No Return Address: Unearthing Yugoslavia from Old Postcards [Pt. 2]
In this “Part Two” follow-up to my article from several months ago “No Return Address: Unearthing Yugoslavia From Old Postcards”, we dive deeper into my collection of Yugoslav-era postcards to examine additional categories of daily life and culture from that now-distant time period, covering topics such as civic buildings, roads, motels, government offices, and other seemingly mundane locations across the former Yugoslavia that become all the more interesting under the microscope of our investigation. A mild and conventional vintage postcard scene of an everyday item, such as a water tower or satellite dish perhaps, has the ability to take on a whole new meaning and implications as a result transpiring of events through the course of progressing history. Furthermore, as we talked about in the first installment of this article about how postcards can operate as a “rosy-tinted portal”, giving us a glimpse of an idealized past from a less optimistic present, there is another facet of postcards in Yugoslavia that also merits some discussion, which is how they fit into the ambitions of the that country’s government in projecting its national image abroad.
Little research has been done into the exact system that existed across Yugoslavia for each respective community within the country, whether it be a large city or a small village, for deciding what set of images would come to represent it on promotional touristic postcards. Who is to decide what images best represent the “spirit” or “essential being” of a location? What is omitted and what is included, is emphasis put on the modern or on the traditional elements, highlight the natural or the urban, the people or the places, and so on. What is known is that there was a network of government-run organizations coordinating the creation and production of postcards across Yugoslavia. Such groups had names like Tourist Press Beograd, Turistkomerc, Kompas Ljubljana, Turistički Sojuz Skopje, and Zagreb Bureau of Tourist Propaganda, with such names stamped on each and every single postcard I have come across. But it is interesting to dwell on the name of that last group for a moment, whom unflinchingly concedes that its postcards are a type of “propaganda”. While one could argue that all types of postcards, no matter where in the world they came from, were types of “propaganda” aimed at influencing and persuading a particular audience, it is a particularly apt word in the case of Yugoslavia attempting to promote itself to a global audience via these touristic trinkets.
Yugoslavia, with its “Third Way” approach to international relations and engaging with the global political community, the country very much wanted to exist and operate at arms lengths with respect to both the Soviet Union and the Western NATO powers. As unusual as it may be to think, these postcards were part of Yugoslavia’s official projection of itself to the world. For the hundreds of thousands of international tourists that flooded into Yugoslavia every year to take in sun along the Adriatic, to ski in the Julian Alps and the Šar Mountains, to ride the riverboats down the Danube, etc, many thousands would send home postcards to destinations around the globe that depicted the beauty and culture of the region. From these postcards that were passed around and shared amongst friend and family groups in New York, in Moscow, in Paris, in Rio de Janeiro, and other such far-flung places, they would see a Yugoslavia that was distant yet welcoming, that was familiar yet different, that was socialist yet not Soviet, that was commercial yet not capitalist, etc etc. In fact, during the era of the 60s and 70s, these postcards might very well be the first alluring images of the nation that an outsider to Yugoslavia had ever seen. As such, their power as an intentional tool for influence and persuasion cannot be overstated.
One of the few academic researchers who has examined the topic of postcards in Yugoslavia. In fact, even as far as looking at postcards in general around the world as a historical repository, researcher Adi Milman observes in a 2014 paper that: “To date, there is no empirical research on the role of tourist marketing offices, destination management organizations, vendors, consumers, or even producers or printers when deciding to feature a specific image or a picture on a destination postcard.” One researcher who currently is looking at Yugoslav postcards, Lana Lovrenčić, made the following observations in a 2021 paperabout the postcard archive of the former Zagreb tourism firm “Turistkomerc”: “By offering sun and sea, cultural monuments and an untouched nature, and by avoiding auto-exoticization and ideological messages, propaganda transmitted messages intended for both foreign and domestic tourists.” As such, we see a Yugoslavia that is keen to reap the benefits of the boon provided by international tourism, yet doing so without indulging in any temptations to resort to tired stereotypes or political proselytizing. In other words, a carefully curated image meant for mass appeal across a wide array of political and/or cultural boundaries.
So, as you explore these postcards today in this continued exhibition of my collection of Yugoslav memorabilia, think about these scenes depicted in as much as their presentation. Ask yourself, past just what is just being shown, what level of curation is at work? Are there hidden messages? Things not shown? What lurks beyond the borders of the image? Why was this location chosen over another? Is the setting authentic or misleading? Are the scenes natural or staged? Are they real life, are they just fantasy… or somewhere in between? Taken by some of the most accomplished photographers of Yugoslavia (such as Mladen Grčević and Tošo Dabac), many of these postcard images are stunning works of art in their own right, but also, at the same time, overt tools of the government meant to further a geopolitical narrative just as much as they were meant to lure in and entice potential tourists. As we examine these postcards more than half-a-century after they were created, it is relevant to think about these artifacts in terms of our role in viewing them, as well as in the various ways they can be interpreted by a myriad of viewers… as instigators of nostalgia, as items of sadness, of anger, of mystery, of confusion, or complete unknowingness of a country that no longer exists.
Again, to see the first installment of this article before proceeding to this follow-up, you can click the button below:
Jastrebac Mountain, Serbia
Roughly 19km south of the city of Kruševac, Serbia is the popular recreational nature area of Jastrebac Mountain. In addition to the wonderful nature that this area has to offer, the slopes of Jastrebac are populated with a collection of motor lodges and resort accommodations which were built during the Yugoslav era in a highly modernistic architectural style. Named “Motel Ravnište”, it was created in 1961 by the architect Ilija Mijović. The way in which this modern future-oriented structure is able to seamlessly integrate itself into its natural forested mountain environment makes it a unique example of Yugoslav-era architectural design approaches that are modern, yet respect the landscape at the same time. In the above postcard, the image is punctuated with the inclusion of a vibrantly red Fiat 615 N Autobus at the center. Meanwhile, Ravnište is particularly notable for the fact that President Josip Tito stayed here during an excursion through the region in 1963. However, the motel closed in 1994 and sat vacant for 20 years until it was reopened in 2014. However, as of spring 2019, reports indicate the management of the new Ravnište has gone bankrupt and has sold the property. I have been unable to determine whether this culturally unique property is still in operation.
Novo Mesto, Slovenia
Here we see a view of the "Motel & Restaurant Otočec", located right near the Krka River just east of Novo Mesto, Slovenia. This overnight accommodation and eatery were situated strategically right off the motorway between Ljubljana and Zagreb. This fascinating work of modernist architecture, which was created in 1966 by Slovene architect Miloš Lapanje, has as it's central feature a series of three hyperbolic paraboloid concrete canopies over the top of its outdoor patio, which makes them almost appear like giant mushrooms. This style of modernist concrete canopies was a significant architectural effort and was quite popular in Slovenia between 1960 and 1970, especially in Ljubljana where they were used on Ljubljana petrol stations [more info on that in my article HERE]. However, after the 1963 earthquake in Skopje, such creations were deemed incompatible with Yugoslavia's new earthquake building standards. However, the building still stands strong to the present day (though it currently sits in disuse, from what I've established), existing as a notable monument to the region's architectural heritage. It is situated right across the river from Otočec Castle.
Located just 250m north of the former site of the Boro & Ramiz monument [profile page] on the outskirts of the small village of Landovica, Kosovo* are the ruins of "Motel Vllazrimi" (often also written as "Motel Vllaznimi"). This complex, situated along the main road just north of Prizren) was constructed in 1973 and was commissioned by the local hotel-employee organization "Dushanov Grad", who sought to bolster this area around Prizren with more touristic facilities as domestic and international travel to the area increased. The motel was designed by an architect team headed by Miodrag Pecić, who was returning to this area 10 years after working as the lead architect for the Boro & Ramiz monument project just next door. The motel's form is characterized by its long horizontal lines and eclectic arrangement of geometric boxy forms all crafted of raw concrete, giving the structure a decidedly "brutalist" architectural aesthetic and composition. During the Yugoslav-era, this was a significant cultural landmark and was heavily featured in the Prizren region's advertising, postcards and promotional materials. Yet, as conflict spread across this region during the Kosovo War of the late 1990s, Motel Vllazrimi closed its doors, at which point it fell into a state of slow decay and currently sits in a state of total dereliction and abandonment. The structure is now completely gutted and none of its original interior elements remain, however, the strong study concrete it was built with continues to weather the destructive forces of time and vandalism. However, despite this dilapidated condition in which the Motel Vllazrimi continues to exist, in 2018 it was announced that the ruined structure was added to the list of protected objects of Kosovo's heritage.
Mavrovo Lake, North Macedonia
On the west side of Mavrovo Lake in North Macedonia, within the small village of Mavrovi Anovi, is the location of a touristic destination that was originally known as “Motel Mavrovo”. Situated on a bluff overlooking the banks of Mavrovo Lake (which was created in 1952 with the impoundment of Mavrovo River by the Mavrovo Dam), the motel was constructed in the mid-1950s and sits less than 1km away from the dam. The straightforward architecture of the complex mixes some modern tendencies (for instance, wide banks of glass windows, which allowed for excellent views of the lake), along with local building materials (such as its flagstone facade, which allowed the motel to blend into the rugged landscape), all of which creates a playful mix of modern and vernacular styles.
During the Yugoslav-era, this motel was a hugely popular destination for tourists who were seeking out such activities as swimming, boating and other aquatic leisure pursuits. However, after the 1990s, the motel fell into disuse and the property ultimately was transformed into private apartments. Today, the structure of the original motel complex still stands, but its shape and form have been drastically altered and no artifacts seem to be left that speak to its once bustling and exciting past.
Located south of the city center of Maribor, Slovenia, poised at the corner of Tito's Road and Street of the Paris Commune, is the strikingly streamlined Slovenia Telecom building, with its gleaming silver exterior and rocketing tower standing out among the surrounding cityscape. Created in 1984 by Slovene architects Slava Rojak & Branko Kraševac, the facility is characterized by the sleek polished aluminum facade of its office compound, and, most importantly, its imposing concrete triple-disc communication tower that looms over the block like some futuristic beacon. In the 1990s, a glass facade wing addition was built onto the north end of the building, even further emphasizing its hyper-modern appearance. The building remains in excellent condition up to the present day and continues to operate as critical infrastructure for Slovenia’s telecommunications network. For more information about other Yugoslav-era cultural sites around Maribor, check out the profile page dedicated to that topic HERE.
Positioned within the lower reaches of the Drina River between Serbia and BiH is the “Zvornik Hydroelectric Dam”, just south of Zvornik, BiH and next to Mali Zvornik, Serbia. The idea of this dam was formulated by the Yugoslav government just after WWII, primarily as a means of providing the much-needed electricity and electric infrastructure the region desperately needed. Work began in 1948 and it was ultimately completed around 1955, at which time the first hydroelectric generators were switched on. Upon the unveiling of the dam (which is also known as “Zvornik HPP”), it was recognized as the first dam impoundment ever constructed on the Drina River. The 45m tall dam ultimately created a thin lake within the narrow river valley that stretches upstream 25km, all the way back to the confluence of the Velika River. However, through the creation of this lake, over 600 homes were flooded and 85km of roads were submerged. Yet, the dam’s creation sparked massive economic growth and development in the area. Sources relate that between 1948 and 1951, the town of Mali Zvornik had the largest population growth in Serbia, growing nearly 70% in just a few years. The dam continues to operate up to the present day and it is operated by the Electric Power Company of Serbia (EPS). The vantage point seen in this postcard was photographed from the ruins of the old Zvornik Fortress, perched on the surrounding hillside.
Nestled in the fields of the Moravica River valley within the small community of Prilike (about 8km northwest of Ivanjica, Serbia) is the Prilike Satellite Station (also known as the Earth Satellite Station "Yugoslavia"). Unveiled in June of 1974 by president Josip Broz Tito himself (along with his wife Jovanka) and designed by architect Aleksandar Keković and engineer Vlade Vračarić, this was the first ground satellite station in Yugoslavia. Technical help on the construction of the satellite array was lent by Japanese engineers. During the subsequent Montreal Olympics in 1976, the Prilike Station operated as a pivotal transmission base of the broadcast of the games for much of Southeastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Adjacent to the first satellite was an operations complex styled in a distinct design of curved and undulating walls in bare concrete, all texturized with bush-hammered striations. The station originally contained just one satellite, but a second one was subsequently added in 1983 and a third in 1996. The creation of this station was a great technological achievement for Yugoslavia and was seen as a great monumental symbol of progress for the nation, resulting in the station being depicted on numerous postcards, stamps and national memorabilia. However, the station was destroyed in May of 1999 as a result of a series of NATO bombings. It was later partially rebuilt.