I’m almost ashamed to say that I’ve never been to the Museum of Yugoslavia. Not even back in the distant 1980, when Marshal Tito died. At that time, after his burial, they were taking school kids to visit his tomb, but for some reason, my school didn’t go, I don’t remember why. So, now that I’m in Belgrade for a longer time, I decided to go there.
They call it the Museum of Yugoslavia, although I don’t think that you will learn much about that great country in which I was born and which disappeared nearly 30 years ago. Back then, when I lived in Belgrade, this museum existed as the “25th May Museum”. The 25th May was Tito’s birthday. In that old museum they used to keep various presents that Tito received on his many travels across the world. They also kept the relay batons, but more about that a bit later.
While there is some sporadic information about Yugoslavia, this is primarily a shrine dedicated to Marshal Tito, the great leader of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, from 1945 until his death in 1980.
THE OLD MUSEUM BUILDING
I’ve always only had an image of the building in the photo below when I thought about this museum. It was an iconic place, connected to our Comrade Tito. But, I can’t say anything about how the old museum used to be, because this building is now empty. They moved the collection to another adjacent building within the museum complex.
Apparently, it was the first purpose built museum building in Belgrade, as a significant example of the high modernism architecture building.
It was a gift to Tito by the city of Belgrade, for his seventieth birthday. After Tito’s death, it became part of the Tito’s Memorial Centre and it’s now part of the Museum of Yugoslavia.
THE HOUSE OF FLOWERS
Undoubtedly, the main reason to go to this museum is to visit the House of Flowers – Tito’s burial place.
Tito’s tomb occupies the central place of the building in which it is placed. I have to be honest and admit that I felt a bit emotional standing in front of the tomb. I remembered the good, old days and a country in which I lived before I moved to the UK.
Also, I affectionately remembered our Marshal Tito. I know that it’ll be difficult for younger generations in Serbia and other countries created out of former Yugoslavia, and also foreigners, to understand that most people loved Tito. Perhaps, that’s because Yugoslavia, under his leadership, was a respected, serious, well organised country in which most people lived well.
Somewhat cynically, they buried his wife Jovanka Broz next to him. After Tito’s death, all successive governments, before and after the break-up of Yugoslavia, kept her in some sort of a house-imprisonment. She spent her last days living in a crumbling villa, in poverty. Then, after her death they awarded her with the most prestigious recognition, by burying her next to Tito.
In this same chamber, you will see numerous relay batons, the most distinctive gift given to Tito. Due to their characteristics, symbolism and significance, they stand out among many items that Tito received during his life.
The tradition of giving a relay baton comes from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. However, since 1945 the relay races were held in honour of Tito’s birthday. Each year people carried the baton throughout Yugoslavia, from hand to hand, in order to present it to Tito on the 25th May.
Carrying, handing and receiving the baton symbolically represented communication between the leader and the people.
Almost every third Yugoslav citizen participated in this event, by designing, making or carrying it, as his birthday present.
THE MUSEUM OF YUGOSLAVIA BUILDING
The next to see is the actual Museum of Yugoslavia, a building that you can see in the photo below, close to the House of Flowers.
I don’t know how well foreigners and younger generations from countries created out of former Yugoslavia can relate to the exhibits in this museum. Personally, I spent two hours, fully engrossed in everything exhibited.
But, that’s because I lived in that reality, I lived in an era that this museum depicts, I lived in Yugoslavia. The accent is on creation and formation of the socialist movement in the world and in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Then, they take you through crucial events of the Second World War and the establishment of the socialist country in 1945.
Almost all exhibits are in glass vitrines and you can’t really take good photos. Anyway, there is no point in photographing everything. My aim is just to give you a glimpse into the museum, to inspire you to visit it when you go to Belgrade.
Below, you can see the Marshal uniform that Tito wore at the end of the Second World War, in 1945.
Tito received many gifts from various parts of the world. In fact, when you see that particular collection, you understand how great and important he was, but also how well respected Yugoslavia was as a country.
The collection is formidable, it contains some symbolic, but also some very precious items. Most gifts are also displayed in glass vitrines, although I took photos of some of them, as an illustration for this post.
In the photo below, you can see the key of Cairo, given to Tito.
Tito also received the key of Los Angeles. I am absolutely sure that never again a politician from any country created after the break-up of Yugoslavia will receive such a present. Those countries and their politicians are now irrelevant.
In the photo below, you can see the 2nd century mosaic, from the archaeological site of Acolla in Tunisia, given to Tito by the Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba, during the visit to Tunisia in 1961.
You can also see the paintings that Tito received from different institutions and organisations.
The State Security service presented the painting in the photo below to Tito in 1976.
The Socialist Republic of Croatia presented the painting below to Tito for his 80th birthday, in 1972.
The Socialist Republic of Croatia also presented the painting below to Tito, in 1971. Tito was a Croat.
Tito received paintings by some of the most eminent Serbian painters, like the painting below, a gift by the city of Čačak, in 1959.
The Association of Publishing Enterprises and Organisations of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia presented the painting below to Tito, in 1956.
The Executive Council of the Socialist People’s Republic of Croatia presented the painting below to Tito, in 1961.
The Ogulin Municipal Assembly presented the painting below to Tito, in 1967.
The painting below depicts Kumrovec, his birthplace. It was the author’s gift to the leader of Yugoslavia in 1980, the year when Tito died.
Below, you can see a workshop in Sisak where Comrade Tito learnt the trade, between 1907 and 1910. The residents of Sisak gifted it to Tito in 1965.
The Titan factory workers presented the painting below to Tito in 1961, for his 69th birthday.
A WORD ABOUT YUGOSLAVIA
It’s been nearly 30 years since Yugoslavia disappeared. Certainly, all 6 countries created from its ashes (or 7 if you choose to consider Kosovo as an independent state) are a pale shadow of the former state. I don’t really want to get into a political commentary in this post, because it’s a post about the Museum of Yugoslavia, not about the country that existed in the past.
But, I want to say that people in all these newly created countries can only dream to live in a country like Yugoslavia.
In my opinion, everything that happened back in the 1990s was stupid and unnecessary. Astonishingly, they didn’t want to live together in a union which Yugoslavia used to be, but all of them want to live in another union – the EU.
One day when all former Yugoslavian states join the EU, they will be together again, in the same union. So, what was the point of the break-up and the subsequent wars?
If you go to Belgrade, try to visit this museum. But, keep in mind that it’s not in the centre of the city, rather it’s in Dedinje, a suburb of Belgrade where, during the communist times, the top communist apparatchiks lived. It’s still a very reach part of the city.
Hopefully, you will learn something about Tito and also about Yugoslavia.