Built between 1959 and 1965, the Partisan Necropolis in Mostar is a memorial cemetery park dedicated to those who died fighting as Yugoslav Partisans against the Independent State of Croatia – a puppet state of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in WWII.
It was built and designed by renowned architect Bogdan Bogdanovic and is listed as a National Monument of Bosnia & Hercegovina. It is his most renowned and prominent design, a hillside landscape explicitly conceived as a “city of the dead” facing the “city of the living” to remind Mostar of the sacrifices made. When first completed, it was labelled as one of the crown jewels of Mostar.
Today not even the local residents visit it, claiming it’s overrun with drug takers and an eye sore. Many residents and politicians would prefer Necropolis to disappear – claiming it is a communist relic from the past and not part of ‘their history’. In the past few decades, neo-fascists have been vandalising and attacking the Partisan Necropolis site and leaving swastikas and symbols of Ustaša – the Croatian Nazi puppet state on its walls and gate.
The most recent full-scale attack on the Necropolis was in June 2022 when around 700 of the stone flowers that bore the names of the anti-fascist fighters had been smashed into pieces overnight. Like the divided city of Mostar itself – the Necropolis divides opinion and the site has now become a bitter ideological battleground at a time when fascism and far-right revisionism are on the increase across the world.
Sead Đulić, a theatre director and head of the National Association of Anti-Fascists, argues the necropolis is more than a cemetery: “This is our Statue of Liberty, our triumphal arch, our Taj Mahal. It is a celebration of life and Mostar. It was built as a city of the dead mirroring the city of the living for a city that lost so much.” The Croatian Catholic church disagrees, claiming it’s a communist relic and alleges that the land where the partisan cemetery sits was wrongly taken from them in the late 1960s.
The mayor of Mostar, Mario Kordić, agrees and says there are no human remains at the site and refutes the claim that the attacks were organised by local fascist groups and instead blames the vandalism on local children. Local police said there were no witnesses to any of the attacks so they can’t investigate – some claim the police inaction is part of the problem and evidence of wider political forces at play.
Marina Mimoza, a local artist, cherishes the site and wants to separate it from politics. She views the memorial cemetery simply as one of the country’s greatest works of land art. As part of her installation, she lights up the destroyed site at night with candles. She says: “I always view this place outside of a political context. I wanted to do something simple and spontaneous with light – to remind the people of Mostar of the beauty of this place before it is totally destroyed.”
This documentary will tell the story of the Partisan Necropolis – its history, design, its cultural heritage and legacy and most importantly, its fight for survival. It will feature exclusive unseen archive material (including Bogdan Bogdanovic’s original sketches and photography) and archival photography from relatives. It will be narrated with exclusive interviews with the key players in the story – those against the Necropolis and those fighting to save it.
The aim of this documentary is to shine a new light of attention, hope and urgency to save one of Bosnia and Hercegovina’s most unique cultural and architectural treasures.
Film in progress – October 2023