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Travel: Socialist history in the Slovenian town of Ljubljana

By Fabian Van Onzin

Socialist history museum in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Ljubljana, Slovenia – Although socialism ended in Yugoslavia over 25 years ago, the relics of its socialist past can be found across the former republics, in its cities, its architecture, its museum, and its people.

Until 1991, Yugoslavia consisted of six socialist republics, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. It was led by Josip Broz Tito, who led the Yugoslavian people in the partisan struggle against fascist occupation and helped to build socialism in Yugoslavia from 1953 to 1980. While socialist Yugoslavia was considered by many communists at the time to be non-revolutionary or revisionist, it nonetheless has an interesting socialist past that can still be found in many places.

I visited Ljubjlana and was pleased to see that much of this socialist legacy is still fresh in the memory of its people. One of the most interesting things in Ljubljana was a museum about the socialist history of Yugoslavia. The museum had over 1500 pieces of art, newspaper articles, portraits of communist leaders, and other socialist memorabilia from the period of socialism.

The owner of the museum gave an uplifting talk about his experience living in a socialist society. He said, “During the socialist period, people had free health care, free universities of a high quality, a very high level of academic freedom unlike anything in capitalist countries, and society was geared to protect the interests of working people. Every worker received 14 days of vacation, and funding from the government to take a vacation; I frequently visited the beautiful Croatian Coast for free during my holiday.”

He went on to say, “Back then, we were all equal and referred to everyone as comrade, irrespective of their nationality, for Tito created a society that strongly promoted the equality of nationalities. It was only when capitalism was in the process of being restored that nationalism was re-ignited, which led to a horrible war in the 1990s that received considerable funding from NATO and the U.S.”

He reported that the death of President Tito was one of the saddest days of his life, and that he still celebrates Tito's birthday each year. The Slovene people still refer to the main street in Ljubljana as the Tito Street even though it is officially called the Slovene Street. One still frequently sees pictures of Tito in many places, from bars and restaurants to museums. There is also a gigantic statue of Boris Kidric, the first communist prime minister of Yugoslavia in the central square of Ljubljana, as well as a handful of monuments to the working people who built Yugoslavia. Indeed, in nearly every museum in Ljubljana, one can find statues of Lenin, socialist realist and constructivist painting, and exhibits highlighting the socialist past.

Ljubljana is a lovely city to visit if you want to learn about the history of the former socialist Yugoslavia. In addition to that, it has a thriving culture, extremely friendly people, and everything there from hotels to food are fairly inexpensive. If one wants to learn about the history of socialism in Yugoslavia, Ljubljana is a great place to start.

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