As a city which went through significant turmoils in its modern, post-Ottoman history – from brutal occupations in WWI and WWII to major political changes in 1903, after WWII and in 2000 – Belgrade has had its fair share of monument destructions, however mostly at the hands of its occupiers.
Unsurprisingly, removal of monuments to the recent past happened most immediately after the Partizans took power in 1945 and it was aimed at the memorials celebrating bourgeois Yugoslavia and the Karađorđević dynasty, whose scion, Petar II, was hoping to be restored as king of Yugoslavia while spending the war in London where he escaped in 1941. Much of the removal of remnants of bourgeois past was done by the Nazi and Allied bombs, which ripped through the old Royal Court, the National Library and many of Belgrade’s most beautiful pre-war buildings such as the Korunović-designed post office and Sephardic Synagogue, and it was a simple decision for them not be restored and replace them with wither with modernist buildings more attuned to tastes of the new government or restore them without many ornaments. Apart from ideology the reason for this treatment of buildings lost in the war was to a significant extent based on the precarious state of Yugoslav society: the war destroyed the Yugoslav economy and left hundreds of thousands homeless making restoration of grand monuments low on the priority list.
However, aside from the unwillingness to restore royal glitz there were many direct interventions in removal of monuments, such as the one to Princess Zorka – the first one dedicated to a woman in Belgrade’s history – and the one to Sima Igumanov at Terazije.
On the other hand, the fall of socialism did not inspire removal of monuments in Serbia to the extent it happened in Easter Europe and, indeed other parts of ex-Yugoslavia, notably Croatia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. While many streets were renamed (e.g. Maršala Tita became Srpskih Vladara and then Kralja Milana) the only notable removal of the socialist-era monument in Belgrade was the replacement of the five-pointed star from the spire of the Old Palace (Belgrade City Hall) by Zoran Đinđić.
In the past few years, there are attempts to bring back some of the old royal monuments and markings to Belgrade: from the return of the old Serbian court of arms to the old Railway station and former Ministry of Transport to the planned restoration of the old Neo-Serbo-Byzantine facade to the old post office.
Karađorđe at Kalemegdan
The monument to Karađorđe, one of the founders of modern Serbia, was erected in 1913 after the Serbian victory in the Balkan Wars. It was dismantled in 1916 during the Austrian WWI occupation and a statue of Franz Joseph was put at its place at Kalemegdan.
After the war, in 1931 it was replaced by the Monument of gratitude to France (designed by Meštrović), and most of the statues that were part of the monument were used to make the bells of Ružica church. Only the statue of the blind gusle-player survived and there are plans for it to return to the Kalemegdan park.
Reconciliation that wasn’t
The most bizarre (or at least the funniest) story about monument removal is the one around “Reconciliation” monument, which depicted busts of Miloš Obrenović and Karađorđe, fierce rivals and founders of two rival dynasties, together with a Serbian flag. Given that it was Miloš who ordered Karađorđe’s death and that Obrenovićs were violently deposed in 1903 to be replaced by Karađorđevićs, the monument was met with resistance.
Although commissioned in 1904 by Marko Stojanović, and paid from personal funds of murdered Aleksandar Obrenović, this poignant monument, designed by Đorđe Jovanović, was only briefly installed in 1928 in front of “Srpska kruna” hotel (present day City Library). It was removed after a yeat and has since been kept inside the Serbian Patriarch’s palace.
Hercules of Topčider
Roman Verhovsky was a White Russian architect and sculptor who found refuge in Belgrade. Famous for designing several beautiful WWI memorials in Serbia, he also designed a fountain in Topčider showing Hercules choking Hydra. This striking work of art symbolised fight against Bolshevism. Unsurprisingly, it was removed after WWII, however the pool of the fountain remains in Topčider.
Verhovsky emigrated to the USA, where he died at the old age of 87.
Sima Igumanov monument
Another monument that was torn down after WWII was the sculpture depicting one of the greatest Serbian philanthropists, Sima Andrejević Igumanov, which stood on top of Igumanov palace at Terazije. It will be retuned to its fomer place this year and you can read more about Igumanov’s amazing life here.
Monument to the Montenegrin princess Zorka, mother of King Aleksandar I, wife of King Peter I and daughter of King Nikola I of Montenegro, was the first ever monument to a woman in Serbia. It was sculpted by Stamenko Đurđević in 1926 and was located at Kalemegdan until it was removed after WWII. Although there is only one cast left (kept inside Historical Museum of Serbia), but there are no plans as of yet for it to be returned.
Prayer at Kalemegdan
Another monument which used to grace Kalemegdan, “Prayer” by Frano Kršinić was apparently dedicated to the Count Ulrich II of Celje (although some sources imply that there were plans to make another monument to Ulrich II). Ulrich II is one of Belgrade’s unsung heroes and was much deserving of a monument, especially in the times when the historical links between Slovenes and Serbs were celebrated. He descended from a line of powerful Counts of Celje (whose three six-pointed stars are still part of Slovene coat of arms) and was married to Katarina Branković, daughter of the last ruler of Serbia Đurađ Branković and an impressive person in her own right. As de facto regent of Hungary (as well as a ban of Slavonia and a claimant to the crown of Bosnia) he came to Belgrade with King Ladislaus in 1456, right after his rival John Hunyadi managed to defend it from the Ottomans and then died from the plague. Ulrich’s stay in Belgrade was not exactly pleasant: he was murder in a plot organised by John Hunyadi’s son, which brought his powerful dynasty to the end.
The monument to Ulrich II was preserved, although it was moved to Manjež park to make way for the tomb of National Heroes where Ivo Lola Ribar, Moša Pijade, Ivan Milutinović and Đuro Đaković are interred. “Prayer” is currently kept at the National Museum and there are no plans that I know of for it to be presented to public again.
The Fallen Star
Given that Slobodan Milošević and his SPS party were de facto continuation of SFR Yugoslavia’s ruling League of Communists of Serbia. This meant that significant parts of anti-Milošević sentiment were also directed towards symbols of the past era, especially from the side of the nationalist, royalist SPO (Serbian Renewal Movement) led by Vuk Drašković.
When in 1996 local elections the opposition was set to win majority of votes in many cities, including Belgrade, SPS committed electoral fraud launching Belgrade’s and Serbia’s longest continuous mass protests between November 1996 and February 1997.
Zoran Đinđić, leader of the Democratic Party and future tragic prime minister of Serbia, was eventually became the mayor of Belgrade on February 21, and decided to throw a party and symbolically remove the old communist five-pointed star from the Old Court where the Mayor’s office was located. The star was given to the Museum of Yugoslavia, and the royal golden, two-headed eagle returned to take its place.
This was one of the few memorable removals of physical symbols of the socialist era, apart from the removal of the 4.7m statue of Tito from Užice in 1991, when the city lost “Titovo” from its name.