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Mirrors of Taste and Deep Pockets

13 May 2003 “Saber,” the Serbian police action that lasted for several weeks [after the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic], with arrest warrants issued for numerous people and even the liquidation of certain criminals, opened up a new field for the observation and presentation of the character and deeds of people “on the other side of the law.” As evidence of numerous criminal acts emerged daily, the paradigmatic personalities of the Belgrade underworld also left behind their houses, which now appear for the first time, without the protection of those who built them, as outstanding examples of the architectural and aesthetic chaos in Belgrade at the end of 20th century.

ARKAN’S HOUSE: FORTRESS IN TOPCIDER

On Ljutice Bogdana Street, in an exclusive spot on the Topcider hill, the house of Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic--former president of the Football Club Obilic and commander of the Serbian voluntary guard paramilitary formation--combines the monumentality of sacred buildings and the functionality of the (big) family house. Encircled by a tall stone fence, raised above surrounding buildings and topped with a dominant tower, it bears the stamp and symbolic features of a military fortress.

The house is now at the center of attention due to the arrest of the late Raznatovic's wife Svetlana, and also due to the hunch that it may be confiscated or even destroyed since Raznatovic did not have the proper permit to build such a huge construction. In the peaceful and shady Topcider neighborhood, this three-story house with tower, which was symbolically and architecturally supposed to be one of the more important verticals of Belgrade (along with the Orthodox Cathedral and St. Sava temple), did not fit in with the complete urban picture.

For his family and himself, Arkan wanted to build a house that would in every way embody power, strength, and will, but also the guardian aspect of his character, since it appears that the deceased wanted to see everything from his tower--approaching enemies as well as followers who wanted to salute him. That's why the architect of this building-sculpture linked different building concepts, merging the pagan toughness of untrimmed stone with the peaceful lines and shapes of classic and neo-renaissance architecture.

From the entryway, which symbolizes the entrance to a temple, to the highest points of the tower, this building is an object of longing for progress and the rise toward a clear hierarchy--the entrance is guarded by cherubs, while at the top sits a commander with his sweetheart--a seeming example from the Irish poet Yeats. Vertical communication is also visually emphasized from the outer side with the presence of a glass gutter indicating the location of an elevator as the reflection of newer technological achievements in building.

If we wished to be more open, we would claim that the building, the fortification with the elements of the temple, represents a “mirror of the soul” of the owner and his desire to support his life work with something he considered to be in the glorious knightly tradition of the Serbian Middle Ages.

MAKA’S HOUSE: UNIVERSAL TEMPLE

Another exclusive location on Topcider hill, on Djoke Jovanovica street, interested Zeljko “Maka” Maksimovic, one of the suspected organizers of the murder of police general Bosko Buha. In collaboration with recently deceased Belgrade painter Dragan “Tapi” Malesevic, Maksimovic invested in the building of a place that has provided many stories for daily magazines.

Either because of the absence of the main investor, or because of the desire to build everything in a proper manner, the tenants never moved into this unique building. As things stand now, they never will move in, since the structure is being industriously destroyed by public administration workers. It was concluded that the building, which measures over 700 square meters, violates the proportions listed in the application for building licenses.

In this street of modest family villas, Maka and Tapi engaged themselves in the pioneering job of building a Masonic temple. With the way it looked--apse at the back and topped by a dome with heavy and massive walls, and small windows only on the front side--this building hardly conforms to any normal urban regulations. Workers are having trouble destroying the building, which is reminiscent of a synagogue, mosque, and church combined, because of the sturdy construction.

The concrete panels and massive appearance communicate the idea that the building was erected for people who wanted to emphasize great faith and readiness. Workers who were engaged in the construction have already several times stressed the great Tapi's engagement in the line of architectural solutions and this pure architectural craftwork carries the stamp of this famous hyper-realist.

There is a story that special attention was dedicated to the supporting pillars, which are estimated to be able to support not only a two-story house, but even a tall apartment building. This temple, fortress, or house, whatever it may have been, was built to survive even the strongest earthquake. The building symbolized untouchability and durability with its appearance.

SANDULOVIC’S HOUSE: CASTLE OF DORCOL

The palace complex of Nikola Sandulovic--which in the meantime has changed owners--was erected in a neighborhood not representative of typical locations, but is significant in terms of the characteristic links to the area where one grew up. In the industrial-craftwork zone of Dorcol, in the ambient of packed little home/workshops, the former owner of the famous Terazije food kiosk Banjaluka cevap (later its name was changed to Belgrade cevap) Nikola Sandulovic, one of those arrested in the “Saber” springtime police action, erected a building that everyone in the neighborhood is aware of but that no one wants to talk about.

At the mere mention of his name, people wave their hand and pass by. For its extraordinary nature and paradigm, this building has found a place in the professional literature. In the book by Mileta Prodanovic, Older and more beautiful Belgrade (Stariji i lepsi Beograd, Stubovi kulture, Beograd, 2002, pages 101, 102), a personal and specialist guide of urban Belgrade, the author states that these two palaces overcome the starting style pattern, which he refers to as “new Dedinje architecture.”

“The most significant element of both palaces is the cupolas. One of them is polygonal, the other one has three rounds,” says the author. “These houses are actually materializations of the castles from fairy tales with their numerous terraces decorated with lions made of cast iron. In a world determined by the fairy programs on television, it is just an illusion that these constructions do not fit in with their surroundings. These are not houses, because it is visible from outside that their functionality is suspicious--they are more like sculptures, they are realized out-of-time visions.”

We would add that the vision was that the builder wanted to offer much more in a small area, to merge all known building and architectural shapes into only two constructions. The way different methodologies and building trends were merged speaks about the depth of the wallet. Bound to the idea of his neighborhood, the investor put his funds into colors and shapes, showing that “Dedinje is where I am,” not based on coordinates of a city map.

DUCA’S HOUSE: SERBIAN HOUSE IN ZEMUN

After several days of work by employees of “Beograd put,” police, and firemen, the business-amusement complex on Silerova Street in Zemun, owned by the late Dusan “Duca” Spasojevic, was demolished. In the thus far known legacy of Spasojevic, one of the leaders of the Zemun clan, the only thing remaining is his family house, kitty-corner from the demolished building. But behind its tall wall, the house of Dusan Spasojevic looks none too glamorous or rich.

In contrast to thousands of houses built in the last decade in Belgrade, houses that breathe with kitsch, overcrowded with details and different examples of excessively emphasized decoration, the building of the late Zemun criminal at first sight follows the tradition of the old Serbian house--a model that has its roots in the Byzantine empire and enters the building tradition via the late Ottoman Empire.

The house reminds one of the small number of valuable and preserved examples of 19th-century Belgrade architecture, such as the Palace of Duchess Ljubica, Milos Palace and the Museum of Vuk and Dositej. Some would say that this endower, originating from Medvedja, southern Serbia, wanted to give a little traditional patriarchal coating to his house, but also make it functional and secure.

The one who provided the idea for the house seems to have forgotten about light, building it almost without windows. Where windows were placed, they look more like loopholes. Neighbors who agreed to say something about the building process said that the work was performed thoroughly and that enormous quantities of iron and concrete were used.

Just to show that Dusan Spasojevic thought about everything, a playground for children was built in front of the house as a noble act--malicious persons interpreted it as an attempt to make human shields and to flatter the more base feelings of citizens. It seems as if Spasojevic wanted to use his building accomplishment to become a part of the area and as if he wanted to enrich the ruling Austrian-Hungarian empire architectural inheritance with authentic Serbian elements.

What will happen to the remaining endowment will become clear after the trial of members of criminal organizations.

LEGIJA’S HOUSE: CHARMS OF THE HILL

Not far from Film City, above the Belgrade settlement of Zarkovo, in the area built up by Stankom Corporation, where the streets are mostly named after great Russian writers, yet another person wanted by the police has made his home: Milorad “Legija” Lukovic, former commander of the disbanded Unit for Special Operations (JSO) and one of the suspected organizers of the assassination of Djindjic. Having grown up in the urban blocks of New Belgrade and spent part of his life roaming around war zones, Lukovic probably wanted to avoid the city and its noise by choosing such a location for his house.

The standard family house surrounded by a great wall and equipped with security cameras is currently empty, since the owner is on the run and it is questionable as to whether he will ever visit it again. There is a respectable guard in front of the house, a member of the elite “Gendarmerie” (Zandarmerija) police force. There are no longer any children playing in the playground in front of the house.

The fact that Lukovic chose a standard house with an unhappily arranged postmodern facade makes the statement that the former French Foreign Legion member, paramilitary, policeman, and criminal did not pay great attention to appearance. Used to life in the armed formations he belonged to and in his entrepreneurial capacity, Lukovic preferred functionality and peace over luxury. In contrast to different people of a similar bandit caliber who made a stage show of their appearance in public life, Lukovic stuck to his legionnaire character, which prescribes a permanent presence, but in the shadows.

The house itself, with mostly sharp edges, seems to comply perfectly with the character of the tenant who prefers quality work over form. It is not officially known yet whether this building will be demolished or confiscated, but it is hard to believe that the one who lived in it will ever again enjoy its benefits.

--by Slobodan Georgijev
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© Transitions Online 2014. All rights reserved. ISSN 1214-1615
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