Olivera Jotsikj-Vera

The family background of Vera Yotsikj is part of the mosaic that testifies to the tumultuous ideological and political upheavals at the time between the two world wars in the Balkans. Her father, Mladen Yotsikj, originally came from Novi Sad, Serbia, but after the Balkan Wars and the retreat of the Turkish population from the territory of Macedonia, he moved to the village Hasanbegovo/Singelikj. Her mother, Nataliya Dzermanilovikj, a teacher in the village, advocated a greater inclusion of girls in education. In this family that bravely faced changes, Vera was born on August 21, 1923, as the second daughter. The eldest sister was Vidosava (Vida), and the youngest, the third one, was Radmila. The family also adopted an orphan, a student of Nataliya’s, Aliya Avidovikj. 

The bond between the two sisters, Vida and Vera, was very strong, and it became even more intense as their education progressed. As the eldest one, Vida went to school in Belgrade, and from there she brought back information on the courses of various youth movements in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Vera, in particular, developed interest in the books Vida brought back from Belgrade, and she started her own education in her birth village as the first and only girl in class. When the world economic recession in the interbellum period reached their region, being forced to sell their house in Singelikj, all the female members of the Yotsikj family moved to an apartment in Skopje. Her father, Mladen, had to take up a job as a day laborer in the tobacco industry, however, because of the gravity of their family situation, he died soon thereafter. 

Like many young people who found themselves in the same predicament, the members of the Yotsikj family started developing interest in revolutionary groups and political movements promoting political and economic change. The brother, Aliya, left for Belgrade, where he studied literature and joined the communist movement. He sent Vera, who was an avid reader, Marxist literature, which helped her recognize her political and activist factorization. In 1941, Vera was already a member of the illegal communist youth in Skopje. After the Bulgarian occupation of the Vardar part of Macedonia, the remainder of the Yotsikj family moved first to Nish, then to Belgrade, and, finally, to Valyevo. Vera joined the Valyevo partisan detachment, while the sisters, Vida and Rada, joined the logistical support of the guerilla fighters, in the rear of the front. 

In the life of Vera, the period between 1942 to 1944 was turbulent and fraught with many illegal activities and multiple changes of the place of living, one of them being moving back to Nish, where, while working as a tobacco factory worker, she organized the female working class youth at the big Nish monopoly. Also, she participated in several military actions in different partisan military formations that were operating in the region south of Serbia. At the beginning of 1944, these partisan formations came down from Kumanovo to the Osogovo Mountains because there was an ever growing need for putting up resistance to the Bulgarian army. On May 20, 1944, at the battle by the village of Stratsin, near Kumano, Vera was injured. The narratives about her life describe how she was carried for three days on an improvised stretcher until they reached the village Sasa, near Makedonska Kamenitsa, where she could receive a medical treatment, however, to no avail, since she succumbed to the injuries. This narrative is deeply entrenched in the contemporary Macedonian poetry through the verses of Atso Shopov, a poet, in his poem “Eyes”, dedicated to the very same Vera Yotsikj. 

After the war, Vera Yotsikj left behind a trail-blazing trajectory and a social network of men and women, fellow fighters, she met on her revolutionary path. As a result of her anti-fascist engagement, on December 20, 1950, she was awarded the Order of the People’s Hero of Yugoslavia. In her honor, many places were dedicated to her memory: a memorial bust in Skopje; a memorial park and a monument in Makedonska Kamenitsa; a bust in Kriva Palanka; and a monument in Nish. Several streets in Skopje are named after her, as well as an elementary school in Skopje and one center for culture and arts in Kriva Palanka. 

Within the last decade, new commemoration policies and attitudes toward the public space in Skopje have spawned the “culture of oblivion”, in particular as regards the little urban recesses connected to the history of women. In the little park in Skopje dedicated to Vera Jotsikj is placed a bust of her, crafted by her sister Vida Jotsikj, a sculptress. The bust is important for several reasons: it distinguishes itself from the other monuments from this period because instead of the military realism, it exudes a poetic sensibility that denotes sisterhood. The area of the memorial park in Skopje has been gradually reduced as a result of new construction policies being in place, the ones geared toward privatization and diminishing of the public space.

Memorial bust and a park dedicated to Olivera Jocikj – Vera. Photograph by Ilija Prokopiev, 2021

A memorial bust and a park dedicated to Vera Yotsikj, Skopje

In the central Skopje district, in Debar Maalo, is located a small park dedicated to Vera Yotsikj. In the park is also a memorial bust, whose author is Vida Yotsikj, a sister of Vera Yotsikj. The park is in the back of the building of the Government of the Republic North Macedonia, next to the Francophone Park. Among the locals it is referred to as “Kaj Zhabarot” (At the Zhabar’s), after the old inn nearby. It is accessible on foot, by bike, by public transportation, or by car. It is also accessible for people with a physical disability.