New Year’s Eve with Tito

The exhibition of Tito’s New Year is an extraordinary opportunity to take a peek into the private life of Josip Broz, the famous president of Yugoslaiva and one of the world’s most renowned 20th century statesmen.

The people of Serbia are still happy to talk about this topic with nostalgia for those times when they lived in peace and stability. The exhibition opened on 26th December at the Museum of Yugoslav History – formally 25th May Museum – and has proved to be an excellent way of welcoming 2009.

The exhibition, authored by Ana Pani? – the museum’s own curator – represents the continuation of the project entitled ‘Congratulations’, which dealt with New Year’s greeting cards from the former Socialist Yugoslavia and was held in the Museum of Yugoslav History two years ago.

Tito’s New Year consists of three parts: photos from Titio’s private receptions, featuring Tito, his wife Jovanka and friends; photos of public celebrations of New Year with Tito and a reconstruction of Tito’s living room, complete with the original furniture of the time that it was the set of live New Year TV broadcasts to the nation during the 1970s.

The chore of the exhibition consists of archive pictures never before shown publicly, images from Tito’s private collections, photos from receptions in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sarajevo, the island of Brijuni and aboard the ship Galeb, as well as pictures taken during Tito’s historic New Year’s visits to Indonesia and Egypt.

The exhibition also includes invitation cards, guest lists with seating arrangements and entertainment programmes for various New Year events.

Visitors can also experience video and audio material, particularly dealing with protocol arrangements and the detailed planning and coordination of the many events chronicled.
Prior to the Second World War, in the then Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, New Year was rarely celebrated – featuring only in towns as a sign of Europeanisation. The law governing official holidays first noted New Year as a holiday “for Catholics only” in 1929.

Ana Pani? explains that after the liberation of 1945, the introduction of new holidays and new ceremonies became important elements for the new national identity and the creation of a sense of belonging to the new nation, regardless of the citizens’ contrasting religions and ethnicities.

Tito’s post-revolution regime made a comprehensive transformation of society and created their so-called “new man”. To do this they used a strategy of creating imagined tradition. An important part of this process was taken by the holidays, which were aimed at preserving social order and imposing new order.

In the first post-war years, the new and old holidays quickly combined. Christmas was still celebrated and newspapers still announced Christmas songs and greetings. However, from 1947 there was no longer any mention made of the Christmas spirit publicly.

The task of getting rid of the old customs and imposing the new ones was assigned to the Anti-Fascist Women’s Front, and from 1948 they began promoting New Year as a custom of the people. Children were also expected to help the campaign to promote New Year, as the new holiday was promoted as a holiday of the children and a day when pioneers and workers reviewed their work of the past year.

At that time, according to Pani?, press began publishing the first announcements for organised celebrations at hotels and restaurants; mass celebrations were organised in town squares, factories, army barracks and other public places – as was done in the former Soviet Union, Pani? stresses.

Also similarly to the Soviet Union, the Christmas tree was decorated with socialist symbols and Santa Claus was criticised as a Clerical creature based on St. Nicholas.

Instead of Father Christmas, the central figure of the celebration became a girl in national costume, as a personification of the year ahead; or an old Partisan fighter as a symbol of revolutionary tradition. The regime ordered that all symbols of Christmas celebrations – toys, trees, decorations, etc. – be removed from the shops in December and only replaced just prior to New Year.

And so, through a combination of propaganda and pressure, in 1949 New Year became the top national holiday. Officially, this only occurred in 1955 – prior to that 1st January had remained a working day.

Until the introduction of television, Tito celebrated New Year among his narrow circle of close friends, only making his mass public greeting on 1st January. If he was absent from the country, he celebrated on his ship Galeb or in the hotel he was staying in at the time.

In 1956, for example, he found himself in Egypt for New Year. His hotel room was too small for a celebration of 30 people, but the alternative location of the lobby bar wasn’t acceptable because of the other tourists (Muslims who were not celebrating). Finally, a place was found. However it lacked music and so a gramophone had to be ordered from President Nasser in Cairo.

In the ‘60s, with the introduction of television, the annual New Year celebration became a family event. The direct transmission of Tito’s address was watched by virtually all Yugoslavs, while protocol took care to ensure that the glorious leader celebrated New Year in a different republic each year. Tito also often attended mass celebrations on city squares or rode on public buses. One photo shows him on the Croatian island of Vanga, decorating a Christmas tree with kitchen cutlery.

Generally, though, Tito celebrated New Year in a tight circle of close friends, such as Petar Stamobli?, Milentije Popovi?, Edvard Kardelj, Branko Peši?, Aleksandar Ankovi?, Savka Dap?evi? Ku?ar and occasionally writer Miroslav Krleža.

Guests gave Tito expensive presents, such as whisky and cigars, while Tito always gave them wooden plates carved with the name Brijuni and the year.

The exhibition’s photos show Tito drinking champagne and laughing heartily in his representative suit and wearing a funny cap on his head. He was a keen dancer, particularly when it came to the Viennese waltz, and he enjoyed listening to music on the mandolin.

Tito’s New Year music programme usually consisted of everything from folk songs to operatic arias. The menu always included national food – though it was altered one year when the legendary leader was on a diet.

The exhibition runs until 31st January.