Armistice Day 2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War I –Belgrade has several poignant memorials to those who lost their lives.
Ivan Mestrovic’s “Victor” monument, which commemorates Serbian victories in the Balkan Wars and World War I, came to be one of Belgrade’s most beloved symbols. Photo: Fabian Vendrig
In the Belgrade area there are many monuments commemorating World War I. A lot were damaged during World War II by German occupiers and those that survived fell into disrepair.
The socialist government of the former Yugoslavia did not support marking World War I as it was thought commemorations could undermine the “brotherhood and unity” between the people of the Yugoslav republics.
The Croats, Bosnians and Slovenes were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and thus were conscripted to that army. The Serbs, Macedonians and Montenegrins were fighting on the other side for the Kingdom of Serbia or the Kingdom of Montenegro.
It is estimated that Serbia lost more than 1.1 million inhabitants during the war, including both army and civilian losses. This represented more than 26 per cent of its then total population and 58 per cent of its adult male population.
Armistice Day – the day when the truce was signed on November 11, 1918 – became an official public holiday in Serbia in 2012.
Some World War I monuments occupy prominent locations in the city but most are less well-known and can be found in hidden, quiet places.
The most prominent of Belgrade’s World War I monuments is Pobednik (‘victor’ or ‘winner’). The statue of the ‘victor’ holds a sword and a bird in his hands and stands atop a 14-metre column in the Belgrade Fortress in Kalemegdan park. It was designed by Ivan Mestrovic to commemorate the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913.
Pobednik overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. The Austro-Hungarian Empire stretched across both rivers, and the first fighting of World War I broke out on these river banks on July 28, 1914.
However, Pobednik was not finished until the end of World War I and has since also served to mark the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The plan was to erect the monument on Terazije, the city’s central square, but its current location was agreed after many residents objected to the statue’s nudity. It was finally erected in 1928.