past present

A letter written in a village in Serbia , dated December 30 th 1963 and sent to Josip Broz begins like this: "Dear Master Comrade Tito" , a short official document of the Josip Broz Tito Memorial Centre, dating back to the mid-1980s, describing the collection in which the letter is kept, reads: "The collection is documentary in nature. It documents not so much history as the attitude of Yugoslav citizens to what was presented to them as history. The collection is also a document about faith and the need for faith to be expressed, materialized and take on the form of a monument. Collection holdings will reveal their true value and role one day when the time has come for a subtle, historical, interdisciplinary analysis of the phenomenon referred to as the socialist period of Yugoslavia ."

In 2001 it seemed that the time had come to perform that "subtle historical analysis" and we started executing the concept that we had been developing for so long. Working title of the project was GIFTS and this is how we explained our intentions. "At the very end of the twentieth century, the majority of citizens of Serbia spectacularly demonstrated the will to make a change. Bringing about a change, involves, among other things, a careful review of our own history. We draw attention to an important social phenomenon by providing a snapshot of an era."

Sifting through the not so distant past and remembering it we wanted to initiate a serious theoretical and political analysis of some of the surprising mass phenomena in the society of Tito's day including giving gifts to the leader, youth relay batons, rallies organized to celebrate May 25 th, "spontaneous" welcome and farewell ceremonies, messages and slogans. We also wanted to raise the question as to what posed the most problems, as far as creativity is concerned. Where did mass exaltation disappear "after Tito"? How much of it survived transformed into the euphoria surrounding national leaders? Is it finally exhausted - has it drowned in blood? Is it still lurking just round the next corner?
We started out full of enthusiasm. It seemed that the work on the project would go on quickly and smoothly. The idea of a multimedia exhibition, book and a series of accompanying events met with universal approval. All institutions and individuals that we had approached with the aim of establishing cooperation accepted to work with us, while the most frequent initial reactions were smiles. We were somewhat baffled by that, so we kept emphasizing, maybe even more than we should have, that our intention was not to make a burlesque of the past (you can find plenty of that everywhere) but to remind the widest possible public of the mechanisms underlying the onset and preservation of political sycophancy. However, as time passed, it became ever harder to achieve that aim. The problems culminated when the director of the Museum of Yugoslav History unilaterally and without any reasonable explanation refused any further cooperation and reneged on the previously reached agreement which should have made it possible for us to use the items kept in the collections of the museum in this project. We heard that incredible question typical of the past: "Why are you tampering with Stari*?" and realized that things got serious, but we did not want to give up.
We decided to carry out this project without the pieces from the collections of the Museum of Yugoslav History (what is featured here are just traces of the cooperation with its custodians), focused on other sources, changed the approach to staging the exhibition and, in fact, started from scratch. In spite of problems, perennial lack of money, despite the fact that it might be inappropriate to examine Tito's time when Milosevic's era is still very much alive and kicking, we decided to present to the public what has been done up to now and is available 'at this moment'. We rely on the power of metalanguage and creative reading.

Belgrade, June 2004

* Tito's nickname