Leisure and Defence in Mali Lošinj

outlined in black: (former) military property in Mali Lošinj (reconstructed by Antonia Dika in 2008 based on the materials provided by the Croatian Ministry of Defence)

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Former military zone Velopin (Photos by Antonia Dika, 2018)

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Entrance situation of the military zone "Kovčanje", still in use by the Croatian Military (Photo: Antonia Dika, 2007)

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Entrance situation of the campsite ”Poljana”, 2007

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Military and tourist space in Mali Lošinj (Sketch by Antonia Dika, 2018)

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The coexistence of the army, tourists and locals in Mali Lošinj was unagitated and, as many interlocutors say, "normal".

Looking from the perspective of post-war spatial planning, military and tourism spaces of Mali Lošinj are located unusually close to each other. Moreover, they are located unusually close to the urban centre of Mali Lošinj.

Cold War military facilities, similar to modernist tourist compounds, were generally planned as separate territories in the vicinity of the existing cities, and were not placed directly within urban agglomerations. This was in line with new war technologies, but also with the urban planning paradigms of the modernist functional city. However, in Mali Lošinj both military and tourist facilities were built on the remains of old Austro-Hungarian infrastructure. Mali Lošinj is one of few places on the Adriatic coast where tourism began to develop back in the times of Austro-Hungary. Back then the island was a popular destination for elite winter and medical tourism. Between the two world wars there was a period of stagnation; however, after WW2, tourism started to develop even more, not just in Mali Lošinj, but on the entire Adriatic coast, acquiring new, greater dimensions. A large part of the tourism infrastructure was demolished in the bombings towards the end of World War II, and in terms of construction one "had to start from scratch" (in the words of Julijano Sokolić, historian from Lošinj). Nevertheless, the same spaces that had already been designated for tourism and the military, were used for their new developments.

As a result, in Mali Lošinj, at the peak of Yugoslavia's tourism development, but also in the middle of the Cold War, a top-secret military zone (Velopin) was located right next to a popular campsite (Čikat). It was a holiday destination for people who were coming from the very countries the military structures were kept secret from, because in the event of an attack, these were the strongholds that defended "the freedom and territorial integrity of the socialist self-governing and non-aligned Yugoslavia".1

However, the territory had clearly defined borders. Not even the locals knew what was going on behind the barbed wire. But as many of them tell us, they were not even particularly interested in it at that time. Military ships in the Lošinj port were just part of their everydayness – until the war in the 1990s, when the military presence gained new meaning. The level of security and prohibition of access to military zones and facilities varied. While the Velopin military zone was a strictly no-access area to civilians, parts of the Kovčanje barracks would occasionally open for the purpose of events or oath ceremonies featuring locals as performers (children’s choirs, dance groups etc.) and soldiers’ relatives as audience. The institution of the Yugoslav National Army community centre (Dom JNA) had a special status, aiming at bringing together the military and civilian sphere. A very popular restaurant of the JNA Center in Lošinj was a place where officers, soldiers and locals used to gather because “the food was good”, in the words of Antonija Šegota from Susak, a long-time cook in the JNA Center (which Julijano Sokolić independently confirms). It was a venue for weddings, celebrations and dances. According to Mrs. Antonija, the food was also cheaper than in other restaurants (36 dinars per lunch, 28 dinars per supper). In later years, the cinema of the JNA Centre, at a new location, attracted both the locals and the soldiers.

The JNA Center in Mali Lošinj changed locations several times: from the central position in the harbour (today Apoksiomen hotel) to the newly erected building on the opposite coastline (abandoned at the end of the 1980s and since ten years promised to the Blue World Institute for the purposes of a Marine Science Centre), and lastly, it was relocated into the historical core of Mali Lošinj currently hosting the City Library and an open-air theatre.

Post war military facilities in Mali Lošinj were built before the tourist ones, their planning started just after World War II ended. An already existing Austro-Hungarian military complex was expanded, and Tovar barracks was established. In addition, Kovčanje became the main barracks on the island, while Velopin military zone in the Lošinj harbour was used as storage for fuel and armament of battle ships. Missile bunkers were dug into Umpiljak, a hill above the town of Mali Lošinj, and a radio relay station was installed there as well. Apart from the “typical” military installations, residential complexes were built in the town at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s to accommodate the army employees.

The post-war tourism boom began on Lošinj in the mid-1960s, but tourists were present even earlier, mostly in private accommodation. Mali Lošinj Tourist Board was established way back in 19532 indicating the growing significance of tourist industry. On the other hand, problems in the Lošinj shipyard, the largest employer on the island so far, led to bankruptcy in 1966 and caused (once again) a huge exodus of the population. The fish-canning factory closed in 1974 and tourism became the leading economic powerhouse on the island.

Since the very beginning, private accommodation played a major role in the tourism offer of Mali Lošinj, and convenient bank loans were made available for construction of private houses with rooms for tourists. In 1971, out of 6107 tourist beds in the town and the surrounding area, almost half (2920) were in private rooms.3 The Čikat camping site opens in 1962, but the first guests allegedly camped there even in 1955. In 1960 the fence around the Velopin military zone, located in immediate vicinity, was extended in order to protect the existing storage of underwater ammunition from intruding civilians and unite it with the already fenced-off military propulsion storage.4

Although the first post-war hotel construction began in 1953 on the location of the current Helios Hotel restaurant, for the accommodation of the Viennese war invalids (interestingly, eight years after the war, former enemies could take their holidays here), the Bellevue Hotel, “the first genuine hotel”, according to J. Sokolić, was built in 1967, planned and designed by Zdravko Bregovac, even before the road to Mali Lošinj was asphalted in 1968. Later, the old villas were renovated, the Polajna camping site was opened and new hotel construction began on a larger scale. Jadranka Tourist Board, initially founded to take care of the tourist villas destroyed during the war, today still plays an important role in the development of Lošinj’s tourist capacities (even though the ownership structure has greatly changed). Lošinj reached its tourist peak in the post war Yugoslavia in the period from mid-70s to late 1980s. Back then, according to art historian Irena Dlaka from Mali Lošinj, tourists used to camp in their courtyards.

At the same time, the Cold War battleships were moored in the Lošinj harbour next to the first tourist sailing boats and yachts. The marina would open in 1973. The cohabitation of the military, tourists and locals in Mali Lošinj was easy and “normal”, as many of our interviewees say. Hotel terraces and summer dance nights were popular venues for locals, tourists and sometimes even soldiers. In wintertime, hotels would host carnival events as well as high school proms. Many locals speak of Bellevue Hotel as being a “genuine town hotel”. This was where people would meet for coffee and attend New Year parties. Later on, little by little and not immediately with privatisation, hotels became more and more inaccessible to the local population. They became “places of their own” (as J. Sokolić says). At the Čikat peninsula nowadays, the hotels and their beaches and terraces have become restrictive or semi-restrictive zones, available only to those who can afford access (by paying for the use of the beach, the hotel room or the expensive coffee on the hotel terrace). However, the crumbling military zone Velopin, once well-guarded and strictly off-limits, is now open for everyone. (Antonia Dika)

Sources
Interviews held throughout 2018 (Antonia Dika, Anamarija Batista) and 2019 (Anamarija Batista, Goran Škofić) with: Julijano Sokolić, Irena Dlaka, Tatjana Kučić, Zijad Ramić, Antonija Šegota and other (anonymous) residents of Lošinj and Unije

Otočki ljetopis 2, Cres Ilovik Lošinj Srakane Susak Unije, Fond za unapređenje kulturnih djelatnosti općine Cres-Lošinj, Mali Lošinj 1975

Otočki ljetopis 6, Pomorstvo Lošinja i Cresa II, Mali Lošinj 1985

Julijano Sokolić: Povijest turizma na Lošinju, Morus alba, Mali Lošinj 1997

Croatian State Archives Zagreb

  • 1

    Taken from an inscription on the facade of a today collapsed barracks on the island of Lastovo. Original text accompanying a mural: “The vigilant eye of Tito's army preserves the freedom, the territorial integrity of our socialist self-governing and non-aligned Yugoslavia.”

  • 2

    Otočki ljetopis 2, 1975.

  • 3

    Vladimir Marković: Development plan of Mali Lošinj in Otočki ljetopis 2, 1975., p 57 ff. (In June 1970, the United Nations assigned experts to elaborate the development plan for the Upper Adriatic. In cooperation with the Urbanistic Institute in Rijeka, a detailed plan for Mali Lošinj was completed in 1971.)

  • 4

    Croatian State Archives Zagreb, HR-HDA-2021, 153.

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)

If you have photos from times of active use of Dom-JNA (old or new), hotels Bellevue, Helios, Aurora or Vespera, from carnival parties, weddings, dances, shows, oath-taking or from everyday military life in one of Lošinj barracks, please share them with us! Let’s help prevent this part of Mali Lošinj's history from being forgotten. Get in touch with us! :-)