07 Aug 2018

How to profit from your communist past

The legacy of former Yugoslavia's communist leader Josip Broz Tito is still dear to hearts of many Serbians. Especially for those who can exploit it for the tourist business.

Lidija Pisker
Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Balkans
How to profit from your communist past - NewsMavens
Coffee Cup, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

The public display of communist symbols is still unwelcome in some countries in Eastern and Central Europe.

Bulgarian politician and member of the European Parliament Andrey Kovatchev, for example, angrily reacted to a social media post about coffee mugs featuring the faces of Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov, Socialist Party chief Kornelia Ninova, and other political figures such as Putin and Stalin, that were sold at the annual socialist convention at Buzludzha mountain last month.

"It's not funny any more," he wrote on his Facebook page, arguing that the "communist plague is trying to break Bulgaria again."

But the anti-mug furor IS very funny. If we drink coffee from, let's say, a Zhivkov mug, will it make us communist? 

Relax, Mister Kovatchev, it's just a way for people to make some money, there is no anti-democratic conspiracy there. 

In Serbia, the tourist offer based on communist Yugoslavia’s cultural heritage has attracted growing numbers of foreign travelers who are becoming increasingly interested in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. 

What foreign tourists to Serbia are particularly curious about is why so many people are nostalgic about socialist Yugoslavia. And sometimes, with a "democratic surplus" such as this one -- where everyone is allowed to make a fuss about everything -- the reason for nostalgia is self-explanatory. 

Details from the story:

  • Almost thirty years after the breakup of former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, citizens of former Yugoslav countries are still nostalgic for the pre-1991 period of Josip Broz Tito’s governance.
  • Many think of Tito’s "soft dictatorship" as "better past." "Yugo-nostalgia" feelings are prevalent among Serbians, most of whom (81%) view breakup of socialist Yugoslavia as harmful, according to 2016 Gallup poll.
  • Serbians recently began to profit from these sentiments by establishing tourism businesses based on the legacy of socialist Yugoslavia.  
  • "Yugotour" company takes tourists for rides through the past in old "Yugo" cars -- one of former-Yugoslavia’s symbols. The company is growing and now owns seven "Yugo" cars, while renting additional ones for bigger groups.
  • Guided bike rides and walking tours through Novi Beograd (New Belgrade, part of the city) take tourists on guided explorations of socialist architecture and communist relics. 
  • Some tourist companies run guided tours to the Museum of Yugoslavia, one of the most visited museums in Serbia with over 100,000 visitors per year. Part of the reason for its popularity is the fact that Tito’s mausoleum (the so called "House of Flowers"), which belongs to the museum, is a popular site for Yugo-nostalgics and foreign visitors, especially on Tito’s birthday and death anniversaries.
  • Tito’s birthday and other Yugoslav holidays are celebrated also in the north of Serbia, where a mini version of Yugoslavia, called Yugoland is situated. Yugo-nostalgic Serbian businessman Blaško Gabrić founded a thematic nature park at his land near Subotica to keep the memory of former Yugoslavia alive. 
  • To show how a typical Yugoslav home looked from inside, designer Mario Milaković created a stay-over museum "Yugodom" in central Belgrade, where displayed objects tell stories about everyday life in socialist Yugoslavia. 
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