Kozara National Park, one out of four in Bosnia and Herzegovina, sits at the eponymous mountain at the very northwestern part of the country which, if not yet, has to be put on your bucket list. This place is one of those that overwhelms you and meets all of the requirements that every adventurer amongst the travellers has.
National park was declared in 1967. and geographically we find it between the two urban centers, cities of Banja Luka and Prijedor (even though it’s a bit closer to the latter one).
Kozara mountain is the place which comprises the tough history of the region of Potkozarje (wider region of Kozara mountain with its cities) with a memorial center that preserves the culture of remembering with modern time activities such as hiking trails, minor ski resort, special hunting ground, trim trail, climbing site, mountain bike trails, adventure park and decent accommodation for everybody’s need.
Kozara is popular as an aerial spa, given its therapeutic assets for a significant number of health diseases. Many see it as a mountain island defined and surrounded by four rivers: Una, Vrbas, Sava and Sana. A process of declaring one part of Kozara mountain as National Park started immediately in a Post-WWII period. Apart from unique natural beauties, the importance of Kozara raised during WWII and the memory preservation of those events was extremely crucial for the state authorities.
On the other side, the densely populated area of Banja Luka and Prijedor desperately needed a centralised site for outdoor activities which both of these cities lacked. A hill that hardly reaches an elevation of 1000 metres could be hardly taken as mountains in Bosnia, but Kozara keeps that epithet. The highest peak of Kozara Mountain is Lisina which reaches 978 m above sea level.
Colourful asphalt road through coniferous forest in autumn near mountain Kozara.
Commonly known, the Kozara Offensive lasted for a bit over a month in the summer of 1942. Axis alliance forces accompanied with Yugoslav collaborators. Generally speaking, the battle was inscribed in history as an inevitable part of the Partisan resistance movement during WWII in these areas. Yugoslav resistance movement figured as the only one in the territory of the Axis alliance occupied Europe that managed to totally (for a different period of time) establish so called liberated territories. Yugoslav Partisans were heterogeneous groups made of all ethnic and national groups living in Yugoslavia, as well as in Bosnia.
Partisans were inferior compared to Axis forces in terms of logistics and troops, therefore the only remaining options of struggle was guerilla war which heavily relied on tough and harsh terrain of Bosnian geography. Mountain range of Dinaric Alps covers roughly 80% of the Bosnian soil and that was the asset Partisans counted on.
Wider region of Kozara mountain was liberated in the spring of 1942. which forced the Axis forces to deal with the issue more severely. Interestingly, the German-led coalition gathered both Croatian (Ustaše) and Serbian (Chetniks) collaborators, which wasn’t the first nor last time that these forces fought alongside each other against the Partisan units.
Historiography of the post-Yugoslav period tried, and it is still trying to level and equalize the general role of two above-mentioned collaborating forces with Partisan units. That serves as a proof of a certain period where relativization of the past exists in all of the social spheres.
Back in 1942. those 60,000 civilians protected by no more than 3,000 Partisan units, wouldn’t feel likewise concerning equalizing Partisans and fascist collaborators. As of 1942. spring, they spent in relatively safe refuge avoiding the constant danger they were exposed to. Serbs and Jews figured as the most vulnerable groups since they were excommunicated from the constitution of the Independent State of Croatia.
Antifascist units were in a very tough situation and free territory of northwestern Bosnia was shrinking day by day. During the first 10 days, Partisans had certain success while defending their positions, however, they lost the momentum due to tiredness. Tito and HQ managed to escape the possible siege and went towards Grmeč Mountain.
By July 3rd, Offensive actions came to an end, leading to severe human losses. Only 900 out of the initial 3,000 Partisan soldiers survived and in the aftermath of the battle regrouped for future warfare.
Rough estimations are telling that 10,000 peasants and civilians were killed during the Offensive activities, while all others suffered the ordeal of the neighbouring Jasenovac concentration camp, where most of them were exterminated by the end of WWII.
Over the next two decades after the end of WWII Kozara mountain figured as the very important site for the Yugoslav heritage. Yugoslav cinematography produced some of the movies that were recognized worldwide, but generally the movie industry played an important role as the industry within the entire economy. The most notable and supported film producer was Veljko Bulajić, whose first product was the film “Battle of Kozara” released in 1962. The film was the bid of Yugoslavia for the category of “Best Foreign Language Film” in 1963. US Academy Awards, but unfortunately wasn’t considered or shortlisted.
The activities about the movie coincided with the construction of the memorial complex and design of the Dušan Džamonja was selected amongst 49 in total that were submitted.
A unique style Džamonja applied was implemented and built 10 years after, in the summer of 1972. Funding was almost completely done through the donations of ordinary people, but the monument itself was unveiled by the one who was anything but not an ordinary, President Josip Broz Tito.
A monument itself is basically a circular pillar 33 metres tall, made of 20 perpendicular flappers with infrequent crooked lumps whose exterior is covered in layers of shiny stainless steel. Monument itself lies at the heart of Kozara National Park on the highland at the site known as Mrakovica. A memorial wall, placed in the backside of the main monument, bears the names of 9,921 individuals who lost their life during the Kozara Offensive (both soldiers and civilians).
Located just next to Banja Luka, Kozara National Park is a true treasure trove of nature and architecture.
In the present times, Kozara Mountain still holds the epithet of the main site for picnic and outdoor activities. 24 km east from Prijedor, and 56 km western from Banja Luka, the dense woods of Kozara are home to wild boars, wolves, wild cats, deers and rabbits. Opened throughout the year, the National Park offers activities in all of the seasons.
During the winter time a Ski resort in a relative vicinity of the memorial complex is equipped with three ski runs, one for beginners, and two for more experienced skiers. These three ski runs, (900m, 700m, and 200m long) should meet everybody’s requirements. Hiking trails of Kozara Mountain offer a bit for both inexperienced and those more experienced hikers.
Accommodation should be an issue to nobody. Four options from hotels, motels, mountain hut and bungalows stands at your disposal.