Category Archives: war

From Tjentište and the Valley of Heroes to Foča…..the valley of horrors

IMG_3212The road from Tjentište to Foča

From the battlefield of the Second World War and scene of the bravery of the Yugoslav army as they resisted the onslaught of the Axis powers; I rode up and out of the valley, and followed the course of the Drina River; and onwards towards the town of Foča. 

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Along the Drina river

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BRIDGE

 

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Foča, on the Drina River

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Photograph provided courtesy of the ICTY

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A modern-day spomenik? Memorial to the Foča massacres; victims of utter barbarism

As I rode, on my bike, through this tranquil valley, crossed and re-crossed the river on semi-derelict or new footbridges, and meandered along the quiet bucolic narrow riverside dirt tracks, I was travelling from the Sutjeska battlefield of 1943 through the scene of the horrors of a more recent past.

During the period from April 1992 till January 1994, the madness and true barbarity of the Serbian military and paramilitary forces was unleashed upon the Bosniak population of this valley; especially the women and girls, and to a lesser extent, boys, in a frenzy of ethnic cleansing, by the systematic use of rape.

Bosniak women and girls were held captive, in houses and detention centres, where they were repeatedly visited by Serbian military and police forces, and raped repeatedly. Some of the girls were as young as 14. That the Serbian forces of law and order were actively involved in these atrocities is beyond my comprehension. This was the most shocking example of the use of rape as a weapon of war; as an instrument of ethnic cleansing.

During this period, 13 mosques were destroyed, and virtually every Muslim was forced to flee. Since the war, a few have returned. The latest figures I can find are for 2013, and show that there were approximately 1300 Bosniaks and nearly 17,000 Serbs at that time.

The Dayton Accords, imperfect as they are, at least drew a tortuous line between the warring factions, and allowed a simmering peace to survive, and endure. My anxiety is that the peace is  fragile, and that undercurrents still flow.

It takes the vile and devious motives of the likes of Slobodan Milosevic, to rattle the cages of rabid nationalists, to fabricate divisions and to foment hatred, and to further partisan political ambitions. I truly hope that the healing and reconciliation which so many ordinary people hope and pray for, will be allowed to endure.

It would be naive and ignorant of me to suggest that the former Republic Of Yugoslavia was a harmonious and unified state. It was far from it, and the sense of perceived inequities within Tito’s communist paradise, were amplified upon his demise, by those who harboured grievances.

However, the former unity that fought against the old tyranny of the Axis powers must be found again to fight the new tyranny of discrimination and internecine hatred. I hope it can be found.

 

 

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Tjentište and the Battle of the Sutjeska

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Sutjeska River, Bosnia

In May 1943, during the Second World War, the Battle of Sutjeska took place in this nationally revered place. By all accounts, this was a most extraordinary, but phyrric victory for the Yugoslav Partizans, led by Josp Broz Tito. Axis forces totalling over 120,000 were held for some weeks by a force of a little over 20,000 partizan troops of the Yugoslav National Liberation Army. This stalemate ultimately contributed to enabling the Yugoslav forces to drive the Axis troops out of Eastern Bosnia.

I did not find out till I got home, that Richard Burton played the part of Tito, in the movie Sutjeska , made in 1973. I mean to watch it!

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View from the balcony of the derelict hotel in the Park

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The Hotel Sutjeska; seen better days

It is impossible to imagine what took place here; nearly 80 years ago, and how the sacrifices during those events have become a part of the national psyche. To understand what is taking place in the Balkans today, one has to understand the struggles which have gone on here for hundreds of years; and The Battle Of Sutjeska is one of the most important. I had ridden eastwards from Tebinje, and onto Gacko, still in Republika Srpska, before riding into the Sutjeska gorge, and then into the Sutjeska National Park on my way eastwards.

It was here that I first came across the astonishing  phenomenon of the spomenik

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Tjentište Spomenik; Sutjeska Memorial

When I arrived in early September 2018, work was near completion to repair damage to the site around the massive concrete memorial, which had been erected in 1971. Unfortunately, in February 2018, a massive landslide had occurred which threatened the stability of the site surrounding the monument. I cycled up the muddy track to the west of the memorial and up onto the paved area between the magnificent concrete monoliths. They are truly wonderful! I was in awe of these symbolic and abstract sculptures. 

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Museum

Spomen Dom Museum 

Also in the same valley; The Valley of Heroes, is the museum complex. Made almost entirely of concrete ( including the main doors ) , its design borrows from the classic wooden shingle roof typical of mountain woodland cabins.

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Unfortunately, the Museum was not accessible. Because as this blog shows; the interior is a glorious and graphic depiction of the events being commemorated. 

This site in this beautiful valley, was my introduction to the spomenik(s) of Yugoslavia. The wonderful resource that Donald Niebyl has compiled, together with his beautiful and concise and informative recent book, The Spomenik Database, has opened up to me a fascinating  exploration of these extraordinary memorials; together with their distant and recent historical connections. 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubrovnik, Gruz, and a view of Montenegro

The wonderful thing about travelling by bike is the pace; I notice so much more than if I am in a car….I’m barely off the little ferry from Zaton, arriving in Gruz port, where so much destruction took place in the early 1990’s, and I get my first puncture. Oh well, easily sorted. It gives me the opportunity to visit the market to buy a bit of fresh fruit. And then I bump into Dom!  

DOM - DUBROVNIK

He is standing near these interestingly shabby doors near the market, and I quiz him about the building I can just see through the door if I push it a little bit! ” Come in, and I’ll show you around “, Dom says as he pushes the door wide open, with authority.

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A big, delightfully overgrown garden, with semi-neglected vines, fig-trees, a vegetable patch, and shade from the midday sun lies behind the doors. And surrounded by the garden…a big house, a private chapel and beautifully mysterious, dark and half-revealed interiors, wooden panelled and furnished, of staircases, high ceilings, becomes the absorbing physical setting, for the next two hours, as Dom shows me round, making as he does so,  a valiant attempt to relate the history of the Balkans to me…..dating back to the 8th century…..

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Italianate….is probably not the correct adjective, given the date of all this…and the fact that Italy didn’t exist as we know it until the nineteenth century, but that regional architectural influence is clear all down and up the Dalmatian coast.

Two hours later, I’m a little the wiser, and Dom certainly holds strong and informed views about the course of events over the previous centuries in the Balkans! Just then, as we begin to explore the possibility of letting ourselves into the building itself to explore it a little further, a man lets himself in through the garden gate. Its immediately very evident from the tiny amount of language exchanged between the two men, that I can comprehend, and the body language, that we are not welcome…and Dom’s evident authority as a tour guide suddenly evaporates, as we are summarily ushered out into the busy road. Its been a verdant haven, and an elementary lesson in Balkan politics.

Territories in former Yugoslavia as at 1995

1995 - former Yugoslavia territories

The situation is so dynamic in this part of the world; this is then….how is it now? What’s changed since this map….well, Kosovo and Makedonia are two examples…as I’ll discover as I head over into Republika Srpska, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece over the next month.

Looking south-east to Montenegro 

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Look south to Montenegro

Standing high up and inland from the Old City of Dubrovnik, I can see for miles, into Montenegro, into the magical and mysterious Durmitor mountains, where I’ll be heading. This vantage point was the focus of a vicious armed conflict, and its obvious why.

View of Dubrovnik from The Homeland War Museum

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And all the while, there is a constant reminder of the loss of life…

War Photo Ltd; exhibition. 600 coffins of victims of Srebenica massacre await burial; original photo by Tarik Samarah.

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Well, I’m heading off now, and up and over the mountains to Republika Srpska.

CYCLIST

 

 

The Antiqua-Fraktur Dispute….

My first visit to Berlin, was in July 2016, and thus around 80 years after the beginning of World War 2, and also around 80 years after a crucial stage in a long-running discussion in Germany about the use of a typeface – or perhaps, font, as we now call these designs of letters.

Visiting the now non-operational Templehof Airport, a massive example of Third Reich architecture, was an experience which I truly relished. As part of Albert Speer’s plan for the reconstruction of Berlin during the Nazi era, Ernst Sagebiel was charged with the responsibility of the design of this complex; at the time one of the world’s largest buildings. Sagebiel’s building style; very linear and uncluttered, has been called “ Luftwaffe modern “, alluding to the connections he had with the Luftwaffe.

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One cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of this building, and also the quality of build and detailing. The arc-shaped main building is over 1.2 kilometres in length; the highest number in the elevator is 8, and there are two floors below ground. It is a majestic design, and the build is of such good quality as to seem to represent an eternal and enduring testament to the anticipated durability of the Nazi regime. 80 years after it was built, there are no outward signs of settlement, dereliction or deterioration; and windows and doors are original in many instances. Its precise and un-adorned ( apart from Swastika-stripped Nazi eagles ) two-tone limestone facade shows no structural damage, and the overarching design brief is one of a superbly executed maintenance-free monolith.

 

EAGLE

 

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On plan, the terminal was to represent a winged eagle, and the facade indeed proudly and haughtily presents itself to the city of Berlin, which was to be re-christened as  Welthauptstadt Germania  , Adolf Hitler’s projected name for the new capital for the world. 

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In the basements, however; away from the vast and palatial baggage and departure halls, the VIP lounges and restaurants, with their acres of polished marble floors, are the bomb-shelters. The tour guide talks of ‘ 300 bomb-shelters ‘, safely and solidly constructed of mass concrete, and capable of being closed off with individual steel doors, each with massive lever handles. 

And, this is precisely where my interest in the Antiqua-Fraktur Dispute was stimulated. Decorating the walls of the half-dozen shelters I visited, and photographed by dim light, are contemporary depictions of what seem to be folkloric and light-hearted tales and scenes. The tour guide tells me they were to be for ‘ the enjoyment and entertainment ‘ of the expected occupants, as if the weeks of protective entombment would pass more swiftly surrounded by this uplifting imagery.

 

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For me, unable to read and understand German, and hence the ‘ graffiti ‘ on these walls, and as a child of the ’50’s, the typeface did, however, awake some subliminal connotations of ‘ German-ness ‘. 

I had, as a child read comics in the 1960’s, many of which then still were filled with war stories, and lean and violent ‘ Huns ‘ in helmets, ready to shout ‘ Achtung ‘ and ‘ Schnell ‘ whilst mowing down our brave ‘ Tommies ‘ with their ‘ Mauser ‘ machine guns. Unseen in those strips, but imbibed, was the ever-present ‘ German ‘ typeface, ever thereafter to evoke in me a sense of gothic and Nazi mythicism.

But seeing these images now, I realised I was understanding more about the ‘ brand ‘ of the NSDAP, and its clever packaging of the ‘ völkisch ‘ notions which included a romantic focus on folklore and sentimental patriotic fervour; in its more negative forms later to become overt xenophobia. 

Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf,  “the basic ideas of the National-Socialist movement are populist (völkisch) and the populist (völkisch) ideas are National-Socialist.”  

He saw the advantage of gathering this populist interest in the folklore and history of Germany into the imagery of Nazism, and sense of nationalistic fervour which would be so powerfully harnessed in the years to come.

I left the bomb-shelters and this imagery, intrigued by the profound effect that the simple eighty year-old paintings, and especially the faded, simple arrangement of these few letters had had. In one way, these are incredibly valuable, a sort of time-capsule. 

CEMETERY

Two weeks later, I visited the American Cemetery near Cambridge. And after walking amongst the gravestones, crosses and walking along the path, reading some of the thousands of names inscribed in 1956 upon the monument to the American dead, I walked into the Chapel.

And on a somewhat inclined plaque, against the wall, was a brief but comprehensive description of the War in Europe. And there it was again, that the ‘ Enemy’s ‘  emblematic typeface was evident. 

Every instance of mention of Germany, from the “ Enemy’s military, industrial, and economic system “, or its “ transportation systems and coastal defenses “, to the 

“ German fighters “ and the “ Enemy’s submarines “ , and more, was highlighted by the use of the ‘ German ‘ typeface. In the design of this plaque, clearly there had been a strong association, less than ten years after the end of the war, of the old typeface with Nazism, and the desire to perpetuate this association was very, and surprisingly to me, evident.

PLAQUE

 

But, a dispute? Why?

In most of Europe, both of these ‘ blackletter ‘ typefaces had historically been in common usage, but with the Antiqua typeface displacing the Fraktur version in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, in Germany, both continued to be used into the early 20th century.

So it was, in Germany, that a dispute developed along ideological divides, about which typeface represented ‘ German-ness ‘ . It seems that the dispute began in earnest in the 19th century, when nationalists began stridently to attempt to define cultural values that should be common to all Germans; a classic case of nation state building its sense of identity. 

Some writers suggest that the Antiqua typefaces were seen to be shallow and light by their proponents, in contrast to the darker, denser Fraktur, supposedly representing the German values of depth and sobriety. (1) 

 

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And so, in 1911, on May 4th, the dispute reached a peak, during a vote in the Reichstag. The ‘ Verein für Altschrift ‘ , ( society for old-script ) submitted the proposition to make Antiqua the official German typeface, replacing Fraktur,  which had been the official typeface since 1871 – the date of the Unification of Germany. A long debate followed, and the proposition was very narrowly rejected – by 85-82 votes. And so, from 1911 onwards, Fraktur continued as the official typeface until 1941. 

Fraktur typefaces were hence heavily used early on during the Nazi era, as they continued to be claimed as the true “ German “ script. However, in 1941, the use of Fraktur was banned, its use being increasingly associated with Jewish control of newspapers. Martin Bormann signed an edict banning the so-called Shwabacher Jewish Letters.  ( 2 ) .

Adolf Hitler also expressed his dislike for the Fraktur typeface in a declaration made in the Reichstag in 1934. ( 3) 

“ Your alleged Gothic internalisation does not fit well in this age of steel and iron, glass and concrete, of womanly beauty and manly strength, of head raised high and intention defiant … In a hundred years, our language will be the European language. The nations of the east, the north and the west will, to communicate with us, learn our language. The prerequisite for this: The script called Gothic is replaced by the script we have called Latin so far ..” 

Hilter referred to Antiqua as ‘ Latin ‘ , referring to its origins in Roman inscriptions.

But of course, 1945, the end of the war,  and the de-Nazification of Germany changed everything….

But one still sees the Fraktur typeface, on labels on beer bottles, on hotel signs, on pub signs, all over the world, as well as in Germany, and it certainly continues to convey the notion of ‘ German-ness ‘ .

And the typeface in the bomb-shelters under the Templehof Airport? Looks like Antiqua to me…..but I may be wrong!

 

 

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiqua–Fraktur_dispute

    2.    Facsimile of Bormann’s Memorandum (in German)
The memorandum itself is typed in Antiqua, but the NSDAP letterhead is printed in Fraktur.
“For general attention, on behalf of the Führer, I make the following announcement:
It is wrong to regard or to describe the so-called Gothic script as a German script. In reality, the so-called Gothic script consists of Schwabach Jew letters. Just as they later took control of the newspapers, upon the introduction of printing the Jews residing in Germany took control of the printing presses and thus in Germany the Schwabach Jew letters were forcefully introduced.
Today the Führer, talking with Herr Reichsleiter Amann and Herr Book Publisher Adolf Müller, has decided that in the future the Antiqua script is to be described as normal script. All printed materials are to be gradually converted to this normal script. As soon as is feasible in terms of textbooks, only the normal script will be taught in village and state schools.
The use of the Schwabach Jew letters by officials will in future cease; appointment certifications for functionaries, street signs, and so forth will in future be produced only in normal script.
On behalf of the Führer, Herr Reichsleiter Amann will in future convert those newspapers and periodicals that already have foreign distribution, or whose foreign distribution is desired, to normal script”.

    3. from Völkischer Beobachter Issue 250, Sept. 7, 1934.

 

 

 

 

A week in Ukraine is a long time – Part 2

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that there is a war going on in the south eastern corner of Ukraine. There are at least two sides to the story, but one thing is clear; Russian and Ukrainian mothers and fathers are losing their children there.

I stopped with my Ukrainian friends for an evening meal in a roadside restaurant. We were there with the family; young children, parents and grandparents. As we waited for the food to be served, it was obvious a party was just about to kick off!  There were some very well turned-out young teenagers – quite clearly enjoying precisely the same exciting kind of end-of-term celebration with friends, that my own son had enjoyed about four years ago.

What was different was that teachers AND parents were there too! After a bit of sign language, translation and stilting English – and even less Ukrainian, this group were happy to pose in the back up the pick-up!

I’m struck by the sheer joy and optimism in the young faces, looking at them now. I quite like the black and white iteration of this image, because, apart from the clothes, the essence of youthful optimism and joy, is timeless, and will have been mirrored on faces of countless thousands of teenagers as they move onto the next stages in their lives – Russian and Ukrainian alike.  

I wish this group of young people all good wishes and hope for their futures, and thank them here for letting me take and publish their photographs.

Mobilisation poster

School leavers party

 

Mobilisation

Mobilisation

Immediately opposite the roadside restaurant, held loftily above the road level, was a large advertising poster. Even with my rudimentary grasp of the Cyrilic alphabet, and command of Ukrainian, I can get the message.

There’s a patriotic duty to  mobilise and fight the enemy, for the things we hold dear. This certainly wasn’t the only recruiting poster I saw, nor the only call to arms and for support to those fighting on the front; about 150 kilometres distant.

I was struck by the contrast between the two scenes – and am troubled by the seeming inevitability that some of those bright, young, hopeful and intelligent young men and women, will be drawn into the conflict and will lose all their youthful vitality and ambitions in the brutalising conflict only a few kilometres away. And also possibly their lives.