This article first appeared on VICE Serbia
When communism took hold of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after World War II, Christmas as a religious holiday was banned in the now-secular country. New Year officially became the festive season's biggest event.
Yugoslavia's beloved leader Josip Broz Tito, praised for the guerrilla warfare tactics that drove out Nazi troops, won Western hearts by turning his back on Russia's strongman Josef Stalin. Tito smartly allowed his people slightly more rights than were given to his communist colleagues in the Eastern bloc, while keeping an iron grip on politics.
His influence led to the grouping of freshly independent post-colonial countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, created in 1961, and brought him support among the leftist forces who turned a blind eye to his sometimes luxurious lifestyle and personality cult. Many Hollywood types, including Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, visited Belgrade for the glamorous parties hosted by Tito and his wife Jovanka. Others were invited to celebrations on his famed transatlantic yacht Galeb.
Tito organized New Year parties for his friends, family, and closest allies, but also visited public celebrations and walked along packed streets to enable "ordinary citizens" to wish him their best.
VICE spoke to curators Ana Panic and Radovan Cukic from the Museum of Yugoslav History about Tito's guests, parties, and New Year celebrations menu.
VICE: Why were New Year celebrations so important and so big in Yugoslavia?
Ana Panic and Radovan Cukic: New Year was declared a state holiday in 1955, and thanks to a mix of propaganda and forced pressure in the post-war years, its celebrations almost completely overtook Christmas traditions. It emerged as a real people's holiday. During the first years of Socialist Yugoslavia, as a religious figure even Santa Claus nudged off guest lists.
Where, how and with whom did Tito usually celebrate?
His main partner was his wife Jovanka, but he would also be with his closest political allies. His numerous family members joined them in public celebration only several years before his death.
Regular parties were held in the presidential residence in Belgrade—or in the other Yugoslav towns that became capitals of new states after the bloody breakup of the communist federation—but Tito's favorite spot was his semi-private island of Brijuni, where he spent seven New Year's celebrations.
He also liked to spend holidays on his yacht Galeb, usually during his visits to the Non-Aligned Movement member countries. He celebrated 1955 close to the shores of India, 1956 in a hotel in Egypt's Luxor, and 1959 in Indonesia.
While celebrating in Yugoslavia, he would sometimes join public celebrations, or marched along the streets. He'd sometimes spent the night with workers in a factory or with soldiers in their barracks.
Who entertained Tito and his guests?
The most popular Yugoslav stars were always chosen for the parties. And one could judge who were his favorites by comparing how many times they entertained him. Although the presidential protocol department would plan the party and pick out the lineup, Tito, as in all other things, had final say. The menu was made up of mostly local dishes and wines.
Not only Tito's but also other guests' suits and dresses, were often embellished with imaginative accessories, like caps, hats, Mexican sombreros… In Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, the mayor wore a cap shaped as a tram—an homage to the public tram service granted to his town in one year.
Thanks, Ana and Radovan.