The Museum of Yugoslavia
Relay Baton as a Symbol of the Former State and the Cult of One Man:The Museum of History of Yugoslavia was built in Dedinje in 1996 by merging two institutions: the Memorial Center “Josip Broz Tito” and the Museum of the Revolution of Yugoslav Nations and Ethnic Minorities. The institution had the same name until the end of 2016 when it was renamed the Museum of Yugoslavia, as it is called today. It consists of the House of Flowers, the Old Museum and the Museum “May 25th”.
The House of Flowers was built according to the project of Stjepan Kralj in 1975, as the winter residence of Josip Broz Tito (Marshal Tito), the president of Yugoslavia. The central part of the building was adorned with a fountain which was surrounded by the premises for work and rest. Tito was buried in the House of Flowers, according to his request, so the fountain had to be removed to provide space for the tomb. The structure was annexed to the Museum of History of Yugoslavia in 1996. Its permanent exhibition consists of a memorial room where visitors can write in the book of condolences and a section with displayed relay batons used in the manifestation Relay of Youth, which marked Tito’s birthday on the 25th of May (Day of Youth).
The Old Museum was built in 1965 according to the architectural plan of Branko Bon. It used to be a storage room for Tito’s gifts, but after his death, it was adapted into an exhibition space. In its halls are displayed two collections placed opposite of one another: the Museum of the Revolution of Yugoslav Nations and Ethnic Minorities and the Memorial Center “Josip Broz Tito”. The idea was to place the items that tell the history of the labor movement opposite to the lavish gifts of the marshal. The integral part of the entire exhibition are the relays of youth that allude to brotherhood and unity, as well as the former connection between the people and its leader.
The Museum “May 25th” was purposely built and handed over to Tito in 1962 as a birthday gift from the city of Belgrade. The edifice was designed by Mihailo Mika Jankovic, and it houses 16 collections, including archeological artifacts, weapons, and pieces of applied arts. When the Memorial Center “Josip Broz Tito” was formed, the Museum got the role of the lobby of the complex.
Today, the Museum of Yugoslavia contains more than 75,000 artifacts. The greatest emphasis, in addition to the relay batons, was placed on Tito’s gifts from the state officials which often symbolically represent their countries.
Among others, there are gifts from the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, the President of Tunisia Habib Bourguiba, King of Greece Paul II, President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser, and many others. The museum also provides insight into the personal belongings, weapons, library, and awards of Josip Broz. The collection “May 4th” which consists of gifts received after the death of Marshal Tito, deserves special attention.
The ethnological section abounds in folk costumes, carpets, embroideries, needlepoints with the representations of the Yugoslav officials, musical instruments as well as items related to everyday life and culture.
The collection of applied arts contains about 4,000 items made of ivory, porcelain, glass, and majolica. Besides jewelry, vessels made of precious metals, and luxury watches, the collection consists of furniture, carpets, and Flemish tapestries from the beginning of the 17th century. Fragments of the moondust, a gift from Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins (Apollo 11 astronauts) are very interesting to the visitors, as well as an engraved vessel with Elizabeth Taylor’s and Richard Barton’s dedications.
The art collection consists of paintings, graphics, drawings, aquarelles, and sculptures of 20th-century Yugoslav art, including highly esteemed pieces such as “Girl with a Lute” by Djura Jaksic (1856). Among the displayed art objects are the achievements of Paja Jovanovic, Vlaho Bukovac, Nadezda Petrovic, Sava Sumanovic, Ivan Mestrovic, Antun Augustincic, and others.
The archeological department displays 112 artifacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia, and pre-Columbian America. The collection includes antique vessels, terracottas, offerings, and mosaic fragments. An artistic curiosity are the alabaster vessels from the tomb of Pharaoh Djoser (Zoser) near Saqqara, a statue of Osiris from the 6th century BC, and a fragment of a pilaster from the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.
The museum, especially when it comes to relay batons, represents a unique collection in the world, and its selection is a direct reflection of the value system of a state that no longer exists.