By Karlie Marrazzo
Ever since I visited Bosnia, Montenegro and Croatia in 2013, I’ve been fascinated with Yugoslavia. I’m constantly reading memoirs, historical books and articles about the former Communist state and have spent countless hours dreaming about returning and spending more time in the region. Aside from our self-tour of Novi Beograd, we were planning to visit Yugoslav leader Tito’s grave. I wanted to know what other significant places we could see in Belgrade so I googled “Belgrade Communist sites” and came across the website for Belgrade Walking Tours, who offer a three and a half hour “Communist tour” for only 10EUR.
The group met at the heart of Republic Square on another frigid grey afternoon. Our guide was a young lady named Jovana, a slim girl in an oversized olive green jacket and cool glasses. People trickled in after the set meeting time until our group grew to 18 people. We took the bus, we walked, we stopped, and we walked some more, all while Jovana told stories about times gone by. As someone who is even remotely interested in Communism, a lot of the information was not new to me, but some of it was and it was still interesting to hear these stories explained rather than reading them in a book. Since she wasn’t yet born when Tito died and was only a child at the height of Slobodan Milošević’s regime, she didn’t offer much profound insight into those days but offered a few interesting tidbits, like how she remembered watching cartoons as a kid in the early 90s and not really feeling like much different was going on aside from the electricity being off for a few hours a day, while her parents and the other adults constantly worried about the NATO bombings.
The three and a half hour tour took us to the following locations:
– House of Flowers – Josep Broz Tito’s mausoleum, also containing some of his personal effects and dozens of unique and bizarre batons presented to him on his birthday each year at Youth Day.
– An overpass looking over a bustling highway like any other, except this one was built during Communist times and was named “Brotherhood and Unity Highway” and all of the Communist brothers had a marvelous time constructing it, building their teamwork skills and singing while they worked. From this vantage point we could also see the Ušće Tower, the former Communist headquarters that was later damaged during NATO air strikes.
– Secret Police headquarters that were bombed during the NATO air strikes and are still in a state of rubble. The building was purchased by foreign investors years ago who still haven’t done anything with it.
– A long walk down Vardarska Street, past several Embassy buildings and the still damaged and still in use military headquarters building.
– Our final stop was the House of the National Assembly, where Jovana lowered her voice to a near whisper and kept her eyes moving while telling us about more recent times; the downfall of Milošević’s regime and what it’s like to live in Serbia today.
Overall I would highly recommend the tour to anyone who is even remotely interested in Communism and learning more about the complex history of Serbia and Yugoslavia.
The next day we were due to fly to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, on an early afternoon flight. Due to the bus schedules and the distance to the airport, we didn’t have time to do anything in the city that morning. However, thanks to Instagram, I had found out about the Space Age looking Aerospace Museum (Muzej Vazduhoplovstva) next to the airport, which is a much better to way to kill some time before your flight than sitting at the gate. Unfortunately for us they only accept cash and we were exactly 100RSD (about $1) short, but we still spent about half an hour snapping photos of decommissioned Yugoslav planes with the otherworldly museum as a backdrop. If you’re interested in learning more about the different types of airplanes on display, visit TravelDriveRace here.
Up next: Macedonia!
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15 thoughts on “Walking through Belgrade’s Communist past”
The old Soviet Bloc countries are just fascinating and Yugoslavia looks even more interesting than most. If you ever get to Budapest try to visit Memento Park – (No.2 on the list at this address http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/2013/08/five-you-have-got-to-be-kidding-tourist.html). It contains a collection of old Communist era statues saved from destruction. I suspect you would really enjoy it.
Thanks Lyn. We were actually in Budapest (story here: http://www.misswanderlust.ca/budapest-journey-to-30-part-one) right before Belgrade, but we didn’t have time to go to the Memento Park. Next time! 😉
This history is breath taking and the pictures look beautiful and real. I like your history very much so thank you for sharing.
A great way to see & hear the past, your guided tour sounded interesting. Can’t believe they are still using the bombed out building…
The other side of the building, not visible on the picture, is intact.
Thanks for your comment Bojan. You’re right, I just didn’t have any photos of the entire building that were good enough to post in the story.
That’s a mistake, building is not in use since NATO aggression . There is plans to build hotel or something like that, and some folks thinks it should stay there as a monument – reminder of savage bombing 1999.
Which building are you referring to? The Secret Police Headquarters are (very obviously) not in use at this time as the building is incredibly damaged. However, the Military Headquarters building is partially damaged and partially still in use.
You found very interesting tour. Generaly, tours at Belgrade are cheap for western Europe standards. There are even a free tours at city center.
Great post, thanks – I’m signed up for the tour on Tuesday. I’ve been to Bosnia twice, and on this trip Montenegro and Croatia, so I am really curious to hear the Serbian side of the story. It’s a really complicated and important story and I’m looking forward to putting it all together in my blog.
Well said. Looking forward to reading about your experiences in Serbia. Thanks for your comment!
However, the Military Headquarters building is partially damaged and partially still in use.