Dan mladosti (Youth Day or Day of Youth) was one of the biggest holidays in socialist Yugoslavia. It continues to be commemorated today.
Table of Contents
- “One Day in Kumrovec”: Remembering Yugoslavia Podcast Episode #73
- Dan Mladosti in Socialist Yugoslavia
- Dan Mladosti After Yugoslavia
“One Day in Kumrovec”: Remembering Yugoslavia Podcast Episode #73
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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your emcee Peter Korchnak.
Two events top the calendar of Yugoslavia’s memory. The first is the commemoration of Yugoslavia’s founding, the former Dan republike, Day of the Republic, in Jajce, on the 29th of November. The 76th anniversary of Dan Republike anchored my first Remembering Yugoslavia trip to the region in November 2019. That story is in Episode 19, “Happy Birthday, Yugoslavia!”
Last year I finally made it to the other defunct Yugoslav holiday commemoration event. And that’s our episode today.
But before we venture behind the mountains, as always I first want to acknowledge new supporters of Remembering Yugoslavia. Gracias, Leonor, for your contribution.
If you’re anything like Leonor, you listen to the show not only to learn a thing or two about the former country but also to be a part of something, a community of people who appreciate and honor Yugoslavia’s memory. So join Leonor and many other fellow travelers and contribute to Remembering Yugoslavia’s future. With your contribution, you’ll not only get to support your favorite podcast (and me in making it) but also get access to the extended version of this episode, as well as all other past extended and bonus episodes. Visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate or follow the link in your podcast listening app and contribute today.
PETER KORCHNAK: With the pandemic effectively over and me in the region again last year, I centered my travels around that other major Yugoslav holiday.
The annual celebration of the Day of Youth takes place on the Saturday nearest to the actual date, May 25th, in Kumrovec, a village in the region of Croatian Zagorje where Josip Broz Tito was born.
In socialist Yugoslavia, the 25th of May was Tito’s unofficial birthday. His actual birthday was the 7th but on the 25th of May 1944, he had escaped the attack by Nazi Germany at Drvar whereupon he felt as though he had been reborn and so his birthday was celebrated on that day. The modest guy that he was, for his 65th birthday, in 1957, Tito changed it to the holiday honoring young people, the country’s future.
Two major events marked the occasion back then. Štafeta mladosti, Youth Relay, featured batons which tens (and in some years hundreds) of thousands of young runners carried around the country in a network of mass relay races. On the actual Day of Youth, one baton was delivered to the man himself at a slet, a mass games ceremony held at the Yugoslav People’s Army Stadium in Belgrade.
Tito’s Relay always made a stop at his birthplace; in Youth Day’s first year, in 1957, the Relay, now renamed the Youth Relay, even started in Kumrovec. The baton’s first carrier was another Broz, 24-year old Vilim Broz, flanked by Josipa Broz and Josipa Štefan. As all batons, this one bore within it a message to Tito from the people. His Kumrovec compatriots informed him the village was progressing, including with the construction of a school and a railway. More than 15,000 people attended the event in spite of rain.
The Day of Youth was celebrated until 1987, when it was the first all-Yugoslav holiday to be discarded as the country began to disintegrate.
After a 14-year hiatus, the Day of Youth has been commemorated in Kumrovec again since 2003, with a break for the pandemic. The main organizers of the commemoration are the Association of Josip Broz Tito Societies and the Association of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists of Croatia.
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: We are against the return to the dark time of our history and we are trying to be a part of a civilized and modern world. We are considered in own country as being criminal or criminal organization.
PETER KORCHNAK: Jovan Vejnović is chair of the Association of Josip Broz Tito Societies, an umbrella organization of 30 plus local organizations, with some 5,000 members all over Croatia, dedicated to the memory and achievements of Yugoslavia’s lifelong president. In the Yugoslav times, Vejnović worked at embassies across North Africa and he was also Croatia’s ambassador to Libya from 2005 to 2009. I spoke with him at his office in central Zagreb with street and neighboring bar noise to go with it.
Political anthropologist Larisa Kurtović, has written that, “These groups invest in celebrations, anniversaries, and feasts precisely because they understand that politics is not only about ideology but also about ordinary human experiences and forms of belonging that can be formed out of it.”
The event is nowadays billed as the Day of Youth and Joy.
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: It is linked to the birthday of Tito. But we are not celebrating the person of Tito, the personality of Tito. We are trying to put forward some ideas which was [sic] born during Second World War and during Yugoslavia. We are interested more in values than person, personality of Tito. We are trying now to to put forward the ideas developed during this time, you know, so the values are more important for us, first of all because of the fact that the values are attacked now. I’m talking about the rights of minorities, right[s] of youth, right of disabled person[s], whatever. And unfortunately, we also we are in a position that we have to struggle against the neofascist ideas, which are more and more present, not only in Croatia, but also all over the Europe.
We are trying to put it to be some kind of regional gathering in this part of Europe.
PETER KORCHNAK: The 2022 Day of Youth and Joy got rescheduled just a few days prior to the original date. In the ensuing logistical scramble, I got stuck with a 6-person rustic room at Villa Zelenjak-Ventek, just a few kilometers before the village proper. There was a bear skin rug on the floor between a couple of antique loveseats, and I had a pick of queen beds in the loft beneath exposed beams. The jovial receptionist slash waiter sympathized with me but all other rooms were booked with travelers attending next day’s event.
When he later brought me an early dinner, he said, “Are you going to get a Tito t-shirt tomorrow?”
“I’m not,” I said. “I’m just going to take photos of people wearing them.”
“I’m not a communist.” I laughed.
“Well, I’m not a communist either and I have one at home,” he said and laughed too. “I wear it to bed, for good dreams.”
I razzed him a bit and dared him to wear his Tito tee to work tomorrow.
“I can’t, some people would get upset,” he said, rolling his eyes. Plus he had to wear his uniform, black slacks and white shirt. He sighed. “People just don’t appreciate history, our cultural heritage.”
PETER KORCHNAK: Were it not for Josip Broz having been born there, Kumrovec would be one of many tiny villages in Zagorje, the region literally behind the mountains, as its Croatian name connotes, in the northern part of today’s Croatia, bordering Slovenia. With its picturesque rolling hills, some topped with castles, thermal springs, vineyards, spas, museums, as well as a tradition of comfort food, it’s been described as an an “undiscovered region” with a “fairy tale landscape designed for rural retreats and casual road trips.”
Not every tourism website or blog introducing Hrvatsko Zagorje will mention the self-proclaimed “best known village in the world,” located just 60 kilometers northwest from Zagreb.
Josip Broz was born here in Kumrovec in 1892, most likely on May 7th, the seventh of 15 children of Franjo Broz and Marija, nee Javeršek, a Slovene. The future president attended a four-year elementary school here and left the village at the age of 15 to pursue an illustrious career in locksmithing and revolution.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: During Yugoslavia, it was also the political place. It was one of the main landmarks of socialist ideology, and the cradle of the socialist ideology, so to say, which was at the same time, the cradle of the person who was called the greatest son of Yugoslav nations and nationalities, and that is Josip Broz Tito.
PETER KORCHNAK: Nevena Škrbić Alempijević is a professor at the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Zagreb. She has extensively studied Kumrovec as a place of memory.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: The village, which at the beginning of the 20th century had around 250 inhabitants and at the half of the century around 300, was really transformed into a sign of socialist progress.
And the official narrative stated that the place was only one example of the huge transformation that affected Yugoslavia after the Second World War.
PETER KORCHNAK: Elsewhere, Škrbić Alempijević has written that the main goal was to “restructure the place and its surroundings in accordance with the socialist politics of remembering, which revolved around the heroism of the National Liberation War, the brotherhood and unity of the Yugoslav peoples—and the cult of Tito.”
Tito stood, or perhaps placed himself, at the center of Yugoslavia’s political mythology and he was a personification of the country itself. Tito was Yugoslavia, Tito’s body was Yugoslavia’s, and so where he was born was even more essential to its myth than Jajce was.
It took some work to transform a backwater village into a paragon of progress.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: This whole transformation was of course, conducted through the building of infrastructure. So it started with the erection of the monument done by great Croatian slash Yugoslav sculptor Anton Augustinčić.
PETER KORCHNAK: Augustinčić was the second greatest sculptor to come out of what’s now Croatia. He was embedded with the Partisans in Jajce when he made first a bust, then the full-size statue of the resistance leader. Tito is depicted in a uniform beneath a long military trenchcoat blown open in a gust of wind, mid-stride with his arms behind his back and his head hung low in contemplation. This is Tito as both a military and thought leader, both a Marshal and a statesman.
The Croatian-Yugoslav writer Miroslav Krleža described the statue as “an almost melancholic silhouette…not modeled in a victorious fashion…” but rather as “a man with his head bowed down as the the result of continual worries, deep in thoughts.”
Tito liked the piece and after the war ordered it cast in bronze. The first copy, made in Zagreb in 1948, was placed next to Tito’s birth home in Kumrovec.
Some 20 copies were made in the ensuing years, and a handful remain: in Dallas, Texas (in a private collection), in Kranj, Podgorica, Skopje, Augustinčić’s gallery in Klanjec, the sculptor’s home village near Kumrovec, plus two a piece in Belgrade and Sarajevo. The statue was also reproduced in various sizes and placed in factories, schools, barracks, museums, and other less public spots. The biggest exception is a six-meter-tall version from 1977, Tito’s 85th birthday, that still overlooks the central square in Velenje, formerly Titovo (or Tito’s) Velenje.
The original statue’s location on a small plaza next to Tito’s birth house made it so, that, quote, “all paths through Kumrovec led to Tito’s monument.”
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: And very soon after that, the birth house was transformed into a museum.
PETER KORCHNAK: The Memorial Museum of Marshal Tito was opened in 1953. The idea was to transform, quote “the cradle in which the greatest son of Yugoslav nations and nationalities was rocked” into a showcase of socialist progress and a focal point of nation-building strategies.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: An ethnologist was in charge of this transformation, Marijana Gušić, who decided to build this house around two main axes. One axe [sic] was to show the idealized imagery of a setting in which Josip Broz Tito was born. And of course, in that part, the cradle of this greatest son was the central topos.
PETER KORCHNAK: Gušić went about locating the actual cradle in which Tito had been rocked. Traditionally in Zagorje, when an object, like a cradle, was no longer used, it was given to neighbors who did need it. So it’s possible the Broz family cradle was given away after the last child was done with it. Nevertheless, Gušić claimed, with relative certainty, that she had found the cradle.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: Of course, this relativity is not shown in the in the exhibition in any way. So when you visit the museum, and you can still do it, this is the cradle. There is no doubt this is the cradle in which Josip Broz Tito was rocked.
PETER KORCHNAK: The cradle is in the right side of the house as you enter it, in the part of the exhibit featuring the Broz family residence as it may have been at the end of the 19th century.
An article in Narodni list in 1955 described the scene thusly: “By the stove there is a pleasant corner—the mother’s place. There is a spinning wheel, a chair and a cradle. The little child was to be near his mother. The cradle is real, from the President’s childhood.”
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: And in the second part of the of the house, she decided to show Josip Broz Tito’s success story. So the way he led the antifascist fight and his building of new Yugoslav nation.
PETER KORCHNAK: While the right wing of the house was mythological, the left side was ideological. The exhibits walked the visitor through Tito’s life, his education, his revolutionary activities, and the leadership of the antifascist struggle and later of Yugoslavia.
As Gušić herself put it, the museum invited visitors to witness, quote, “the way barefoot boys of Zagorje found their path into the world, leaving their poor homes behind, fled from their destitute village, carrying rebellion in their chests, as well as determination to attain a happier future for new generations with their blisters.” Furthermore, the museum showed, quote, “the way in which one of those fledglings has succeeded in getting to the forefront of the world battle for peace [and] for the future of humanity…”
Gušić became the Museum’s director in 1954, on the directive of Tito himself, who liked what she had done with the place.
Tito’s house was the first and most important element of a bigger ethnographic open-air museum in central Kumrovec. From the 1950s to the 1970s, Gušić and her team restored or reconstructed some 40 residential, commercial, and ancillary buildings to depict village life in the region in the late 19th, early 20th century. This skanzen was former Yugoslavia’s first and now Croatia’s only open-air museum; it remains on the country’s cultural heritage list.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: Other infrastructural projects were also very, very important, like huge political school, a congress hall called Spomen Dom, and then a huge elementary school building—
PETER KORCHNAK: —which was three times the size of the local student body… and a focal point of the annual Day of Youth celebration.
Other additions included a steel rolling mill, apartments, new traffic infrastructure, as well as a number of monuments dedicated to Partisans and other Yugoslav greats.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: So we had all this infrastructure that was supposed to support the idea that Kumrovec becomes one of the central points in the socialist ideology.
PETER KORCHNAK: At the same time some things were built, others were removed.
Inside the house, the holy corner, a sort of a house altar with a cross, was removed. A barn the Broz family owned that stood on the property outside the house was deemed too big for a supposedly poor peasant family. And the Roman Catholic church of Saint Rocco on top of a hill above Tito’s residence, so it was torn down in 1964.
The village that was turned into a place of memory and ideology also essentially became a tourist destination.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: All of us who grew up during the socialist times had to visit Kumrovec to watch Partisan movies in the buildings there, to visit his birth house, etcetera. So it was also used as a place to convey the memory, to bring up the youth, which was adapted to the system that was in power at that moment.
People visited individually of course, but very many groups came in an organized way, through schools, through various syndicates, organizations, etcetera.
PETER KORCHNAK: Kumrovec was, according to a period guidebook, a “favorite excursion destination for Yugoslavs and many guests from abroad.”
People went there mostly on day trips, by car, public transit including regular bus and train lines, trips organized from their schools or workplaces, and, in the case of young people, hikes as well. The 10-year old protagonist of the 1991 film Tito i ja (Tito and I) goes to meet the man in Kumrovec on one such school hike.
Škrbić Alempijević and Petra Kelemen have written that visitors not only learned about Tito, they communed and communicated with him in a way, as notes in the visitor logbook testify. Visits to the village were educational, nostalgic, and an escape from the everyday. Visitors brought the museum made by the political and cultural authorities to life and they made it into their own. Children and youth who came on compulsory school excursions played a particularly important role, indoctrinated as they were on these visits and symbolically as they extended Tito’s life and message into the future.
The article, “In May the Valley Is Green in the Most Beautiful Way,” published in Slobodna Dalmacija in 1965, highlighted Tito’s birthday as the best time to visit Kumrovec. Visitors would then be “relieved of their worries, burdened only by beauty” in this “idyllic corner of Hrvatsko Zagorje” since “here is where the spark of our one universal idea was generated.”
Tito came too, quite often in fact. His visits served to authorize and reaffirm the place as authentic and important for all Yugoslavs. His visits were widely reported in the media, showing him strolling along the paths or in the surrounding nature, meeting local residents as their equal, greeting them or sitting with them, even bringing the cattle back from pasture. In 1974 he gifted the local hunters association celebrating its 30th anniversary a number of his trophies, including a leopard.
The locals had mixed feelings about it all.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: It is such a shock, a culture shock in a way to have this relatively calm, quiet village set at the backwoods of Zagorje, which explodes at a certain time. But unlike nowadays, when you still have these celebrations of the Day of Youth, constant visit[s] to Kumrovec made the celebrations of Tito’s achievements something that had an impact of their everyday life constantly, not only during the Day of Youth.
So they were in a way used to all these, you know, rivers, so people coming to their place. There is no uniform, monolith[ic] attitude to it, but in some kind of more general sense what people, local people told us that in a way, they were definitely proud of this legacy. Tito was their son in a way and they very often showed closeness to it.
And this was actually one of the mechanisms of the state apparatus as well because the villagers, people from Kumrovec were used as synonyms for the whole nation. So closeness of Tito with people from Kumrovec was used as an epitome of his closeness with the whole nation.
But of course, as in any tourist destination, people also are quite irritated with all these people coming and bothering them in their everyday life. And of course, there were some political pressures as well. For instance, villagers protested during the organization of this open-air museum, because very many houses, traditional rural houses in the center of the village were bought from the villagers. And in that way, we, in a way, witnessed some kind of gentrification of this village because this whole center was emptied of people. They were moved from the core of their village. They were either offered apartments at the outskirts of the village, or they moved elsewhere. But that left the center of the village only to visitors in a way, there were no people actually living their lives there any longer.
PETER KORCHNAK: Over time, Kumrovec residents not only got used to living in the new reality, they learned to benefit from it. They sold homemade food and beverage items and handicrafts to visitors and rented out rooms for overnight stays.
It could have been brisk business. In the 1970s, some five to six hundred thousand people visited Kumrovec every year; in the three years after Tito’s death, the numbers rose threefold, to about 1.5 million; from 1985 to 1987, still about a million visitors came to Kumrovec each year.
The Day of Youth in Kumrovec During Socialism
PETER KORCHNAK: The Day of Youth was indeed by far the most popular time to visit Kumrovec.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: It was one of the vital stops where this baton relay would would stop and very often stay overnight on its way throughout the country to Belgrade.
PETER KORCHNAK: Thousands of people gathered for the annual celebration. There were speeches, there was music and dance and award ceremonies. And a long distance race called the Partisan March took place.
The gathering in 1965, for example, also included a youth choir performance in front of Tito’s house, a reading of a letter to Tito, the launch of various publications, a broadcast of a special radio program, an exhibition of paintings, and lighting of bonfires on top of hills.
The Day of Youth in 1980 took place just three weeks after Tito died. The daily Vjesnik, the newspaper of record in Croatia, had extensive preparatory and reporting coverage of the event. On the day of, a big article was headlined, “The Future of Youth is Tito’s Yugoslavia.” Reporting on the events, Vjesnik first proclaimed above the fold, “We Are All Tito.”
In Kumrovec, the holiday was, to quote the then head of the Partisan veterans association, “celebrated with the feeling of great pain and sadness for the beloved comrade Tito,” but there was also a feeling of quote “happiness and joy that we had Tito, that we were his Partisans, that we are building Tito’s free and independent socialist Yugoslavia, that we are his youth and Young Pioneers, and that we will continue to be all that.”
A Young Pioneer then read an open letter to the Communist Party leadership. Athletes competed in the 28th annual Partisan March race, now a marathon, and the good people of Zagorje and Zagreb planted 88 red maples along the Josip Broz Tito Street, which runs through the village center, to create a tree-lined alley. Each tree was to represent one year of Tito’s life, and, quote “the revolutionary work for the good of our country and all of humanity. Comrade Tito loved nature, and so this is the best way to commemorate his love. It will be a kind of a green sculpture.”
Kumrovec in the 1990s and 2000s
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: Kumrovec from the very start of the socialist system was transformed into a political place and one of the places where the ideology was supposed to be spread. And of course, with the fall of this system, it at the same time became the realm of collective amnesia.
PETER KORCHNAK: As newly independent Croatia waged a war of independence also known as the Homeland War, against the Yugoslav People’s Army in the early 1990s, a new, nationalist narrative took hold. As the historian Hrvoje Klasić put it way back in Episode 10, “Croatia’s History Illness”:
HRVOJE KLASIĆ: From 1945 to 1990, there was a black and white narrative with good guys and bad guys, with demonization and glorifications. Dealing with the past was very tendentious, very selective, very ideological. On one side, good guys were communists and all who were supporting them and bad guys were all who were not supporting them.
In [the] 90’s with democratization, actually, nothing crucially changed. This black and white narrative became white and black. So those who were bad guys, they became good guys, those who were demonized, they are now glorified and so it’s again, selective, tendentious, and very ideological, not communist but nationalist ideology.
PETER KORCHNAK: Kumrovec was a prime target. It’s not so much the place was de-politicized, but rather it was re-politicized.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: The socialist legacy was no longer on the list of wanted desirable identification strategies, and in a way they were suppressed. And Tito, who was the personification of the whole country, was definitely on the list of this unwanted inventory of socialism. And the same went for his birthplace.
PETER KORCHNAK: Tito the hero was now Tito the criminal and traitor of the Croatian nation. The cross and the holy corner were returned to Tito’s birth home and quote unquote provocative exhibits were removed from the left wing of the house and put in storage in Villa Kumrovec or simply discarded. Upon my visit in November 2019, the exhibit on Young Pioneers almost completely omitted mentions of him or of Yugoslavia.
The Old Village Museum was refocused on the 19th century rural life and Zagorje traditions. Other than cultivating the open-air exhibits, the museum, which is financed by the Ministry of Culture, holds various demonstrations, like a Zagorje wedding or a Three Kings visitation, and organizes workshops for children and others to show customs and techniques of rural life, like Easter egg decorating or flour milling. According to ethnographers, many visitors, both domestic and foreign, come for Tito’s house and are quite pleasantly surprised to find the open-air museum as well.
Visits to the village declined too. In 1990 some 200,000 people, and in 1991 less than 10,000 people visited the museum in Kumrovec. Nowadays, according to the Museum director, Anita Paun-Gadža, about 70,000 visitors visit annually. The largest number of visitors is from Croatia, followed by Slovenia (some estimates say up to one half of visitors are from Slovenia). “Visitors are delighted with the exhibits they can see in the museum because it brings them back to their childhood,” said Paun Gadža.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: When people from Kumrovec described to us how this process affected their everyday life, they often mentioned one situation when they spotted that their village was no longer on the geographical maps of Croatia. So it in a way disappeared, it was removed from the map.
PETER KORCHNAK: To the victors go the maps, I suppose. Maps printed in Croatia in the 1990s did not include Kumrovec; even the road signs around the village were removed.
Cartographic erasure went hand in hand with physical one.
The village was purged of socialist symbols. Monuments were removed. The Political School and the Spomen Dom were shuttered.
With the Tito-shirted waiter’s words still resonating, I drove to the village to explore the abandoned buildings.
On the way to Villa Kumrovec, I passed the red maple alley. The street is now Tito-less, called just Josip Broz Street, and there are only 87 trees now. Tito actually died three days short of his 88th birthday. One of the red maples grew stunted and later a car crashed into it so it had to be replaced. The replant dried out.
Villa Kumrovec was Tito’s residence here. The 1948 building was originally a hotel, built on a hill in a local vernacular style. It was renovated and converted in 1962 and furnished with mid-century modern interior. In 2015 the municipality opened the place for tours. It was shuttered when I visited late in the day but through a dirty basement window, I could see a room filled with statues and busts of Tito and other now-useless items.
By contrast, the political school at the other end of the village was wide open. Built in 1981 following the designs of Danilo Cvjetković and Miomir Lužajić, the Yugoslav League of Communists’ Josip Broz Tito Political School served as a boarding facility where quote “young and, through political experience vetted party-political cadres from all republics and provinces” learned about Marxist political philosophy and self-management socialist theory. Graduates include a previous president of independent Slovenia, a former prime minister of Croatia, and one Slavoj Žižek.
The building’s long sloping profile with dark paneling follows the contours of the hill behind it. It stands abandoned on the village outskirts, sometimes open to interlopers.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: When we are thinking about the politics of remembering, as there was an intentional effort to build this whole infrastructure, there was a very systemic forgetting of the infrastructure. So the buildings, the huge buildings, I mentioned, the political school and Spomen Dom, they were left empty. And they still don’t have a certain purpose, they are just there, although they are [sic] huge potential in the way.
PETER KORCHNAK: I roamed through the building, admiring the modernist lines and sharp angles and the devastation, peeking into some of the 150 rooms sprawled across its four floors.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: What happened in the 90s also is that refugees, from certain parts of Slavonia primarily, were situated in these buildings. And very many of these people felt this as another insult, to be in way chased away from their homes by the Yugoslav People’s Army and then located in the village where Tito was born. So they were really, really furious about the situation.
PETER KORCHNAK: Many of the rooms of Hotel Zagorje, as it got to be called, still contained the vestiges from the 1990s: sport stickers on furniture, music posters, newspapers, a holy picture here and there, a graffito wishing Happy New Year 97-98, even an old roll of pink toilet paper.
In the common areas, the bar was particularly photogenic, covered in green algae and moss, the roof dripping, broken soda bottles and debris crunching underfoot.
Find photos from the political school, as well as the rest of the village and the Day of Youth celebration, in the episode transcript at RememberingYugoslavia.com or on my Instagram, @rememberingyugoslavia.
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: I would like to stress but important thing: they are doing it deliberately, they are waiting that the school will completely disappear.
PETER KORCHNAK: Tito Societies’ Jovan Vejnović again.
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: The mayor of Kumrovec and the chief of county of Zagorje they tried several times [to] talk with the government in order to try to give us the space and we will try to organize something, we’ll attract some investors or whatever. They never accepted this idea.
PETER KORCHNAK: The republic of Croatia still owns the building. There were attempts before the pandemic to sell it to a Chinese investor who was going to turn it into a hotel, but the deal never materialized.
I completed my tour of Kumrovec socialist infrastructure with a repeat visit to the former Spomen Dom, also known as the Memorial House of People’s Liberation War Fighters and Yugoslav Youth.
At its opening, on the Day of the Republic 1974, with his typical eloquence Tito proclaimed, “Brotherhood and unity will radiate from here since fighters and young people from all parts of our country will come here.”
The award-winning pyramid-shaped brick-and-concrete complex atop a hill up from the main road comprised classrooms, a 62-room hotel with a pool and restaurant, library, an auditorium with a theater stage and film projection screen, combining for a site of education, conferences, youth activities, sports, and recreation. In February 1984, the Olympic Torch made a stop here on its way from Slovenia to Zagreb.
I peeked in through the windows of each of the three buildings. Nothing had changed since my previous visit in November 2019. Except this time a guard asked me to leave the premises and herded me all the way to the Stairway of Youth leading down into the village. Behind me, the Spomen Dom continued to stand like a time capsule from the decade of my birth.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: Nothing really happens, because it is, in a symbolic sense, such a hot potato that nobody really knows what to do, what to do with it. The infrastructure of socialism and Kumrovec it is pretty much left to ruin.
PETER KORCHNAK: The locals’ attitude to the new reality evolved as well.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: Some of the local inhabitants told us that they were not ashamed of this heritage. They are still in way, proud to be a birthplace of an important historical figure.
But they were sometimes irritated by these constant questions and comments, you know, “Okay, you’re from Kumrovec,” because Kumrovec is still a synonym for Tito in a way. And sometimes when they visited the seaside, when they had to register to, you know, go somewhere, they would state that they are from some other place, not from Kumrovec, just to avoid this huge discussion on Kumrovec and socialism and Tito. What they resent is this idea of Kumrovec as a place stuck in the past, which in a way refuses them an opportunity to grow, to change, you know, to think about their contemporary everyday life.
PETER KORCHNAK: Škrbić Alempijević and a team of ethnographers visited Kumrovec in the renewed Day of Youth celebration’s second year, in 2004.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: When one of the researchers asked a local family, whether they plan to take part in the celebration day they said, “God, no, of course not.” But later on, we saw them at the celebration. So obviously, this is still some kind of, you know, uneasy topic for them.
We cannot talk about this celebration or the whole socialist legacy in black or white terms.
I talked to a lady who was employed as a teacher in school, and she led very many delegations through that school. And she said that, although in the 90s, for example, it was a clear-cut in the political system and the approach to history, she never stopped guiding, taking their her students to the birth clock have some detail, not because of her political beliefs, but because she recognized that as some kind of local heritage in a way, you know that, children should know that the former president of a big country was born in their village.
She’s very aware of this political context, she doesn’t live in a political bubble. But in a way she was opposing this etiquette of Kumrovec being stuck in the past. She said, “future is something I would like to talk about.”
The 2022 Day of Youth and Joy
PETER KORCHNAK: On the day of the event, the sun climbed the sky and temperature rose exponentially. The first post-pandemic Day of Youth ended up being a sweltering one, part of a heatwave that gripped the continent at the time.
Next to an actual lot filling with busses, a fallow field-cum-parking lot was filling up with cars. Other than Croatia, most plates were from Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, plus I saw a few from Serbia.
In the small park between the road and the museum, vendor stands lined the paths. Vintage Yugoslav-era magazines, pictures (most of them of Tito, of course), books, assorted knicknacks, memorabilia. T-shirts, emblazoned with Tito or his quotes, souvenirs with Yugoslav motifs. The Josip Broz Tito society, the event’s main organizer, also had a dedicated table, selling their own merch.
One of the vendors was a former doctor who told me he had worked in military hospitals and was now retired and selling off a bunch of his old stuff. I bought a copy of the START magazine covering Tito’s death.
Another vendor of this old stuff was a very chatty and cheerful woman in heavy makeup. Passersby would congratulate her on the assortment in front of her. I lingered, asked about this item or that, and finally she asked me, “You know what the difference is between now and then? Back then, we had a country.” “So what do we have now?” I said. “Nothing,” she said. “We have nothing.”
I bought the same post-Tito issue of START. She said, “I remember this day, everybody cried. I cried too.” As she handed me my change, she said, “Just remember one thing, young man: enjoy every day of your life as much you can because you only have one life.”
“Commercialization of symbols of socialist Yugoslavia presents the single most visible aspect of the Yugonostalgia phenomenon,” wrote Larisa Kurtović, the political anthropologist, in her 2011 article on the subject. “These profit-making activities certainly contribute to the fair-like atmosphere that often marks such Yugonostalgic events.”
There were also stands with local products, honey, handicrafts, and the like as well as kiosks selling food, from sausages to fried food to the Balkan standbys like pljeskavica. And, of course beer.
And deep in the park, past a thicket of picnic tables and standup cocktail tables where people ate and drank and were merry, a big gazebo tent was put up over a seemingly parallel event. Next to a bar, on a stage with some front space for dancing a local band played folk music.
Indeed, it all felt like a big annual village fair, though the folk event, likely organized by the village, was a new-ish addition to the day’s festivities.
“Carnival-like events celebrating the memory of Yugoslavia manage to call into being forms of solidarity and relatedness that surpass the political boundaries created by the violence of 1990s,” wrote Kurtović. “While most people who go to these meetings do in fact hold dear Yugoslav (socialist) values, their motivations for making these at times long and uncomfortable trips are not exclusively political. These meetings are social occasions, and their communal aspect is not to be underestimated. Old-timers go as much out of sentimental affect as from the desire to travel, socialize, and have a good time.”
LARISA KURTOVIĆ: —trying to keep alive this kind of an alternative vision of togetherness. People come together from various parts of what used to be the same country to celebrate these holidays to hang out, to recognize one another as kindred souls in a sense.
PETER KORCHNAK: You may recall Larisa Kurtović, political anthropologist at the University of Ottawa, from Episode 19, “Happy Birthday, Yugoslavia!”
LARISA KURTOVIĆ: Especially for people who are of a slightly older generation, who grew up habituated to these forms of togetherness to what are known as izleti, so, that the field trips to these celebrations, even to things like you know, Yugoslav work actions, where the youth of Yugoslavia would not just go to build railways and roads, but also to build this famous thing called Brotherhood and Unity, so to get to know, people from other parts of Yugoslavia, to perhaps fall in love, to have a fling, you know, to make lifelong friends. I think that it’s really important to recognize that part of what’s being recreated or what people are after during these celebrations is also recreating these possibilities, even though they’re much older right now and those possibilities may take different forms.
And so when you see these kinds of organized efforts to come together, they’re also trying to revive these traditions of collective trips and field trips. I think that dimension is quite important and that it has this kind of subtle political character in so far that it points to a different way of being in the world.
PETER KORCHNAK: The event means different things to different people.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: For organizers, I think it is an act of building some kind of alternative counter-memory that opposes the processes of forgetting socialist times, and especially [the] antifascist fight. For them that is really important to show also to younger generations [that] this is what happened and this is also our legacy, we cannot just, you know, erase a whole episode.
For some people it is a commercial opportunity, you can get there you trade in souvenirs, etcetera.
For some, it is having fun, meeting old friends, you know, singing old songs you cannot perform in public any longer. So it has this social component very emphasized as well.
And I think for some it is also about reshaping the imagery of the past. So it is some sort of an arena where you can still remember things that are not shown in the public sphere so often any longer.
PETER KORCHNAK Most people donned their civilian clothes, but there were quite a few that came dressed for the occasion, or rather in costume. There were military uniforms or parts of them; a few Young Pioneer outfits or parts of them, particularly the blue cap or the kerchief; many people wore some related item or accessory, like a scarf, a red t-shirt, perhaps with a political message or Tito’s likeness, buttons or pins… A number of people waved or wore Yugoslav flags, and there was also a handful of red flags of particular organizations or groups.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: When we talk about people who celebrate or commemorate certain dates related to socialism, to Yugoslavia, the political discourse very often disqualifies them as some kind of yugonostalgic, people still living in their past or very dangerous factors who would like to make some kind of political change.
But what we found out in the field is that people are more often talking about the change in the quality of their life nowadays. So they use this imagery of the past to contrast it to some points, to some problems, issues they face in their everyday, with prospects of unemployment, with poor education, sometimes inefficient medical system, and they create some kind of Utopia, that in socialist time, some things worked better, you know, people had a job, people had a steady career, they were they would be given state flats, etcetera, etcetera. So visitors, participants of such celebrations use this topos of socialism actually to comment on some and criticize some trends they see as bad in the contemporary context.
And very often people who visit these celebrations, who participate in them are elderly, so it is about their youth as well. But what we can see also is a trend that certain groups of youngsters also decide to visit Kumrovec for other reasons, you know. For them, it is some kind of [a] critical stance, it’s, you know, punker culture in among Slovenian youth that was described by Mitja Velikonja, for example, where you carry a t-shirt with Tito’s figure on it because he was cool, you know, he was somebody whom the whole world remembers, and that is one of the narratives. Please say another Croat apart from Luka Modrić, for example, whom the whole world knows, you know, that is Tito, not the not the politicians of this moment, of the present.
PETER KORCHNAK: Among the younger attendees were young cohorts of various antifascist groups and political parties. One of the speakers was a young woman representing Bosnia and Herzegovina. But I also saw a woman perhaps in her thirties, dressed for a party who stood in front of Tito’s statue, pulled out of her handbag a Young Pioneer cap, put it on, took a selfie, and quickly folded the cap back out of sight.
It was the most decked out, or perhaps outrageously dressed people that attracted the most media attention. Every one of the five or six TV crews wanted to speak with the diminutive elderly man in a now-oversized uniform who was perhaps no longer quite with it, or to the Egyptian man named Ali, dressed in his traditional garb, who had come to Yugoslavia for university studies in Zagreb and now lives in Slovenia, and definitely to people quite literally wrapping themselves in Yugoslavia’s flag. It felt a little bit like a human zoo, with reporters cherrypicking the most, let’s say, unusual, let’s say, specimens, so we could all laugh at them.
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: They are presenting unfortunately all event as a gathering of old people which are still living in the old times, 50 years ago.
PETER KORCHNAK: Yugonostalgics.
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: Yugonostalgics, yes. They are trying to catch some small things, to present them to the public that we are gathered there to celebrate Tito’s person. I’m always saying one thing: we are not trying to make the saint of Tito, but we will not accept the idea of criminaI criminalizing Tito.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: But you never hear—at least in the reports, I read—you never hear this, you know, moment of people, they’re commenting of what they see, as you know, not so favorable trend in their everyday life. And the questions asked are: Why are you celebrating? How do you remember the past? It’s very rarely about the present and about the future, you know, it’s not what do you try to do? What messages do you want to convey through these kinds of celebrations or events?
Perhaps it’s not so rare way of describing other events as well, you know, because people in uniforms or in costumes always draw attention. I could see really see in when I was studying other topics as well. But the critique of the everyday situation is not something that is conveyed in the public sphere.
PETER KORCHNAK: Crowds thickened as I reached the hard gravel path of Josip Broz Street leading through the village center and to the site of the Day of Youth festivities.
Media reports said thousands of people attended while the Tito Society will claim ten thousand people attended the 2022 edition of the Day of Youth and Joy event.
In 2004, around 5,000 people attended the event; the following year, the 25h anniversary of Tito’s death, between eight and ten thousand. In 2015, the 35th anniversary of Tito’s death, 15,000 people showed up. Of course the 40th was canceled due to the pandemic.
The patio outside the Kod Starog restaurant was packed. The name translates, At the Old Man’s—Stari, the Old Man, was one of Josip Broz’s other nicknames. Inside, photographs show the Old Man on his visits to the village.
Across the way, the first stop and perhaps the main reason why people come here today: the statue of Tito. Despite all the changes in the Museum and the village the Augustinčić masterpiece remained in its place. In 2001, a bag with explosives was found at its feet. In 2004, after Christmas, someone blew the statue up. Tito’s head rolled, quite literally.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: The reaction of state officials who at that time aspired to become a part of the European Union was really swift. They were protesting in the media against this vandalism. And the Minister of Culture protested against this act. He held a rather long speech during the main news within the day and protested against this aggression towards cultural heritage and monument built by Anton Augustinčić without once mentioning that this monument was actually depicting Tito. So, this also shows some kind of change in the approach towards the musealization of socialist heritage. They decided to focus on cultural heritage and legacy without you placing this socialist connotations to the forefront.
Of course, the perpetrators were never found.
PETER KORCHNAK: The statue was restored in time for the 2005 Day of Youth celebration.
The statue is the obligatory stop during the event. People lined up to have their photos taken with it, positioning themselves at his sides. Large bouquets and wreaths cascaded from Tito’s feet.
My fellow Central European University alumna, Maja Brkljačić, has observed that the statue enables people to identify with Tito and through him with Yugoslavia, and to transport themselves back in time. “His name is our past, our present and our future, his name is who we are,” wrote Brkljačić.
But there’s even more to it than time travel. Katherine Verdery has asserted that, if a statue is a dead person cast in some inorganic material, it not only symbolizes that person, it is that person, it brings that person quote, “into the realm of the timeless or the sacred, like an icon.”
Accordingly, in her research of Tito’s statue in Kumrovec, Marijana Belaj at the University of Zagreb, has observed that people encounter it in a very personal way. Many touch it, some salute it, some talk to it, some kiss it, many laugh and a few even cry. It seems like kind of a religious experience in a way, like something you may see at the end of a pilgrimage or in a church when people worship saints. But, Belaj concluded, the element of nostalgia in these encounters is not for the country per se but rather for their life in it, for their youth.
The week before the 2023 event, on the anniversary of Independent State of Croatia ceding Dalmatia to Italy in 1941, a group of people affiliated with the Homeland Movement gathered at the statue and covered it with a gray tarp. Labeling Tito “a communist dictator” and “one of ten greatest criminals in history,” they laid wreaths and lit candles at his feet quote “in the memory of all victims of the Yugoslav totalitarian regime.”
JOVAN VEJNOVIĆ: I think that this thing what they did there, they’re talking more of them, but not about Tito, nothing about Tito.
I have to tell you one thing, the statement made by President Roosevelt many years ago, you know, what he said at that time: the decision of Tito to enter the Second World War changed the character of the Second World War. I have also one other reply. It is a statement that statement made by John Paul Sartre. He said once, Tito’s Yugoslavia is realization of my ideas.
PETER KORCHNAK: After the statue, the next stop is Tito’s birth home.
There were too many people and I’m not into standing in line so I skipped the museum this time. I had preferred visiting in November 2019, when it was just me and a few Slovenian tourists and an exhibition about Young Pioneers.
One notable Tito-related item was a white marble bust of his, also made by Augustinčić, that had until 2015 been located in the office of the President of Croatia. When Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović assumed office, she had it and a hundred other socialist-era artifacts packed up and shipped to the museum in Kumrovec.
A covered stage was set up at an angle across from Tito’s birth house as well as some seats under flimsy gazebos. The official program commenced at 11 with the singing of Croatia’s anthem. The rest was mostly speeches.
PETER KORCHNAK: The representative of the organizers opened the program with some words of welcome and praise for quote “comrade and friend Tito, the most important and wisest leader of the 20th century.” He also informed visitors that uniformed policemen would be filming the proceedings. The cops standing at a gangway up at the house behind Tito’s statue were promptly booed.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: What I could see is also some kind of relaxation at the local level when it comes to the recognizing the event. [The] museum was participating more in the event, not that they organized the program, but they were there, they saw it more as an opportunity for themselves to promote their activities to be present and visible.
PETER KORCHNAK: The Mayor of Kumrovec, Robert Šplajt, welcomed visitors to the world’s best known village and the birthplace of the best known Kumrovec resident, of whom the village is proud and who is more respected outside of Croatia.
The county head spoke, the president of the Association of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists of Croatia, as well as his counterparts from other former republic (though not Serbia), and finally the former president Stjepan “Stipe” Mesić. Like all speakers before him, the first post-Tudjman president, for two terms, no less, offered a critique of the current state of affairs in Croatia and a comparison with the past.
PETER KORCHNAK: “Is what I’m talking about yugonostalgia? No. It’s simply a real view of things. Tito was and remains a symbol of pride, principles, decisiveness, bravery, and vision–everything that Croatia is lacking.
“This is why we need gatherings like these. Not because we are prisoners of the past but because we wish the best for our country, for our region, we wish the best for Europe and the world. But above all we wish the best for our children and grandchildren.”
PETER KORCHNAK: If these message seem subversive relative to today’s discourse in Croatia, that’s because they are. Škrbić Alempijević and her collaborator in the Kumrovec study, Kirsti Mathiesen Hjemdahl, wrote, that “in many ways the Kumrovec celebration may be viewed through the term “deviance”: it is performed by people generally regarded as “marginal”, at an “infamous” place that has disappeared from the nation’s mental maps, on the date of the former national holiday of a dissolved country, including a ceremony commemorating the birthday of a person whose historical role is highly controversial. The celebration itself is an uncalled-for reaction to official silence, an expression of alternative truths not voiced in the mainstream public sphere, which can only happen in “forgotten” places and “forbidden” forms.” End quote.
A big part of the event, as of every such event, is music. The opera singer Barbara Othman gave a rendition of “Padaj silo i nepravdo” that you’ve been hearing throughout the show. The program concluded with a concert of the Trieste-based choir Pinko Tomažić that performed Partisan and other revolutionary songs.
The very final microevent of the 2022 event was a gathering of old cars, with a procession arriving from Zagreb.
PETER KORCHNAK: As I headed back to my rental Opel Corsa, I thought of the words of farewell from the stage—See you next year—and what future may bring for the Day of Youth.
NEVENA ŠKRBIĆ ALEMPIJEVIĆ: I think that the myth of Tito will be active and effective in the years to come as well, although it will find some other ways I would say to be enacted. And I think that actually the museum would take more part in it than it does now.
I think that the organizers of this event are elderly people, and I’m not sure, from what I know about this scene, that younger people would take on the organization in this way. But I still think that groups of people will gather there, although in more unorganized, inofficial [sic] setting, you know, and some new messages, perhaps even more future-oriented will be organized, will be conveyed from there. But it depends a lot on how Kumrovec decides to take the stance, the attitude towards this Tito legacy.
There was one plan to open the Museum of the 20th century there, you know, and to show different layers of memory, you know, not just either positive or negative ones, Tito is a hero or Tito as a villain, antihero. If that happens, that could really in a way take a turn towards the politics of remembering carried out by cultural institutions, you know.
But at the time being I think that the Day of Youth actually is one of the platforms where this memory lives on in this setting.
PETER KORCHNAK: By a stroke of chance I got to attend the 2023 Day of Youth celebration, which took place just two days before this episode’s release date (and long after the production deadline). The extended version of this episode includes a report from that event, supplementing the story you just heard. That episode, out shortly, is available exclusively to Patreon supporters and select other donors. If you have not yet backed the show, visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate or follow the link in your podcast listening app to get access.
PETER KORCHNAK: On the way back to Zagreb, I stopped at Villa Zelenjak-Ventek for coffee. I asked the waiter to stretch out his palm and placed on it a cheesy matchbox I had picked up from a souvenir stand, placing Tito’s face down. He turned the matchbox over, gave a throaty laugh, thanked me, and as he tucked it into his pocket, said, “You know what we call this? Zagorje Zippo.”
Walking out the door, I waved goodbye to him. He came over, shook my hand, and said, “Goodbye, friend.”
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]
PETER KORCHNAK: Coming up on Remembering Yugoslavia:
MARTIN MAYHEW: He was obviously a humanist…slightly more advanced let’s say than other writers of that period.
PETER KORCHNAK: Vladimir Nazor is Croatia’s best known poet and children’s writer. He was also Tito’s Partisan and adulator and Croatia’s first president; hundreds of streets and schools in Croatia bear his name. Next on the show, the story of Vladimir Nazor.
Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts, follow to make sure you don’t miss out, and subscribe to support us.
[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, embeds, links to purchase all the music you’ve heard, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
And don’t forget to back the show to get access to the extended version of this episode, featuring coverage from the 2023 edition of the Day of Youth and Joy.
Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić.
I am Peter Korchňak.
- Belaj, Marijana. “‘I’m not religious, but Tito is a God’: Tito, Kumrovec, and the New Pilgrims. In: Peter Jan Margry, ed. Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World: New Itineraries into the Sacred. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2008
- Brkljačić, Maja. 2003. “Tito’s Bodies in Word and Image”. Narodna umjetnost – Hrvatski časopis za etnologiju i folkloristiku 40, no. 1: 99-128
- Hjemdahl, Kirsti Mathiesen and Nevena Škrbić Alempijević, eds. O Titu Kao Mitu: Proslava Dana mladosti u Kumrovcu. Zagreb: Filozofski fakultet / Srednja Europa, 2006
- Hjemdahl, Kirsti Mathiesen and Nevena Škrbić Alempijević. “Backlash.” Ethnologia Europaea, Vol. 35, No. 1-2 (2007)
- Kaltnecker, Anja. Tehnike oživljene povijesti u Starom selu Kumrovec. Master’s thesis / Diplomski rad. Zagreb: University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences / Sveučilište u Zagrebu, Filozofski fakultet, 2019
- Kurtović, Larisa. “Yugonostalgia on Wheels: Commemorating Marshal Tito across Post-Yugoslav Borders.” Newsletter of the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Volume 28, Number 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 2-13 & 22-23
- Belaj, Marijana and Nevena Škrbić Alempijević. “Politička mjesta u tranziciji: sjećanje na Josipa Broza Tita i Franju Tuđmana u suvremenoj Hrvatskoj.” In: Virna Karlić, Sanja Sakić, and Dušan Marinković, eds. Tranzicija i kulturno pamčenje: Zbornik radova s istoimenog medjunarodnog znanstvenog simpozija, održanog 26. i 27. studenog 2015. godine na Filozofskom fakultetu Sveučilišta u Zagrebu. Zagreb: Srednja Evropa, 2017, pp. 257-268
- Škrbić Alempijević, Nevena and Petra Kelemen. “Travelling to the Birthplace of ‘the Greatest Son of Yugoslav Nations’: The Construction of Kumrovec as a Political Tourism Destination.” In: Hannes Grandits & Karin Taylor, eds. Yugoslavia’s Sunny Side: A History of Tourism in Socialism (1950s-1980s). Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010, pp. 141-169
- Škrbić Alempijević, Nevena and Sanja Potkonjak. “Titoaffect – tracing objects and memories of socialism in post-socialist Croatia.” In: Jonas Frykman et al, eds. Sensitive Objects: Motion and Emotion in Material World. Kristiansand: Agder Research, 2014
- Škrbić Alempijević, Nevena and Tomislav Oroz. “Heroic Topographies. Hero-making and Place-making in Hrvatsko Zagorje.” In: Heroic Art and Socialist Realism: Monuments, Memory and Representations of the Socialist Past after 1989. Sofia: Cultural Arcs Foundation, 2018, pp. 35-55.
- Trošt, Tamara. “The Image of Josip Broz Tito in Post-Yugoslavia: Between National and Local Memory. In: Darin Stephanov and Kirill Postoutenko, eds. Ruler Personality Cults from Empires to Nation-States and Beyond: Symbolic Patterns and Interactional Dynamics. New York: Routledge, 2020
- Velikonja, Mitja. Titostalgia: A Study oaf Nostalgia for Josip Broz. Ljubljana: Mediawatch, 2008
Youth Day (or Day of Youth) was celebrated on May 25 on Tito’s unofficial birthday. His real birthday was on May 7 (1892) but he changed it to the 25th to commemorate the day he had escaped the 1944 attack by Nazi Germany at Drvar. “According to one of the legends about Tito, in 1944 the Nazi occupying forces tried to apprehend him on May 25, the assumed date of his birth. After narrowly escaping the enemy paratroopers, he reportedly stated that he felt as if he was reborn.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
The holiday was first celebrated as Tito’s birthday, but in 1957, when he “recognized, in his own way that the cult of personality in Yugoslavia…was outdated” [Pirjevec, 2018: 270] he changed it to the holiday of youth.
As early as 1945, youth organizations marked Tito’s birthday with a relay race featuring a baton which was handed over to Tito on May 25th. “The first Youth Relay was organized in Zagreb and from 1946 to 1956 Tito received Youth Batons in front of Beli dvor (White Palace) in Belgrade. At the same time throughout the country many local relay races were ran and relay batons were made by individual associations, organizations and enterprises, which were delivered to the President. [Duda, 2014]
“Since 1956 the celebration was held with Tito’s presence on the stadium of the Yugoslav National Army in Belgrade, not only in order to honour his birthday, but primarily as the Youth Day. Thereby Tito’s wish was acknowledged to make it the day dedicated to Yugoslav youth, its bodily and mental strength.
“Until 1987 the ceremony was held on the stadium staging mass games with the participation of youth from the entire country. The Youth Baton, having toured many parts of the country, finally came to the stadium as a symbol of all other relay batons, containing a birthday message to Tito. After Tito’s death, the relay was received by the President of the Alliance of Socialist Youth of Yugoslavia. The Youth Baton and youth mass games were symbols of unity and efforts by young people to build socialism. Thousands of children and adults sent letters, drawings, handmade objects and other gifts to Tito for his birthday and media regularly reported on celebrations, disseminating positive emotions and participating in the preservation of the cult of personality of Josip Broz Tito.” [Duda, 2014]
Youth Day was celebrated until 1987, when it was the first all-Yugoslav holiday to be discarded.
Titova štafeta (Tito’s Relay Race) / Štafeta mladosti (Youth Relay Race)
In 1945, “while the final push for the liberation of the northwestern parts of the country from the Nazi invaders was still in progress, the Central Committee of the Antifascist Youth of Yugoslavia (Centralni komitet Antifašističke omladine Jugoslavije) announced to its local organizations in a memo that, “as Comrade Tito’s 53rd birthday is approaching, the Department of Sports and Physical Culture will organize mass youth relay races across Yugoslavia. Young runners will carry nicely crafted batons and in them written birthday cards to our Marshall, and in that way they will bring to Belgrade the good wishes of the people who will greet them along the way”.”
“Some 12,500 runners participated in the first relay race in liberated Yugoslavia. From the inception of this tradition, which was by far the largest mass celebration in post–World War II Yugoslavia, devotion to Tito was measured by the number of bodies and the distance traveled: in 1950, 93,000 km and over a million runners; in 1951, 128,000 km and 1.5 million runners. The largest relay run was organized in 1952, when some 1,555,000 runners covered over 130,000 km.” [Jakovljević, 2016] From 1945 to 1956, 10,291,500 people participated in carrying the relay and that a total of 877,000 kilometers were covered. [Tačno.net, 2016]
“The race almost immediately took on the name Tito’s Relay Race, or Titova štafeta, which, in fact, pointed back to the etymological roots of štafeta in the Italian word staffetta and the French estaffette, designating the courier or the one bringing news.
“Tito’s Relay Race quickly outgrew the form of a linear run suggested by its name (and its origin in track and field) and evolved into a vast network of races. A number of schools, factories, and local municipalities organized their own štafetas, which joined together into regional štafetas, and regional štafetas merged to form štafetas of the republics. In addition, a number of countrywide organizations had their own štafetas: from the association of the communist partisan veterans of World War II, to associations of cyclists, mountaineers, radio amateurs, and firefighters, to name a few. Last but not least, the Yugoslav People’s Army had several štafetas, since each of its branches had its own. In the end, the map of the relay runs and celebrations that accompanied the passage of runners through villages, schools, towns, army barracks, factories, impassable mountaintops, and riverbeds resembled a capillary system that joined the entire country into an interconnected organism.
“In the early 1960s, the format of the relay was changed, and the multitude of small local batons was replaced by the single Youth Baton.
“As the ethnologist Ivan Čolović points out, the meaning of this network of relay running was not only in the direct, hand-to-hand communication between the masses of citizens and the country’s leader, but also the confirmation of his legitimacy as the undisputed ruler.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
The relay race had a pre-WWII history in Yugoslavia when, in 1939, the first relay race dedicated to the birthday of King Peter II Karadjordjević started from Kragujevac. Attempts to turn the relay into a general Yugoslav initiative failed, likely due to a combination of a lack of interest and the war’s outbreak.
Preparations for Dan Mladosti
“Among other things, the Youth Relay, as it had been called since 1957, was a celebration of labor. It usually started in mid- to late April, so that the ritual of running coincided with May 1, International Labor Day, which was one of the major state holidays in Yugoslavia. The two holidays merged into a prolonged ceremony that had the festival of labor as one of its main components.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Public-facing preparations started months prior to the holiday:
- contests were held for the official poster and for the design of the relay baton [štafeta], which had to showcase, in symbolic form, the country’s accomplishments and bear the youth’s birthday message to Tito;
- new postal stamps bearing the day’s imagery, Tito’s likeness, and that year’s baton were released;
- radio and TV shows previewed the festivities [Videkanić, 2010] – The entire media sector of the former Yugoslavia participated in the promotion of this ceremony; for example, from 1957 to 1979 the Sarajevo paper Oslobodjenje dedicated most of its pages in the period from May 23 to 27 to the celebration of Tito’s birthday and Youth Day, offering pieces about Tito’s childhood, memories from the People’s Liberation Struggle (NOB), memories of war heroes, official openings of factories or libraries, and other accomplishments of the nation. Attention was also paid to the relationship between Tito and the youngest members of society, Pioneers. [Tačno.net, 2016]
- citizens, collectives, and organizations sent Tito gifts and letters [Čolović, 2004]
The week before the day, schools, factories, athletic clubs and other institutions sent young people to carry the baton in the Youth Baton Relay [Štafeta mladosti] throughout the country, symbolically connecting people of all nationalities in every republic/province. Each city had a welcome committee for the baton. Concerts and other cultural events were held in honor of the relay, primary and secondary schools held the Day of the Youth Baton with events celebrating the passage of the relay baton and featuring students in their best clothes and Pioneer scarf and blue Tito cap, singing, dancing, reciting poems, and recreating historical events. [Videkanić, 2010]
Streets were lined with people cheering the baton and carrying flowers signs. Children wore Pioneer uniforms; farmers, miners, and workers wore their best uniforms as symbols of the trade and solidarity with youth. In all, some 20,000 relay batons (primary batons, carried through the whole country all the way to Tito, and local batons, presented to local officials) were carried across Yugoslavia in the holiday’s 40-year history. [Videkanić, 2010]
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The Day of Dan Mladosti
International Labor Day (May 1) and the Day of Youth (May 25) “merged into a prolonged ceremony that had the festival of labor as one of its main components. It culminated on or right before 25 May in a number of activities that ranged from sports events (the final match of the soccer cup, or Tito’s Cup, as it was called, was held at that time, as well as of other sports competitions) to cultural and educational activities.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
On the day itself, Tito received the baton from a carefully selected youth at the official ceremony which took place at the Yugoslav National Army Stadium in Belgrade.
As part of the slet, the stadium was filled with up to 10,000 children and youth, performing gymnastics in synchronized formations and creating shapes (flowers, acronyms, words, machines, flags) with their bodies; dancing; parading with guns; cheering; singing songs; shouting slogans like “We are all Tito!” There were parades with floats, parachute landings, speeches. [Videkanić, 2010]
Day of Youth manifestations were broadcast in the media and publicized in hospitals, factories, and schools with posters and announcements. Tito was emblazoned on flags, portraits, paintings, and banners, typically large in scale and placed in central public locations. [Videkanić, 2010]
All of it was broadcast on TV to more viewers than the Olympic Games and documented in TV shows, news reports, photographs, and books. In later years, the celebrations mixed events like dances, rock concerts, multimedia presentations and with Westernized media events. It was more like entertainment than propaganda. [Videkanić, 2010]
In addition to the central celebration, with Tito in Belgrade, there were festivities in each republic, with local politicians.
“The whole idea was to show how the socialist youth of Yugoslavia would devotedly follow Tito’s revolutionary path. But this was also the way to tie the president’s aging image to the metaphor of eternal youth. Combining the Olympic disciplines of relay race and marathon was intentional. Every new custom had to fulfill two functions: draw on tradition, and point to the future. This newly created procession would unite the ancient humanistic ideals with the values of the new system, giving false depth and tradition to a system that, in terms of history, was born yesterday. It was like growing a beard on a baby.” [Dragan Todorović, The Book of Revenge]
“The Youth Day celebration was fully funded directly by the federal government of Yugoslavia (Federal Executive Council, or Savezno izvršno veće). It also relied heavily on help from participating republics and cities, and on the voluntary labor donated by thousands of young men and women. The Yugoslav People’s Army, which participated every year, had its own sources of funding. In 1972, the budget for the Youth Day celebration was 3.3 million Yugoslav dinars, and in 1975 it exceeded 5 million. The annual stadium spectacle was an important source of income for all kinds of professional performance makers, from choreographers, to set designers, to composers, to theater directors, to professional actors. Youth Day Organizing Committee hired thousands of skilled and unskilled laborers, from professional musical score copyists, to laborers who loaded and unloaded truckloads of materials for the construction of colossal sets, to electricians, to cooks. It purchased thousands of small props and costumes directly from factories. It transported thousands of participants from all parts of the country to Belgrade; and while they were there for the final stretch of rehearsals for the grand spectacle, it provided lodging and food. [Jakovljević, 2016]
The Meaning of Youth Day’s Slet
“What happened each year on the evening of May 25 at the Yugoslav People’s Army Stadium was the summation of a swarm of capillary performances, only a small part of which were of the aesthetic kind. On that night, the stadium was not only the stage for an oversized ideological exhibit, but also a political arena, a business forum, and a publicity fair. Ultimately, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia did not just display some more or less successfully conceived allegories of state ideology, but first and foremost exhibited how flawlessly and impeccably it functioned.
“The Youth Day celebration emerged at the same time as the economic model of Yugoslav self-management, and it evolved together with this economic structure. Its main purpose was to put this system on display by giving it an observable form. All of that doesn’t mean that Youth Day spectacle was a performance of pure visibility. Like the Yugoslav society, it consisted of several distinct and complexly intertwined layers. There were at least three economies at work in Youth Day festivities, each corresponding to one layer of the spectacle:
- the symbolic economy, manifested in the inscription of major anniversaries and events in the very structure of the event;
- a vast mimetic economy manifested in the choreography of symmetries, uniformities, groups, and mass movements;
- an economy of transactions between corporate bodies—that is, an economy of market distinction—that provided support for the first two, highly visible economies.
“Every year, the mass of bodies organized in vast geometrical figures that seemed to move, expand, contract, morph, blend, and explode into thousands of individual particles, was an operative allegory of Yugoslav self-management. Through its layered structure on the formal level and capillary connectedness with the country’s political economy on the ideological level, Youth Day was the performance that most successfully encapsulated the permanent nucleus of Yugoslav society’s identity. In fact, because of the dynamics and complexity of this nucleus, performance was better suited than any other art to give it a legible form.
“Interestingly, when it comes to the logistics of this performance, only a very small part of it was dictated directly by the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. Unlike the Soviet festivals, the purpose of this normative political spectacle was not to aggrandize the Party and its leadership. In fact, both Tito and the League of Communists stayed at arm’s length from it. Until the last moment, when the time came to claim tickets for the spectacle, the Party was only marginally engaged in the preparations of the performance. What this spectacle put on display was not the Party hierarchy, but…the “market” part of market socialism. And it showed that this market was not a true market with a stock exchange, bonds, and stocks, but instead an intricate network of businesses and industries, local Party organizations, and, more than anything else, sociopolitical organizations such as the League of Socialist Youth, the Yugoslav Socialist Alliance of Workers, and hundreds of smaller organizations and associations that mobilized the entire population, not only Party members. In fact, the entire Youth Day celebration was the epitome of sociopolitical organization. In that sense, the stadium performance demonstrated the workings of the sociopolitical organizations as a currency of the Yugoslav socialist market. That currency really didn’t flow freely but was instead regulated and programmed.
“The rich symbolic content of the Youth Day mass performance also included a display of the layered nature of Yugoslav culture: one of its layers certainly consisted of incorporation of aesthetics into the political economy, a model that survived from socialist realism and was recognizable in its intent, reach, and deep funding structure; another was a mode of organization that tried to depart from planned economy; the third one was an aesthetic doctrine that was completely divorced from and opposed to socialist realism as a representational ‘style.’
“A nonconfrontational and watered- down idea of abstraction found its multiple purposes within the political economy of self-management. The Youth Day stadium spectacle offered the most comprehensive image of Yugoslav socialist aestheticism that could be surveyed in single glance. From popular music, to themes ranging from war and revolution to the sentimentalism of children and the militarism of the army, it used everything it could to achieve the desired emotional effect.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Early Days of the Day of Youth
Tito’s Relay (Titova Stafeta) posters through time. An annual race starting in Kumrovec going through all major towns and cities of Yugoslavia before ending in Belgrade on May 25, aka Day of Youth (Dan Mladosti). More on: https://t.co/GU4Qj13TOY pic.twitter.com/hN4EdhfgUX
— Runar Nordvik (@RunarNordvik) May 25, 2020
Tito’s Birthday 1945-1946
In 1945, the “countrywide trail ended in a mass meeting in Slavija, one of the main Belgrade city squares, from which Tito himself was absent. He was in Zagreb, so the final leg of the baton’s journey was made in an airplane. By the following year, there was a protocol in place, according to which the arrival of Tito’s Baton (Titova štafeta) in the capital of Yugoslavia was celebrated in one of the main city squares, usually the Square of the Republic, after which it was handed to the president in a special ceremony arranged at his residence in the White Palace (Beli dvor).” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Tito’s Birthday 1953
“[T]he sports society “Partizan” organized a performance of en masse street exercises on the occasion of the arrival of Tito’s Baton in Belgrade. Beginning that year, the huge stadium performance became a regular practice, with not only the central mass celebration, but also many local “salutes” to Tito’s Baton organized along its long route throughout Yugoslavia.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Tito’s Birthday 1955
“[T]he mass celebration was relocated from Belgrade’s main city square to the Yugoslav People’s Army Stadium.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Tito’s Birthday 1956
Tito ordered the celebration to be dubbed the Day of Youth.
“In 1956, for the first time, the arrival of Tito’s Baton in Belgrade was celebrated with a mass spectacle held in the stadium of the Yugoslav People’s Army. On that occasion, Tito suggested that instead of celebrating his birthday, May 25 should be declared the official Youth Day. He symbolically handed the baton back to the youth…”
“This had direct consequences for the nature of this mass performance. The stadium spectacle became not only a display of sports prowess for the guest of honor, but also a demonstration by and for Yugoslav youth to spotlight their accomplishments in labor, science, and other areas.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1957
The year marks the first time the event celebrating Tito’s adopted birthday is called the Day of Youth and the štafeta the Youth Relay. The relay started in Tito’s birthplace, in Kumrovec, Croatia, and Tito received the baton at the Yugoslav People’s Army Stadium. “The creators of these mass performances acknowledged the achievements of youth by making the end of their race, the Youth Baton handover, the culminating point of the entire ceremony.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
“[T]ime— that is to say, history— began to seep into the geopolitics of the body that was the Youth Relay: every year, the starting point of the run was chosen for its symbolic place in the history of the Yugoslav revolution or for its relevance to the politics of the day. In other words, the štafeta became the means not only of celebration, but also of commemoration and education. It not only organized the diverse cultural and ethnic spaces of Yugoslavia into one homogenous body, but also symbolically inscribed history in its geographical space, and pointed the direction toward the future.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1958
[Images courtesy of Muzej Jugoslavije]
Dan mladosti 1961
Photos (all via Wikimedia Commons) from the celebration of the Day of Youth in Maribor.
Dan mladosti 1963
“[T]he štafeta departed from the central Bosnian town of Jajce to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Second National Antifascist Liberation Council of Yugoslavia (Antifašističko veće narodnog oslobođenja Jugoslavije, AVNOJ), in which delegates from all parts of the country laid the foundation for the socialist and federal Yugoslavia.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1964
The relay started in Skopje, “a gesture expressing the [Macedonian] nation’s solidarity with the city reeling from a devastating earthquake the previous year.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
The slet was moved from the 16:00 afternoon time to the 20:00 evening time, “which gave the Youth Day organizers more opportunities to use lighting effects and fireworks. From that point on, they persistently strove to introduce innovations into this well- established program.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1970
Dan mladosti 1971
“[I]n planning the 1971 Youth Day, [organizers] concluded that the overall concept of the stadium celebration had been so greatly and thoroughly improved and enhanced that they had arrived at the “point where we have to decide: should we keep the existing character of the performance (mass gymnastics with artistic elements) or search for new ways of and new solutions under existing conditions.” After articulating so clearly this perfectly baroque condition of the precarious balance between novelty and tradition, the choice was obvious: the only way to reinforce the tradition would be to increase innovation.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1972
Organizers selected the proposal by a group of experienced librettists entitled This Time Will Be Remembered by Us: Together in Youth, Together in Work, Together in the Future (Ovo vreme se pamti po nama: zajedno u mladosti, zajedno u radu, zajedno u budućnosti). Calling for 9,500 participants, it was the most massive Youth Day performance ever.
The performance, which called for 9,500 participants, intended to “celebrate the creativity and feelings of the youth, and strive to promote the legacies of the thirty- year- long socialist development: self- management, freedom, and brotherhood and unity.” In addition to Tito’s 80th birthday, the performance also commemorated the 30th anniversaries of both the Allied Socialist Youth of Yugoslavia (Savez socijalističke omladine Jugoslavije) and the first volunteer youth work action.
For the first time the performance also featured “the living screen” which had participants holding ribbons form images and messages across the side of the stadium, e.g. “Thank you for the war. Thank you for peace.” and “We love you [Tito].” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1973
Dan mladosti 1977
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Tito’s Last Youth Day, 1979
An abridged version of the live broadcast from the Day of Youth spectacle in Belgrade. rebroadcast on the Serbian TV channel RTS in the program Trezor [Safe]:
TS 2:25 – Young Pioneers sing a birthday song to Tito in “all the languages of Yugoslavia’s nations and nationalities.”
TS 8:05 – “Tito je naše sunce” [Tito Is Our Sun] song with a mass choreography portraying a sun and a heart with the letter T.
TS 31:45 – Song by Djordje Balašević.
TS 35:50 – Sanije Hiseni carries the Youth Relay baton into the stadium, hands it over to Tito with a speech and birtday wish in Albanian and in Serbo-Croatian.
TS 39:45 – Tito’s speech.
Dan mladosti 1980
After Tito dies, the relay baton was handed to the President of the League of Socialist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ), then was transported to Tito’s burial place at the House of Flowers.
Dan mladosti 1982
Dan mladosti 1983
Dan mladosti 1984
Dan mladosti 1985
In Belgrade, a performance by Lepa Brena of “Živela Jugoslavija” (Long Live Yugoslavia).
Dan mladosti 1986
“General dissatisfaction with Youth Day festivities, which increased after an especially kitschy stadium performance in 1983, first turned into an open protest in Slovenia. In 1986, a group of students from Ljubljana’s Art School dragged a huge wooden log to the city center and performed a public action of carving a gigantic Youth Baton, while activists collected signatures on a petition for the abolishment of Youth Day festivities.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan mladosti 1987
In 1987, the Youth Relay was supposed to start in Slovenia. Both the baton and poster designs became sources of controversy:
- the baton featured conical design (vs traditional cylindrical shape) atop a casing housing a videotape (vs traditional written messages) [Jakovljević, 2016];
- the poster, submitted by Neue Slowenische Kunst, selected by the organizing committee, and published in the national press turned out to be a copy of The Third Reich, a 1936 painting by Richard Klein. The design was pulled, but not before highlighting issues with the holiday and the regime/ideology itself and launching a debate of the holiday’s validity [Videkanić, 2010].
A long TV documentary:
The Final Day of Youth: 1988
“It was the first Youth Day performance without a Youth Baton and without the participation of army units and elementary school children. The aim of the organizers was to turn the Youth Day event into “primarily a theatrical, artistic experience,” reducing its political symbolism to date only. The event, entitled Socialism According to Human Measure (Socijalizam po meri čoveka), was directed by Paolo Magelli.” [Jakovljević, 2016]
Dan Mladosti After Yugoslavia
“[T]he scenarios at these mass events are standardized:* the participants connote Tito’s times, including through their appearance, gestures and salutations (e.g. a “Partisan fighter’s” clenched fist, or the “military” salute accompanied with the cry Death to Fascism, Freedom to the People!). Some participants (including children) wear uniforms or partial uniforms once worn by Partisan fighters, the armed forces or Tito’s pioneers, then medals, red stars, red scarfs or badges with Broz’s image; others come in civilian but solemn clothes. They fly Yugoslav and Party flags and banners, while the panegyrics by domestic and foreign speakers receive loud applause and cheers such as True! or Long Live Comrade Tito.
“Participants address each other as comrade, the applause is accompanied by the chanting of Tito’s name, people take photographs by Broz’s sculptures and in front of memorial spaces, and loudspeakers broadcast his speeches (particularly those in which he warned against intra-country antagonism!) and Partisan/Yugoslav songs. Sometimes his impersonators (for example Ivo Godnić) or folklore groups take part in the program.
“Wreaths and flowers are laid, candles are lit, the traditional kolo is danced etc. New eulogies are added to old ones. Most people actively take part in the event, meaning that they not only “listen, watch and applaud” but dance, sing, chant, deliver speeches and so on. In addition to the insignia of Titoism, Yugoslavia and socialism, insignia of other kindred ideologies are also present: for example, images of Che, rainbow flags (symbolizing pacifisim, tolerance, acceptance of the different), alter-globalist symbols and displays. Interestingly, the boisterous behavior in the open stops at the entrance to his house in Kumrovec or his mausoleum in Dedinje; inside, only whispers can be heard.
“Most of the speakers stick to the same pattern: while Broz’s personality, socialism and Yugoslavia are glorified, the current governments are accused of nationalism, incitement of hatred, exploitation of people, wild privatization, corruption, apathy among people etc.
“Needless to say, these events are never missed by the hordes of salesmen offering souvenirs, antiques and tourist items at stalls or by the road. In Kumrovec, the sellers of badges, labels and ribbons in the colors of the Yugoslav flag besiege visitors as soon as they park their cars.”
* “And no less standardized are the attacks on such events. In 2008, the president of the Croatian association of the Diseased Veterans of Homeland War filed a suit against the participants at the Youth Day in Kumrovec for their violation of the Constitution, laws, resolutions and other positive regulations of the Croatian state
“The relationship between the sacred and the profane can also be recognized in the practice of Youth Relay Races, past and present. The relay race, too, is a form of offering, a Maussean reciprocal exchange of goods and civilities (a give-take relationship, “we to you, you to all of us”) which connects vertically and horizontally (relay racers among themselves as well as themselves with the receiver of the baton). At these rallies, speeches, songs, recitations etc. are frequently accompanied with cheers such as, He is alive.” [Velikonja, 2008]
Remembering the Day of Youth in Croatia
Kumrovec During Socialism
In socialist times, “Kumrovec served as a showcase for the stable and prosperous ‘land of workers and peasants,’ as the country was defined at the time” and “a crucial milestone of Yugoslav identity-building.” Formerly, in the early 20th century, a backwoods Zagorje village of 30 houses and 250 inhabitants, “the entire place was acknowledged as a memorial site listed in the register of cultural monuments.” Tito’s birth house was in 1953 turned into the Marshal Tito Memorial Museum. New buildings were erected, including a primary school, which also served as “a platform for monumental celebrations of the Day of Youth and similar political gatherings;” a veterans association headquarters; the Political School; and a steel works, among others. Schoolchildren made excursions here. [Škrbić Alempijević and Zanki, 2021]
Kumrovec in the 1990s
Given that the Croatian War of Independence AKA the Homeland War was fought against the former Yugoslav People’s Army, along with Tito a pillar of Yugoslavia, Kumrovec had to be purged of socialist symbols. Monuments were removed or destroyed and Tito’s residence, Political School and House of Veterans closed down. [Škrbić Alempijević and Zanki, 2021]
“[F]or a long time social pressures…made traveling to Kumrovec for the Day of Youth contentious and politically risky. During the heyday of Croatian nationalism in the 1990s, the village of Kumrovec could not even be found on the map of the newly independent Croatian state. Curators worked hard to reimagine the site not only as the birthplace of Tito but as a much less controversial open air ethnographic museum showcasing the traditions of Zagorje.” [Kurtović, 2011]
Kumrovec in the 2000s
The main celebration of Youth Day takes place on May 25th in his birthplace, Kumrovec. The event is organized by the Croatian Association of Antifascists and Partisan Fighters and the Josip Broz Society. The first such event took place in May 2000.
“[L]arge numbers of visitors make pilgrimages to his native village of Kumrovec in Croatia in order to mark the now defunct holiday through song, dance, and socialist iconography in the company of other former Yugoslavs with whom they share a longing for times past.” [Kurtović, 2011]
Some 60,000 people visit Kumrovec every year nowadays. Depending on the year, five to ten thousand attend the Day of Youth celebrations. They lay wreaths, light candles, take photos with Tito’s statue, dance kolo, listen to speeches and Partisan songs, buy souvenirs, eat at the Kod Starog (By the Old Man) restaurant… Many dress up in Young Pioneer or Partisan uniforms or other occasion-appropriate outfit assemblages, which often include Tito or Che T-shirts. [Škrbić Alempijević and Zanki, 2021]
“They cite diverse motivations and reasons to come to Kumrovec: to express their nostalgia, to create continuity between their past and their present, to criticize their current circumstances and the power relations, or just to have fun iwth their old comrades and enjoy the picturesque scenery. In Kumrovec, they tell and re-enact the stories rarely told in public in today’s Croatia. The Day of Youth celebration functions as an arena for sharing experiences of the life during socialism, which differ widely from the mainstream rhetoric about that period…. Among all the participants, no matter to which generation they belong, memory of Tito and socialism is in fact an attitude towards the past created in the present, a reflection of current socioeconomic circumstances and problems they encounter in their everyday lives.” [Škrbić Alempijević and Zanki, 2021]
“The local tourist organization in Fažana (Croatia), traditionally organizes Tito Days in the week around May 25. There are a number of cultural, sport and folklore events, as well as parties called Titova fešta, with the inevitable baton and its solemn reception.” [Velikonja, 2008]
“The atmosphere is particularly solemn in Kumrovec, where the commemorations are organized by various Tito associations and veterans associations. The jubilee celebrations attract the largest crowds: in 2004, on the 112th anniversary of his birth, around 5000 people attended; the next year, on the 25th anniversary of his death, there were 8,000 to 10,000 people (most coming from Slovenia). For several years, the title of the event was The Day of Youth and Joy, and Joy in Youth, Youth in Joy. An especially solemn commemoration was that of the 115th anniversary of his birthday in 2007. It was attended by representatives from all former republics (his older comrades of both genders as well as young pioneers), who brought to Kumrovec six batons, several thousand members of various veterans associations and many other admirers. In 2008, there were around 10,000 participants, although it was just an “ordinary,” not a jubilee year. The number of young people attending has been increasing steadily, and they actively participate in the program – for example, in 2004, media wrote about a “real delirium” among the crowd caused by a moving speech delivered by a 25-year old woman, speaking on behalf of the union of Broz Associations.” [Velikonja, 2008]
“While studying the celebration of Youth Day in Kumrovec, the ethnologist Marijana Belaj noted that people addressed, greeted, stroked and even kissed the statue of Tito (his coat, legs, pedestal etc.)” [Velikonja, 2008]
Remembering the Day of Youth in Montenegro
“Ponovo štafeta u Tivtu,” Radio Tivat
Following a two-year hiatus, the General Consulate of SFRJ organized another “traditional” commemoration of Youth Day, with music, dancing, and delivery of a relay baton.
“Danas se obijležava 25. maj, nekada najveselji praznik u Jugoslaviji: Štafeta mladosti spajala sve narode” Dan, 5/25/2016 [pdf]
“One can say today everything is the opposite of what the holiday used to symbolize.
Head of the General Consulate of SFRY, Marko Perković said:
- Dan mladosti was the best day of the year in the former country.
- “People used to say, “it’s a beautiful day, like the Day of Youth”. We used to live for for that day. It was a day dedicated to song, love, play, and all the merriest things that comprise life. Happily spent times.
- The Relay symbolized it all, the happiness (luck? good fortune?) of those who lived in Yugoslavia.
- “There was a song that went, “May my heart and yours connect in the Relay, and when a million hearts connect, how great it is, my people.” A million hearts and a million wishes connected through the Relay, which went to Tito from village to village, city to city, and “the most beautiful wishes for him bore the young hearts.”
- The day was special in that young people were at the center of attention. Youth received well-earned stipends, diplomas, and decorations. This was the day when the results of youth socialist consciousness were summarized.
- “We did not forget that day, we simply cannot do that. Through our work, we are trying to educate younger generations by sharing the memories from our youth and how we celebrated the holiday. We try to share our happiness and youth with younger generations, which today do not have ideals or a socially-accepted purpose of life. All their parents and grandparents remember the Youth Day.”
- “It was a sincere reflection of the wishes of Yugoslav people and nationalities to celebrate that holiday together.”
Head of the Podgorica chapter of the People’s Party (DNP), Jovo Pejović, said it would be good today to have a day young people could mark with play and fun, but it would end up being ideologically colored, which is not good. He added that whatever is tied to individual personalities cannot withstand a test of time and that sometimes misleading people is good if the aim is something positive.
The “MAC-MC Lojd” from Sutomore organized a Youth Day celebration, including fireworks. The outfit’s leader Ivan Zanković said in a statement, “We are organizing due to the respectable character of SFRY, to the true respect for the idea of ”Yugoslavism,” and to a credible community based on the foundations of “socialist organization” and “brotherhood and unity”, which were the basic values and sights of the former SFRY.”
“22 projektila u čast Titovog rođendana,” Tivat Radio, 5/25/2014
A ceremony was held on Magnolia Square, drawing a large number of Yugonostalgics. Songs were sung, including the one below, a band and DJs played music, and at the end 122 fireworks were shot in honor of Tito’s 122nd birthday. A 21-year-old local construction worker delivered the relay baton to the stage; the relay had been carried through Montenegro in stealth so as not to violate the pre-election campaigning moratorium.
Štafeta, by Mišo Marić
Kada se moje srce probudi, U maju ruža procvjeta, Nek’ ga ponese milion ljudi, Nek’ moje srce bude štafeta.
Milion srca zemljom kad krene, Neka k’o toplo jato hita, U tome jatu i dio mene Neka sad krene do druga Tita.
Srce moje i srce tvoje U toj štafeti nek’ se spoje. Milion srca kad se spoji, Stoje to veliko, ljudi moji.
I neka srce Njemu kaže Da rastu djeca k’o mlada žita, K’o mlade šume, k’o moćne straže U zemlji Sunca i druga Tita.
“Na put krenula štafeta mladosti – 27.4.2013 – Ivangrad, Crna Gora.” Facebook Photo Album, 4/27/13
“Several hundred citizens of Berane of all ages, following a choreography from the time of former Yugoslavia, today accompanied the Youth Baton from this city to the House of Flowers and Tito’s grave in Belgrade where it will arrive after touring Montenegro, Serbia, and Macedonia. The second relay will start from Slovenia to arrive, via Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kumrovec on Tito’s birthday.”
“”Our togetherness has no alternative. It can only be realized if we follow Tito’s ideas and if we are able to understand those ideas,” was the message to all “nations and nationalities” from the SFRY, sent on behalf of the League of Anti-Fascists of Southeast Europe and the Yugoslav Communist Party by Andjela Popovic, the first carrier of the” Brotherhood and Unity Relay.”
“The Youth Relay from Berane was cast in the Zenica ironworks, and it will be laid in the House of Flowers because, as the organizers say, “there is no man worthy to receive it in Tito’s name.”
“Nice weather allowed a large number of young people, who did not remember Tito or his time, to gather on the square in Berane while the song “Ivo Lola” resounded from the speakers, and folklore ensembles, dressed in costumes from the former SFRY, reminded us with dance and song of the days of unity in Yugoslavia.
“Obrad Stanisic, a member of the Presidency of the League of Anti-Fascists of Southeast Europe, said that the current borders should be bridges of connection and not separation, bridges of reconciliation, love and unity, and even this manifestation.”
“There are reports of new Youth Relay Races in various parts of the former country. One such relay race has been organized for several years now in Montenegro. The runners start from several places (Lazine, Virpazar and Nikšić), with their one-hundred kilometer route passing through several towns (Podgorica, Cetinje) and ending in the coastal town of Tivat. According to the media, the arrival of the baton in Tivat was greeted by a crowd of several tens of thousands. The scenario was the same as in the past: people lined the street greeting the runners, and the concluding ceremony at Obala maršala Tita (Marshal Tito Promenade) included speeches and songs in honor of Broz, plus folk dances. Ships sounded horns, school ariplanes flew above the participants’ heads, and the baton was handed to Mirko Perković, the founder of the NGO Consulate General of SFRY in Tivat (or to the impersonator of Broz). The same institution published a newspaper obituary with Broz’s picture in his Marshal uniform on the 25th anniversary of his death. They also announced at the time a football match re-enacting the one that was played on the day when Tito died and was interrupted at the news of his death. Perković endeavors to promote Tivat as the capital of Yugoslavia.” [Velikonja, 2008]
Remembering the Day of Youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina
“[I]n Sarajevo, a popular hang-out spot, ironically housed on the first floor of the Museum of the Revolution, is called Café Tito. This is where the remaining Day of Youth enthusiasts from Sarajevo who could not make it to Kumrovec, as well as youth in search of a good time, celebrate the evening of the 25th of May.
“Right across from the Museum is the infamous Marshal Tito military complex in front of which there is a life-sized statue of Marshal Tito, identical to the one in the village of Kumrovec. Each May 25th, around noon, delegations and individuals come to pay their respects to Tito, leaving meticulously arranged flower wreaths, red carnations, and messages for the past president.” [Kurtović, 2011]
“Dan mladosti – nekad ushićenje, danas nostalgija,” N1, 5/25/2018 [pdf]
Man-on-the-street interviews with citizens.
“In 2007, a Tito party was organized in Doboj (Bosnia-Herzegovina) on his birthday; the participants danced, sang popular Partisan songs and sipped Cockta, the drink of our and your youth (so this popular soft drink was advertised in Yugoslavia).” [Velikonja, 2008]
Remembering the Day of Youth in Serbia
“The Belgrade-based Association for the Preservation of the Tradition of Youth Work Brigades commemorates Broz’s birthday in a club dubbed liberated territory, followed by a visit to Broz’s mausoleum. [Mini Youth Relay races] take place in Zrenjanin, Subotica and Novi Sad (Vojvodina).” [Velikonja, 2008]
“…at regular annual commemorations in Dedinje: the last one, in 2008, drew several thousand people, and six batons arrived from each of the former Yugoslav republics, with every baton carrier giving a short elated speech. The batons were handed to Broz’s grandson Joško, who in his speech ironically listed Tito’s “sins:” for some, Tito is responsible for all that was wrong: for the bridges that were constructed during his time, while today we are not capable of constructing even a single new one; for health care that used to be free and cannot be afforded today; for factories that were built … He is responsible for everything that they can no longer offer to the people.” [Velikonja, 2008]
Remembering the Day of Youth in Slovenia
“In 2003 and 2004 in Dol pri Ljubljani, several local associations and the junior sections of leftwing parties organized a municipal Youth Relay Race with the participation of pioneers and the Marshal band. Young people and students from Planina pri Sevnici and Šentjur in Slovenia similarly organized themselves, bringing the baton from Kumrovec to Velenje (followed by an exhibition, a solemn reception for the baton, inevitable pioneer uniforms etc.). A Youth Race (Tek Mladosti) also took place in Litija (Slovenia). In 2008, a similar event took place in the village of Lokavec: the guests of honor were Tito’s and Jovanka’s impersonators; the organizers and some participants were dressed in pioneer uniforms, the items on the menu were Balkan dishes (from traditional ćevapćići to the bread and salt offered as a welcome gesture); trumpet bands entertained the guests, and the baton was delivered.
“Youth Day and Republic Day are regularly celebrated in Ljubljana’s alternative culture center, Metelkova, where the distinctive mise-en-scéne is adjusted only enough to match the subcultural and subpolitical atmosphere prevailing there: punk music, do-it-yourself aesthetics noticeable on posters and invitations, and so on. There, the celebration of Youth Day includes Tito Fest (concerts), with its manifesto being Tito’s statement: We spilt a sea of blood for brotherhood and unity. So, we will not allow anyone to touch it or undermine it from inside, to destroy that brotherhood and unity. The events are described as a nostalgic evocation of memories of comradeship and youth (although none of the bands plays yugonostalgic music). Another such concert was organized by the youth of Kumrovec some years ago. The holidays commemorating Broz and Yugoslavia are also marked in many bars and cafes (e.g. Trubar in Ljubljana).” [Velikonja, 2008]
Remembering Yugoslavia’s Day of Youth in (North) Macedonia
“A “mini” Youth Relay Race is organized in Skopje, with the main celebration being held next to the monument to Broz in front of the Josip Broz Tito Grammar School in the city center. According to organizers, one to two thousand people attend the celebration.” [Velikonja, 2008]
- “25th of May – Youth Day “Dan Mladosti.” Yugoslavia – Virtual Museum
- Duda, Igor. “Rhythm of the Year.” In: They Never Had it Better? Modernization of Everyday Life in Socialist Yugoslavia. Exhibition Catalog. Belgrade: Museum of Yugoslav History, 2014
- Gojić, Duca. “Relay of Youth in Yugoslavia.” Go Unesco, 6/18/2016
- Jakovljević, Branislav. Alienation Effects: Performance and Self-Management in Yugoslavia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016
- Kurtović, Larisa. “Yugonostalgia on Wheels: Commemorating Marshal Tito Across Post-Yugoslav Borders.” ISEEES Newsletter Vol. 28, No. 1 (2011): 2-13
- Pirjevec, Jože. Tito and His Comrades. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2018 [Book notes]
- “Sve naše štafete Druže Tito, ljubičice bijela,” Tačno.net, 5/26/2016
- Škrbić Alempijević, Nevena and Josip Zanki. “Croatia After 1989: Memories of Socialism in Post-Socialist Times.” In: Tomas Kavaliauskas, ed. Europe Thirty Years After 1989: Transformations of Values, Memory, and Identity. Leiden: Brill, 2021, pp. 91-104
- Velikonja, Mitja. Titostalgia: A Study of Nostalgia for Josip Broz. Ljubljana: Mediawatch, 2008
- Videkanić, Bojana. “First and Last Emperor: Representations of the President, Bodies of the Youth.” In: Remembering Utopia: The Culture of Everyday Life in Socialist Yugoslavia,. Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2010, pp. 37-63 [Book notes].
Uncaptioned photos of batons taken at Muzej Jugoslavije (Museum of Yugoslavia) in December 2019.