Where do I belong? – on BELONGING
For the children of communism, like myself, there was no such thing as the national identity of Serbians, Croatians or Muslims. We were Yugoslavians.
I remember the first day of school, 1986 a small girl with a pioneer hat. Even though Tito died, the ideal still existed for the next ten years. The children wore those hats and red scarves around their necks. We were so proud of these symbols of our belonging. I remember standing among other students with the Yugoslav flag waving in the wind above our heads as we were being welcomed to our school days.
I was too young to define it as such, but if I ever felt the sense of belonging it was on this day.
Wearing a red scarf and blue pioneer hat meant pride. It meant that we, the young people of Yugoslavia, give our pledge to the values of our country and it was also a promise of our future loyalty to Tito and the communist party. Above all, it meant being integrated in the community, feeling as if this political belonging was our purpose, as something that defines us as valuable members of the society, something heart-warming. Perhaps this notion that is hard to explain to me, from this perspective, was a merger of patriotism on one hand and belonging on the other. For me, communism was deeply integrated in my childhood, and as such it was as important as my family. When other young children learn how to write, some of their first written words are most probably Mum or Dad, but for me those words were:” Long live Yugoslavia”, as shown in the old postcard I found on my family house attic, after my father passed away.
This sense of belonging was deeply integrated in the cores of our beings and the best signifier of this is 1986 “Bukvar”- the first book of every child who starts school. It is a book in which first letters are written, the one in which 7-year olds learnt how to write, of course two alphabets- Cyrillic first, in my case (territory of today’s Serbia) and then Latin, at the age of 8. Among other reminders of my childhood, this book was safely stored on the attic of my family house, for me to find it in 2020. The second page shows a photo of Tito, surrounded by his pioneers and members of Yugoslav youth and the photo is named; “Tito and pioneers” This was long before we would learn that there is something called ethnic diversity, but on the other hand, my family attic hid anther side of reality, obvious in the 1978 Western newspapers that my father was subscribed to. These I found among the other old books and magazines and the question they posed in 1978 was: “After Tito, What?” I guess they knew things that we were not aware of, but I am sure that my father knew too, informed by the propaganda other than that of the Yugoslav prevailing narrative. To his best, however, he kept quiet and we never spoke of it. The irony is that in 1986, I still learnt letters from a book with Tito’s photograph, some 6 years after his death. That is how strong this collective spirit was in us, Yugoslavs - the ghost of the dead president, overshadowing us and our existence.
Tito’s pioneers, during a school play, around 1984, with my mother at the back as a teacher, “Ivo Lola Ribar” elementary school, Ruma.
Old postcard with the writing:” Long live Yugoslavia”, some of my childhood drawings and a 1976 magazine about Tito and Italy’s Berlinguer.
“Bukvar”, 1986 with the photo of Tito, the ghost president.
Newsweek, “After Tito, What?”, 1978
Tito today, the relief of Tito, behind the old clock and old football boots, Old Market, Skoplje, 2020.