The Brotherhood and Unity Square

Text by Nol Binakaj

The Brotherhood and Unity Square, marks the first intervention of the “Modern Prishtina”, tailoring the “ideological” path for the other interventions that did take place in the city.  Modern Prishtina in fact emerged after 1945, from a state directed, socialist urban development project, when it became the capital of Kosovo province in 1947.

In the year 1945, with the dogma, “We must destroy the old world and build the new one,” groups of volunteers guided by the Communist Party brought down the Ottoman bazaar at the center of Pristina in just three days, making the space for a new urban center to be erected, the construction of the Regional Parliament, the National Theatre, the Municipality, and the Monument to Brotherhood and Unity. In particular for erecting the Brotherhood and Unity Square, the old photos show that, what was once the main east-west axis of the old bazaar [DivanYolu in Turkish, Divanjolli in Albanian, literally the Road to the Imperial Council, linking Constantinople to Rome], was destroyed to make room for this new development.

The intention behind this monument was the creation of a symbol to the Yugoslav concept of ‘Brotherhood and Unity’, an idea which was of particular “ideological” importance to the Yugoslav President Josip Broz-Tito, who as a nation’s leader and spiritual father apparently was a central figure behind the monument’s creation. Its aim was in calming the ethnic tensions between the region’s various ethnic groups, and that was one of Tito’s central challenges for unifying the Federation. This concern was of course present, having in mind that the Albanian majority in Kosovo was discriminated against in social and cultural aspects, being the last ones in the Federation to claim the fundamental human rights. Off course calming these tensions was never achieved as proclaimed, the systematic discrimination and especially the abolition of the Kosovo’s autonomy and apartheid during the 90’ lead to the war for Independence in the year 1999.

The idea for this monument and square designer Midrag Zivkovic, was that each of the obelisk’s three pillars would symbolically represent an ethnicity of the ‘brotherhood of Yugoslavia’ that lived within the region of Prishtina, the Albanians, Montenegrins and Serbs. Three pillars are combined as a one unified structure, to clearly represent the coexistence of all three of the ethnic groups, at the time working and living together in peace and harmony. 

During the Yugoslav era, this monumental complex was an extremely significant cultural site to the citizens of Prishtina. It stood as not only a political symbol representing the Yugoslav principle of Brotherhood & Unity, but it was also one of the central symbols of the city’s new identity, being showcased on different kinds of mediums of that era. In addition, it acted as a meeting point for diverse groups of people from across the city.

The initial planning stage for the monument and square began in 1959 when a design competition was organized to decide on the shape that the complex would take. The competition was won by the proposal submitted by famous Yugoslav designer Miodrag Zivkovic. Construction of the complex was completed in 1961. The monument consisted of an approx. a 20m tall obelisk made of three separate thin pillars which all connect at the top, set in the middle of a large tiled public square. In addition, a long fountain was originally included on the east side of the monument, but this was removed during 1970s redevelopment efforts, and replaced with a footprint of grass. 

The final element included with the original construction of the Brotherhood & Unity memorial complex which is important to mention is a long bronze sculpture series placed in front of the triple pillar tower 10m away to its east side. This set of reduced bronze figures (with angular cubist-like bodies and small heads with minimized features) is meant to be a stylized depiction of eight of Partisan fighters. The unifying idea of this sculpture was that it would be a memorial for the all fallen fighters and victims of the war, no matter what their ethnicity was. The composition of the piece seems to be illustrating cooperation, unity and compassion, with the figures on the outside of the work standing guard while the innermost ones are helping one another. While this element of the memorial complex seems completely different in terms of style and structure compared to the triple pillar tower, it is nevertheless also a sculpture work created by the author himself. While the author is mostly known for his large concrete and metal works, he also created many bronze cast figurative sculptures as well.

Officially named ‘Monument to Heroes of the National Liberation Movement’ or “Monument to the Revolution”, is often referred to in Albanian as “trekëndëshi” (the triangle) or ‘tre rremëshi’ (the three branches). Some consider this structure to have been the first modernist-styled creation in the city of Prishtina.

The patterns of socialist planning and its “ideological” effect of Yugoslav planning in Prishtina were more evident after 1965. At that time the Federal Fund for Underdeveloped Regions in Yugoslavia was created, and having fallen behind the rest of the federation in terms of development, Kosovo managed to gain 40% of the allocated funds, which much of it was invested in Prishtina.

The issue is that the investments didn’t create the inertia for developing the other parts of the city. Most likely due to the paradigm that the “ideology” was based on, through destroying an important strata of the built cultural heritage, a great piece of the narrative of Prishtina was lost, its old Ottoman Bazaar that nowadays is being reminiscing through the remains of religious fragments, the still standing mosques in the proximity.

Of course the city did expand spatially on the other areas, more focusing on the housing projects that were necessary for a city of administrative and educational importance, leaving the center to its modest development scale. 

Like many monuments of the Yugoslav era, the Square is associated as a symbol of the Serbian repression of the 1980s and 1990s in Kosovo, even though these monuments were originally constructed in a much more peaceful and prosperous period of the ex-Yugoslavia.

In the year 1999, after the NATO intervention in Kosovo, the monument suffered attempts to damage it with the explosive. Again in 2010, the local government also attempted to knock the monument down in the name of redevelopment of the area. The plan included an underground parking lot and the erection of a statue of the national hero Adem Jashari, an Albanian War Hero of 1999, but the project failed to be materialized. 

Due to the neglect and aging, the square was in pretty harsh conditions, leading to the reconstruction of it, in a rather unorthodox manner for contemporary planning standards, without proper public consultations, transforming the square without respecting the authenticity in the design sense, but also using improper construction material, through losing the genuine materials and the patina. Nevertheless the Square did not lose in its functionality, remaining an anchor of public life of Prishtina, through the transformation of the spaces based on the new needs, such as the farmers market, new years market, and accommodating some of the entertainment events. 

Based on the story of the Brotherhood and Unity Square, Prishtina has to learn from its past. The future of the city should be built by respecting and valorizing all cultural strata, and not by destroying everything that is old. The new dogma should be to “build the new world, without destroying the old one”, with the emphasizes on the modernism era as one of the most important but endangered cultural assets that the city possesses, with the architectural integrity and authenticity, but also containing social and economical value based on the spatial and functional potential.  Prishtina needs to reassess its historical core, expand it and preserve it for the new generations to come, with the brighter narrative for the city than the one that happened after the Second World War.