President Goran Gabrić takes me on a walking tour of Mini Yugoslavia.

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Episode Transcript (and More)

[JINGLE]

PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show touring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your guide Peter Korchnak.

[00:20]

GORAN GABRIĆ: So now we are at the entrance of Mini Yugoslavia park. Here on the left side you can see the small bar or the stand with the Yugoslav flag where we normally serve drinks during our manifestations. And also here are the wooden benches and tables where people sit and chat and eat.

Bar at Mini Yugoslavia

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s Goran Gabrić—

[00:40]

GORAN GABRIĆ: —currently the president of this fourth Mini Yugoslavia, the smallest country in the world, as we like to say.

President of Mini Yugoslavia Goran Gabric with Tito painting

[00:46]

PETER KORCHNAK: The smallest country in the world occupies six acres on a privately-owned plot of land on the outskirts of Subotica, a Vojvodina-region town of just over 100,000 residents on the Serbia-Hungary border. Mini Yugoslavia was proclaimed on February 3rd, 2003, the day the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia became the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

[01:07]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Then at the time, my uncle, our founder, Blaško Gabrić, together with his friends, pronounced fourth Yugoslavia on 2.5 hectares of his park.

[01:18]

PETER KORCHNAK: The first Yugoslavia was the Kingdom in the interwar period, from 1918 to 1941; the second was the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, from 1945 to 1991; and the third, in this count, was the rump that comprised Serbia and Montenegro from 1992 to 2003.

[01:35]

GORAN GABRIĆ: The idea behind it is he and the others who are in love with Yugoslavia or Yugoslavia citizens will not let that country that exists for more than 80 years be erased without a referendum. And that’s why they started [the] fourth Mini Yugoslavia in order to gather people from all around the region and to celebrate Yugoslav heritage.

[01:58]

PETER KORCHNAK: Yugoland, as it’s sometimes called for foreign audiences, is part aspirational theme-park, part a regular, fenced park, and part outdoor performance space and event venue. One of its official descriptions, translated from the Serbian, states it is, quote, “a thematic ecopark that gives the possibility of multi-ethnic and worldwide cooperation in the fields of civilization progress, sustainable development, political thought, sports, music, art.” End quote.

I spoke with Goran Gabrić, Mini Yugoslavia’s president since 2018, last December at his office, located at the front, street side of the property in Blaško Gabrić’s now-defunct print shop. The park isn’t in use in the winter and the building had no electricity at the time, so we sat in our coats watching our breath under a stern gaze of Josip Broz Tito from a larger-than-life painting and a fuzzier side glance from a kitschy goblen hanging on the wall.

Tito goblen at Mini Yugoslavia

Tito goblen at Mini Yugoslavia

Goran, or should I say President Gabrić, also took me on a walking tour of Mini Yugoslavia, deserted and forlorn on a cold and damp afternoon.

[02:56]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Yeah, we can walk through there. It’s something around 250 meters in that way and little or even more, closer to 300, and something around 80 on the side.

[03:11]

PETER KORCHNAK: While Goran, as President, is Mini Yugoslavia’s spokesperson, later on I sat down with its founder and now honorary president, Blaško Gabrić, at a busy restaurant in central Subotica. Where Goran is a peaceable, business-minded, on-message millennial, his uncle Blaško is what Americans would call an Energizer bunny, brimming with intensity, no-holds-barred opinions, and stories that go on forever and in all directions.

Seventy-eight years old, Gabrić trained as a printmaker. In the late 1960s, he left Yugoslavia for Canada, where he plied his trade and co-founded the Yugoslav Club in Hamilton, Ontario. He claims to have missed his country so much he returned in 1980 and ran a print shop in Croatia and later in Subotica until he retired in 2009.

Founder of Mini Yugoslavia Blasko Gabric

So why Mini Yugoslavia?

[03:56]

BLAŠKO GABRIĆ: I didn’t made Yugoslavia to make profit off of it. I just want to keep my country, you know. In the same day when Yugoslavia stopped, we have continuation of Yugoslavia. I said we kept the seed. When you have a seed, the thing can grow. We kept the seed.

[04:15]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Blaško was the first, let’s say, donator to the Mini Yugoslavia. He donated his land to the organization of Mini Yugoslavia, that he pronounced his private property as a part of Mini Yugoslavia and opened the borders for every people of goodwill to come and have a good time celebrating Yugoslavia and kind of remembering the history and also having new memories made.

[04:38]

Yugoland or Ekoland?

PETER KORCHNAK: But first, the trees. The official account has it that there are over thirty-five hundred trees of over one hundred species in the park. This biodiversity has inspired the good people of Mini Yugoslavia to promote environmentalism and provide nature education to visitors.

Informational sign on a tree at Mini Yugoslavia

[04:54]

GORAN GABRIĆ: And here on this tree you can see our small board, which says about hedera helix.

As a something what we have done recently just from this year was setting up this small display boards that we recognized all of the trees that we have here in the park. So we have 100 boards set up in the area of all park which are on the written on three languages: so we have Serbo-Croatian, we have English as international, and we have Hungarian as a language of our community here in Subotica, and with on all of them beside the Latin name and we have also some kind of a fun fact about the specific tree or the species and we have also the QR codes that kind of connects this on on a digital way, this knowledge.

Also what we have done this year, we started on subjects of ecology, also, especially specifically on subjects of waste management. So we [have] done here education for the youngsters of Subotica how to treat waste correctly, how to separate and how to do not only recycling but also composting the organic waste.

[06:09]

PETER KORCHNAK: Rather than the trees, I, of course, am much more interested in the forest that’s Yugoslavia.

[06:14]

Events as Means of Gathering People in Mini Yugoslavia

GORAN GABRIĆ: That’s right. Now we are in this area of the park, where is the stage, Stage of Youth so called, where some concerts, music, other kinds of manifestations can happen. Let’s say amateur and also semi-professional musicians have performed on this stage. And here is the place where people gather when there’s some performing. And here in the center is where we play kolo.

[06:42]

PETER KORCHNAK: Kolo being the traditional Serbian circle dance.

Photos and videos on Mini Yugoslavia’s Facebook page capture performances on the stage and around the property, mostly during various Yugoslavia-related events and commemorations.

[06:55]

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

[07:20]

GORAN GABRIĆ: In the beginning, and it became a big tradition, it’s a celebration of Labor Day. But we are doing it a little bit differently. We are not doing it on the first May. We are doing it on the second May. It’s there is no some kind of agenda behind that. It’s only that on the first May, people of Subotica traditionally goes to Palić, and it’s always been like that and we didn’t want to confront with that. But we gave an alternative for second of May. And here we are gathering people with the idea to commemorate the day and to have a good open party. So we have many folklore manifestations, so yeah, traditional dance in traditional outfits. We have many as I mentioned amateur performers, musicians, have small concerts. And we have also sport events, since we have here also sport field for us small football, and we have also memorial of Geza Szekely. This is the chess tournament which is being— is from the beginning always happening here. And what is normally here, we are cooking for the masses, and here people like to come and join to meet with their friends to have a have a good day in the open field.

[08:42]

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

[09:26]

GORAN GABRIĆ: And the next second big date which we are celebrating is 25th of May. And it’s Day of Youth, so called, it was remembered by the birthday of Josip Broz Tito during that time, and traditionally organizations and work organizations, youth, schools, universities, everybody were taking the štafeta, so called, to president Tito and later to his grave.

There we gather and put flowers and then we always have one, this štafeta, and we take it to Belgrade.

[10:04]

PETER KORCHNAK: The Day of Youth was the biggest holiday in Yugoslavia. The štafeta Goran mentions is the Youth Baton Relay. Hundreds of thousands of young people crisscrossed socialist Yugoslavia carrying a relay baton. The Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade has preserved most of the twenty-two thousand relay batons from the holiday’s forty-year history.

On the Day of Youth itself, Tito received one baton from a select youngster at the official ceremony at the Yugoslav National Army Stadium in Belgrade. The stadium was filled with thousands of children and youth, performing synchronized gymnastics, dancing, parading, cheering, singing, shouting slogans… The festivities were broadcast live on TV to more viewers than the Olympic Games.

Mini Yugoslavia carries the torch, or baton as it were, albeit on a diminished scale. Not even Covid could hamper this tradition.

The pandemic did force Mini Yugoslavia to cancel the International Labor Day events. But throughout the summer, groups of people attended work actions, as both socialist and Mini Yugoslavia called them, doing cleanup, maintenance, or landscaping.

And in September, Mini Yugoslavia hosted Ekoslavija, a festival of ecology and anti-fascism. The event aimed to, quote “promote ecological principles, alternative means of transportation, health and environmental values, as well as anti-fascism as a universal human value and a foundation of a society built on equality, brotherhood, and solidarity among peoples,” end quote. It featured Critical Mass and other bicycling-related happenings, presentations of anti-fascist organizations, film projections, and music performances.

[11:36]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Every year on 29th of November, we are celebrating the Day of Republic of Yugoslavia. We have a very big celebration in the center of the city in the so called Workers’ University. And there we gather more than hundreds of people and have a really nice program.

[11:55]

PETER KORCHNAK: In organizing its events, Mini Yugoslavia collaborates with, let’s say, similarly-minded organizations.

[12:02]

GORAN GABRIĆ: And we communicate with other, let’s say, pro-Yugoslav organizations in our city, which also have Centar Tito, and we have Solidarity organization, also have a Communist Party. And then during [the] summer we have working camps, we have smaller manifestations. We would like to have concerts, also, and things are going in that in that direction.

And from the recent years what we have started to building is monuments of people who were recognized and who made Yugoslavia. We started with, of course, our eternal president Josip Broz Tito.

And here is the right next to the stage is the the monument of Josip Broz Tito. And you still you can see the flowers from the 29th of November. That’s right.

Tito statue at Mini Yugoslavia

[12:57]

Tito Statue and Other Decorations at Mini Yugoslavia

PETER KORCHNAK: Stage left stands a replica of Anton Augustinčić’s famous monumental statue of Tito, mid-step, perhaps pondering his next one. What’s the story?

[13:06]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Well, the statue itself…the story goes a little bit back in history you used to have only on a [pedestal] only like the from the shoulders up and the head, which was made out of bronze, but that in that period when this Mini Yugoslavia was attacked by thieves and other people who didn’t like this place, then it was stolen. And then a friend of ours, our member Franjo Mačković, he is also an artist, he said, “Okay, I will make you a new one, and this one will be out of concrete so you don’t have to worry about that anymore.” And then he worked very hard and together with the youngsters from this voluntary camp, they made this and it yes, it is the copy of Augustinčić, I would like to say it’s, it looks very nice.

PETER KORCHNAK: I’m gonna I’m gonna knock on it to make sure that it’s concrete.

[KNOCKING SOUND]

PETER KORCHNAK: It is it is pretty solid. Yes.

[LAUGHTER]

[14:02]

PETER KORCHNAK: The other statues in the park include that of King Alexandar the First Karadjordjević, the first king of Yugoslavia, from 1921 to 1934, and of Field Marshal Živojin Mišić, a World War I general.

So what is, what is this structure, metal looks maybe, like a tent.

[14:18]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Yeah, that’s right. It used to be a big tent. But as you see some pillars are missing and those pillars were also taken away the same time when the Tito’s first bronze sculpture was taken away. And from that period we didn’t find the exact parts to bring it up again. But that is one of the things that we will we will do in [the] future.

[14:40]

PETER KORCHNAK: In 2012, Mini Yugoslavia faced its biggest challenge, leading the world media to proclaim its impending doom. The period received wide coverage in the regional and world media, framing the story as yet another end of Yugoslavia. From Balkan Insight to the BBC to the Boston Globe, the stories paralleled the disintegration of Yugoslavia with the imminent fall of Mini Yugoslavia.

[15:00]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Well, Mini Yugoslavia faced similar problems, of course, in the course in a smaller scale as the big Yugoslavia, and that it was affected by the big capitalism. So actually, one of the multi-national corporational [sic] bank was a little bit problematic. Somehow, we made a couple of mistakes.

[15:23]

PETER KORCHNAK: Blaško Gabrić was a co-signer on a friend’s loan and when the friend failed to make payments, the bank moved to foreclose the property. Gabrić and friends managed to repay the fifty-five thousand euro debt, and Mini Yugoslavia survived.

[15:35]

GORAN GABRIĆ: But somehow we we reinforced our our strength and managed to get the the funds in order to pay out that debt and to clear that problem out.

[15:46]

PETER KORCHNAK: Yugoslavia aside, given the nature of the park as an event space, do you receive any support from the city of Subotica or the government of Vojvodina or even Serbia?

[15:55]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Well, the support of the city of Subotica I may say is very, very low. They only give us some some insufficient funds for events that we make. For this example, for the second of May they receive around 500 euros for all of the event. And as you may see here, in order to have to have infrastructure works here, much more funds are needed.

[16:20]

PETER KORCHNAK: Blaško’s take:

[16:21]

BLAŠKO GABRIĆ: And the government doesn’t wanna help us because they are ashamed what they did to Yugoslavia and they want to forget that they want to make a big Serbia and they want to make Serbia Serbia Serbia… And I don’t give a shit if I live in Serbia.

[16:34]

PETER KORCHNAK: So we’re standing in front of a poster that was for… what is the poster for and what’s the what’s the graffiti on it?

Mini Yugoslavia posters

[16:43]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Here we have this display boards, big ones, and they this one that especially represents the ethnical minorities that lived in Yugoslavia and their folklore and their special kind of outfits. And since years are passing in this original print on them is fading away, some some guys who are visiting this park found a good place to leave their mark as they are ultra fans group.

Mini Yugoslavia posters

[17:17]

PETER KORCHNAK: We reach the far end of Mini Yugoslavia, where a mound of dirt rises out of the flatland.

[17:22]

GORAN GABRIĆ: The most well known for Mini Yugoslavia is the mini Triglav, so called. So it’s one hill, one of the highest parts of Subotica city as we are in Vojvodina here in very low land. So one of the highest highest points in this Subotica city. It’s a small replica of Slovenian Triglav mountain.

It was one of the first things which was built here in Mini Yugoslavia. And it’s actually the the dirt and the ground and the foundation were made out of the when we were digging up the Adriatic Sea, so we used for to make here a Triglav mountain. Yeah, the highest point is something around 12 meters higher than the than where we are staying now.

PETER KORCHNAK: It looks muddy. Normally, I would, I would suggest we go there but it looks looks muddy up there so let’s not let’s not try after the rain.

GORAN GABRIĆ: It’s a little bit because of the rain. And here you see this is a small football field here and here on the other side it’s a place to have beach volley courts and here’s the place for the tents, for camping site.

[18:36]

PETER KORCHNAK: Being from Slovakia, a land-locked mountainous country, I quite like the mountain, the idea of it anyway. It really does look like a dirt mound, covered in grass, weeds, and brush. But for me, Yugoslavia’s main attraction was the sea, Jadran, or the Adriatic. So I have to ask:

Can you take me to the Adriatic Sea?

[18:54]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Yeah, sure, it’s on the other bulevar as we like to say, because we have here boulevards of historic persons.

PETER KORCHNAK: So what was the one that we walked on?

[19:05]

GORAN GABRIĆ: This one is now the boulevard of Karadjordjević family, so the royal family which started Yugoslavia. The one at the stage is the boulevard of Josip Broz Tito, and the bulevar we were the first is the boulevard we were the first was the boulevard of the Petar Blaško Gabrić who is the is the son of our founder Blaško who tragically died in back in ‘96.

Bulevar signs at Mini Yugoslavia

PETER KORCHNAK: I’m sorry to hear it. Was that in Canada or was that here?

GORAN GABRIĆ: It was here, it was here right. Somewhere in front of the printing shop. He was went with his friend on a ride with the bicycle but never came back.

[19:44]

PETER KORCHNAK: So is this the sea?

GORAN GABRIĆ: So actually this is the place for the swimming pool. It should be somewhere around 20 meters long and 12 meters on the different size, and the coast can be made as a replica of Adriatic coast, so you can have all of the islands, peninsulas from now in Croatia and Montenegro also.

And then you can make also a joke about that, that you jump in from here and then you swim over to Italy and then you set up a Guinness World Record.

[20:20]

PETER KORCHNAK: That is funny.

The layout of the park roughly follows that of former Yugoslavia. The Adriatic Sea is roughly where Croatia would be on the map. Triglav, as well as a small soccer pitch, where Slovenia would be. Serbia includes the stage and the building, Bosnia the picnic area, Macedonia gets the front yard, and Montenegro the parking lot.

Model of Mini Yugoslavia

Model of Mini Yugoslavia atop printmakers’ drawers

If official support for Mini Yugoslavia is sparse, the place enjoys notoriety, if not popularity, among the locals. Though I try to see past the off-season nature of the place, the building where the office is located seemed to mostly serve as a storage facility and the park itself in dire need of maintenance and facilities.

[20:58]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Most of the people know about the place and some of them used to come in larger numbers when this let’s say Yugonostalgia was a bit stronger emotion during the time and when this Mini Yugoslavia was at the beginning and developing more faster. Now since we had a couple of years of backdown or, let’s say, slower development or even un-development people somehow lost the that will to come here, that kind of the habit to gather here. But we are working on that to promote this place, to promote the beauty of this place, and to organize here events because the events are the ones who are gathering the people to come here.

[21:44]

PETER KORCHNAK: That fellowship, the coming together of people from across the diverse lands, that brotherhood and unity, was a pillar of socialist Yugoslavia, reinforced through mass events like the Day of Youth and commemorations at monuments and memorial sites. So it makes sense for events to constitute the central element of Mini Yugoslavia.

But since the place aspires to be a theme park on some level, I’m curious, other than events, how many people visit Mini Yugoslavia as a destination.

[22:07]

GORAN GABRIĆ: There are groups of people who know about this place and who have some kind of wish to visit it. And in recent years, they have been some of them. One of the most recognizable one was one from Hong Kong, and which they were led by one person from Yugoslavia who is now living there, and they were really impressed about this and about this socialist history of Yugoslavia.

Also, they’re from other other countries of Western Europe, people are coming and want to see about this.

We had a lot of also researchers, journalists, who write about Yugoslav history, about socialist history, and this place is always kind of unique for them and interesting to visit.

[22:52]

Mini Yugoslavia Passports

PETER KORCHNAK: Do you keep count of how many there were maybe?

GORAN GABRIĆ: Well, we do keep count by giving passports.

[23:01]

PETER KORCHNAK: Mini Yugoslavia is actually a nonprofit organization, with members comprising the passport holders. As a membership card, the Mini Yugoslavia passport is more than a gimmick. Many people in ex-Yugoslavia, including some of the past guests of this podcast, list the red passport as one of the best things about that country and proof positive of its power and international standing. The red passport allowed them to travel to most countries of the world without a visa whereas the passports of whatever country they ended up in, particularly east of Slovenia, carry much less value.

[23:31]

GORAN GABRIĆ: We found that this is one of the most recognizable Yugoslav parts of identity. So we decided that our our membership cards should be made in a way passport. And passport itself is made too, to represent a little part of Yugoslavia history, a little bit about Mini Yugoslavia itself, and also to be a way of a unique and personalized gift for you or for the person you you like, in this Yugo Yugo story.

[24:08]

PETER KORCHNAK: It is indeed dark red, replicating the socialist Yugoslavia’s passport. Other than the photo and personal information pages, it’s a brochure about Yugoslavia. Each republic has a spread, there are pages dedicated to the history of Yugoslavia, Tito’s biography, monuments and anthems (Mini Yugoslavia’s anthem by the way is “Od Vardara pa do Triglava,” our outro tune). And there are photos from events held at Mini Yugoslavia. Some 9,000 people, now including myself, can claim belonging to Mini Yugoslavia.

[24:38]

GORAN GABRIĆ: It provides to to his owner two years free entrance to all of our manifestations. And what is even even more, let’s say, even further that we cooperated with other organizations from other parts of Yugoslavia, and they are offering you the same thing. The free entrance to the museum in Zadar, the free entrance in Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade with this passport.

[25:04]

PETER KORCHNAK: I learned of Mini Yugoslavia from the BBC, I think. It seems Mini Yugoslavia has received quite a bit of media coverage, most significantly during its economic crisis. What about these days?

[25:14]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Well, locally, we have good cooperation with [the] media. And normally they cover all of our events, and also do the the before event during the event and later we also have a in scanning of interviews and things like that. But when we go a little bit wider then we we don’t go that much to this big straight media.

So at the beginning yeah, we were part on, as you mentioned, BBC, also China TV was here, and many others.

But now it’s just recently we were part on Bosnian television, and then we were also national TV, which didn’t happen for 15 years before that.

[25:56]

PETER KORCHNAK: Congratulations!

The Future of Mini Yugoslavia

What does the future hold for Mini Yugoslavia?

[26:00]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Yeah, for the for the next year. We are starting with as I mentioned, we are open seasonally. So we start somewhere at the beginning of April. Since we have this this many trees as I mentioned, we have a big job of collecting all of the leaves. So in order to so that our grass can grow normally and that we have one beautiful park. So we start with the work actions that we collect all of our members and also the people around here.

And we would like also to have one week of work action for open for all the people from Serbia and all the region towards creating a camping site in order to be have ability and infrastructure to organize many different kinds of camps with different subjects here so we can gather young people, also adventurous people and to this Mini Yugoslavia be place of gathering.

[26:55]

PETER KORCHNAK: And what about the building?

Building of Mini Yugoslavia

[26:56]

GORAN GABRIĆ: The idea is to develop a youth hostel, together with a restaurant of national dishes of Yugoslavia, in order to have a place where people can come and spend some time, spend more time during here. And the whole idea about Mini Yugoslavia is, as I mentioned before, to be place where people will gather and also where people will find some kind of informations [sic] about Yugoslavia, and it can be done in a fun and touristic kind of way. So to make it like a touristic attraction.

Building of Mini Yugoslavia

[27:28]

PETER KORCHNAK: Because it is (…) a park and it’s meant to be used as a park and so you know when there are no people it’s it’s it’s a kind of lonely.

[27:37]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Yeah, that’s that is that’s right but we will work on that in order to have a content which will gather people to come in every day, to come visit to come as a small groups, to come as a visitors come as a tourist. We can offer all kinds of fun for four different kinds of interesting people.

[28:00]

PETER KORCHNAK: At the end of the tour, Goran locks the park back up and we return to the office where I ask him one last, personal question.

Building of Mini Yugoslavia

Your uncle loved Yugoslavia so much he wanted to preserve it on his property. What about you, what does Yugoslavia mean to you?

[28:13]

GORAN GABRIĆ: Well, I was born in 1990. So it was the year where actually the collapse of the big Yugoslavia started. So I don’t have any kind of memories from that country, of course. I did was raised in this kind of socialist environment, and in this brotherhood and unity in that way, and also Subotica city is a multi ethnical city so this kind of a normal thing to us.

I remember as a kid, the the Yugoslav anthem was still on by the 2004. So somehow, when I was, you know, watching the sport, and athletes and those kinds of things, even imagine myself in that period, you know how the kids are, then I was always thinking about this anthem “Hej Sloveni”, yeah, so somehow, it always stayed in my heart and has a special place, so yeah.

President of Mini Yugoslavia Goran Gabric

And also I consider that people from this region are much closer to each self, then are to some other European countries or to some some other. And what I, what I most like about Yugoslavia is that it was like a global phenomen[on]. And it was the representer of the Non— the the anti-fascist fight and the fight against neo-liberalism and neo-colonialism. And that way, that way, I really much respect Yugoslavia, and I still believe that for country we’re now, which is named Serbia, one good kind of cooperation will be of course first regionally and then the next next step can be also to find partners and cooperation with the governments and the countries of [the] Non-alignment [sic] Movement.

[29:59]

PETER KORCHNAK: As for Blaško Gabrić, in a 2012 Boston Globe interview, he said “No Bible can describe a more beautiful heaven than the one we had in our Yugoslavia.”

[30:08]

BLAŠKO GABRIĆ: To be a Yugoslav, it’s a beautiful feeling.

[30:13]

PETER KORCHNAK: Now you could dismiss Blaško Gabrić as that eccentric uncle who makes inventions in the shed out back, armed like Doc Brown with a radical vision only a precious few can appreciate. Or you could take him seriously, because man, he is dead serious.

And his view of Yugoslavia is unequivocal.

[30:29]

BLAŠKO GABRIĆ: Yugoslavia was the best country on the Earth. The workers had the right because they was owners of capital.

It was better than today. To most of the workers it was better. Because I had a steady job. I had a good pay. I had free dentist, I had free medical, I had free school, what’s wrong with it?

We lived nice in that country. Why should we forget better country than we live today? That’s [the] only reason we keep Yugoslavia in our memory. We keeping it in our memory, and don’t let any other says that was bad. No, it was good. For usm it was good. That wasn’t maybe good for the West, but for us was good.

[31:12]

PETER KORCHNAK: With my newest passport in my chest pocket over my heart, I step into Montenegro and Goran snaps a photo of me underneath a small billboard painted with socialist Yugoslavia’s flag. This will likely be the only photo of me with a red five-pointed star.

Mini Yugoslavia entrance

As I drive to the center of town to my rental apartment, I’m not quite certain what to make of it all.

Peter Korchnak at Mini Yugoslavia

It gets even less clear after my conversation with Honorary President Gabrić. In the two hours, he covers his personal history, from Yugoslavia to Canada and back; the Bunjevac people, an obscure ethnic group he belongs to; the history of all the Yugoslavias; the positives of Yugoslavia; the fallacies and faults of Serbia, of the United States, of world capitalism… At the end, my head spinning from all the information and a few beers, I ask him for a final word on Mini Yugoslavia.

[31:58]

BLAŠKO GABRIĆ: The mini Yugoslavia, the final word is: I ask you to support small group of the people who loves they life, who appreciate the life they live in they own country, which was destroyed by the stronger countries and the system of the capitalism who didn’t like the workers to be the owner of the capitals. And I am capitalist and I don’t like capitalism. Right? But I cannot alone change the system. But I try to have so much human rights to say what I like and not have a problem because of it. I don’t have a problem because we keep Yugoslavia alive. We have lots of friends, youngs and old, who knows 90 percent of European people appreciate old Yugoslavia because they had good time being a guest in Yugoslavia for holidays. Only politicians didn’t like the system for socialism, that’s all.

Tito photo behind bed frame at Mini Yugoslavia

[BACKGROUND MUSIC]

What Is Mini Yugoslavia?

[33:25]

PETER KORCHNAK: Even with the distance of many months, I’m still on the fence about Mini Yugoslavia. Is it a visionary quest to keep the memory of a lost country alive? A Quixotic fight against forgetting? A futile attempt to recapture something that cannot be brought back? A cry for help, for alternatives, amidst rampant nationalism, rising authoritarianism, and out-of-control neoliberalism in one remnant of Yugoslavia? Conceptual, if misunderstood, performance art? Perhaps it’s a little bit of everything, and perhaps I’m overthinking it. We all deal with loss in our own way. Hey, you’re listening to one of them right now.

What’s certain is that remembering Mini Yugoslavia, my visit and conversations with its presidents, reading and watching the media coverage, scrolling through its Facebook page, I feel as melancholy as that cold and damp day that saw me romping through a park with [a] microphone in hand searching for…what exactly?

When my father was making me practice swimming as a kid, he’d have me front crawl toward him in the pool. But he would stealthily walk backward, so the closer I got, the farther he was, so I never managed to reach him. Mini Yugoslavia reminds me of that. Because the vision for Mini Yugoslavia is much grander than the resources it has or can attain, the park may forever remain unfinished. This leaves open the possibility of completion, someday, somehow. And it is, in fact, what makes Mini Yugoslavia a success in carrying socialist Yugoslavia’s legacy. The same way communism itself became a permanent construction project, never attained and, indeed, unattainable, I sense the completion of Mini Yugoslavia nears even as it in fact recedes into the future.

The same goes for memory itself: as time passes, the more you remember, the more you forget, too.

Building of Mini Yugoslavia

[OUTRO MUSIC]

[35:23]

PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening…and visiting Mini Yugoslavia with me, it was quite a trip.

Find links, photos, videos, and more in the episode show notes at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.

Also in the show notes: subscription links and opportunities to support the podcast. Please leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast listening app or become a member on Patreon (hey, maybe we’ll have passports someday, too).

Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Additional music by Nosens licensed under Creative Commons.

I am Peter Korchňak.

Ćao!