Santiago, 18-Mar-2013

Tito and Pinochet: A Wholly Unscientific 12-Second Comparison of the Pop Culture Legacies of Two Dictators from the 1970s

Santiago, 18-Mar-2013

Santiago, 18-Mar-2013

The full title of this aside:


Two decades after Yugoslavia burst at the seams, the hip, pierced and tattooed crowd in Slovenia and other former Yugoslav republics proudly wear Tito t-shirts.

In Chile, twenty-plus years after the fall of the dictatorship, the hip, pierced and tattooed do not wear Pinochet t-shirts.

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Yugoslav National Army illustrated postal stationery, circa 1978

These are six illustrated envelopes produced by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) in the mid 1970s. I love this first one, portraying a cute red-capped blond temptress playfully hugging a tree while eying the soldier’s gun.

All but one were sent to the same woman in Zagreb – I brushed out her name to save her from any embarrassment or pain – over the course of a few weeks in the fall of 1978. The addressee was either a collector or the sender was very much in love. Not sure what’s going on in this next one, but everyone looks pretty wet.

This one’s odd, too. What exactly are they looking at?

This looks like a nice spot. Anyone know where it is?

Reception problems?

And finally, the standard seven young sailors with a cute chick in a rowboat shot. I like her sullen dreamy gaze into the distance as the guy next to her stares at her chest. Anyone know any of these people?

Trebević Mountain Polka (Sarajevo notebook II).

Catching up on last month’s visit to Sarajevo, here’s a four-minute high speed stroll down the 1984 Olympic bobsled run on Trebević Mountain. Apologies for the bumpiness, but I imagine that an actual ride on a bobsled would be a bit bouncy too. Particularly these days when a machete would come in handy.

Constructed in 15 months at a cost of 563,209,000 Yugoslav Dinars (US$4.5 million*), the facility was a point of pride for 1984 Winter Olympic organizers. Eight years and two months after the Closing Ceremonies, the facility was one of the front lines in the Serb Siege of Sarajevo.

The stroll was quite peaceful, with a pleasant accompaniment by chirping birds and forest insects. It was also a bit surreal, like walking through the set of of post-apocalyptic film. The next Planet of the Apes sequel, perhaps.

More pics from Sarajevo’s Olympic legacy are on my flickr stream here.
More general shots of Sarajevo are here.

* According to the official report to the IOC, local organizers listed the cost of the bobsled and luge facility as 563,209,000 Yugoslav dinars. The official exchange rate at the time was 125.67 YUD to 1 USD. If anyone has a better figure on the actual cost, both in 1984 and 2011 USD, please share. :)

1968 Yugoslav Road Atlas

The joys of spring cleaning for a packrat.

I rescued this from a trash heap in my father’s garage in Ohio about a year-and-half ago and brought it back ‘home’. Translation: Happily on your way with a Tomos Colibri! That’s one happy and smooth-looking motorist, no? I hope he didn’t use the binoculars while riding.

Tito on Stamps

In my world, May 4 will always be associated with two things. In 1970, four students were killed and nine others wounded when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on demonstrators at Kent State University not too far from where I grew up. And in 1980, Tito, the president of the country in which I was born, died at 88.

It was right around the time of the Kent State shootings that I first began to become aware of Tito. My parents were prolific letter writers, and we regularly received mail from Yugoslavia. More often than not, the stamps on the envelopes bore an image of Tito. My brother and I had the biggest collection of Tito stamps in the neighborhood.

His 35 year rule offered plenty of opportunities for Yugoslavia to issue stamps to commemorate its President-for-Life. Depending on how they’re counted, somewhere between 100 and 110 were issued between 1945 and 1990 to celebrate his cult of personality.

Probably my favorite design is from the series above, Michel catalog Nos 605-608, issued for May Day 1950. There’s an elegant Hollywood charm to it, no?

The first (above) were issued on 21 February 1945, with denominations in Occupied dinars (Michel 454-457). Below is the first airmail issue bearing his likeness, issued on 22 December 1951.

Here are a couple more, an early postal card and an early cover (Michel 477).

And this one was the last, issued on 25 may 1990, a day celebrated annually as the Day of Youth which coincided with Tito’s birthday. It’s seems appropriate that he’s looking very somber, and looking down.

I’ve managed to collect them all, either mint, used, or on cover. For those of you interested in this trip down memory lane, I posted most of them on a stamp collecting board here.

Blinded by zeros

For those of you who are fascinated by large denominations, this is a 500 Billion Dinar note I found this morning, issued by Yugoslavia in 1993. It was the largest nominal value ever printed by the country, near the peak of its hyperinflation period. All those zeros are blinding. Ain’t spring cleaning fun?

As a point of reference, on November 12, 1993 the exchange rate was 1 German Mark (DM) = 1 Million new dinars. On December 29 the exchange rate was 1 DM = 950 Billion new dinars.

A nice write-up of the period’s hyperinflation is here.

Susak Notebook

Dolphins as PR/tourism icon are everywhere in Mali Lošinj. So it made my day to see a school of 10 or so during a relatively brief boat ride to Susak, a small island about 10 nautical miles southwest of Mali Lošinj.

Only about 200 people live on the island year round. It’s a quiet place, relaxing. It appears that it’s been that way for some time and quite likely will stay that way. There are a small handful of stores, restaurants and cafés – most were still shuttered in mid-May — but absent are night clubs, large or even medium-sized hotels, and most conspicuously, roads.

There are no cars on the island; the only motorized vehicles I saw were a few small tractors hauling smaller trailers loaded with supplies which arrived on an afternoon boat. Otherwise, wheelbarrows, or karijole, appear to be the device of choice to push things around. I spent most of a quick coffee break observing one man, in his late 60s or early 70s is my guess, pushing 15 liters of red wine in his karijola. He stopped quickly at the café, enjoyed a coffee and a piece of baklava, and was on his way in less than 180 seconds.

I can understand quite a bit of Croatian, but am hardly fluent. Nonetheless, I did notice that the locals used a very distinct dialect, one I’ve never heard before. The island’s first inhabitants were the Illyrians; the majority of their surviving descendents left the island in the late 1940s after Croatia became part of Yugoslavia, and emigrated primarily to Hoboken, New Jersey.

It struck me as an interesting place to spend some time for a longer anthro/ag/geog/etc research project, if one was looking for such a thing. You can choose to be very isolated here, but with the luxury of a quick commute to the mainland which also happens to be an island. I came on a day trip, spent just a few hours, but long enough to want to return, at least for a few days. This type of seclusion, remote but still not that far removed, is rare, and fascinating at the same time.

Quick plug for our ship’s captain, Luciano Magazin, who operated one of about a dozen or so boats with daily departures to nearby islands from the port at Mali Lošinj. The cost for the trip, roughly an hour each way, is 100 KUN (13.66 EUR/ 19.16 USD), and he offers an on-board lunch for an additional 80 KUN (11 EUR/15 USD). Definitely worth it. We enjoyed a variety of local and fresh pan-fried fish, a hefty green salad, and a delicious potato/spinach dish, all bottomless portions, plus plenty of red and white wine. And although it isn’t quite as good as Brkinska (none is, really), the welcome glass of slivovec (plum brandy) at a few minutes after 10 was quite tasty.

Some more of my pics here, and here’s a terrific link for plenty more info:.

(Visited mid-May 2009)

dolphins 03, originally uploaded by pirano.

Lošinj notebook

The Croatian island of Lošinj is the northernmost area of Europe where lemons grow. That tidbit tells you quite a bit about what to expect from this northern Adriatic island in the Kvarner Gulf. The island’s 33km long, but for all intents and purposes, considerably longer given its close relationship with it’s northern sister Cres, at a whopping 66km long and 405 square km the largest Croatian island. The two are joined at the village of Osor by a laughably small bridge that traverses its eponymous bay. (It’s laughable because I laughed out loud. I guess I was simply expecting something not so small.)

Looking for an Adriatic island trip in early May –my first– the Cres- Lošinj archipelago was a great choice, but primarily one of practicality (along with a few nice reviews). Besides Krk to the east, it’s the closest to Ljubljana and easily accessible via Rijeka or just beyond Opatija.

Brestova-Porozina, 15 KUN (2 EUR/2.90 USD)/person, 96 (13.15 EUR/18.39 USD) for a car. About a 30 minute ride. Service is more or less hourly, besides the longer midday/lunch break. Here’s last year’s (2008) high season schedule, which will probably be quite similar this year.  If you’re on a tight schedule, note that in 2008 the last boat back left at midnight.

From Porozina it’s a fabulous drive with plenty of great views towards both coasts, and you’ll drive through evergreen and some hardwood forests. Give yourself a little time to adjust to the narrow roads, and take care on the turns. Most bus drivers I came across took them very fast, particularly uphill. There are lots of cyclists too.

There’s plenty of road construction –some major– at the moment, with the aim presumably to have work completed before high season hits. I got the impression that that really won’t happen.

It took about an hour-and-a-half to reach the town of Cres, and another hour before we parked the car for the next three days in Mali Lošinj. Unless you’re just doing so to get your bearings, there is no need to drive into town (no free parking). There’s ample free parking available just a short walk from the port; at least a few hotels do offer closer parking but with a fee.

From the ferry dock at Brestova it’s about 70 km to Mali Lošinj, the county seat and main port, a very pleasant and relatively quiet (at least in early May) harbor town with a west facing port. The harbor’s nicely-maintained promenade, or riva,  is lined with an ample number of restaurants, cafes, bars, and gift shops, along with a few hotels (I got a decent deal for the portside Apoksiomen) and a couple galleries.

While virtually anything can be done on the cheap with a little resourcefulness, if you’re looking for something low budget overall, you won’t find it here (or from what I hear, anywhere on the Dalmatian coast anymore). I dined at several restaurants, and enjoyed the fresh seafood, the local olive oils and wines. Few entrees came in at under 15 EUR, most were more.

I saw a pair of nice campgrounds nearby as well, which is where I will stay when I return.

Plenty of boats head out in the morning for day trips to the various nearby islands, most costing 100 KUN/13.70 EUR/19 USD per person. Most leave at 10am for pre-determined destination, but most captains welcome itinerary changes. I went to Susak, about an hour away, which came highly recommended.

If graffiti is your thing, save that creative energy for a small and abandoned Yugoslav navy installation just beyond the western edge of the port. Plenty of dilapidated buildings to serve as your canvas. There a small curving tunnel you can roam through afterwards. (There’s a brief blind spot in the center but fear not, you can make it without a flashlight.)

Overall, terrific. It’s said to be very busy in the summer months, so best times to visit are spring and fall. Definitely bring some sun block.

About a dozen pics on my flickr stream.

Mali Lošinj 09, originally uploaded by pirano.

trabant quality control.

About a year ago, I mentioned the Yugo I proudly spent four years driving around the hills of southeast Ohio.

I’m sure there are at least a few folks in the former East Germany who share a similar fondness for their famed trabants, though I haven’t met any yet.

While widely remembered – by those who choose to remember them - as a symbol of DDR ineptitude, trabants did in fact need to pass a quality control test of sorts, usually involving hammers. Dig that music!

What’s on Radio Titograd?

Found this old radio in my grandmother’s attic over the weekend, an RIZ (RadioIndustrija Zagreb) 634 UKV. According to this Croatian collector’s site,, it was the last of the Zagreb manufacturer’s series of 28 models. My guess is that this monster is among the heaviest too. This model was made in 1963, making it a few years older than me, so I’ll consider it a genuine antique.

I love the veritable geography lesson on this huge dial. I wonder how many times my grandparents tuned in to Radio Temisoara?

Mine‘s missing the far right button of three, next to ‘jazz’ and ‘govor’. Anyone know where I can find one?

And while on topic, the collector and restorer, Marijan, is apparently still looking for seven of the 28 RIZ‘s to fill out his collection.  Can anyone help?

RIZ 634 UKV (02), originally uploaded by pirano.