“Where are you from?” vs “What do you do?”

In the US, at restaurants, in the elevator, at the grocery line check out, the single most common question you will hear in greetings and small talk is this: What do you do? Upon hearing the answer, opinions are formed, judgments laid out, and various doors and windows to conversation are open and shut based upon your answer to this question. In America, we define ourselves by our profession because we are individualists. We believe in the power of one more than in the power of the collective, we place value on individual rights, individual freedoms, and individual accomplishments. We very often judge a persons’ success by what they have achieved in their lifetime. This individuality stems from our ingrained national morality that values opportunity over heritage, equality over class systems, and individuality over the group. We believe that everyone is born with certain rights, and that with the right amount of hard work, determination, and perseverance, anyone can succeed. We have phrases such as “to pull oneself up by his bootstraps”, “rags to riches”, and “it doesn’t matter where you have come from, it only matters where you are going”. These age-old sayings explain what we respect. We believe in a system where any one person is born with a blank slate, and has the responsibility to make a life for themselves, regardless of whatever previous successes or failures their ancestors may have had. This mentality is part of the American spirit, and in a country that was formed by immigrants, that spirit has served us well, as we have been a nation of entrepreneurs, idealists, and visionaries.

This is a spirit that many who were not born here do not entirely understand. This is because in most other countries, it is the family line that is more important than the individual. It matters more where your great, great-grandfather was from or what he did, than what you, yourself have accomplished. When you meet another American for the first time, they will most likely within a few minutes of meeting you, ask you what you do for a living. Here, it is what you have chosen to do with your life’s work that defines you. Another common, but lesser important question is, “Where are you from?” To an American, this question refers to where you grew up or were raised. It does not have anything to do with your ethnicity or heritage. For me, the answer to that is always “The Midwest, more specifically, Kansas City, Missouri”. But when I use this answer with foreigners, they almost always look at me quizzically and say, “Yes, but where are you REALLY from”, as if I am avoiding their real question. I answer again, “the Midwest”, but they say, “Yes, but where are your parents from, your grandparents?” “They are from the Midwest too”, I answer. “Yes, but what about your great-grandparents, your ancestors?” Again, I answer, the Midwest. Apparently it’s surprising to a foreigner, who usually believes that America is a “baby” country, that an ordinary American like me could have roots that grow for centuries within my own country. It’s as if they are refusing to accept this truth, that I am from here, and so are my ancestors. Most of the time, when people ask me this, they continue to dig and dig until I name some European country, and it is only then that they are satisfied with my answer. It’s as if, I must say that I come from European descent in order to be accepted as legitimate. So I guess what they are asking is, what is my ethnicity, not, where am I from? If that is the case, they could just look at my skin color and reasonably determine that I have European ancestors. I do not consider myself a “European- American”, even though technically, if you trace my family tree long enough, I do have roots in Czechoslovakia, Sweden, England, and Germany. But if you are asking about that, it seems a bit discriminatory, don’t you think? To regard my European ancestors as my only legitimate ethnic roots is to completely disregard my American heritage as insignificant. And to disregard my American roots as insignificant is to ignore the important history of my homeland and the valuable lives that my relatives have experienced.

My mother can trace our family tree at least back to the 1600s, when Katarina Sheer came over from Germany, married a Juhngen (changed to the more American spelling -Younkin). She tells me about another Younkin, who was a private in the army in the Revolutionary War in 1775. We also had a relative in the American Civil War, a young boy who lied about his age, claiming to be 15, when he was only 13 so he could be a drummer boy, instead of staying home. A woman relative of mine helped found the National Benevolent Association in the 1880s, which was an orphanage in St Louis, Missouri, a city very close to where I was born one hundred years later. This association is still in existence today. I am also related to Alexander Majors, a founder of the Pony Express, the precursor to the United States Postal Service, and an important chapter in our history. The Pony Express originated in Jefferson City, Missouri, a town very close to where I was born generations later, and the same city that I competed in cross-country athletic races while I was in high school. Another relative of mine was a conscientious objector in the Civil War on the Confederate side; I also had family on the Union Side. One relative of mine rode with the cattle on the railroad from the Midwest out to California tending to their health along the way; he later became the State Veterinarian for Nebraska. Besides all this, we have a handwritten diary from our relative that was scribbled out while he crouched in the trenches as a soldier in World War 1. We have relatives that were Pioneers of the Wild, Wild West, and homesteaders who grew crops, developing the agriculture of our heartland on the unexplored prairie land. We even have an ancestor that boarded the Mayflower as a Pilgrim on the famous voyage to America in the 1620s. Moving to more modern history, my own grandfather was a commander of a Navy Ship in World War II, and my Great Uncle was the head of the cryptology (code deciphering unit) state side, and was in charge of over 100 waves (women military workers) that worked nightly deciphering codes coming in from the front lines. It was one of these women brought a decoded message to him in the middle of the night indicating that the war would soon be over. He promptly replied to the woman who brought it to him, “We need to go wake the admiral.” He was the 2nd person to lay eyes on those words that signaled the end of World War II and would soon shape world history.

A page from my family history book.

Another page from my family history book.

So yes, my ancestors have all played their roles in the significant and fascinating history of the United States and to dismiss all of that history, implying that it is only what happened before all this that is really important, it’s ignorant and disrespectful. When I hear people saying something like, “Yes, but where are you REALLY from”, it shows me that they don’t value my American heritage. While America has shorter roots than some other nations, they are certainly no less important.

My pride and awareness of my own cultural heritage in this country has little to do with the extensive history of the Balkans, however, it is interesting to note some societal milestones, to give us all some perspective. For example, the oldest major educational institution in Serbia, the University of Belgrade, was founded in 1808 or 1838, depending on which date you use as its origin. In contrast, the oldest university in America was founded in 1749 (University of Pennsylvania) or perhaps Harvard University (founded in 1636). And yes, our arts and culture paralleled each other as well, with the first American Opera house was constructed in 1859 (New Orleans), and a Serbian counterpart, the National Theater in Belgrade, was formed 9 years later in 1868.

As we all know, we cannot take credit for our ancestors; we can only claim what we have created in our own lives, the life we have chosen, not our genetic code or our country’s history. We favor personal responsibility over a sense of entitlement or ignorance. And what is even more valuable than my own ancestry is that every single person here has an opportunity, whether their parents were house cleaners or politicians, and that is something that my ancestors did fight to preserve. What you do with your own life is more of an indicator of your character than what your great grandparents did with theirs. Our inalienable rights given to us by our Creator and stated in our own Declaration of Independence say that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America is not perfect, we admit it. It’s hard to maintain the values that our founding fathers stood for. But we embrace all Americans, whether they are born here or are new citizens from abroad, whether they come from royalty or from poverty, and regardless of creed, ethnicity, religious belief, or national origin. This is what my being an American is about; it’s not about what part of the world my ancestors were from. Our sense of American identity encourages each person to be themselves, to preserve their own identity while contributing with their own unique talents and skills to help make this place better. It’s this sense of identity that I am proud of, not a distant cultural heritage that skips my American roots.

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Tito and Me – A Yugoslavian Classic as Viewed by a Foreigner


Tito and Me (1993)

I hate to call a film like this overrated, since it is certainly far from a household name or blockbuster hit, but I will. Apart from a few moments of real comedy, this film is more like a self-deprecating psychoanalysis – By Serbia, For Serbia. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but views more like a documentary, especially for those unfamiliar with Yugoslavian history. Though I was a little disappointed (I had really high expectations), I would still recommend it. It’s a movie every Serb knows.

Tito and Me (Tito i Ja) is set in the former Yugoslavia in the 1950s, the height of Tito’s reign.  The main character, Zoran, is an awkward, chubby, little boy who lives in a cramped, old, apartment with his extended family. Always picked on by his family and fellow classmates for his weird behavior, he is disturbed by the constant chaos of his dysfunctional home life.  Zoran soon starts exhibiting even more idiosyncratic behavior than ever such as secretly eating holes in the plaster walls at his home. His dramatic, artist parents (Anti- Tito) fight with his aunt and uncle (Pro-Tito) incessantly, and his old grandma (old regime – still retains private property rights) who supports the whole family, but lives in the hallway witnesses it all.

Though only a mediocre student, Zoran wins a nation-wide writing competition entitled “Do You Love Tito and Why?” when he writes a poem in which he claims to love the national leader, Marshall Tito, more than his own parents. His obsession with Tito is fueled by propaganda in the theaters and brainwashing at school. The prize for the winning student is a place on the children’s team that will complete a “March to Tito’s Homeland”, in which his crush, a little girl orphan, will be participating.

Zoran Wins by Writing - "I Love Tito More Than Mom and Dad"

The March is basically a camping trip for a lucky group of chosen students, in which they are led through the Croatian wilderness by a fanatical, tyrannical leader, who likens the students to a youth army, and conditions them with military-like tirades and pro Tito group songs. Disheartened by the conditions on the trip and irritated by a pesky rash, Zoran drops behind the group and is later found by his angry leader in an abandoned shed in the middle of a rain storm.

When Zoran is chosen to read his poem about Tito in a public broadcast, he surprises everyone by instead improvising a statement in which he denounces Tito and claims that he does indeed, love his family and friends more than Tito, the ever celebrated leader. He even claims to love his neighborhood street lunatic more than Tito. The humiliated group leader ousts Zoran from the kid’s march, but not before a very symbolic mutiny against him occurs inside the children’s group.  Later, the leader commits suicide while in prison, after being taken away in handcuffs by Tito’s secret police, showing the full-blown indoctrination of this man into Tito’s all-encompassing control.

Later, in a reception hosted by Marshal Tito himself, the children are subjected to invasive security pat downs before being allowed to rush jubilantly into the arms of Tito. Tito’s perverted tendencies are shown, as he pays extra attention to an innocent young female student. Much to his parents’ relief, Zoran’s “Tito obsession” has by this time deflated into apathy, and he actually seems more interested in the grand spread of food than in Tito himself.

I wonder if the “Ja” in “Tito I Ja” is a metaphor for Yugoslavia. In other words, Zoran is a symbol of Yugoslavia: quirky, misunderstood, and caught in the middle of constant family (neighboring country/state) conflict. He’s obsessed with Tito, but who wasn’t? Then he later emerges after his disillusionment, realizing what a farce the leader really was. Zoran experiences an awakening, as the rest of Yugoslavia did later, when he seemed to ask himself: Why live a fantasy life glorifying a distant, cruel, leader, when your own life is meaningful, significant, and real?

Montevideo, a Must See Serbian Film

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCpXKLc-kTk

In March of this year when I was in Belgrade, all the locals were talking about the new film Montevideo. The buzz was everywhere. Posters advertising the film could be seen around the city and even my cab driver wanted to talk about it. So here’s a little poetic justice for all my Serbian friends out there: I’m an American who was waiting for a Serbian movie to come out with English subtitles so I could finally see what all the fuss was about. At long last, 5 long months later, I managed to get my hands on a copy with English subtitles in Los Angeles, and eagerly settled in for a long-awaited viewing of the acclaimed: Montevideo.

Montevideo is a historical melodrama set in Belgrade in 1930. It tells the story of the formation of a national football (soccer) team and a dream of making it to the first world cup in Montevideo, Uruguay. Though the film’s face is Soccer, its soul is the heart of Serbia. Ordinary characters are transformed into legends as hopes and dreams hatched on the streets of Belgrade blossom into national triumph.

Having left Belgrade a few long months ago, I was excited to recognize glimpses of Knez Mihailova, The Fortress, The Central Train Station, and a scene which I believe was filmed inside St. Sava Church (the smaller one neighboring the Temple). To see Belgrade as it might have been in 1930 in all its classic character was warming. Besides good cinematography and a decent script, the fashion and music was fantastic. From the period hats worn by the elite girls to the iconic red scarf seen on the main character, style was everywhere. The music also set the tone beautifully with thoughtful instrumentals and a jazz band singing “Samo Malo” in a seedy cabaret.

Themes of love, loss, conflict, and hope run throughout the film. The ethics of love and lust are touched on, as Tirke and Mosha mirror each other like a good looking Jekyll and Hyde.  And you don’t have to look too closely to see conflict everywhere, starting with the class
tensions between the elite and working class. Montevideo hints at undercurrents of communism running amidst a new kingdom of dissatisfied people. Conflict is seen again on the soccer field, in mentions of the “Great War”, between friends/rivals Tirke and Mosha, and between Serbs and Croats. Of course, the film wouldn’t be complete without an alcohol induced conflict over jealousy, territory, and women: the archetypal bar brawl.

And of course, the film wouldn’t be truly Serbian without a sense of loss and suffering that is never far beneath the surface. The narrator of the story is a plucky little boy named Stanoje who earns a few dinars shining shoes. Stanoje eagerly witnesses the magic of soccer unfold as he cheers his idol, Tirke to victory. His perspective, though wonder-filled in his youth, is wise beyond his years. Events unfold before his eager eyes, and he tells the story with passion. Stanoje, like the other characters is no stranger to hardship, as he
himself has a gimpy leg and walks with a limp. Tirke, the hero of the story, has tragically lost his father in World War 1, and is without work, much to his mother’s dismay.  As expected, everyone seems to be chronically poor. Moments of humor, such as the eccentric head coach and his pet pigeon, Radoje, provide comic relief, but in true form, this is a drama. In the typical Serbian way, even the child Stanoje contemplates the futility of human existence when he asks his idol, “Tirke, are we living in vain?” … “We come and we go. Our legs hurt and we’re never happy. Why are we living, is it worth it?”

Ultimately, this is not a film about suffering; it’s about triumph despite suffering. It’s
about coming together and reaching greatness as a nation, as a team, as a people. After decades of dark films and wallowing in self-pity and despair, Serbia has finally produced a brilliant film full of hope, success, and victory. It celebrates itself by showcasing one of its best features: strength of character as a people. People who, despite setbacks, are full of love, hope, and a steadfast spirit, and people who know how to have a good time. As Novak
Djokovic recently said, Serbia’s greatest ambassadors have always been athletes, and I think this old soccer team now deserves to join those ranks. I’m holding my breath for Montevideo Two, where I will laugh, cry, ponder, and hopefully cheer on a much deserved victory!

Enjoy a few of my favorite thought provoking Montevideo Quotes:

Football was just starting to be fashionable, and fashion is a risky thing for us Serbs,
not because we like fashion, but because we like to fight.

You can count on us Serbs for each new and foolish thing that comes up.

Football was still young, back then it wasn’t the rich running on the pitch watched by
us poor folk, but the other way around.

We have a saying, don’t go to Belgrade to negotiate, if you have to go, go and party.

God Created Sundays for Men, not Women.

Bragging about your car is what a poor man does, remember that.

What you did to Milutinic shows you’re already a great player, but not a great man,
sometimes that’s all that counts, son. Remember, this is a gentleman’s game.

S: “Is it true what they say about the raw egg? Whoever juggles it dies?” T:  That’s what they say. S: Tirke, are we living in vain? T: What do you mean? S: Well, we come and we go. Our legs hurt and we’re never happy. Why are we living, is it worth it? T: Good Night

 

Notes on Famous Slavs

Though the history of the Balkans is full of colorful and important figures, a few standouts remain relevant and present in the collective consciousness today. In order to carry on an intelligent conversation with a Serb, you may want to familiarize yourself with a few of these or else risk sounding ignorant. Though volumes have been written about these significant people, I’ll contribute only a small blurb as a jumping off point; you can take it from there. A little homework on these famous individuals will go a long way when conversing with locals.

Nikola Tesla – Scientist, Inventor
Unfortunately, this eccentric genius sometimes is forgotten and seen as the underdog in comparison to his colleague, Thomas Edison. Tesla’s brilliant contributions to science are incredibly noteworthy and include the alternating current, wireless technology, hydroelectric power plants and even the radio among various other advancements in the field. Recently, the Serbs gave a respectful nod to this important figure by renaming their airport the “Belgrade Nikola Tesla” Airport. Belgrade also maintains an excellent Tesla museum complete with interactive electrical experiments, a guided tour in various languages, and a videography of his life.

Nikola Tesla

Vuk Stefanović Karadžić – Linguist
Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic is known as the father of the Serbian Lanuage. His main claim to fame is the standardization of the the Cyrillic Alphabet which is still used today. He also published the 1st Serbian dictionary and is credited with documenting hundreds of folk songs and stories that were previously perserved by oral tradition only.

Vuk Karadzic (knowledgerush.com)

Josip Broz Tito – Revolutionary, Statesman, Dictator
Also known as Marshal Tito or just plain Tito, this former Yugoslavian Communist Dictator was a supreme figure in Yugoslavians lives and held political power from 1943 until his death in 1980. He was a revolutionary, practicing a type of Marxism/Stalinism with emphasis on unifying the ethnic groups within the former Yugoslavia. He was known for his open borders in the country of Yugoslavia and for maintaining relatively friendly relations with the US, Western Europe, and a few 3rd world countries. He achieved worldwide popularity or notoriety depending on your perspective. This excerpt is from New York Times article commenting on his death. “Tito sought to improve life. Unlike others who rose to power on the communist wave after World War II, Tito did not long demand that his people suffer for a distant vision of a better life. After an initial Soviet-influenced bleak period, Tito moved toward radical improvement of life in the country. Yugoslavia gradually became a bright spot amid the general grayness of Eastern Europe.”

Tito & Kennedy

Ivo Andric – Poet, Writer
The name “Ivo Andric” came up several times during my recent month long stay in Belgrade, and each time I was told, “Andric was the only Serb to ever receive the Nobel Prize, you know”. Yes, I do know! Andric was an influential poet and novelist, his most well known book being “The Bridge On the Drina”, a book of historical fiction explaining the complexities of war in the region over a period of several hundred years. This seems to be one of those books that every Serb must read in school, and I’m currently struggling through it myself. Not at all a light read, this novel is incredibly intricate and sheds light on a region that has experienced generation upon generation of suffering.

Ivo Andric

Novak Djokovic – Tennis Champion
Novak Djokovic has emerged recently as one of the top contenders on the tennis scene and is now accepted as the #2 competitor in the world. He boasts 2 grand slam titles and was a bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympic Games along with holding various other titles and championships. Lately he seems to be gaining momentum and his winning streak is a source of national pride for Serbs. Not only is he a stellar athlete, but he also has been named by a French organization as a “Champion for Peace” and seems to really believe in promoting a new positive image of his homeland.

Novak Djokovic

Momo Kapor – Painter, Novelist
Momo Kapor is a very well known Serbian novelist. Though he was a painter by trade, he went on to write dozens of short stories, essays, and novels. His fame allowed his books to be translated into many different languages. One that is quite easy to get a hold of is his delightful collection of essays entitled, “The Guide to the Serbian Mentality”, which illuminates Serbian lifestyle, traditions, culture, food, and society.

Momo Kapor (Vreme)

If you know only what you read here, you’ll still be ahead of many tourists visiting Serbia. Even a basic knowledge of these famous figures will serve to open the conversational door to even more interesting facts, stories, and tidbits about Serbia and the former Yugoslavia during conversation. Use this brief guide as a starting point in discovering the rich tapestry of Slavic artists, writers, politicians, heroes, and visionaries.

Sources:
http://badassoftheweek.com/tesla.html
http://glassrbije.org/E/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10177&Itemid=29
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vuk_Stefanovi%C4%87_Karad%C5%BEi%C4%87
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josip_Broz_Tito
http://badassoftheweek.com/tesla.html
http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1961/andric-bio.html
http://www.novakdjokovic.rs/index.php?jezik=2

Mt. Avala, Tomb of the Unkown Soldier, and View from the Tower

View from top of the Avala TV Tower

Last weekend I went to Mt. Avala with the in laws and family. Avala is 18 km south of the city center, and is best reached by car. During the week they are only open till about 430, so you may consider going on the weekend if you are pressed for time. Avala isn’t really a mountain; it’s basically a hill with a recreational park area at top, and a local television tower. There is an elevator that takes you to the top of the tower so you can have a nice 360 view of the surrounding areas. From the top, the view is really fantastic. Beneath you lies a rich, green forest, and surounding that are smaller villages. You can also see Belgrade city center from the top, spot Kalamegdan, the Sava and Danube confluence, and Novi Beograd. Also, on Mt. Avala, there is a hotel, a restaurant, a few snack vendors and picnic benches and such.

TV Tower on top of Avala Mountain

A few hundred meters from the tower is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument. This is a pyramid style structure made of polished slate stone. Bits of the structure are crumbling off and or missing, and we guessed this might be damage from when the TV tower was bombed during the NATO bombing campaign. Because of these scars, this only moderately impressive structure probably hits home way more with the locals here, than our impressive tomb of the Unknown Soldier does in DC to the locals there.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Avala

Avala is something you could consider visiting if you have more than a few weeks in Belgrade. It’s a way to get out of the city and see what local families might do on a weekend.

St. Sava. The Temple that took 100 years.

St. Sava Temple

St. Sava Temple is an iconic landmark in Serbia, and stands out as vastly out-of-place among its neighborhood of pizzerias, exchange offices, and government buildings. It rises well above the low dark buildings surrounding it as a massive white cathedral, or “Temple”, in Serbian. This is one of the largest Orthodox Cathedrals in the world, and quite like its homeland, Serbia, it has a troubled and complex past. The first contest for architectural plans for the Church was held in 1905, and now, in 2011, it still remains to be completed. At first the designs weren’t good enough, then various wars halted the construction progress, and at several points, it was even being used by occupying forces for parking lots and storage facilities. Now though the exterior is completed, the interior remains mostly empty. The construction of the Church is being completed with private donations only. And once entering it, you may hear a man or two swinging a hammer far up into the scaffolding near the impressive domed roof. The rest of the interior is bare and raw, a massive construction site, hosting a few of the faithful, who light candles and kiss the saints, blind to the photo snapping tourists, and the construction workers, and the fences and building materials scattered about. To them, it is still their Temple.

Construction in the Cathedral

It’s unusual to see such a gorgeous building in such an unfinished state, and it makes one wonder why it’s not finished. I think in America, we would probably take on some speedy internet marketing campaign, raising massive amounts of funds in a few weekends, and then get sponsors to help complete the rest, or convince some wealthy person to put up the funds immediately. Then we would finish the floor in 2 days, put facades on the interior of the wall, connect the electricity and plumbing, and hire a few artists to finish the mosaics, and them Bam! 1 month, we’d be done. Afterwards we would have a massive opening event where the public was welcome to come and view the finished masterpiece and of course, offer donations in their praise to help pay off the bills. Yes, this is how we would do it, because after over 100 years of this endless construction, we would want it to be finished!

Ahhh….but this is not the Serbian way. No, it takes time to be right. It takes much time. No rush… The Church isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the faithful, so let it be. And in a way, it seems as if St. Sava, under construction, is sort of like Serbia, under construction. Filled with history, scarred by the past, but exquisitely beautiful, and in a way, unfinished, as it evolves through setbacks and trials and tribulations, into the most beautiful masterpiece it was meant to be. But the world must be patient. Yes, the mosaics will eventually end up being spectacular, the icons will be thoughtfully placed, and in the end, when the Church is revealed as justly newly finished, it will already look as old as the rest of Europe. Full of symbolism and perfectly placed as if it belonged there all along.

St. Sava Church Interior

So if you’re ever in Belgrade, do yourself a favor, and spend some time in St. Sava Temple, and to its neighboring, smaller, St. Sava Chuch. You’ll be glad you did.

A Glimpse into Communist History

Tito's Presidential Car

One of the many items on my “to see” list for Belgrade is Tito’s tomb, otherwise known as the “House of Flowers”. Previously I had only a cursory knowledge of Tito, and even less of Milosevic, and to be quite honest, Yugoslavian politics and history has always confused me, even though I’ve been hearing about it for years, and listening for hours and hours to my husband talk about it. He is a history buff. So one afternoon after class I hopped on the bus with my friend Christophe, from Grenoble, France, and we found our way to the House of Flowers. “Kucha Svecha”. The grounds are open every day except Monday and have normal working hours. Contrary to Wikipedia information, the entrance is not free. I was charged 300 Dinars to visit.
Tito was the communist dictator of the former Yugoslavia, and remained in power until his death in 1980. Yugoslavia continued to exist as a country for at least a decade before it began to disintegrate into the separate nation states as we know today. Many locals, especially older ones, may not gain much from visiting, since they may have experienced Tito’s presence first hand. But for a foreigner, this is a place I would highly recommend visiting, in order to get a general impression of the “Tito Years”

Youth Day Photos and Memorabilia

The Yugoslavia museum that is located there was currently closed, which is quite a shame, especially considering that the National Museum located by Trg Republic is also currently closed for renovations. The trip is still worth it however, because a visitor can view both the House of Flowers, which includes both an elaborate display and the burial site of Tito. Also, there is the “Old Museum”, which housed a varied display of Yugoslavian artifacts including traditional clothing, musical instruments, and weaponry, along with hundreds of gifts that various countries (both from the former Yugoslavia and beyond) had given Tito.

The most interesting part of the visit was the display of Batons given to Tito every year on his birthday. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of batons on display from countries all over the former Yugoslavia. These batons were brought to Tito as a part of a relay race in which the youth of the nation participated in. The hand-made batons were intricately decorated and made of various materials such as wood, metal and stone, and were carefully inscribed, usually with something like, “To Our Dear Tito” “From, the Yugoslavian Communist Youth”, or perhaps, from The Albanian Music Organization, or even, the Athletic group of Southern Croatia, or the People of Slovenia. There were pictures of children sprinting all over the map with the batons, eagerly handing them off to the next runner, and finally, presenting them to Tito himself. This was quite an eye-opening display of the broad range of Tito’s presence.

Batons ceremonially presented to Tito

The Yugoslavian political history is quite complex, and very hard to follow. This museum offers a glimpse into one main component of this history. Overall, very interesting and educational experiences indeed, if you’re ever in Belgrade, go see it.