City, art, and architecture in Tito's Yugoslavia (3)
New Belgrade: no man's land -> alternative capital -> housing without urbanity (Blagojevic)
An interesting piece on New Belgrade by Ljilijana Blagojevic, author of Modernism in Serbia: The Elusive Margins of Belgrade Architecture, 1919-1941 (2003, reviews: 1,2,3; excerpt), can be found at the site of the Croatian e-mag art-e-fact: strategies of resistance (here). It is, in fact, the English original of an article published in German in 2004 here. She argues the following: New Belgrade was a modern city built after WWII on former no-man’s land - a “cordon sanitaire” and “no-connection-zone” - between the (once Ottoman) Belgrade and the (once Habsburg) Zemun. Construction for what was then perceived as having the potential as the new capital city of Socialist Yugoslavia, or rather the capital of central state power belonging to no city, started in 1948. (Belgrade, after all, had a prehistory as the capital of a South Slav state.) New Belgrade was planned as architecturally self-referential and predominantly administration-focused. Its centre, in the first project, was the railway station around which were grouped governmental buildings and foreign embassies. Housing became only a part of the project for New Belgrade when, following Tito’s break with Stalin in 1948, the first concept was questioned and rethought. Construction resuming in the 1960s, New Belgrade became largely a site of housing, not of centralist governance. State policy now was “de-centralization”, in which climate such concentration was not found agreeable anymore. With housing as a “right” subsidized by the government, New Belgrade failed to emancipate itself from the state and long harboured no internal economic dynamics. "Today, in the conditions of contemporary change of socio-political paradigms,” Blagojevic concludes, “the unfinished open plan of New Belgrade is being rapidly filled by what is simplistically understood to have been lacking in the socialist epoch, namely, commercial and business development on the one side and orthodox churches on the other.”
City, art, and architecture in Tito's Yugoslavia
The artistic and architectural output of Tito’s Yugoslavia seems to gradually claim some space in international academic media. In a recent special issue of the Journal of Architecture (Vol. 14, No. 1, TOC here) titled “Behind the Iron Curtain: architecture in the former communist bloc, between isolation and fascination” we also find the article “‘East? West? Or Both?’ Foreign perceptions of architecture in Socialist Yugoslavia” by Vladimir Kulic (Florida) on pp. 129-47. Those interested will find below the gist of his argument, most heavily truncated (largely from pp. 129-33):
"Architecture and art were important tools in constructing Yugoslavia’s distinction from other communist countries … By defying the stereotypical image of architecture in a socialist country, Yugoslav modernism provided a clear visual statement of cultural affinity and, by extension, political alliance with the West. But once the hostilities with the communist bloc subsided in the late 1950s, which coincided with the final demise of Socialist Realism, the prevalence of socialist typologies allowed Yugoslav architecture to be seen positively in the East as well. [T]wo opposed but complementary interpretations thus emerged, which rendered not only Yugoslavia’s politics, but also its architecture ambiguous … Taking advantage of the fact that in architecture Socialist Realism was never clearly defined, [Yugoslav architects] paid lip-service to it and at the same time subverted its rhetoric to argue against monumental historicism …Yugoslav architecture [switched] from a politically imposed orientation towards the communist East to a gradual integration into Western modernism. Perhaps most symbolic of this integration was the last, tenth meeting of CIAM (Congre´ s Internationaux de l’Architecture Moderne), which Yugoslav architects hosted in Dubrovnik in 1956, even though their own presence in it was barely visible. [Since] the cultural production of the communist bloc had a limited presence in the West … Yugoslavia was not only a curiosity for its modernism, but also for being accessible at all.”
"Here once stood... Skopje"
Going through my old files, I rediscovered an enthralling text I once excerpted from a book the "Yugoslav Federal Secretariate for Information" published soon after the devastating earthquake in Skopje in 1963, in several languages. The following excerpt is from the (unpaginated) German edition [Hier stand einst Skopje. Belgrad: Bundessekretariat für Informationen, 1963]:
Skopje ist jetzt vernichtet.
Skopje wird von neuem entstehen.
Die Entschlossenheit der Völker Jugoslawiens und die Solidarität der Menschen aus der ganzen Welt werden bewirken, dass die Stadt wieder aufblüht.
Wenngleich die fremden Touristen, die diese Stadt besuchten, in ersten Linie nach den Überresten alter Zivilisationen forschten, sahen die Jugoslawen in ihr vor allem eine neue und moderne Stadt. Skopje war tatsächlich die Verkörperung der Bemühung einers ganzen Volkes, eines ganzen Landes, die rückständige Vergangenheit, mag sie auch exotisch gewesen sein, durch eine moderne, zeitgenössische Gesellschaft zu ersetzen.
And this is from a tourist guidebook published two years later; on the impact of the earthquake and the "old Skopje", here called exotically oriental, the modern city was to gradually marginalize:
Stari deo grada imao svoj trgovački centar. To je čaršija sa egzotičnom prodavnicama sa ćepencima … Budući da je turskog tipa grad nije ni mogai drukčiji. Zato su u ovom delu grada ulice krive, tesne, popločane turskom kaldrmom ... To je stari deo Skopja koji danas iščezava. Minareta džamija nisu danas najviše građevina u ovom delu grada. Crveni crepovi novih kuća, gledani iz daljina liće na velike cvetove u bokovima ruža. Minaretima prkose šestopratina koje su ovde podignule. Skopje će se za nekoliko godina oprostiti i ovog vidljivog junake svoje teške prošlosti. Turisti će gledati samo po koji ostatat ‘Orijenta’ ... Skopje na levoj obali Vardara je taj prvi, stari ‘grad’, a onaj drugi, savremeni, nalazi se na desnoj obali reke. (Popovski, Jovan. Skopje: Turistički vodič. Skopje, 1965, pp. 13-5)