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
- Dan Mladosti in Socialist Yugoslavia
- Dan Mladosti After Yugoslavia
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as Tito’s birthday, but in 1957, when he “recognized, in his own way that the cult of personality in Yugoslavia…was outdated” [Pirjevec, 2018: 270] he changed it to the holiday of youth.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.