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.

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.

Latest Balkan contribution: ‘tennis hooligans’

So reports Belgrade 2.0:

Apparently Serbian and Croatian diaspora in Australia have nothing better to do and no bigger worries, so it seems that their biggest problem was the existence of each other. In all that boredom they decided to sing ‘provocative’ songs to each other and, if plausible, start a fight.

The venue? Monday’s Australian Open. As in the tennis tournament.

Link to Sydney Morning Herald’s blow-by-blow account, complete with details on how the troops were rallied.

UPDATE (18-Jan): Things apparently cooled down today, the Morning Herald reports, despite a late night match between Croatia’s Marin Cilic and Serbia’s Ilia Bozoljac.

The self-proclaimed Serb-Australian fan leader, Novica Zivak, had promised to return and stab Croats but was unseen, as were Croat-Australians who had promised to fight back.

Mental hospital without a country.

From a Reuters story in The Scotsman on the Stimlje mental institution in Kosovo:

“The patients came here when Yugoslavia was still alive,” says the director, Kujtim Xhelili. “So we have Serbs from Kosovo, from Serbia, from Vojvodina, Croats from Croatia. We have Albanians, Macedonians, Roma, Muslims from Bosnia.”


Most of the residents have been here for at least 15 years. They arrived as citizens of one country, and have lived in isolation as Yugoslavia disintegrated and more than 130,000 were killed in wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.