Today is Republic Day: 70 Years of Yugoslavia

November 29th was the Day of the Republic, the biggest public holiday in socialist Yugoslavia. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the abolition of the monarchy and the official declaration of the socialist republic. Take a look back at Dan republike and what it all meant.

Seventy years ago today, Yugoslavia’s monarchy was abolished and a socialist republic was proclaimed in its place. The date November 29th subsequently became Dan republike (Day of the Republic), Yugoslavia’s most important public holiday.

But the significance of November 29th actually predates the end of WWII. As all Yugoslav schoolchildren learn, the second session of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia, or AVNOJ, was held on November 29th, 1943 in the Bosnian city of Jajce, where the council declared itself the future government of Yugoslavia. With the war still on, 142 representatives from across the territory that would become socialist Yugoslavia in two years’ time met and adopted a declaration, along with a number of key decisions that would form the foundation of the future federative state.

Among the aims emphasized in the documents drawn up that day were that “the material, political and ethical conditions be created for the future democratic federative brotherhood of Yugoslav nations”, that “the remnants of the hegemonic policy of Greater Serbia be destroyed”, and that “measures should be taken against the king and monarchy in accordance with their attitude towards the national liberation fight”.

AVNOJ was serious about getting rid of the royals. One of the council’s key decisions included banning King Peter II Karadjordjević from ever returning to the country. Peter II had fled Yugoslavia when the Nazis invaded, and soon settled into a comfortable life in the UK, socializing with other royals-in-exile from the continent and completing his education at Cambridge. AVNOJ’s 1943 decision to ban him held for a surprisingly long time. It wasn’t until 2013 that Peter II’s remains were dug up from their (semi-)final resting place in the wealthy suburb of Libertyville, Illinois, where he’d earned the strange distinction of being the only European monarch to have ever been buried in American soil. His remains were then put on a plane and shipped to Serbia. 70 years after being barred from stepping foot in the country formerly known as Yugoslavia, Peter II was draped in Serbian royal regalia and reburied in Oplenac, at a ceremony attended by then-Prime Minister Ivica Dacić, who, in a cruel twist of historical irony, happens to be the main figurehead of Serbia’s Socialist Party  — whatever that means anymore.

Tito with his wife Jovanka Broz on Dan republike (Photo credit: ribnica24.eu)
Tito with his wife Jovanka Broz on Dan republike (Photo credit: ribnica24.eu)

The declaration adopted by AVNOJ on November 29th, 1943 also emphasized the council’s “warm feelings” for the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, with whom it had fought to defeat fascism in Europe. Unlike most other countries in the neighborhood, which hastily aligned themselves with the Soviet Union once the war was over, socialist Yugoslavia would retain those “warm feelings” for the two blocs — or at least had the decency to hide its contempt for both — for the duration of the Cold War.

At that second session of AVNOJ in 1943, the Tito-led Provisional Government of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was established. The organizational structure of the new Yugoslavia would be a federation of six equal republics. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia became a reality in November 1945 and ceased to exist in 1992.

In the intervening decades, Dan republike was celebrated every November 29th to commemorate the new economic and social decisions adopted at Jajce and the one million casualties sustained by Yugoslavia during WWII, many in service to the glorious Partisan struggle. Dan republike celebrations drew heavily on an idealized, simplified story about Partisan sacrifice. In Remembering Utopia: The Culture of Everyday Life in Socialist Yugoslavia, ‪Breda Luthar and Maruša Pušnik detail some of the holiday’s activities and meanings.

Dan republike (Photo credit: klix.ba)
Dan republike (Photo credit: klix.ba)

November 29th was the day first grade children were inducted into the Pioneers, as inheritors of the historic decisions made on that date in 1943, and the guarantors of their continued meaning as foundational principles of the state. Taking the oath of a pioneer on Dan Republike promoted continuity between generations, and connected children to the memory of the Partisan struggle and the creation of the state itself.

Dan republike was one of three two-day holidays in Yugoslavia; the other two were May the 1st and New Year’s. Families often used the free time to go on short weekend trips or to visit family members living in other parts of the country. November 29th was also one of the country’s most popular wedding dates. Couples that wanted to get married on Dan republike had to take care to register early since it was always booked many months in advance.

The (former) holiday holds different meanings for each of the states that were once Yugoslavia. For example, Croatia stopped celebrating Dan Republike in 1990, a year before it gained independence. And its new statehood day is June 25th, the date parliament proclaimed Croatia independent from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Croatia’s official policy towards the holiday has been one of enforced amnesia, characteristic of its rejection of any symbol associated with the socialist period. Bosnia-Herzegovina, meanwhile, has integrated some of the decisions underlying the original Dan republike into its identity post-independence. November 25th was chosen as the country’s statehood day because Tito’s communists first recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina as a federal republic within Yugoslavia on that date in 1945. (Major Serb and Croat parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina object to the date and the existence of any state-wide statehood day).

In Jajce, meanwhile, there is still an AVNOJ Museum, housed in the same brick building where the council held its historic second session in 1943. The museum hosts an annual “Days of AVNOJ” event every November 29th and 30th.

Dan republike’s memory lives, if nowhere else than in Sarajevo band Zabranjeno Pušenje’s 1983 song of the same name. It’s a pop anthem for the republic, but rather than extolling the virtues of self-management or the Partisans, it’s an affectionate homage to ordinary, occasionally dim and disappointing Yugoslav life. And perhaps there’s no better tribute or way to remember than that.

 

Zabranjeno Pušenje – “Dan republike”

 

Today is republic day

And the old man has had a few drinks

Lepa Brena on TV

While the old man reminisces

 

So that we would have it better today

They made tremendous sacrifices

Wading across the icy waters

Eating bark from the trees

 

He’s saddened because everyone thinks

That a good life is somewhere else

And nobody is dreaming the old dream

Everyone’s just waiting for a passport to go abroad

 

Today is a day, the republic day

And my mom says, “shut up Dragan

Keep it quiet, they could hear you”

 

Today is the republic day

And the old man is reminiscing about the war days

He’s saddened that even the kids

Aren’t playing partisans anymore

Today everyone knows

That there’s only one head

Today everyone knows

Before whom to drop on their knees

Liked it? Take a second to support Balkanist on Patreon!
Avatar
Lily Lynch

Lily is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Balkanist Magazine. She lives in Belgrade, Serbia. https://www.instagram.com/lynch.lily/