Yugoslavia lives. It lives, among other things, in the architecture and infrastructure built during its existence. Buildings, roads, and monuments from the Yugoslav era keep that country and the memory of it not just alive but an integral, if sometimes invisible, part of everyday experience in Yugoslavia’s successor countries. The same goes for Czechoslovakia and its progeny.
But the two countries also live on in a more poetic way, an ocean away, on an island at the edge of the North American continent. After they served their representative duties as Yugoslavia’s and Czechoslovakia’s pavilions at the Expo 67 world fair, both buildings were repurposed as cultural institutions in small communities on the island of Newfoundland.
This is their story.
With Jasmina Cibic, Robert Lodge, Kevin McAleese, Donald Niebyl, and Terezie Nekvindová.
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Episode Transcript (and More)
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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show exploring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your guide Peter Korchnak.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – Archival instrumental music – “Expo 67: célébrités et dignitaires y viennent en grand nombre!”]
Yugoslavia lives. It lives, among other things, in the architecture and infrastructure built during its existence. Buildings, roads, and monuments from the Yugoslav era keep that country and the memory of it not just alive but an integral, if sometimes invisible, part of everyday experience in Yugoslavia’s successor countries. The same goes for my native Czechoslovakia and its progeny.
But the two countries also live on in a more poetic way, an ocean away, on an island at the edge of the North American continent.
KEVIN McALEESE: It’s a rather unusual building, in that it was designed and built for the Yugoslavian Expo 67 pavilion in Montreal, Canada.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: It was only a decorated shed, but it could show artworks in a better way. It was presented as a great success in Prague.
PETER KORCHNAK: After they served their representative duties as Yugoslavia’s and Czechoslovakia’s pavilions at the Expo 67 world fair, both buildings were repurposed as cultural institutions in small communities on the island of Newfoundland.
DONALD NIEBYL: There was this kind of apocryphal tale about a ship stranded off the coast that ended up not only being wrong, but instead referring to a completely different pavilion.
ROBERT LODGE: It’s gotten to a place where no one would think it would go. I mean, the buildings are in Newfoundland. Who would think those buildings would end up in Newfoundland?
PETER KORCHNAK: The two former pavilions nearly disappeared from the map the same way the countries they once stood for had. But scholars and artists have been breathing new life into them, keeping them alive in the cultural sphere as well.
JASMINA CIBIC: So the idea was to rebuild the form of the pavilion, but as an illusionist device.
PETER KORCHNAK: In today’s episode of Remembering Yugoslavia: the afterlife of two disappeared countries at the end of the world.
But before we travel to Belgrade, Prague, Montreal, and Newfoundland, remember that it’s you who makes all of the gallivanting and storytelling possible. Thank you and welcome new Patreon sustainers Alexandar, Garrett, James, and Michelle, and thank you, David, for your generous contribution.
Remembering Yugoslavia is a one-man labor of love. If the stories and analysis you hear here twice or more a month enrich your life in any way, please consider supporting the show—and me in making it—with a donation. Visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate and contribute today.
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – Archival instrumental music]
World Fairs as Country Exhibits
PETER KORCHNAK: World’s fairs are large international exhibitions where countries showcase themselves. A precursor exhibition was held in 1791 in Prague but the concept really took off with the 1851 London World’s Fair. After the Second World War, world fairs acquired a more cultural and nation-branding bent. Countries used expos to project an image of themselves along the lines of a given theme.
DONALD NIEBYL: It’s kind of like this international stage where you can go and really show the world who you are as a country and your architecture and your art and your heritage.
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s Donald Niebyl, a friend of the show and the man behind Spomenik Database where in addition to socialist monuments he explores other aspects of Yugoslavia’s architecture. It was an article on his blog that alerted me to the continued existence of the Yugoslav and Czechoslovak Expo 67 pavilions.
DONALD NIEBYL: The whole sort of culture of these world fairs and world expos is kind of forgotten about at this point. I mean, when’s the last time that you heard any real discussion or news about about that world expos occurring, even though they even though even though they do still occur, they’re largely marginalized these days as any sort of sort of like cultural sort of iconic event.
PETER KORCHNAK: In the 1950s and 1960s, the Second World War was in the rear-view mirror, economies around the world boomed, and science and new technologies brought about a sense of optimism about the future. Man went to space, people jetted around the world in airplanes, new medicines saved millions of lives, television and satellites and computers were ascendant. In this golden age of futurism, life promised to be easier, safer, and more comfortable.
As much as a thing of the past techno-futurism is, expos are still being held, albeit to much less fanfare. Expo 2020, rescheduled due to Covid, is actually under way right now, in Dubai, thru March 2022. All the successor countries of both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, plus Kosovo, are among the 192 countries participating.
Expo 67 in Montreal
The 1967 edition of the world fair took place in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was the second post-war global exhibition, after Brussels in 1958.
KEVIN McALEESE: It was seen as a wonderful opportunity for Canada to showcase itself and also invite the world to Montreal.
PETER KORCHNAK: Kevin McAleese is a curator of 25 years at the Rooms Provincial Museum in St. John’s, Newfoundland. More on that later.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
KEVIN McALEESE: So in some ways, it was almost like a miniature Olympics, except that people weren’t competing with sports, they were presenting their own country’s history and culture.
PETER KORCHNAK: Organizers built one and enlarged another island on the St. Lawrence River to host the 6-month event. Sixty-two countries, some of Canada’s provinces, the State of Maine, and a number of industries and corporations participated in the Expo. The theme, “Man and His World,” reflected, to quote an official press release, “a feeling of belonging to the community of man and an awareness of the basic unity of mankind.”
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
PETER KORCHNAK: Expo 67 was also all about innovation, technology, and progress. Among the most architecturally interesting pavilions was the American one, comprising a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. Canada’s exhibit included the Habitat 67 housing complex, a blocky modular structure. Both structures are still standing and are in use on site.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
DONALD NIEBYL: The Montreal Expo itself, if you just look at all of the architecture, it looks like you stepped right into the Jetsons. And I still to this day can’t believe that that place ever existed, because it just seems like something out of a dream, out of someone’s imagination.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
PETER KORCHNAK: Expo 67 doubled as the main event of Canada’s centennial.
Writing in the Montreal Gazette to mark 50 years since Expo 67, Arthur Kaptainis asserted, “The fair brought citizens of the world’s second-largest country together more successfully than had any peacetime enterprise. Expo transcended the divisions by linking the dream of a united Canada with the dream — then prevalent despite, or perhaps because of, the Cold War — of a united world. We celebrate the most successful world’s fair of the 20th century not as an impressive relic, buried in the past, but as an expression of the human spirit that today remains both viable and essential. We should all carry a little Expo with us. It is so much better than the alternative.”
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
PETER KORCHNAK: “It was a time of optimism, a time when everything seemed possible for the city, for the country,” reports Tu Thanh Ha in the Globe and Mail. “The Quiet Revolution had changed Quebec into a forward-looking society. There was a construction boom. Gas was cheap. People believed technology would create a society of leisure…. It was also Montreal’s first exposure to the rest of the planet.”
KEVIN McALEESE: In 1967, Newfoundland and Labrador had only been a province of Canada for about 19 years. Up until then, Newfoundland and Labrador had been a dominion of the British Empire and of the Commonwealth. So in 1967, some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians had never been off the island or outside of Labrador, and a younger generation, so to speak, that was keen to travel went to Expo 67. And in a sense, it was a discovery for Newfoundland and Labrador, to see how wonderful being part of Canada could be.
People were quite amazed and quite impressed with all the pavilions at Expo 67. So in a sense, the Yugoslav and Czech pavilion, they kind of represent that 1960s optimism that isn’t really so visible today, in both Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada.
I’m joking when I say it isn’t the gladiators and the circuses of the Roman Empire but there was a really wonderful optimism and a really wonderful kind of discovery that was going on by many people in the country when they got to Expo and they saw just so much diversity in the world. And everybody was very, so very proud of their own cultural background. So in that sense, it was kind of like a miniature United Nations, a giant party that went on for months and months. And people today still talk about how wonderful it was to go to that exposition.
PETER KORCHNAK: Expo 67 was, according to Inderbir Singh Riar, “perhaps the most consequential twentieth-century world’s fair in terms of the utopian hopes of modern architecture.” The Expo “would irrevocably shape the ways in which Canada…confronted its collective sense of cultural representation and global belonging.”
Czechoslovakia at Expo 67
PETER KORCHNAK: Czechoslovakia won the Golden Star for its pavilion at Expo 58 in Brussels. The restaurant part of that pavilion is now located in Prague. So expectations were high for Czechoslovakia’s participation at Expo 67, and the country was in fact the first socialist country to sign up. Only three other socialist countries participated at Montreal: Cuba, Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia.
Eight million people visited Czechoslovakia’s pavilion, which made it the 5th most visited (the most popular pavilion was the Soviet Union’s with 13 million visitors). Czechoslovakia’s was ranked in the top 3 of the most impressive pavilions, and the restaurant in the Czechoslovak pavilion ranked fourth in sales volume at the Expo.
ROBERT LODGE: I’m from Montreal, I’m originally a Quebecker, and I went to Expo 67 and I know there were long lineups to that pavilion because of what they had inside. We couldn’t get in because the lineups were like three hours long, it went right around the building.
PETER KORCHNAK: Robert Lodge is the former manager of the Gordon Pinsent Center for the Arts in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. More on that later as well.
In the mid-1960s, the Communist Party-led regime in Czechoslovakia was loosening thanks to reformers who ascended through the ranks on the platform of socialism with a human face. Culture opened up as well. The process culminated in 1968, in the so-called Prague Spring, which saw the Expo 67 Czechoslovak pavilion’s commissioner, Miroslav Galuška, become the Minister of Culture.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: Czechoslovakia after the Second World War used the World Fairs as an important tool to demonstrate the ruling socialist ideology and also to develop economic ties, and so on. So the exhibition was the main instrument of state propaganda. And in the exhibition in 1967, we can see a strong faith in a modern form of socialism and strong optimism of forthcoming Prague Spring.
PETER KORCHNAK: Terezie Nekvindová is an art historian at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. She wrote her doctoral dissertation about Czechoslovakia’s 1967 and 1970 Expo pavilions.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: The whole atmosphere was optimistic that Czechoslovakia was a modern socialist state which wanted to show that this kind of socialism is modern and is good for people and everything is okay.
Maybe [an] interesting thing is that, Václav Havel, later our first president after 1989, was part of the team who wrote the first draft of the exhibition concept. It wasn’t accepted in the end. They were maybe more experimental and a little bit naive because they didn’t know how to behave in this field. They wanted to make big iron curtain in the pavilion and so on.
I talked to him in a cafe. It was really nice. He told told me that I know more than him. But only about Expo 67.
PETER KORCHNAK: Ironically, though on the architectural front the Expo’s chosen theme meant to replace the particularist focus on the nation with a humanist, cosmopolitan, universalist focus, countries like Czechoslovakia still went in with a propaganda angle.
Czechoslovakia also brought in the spies. The State Security Service, Státní bezpečnost, established a rezidentura in Montreal to prevent pavilion staff and visitors from Czechoslovakia from emigrating. A counterintelligence officer was the deputy general commissioner at the Czechoslovak Expo office.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: The exhibition had one unforeseen impact, because it helped to promote the good name of Czechoslovak artists and architects, some of whom emigrated to Canada after August 1968. Some people told me that it was much more easier for them to come as an immigrant to Canada in 1968, because one year before Czechoslovakia had a really good, good name because of Expo 67.
PETER KORCHNAK: The Czechoslovak pavilion was designed by Miroslav Řepa and Vladimir Pýcha whose design was chosen out of 92 entries in a public competition. It consisted of two rectangular structures, basically two boxes. The bigger one had a glass-encased ground floor to display glassworks and other objects that required natural light. A series of vertical panels covered the bigger second floor which housed the audio-visual exhibits.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: The architecture wasn’t innovative at all. Postmodern architect, Robert Venturi, wrote in his book, Learning from Las Vegas, that he visited Expo 1967 and it wasn’t interesting for him.
PETER KORCHNAK: He called the Czechoslovak pavilion—
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: —a decorated shed. There’s almost no architecture, but it’s a platform for these audio visuals and to show the art. It was only a decorated shed, but it could show artworks in a better way.
PETER KORCHNAK: Across a terraced yard, a smaller building, again with glass all around, housed a restaurant. Its Western facade reflected the U.S. pavilion’s geodesic dome.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
Content over form dominated Czechoslovakia’s pavilion. Meaning, it was what was inside that mattered more than the container wherein it was presented.
The main reason for the popularity of Czechoslovakia’s pavilion at Expo 67 was the multimedia exhibit featuring Kino Automat. This was the first interactive film in the world.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: It was one of the greatest attractions of the pavilion.
PETER KORCHNAK: One Man and His House—
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: It —was an interactive movie where [the] audience could vote in which way the main hero should act.
The main hero is Mr. Novák, who lives in a modern house in Prague. And he has a neighbor who is [a] nice and blonde, almost naked woman who doesn’t have keys from her apartment.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
PETER KORCHNAK: The film paused in 9 plot junctions and a moderator, the actor portraying Mr. Novák, appeared on stage to prompt the audience vote.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: And so people should vote if he let her in his flat or not.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
PETER KORCHNAK: Every audience, except [for] a group of female Catholic students, voted for Mr. Novák to let his neighbor in.
[SOUNDBITE – Archival footage]
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: But the story always returns to the same end, to the same outcome. The end of the movie is that the whole house is in flames. And the funny thing is that it was interpreted as a hidden satire on Czechoslovak socialist democracy, that everybody gets a chance to vote, but voting never changes anything.
PETER KORCHNAK: The film was later banned in Czechoslovakia. It was revived with multiple screenings in mid-aughts.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: There was also a lot of historical exhibits or artworks because the country presented itself as a modern socialist country but with a very rich history. So there were also originals, like Gothic paintings and Gothic sculptures or Baroque frescoes, and so on. And it’s very surprising for me, because now it’s impossible to present these works of art in this way nowadays.
It was presented it as a great success in Prague or in Czechoslovakia.
PETER KORCHNAK: The August 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and the ensuing normalization period diverted attention in Czechoslovakia to domestic affairs. The story of the pavilion’s relocation was pretty much forgotten for many decades.
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – Archival footage]
Yugoslavia at Expo 67
PETER KORCHNAK: Yugoslavia’s pavilion garnered much less attention at Expo 67. Its location, in the middle of the island between the British and French pavilions may have had something to do with it (Czechoslovakia’s was right on the water). More likely though, it was the pavilion itself.
DONALD NIEBYL: The Yugoslav pavilion, had a lot to compete against. But it has outlasted and outlived all projections.
PETER KORCHNAK: Similar to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia intended for its participation in the Expo to, quote, “enable a much better acquaintance of the Canadian public with Yugoslavia and…influence the further development and expansion of international relations.”
But problems started early on. The design competition for the Yugoslav pavilion drew 59 entries. The selection jury awarded the first prize to a recent architecture school graduate, 28-year-old Miroslav Pešić. The selection of this unknown designer generated some controversy: the design was said to be unambitious and, rather than architectural innovation appropriate for the venue, focused on price and convenience of construction (ironically, of course, these aspects of the design later contributed to the building’s longevity). And, because this was Yugoslavia, some charged Pešić was chosen because he was Serbian, while the runner-up, renowned architect and author of Yugoslavia’s acclaimed Expo 58 pavilion, Vjenceslav Richter, was spurned because he was Croatian.
JASMINA CIBIC: The question here was quite simple. They basically wanted to have a different nationality architect.
PETER KORCHNAK: Jasmina Cibic is a London-based Slovenian artist who did a ton of research on the Yugoslav Expo 67 pavilion for one of her artworks. More on that later on in the show.
JASMINA CIBIC: The government chooses a very young Serbian architect with a project which was, I mean, you would take a seven-year old child to design something that has to represent six republics and one host country, so seven entities, and that’s probably what a child would come up with.
It was a very, very simple structure with seven triangular shapes. I mean, you know, it really looked like, I mean, especially compared to Richter’s design, really looked like a joke. That was the pavilion that was realized, this poor young Serbian architect had a total breakdown, never did any other projects or significant projects after that.
The project in Montreal didn’t really work out. So they actually invited Richter to come and save the interior, because this guy just failed completely. So it was this really interesting case study of this proper design by committee.
PETER KORCHNAK: The building of Yugoslavia’s Expo 67 pavilion consisted of seven triangular, white structures, reminiscent of prisms, sitting next to each other, some facing one, others the opposite way. They were said to symbolize Yugoslavia’s six republics and Canada as the host country.
In his interior design, Richter incorporated some elements of his runner-up design. For the 7 million visitors, the Yugoslav pavilion presented, in the words of the official guidebook, “Yugoslavs working for a democratic, prosperous society. [The Yugoslav pavilion] endeavors to portray how, in the story of “Man and His World”, Yugoslavia has adopted the special role of a bridge among all countries of the world. It relates a long and colorful history and ancient culture to the dynamic forward impetus of today. There is music to match mood, and art displays, including priceless national treasures and contemporary work. A section devoted to industry treats production not as an end but as a means for a free and democratic life. The close ties that link Canada and the United States to Yugoslavia are remembered, a comradeship that spans two World Wars and years of peace. The pavilion’s theater shows feature films from Yugoslavia, documentaries and cartoons, live concerts and folklore programs by Yugoslav artists. Yugoslav export goods are on display, and experts are ready to discuss business opportunities. Literature describing Yugoslavia is available. Culture, the country’s role in international affairs, economy and tourism, social system and government are principal theme subjects.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. According to Cibic, the national day, which each country organized at some point during the expo, turned out to be a disaster for Yugoslavia. Not only did it coincide with a Canadian national holiday, which depressed attendance, the government brought in a Croatian national dance troupe touring the U.S. at the invitation of the diaspora there and had them perform a kolo, a traditional dance that was, in terms of representation, a far cry from the progressive, modern image Yugoslavia aimed to convey.
What’s more, among people visiting Expo 67 were Yugoslav émigrés who weren’t exactly enamored not just with the pavilion but with the country itself.
JASMINA CIBIC: And they are attacking the pavilion, so the pavilion gets shot at, it gets attacked by hammers, sculptures get vandalized. They have been, they actually organized really big demonstrations where they were actually carrying a slaughtered pig with the with the name of Tito on it, I think it was [in] Ottawa.
And it’s a really wonderful stand in for the body of the President. So Tito and his delegates do not come to Montreal, because the Canadian authorities did not allow Yugoslav secret police to come with the diplomatic corps. So then the Yugoslav secret police basically said to Tito, we cannot guarantee your safety, there have been many death threats.
PETER KORCHNAK: Expo 67 ended up being the last time Yugoslavia participated in expos.
JASMINA CIBIC: With Montreal they kind of realized that this is just way too expensive and actually, it’s not reaching the objective that they want. So we really see a complete withdrawal from the presence at the world expositions. And rather, Yugoslavia starts to invest in [the] building of monuments, kind of memorial infrastructure within its own ground, to enhance and, let’s say, heal the divisions that were starting to become really, really apparent.
PETER KORCHNAK: Expo pavilions and other structures have usually been temporary, built specifically for the event and dismantled afterward. A few iconic world fair structures still stand: the Eiffel Tower, from the 1889 exposition universelle in Paris, the Atomium from the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, or, closest to me here on the West Coast, the Space Needle from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition in Seattle.
Both the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav pavilions were designed to be dismantled and sold. The governments of both countries accomplished that mission—and then some.
KEVIN McALEESE: For us to obtain, the Newfoundland and Labrador folks to obtain those two pavilions was, in a sense, quite a coup.
Czechoslovakia’s Expo 67 Pavilion in Newfoundland
ROBERT LODGE: The Czech government had a list of interested buyers. And on the first list, Newfoundland was the last choice. There was like I think 10 others.
PETER KORCHNAK: Robert Lodge again, from Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, population 14,000.
Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau wanted to keep the Czechoslovak pavilion on site, lock stock and the restaurant barrel, and share the profits with Czechoslovakia. But he only offered to pay a symbolic one dollar.
Newfoundland’s prime minister, Joseph Smallwood, had expressed a more concrete interest in both the Czechoslovak and Yugoslav pavilions.
Expo 67 was three weeks from closing when disaster struck. On September 5th, 1967, Czechoslovak Airlines Flight 523 from Prague to Havana via two refueling stops crashed upon takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland.
ROBERT LODGE: A lot of the people from central Newfoundland, first responders, hospitals, etc, etc. went to the aid of this crash.
PETER KORCHNAK: Of 69 people on board, thirty seven died. The coordinated, multi agency effort by the local authorities, hospitals, and residents led to 34 people getting rescued from the wreckage.
ROBERT LODGE: And in recognition of that, the building became available to the Newfoundland government.
PETER KORCHNAK: This is one version of the story. Czechoslovakia donated the pavilion building to Newfoundland as a token of gratitude for the locals’ assistance in the rescue operation. Such a gift also helped evade paying the sales tax and customs fees.
But Premier Smallwood later asserted the plane crash was unrelated and Newfoundland simply bought the building outright. But then again, the province purchased the pavilion for 230,000 Czechoslovak korunas, about the cost of a single-family house in Czechoslovakia, so there’s that.
The pavilion was disassembled and—
ROBERT LODGE: —divided in two because Gander and Grand Falls had both sent people to help.
Grand Falls got the exhibition area of the pavilion, and Gander got the small theater part and restaurant areas.
They were very separate entities at the pavilion, so they were easy to divide.
PETER KORCHNAK: Kind of like the country, my country, itself.
ROBERT LODGE: I don’t think Gander was officially open till 75. It took longer to open that one because, of course, the government kept running out of money.
PETER KORCHNAK: Gander, population 12,000, is about an hour east of Grand Falls-Windsor. The restaurant section of the pavilion serves as a swimming pool there.
Named in 2005 after a famous Canadian actor who is from Grand Falls-Windsor, the Gordon Pinsent Center for the Arts is a performing and visual arts institution with a theater, art gallery, and library.
ROBERT LODGE: It’s in a government complex. It was recreated there or reconstructed there from 1968 to 1971. The building officially opened in 1971 as a performing arts venue and an art gallery.
It’s huge, it’s all open, it looks just like it did it at Expo, the building. It’s all glass all around the front exterior in the top part of the building. I’d say half this glass half that’s covered in.
PETER KORCHNAK: Lodge is the former manager of the Gordon Pinsent Center for the Arts.
ROBERT LODGE: It’s a nice building to work in. It has a beautiful art gallery space and the theater is a beautiful little intimate theater, I mean, it’s great acoustics.
And the fact that it’s all windows, really hard to heat, especially in the winter, not practical for Newfoundland winters. But other than that the space is a gorgeous space.
The government has taken really good care of it and they’ve updated things in the building and the technology in the theater has been updated constantly and so it’s in good shape and it’s in good hands.
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TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: I was surprised that the facade is now covered by another facade made from plastic. The original was steel can construction filled with tiles.
PETER KORCHNAK: A lot of historical records were destroyed or lost after the 1968 invasion. Czechoslovakia’s Expo 67 pavilion was nearly forgotten in its dual homelands. One of the surviving architects didn’t even learn the story until the early aughts, when a Czech-Canadian scholar “discovered” the pavilion building was still standing. Soon after, Terezie Nekvindová contributed to the revival of the Czechoslovak pavilion’s memory.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: I visited Newfoundland in 2008 and I really enjoyed it. I have to say that it was the most adventurous part of my research so far. I came there by a small plane and I was in quite another world. I wanted to celebrate and drink a beer, but I had to buy [a] whole box so I didn’t buy anything.
PETER KORCHNAK: Nekvindová worked with Lodge to obtain materials about the building’s history.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: And very nice and moving was that a few residents still remembered [the] Czechoslovak pavilion on Expo 67 and they shared their memories from Montreal with me.
I was really happy when when I saw these pavilions and I found out that there are also some works of art.
PETER KORCHNAK: Including some statues around the Center lot and other artwork inside the building. Some of the artworks were included in the sale of the pavilion building. Many more were sold and scattered around Canada and the U.S. When he was manager, Lodge worked to gather as many pieces as possible back into their original site of the pavilion building. Some weren’t discovered until this century, stored in boxes around Newfoundland.
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: And I said, “Wow, Czechoslovak art is here also.” And Robert or another local person told me, “No, no, it’s Canadian, it has always been here.” But we were looking at the sculpture from Czechoslovakia from [the] 1960s. I was happy that they think that it’s Canadian because it fits there.
PETER KORCHNAK: Also inside the building, by the box office, is—
ROBERT LODGE: —something that I put together. It’s a display that talks about the building, shows you pictures of the building, shows you pictures of where it was an expo with the aerial views, maps of what was the Expo, lineups of people trying to get inside the building. So you get a reference point and there’s text as well that explains the history, the lore and all that stuff.
PETER KORCHNAK: The story of Czechoslovakia’s Expo 67 pavilion is one of socialism, innovation, business, tragedy, afterlife, and discovery. It both makes sense and sounds completely implausible.
ROBERT LODGE: It’s gotten to a place where no one would think it would go. I mean, the buildings are in Newfoundland. Who would think those buildings would end up in Newfoundland?
Yugoslavia’s Expo 67 Pavilion in Newfoundland
TEREZIE NEKVINDOVÁ: I don’t know about Yugoslavian pavilion a lot but I, I’ve heard from the widow of the Czechoslovak Commissioner that these general commissioners of Czechoslovak and Yugoslavian and pavilion were very, very close friends. So maybe it had some influence why these two pavilions were sold to Newfoundland.
PETER KORCHNAK: A five-hour drive from Grand Falls-Windsor, south as the loon flies, on the Burin Peninsula AKA The Boot, is the fishing town of Grand Bank, population 2,300 and home of another implausible tale.
KEVIN McALEESE: Through the jigs and reels of life, we have ended up with the former pavilion of Yugoslavia as one of our small community museums that features a lot of history to do with the fishing culture of Newfoundland and Labrador in the region known as the Southwest Coast, where there was a schooner fishery, a schooner ship fishery for about 300 years.
PETER KORCHNAK: Kevin McAleese again, of The Rooms Provincial Museum.
KEVIN McALEESE: There isn’t so much of a fishery there now and the schooners are long gone. But we have this amazing building as our memorial, so to speak. And it’s a rather interesting story to think that a building designed to represent the former country of Yugoslavia at Montreal’s Expo 67 and Canada is now reinvented, repurposed as a fisheries museum basically, in southwest Newfoundland. The building itself is in a sense, the biggest artifact in the world.
PETER KORCHNAK: While Yugoslavia’s pavilion garnered relatively little attention from the architectural community—
KEVIN McALEESE: —when our premier, Joseph Smallwood, got to Expo 67, he was so impressed with this building that he investigated what was going to be done with it after the Exposition was over. Mr. Smallwood got involved with the Yugoslavian government and put a bid in on it and he, along with one of his colleagues, Mr. T. Alec Hickman, they decided that this building was going to go down to Grand Bank, Newfoundland, because the prisms to them actually resembled the sails of the schooners that used to sail out of Grand Bank and all around the southwest coast.
And they also wanted to develop I’ll say a community museum for the reason region to boost tourism, and for the community to have a center where they could come together and socialize and have exhibits from around the country and basically teach young people as well as older people about the history of that area. So they wanted to basically turn the facility into a kind of a community cultural educational place, which is what it has become.
It was dismantled in Montreal, and then shipped and trucked to Grand Bank, Newfoundland, which is a distance of about, I’ll say, 2,500 kilometers. And most of it was done at sea. And then it was deposited on the shores of Grand Bank.
PETER KORCHNAK: Newfoundland bought the pavilion for a symbolic one dollar after reimbursing an original buyer with the sum of thirty-thousand dollars.
Like the dismantled Czechoslovak pavilion, it took a few years for the Yugoslav pavilion to be rebuilt.
KEVIN McALEESE: It sat there from ‘67 till about 1970, because they had to get the funding to put together the building after they’d actually bought it.
PETER KORCHNAK: The rebuild cost about one million dollars.
KEVIN McALEESE: And there was a bit of controversy in Grand Bank about why this pile of steel was sitting on the edge of the shore and it wasn’t being turned into a building as in fact, they wanted it to be. So it took some political wrangling. But eventually construction got started, I’ll just say late in ‘69, early 1970. And in fits and starts, they put the building together, they put new cladding on it, they rebuilt it somewhat inside out, because some of the materials had rotted or they weren’t up to Canadian standards.
And at one point, it didn’t happen but at one point, they actually were thinking before the building was completely closed up, of trying to fit a small schooner into the building and then build the rest of the building around the small schooner. And the masts that would have been on the schooner would actually have had a good fit with some of the angular prisms, because they were so high, the building is actually about four storeys high, but the bulk of it is only about two stories, but the spires or the prisms reached to the sky. And so the mass of the schooner could actually have fit in there quite nicely. But in the end, they didn’t, they didn’t do that.
And then they opened it, as I said, on September 4, 1971.
PETER KORCHNAK: More than a 1,000 people attended the opening ceremony of the Southern Newfoundland Fishermen’s Center, later renamed to the Provincial Seamen’s Museum.
Reception to the building was mixed. Local news articles called it “one of the most attractive buildings anywhere in Newfoundland, Canada or even all North America.”
KEVIN McALEESE: And some of the headlines said things like, would you believe that this building is in Newfoundland? Because it certainly didn’t look like a conventional, Newfoundland, traditional, or even conventional Canadian architecture for the time. A more traditional Newfoundland building would be a rather square, or rectangular building, an official building might be two or three stories, and often made of wood, or at least the houses, of course, were made of wood, wood was a standard building material. But of course, in the 20th century, a lot of brick and stone were starting to be used.
But this building was extremely unusual. In some ways, it was almost like a church from the medieval period, but with many spires except they weren’t spires, they were prisms. And they also clad it with new materials and painted it white.
PETER KORCHNAK: And a lot of locals liked it. But—
KEVIN MCALEESE: The local people who saw the building being constructed and who needed to have a large facility that could act as a community center and as a museum and as a tourism opportunity, many of them were not happy when the building was built and constructed because they weren’t really consulted in how it would operate.
A lot of people thought it was just very strange, and they just weren’t taken by it. It didn’t look like the kind of buildings that most Newfoundland people and Labrador people would ever have seen before in their lives. It was so strikingly unusual that a lot of people didn’t even want to spend much time going into it, although eventually, you know, that initial distaste for it passed, but they weren’t really encouraged by the kind of programming that went on.
PETER KORCHNAK: The Provincial Seamen’s Museum is one of three museums operated by The Rooms, which is based in Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s, about 5 hours east. The permanent exhibit is all about the local fishing industry and its heritage, featuring objects fishermen and fisheries have used since the 1800s.
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KEVIN McALEESE: There was contribution locally for exhibits to be developed, because some of the museum collection that’s still there now actually was obtained by local people donating fisheries objects. It’s always had quite a fisheries history focus, there’s, there’s quite a few boats, small boats down there, the type that maybe two or three fishermen would use. There is a lot of fishing gear, there’s gear from lighthouses, there’s a lot of everyday objects that fishing families would have used.
And about 10 years ago, a very large mural was painted on one side of the building, depicting what life would have looked like about 100 years ago. So there’s period dress and period vessels and period people. And the mural is getting a bit worn but it looked fabulous when it opened, and it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to brighten it up some more.
PETER KORCHNAK: The mural is said to be the largest painted mural on Canada’s Atlantic Coast.
KEVIN McALEESE: So it has become, slowly, something that the local people and regional people can be proud of, but it certainly didn’t start out that way.
PETER KORCHNAK: As with the Czechoslovak pavilion, there has been some confusion about how the Yugoslav pavilion ended up in Newfoundland.
As far as I can tell, the story you heard is what happened. But there was another version in which the dismantled Yugoslav pavilion was sent back to Belgrade. The ship encountered rough seas off Newfoundland and Grand Bank fishermen brought it safely to shore. Yugoslavia then donated the pavilion to Newfoundland as a thanks.
The Montreal-based designer DC Hillier has written a short personal recollection of the building: “I was born after Expo 67 had ended but spent the first years of my life completely ignorant of the fact that I had been growing up with a rather large portion of it almost in my back yard. In my hometown of Grand Bank, Newfoundland there is an odd building that looks like a cluster of white triangles juxtaposed in such a way as to create zig-zag of points along its roofline, which was at its tallest about 70 feet high. Everyone just called it “the sandwiches,” but it was, in fact, the Seaman’s Museum, a facility preserving the maritime heritage of the area. It wasn’t until I was in the 6th grade that a teacher mentioned that this building was the old Yugoslavian pavilion at Expo 67. To my parents the very mention of Expo 67 seemed very exciting but it was a mystery to me. It was then that I became aware that I was not like my parents in that they had a memory I could not possibly have and that their experiences were not mine. My only connection to their knowledge and experiences of Expo 67 would be relegated to old family photos and Super 8 films – and a rather odd building down the street.”
About 3,000 people visit the Provincial Seamen’s Museum in a normal year. Covid hit attendance hard, of course, with less than half the usual number visiting.
KEVIN McALEESE: Schoolchildren visit it regularly from the region. It’s not a fairly well populated part of the province. But schools have bus tours and they bring children in. And tourism has been growing all the time since the 1970s in Newfoundland and Labrador. So there are more and more tour buses that reach the area while they’re on tours crossing the island of Newfoundland. And so it has become something of a drawing card, as they might say.
It draws on a larger hinterland and it draws on international tourism to boost those numbers. It isn’t a real revenue generator for the province. It’s like a lot of these things, you have to come here and see the province, in a sense, as a region and then there’s these little jewels that that are polished up in each region which give the visitor a lot more information to do with historic occupation and settlement.
And the other problem in a sense is that they close the museum down for a few months every year because the tourism in this province drops off quite a bit in the winter. They’ve just decided that to save money, they keep the building in good shape, but they don’t actually operate it hardly at all.
They do open it up for conferences, and they do open it up for special meetings on occasion. So it does get business clientele. But generally speaking, it only operates about eight months of the year.
PETER KORCHNAK: The Museum is closed for the season.
As for the Yugoslav connection—
KEVIN McALEESE: I think the province as a whole is very proud that this building was purchased in a sense from Yugoslavia. But I think that as time has gone on, many people who were around when the building first opened and who would have known more about how it came to be, a lot of those people aren’t aren’t with us any longer.
I think it’s seen as kind of a quirky, interesting-looking building. And people are happy now to have it because it does represent a kind of a futuristic, architectural character to Grand Bank. And I think the people are using the building more and so I’m still of the feeling that the Yugoslavian connection is not as well known as it should be. And I think that the Canadian and Newfoundland public would benefit if they knew more about how the building came to be.
And I think that whole interesting story isn’t really represented as well as it should be. But again, you know, the building was repurposed as a museum to the history of Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries and so, perhaps it’s not unusual to think that the actual building itself isn’t seen so much as an artifact of Yugoslavia.
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JASMINA CIBIC: The Yugoslav pavilion in Brussels was also sold in that became a school and it still is a school and what is so fascinating is that they actually still have the, the word Yugoslavia on it.
PETER KORCHNAK: Artist Jasmina Cibic again.
JASMINA CIBIC: And the principal of the school is still kind of really aware of the significance of the building. So they still organize exhibitions and projects about the architect, about Yugoslavia, which is fascinating. And the pavilion from Montreal was bought and repurposed and there’s absolutely no trace that this was a pavilion of Yugoslavia, it was completely repurposed as a different structure.
PETER KORCHNAK: To mark the Grand Bank museum’s 50th anniversary, McAleese put on an exhibit there about its history.
KEVIN McALEESE: In some ways, it’s almost ironic that these two examples of we’ll call them socialist architecture had a shelf life that went on for decades and is still going on.
PETER KORCHNAK: Including in Czechoslovakia, of all places. In 1974, a lodging resort was opened in Tatranská Lomnica for the meeting of the International Federation of Camping and Caravanning. The design of the accommodations units resembled the Yugoslav Expo 67 pavilion: 116 prism-shaped bungalows with alternating orientations plus a reception, information center, two restaurants, a discotheque, a pool, and a sauna comprised one of the biggest such complexes in the High Tatra Mountains. Whether the Slovak architect Eugen Kramár was really inspired by the Yugoslav pavilion’s design or the design was really as simplistic as Cibic talked about earlier is actually moot. Eurokamp was closed in 2009 and only ruins remain on site.
“State of Illusion” and the Yugoslav Pavilion
[MUSICAL INTERLUDE – “State of Illusion”]
PETER KORCHNAK: In 2018, Jasmina Cibic used the Yugoslav Expo 67 pavilion as a centerpiece of the conceptual work, “State of Illusion.”
JASMINA CIBIC: This idea of art and architecture being used as a cloaking device, as a camouflage tactic, if you want, sometimes, you know, it has to conceal, sometimes it has to reveal, it has to conceal the schisms, the frissons, the nationalism, and it has to reveal, you know, the beauty and the glory of the country and the achievements. And it’s basically like a magician. So I kind of thought this is a really lovely metaphor of just kind of looking at the Illusionist tactics and the scene setting that culture is called upon to act out in order to represent a nation state or a transnational structure even.
PETER KORCHNAK: Each of the prism-like parts of the pavilion is re-imagined on stage as a triangular skeleton structure on wheels.
JASMINA CIBIC: The idea was to rebuild the form of the pavilion, but as an illusionist device. So this was then the film. And we went to film in Sombor, in Serbia, in a small theater. We filmed the triangular structures on the stage. So it’s kind of you know, this kind of notion of them being this illusion, the stage set is very, very clear.
And then throughout this film, there are different tricks where the illusionist who is female disappears in each of the boxes, but every time in a more violent manner, until she completely disappears. And she is aided in this disappearance by three henchmen, who kind of deviate from being her henchmen or her assistants into actually becoming the ones that cause her destruction. So this sort of metaphor of also, you know, sort of state bureaucracy that aids the illusionist, or you know, the architect or the artist, and then kind of like, creates or causes her own collapse is also there.
PETER KORCHNAK: So they’re not Milošević, Tudjman, and Izetbegović?
JASMINA CIBIC: [LAUGHS] I really love to leave these things open, because, you know, I work with so much facts. And I really want to go away from creating didactic exercises. So I really, really, really want to leave space open. Also for, you know, different interpretations. You know, it’s even if it is about the pavilion of former Yugoslavia, you know, it’s not necessarily that the audience knows this. This whole idea of, you know, oh, you know, it’s former Yugoslav artist, or this is relating to the center, you know, there’s been so much of this need to know the trauma of the past to be able to unlock the artwork that I really want to go away from that. I mean, that’s why though, then we have the publications. And that’s why, you know, I’m very thankful to you to kind of create this platform for discussion, because of course, these things are extremely important for the work, but I do not want to go to that depth to say they are necessary keys to understanding the work.
PETER KORCHNAK: Cibic’s description of “State of Illusion” says that the “conceptual play on nation states as illusions points toward the fragile nature of their conception and survival and pours accent to the stagecraft mechanisms of spectacle which surrounds their presentation to the international spectatorship – hungry for the populism of the growing nationalist tendencies and their destructive force.”
JASMINA CIBIC: It’s quite a long form piece. And it was actually really tricky to film.
All the knives that are falling down are real knives. So, you know, even if it is, you know, it’s about the illusion-making tactics, we kind of it was the first time we were making illusionist boxes, and we just did the real thing. So it was actually extremely traumatic to film. And we were very happy that nobody died. The idea was, we’ll actually do it as a live show at some point, right? But, um, yeah, we never quite got to that point. But they are all real tricks.
PETER KORCHNAK: In my conversation with Jasmina Cibic we also discussed how State of Illusion fits into the greater context of her art, about architecture’s role in nationalism, about being a Yugoslav woman, and other topics. This interview will soon appear in a bonus episode, available exclusively to Remembering Yugoslavia’s Patreon supporters and donors. You’ll be able to find it at Patreon.com/RememberingYugoslavia.
JASMINA CIBIC: It is kind of quite a universal, universally-relevant story, and it’s just so fascinating how, you know, we’re looking at the kind of whole, you know, patriarchal structures that you know, everybody or not almost every autocrat first wants to build. It’s almost this kind of sacred possessions of building and it is quite incredible how drawn humanity is toward constructing these edifices of representation.
PETER KORCHNAK: When I first read the story of the Yugoslav and Czechoslovak pavilions at Spomenik Database, I thought, how poetic: Both Yugoslavia’s and Czechoslovakia’s Expo 67 pavilions, showcases of countries that ceased to exist a quarter century later, ended up operating as cultural institutions in the place called Newfoundland. I was quite excited about that. I mean, the two disappeared countries live on on a faraway Canadian island whose name connotes discovery, how great is that? The residual nostalgias I feel about my two homelands, one real, the other imagined, sailed across the ocean and into the buildings I’ve never seen and perhaps never will.
As I dug deeper and deeper into the story, things took a prosaic turn. It’s not just that the more I learned the more of a historical account the whole thing became.
The Ship of Theseus was preserved in ancient Athens to commemorate the hero’s accomplishments on the battlefield. As years went by, parts of the wooden ship had to be replaced until soon every part had been replaced. Was the restored ship the same ship as the one that had docked at Athens decades prior? If the ship were rebuilt from the original pieces into a ship, would the reconstructed ship be the original ship? What of the restored ship?
I used to be on the side of the philosophers who held that the restored ship was indeed the same ship. This was my starting point with the story of the pavilions. They’re the same buildings, using most of the original materials as well as some replacements.
But regardless of whether the restored ship of Theseus was the same as the original or not, its meaning was the same, it signified the same thing. It would have remained the same even if the original had been dismantled, transported elsewhere, and rebuilt there. Unless they turned into a taverna or something.
The two pavilions may both contain a little exhibit on what they used to be and how they arrived to their current coordinates, but not only is what they stood for gone, their function as showcases of those countries is gone too. Almost the same-looking and consisting of many of the original parts as they may be, they are different ships altogether. Illusions indeed.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]
PETER KORCHNAK: Next on Remembering Yugoslavia:
ANIA ENGLAND: He was like, queer amongst the communists and he was like, queer for for the West because he was communist…
PETER KORCHNAK: A sea of ink has been spilled on tracing the life of Josip Broz Tito. At least a dozen lengthy biographies tell the story of the man, the Partisan, the communist, the statesman, the symbol. But what story can we tell about him from the food he ate, the clothes he wore, the company he kept?
On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito in the eyes of others.
Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out.
[OUTRO MUSIC – “Jugoslavijo / Od Vardara pa do Triglava” by Horn Orchestra]
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, sources, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić. Soundbites and additional music used for educational purposes courtesy of British Pathe, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Czechoslovak Television, and Jasmina Cibic. Additional music by Petar Alargić licensed under Creative Commons. Special thanks to Vladimir Kulić and Jasmina Tumbas.
I am Peter Korchňak.
- British Pathe videos: #1 / #2. Accessed 10/11/2021
- “Expo 67 in Montréal,” Accessed 10/11/2021
- Nekvindová, Terezie. Výstava versus výstavnictví: Československé pavilony na Expo 1967 v Montrealu a Expo 1970 v Ósace (Exhibition versus “exhibitioning”: The Czechoslovak pavilions at Expo 1967 in Montreal and Expo 1970 in Osaka.) PhD Dissertation. Praha (Prague): Univerzita Karlova, Filozofická fakulta (Charles University, Philosophy Department), 2014
- “Automat na výstavu: Československý pavilon na Expo 67” (The Automatic Exhibition: The Czechoslovak Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal). Exhibition brochure. Cheb: Retromuseum, 2017
- Niebyl, Donald. “The History of Yugoslavia’s Pavilion at Montreal’s 1967 World EXPO.” Spomenik Database, March 23, 2021 (last accessed 10/7/21)
- Riar, Inderbir Singh. Expo 67, or the Architecture of Late Modernity. PhD Dissertation. New York: Columbia University, 2014
- Slivnik, Lara. “Yugoslav Pavilions at World Exhibitions. / Jugoslovanski paviljoni na svetovnih razstavah.” Architecture Research / Arhitektura raziskave, No. 2, Ljubljana 2014
- “This Was Expo 67.” YouTube. Accessed 10/11/2021