Donald Niebyl discusses the origin story and notoriety of his project, Spomenik Database, and the fetishization of Yugoslav-era World War II monuments.

Jan Kempenaers, Balkan bureaucrats, and warm and fuzzy feelings also make an appearance.

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[JINGLE]

PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your host Peter Korchnak.

Once upon a time there was no easy way to locate World War II monuments built in socialist Yugoslavia. Intrepid travelers had to dig out 30-40 year old maps or books in local archives or piece information together from a slew of sparse online sources, and on the ground discover the monuments almost by trial and error. That is, if they knew these monuments existed in the first place.

Then in 2016 along came Spomenik Database, an “educational internet portal” which aims to be “the definitive destination on the internet to not only view photos of the anti-fascist monuments of the former-Yugoslavia, but also…a place to learn about their history, their meaning, their current condition and exactly how to find them.” Each spomenik profile page includes “a compilation of photographs, the translations of their inscriptions” as well as their stories and symbolic messages. Spomenik, of course, is the local word for monument, deriving from the root for memory or remembrance.

Spomenik Database is the brainchild of Donald Niebyl, an American nature scientist of Czech ancestry with no connection to the Balkans. He spoke with me online from Huntsville, Alabama about how Spomenik Database came about…

[01:26]

DONALD NIEBYL: Thankfully, they cast very distinctive shadows in many cases.

PETER KORCHNAK: …about what the project means to him and others…

DONALD NIEBYL: I never would have imagined the sort of the sort of way that people would have reacted to everything.

PETER KORCHNAK: …and about fetishization of these monuments.

DONALD NIEBYL: So you see this, you know, fetishization, or futurism sort of aesthetic being applied to them, not just internationally but also from people within the former Yugoslavia.

PETER KORCHNAK: Jan Kempenaers, Balkan bureaucrats, and warm and fuzzy feelings also make an appearance.

Donald Niebyl quote

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

Spomenik Database, a Project by Donald Niebyl

[02:03]

PETER KORCHNAK: Donald Niebyl, the story of Spomenik Database begins in 2015. How and why did it come about?

[02:09]

DONALD NIEBYL: Back during that time was when the images of Jan Kempenaers first kind of became part of the clickbait zeitgeist of things that would appear in these lists and articles, you know, saying, hey, look at these weird things these weird communists made back in the day. And when you see these photographs that Kempenaers took, you know, I’d never seen anything like that before. Especially something like a World War II monument.

At the time, nothing in the descriptions or the information about them gave you any indication of what exactly you were looking at, what does this mean exactly. And, and looking at these images, you could tell immediately that within their forms, there was huge amounts of symbolic information being communicated to the viewer. It’s right on the tip of your tongue, you can see it a little bit, you can understand it a little bit, but so much was beyond understanding.

[03:08]

PETER KORCHNAK: Jan Kempenaers is a Belgian photographer who photographed some of the big Yugoslav socialist monuments between 2006 and 2009. The following year he started exhibiting the photographs around the world, and the project received a major boon with the publication of his book in 2015. I’ll be featuring Jan and other spomenik documentarians in an upcoming episode of Remembering Yugoslavia.

[03:28]

DONALD NIEBYL: I just have this kind of insatiably curious mind and I just wanted to know as much as I can about these but during that time, I found precious little information available.

So I had some time between jobs, about 2016, early 2016, and I decided I would go over there and try to see them for myself. And so I tried to pinpoint their location which took me many weeks. Basically what I did is I went on Google satellite images and went through the landscape and tried to find the exact coordinates of as many as I could. When I used to work for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, part of my job was finding things that were lost in the landscape. I did a lot of aerial photograph interpretation and finding GPS points in remote areas of landscape. And so that kind of prepared me, I guess, you could say, for finding things lost in the landscape in the Yugoslav region. Thankfully, they cast very distinctive shadows in many cases, so some of them were easier than others.

And then armed with those coordinates, I went over there and hoped it would be as easy as renting a car, plugging in those coordinates into a sat nav, and being led to these locations. And it worked in some cases, didn’t work in others.

Yeah, and so I found them, I photographed them. Because, you know, at that time, there were very few photographs other than the Jan Kempenaers images of most of them, at least ones that were easily searchable from a person with no knowledge of the language or the region.

I talked to dozens of people across the landscape as I traveled, you know, trying to learn about them. I got translations of the inscriptions, I got a sort of histories, you know, symbolic kind of descriptions of what they were trying to convey.

And when I got back, I had this huge pile of data, photographs, of translations. And I thought, why don’t I just make a little corner on the internet so if anyone ever is interested in seeing these or learning about them, they don’t have to go through all the trouble that I went through.

It was never not my intention to inspire people. But in the beginning, I never would have imagined the sort of way that people would have reacted to everything.
Donald Niebyl, Spomenik Database

Just things broken down in a systematic, logical, easy-to-understand way that basically just— I kind of like I fashioned it on maybe like a Wikipedia page, but much more specific and tailored, that would be focused on all of the things like whether it be, you know, the symbolism, the inscriptions, condition, you know. I basically wanted to like break down the life history of each of these sites in a way that I really hadn’t seen anywhere before and in a way that only seemed logical to me.

You know, a lot of the resources I’d found before, there was, it was information locked away in huge books, or in very, you know, in research papers that you have to pay for. I just wanted to kind of gather things in a clear, concise way that brought a lot of disparate places and topics and sites in one place so if you wanted to learn about this site, you could just click here, click here, and find and find the information you wanted without having to wade through a 1,000 sources.

As I started to assemble it and made it available, I immediately got people from around the world messaging me saying, “This is incredible, you need to do more, this is— I’ve never seen anything like this.” And so I just got people internationally and people from the former Yugoslav region saying such things. So it was just immense encouragement. And so I just kept on, and that’s how I got to where I am now.

[07:30]

PETER KORCHNAK: What started as a pioneering effort in the little corner of the internet has, over the years, become a fairly authoritative resource on the monuments it lists. I, and many others, use it while traveling through the region. On the other hand, there are 12 to 14 thousand socialist-era World War II monuments and memorials on the territory of former Yugoslavia. I often came across monuments your resource doesn’t contain. So the database is neither comprehensive nor complete. How many monuments and memorials are in the database and how do you choose what to include?

[07:59]

DONALD NIEBYL: I’ve never really like sat down and counted, because, you know, every each particular profile page, I have the main one plus additional ones in the surrounding region. So I would say, maybe all together, maybe somewhere between 200, 300 individual sites, maybe that I’ve written about in some respect.

And as far as mapping, that and then maybe a couple extra 100 in various sites. And I’m always expanding the amount of things that I’m mapping as well, as you may have seen on the map on the website.

And as far as the criteria, it’s a lot of the things that I include, are obviously, first, the most grand and charismatic projects that were built, things like Sutjeska, Kosmaj, so on and so forth that are, you know, these larger than life monuments. And then from there, I try to include works that are historically significant, that mark significant battles or events or massacres. And then from there, artistically sophisticated works that are so unique and innovative in their way of memorializing or conveying visual information that they stand out in a really particular way.

And kind of using these criteria and applying them to as many sites as I can include, as many sites as I can find. Like we said, there are thousands of them, and only so many I can visit in a lifetime so I would love nothing more than to find each and every single one. But I’ve been kind of over the years of working my way towards starting with the hugest, the most visually impressive and over the years, including more and more that in the beginning I maybe wouldn’t have considered.

[10:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: How much time and treasure does Spomenik Database take? You build Spomenik Database, does Spomenik Database build you?

[10:12]

DONALD NIEBYL: It basically consumes the majority of my free time. You know, I work now full time. You know, and when I’m not doing that I’m often you know, just writing and researching…

I can’t even begin to tell you how many thousands of dollars of my own money I’ve spent over the years just— I’ll tell you it’s been a pleasure because it’s been such a life altering experience for me and hopefully the work has been something that’s been helpful to many people.

[10:44]

PETER KORCHNAK: Sounds like motivation enough to keep you going.

[10:47]

DONALD NIEBYL: There’s continually so much new information that comes my way every day. It feels like, how can I stop when there’s so much more that so much more, I could write about or so much more research. Or they’re these people sending me this information on their own accord and their free time, asking me, you need— telling me, “You should write about this, here’s another great site, you should include this, you should come visit this one, I’ll take you, you know.” Seeing artists, seeing seeing academics, seeing photographers reach out to me and say, and thanking me and saying that you led me down a path I never could have imagined. You know, there’s nothing I can say. It’s just humbling.

It was never not my intention to inspire people. But in the beginning, I never would have imagined the sort of way that people would have reacted to everything.

[11:41]

PETER KORCHNAK: Is it ever frustrating to realize or be reminded you’ll never finish? That Spomenik Database will never be completed?

[11:48]

DONALD NIEBYL: It’s not frustrating at all. If anything, it continues to inspire me.

I have people send me images of sites that I’ve never seen before. For as many monuments, as I’ve seen photos and have been to personally, there’s still stuff out there that people find that they share with me that has flown completely under the radar that has maybe has never been photographed in decades.

Or to find authors whose work have been— has been marginalized in the post-Yugoslav era to, you know, have them reach out to me, ones that are still living, and say, please share this, you know, share my work, no one in my country gives me any recognition, and so here, please. And so it feels like I’m doing something meaningful. So why would I stop?

[12:38]

PETER KORCHNAK: You’re pretty active on social media. How does it help your project?

[12:41]

DONALD NIEBYL: Well, I’ve just found it to be— Instagram, for instance, or Facebook or Twitter to be amazing conduits to just to connect to more people. At the end of the day, it’s while obviously, yes, it’s about posting and communicating information and histories and images, I see it more as being able to reach out to people who can themselves provide me with information and perspectives that I never would have been able to consider if not hearing from them. Through each of those outlets, I’ve had people contact me, who like I said earlier, I had— even through Instagram, even through Twitter, the family members of various authors of different sites and shared with me stories and histories.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Here we see a dramatic photo of the #WW2 #memorial #sculpture commemorating the 1943 ‘Battle of Sutjeska” — this was the conflict during which Marshal Tito dramatically escaped the clutches of German Army just as they were closing in on him after surrounding him in the Zelengora Mountains. The facade of the monument has recently been chemically cleaned and now has a bright white appearance, while also having it’s ground renovated after a serious landslide roughly a year ago. This #monument is located in the Valley of Heros (Dolina heroja) within an expansive #spomenik complex at #Sutjeska National #Park (@sutjeska.nacionalnipark) in the village of Tjentište, #BiH… ◾ 📷📷📷 This photo was taken by Denis Da @tausend.sassa… thanks so much! ◾ 🎨🏗️🏛️ This work was created in 1971 by Belgrade #sculptor Miodrag Živković & #engineer Đorđe Zloković. ◾ —————————————– ◾ #design #travelphotography #travel #abstract #concrete #concretearchitecture #architecture #architecturephotography #modernism #modernart #history #arthistory #warmonument #yugoslavia #Bosnia #antifascistmemorial

A post shared by Spomenik Database (@spomenikdatabase) on

For instance, the daughter of Petar Krstić, the Sarajevo sculptor, reached out to me. And the photograph that I had on the profile page that I had written, she messaged me to say, “No, no, no, that photo is a different Petar Krstić.” And she sent me the actual— an actual picture of her father. And she wrote for me a biography, the first biography on the internet that anyone’s ever written about him, and gave that to me to publish on my website. And so yeah, if it wasn’t for Instagram, she never would have found me, I never would have found her and such a connection never would have been made. So for me, it’s less about the actual content, but more about the connections as social media should be.

[14:21]

Donald Niebyl in the Times of Covid

PETER KORCHNAK: You travel to the region at least once a year. In fact, you were in Serbia just before the pandemic. Tell me about that experience.

[14:27]

DONALD NIEBYL: Oh, well, I’d gone there because I’d been been kind of just doing some freelance work with the Regional Cooperation Council, which is an NGO based out of Sarajevo that’s working towards creating a kind of a historical cultural route based around the monuments, and they were doing a big presentation there at the Belgrade tourism fair. And they invited me to come help them out with that.

When I was there we were gonna do an event there and then also go to a subsequent event in Berlin, the big European tourism fair in Berlin, but that got canceled. That was probably in February, late February, early March before things really got serious, let’s say. And I still really wasn’t that kind of bothered about thinking about you know, it was it was kind of a joke, because I’d gone up to Subotica, I remember when I was there, they recorded the first case in Serbia of coronavirus, in Subotica. And I remember someone made a joke about, “Oh, finally, Serbia is relieved that it’s that it’s relevant on the international scene because we finally have our first case of coronavirus.” And I thought that was a quite a quite a dark joke at the time.

But then I’d gone a couple weeks later, it was probably early March at that point. And I rented a car in Belgrade and because I was going to drive to Ljubljana to go to this gallery opening that was gonna happen there. And when I was renting the car, I told them, “Yeah, I’m gonna be going to Slovenia,” and they said, “Oh, you better watch out because Italy just quarantined, like however many million people.” And I didn’t even believe it at first, I’m like, “What are you talking about? That sounds ridiculous.”

But this was like when the news started coming out about Italy, and as soon as I got to Slovenia, Italy— or Slovenia just closed its border to Italy. And I thought to myself, this is going to be a chain reaction. I have to get out of Slovenia before all the borders start closing. And because my plane was going to leave in about a week out of Belgrade. So if I don’t get back— because I was supposed to stay like a week or two in Ljubljana, but that quickly resulted in driving through the night to Belgrade to make sure that when my flight came, I was there and not trapped behind borders. And subsequently, Slovenia and Croatia did close their borders. Two days after my flight left was when Serbia closed or ended all international traffic. I literally just got out of the country and back to the US by the skin of my teeth.

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

Response to Spomenik Database

[17:27]

PETER KORCHNAK: On your research trips, you talk to a lot of locals. How do they see you and your work? What kind of a response do you get?

[17:34]

DONALD NIEBYL: When I talk to someone, and they and I expressed interest in learning about this topic, or wanting to learn about this monument, the first question they’d always ask is, “Where are you from?” And also, what my last name is. And when I told them these things, and it wasn’t what they were expecting, when I just said I was an American with absolutely no connection to the region, they were, they just said stuff like, “Then why are you here like this? It makes no sense that you would be here, why would you come thousands of miles to look at this,” you know, gesturing towards the monument. Many people just seem completely dumbfounded that I would be interested in something like this, which I always thought was quite curious because, you know, these monuments are just so unique and so singular, in so many respects that, like, for me, it was like, how could someone not be interested in something like this?

[18:31]

PETER KORCHNAK: What about negative responses? Criticisms?

[18:34]

DONALD NIEBYL: By all means, yes. I mean, I would say they’re the vast minority of interactions that I have. But yeah, they’re they’re certainly sometimes people that have, you know, make legitimate points. Well, I would say, certainly, some people say, you know, “Who do you think you are, as an American, trying to tell our history, trying to steal our history? Is this cultural appropriation? Are you trying to dictate what my historical legacy is?” And there’s certainly discussions to be had about perspectives like that. They’re not necessarily all perspectives I agree with. There’re certainly some perspectives, I think have more merit than others. But at the same time, I invite discussion from all perspectives, because I think only through discussion are we going to kind of come to any point of clarity on any topic.

I mean, imagine if we lived in a world where only people from a place could study a place.

Monuments being destroyed goes beyond politics, [it] is significant and should be talked about. Monuments are part of history and the destruction of history is always significant.
Donald Niebyl

[19:33]

PETER KORCHNAK: You’ve already alluded to the fact that Spomenik Database has gotten bigger and better thanks to other people’s contributions. I myself have contributed a tidbit to the profile page of the monument at Medeno Polje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So it’s no longer just you building the resource, it’s become almost a crowdsourced effort.

[19:50]

DONALD NIEBYL: I literally have people every day reaching out to me saying, “Here, look at this thing I found, here’s some information I came across.” Social media has been huge for that. Just actually just today I had somebody— I had— For the radio tower at Fruška Gora that was hit by NATO bombs during 1999. I had an author for that I’d found and apparently I was wrong about that, because the son of the author reached out to me and says, “No, no, it was my father, who was the architect of that tower.” And I was quick to correct that entry. And little things like that.

There are legions of people that continually send me new images, things that they found, and information and research that they find or that they even that they do. I have a lot of friends that have gone down this route of research, after seeing some work that I did, or openings of as of yet unexplored research perspectives, and have gone down there. And it is always so much more than I ever could have imagined.

There are people who, they go out to the sites for me, like, they’ll say, like, “Oh, I live near—” Someone will message me and say, they’ll say, “I live near here, do you want me to go out and take some pictures?” And I’ll be like, “Sure, I have not been there yet, I would love for you to do,” and they go out and do that for me. And they send me hundreds of pictures back, so much so that I can’t go through all these pictures. And some people get very excited to be able to be part of something to like kind of, to help me out and and although they go overboard sometimes and send me more information that I could ever go through. I find it amazing.

Donald Niebyl with Miodrag Zivkovic

Donald Niebyl with late Miodrag Živković, author of monuments at Sutjeska, Kadinjaca, Ostra, and others

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

Spomenik Database As a Tool of Memory Work

[21:45]

PETER KORCHNAK: It sounds like Spomenik Database has indeed become something more than a documentation or travel resource. It’s now a tool of memory work. What’s your take on that?

[21:53]

DONALD NIEBYL: I try to be a resource that people can come to if they have questions or information or something they want to share or something that they’re concerned about. I know this from firsthand experience, oftentimes reaching out to agencies or institutions, or whomever in the region rarely gets me a response. There are lots of agencies or institutions or whatnot that I’ve tried to contact to get information from, but the majority of times I hear nothing back. So I can understand [the] frustration people have if they want to contact somebody about this, you know, monumental heritage, but there’s not anyone in their vicinity willing to kind of communicate with them about it.

As a for instance on that: There was a monument in the Belgrade suburb, north of the city, Novi Banovci, that had this monument by Momčilo Kerković. And it had sat there for many, many years, it was built back in the 70s, I think. And about maybe a couple months ago, less than a year ago, the municipality decided they were going to build this kind of box around it, and cover it up and turn it into a new kind of monument. And this girl who lived there, messaged me, and she says, “I reached out to other people, but nobody’s interested in this and so I’m reaching out to you and letting you know that what they’re doing to this monument.” She sent me some pictures, and I shared on my social media, you know, what they’re doing, how they’re altering this monument, which is, which is something that was not previously being talked about. And after I did that, I did see some articles pop up in the media. Whether I had anything to do with that, who knows, maybe they would have talked about it anyway. But there’s certain things like that that with the audience that there is on social media, and the people that follow me, maybe they’ll be interested, maybe someone can talk to someone who can talk to someone can explore this topic in a way that I don’t have an ability to.

[24:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: Here we go, a political dimension, albeit an unintended consequence.

[24:10]

DONALD NIEBYL: I do my best not to project any sort of political agenda because obviously with a resource with a history across many different countries, across many different political spectrums, there are a multitude of ways of viewing and understanding, especially in a region that I’m not from. As a result, I try to distance myself from being political, from trying to take, from trying to tell people this is how they should think about anything because that’s not my job, especially as a foreigner.

At the same time, I want to present information, you know. If there’s a monument that’s being destroyed, that’s significant. Whether or not the political connotations of the act of destroying or the political perspective of the monument itself maybe. Monuments being destroyed in such a fashion, especially anti-fascist monuments, which is something that kind of goes beyond politics, is something significant and something that should be talked about. And while certainly some could argue maybe that’s taking a political stance, I mean, monuments are part of history and the destruction of history is always significant.

[25:10]

PETER KORCHNAK: These monuments now appear in traditional media and especially on social media by the thousands. Most of these simply capture and describe them as weird futuristic shapes, alien structures, bizarre communist creations, what have you, the visual piece, the selfie, without necessarily addressing or taking into account, maybe even caring for the context, the history, the actual meaning. I’m thinking of millennials in bikinis at the Goli Otok prison camp or the jump photos pretty much everywhere.

You’ve probably read or even heard in person the criticism from within the region about that fetishization or objectification of these monuments. What’s your take, as someone who does go deep, someone who does work to inform and educate rather than simply sensationalize?

[25:58]

DONALD NIEBYL: There is a lot to be said about the topic of orientalizing and fetishizing the monuments. And it’s a difficult thing for a lot of people to talk about, because the whole aspect of, you know, the way that these national governments have, when they interface with this historical legacy, often doesn’t provide for kind of the appropriate context for not just the international community, but for the domestic community, to have a way to talk about them. So you see this fetishization, or futurism sort of aesthetic being applied to them, not just internationally but also from people within the former Yugoslavia.

Some of the artists that I see that kind of portray the monuments in these kind of crazy futuristic spaceship perspectives are often people that live right there in, in the former Yugoslav region. And that probably stems from a perspective from a kind of a situation where the national governments don’t tell people how they’re supposed to feel about these monuments in many cases. They don’t, not all of them, obviously, some are very deeply sacred sites to this day. But then there are a whole kind of host of many others that are kind of marginalized in the social sphere, that people have just been left to their imaginations to kind of interpret in and and play with.

[27:29]

PETER KORCHNAK: I’ll be featuring some of the artists Donald is referring to on Remembering Yugoslavia soon as well.

[27:34]

DONALD NIEBYL: You know, some people in the region say, oh, there’s all this international fetishization. Like, well, there’s domestic fetishization of as well. And so, you know, it’s not all just the evil foreigners who are looking at these monuments in very kind of fanciful, exotic ways. It’s people there within the region too, which I think some people some critics who, who kind of finger wag at this concept neglect to realize.

Donald Niebyl at Podgaric

Donald Niebyl at Podgarić, Croatia

I think there’s something to say about, whether it be the selfies or people appreciating the monuments purely for their aesthetic qualities, you know, how much room is there for that? Should there be any room for that? There are lots of perspectives at saying that, you know, “If you are not appreciating this monument from what it is commemorating, for the lives that were lost for the historical segment of history that it memorializes then you are not appreciating these monuments properly.”

It is correct that these are indeed monuments that are memorializing horrific tragedies in many cases, very significant battles in many cases. One thing to note is that their size and distribution isn’t necessarily always reflective of the scale. For instance, all the tragedies in their scale and body count or whatnot were not all memorialized equally. Some were memorialized for purposes that contributed to the political narrative that the government of Yugoslavia wished to perpetuate. And many tragedies were memorialized to significant degrees, while other horrific tragedies from the war got very little fanfare or memorialization. And so they represent history but there’s also a political component to them, which must also be appreciated.

But maybe in this modern age, we should see the selfie as a form of tribute of memorialization and modern memorialization in itself.
Donald Niebyl, Spomenik Database

I can’t remember the name of the project but there was the guy who did a series of photos from the people who took selfies at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. There’s a lot to be to be examined about that. I mean, it’s a curious social phenomenon, how people could feel appropriate enough to take such photos.

Some would say it’s a problem with the people. But another perspective is, is maybe it’s the monument itself is not conveying to people the level of respect that they that they feel like they should have at that space. I mean, it’s a really, it’s a really hard discussion to have, because people take a picture like that because they feel a connection, because they like it, because they find they find something appealing about it. Maybe they know exactly, or maybe they don’t, maybe it’s subconscious.

But maybe in this modern age, we should see the selfie as a form of tribute of memorialization and modern memorialization in itself. I don’t know, I don’t know this, these are all questions for social anthropologists to dissect. But I think there’s something more to it than there should be more to it than just simple outrage, we should be asking why are people doing this?

[31:05]

PETER KORCHNAK: To close on a positive note. Is there a story or experience you’ve had while working on Spomenik Database that has moved you, that was particularly impactful on the personal level?

[31:13]

DONALD NIEBYL: There was a person who contacted me via email one day, and they said that they had a relative they lived in they lived somewhere in the UK, I think at that moment, but they had a relative that had died during World War Two in Sarajevo and they had heard that their name, of the relative, was on the wall at Vraca monument. I just happened to be in Sarajevo at that very moment. And I thought to myself, what are the frickin odds? They gave me the name. And thankfully, the names at that Vraca Monument are in alphabetical order. And I tracked down the name after long amounts of search, it’s not easy looking through all those names. And found the name eventually. My partner does a lot of genealogy, does a lot of like, grave rubbings and so I took– he showed me how to do that. And I did I did a rubbing of the name on the wall, kind of like you see people doing [at] the Vietnam Memorial. And afterwards, I sent it to them. And, and they were very very moved by that. I’m sure most people would do the same thing in the same situation, but it was just I just the mere coincidence of them contacting me and being able to immediately and quickly and so effectively kind of surprise them by saying here you go, was quite, I felt quite fuzzy, warm and fuzzy about doing.

Barring everything else, you know, this is something that I’ve done that is a meaningful thing in my life, in respect to the project.

[BACKGROUND MUSIC]

[33:03]

PETER KORCHNAK: By sheer coincidence, one of my impactful travel stories is from the Vraca monument in Sarajevo as well. I visited the monument one morning last December, the first snow day of winter, with my old college friend Beca, a local who had left Sarajevo when she was 16. Her grandmother had been buried at Vraca, the name inscribed on the wall, but Beca had never been to the monument. We searched and found the correct last name, but something about the dates didn’t seem right to Beca. She later checked with her father and uncle, and found out we were indeed looking at a wrong name. Beca’s grandmother had hyphenated her last name to first include her maiden name. “Progressive women,” Beca said with some pride in her voice.

Some of the monuments in the Spomenik Database appear in a small coffee table book that an indie publisher solicited from Donald out of the blue in 2018. And the blog section of his website features a number of articles about other aspects of socialist Yugoslavia—Tito’s statues, modernist architecture, Sarajevo Olympics structures—written with Donald’s trademark scientific thoroughness. Check it all out at SpomenikDatabase.org.

Limited as it may be in its reach, Spomenik Database has indeed become an authoritative resource on major Yugoslav monuments. I too consult Spomenik Database a great deal. It truly is an ace in my deck of cards I use for my travels and writing. And, because Remembering Yugoslavia too is a personal passion project, I draw a lot of inspiration and energy, if you will, from Donald’s effort.

All that she wants is another spomenik not gone tomorrow…

[OUTRO MUSIC]

[35:00]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening and touring Yugoslav monuments with Donald Niebyl.

Find spomenik photos and other resources mentioned in this episode as well as subscription links in the show notes at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast. And because Remembering Yugoslavia too is a people-driven effort, please leave us a rating or review on your podcast listening app, tell a friend or two, or get in touch to share your story.

Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Additional music by Nosens licensed under Creative Commons. Extra special thanks to Bergin Kulenović.

I am Peter Korchňak.

Bye!