Republic Day, Sarajevo, 29th November 1989
Milomir Kovačević: “29 November is a date associated with powerful memories for everybody who grew up in Yugoslavia: Republic Day. This work was created in Sarajevo in 1989. The Second Yugoslavia, a system that had now come to an end, had existed for 46 years. In keeping with my role as visual chronicler of the city, I wanted to capture the atmosphere of that day. The shop windows had in the past always been decorated with particular care on Republic Day. Now, on a stretch of four or five kilometres leading from the only shopping centre to the historic city centre, one could sense from the displays themselves the people’s need to continue to be able to believe in the old symbols. Simultaneously, the great unease that oppressed us all was almost literally tangible.”
“I was born and grew up in the era shaped by Tito. For me and my generation, the name of Tito was synonymous with peace and the community of the Yugoslavian peoples. His portraits were everywhere: in schools, town halls and shops, and on public squares. The rise to power of the nationalist parties ushered in a new epoch, but likenesses of Tito were still to be seen in Sarajevo at the beginning of the war. And then the very armies that had helped Tito to remain in power began to destroy his public portraits.”
“On 6 April, the anniversary of the liberation of Sarajevo, flowers were laid down for the victims of the Second World War. We had worn the cap with the red star with pride, appreciative of peace and of the Yugoslav spirit that did not differentiate between the nations. On that day in the year 1989 I observed Young Pioneers as they laid down flowers in memory of the liberators in front of the bust of Veselin Masleša, the author and Second World War hero for whom their school was named. Shortly thereafter I went to that school and made portraits of each of the Young Pioneers in front of a drawing in honour of the National Army, which guaranteed the peace and stability of the Yugoslav borders. Everybody was happy and proud. Nobody sensed that everything was about to change.
The difficult conditions under which the children of Sarajevo lived during the war did not prevent them from playing their games. Their heroes were not cartoon characters or cowboys and Indians, but their fathers, older brothers and neighbours who fought at the front. Their guns were made of wood, bulletproof vests were made of cardboard, and their weapons were made of steel pipes. They kept watch, constructed a hideout, and made their own uniforms that bore the inscription ‘Children’s Police’. For my series of photographs, however, they took hold of their fathers’ weapons. Some of them naively imitated the poses of their adult heroes. This gave them some sort of protection.
The photographs were taken in the same place as the series depicting the Young Pioneers. It was interesting to make oneself aware of the degree to which the living conditions, the ideology and everyday life had changed within the space of only three years. The war children were already part of another world; they were its victims, but perhaps they were also its future."