Leksikon YU Mitologije (Lexicon of YU Mythology) is a collaborative 2004 book, and an ongoing online project, compiling 800+ short narratives of Yugoslavian popular culture. This is a running post.
About Leksikon YU Mitologije
Iris Adrić, Vladimir Arsenijević, and Đorđe Matić. Leksikon YU mitologije. Zagreb: Postscriptum / Beograd: Rende, 2004.
Leksikon YU Mitologije, Available at www.leksikon-yu-mitologije.net. Translated from Serbo-Croatian by yours truly with the help of Google Translate.
“In 1989, Dubravka Ugrešić and editors of Start, Dejan Kršić and Ivan Molek, issued a call for co-operation on a project called Lexicon of YU Mythology. A collection of narratives on local popular culture, the Lexicon was supposed to provide an answer to the “question of Yugoslav identities”, which, according to the initiators, was to be explored “not only for the world but primarily for ourselves.” With the collapse of the SFRY, which took place only two years after the launch of the initiative, it seemed that the need for compiling the Lexicon was gone. The official orientation of new states towards a common heritage ranged from a confiscation of memory to the absolute denial and tabooisation of all SFRY culture. However, the project survived as one of the earliest domestic internet forums. In 2001, under the leadership of Dejan Kršić, the provisional editorial office of the Zagreb Arkzin was established and launched a website of leksikon-yu-mitologije.net.
What followed was described by Đorđe Matić in the foreword to the first edition: “In the unexpectedly large number and literally from all over the world, the former Yugoslavs began to send in ‘messages in the bottle’. (…) After collecting the planned corpus of contributions, the book project was created by editors and designers from the Belgrade publishing house Rende and the Zagreb publishing house Postscriptum. With enormous success and great public attention, the first edition was released in 2004 and the second followed a year later, at the same time as the Macedonian translation of the book.
Our attempt to record the topography of the cultural and living space of the SFRY has produced over the past fifteen years and the massive amount of mythology. In some environments, the Lexicon has been embraced as a harmless sentimental memory of the past, elsewhere it has initiated a serious therapeutic process of decontamination of the memory of Yugoslavia. A mix of high and low culture characterizing the Lexicon also marked its reception. On the one hand, as a reference and indeed a cult book, it was the subject of international academic scholars and other experts. On the other hand, it has become the source of pop-culture mutations and imitation, a template for more stage projects, the name of a popular TV show and such a recognizable brand that in 2010 Volkswagen’s entire advertising campaign in Serbia relied on it.
From all the public discussions, reviews, and media reports, the most memorable is the 2005 BBC Radio Review, in which Leksikon YU Mitologije was a book that, within a year since its publication, “played a more important role in establishing a post-war dialogue than five years of collective efforts of all politicians in region.” The accuracy of this assessment was confirmed in 2010, when the Lexicon became a presidential gift at the first meeting of two post-Yugoslav statesmen. Despite the forgetful nature of our times, it seems that it still makes sense to worry about preserving memories of what the abbreviations AFŽ or ZTP meant. In short, the past has a future.
Reviews and Analyses of Leksikon YU Mitologije
[Excerpts relating to Yugonostalgia from reviews and analyses of Leksikon YU mitologije are presented here under fair use or translated from the original.]
Aleksandar Bošković. “Yugonostalgia and Yugoslav Cultural Memory: Lexicon of Yu Mythology.” Slavic Review Vol. 72, No. 1 (2013), pp. 54-78 [pdf]
Uffe Andersen. “Lexicon of a Semi-Imaginary Yugoslavia.” Transitions Online, 6/20/2011 [cached; pdf]
“The lexicon is a corrective to a lie created by the nationalists in the 1990s: that the life Yugoslavs lived together was bad and dark, and that only Yugoslavia’s demise opened the way for a free society.”
Vladimir Arsenijević, Serbian writer / publisher and a Leksikon YU Mitologije editor:
- Yugonostalgia runs deeper than the rather shallow, consumerist version in other former communist countries.
- He rejects the idea that this has to do with irony.
- The Lexicon is a reminder that some of the advantages of [Yugoslavia] could still be recreated – if people want to.
- “At the same time as the concept ‘Yugonostalgia’ was created, we started talking about the provincialization of this entire region.”
Željko Serdarević, a Leksikon YU Mitologije designer:
- “When middle-aged people here in Serbia tell me they’re Yugonostalgic, it means that they believe in the positive values from back then. They believe the past was better than the present and think today’s ‘democracy’ is very much mixed up with crime and so on. But when people in Croatia say that a person is Yugonostalgic, they mean that he believes in the totalitarian system and is against democracy.”
- Admits that the editors might be looking at socialism through rose-tinted glasses, acknowledges that the lexicon falls prey to some of the vices of nostalgia: “Most of the authors were born in the ’60s and they remember Yugoslavia through their childhoods, which came during an economically stable time: mom and dad had nice wages, a new car, could afford summer and winter holidays, going abroad. So, in a way, this book begins in 1961, when modernity came to Yugoslavia, and people started going to Trieste, to buy those Italian raincoats.”
- Defends using the word “mythology” instead of “nostalgia.” “First of all, the project began in 1989, and at that point you couldn’t talk of nostalgia for Yugoslavia since the country still existed.”
- Yugoslavia is on its way to a third incarnation, after the interwar Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Tito’s republic – this time not as a political entity but as a cultural space that covers not only literature, film, music, and other “fine arts” but everyday culture as well, for example a mass product like Cockta which is now again sold across the whole region. Billboards on trams in Zagreb and commercials on Radio B92 in Belgrade tell us, “Drink the Yugoslav Coca-Cola!”
Teofil Pančić, political commentator:
- “We wish for the best from both worlds: from capitalism, freedom of speech and thought, multiparty system, etc. And from socialism a steady job, an almost free flat, etc. And on the way to the EU, people feel as if a stranger has come to their house to demand that they act according to a completely new set of rules.” They’d say, “Oh, no, I want my old, rotten rules. Somehow I managed with them, and who knows whether I can deal with these new ones.”
- Remembrance of Yugoslavia is not only stronger but qualitatively different from other nostalgias. “For East Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, etc. a lot was worse before 1989: they lived poorly, had no freedoms, couldn’t leave their country without special permission. We, on the other hand, traveled wherever we wanted – where now we have to get a visa for almost everywhere. Concerning living standards, we used to say that we had everything whereas they basically had nothing. Then we had this war – whereas they experienced a kind of normalization of their lives. For the Hungarians, for example, every year since 1989 has been better than the previous – while every year for people in the former Yugoslavia, apart perhaps from Slovenes, has been worse.”
- Under such conditions it is only to be expected that people long for “good old socialist Yugoslavia” – though he has criticized such thinking in Vreme. He says that Yugoslavia was a safe place not because it was a socialist country, but because it was a country.
- “I would like people to free themselves from this undefined nostalgia and find out what, concretely, was good and what was bad about Yugoslavia. If one knows what was good about the past – and the present – then one knows what to wish for from the future. But if not, then one will easily fall victim to the first demagogue, as we see in Serbia where demagogues are plentiful.”
- There is no unambiguous answer to “what was good and what bad.” Different generations had very different experiences with Yugoslav socialism.
- The lexicon is a necessary form of Yugonostalgia.
“‘Leksikon YU mitologije’,” tPortal.hr, 10/3/2010
About the book and the symbolism of Serbian President Tadić gifting it to his Croatian counterpart on a state visit.
Jessie Labov. “Leksikon YU mitologije: Reading Yugoslavia from Abramovic to Žmurke.” In: Tatjana Aleksić, ed. Mythistory and Narratives of the Nation in the Balkans. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007. [pdf]
- “The book offers a series of recognitions of literary, cultural, and mass-produced objects which both reconstructs the belief system of the time…and also grounds these objects in the present. It is more than a tool of explication; there is also a task of preservation involved…”
- “while the original intention behind the Leksikon was a search for self-identity in a time of transition, it has become a virtual museum of memories, lost languages, and untenable subject positions.”
- “the fictional cast to the Leksikon project: it claims to document the mythology of Yugoslavia, and testify to the belief system that Yugoslavs lived by, as well as the myth of the ex-federation itself.”
- “The fact that the Leksikon developed in a virtual space which connected those ‘kod kuće’ [at home] and those ‘preko grane’ [across borders] means that it continued to prescribe a virtual Yugoslavia long after the actual state dissolved. Its lack of physical borders allowed the virtual Yugoslavia to exist at a time when conversations about the former Yugoslavia could not take place on the ground.”
- The goal of the Leksikon is not to “provide an authoritative, fixed source of knowledge, but to collect and juxtapose as many sources on one subject as possible, generating an ‘exquisite corpse’ image of people and events with a limitless number of contributors.”
“Knjiga smeha i pamćenja,” Vreme, 5/27/2004
- In principle anything could be the object of cataloging in the Lexicon, if it met the minimal criterion of association so that one or more generations of the whole SFRY or its parts would be reminded of the times when the strange world from Vardar to Triglav existed…
- The Lexicon is a precious proof that it makes sense to remember, that remembering is an identity pledge of those who disagree with remembering being modeled by others for them. And that nothing of what we so well remember was a dream…
- [Includes a great interview with Đorđe Matić about the book and its “aesthetic re-evaluation of some Yugoslav ideas / concepts”; culture and art from that era has value and should not be considered in the same nostalgia-tinted discourse as mass-consumption products.]