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An Encore for Tito’s '100 Monuments'

It is no real surprise (with all things considered), that Tito’s monuments and the spaces they create have seemingly reached their sell-by-date. Monuments like the Partisan’s Cemetery have always had a shelf-life if you consider its purpose, size, scale, material, location and design. (But there-again, doesn't that apply to all monuments, are they all not fragile, indicators of someone's history over an others, reliant of a particular combination of familiar conditions for survival)..

Without doubt, Tito’s ‘100 monument performance to the future’ is a well-choreographed expression of abstract form, ambition and viewers participation. An impressive and evocative sequence of politically symbolic forms, erected in tribute to past victims, battles against fascism and a gigantic nod to an embraced socialist Yugoslavia with a “modern future”.

However, over time the politics have changed. There has been another savage war, communities and cities are divided and are suffering from the impact of different (yet all too familiar) type of conflict. Streets, parks and buildings new have names in response, younger generations have alternative views underpin by an alternative perspective on the past. These commemorative structures in their dogged expectation of recognition and relevance, struggle to resonate with their current social context.

That said, beneath the graffiti and decay, monuments like the Partisan’s Cemetery still have potential, presences and purpose. All the 100 plus monuments Tito commissioned after WWII, have an imposing and mystical quality that can be re-awoken and given an evolved role in society. Despite being left to ‘wrack and ruin’ the monuments could (Or Should) resurface as peacebuilding agents of reconciliation. Sven Milekic’s compelling article in ‘BALKAN TRANITIONAL JUSTICE’ explains that monuments like the Partisan’s Cemetery have become “a victim of changing attitudes to history in the 1990’s”, yet there is hope, he writes that the abandoned monument like this can and will, in the future, play another positive peacebuilding role in deeply divided towns like Mostar, “ the cemetery may one day become a symbol of reconciliation in the city”, especially as he believes that buildings like the famous Old Bridge of Mostar can no longer legitimately promote a united future, because “the Mostar Bridge has been almost completely appropriated by Bosniks from the old town”.

A compelling dilemma and one no doubt explored in Arna Mackic’s new book ‘Mortal Cities - Forgotten Monuments’ a book which explores “the potential of architecture and urban design to reconcile people with the loss of urban structure and cultural symbols”.

At the core of the abandonment of Tito’s monuments, appears to be their politically stark rigidly. These awesome markers of historic trauma and hope can however, be re-seen. They can adopt knew commemorative layers of cultural significance which will amplify their social resonance, they are robust enough to withstand physical intervention. Easily read alteration that will help communicate a contemporary narrative of inclusion and reconciliation. An essential role required within a post conflict community, in transition from a negative to a positive peace.

Bogdanovic (one of the architects responsible for designing many of the monuments) believed that, “each city had its own soul for which legibility and historical layering is important…. if a city ceased to be legible, it was questionably no longer a real city, leading to its actual demise”. If a city must be legible and historically layered to survive, perhaps the Partisan’s Cemetery which was designed as Mostar in miniature, must be too.

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