 1848 from the 6th of November 1926. According to the act, the provincial committee could confine any anti-fascist or other person. The fascist regime in Italy concentrated mainly on the suppression of anti-fascist groups. On the 10th June 1940 Italy entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany and also introduced the internment of certain groups of the population. The majority of them were anti-fascists. Some confinement colonies in southern Italy were renamed concentration camps. The internal ministry had presumably around 15 concentration camps from 1940 to 1943. (3)

The Italian concentration camps were of two kinds: those for prisoners of war (POWs) and those for civilian internees. Whereas international law regulated the treatment of POWs, there were no precise rules covering civilian internees. Civilian internments were distinguished between ‘protective’ and ‘precautionary’ (repressivi). Precautionary internment applied to former career soldiers (military personnel in the former Yugoslav army resident in the annexed territories and already POWs: they were released and then rearrested and trated as civilian internees, so that they were no longer covered by the Geneva Conventions), former civil servants , teachers, students, intellectuals, unemployed workers, individuals suspected of acts harmful to Italy, able-bodied males formerly belonging to rebel formations, the relatives of rebel accomplices and hostages in general. Protective internment was provided for individuals eluding recruitment by the partisans, those who asked of their own accord to be evacuated and those who had collaborated with the occupiers and begged for protection against partisan reprisals. (4)

Gonars was one of the largest concentration camps in Italy. Other camps include  Treviso, Padova, Rab in wartime Italy, Renicci and Visco). Gonars is located close to Palmanova in the Udine region in the north-eastern Italy. Until March 1942 it was a war camp, from the second half of March 1942 there was a concentration camp for civilians, including officers, NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and soldiers of the former Yugoslav Royal Army. Since the officers had to be separated from the soldiers, and the military internees from civilians, the camp was divided into two camps and a number of sections-sectors. NCOs and soldiers were accommodated in the larger camp, which had three sections, named after the first three letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha, beta and gamma. Sector alpha was the reception area, in sector beta there were 17 huts made from wooden planks, each with capacity of 100 to 140 persons; sector gamma consisted of seven slightly smaller accommodation huts, conveniences and an infirmary. In addition to the three sectors the camp also had a so-called arena- a space for gatherings, kitchens and storehouses. In the autumn of 1942, the camp, from which eight persons had succeeded in escaping, was almost emptied when the civilian internees were transferred to the concentration camps of Renicci and Monigo, and the majority of military internees were sent to the concentration camp of Chiesanova by Padova. The camp was disbanded on September 8, 1943, after the Italian armistice (an armistice signed on September 3 and publicly declared on September 8, 1943, during WWII, between Italy and the Allied armed forces, who were then occupying the southern end of the country, which forced Italy’s capitulation). (5)

The memories of the individual internees play a great role in building the commemoration memory of this place. The memory is not just derived from individual memories, but is constructed over them in such a way that it can be considered as a new phenomenon. It is much more complicated in comparison with individual memories. It seems to be necessary to touch on some aspects of life in concentration camp in Gonars through the prism of individual memories.

The camp order obliged the internees to clean and arrange everything necessary before the visit of any dignitary. For example, Albin Župančič, the former internee of Gonars, described in his diary on 18 August 1942 the cleaning in the camp prior to the visit of the Papal Nuncio, as follows:” Yesterday we had an important visit, the Papal Nuncio came. Because of his visit, we had to tidy up all the huts, everything hanging from under the roofs, on the walls, everything, had to be removed, we cleaned the windows, etc…If that man had known how many hundreds of times he’d been damned that day, he certainly wouldn’t have shown himself and wouldn’t have walked around.” The internees were used as a cheap labour force to arrange such visits. As to the food, every internee in the protective category in Gonars was supposed to get 400 grams of bread and a somewhat thicker portion of gruel. They could not be satisfied with this portion. Stealing was punished at once by the internees themselves. According to the diary of Albin Župančič, someone once stole half a litre of oil and about two kilograms of rice. He writes:” If the devil had stolen from the store, nothing would have been said, but he took what was meant for us…” The food was one of the most important things for them, so the theft could not be tolerated at all. The psychical condition of the internees also could not be called satisfactory. They were far away from their families and this fact had a bad influence on them. For example, jealousy embittered life for many men. Night and day they imagined what was happening at home in their absence. A story circulated among the men in Gonars about poisoned cake which a wife from Ljubljana had sent to some internee when she got a lover. Such stories were very popular, and they had a negative influence on the minds of people. Nevertheless, the internees did not give up the struggle against the camp authorities and Italians. The struggle could be expressed even in the caps which the internees wore. Many wore a so-called “Gonars cap” in the summer of 1942. Tailors sewed them from the greenish material of shirts. The caps were similar to Serbian “šajkača” and they expressed prisoner’s independence and difference from the Italian guards. (6) These memories show the bad conditions in the camp, but they also show that the human spirit cannot be broken. Despite the bad conditions, the internees continued to live and tried to remain humans even if it was not always possible. They also tried to show their attitude to the Italian guards and to show that the struggle would continue in the future.

The question of commemoration memory is very difficult and delicate because it concerns whether or not the state (in our case Italy) is ready to recognize its own guilt for some crimes. If the state is not prepared for recognition of this, it tries to conceal facts or even to rewrite history if it is possible. The answer on the question if there were any efforts from the Italian government to erase memory about camp in Gonars after WWII will be based on articles from the Internet, the book of Božidar Jezernik and the records from the excursion to the Gonars Memorial.

Lack of information originates from the following fact: immediately following the inclusion of the Slovenes and Croats of the occupied territories of Austro-Hungary in 1918, the Kingdom of Italy systematically nurtured a racial character. The Italians reduced the number of autochthonous Slovenes and Croats in the border regions and described them with such terms as “barbarians”, “unhistorical nations”, “uncultured people” and so on. (7)

The concentration camp in Gonars was disbanded on September 8, 1943. The monument dedicated to the victims of the camp was built in 1973 on the initiative of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, designed by the sculptor Miodrag Živković in Belgrade. The Memorial, which contains the remains of the victims, is a warning against the war and against the racist ideology that leads to discrimination, intolerance and segregation. (8) For almost 30 years the history of the camp was unknown for many people. It can be considered as an erasing of the memory of this place, because all the buildings were destroyed, the materials were used to build a kindergarten and the whole place was turned into a meadow. (9)

The Slovenian and Croatian governments placed monuments dedicated to the victims of the camp in 1993 and 1995. (10)

Mojca Drčar-Murko states in her article “Here death tired of death” that the Italian public is still unaware of the facts and the numbers of internees in Gonars, because this information was concealed from the Italian and European publics. The author is confident in the necessity of further research because otherwise such horrors will be forgotten and can be repeated in the future. The author states: “It is right that we uncover it, not because we do not wish to forgive or are not capable of forgiving, but because forgetting is something different from forgiving. If part of history is missing ─ even the history of defeat ─ later generations can learn nothing from it.” (11) Mojca Drčar-Murko is a Slovenian politician and a former Member of the European Parliament. The theme of Gonars is for her of great importance, because she is a Slovenian and she represented its country in the European Parliament. She also stresses that this research is important because of the prevailing Italian description of events during WWII in Slovenia, which allowed Italians to reverse causes of and consequences of this war. The access to necessary data was closed by the peace treaty with Italy 1947 and this complicated research for a long time. Mojca Drčar-Murko is concerned about the lack of information on Italian war crimes and emphasizes the necessity of further survey of this theme. The most important words written by Mojca Drčar-Murko in her article are: “No sovereign nation will allow another to write its own history and erase from it the aspects of it unpleasant to us, especially because the researchers can still rely on primary sources.” (12) Her point is that the truth must be revealed in order to prevent such crimes in the future. This implies that the people at least must be aware of the camp, of its history and of the crimes which were committed there.

Although there are some studies and publications, the story of concentration camps such as Gonars did not remain in the public consciousness. This is strange with respect to the entire postwar period, but it is especially odd that it has remained the case more recently. In recent years much has been said and reported in the mass media, about the history of the eastern border and some of the events following the Second World War. In general, however, the history of Italian war crimes is still relatively unknown throughout the world because Italy always had the certain “immunity” after the end of WWII. (13)

Another fact is that the Italian crimes in the occupied countries were completely hidden, and Italian war criminals were not prosecuted. It is important to mention here the story of the BBC documentary “Fascist Legacy” by Michael Palumbo and Ken Kirby about the Italian war crimes. The rights to the film were bought by RAI back in the eighties, but it was never broadcasted by RAI. (14)

“Fascist Legacy” is a documentary film about Italian war crimes during World War II. It was recorded by the BBC in 1989 and consists of two parts: “A Promise Fulfilled” and “A Pledge Betrayed”.  The documentary cynically ends with Churchill's quote about the better tomorrow with a new world order. It was never shown to an Italian audience because it would significantly change the opinion Italians have about their role during World War II. The only time it has been shown was in 2004 by the private channel LA7, but it was late at night and had few viewers. Showings of the documentary are now organized in Italy by groups with an anti-fascist orientation. (15)

These and other facts are the evidence of the efforts to encourage people to forget the past and forget history. Mass media play, or could play, an important role in this case. They could show the truth about the Italian past. Unfortunately, they are busy with other things. The other explanation could be the lack of demand from the Italian government or from the Italian community.

However, some years ago the history of Gonars appeared in the pages of national newspapers in Italy, when President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi personally went to the Risiera di San Sabba and foiba Basovizza: at this time, he sent a wreath to the memorial of the dead in the concentration camp cemetery in Gonars. Even this gesture, however, was not sufficient to bring out this story from the knowledge (relative) of Gonars’employees. (16) Even the president was not able to bring this difficult topic to public attention. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi tried to reconcile the Italians, Croatians and Slovenians. Ciampi also nourished the hope of creating a structured platform for cooperation between Italy, Slovenia and Croatia that focused on tourism, transport, environment and culture that had its epicenter in the Adriatic. It took courage to engage on this difficult question and point out a vibrant political and civil society must be based on respect for historical memory: only the genuine acknowledgement of the past would remove lingering grudges and residual nationalism in a European perspective. (17)

The history of Gonars is gradually coming out into the light, but much more must be done in order to bring this history to the public attention. Every year on the 1st of November there is a commemoration day of victims of Gonars. People from Slovenia, Croatia, Austria and Italy come to the monument to commemorate the 473 victims of Gonars and others who are not buried here. (18) Such actions help the people not to forget about the events of history, even if the memory about them is unpleasant for one or another country. The city administration takes care of the monument and this fact can be considered as the evidence of that the process of reconciliation has been launched. On the other hand, the monument is situated on the Italian cemetery, i.e. behind of the fence. It is not situated in a place where many people could see it. This is a very contradictory fact because, on the one hand, there are some efforts of the administration to reveal the history of Gonars, but, on the other hand, the location of the monument tells its own tale.

But such a location also plays a certain role in the memory. For example, every time when the Italians visit the graves of their relatives they are supposed to go through the monument and to keep in mind that there is a black spot in Italian history that cannot be forgotten. On the floor of the monument there is a mosaic made of red and orange pieces. It is round as a puddle and to go through the monument one must step on this “puddle”. It symbolizes the blood of the victims. The mosaic is very impressive and its image remains in mind for a long time. It should remain in our minds, because otherwise we will repeat the mistakes of the past.

The restoration of this mosaic was completed by students from a mosaic school. (19) This fact shows that the administration that takes care of the whole monument also tries to involve young people in its work in order to teach them about the camp’s history and its consequences. This is a very important step in the process of commemoration of the victims of Gonars. The students who have restored the mosaic could not leave without any impressions. The mosaic must have influenced them in different ways. One of many things they will remember will be the warning of repeating such crimes.

The Italian government tried to erase this black spot of its history from the memory of people. Nowadays, there are much more efforts to cast light on the history of Italian crimes during WWII. The facts must be known to the European and world community. Only the awareness of the event can launch the stage of reconciliation between peoples of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, which can be considered as the objective point of the whole process.
It must be mentioned that in the last years the presence of representatives of Slovenia and Croatia is an integral part of every commemoration day on November 1. This fact indicates that the countries are ready for a dialogue, which hopefully will lead to full reconciliation in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia.

In conclusion, it must be stressed that the process of reconciliation is still going on. It is very difficult to reach consensus because there are 3 countries involved in the process; there are many various interests that cannot be passed over and there is a complicated history which has many black spots. The war crimes of Italy during WWII cannot be forgotten, but there must be many efforts made from the Italian side in order to achieve forgiveness from the Slovenian and Croatian side, which, in their turn, must try to forgive the Italians in order to achieve the reconciliation. The politicians involved in this process should try not to politicize this theme, but to make the reconciliation possible.



(1)  Erll, Astrid: Kollektives Gedächtnis und Erinnerungskulturen, J.B.Metzler, 2005.
(2)  Jezernik, Božidar: Struggle for survive. Italian concentration camps for Slovenes during the Second World War;Ljubljana, Društvo za Preučevanje Zgodovine, Literature in Antropologije, 1999.
(3) Ferenc, ToneRab - Arbe – Arbissima: confinement, police raids, internments in the Ljubljana province 1941-1943 ; documents;Ljubljana, Soc. of the Writers of the History of the Liberation War in Slovenia [u.a.], 2000
(4) Rodogno, Davide: Fascism’s European Empire: Italian Occupation during the Second World War, Cambridge  University Press, 2006.
(5) Ferenc, ToneRab - Arbe – Arbissima: confinement, police raids, internments in the Ljubljana province 1941-1943 ; documents;Ljubljana, Soc. of the Writers of the History of the Liberation War in Slovenia [u.a.], 2000.
(6) Jezernik, Božidar: Struggle for survive. Italian concentration camps for Slovenes during the Second World War;Ljubljana, Društvo za Preučevanje Zgodovine, Literature in Antropologije, 1999.
(7) Jezernik, Božidar: Struggle for survive. Italian concentration camps for Slovenes during the Second World War;Ljubljana, Društvo za Preučevanje Zgodovine, Literature in Antropologije, 1999.
(8) Sacrario Memoriale per Gli Internati del Campo di concentramento 1942-1943,
(9) From the talk with Alessandra Kersevan on 29.05.2012 at the Gonars Memorial.
(10) From the talk with Alessandra Kersevan on 29.05.2012 at the Gonars Memorial.
(11) Jezernik, Božidar: Struggle for survive. Italian concentration camps for Slovenes during the Second World War; Ljubljana, Društvo za Preučevanje Zgodovine, Literature in Antropologije, 1999.
(12) Jezernik, Božidar: Struggle for survive. Italian concentration camps for Slovenes during the Second World War;Ljubljana, Društvo za Preučevanje Zgodovine, Literature in Antropologije, 1999.
(13) Introduzione,
(14) Introduzione,
(15) Fascist Legacy,
(16) Introduzione,
(17) Antonio Puri Purini , Zara e una Riconciliazione Rinviata,
(18) From the talk with Alessandra Kersevan on 29.05.2012 at the Gonars Memorial
(19) From the talk with Alessandra Kersevan on 29.05.2012 at the Gonars Memorial.


Decay of Memories and Fostering Remembrance of Yugoslavian Monuments: Gonars and Petrova gora

An overview of monuments at sites

Maja Mustač, edited by Tea Marković

Monument in the memory of partisan and civilian victims of the World War IIFollowing World War II, the new socialist regime raised monuments with the aim of marking historic sites and spreading a unified national consciousness. These sites honoured the anti-fascist struggle and the military progress that led to the constitution of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia – a new compound of southern Slavic nations emerging after the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia was disbanded. One of the numerous projects of the former socialist regime is the memorial complex at Petrova gora. The foundations were laid in 1946, while the design of the sculptor Vojin Bakić was implemented 34 years later. Today, after more than 30 years, the monument is unsightly, neglected and left to decay. Why is such a monument decaying? And why is this fact overlooked by the current government and by others before, while the same type of monuments are preserved in neighbouring countries? What is, therefore, the story behind the cemetery in Gonars - a town situated in northern Italy known for its World War II concentration camp, where Slovenian and Croatian victims are being remembered?

Art in the Service of the Regime and Ideology

Croatian art again changed in the second half of the 20th century; figures of war heroes transformed into figures of heroic workers. Socialist realism was initially a tool for propaganda and transmitting ideological messages through art. After the Cominform 1948 crisis, art and politics started to change, moving closer towards abstraction and the West. The USSR was abandoned as a source and model, and Yugoslavian artists were opening towards new artistic movements. The first political artworks after 1945 were visually realistic depictions of war heroes and heroic workers in large formats. Heroic figures were intentionally designed to be monumental in size, with masculine characteristics so they could represent the power of the new communist order and the strong will for economic progress. Symbols like war heroes were a reflection and remembrance of the fight for liberation and freedom. They were important characteristics of anti-fascism and, as historian Zdenko Radelić wrote, they were very important tools for the communists in fighting for power and bringing about profound social changes (Radelić, 2006: 27). The socialist culture was supposed to meet the demands of the ideology of “the new era”.

The newly coined phrase, “working man and citizen” (1) (Vukić, 2008: 74) referred to everyone, including those from urban areas as well as the new urban immigrants that came from the rural areas who would  become the new working class. The latter were later responsible for the so called second modernization (2). It is important to emphasize that at the time of the glorious liberation offensive, on the place where the monuments and symbols of war heroes would be erected, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was still not expressing their socialist vision of a society of workers, but was only putting forward the idea of the struggle for the liberation of the peoples of Yugoslavia (Radelić, 2006: 27). Tito began to develop new abstract sculptural boulders in the period between the 60’s and 70’s. Memorials were placed at the sites of battles from the World War II, such as Tjentište, Kozara and Kadinjača or in places where there were concentration camps such as Jasenovac and the city of Niš. (3)

Plan of the concentration camp at Gonars

Gonars Graveyard-Nurturing Culture of Remembrance

The Italian Republic and the former Yugoslav government, followed by the new democratic governments of Italy, Croatia and Slovenia have erected memorials at the local town cemetery in Gonars (Italy) to commemorate civilian victims of Croatian and Slovenian origin. On February 23rd 1942, the fascist government established a concentration camp in this small northern Italian town; it was closed a year later. (4) People from the vicinity of Ljubljana (occupied and annexed by Italians in 1941) and prisoners from the camps Kampor, in the Croatian island of Rab, and Moniga near the Veneto town of Treviso, were moved to Gonars concentration camp. Immediately after the Italian capitulation the fascists destroyed the whole complex of the concentration camp and all the traces of its existence. In 1973 a monument in the manner of modernist plastics was erected in memory of the victims of the Gonars concentration camp by the Yugoslav government at the local cemetery. The sculptor chosen by the Yugoslav government was the Belgrade artist Miodrag Živković. Today the Gonars victims are being remembered by the representatives of the Slovenian and Croatian governments and some Serbian communities. This phenomenon is very interesting because it is quite extraordinary that Serbs and Croats would jointly commemorate the victims of World War II after the wars of the nineties. There is talk of social gatherings and actions by both Croats and Serbs at Petrova gora.

It is notable that in its first phase the Gonars camp was a camp for former soldiers or potential opponents, and among the first prisoners there were about 900 officers and non-commissioned officers of the Yugoslav army (Ibid). Major names of the Slovenian intellectual Pleiades died in the camp. It is believed that 50 people died of starvation and torture, among them young children (Ibid). Today's commemoration of this extremely small number of victims - when compared to numerous victims of other camps - bothers many who are aware of this fact. The new Croatian president has also stated deep understanding of the complex situation in today's Italian regions around Trieste. This region, as it was in the past, is very multiethnic. It shows the stunning ability of peaceful coexistence of diversity despite the traumas of war, new political intrigues and misunderstandings; this peaceful coexistence is also evident from the aesthetic point of view with respect to the Gonars cemetery. The monument in the memory of the 453 known Slovenian and Croatian victims was made in the form of two underground crypts above which there is a metal abstract geometric form.

Work of Vojin Bakic in the Petrova gora

Monument in the memory of partisan and civilian victims of the World War IIA monument in the memory of partisan and civilian victims of the World War II was put up on Petrova gora near the hospital complex on the Great Petrovac (5) as a symbol of anti-fascist liberation and partisan action. The foundation stone for this project was set up in 1946 while the construction of the steel-concrete monument, under the supervision of sculptor Vojin Bakić, started in the late 1980’s. Petrova gora was an important partisan centre in World War II. The first forest partisan hospital in Yugoslavia was located on its territory, in the woods Vrletne strane; it was opened in October 1941 (6). In May 1942 the central partisan hospital in Pišin was established (Ibid). It was open until the end of the war in 1945 along with six other smaller hospitals in the immediate area; a partisan cemetery was built along with the hospital. The whole complex later became a memorial area. The monument consisted of a main central building of exquisite dimensions (37 meters high) and a communication tower. The complex housed the Museum of the Revolution, a gallery, a library, a reading room, and the administration of Petrova gora Memorial Park (Ibid). On top of the sculptural geometric boulders covered by polished stainless steel plates, there is a magnificent view of the surrounding plains. The central building included an entrance plaza, a memorial staircase with a mausoleum, proprietor rooms and supporting utility rooms. 7 700 m³ of concrete, 65 724 m³ of excavated earth and rocks, thousands of tons of construction steel and 4 300 m² of stainless steel, and 300 workers  were used daily for the construction of the whole complex. It is located in a remote wooded landscape near Vojnić (near Karlovac), even though there was an economic crisis during the 1980’s (Bekić, 2007: 192). It is somewhat ironic that despite of all this economic effort, the monument was never finished.

In the first contest for aspiring projects the young architect Igor Toš won first prize, but the committee chose the project of the more experienced Vojin Bakić (Ibid: 196).  Bakić’s son Zoran, Berislav Šerbetić and several other architects assisted in the development of the monument (Ibid: 185). But Zoran had to abandon the project in an early stage because of mental illness. The unfortunate fate of Bakić’s family (his wife and son committed suicide) had a huge impact on his work; the eulogistic artist died without leaving any trace of his sculptural work since it was destroyed by the new regime. The new times have infuriated the restless spirits of the past and wrecked the artistic realizations of this famous sculptor. It is important to consider that deliberate and violent devastations are not the only reason for the decaying and oblivion of his works.  Another explanation lays in the complex spiritual aura of the previous regime, which was inevitably doomed to fail, and with it his three-dimensional artistic renderings. The Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito died on May 4th 1980 and the State, under the weight of the heavy crisis, went with him into the grave (Radelić, 2006: 490). The monument that was visited by many tourists and vacationers, and where many celebrations in the memory of the anti-fascist struggle were organized, has started to fall into oblivion since 1991 and since the first destructions. The local population started to deliberately steal expensive materials from the surface area of the monument. Today the monument Petrova gora is decaying more and more every day. It is interesting to note that some anti-fascist associations and, even more surprisingly, those of Serbian origin (such as associations of the Serbian National Council, the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters, Anti-Fascists Croatian (Croatia SABA), and the municipality Vojnić, Krnjak, Vrgin most and Topusko) regularly organize celebrations on the place they consider the birth-place of Yugoslav anti-fascism (7). Not so long ago, namely on May 12th 2012, they celebrated the 70-year anniversary of the breakthroughs of the Ustasha lines in Biljeg on Petrova gora. Everybody expressed being disappointed with the authorities because of the neglect and devastation of the monument; not only the defenders, providers and supporters of the National Liberation War and the partisan struggle, but important Croatian cultural organizations and many cultural workers are disappointed as well. Under the leadership of the curatorial team of the association What, How and for Whom/WHW and Anna Bakić, the letter Call for Urgent Action to Protect the Monument Petrova gora includes many important Croatian cultural and artistic names (8). Curators, art historians and the entire academic community are looking at the monument from the perspective of their professions, and it is therefore understandable that they consider it a masterpiece of monumental Yugoslav sculptural work. Darko Bekić, Bakić’s important biographer and an admirer of his work, warns of art history-sided views and highlights that it is important not to forget who is responsible for the creation of those kinds of monuments, arguing that Bakić’s monument should not be an exception (Bekić, 2007: 192). The complex context and story behind this monument should not be disregarded. The art historical analysis in this case is only one segment of the complex evaluation of this historic assembly, burdened not only with the story of the sculptor. The monument Petrova gora is a symbol of a failed regime whose characteristics - the eternal and glorious ones, as well as the fleeting ones and those with flaws - can today be seen as the Forgotten Monument.


The Croatian government in the new democratic Croatia has so far ignored all commemorations on Petrova gora that were established by the former Yugoslav government. We can conclude that the fate of the Petrova gora monument is quite understandable since it is so far away from all urban life and because it is not in any accordance with mother nature. It represents an imposed and enforced symbol that has the purpose of maintaining old memories of the ideological past. Constructions in the time of an economic crisis and just before the death of the ideologue and holder of Yugoslav socialism are something like the awakening of a giant from a hard sleep. Such is also the fate and the end of the artificial creation of imaginary socialist culture with its monumental visualizations. Bakić’s close friend, the painter Otto Gliha, was contemptuously irritated with the large government orders and the corresponding Vojin’s paycheck that he called Tito's Yugoslavia and its products Kiposlavija (9) (Bekić, 2007: 7). For the end of the socialist grandiosity an abstract monument was elected, which seemed sufficiently incomprehensible to the average “working man and citizen”, and which was strange, unattractive and uninviting. Tito was more satisfied with Bakić’s realistic forms in the manner of social realism, but not so much with these abstract and incomprehensible artistic aspirations. On one side, there is this neglected artistic importance of the great sculptor and the recognition of the artistic excellence in the eyes of the Yugoslavian Man; there are citizens of today's democratic Croatia that are not ashamed to pluck the steel armour from the body of the artistic monument. Such behaviour only makes a new decision of the government harder. According to the Constitution, they have to deal with and preserve this cultural heritage even though it may not seem important. By not doing anything, the government's approach to Petrova gora clearly shows that Croatia had not made ​​peace with its past and that Croatia does not even know how to cope with it – especially not with dissension, hatred and vandalism (10). On the other hand, there are monuments in a foreign country on foreign soil that are obviously easier to deal with for Croatia, whether or not they are equal in the artistic range. These monuments are of smaller and more pleasant dimension, they are located in urban areas, they have victims which are easier to mourn (civilians) and seem generally more acceptable. The victims of the Gonars concentration camp are located on a slightly more sensitive multiethnic surrounding and are therefore approached with more caution. Petrova gora is just one of a series of similar projects that were unnecessarily placed into a natural environment and that are imposed symbols of a forgotten time; something imposed in such a way has to be constantly renewed and saved from oblivion.

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(1) (Cro.) „Radni čovjek i građanin“. (Tr. by Ed.)
(2) The term second modernization correlates to Hardt and Negi's „industrialization“ which focuses on the transition from industry to information driven society. (Footnote by Editor)
(3) Travel Magazine by users. Subject: Komunističkispomenicikaoizbudućnosti, (09.08.2012.)
(4) Website on Cultural Memory. Subject: Gonars 1942 – 1943, URL: (09.08.2012.)
(5) (Cro.) Veliki Petrovac. (Tr. by Ed.)
(6) Brochure on Petrova Gora. URL: (26.08.2012.), str. 9.
(7) Online chronicle. (09.08.2012.)
(8) Online cultural chronicle. URL: (28.08.2012).
(9) (Cro.) Kip – Statue, -slavija – an allusion to Yugoslavia. (Tr. by Ed.)
(10) With respect to the economic crisis also evident in both neglecting the monument as well as stealing materials from it. (Footnote by Ed.)

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