SEE Heritage is exceptionally concerned about the authority’s relation towards cultural heritage in the region. The situation in the whole SEE area has been rather alarming; there are many examples that are showing clear neglect and devastation of cultural heritage often described as a step towards space improvement, while it is all about investments in tempting locations.
One of SEE Heritage initiator, Professor Irina Subotic, is explaining in the interview what is happening in Belgrade and how huge and unstoppable these changes are.
– The reconstruction of Savski trg (Sava Square) and the Old Railway Station are coming to an end. The erection of a Stefan Nemanja monument was also announced, as well as the reconstruction of the Old Post Office building. How do you evaluate this project? Was it done in accordance with the requirements of the profession and was it made to preserve the authenticity of that space and those buildings?
It is inconvenient to talk about the general impression while construction works are still in progress. Yet, based on the little published information about future appearance of the Sava Square that we got from media, it could be concluded that it is nothing but another colossal change of our city in the purpose of expanding so-called Belgrade Waterfront zone, in order to have better traffic flow – in which traffic experts absolutely doubt. After the painfully emptied and crripled Trg republike (Republiq Square), our city is going to get another huge space whose basic idea of the square was given by Spanish architects, specializing in the construction of stadiums and probably an arena for fighting bulls. Another ambient unit of the city, suitable for the Old Railway Station, is devastated. There is also a new pharaonic monument of Stefan Nemanja – it is known that the top government and the Russian sculptor, known for numerous statues, including Putin's, are responsible for it. We are witnesses of how the jury for the selection of the author of the monument worked and who was on that jury! Korunović's striking post office building will remain disfigured by post-war, socialist-realist interventions, without the will to return its facade into its original appearance, which all civilized environments are trying to do. Thus, the center of Warsaw was completely reconstructed after the Second World War, and we cannot restore the authentic appearance of one important building. Old splendid trees were cut down, smaller ones were planted. Belgrade's ambience is being consciously disturbed with the intention of fundamentally changing the city and leaving traces only of what marks the current government. Where is the place for professional reasoning? Have the experts been asked at all? Is there an Urban Institute of the City of Belgrade and Institutes for the protection of monuments?
– As announced by the city leaders, it is planned to turn the Old Railway Station into a museum. In your opinion, is that a good idea? What is necessary to take into account when this kind of a building is to be turned into a museum? In this case, according to your knowledge and information available to the public, are these facts being taken into account?
The Old Railway Station is an important cultural monument, one of the most valuable proofs of the early efforts to quickly make Belgrade a European city. We are happy that it has been entirely preserved, and the proposal to house a museum in it is excellent. It is only (publicly) unknown what kind of museum is going to be in it. Again, the ideas published in the media, come from the top, that there should be a new museum institution, dedicated to our Middle Ages, the royal line of the Nemanjić family or something similar. Without any collection? But, in essence, it would be great to have the History Museum of Serbia there: we are proud of our turbulent, rich history, and important museum collections are kept in basements at the moment. The History Museum of Serbia would have something to show and could definitely play an important educational role, especially now when our school system is facing many troubles. Whatever the content of the Old Railway Station building may be, the purpose of it must be determined before any interior works begin: this is the primary premise that the management team should keep in mind. Otherwise, it will be just another nonsense in Belgrade.
– What is your opinion about the conceptual design for the monument of Stefan Nemanja?
What a dreadful question you are asking me! Many wrote, and I wrote as well, that it is an inappropriate idea to make such a retrograde monument of idolization at this moment, dedicated to the person (Stefan Nemanja) who is the founder of our nation, a great person of our history, but not connected to Belgrade. Secondly and even more sensitive issue is the concept of the monument: return to the 19th century, with emptied ideology. It is familiar why and when Prince Mihailo got a magnificent monument, the work of the famous sculpture Enrico Pazzi, the landmark of Belgrade. The conceptual design of Stefan Nemanja's monument - again according to the published pictures - looks terrible: a horrifying height of 24 meters (it was planned as much as 28 meters!), neither a monk nor a monarch, or all together, a burst sphere from which he emerges, with descriptive elements of his success. Ideologically – insignificant, sculpturally – grotesque, aesthetically – hideous, urbanistically – deadly, with its size it makes the whole square meaningless,and especially the Old Railway Station building in front of which the monument will be located.
– You were involved in blocking the construction works of the cable-car project in Belgrade Fortress. The project is currently at a standstill, but in accordance with some officials, one gets the impression that the city government has not given up on it. How much damage has already been done there and what is happening currently?
The greatest damage is in the very idea that the most important monument in Belgrade can be destroyed – outside the law, outside regulations, without necessary projects and without legal permits, despite existing regulations and despite the international recognition that Belgrade Fortress with surroundings should be included in the UNESCO list, related to the Roman Limes. It is completely senseless, irrational and irresponsible, arrogance of ignorant yet powerful people. So far, only innocent trees were cut down, but that is also a crime. Let us hope that the car-cable construction will not happen. The Belgrade Fortress is the most beautiful, the most important historical landmark of this city which made it famous internationally. The fortress has an extraordinary position and fantastic views, there are the remains of a military camp of the Roman Empire northern border, a natural environment, a habitat for many rare migratory birds, and of course a place of many underground passages (which, after all, would not even withstand the construction of the cable-car)…Simply – there are many reasons for hope and belief that the Belgrade citizens will not have to defend Fortress with their bodies from the invasion of authorities: we remind you that almost 20,000 citizens signed a petition to preserve the Belgrade Fortress as it is.
– Are you afraid that at the moment when the attention of the domestic and international professional public, which you managed to interest in this issue, diminishes, the construction of the gondola could continue?
Bearing in mind how houses were demolished in Hercegovačka Street for the so-called Belgrade Waterfront, and how the famous house in Resavska Street, the work of architect Ilkić is being demolished right now – exclusively for private reasons, we have to be careful. We have to observe what is happening and inform international and our own professional public on the slightest sign that something related to cable-car is preparing again. However, we do hope that construction will not take place.
– Apart from specific cases, generally a lot is being built and reconstructed in Belgrade, especially in the city center. The impression is that most of these construction projects do not follow the requirements of the city development and needs of its inhabitants and change certain urban environments and their spirit. What are the other disputable points in Belgrade where, in your opinion, new construction projects disrupt the existing spirit of the city and build against the interests of Belgrade as a whole and contrary to the needs of its inhabitants?
It is unforgivable that the purpose of the Sava’s amphitheater was illegitimately changed, and instead of turning that Sava’s right bank into promenades with cultural and sports facilities, as it was planned before, instead of preserving the broadness of the view from Belgrade Fortress and other parts of the city, now monster-buildings of so-called Belgrade Waterfront are rising, that are aggressively changing the views of the entire city. Belgrade is starting to approach the appearance of impersonal settlements of modern agglomerations. There are many ongoing constructions of inadequate towers like one in the end of Knez Miloša Street, or the whole new neighborhood K2 at the bottom of Belgrade Fortress which is rising in the zone that should be protected. Now begins an even more intense thickening of the city tissue - not only in Block 12 in New Belgrade but also in the city center – Vracar (Neimar is already ruined!). Huge buildings are being built, every inch of not long ago intimate but luxurious gardens full of greenery are being concreted… The spirit of the city is completely changing, and the people of Belgrade in amazement and disbelief, completely stunned… only sporadically raise their voices. I support all civil initiatives, and there are few, like persistent battlers called ‘Let's not drown Belgrade’ or the residents around Toplica's Wreath who jokingly called themselves ‘Pedestrians are not marathoners’ and who with their serious, well-worded arguments, endurance and actions managed to save at least one street from closing and turning into a pedestrian zone, the biggest in the world, which would totally paralised public transport in the city center that does not have underground… This is exactly what Belgrade lacked - when the sewage system was already so successfully implemented or renovated everywhere, that one cannot live from the flood! I hope that the attempts of the residents around Gundulić’s Wreath will be successful in trying to preserve the beautiful tree lines and prevent the introduction of even heavier traffic in these narrow Dorćol streets… There are such civil initiatives in other parts of the city and I am certain that this is the best way to defend neighborhoods against evil called “investor urbanism”. It is impossible not to mention how the core of the city center, right next to the Belgrade Fortress, was destroyed with the construction of an enormous shopping center that occupies four streets (Knez Mihailova, Rajićeva, Uzun Mirkova and Tadeuša Košćuška, which was recently renamed - I can't get used to so many unnecessary changes of street names in Belgrade). I could talk for hours about the sad tissue changes of Belgrade… About Kosutnjak Park, about Avala mountain, but also about the shame called Staro Sajmište - the only Nazi camp in the world that did not worthily mark the pogrom of the Jewish, Serbian, Roma population…
Professor Irina Subotić
Journalist Jelena Bulajić