Vandalism in Service of Protection: The Monument of the Revolution

Katarina Živanović, PhD


(part of the text on the board besides the Monument of the Revolution in Valjevo)


The Monument of the Revolution, better known as the Monument to Stjepan Filipović, is located on Vidrak Hill in Valjevo. In the form of a human figure, 16 meters high, with raised arms and hands clasped in fists, it was made by Vojin Bakić, a modernist artist, the main protagonist of the break up with socio-realism, and the advocate of abstraction, who paved the way to the freedom of artistic expression in the 1950s.

The author was inspired by a photograph of the hanging of the Partisan commander, Stjepan Filipović, who had fallen into a Chetnik ambush, was handed over to the Germans, cruelly tortured, and then hanged on the Valjevo Square. Gestapo recorded Filipović’ final words, spoken with his arms raised, calling out to the people not to fear, but to rise in the struggle for freedom. After the war, this photo was seen all around the world, and in 1949, Stjepan Filipović was proclaimed a national hero.

The monument was opened by Edvard Kardelj in 1960, and since then, for the next three decades, this memorial park was not only a place of commemoration, but a place of learning and socializing, a favorite picnic area.

Since the 1990s, the situation changed considerably and almost the only ones interested in the monument were the members of the Association of Fighters of the People’s Liberation War – SUBNOR. In that decade, there were threats that the monument would be mined, like thousands of others in Croatia, including a large number of Vojin Bakić’ works, as well as the monument to Stjepan Filipović in his native Opuzen. Fortunately, the Monument of the Revolution survived the 1990s, although the main interest for it was the question of the hero’s name (Stjepan or Stevan), whether he was a Croat or a Serb, and, if he was Stjepan, then why was the primary school in Valjevo called Stevan Filipović… By the middle of 2000, the monument was finally conserved, cleaned and repaired.

However, the story of the hero, monument, ideals, and struggle for the new world continued in 2009 when the local office of SUBNOR decided to partly repaint the metal out of which the monument was made, in order to cover the graffiti, insisting that this would restore its dignity and its right to remembrance. Members of the SUBNOR collected money among themselves and hired a local master who repainted the monument in greyish color to the calves, as far as he could reach from the ladder. They tried to do the same in 2010 when they were stopped by the police at the call of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Valjevo. Immediately after the event, the Institute issued a statement that the SUBNOR’s gesture was a greater vandalism than writing the inappropriate messages, that the graffiti should be removed by chemicals from the aluminum alloy, out of which the monument was made, and not painted with metal paint. The institute then filed a lawsuit.

This event, although at first glance trivial, touches the very essence of understanding of the cultural heritage. What is cultural heritage and how do we recognize its value? Who owns the cultural heritage and who has the right to its evaluation and protection – the protective institutions or the communities that recognize this heritage as their own, in this case SUBNOR?

Although the law is on the side of the Institute, and the legislator prescribes a sentence of up to 5 years in prison for this criminal offense, in this case we can recognize that the law and the justice do not always have to be on the same side. The Institute in charge of legal and technical protection, or conservation of monuments, placed the artistic and material value of the monument in focus. By issuing a lawsuit, the Institute committed its duty, but at the same time, it showed that it did not care about social protection, which should be above all.

Social protection implies that society, groups of citizens, and individuals recognize and value heritage as their own for various reasons (historical, educational, economic, symbolic…), use it in everyday life, and work on its preservation. Social protection that makes the monument alive is much more important than the impeccable conservation of the forgotten monument. This is precisely the reason for the claim that, despite the improper removal of graffiti, SUBNOR worked on the monument’s protection.

May only free people walk in Serbia, never forgetting the victims who gave their lives for the new world, and may they stand in the way of neo-fascism, that must be the common motto of all of us. In order to transit from the irrealis to the realis mood, the continuous cooperation of the institutions of protection and education with the organizations of fighters and human rights organizations is of utmost importance.


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