Contests of heritage and the politics of preservation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, K. S. Brown

Monumental memories: the intervention of the state

Between 1968 and 1974 a monument to the Ilinden Uprising of 1903 was commissioned and built on the outskirts of the town of Krushevo. In keeping with the usual practices in Yugoslavia, noted above, the monument is self-consciously modern, designed to serve as a national monument to an uprising that was widespread. Its construction itself was a process which was illuminative of various tensions in the Yugoslav-Macedonian vision of history and the connections between socialist and nationalist ideals (Brown 1995).

This construction did not occur in a vacuum. The monument stands at the north-western corner of the town on the hill known alternatively as gumenja in Slavic, and as alonia in Greek. The words themselves have histories, but the space has even more. When the town was burned in 1903, the lower part of the town where the wealthier families lived suffered most. The area at the top of the town, around the hill, was left largely untouched. Yet it was also the site on which in 1903 the Ottoman commander set up his headquarters, to which townspeople had to go to plead that their town be spared (Ditsias 1904). Despite these entreaties, the commander conducted inquiries into the Uprising that led, in some cases, to public hangings.

In more peaceful days the area was the threshing-floor of the town. Two middle-aged men recalled playing at this site as children, and recounted how the wheat was threshed by a horse tied to the central pole which ran around in circles, breaking the wheat with its hooves. [12] From the 1930s, at least, it was a site where people of the town would take their korzo, or promenade, the very public exercise that is central to urban sociability. Gumenja was thus a practised site which carried in its periodic use for agricultural purposes a link between the town of Krushevo and surrounding villages. In its more regular guise it was the forum for maintaining social relations between townspeople. By these mundane means, the people of Krushevo reclaimed the space from its temporary service as a place of terror, and domesticated it.

The Ilinden monument in turn effaced this history, replacing it with a national narrative. It aspired to represent the struggle of the Macedonian people the makedonski narod for their freedom and self-rule. In so doing, it represents the investment of space with an imposed significance. Instead of a sense of unmanaged continuity, driven by unreflective practices of the local economy and society, it refers self-consciously to larger issues. In style it represents the kind of socialist triumphalism that Krushevo otherwise largely escaped, but which characterises the public spaces of Skopje. The monument's very existence could thus be said to represent concretely the writing-in of a state's perspective into a town's landscape.

The people of Krushevo were far from unanimous in welcoming this state recognition of their town's significance. This was in part a reaction to the dominance of outsiders in overseeing the construction. [13] However, perhaps more significant in people's objections was the style of the monument, which was abstract in design and massive in scale. It has been called 'lifeless' by some critics in the town, while others suggest that it is not a source of national pride but rather of international shame, as it does not bear comparison with monuments elsewhere in the world.

All these shortcomings contributed toward making this monument, supposedly a great unifying symbol, a place where critical townspeople read all that was wrong with the whole regime that constructed it. In time, the unhappy reception led to further material changes in the commemorative landscape of Krushevo. In 1983, a statue was unveiled on Mechkin Kamen, a battleground from the 1903 Uprising outside Krushevo. The statue was a product of a town initiative, and was figurative in style, on the site where one of the more famous of Krushevo's participants in the Uprising met his death. In April 1990, the remains of another of the Uprising's leaders were interred within the monument on Gumenja. A space created to promote certain Yugoslav ideals, with an explicit agenda of socialist modernity, thus received a symbolic makeover. A Macedonian leader, most famous for his socialism, was laid to rest in a religious service conducted by Orthodox priests. A space which had previously included only abstract reliefs with titles such as 'freedom' now has a grave marker bearing the name of an individual. [14]

These two interventions in a state project of remembrance were attempts to respond to popular sentiments in the Republic as a whole. The interment described above was a response to a campaign orchestrated by the national newspaper, Nova Makedonija. In 1992 the same newspaper called for greater attention to be paid to the material condition of monuments throughout the Republic, and renovation was carried out on the monument on Gumenja in the summer of 1993, before the ninety-year anniversary celebrations of Ilinden in August. But ultimately, these initiatives have not kept pace with changes in people's commemorative practices. 'Re main celebrations of Ilinden, at least in 1992 and 1993, were conducted at the base of the new figurative statue on Mechkin Kamen. The state monument on Gumenja now plays only a supporting role in the yearly rituals of remembrance.

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12. This practice has been recorded throughout the region but was not always recalled so fondly. A visitor to Bardovci describes the open space, or 'gumno', as a place to which peasants brought their crops to be taken by others 'So much for the Sultan's taxes, so much for the beg, and so much for the peasants themselves.' (Edwards 1938: 94 5).

13. The commission responsible for the monument's construction included more people from Skopje than from Krushevo.

14. The hero of Mechkin Kamen was Pitu Guli, whose death there has been commemorated within Yugoslav Macedonia as an embodiment of the slogan of the Uprising, 'Freedom or Death'. The leader whose remains were interred in the monument was Nikola Karev, contentiously identified as the principal author of a manifesto in 1903 which represented the Uprising as an attempt to win social justice for all. I deal with the status of both figures more fully elsewhere (Brown 1995).