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26 Dec 12

Viewing Yugoslavia, From Start to Finish

New Exhibition at the Museum of Yugoslav History, ‘Yugoslavia from the Beginning to the End’, presents many of the historical, ethnological and economic diversities that made up the former state.

Andrej Klemencic
BIRN Belgrade

 “Yugoslavia from the Beginning to the End” is not an exhibition about the country’s long-time leader, Josip Tito, whose mausoleum lies only a few steps up the hill.

Yet the presence of the old strongman is felt. Miniature sculpted portraits in yellow and black, sold at the counter, are the best-selling souvenirs. The small plastic head is perhaps not the most accurate of reproductions, but it’s a hit with the crowds, most of whom are high-school students born long after his death in 1980.

Their observations make up the majority of texts on the “Leave your Comment” board. Aside from them, a feature-length essay hangs there, beside the ever-popular slogan, “Long Live Brotherhood and Unity”, from the Tito era.

A sheet of paper, some 10 metres wide, opposite the comment board, contains a timeline of Yugoslavia’s existence. There are about 20 entries per year from early 1918 to the end of 1991, when the union between the Yugoslav nations formally ceased to exist. All the writing, including the explanations, is in Serbian and English.

The first room, Yugoslavia I.D., is a mixture of old photographs, newspaper clippings and the first videos of Yugoslav political life, including reels of the 1941 anti-Fascist demonstrations and the proclamation of the new Yugoslav constitution in 1945.

On the opposite side is a list of names, royals, artists, philosophers and clergymen who from the mid 1800s into the early 20th century advocated the union of the southern Slavs on the grounds that they essentially formed one nation.

The second room, Peoples of Yugoslavia, is about the Yugoslav politicians who made it into the history books, either by authoring the Yugoslav constitution or organising uprisings against it. Among the interesting artefacts is a textbook for primary school pupils written by King Alexander in the late 1920s, telling children the role Yugoslavia should play in their lives.

The next section is dedicated to various forms of political oppression enforced by the regime of the former Yugoslavia. The documentation includes documentaries about camps for political dissidents and a film about the appalling conditions in prisons for those considered enemies of the regime.

Yugoslavia in the World - The World in Yugoslavia - mostly addresses Tito’s 159 state visits, but also provides some more intimate mementoes, such as the golden sable that Stalin gave Tito in 1944, as well as innocently charming tourist advertisements from before the Second World War.

The next room, Economy and Society, is divided into two sections. The first shows the building of factories and big housing projects, like Novi Beograd, and the other presents commercial brands created between the 1960s and the 1980s, whose visual identity reflected Yugoslavia’s tentative endeavour to combine some elements of a market economy and socialism.

The room that closes the exhibition has artefacts on black, rather than brown, triangles. It shows election posters of nationalist leaders after political pluralism returned to Yugoslavia in the late 1980s and two videos of party leaders indirectly announcing the country’s break-up.

The exhibition is open from 10am to 4pm daily, except Monday. The entrance fee is 200 dinars for adults and 100 dinars for students.

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