The end of the war had inaugurated an era of austerity, first due to the need to rebuild the shattered city and then as a consequence of the first five-year plan. Following the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, Yugoslavia’s economic situation be-came even direr. The loss of economic ties with the Eastern Bloc and the need for increased defense spending to ward off a potential Soviet attack resulted in a sharp drop in spending on consumption. Two major droughts, in 1950 and 1952, added to the economic hardship. As a result of the policy of forced industrialization and the unfavorable economic conditions, national income and individual spending decreased between 1948 and 1952.1 The construc-tion of housing and residential infrastructure slowed to a virtual standstill. In response to the economic crisis, the city council tried to staunch the flow of migrants into Belgrade. The economic plan for Belgrade in 1951 insisted that, “given that construction in 1951 will not be able to improve the standard of living and that capital construction and industry will not require the arrival of additional workers from the interior, our firms and other organs must desist from hiring workers from the interior.” In spite of these precautions, Belgrade’s population increased from 428,000 in 1951 to 440,000 in 1952, aggravating an already severe housing shortage.2
The Tito-Stalin split had another consequence with implications for urban planning: Yugoslavia’s ideological redefinition. Following the split, the party leadership searched for a new ideological framework that would differenti-ate Yugoslavia from the Soviet Bloc. 3 It began to develop the concept of selfmanagement in 1949, with the limited implementation of workers’ councils in state enterprises. Unlike the so-called administrative socialism that existed in the Soviet Union, self-management supposedly enabled the working people of Yugoslavia to shape their destinies by running their own factories and making decisions about profits. The concept was then extended to political life in the 1953 constitution, according to which citizens were to express their political will through organs of local self-government. The new constitution extended the application of self-management to all spheres of public life, which it promoted as a truer expression of socialism than what existed across the Soviet Bloc.
The split also had implications for the architectural profession. Architects had been under some pressure to conform to a socialist realist aesthetic, but the style had failed to gain a serious foothold in Yugoslavia. Kulic has shown how architects sparring over the appropriate decorating for socialism in a leading
Yugoslav journal, Arhitektura, were able to use the weaknesses of socialist real-ism—namely, its fuzziness and lack of stability and the difficulty of applying it to decorating—to diminish its impact. Socialist realism might still have im-posed itself over time but for the break with Stalin, following which architects were quick to turn their backs on the problematic concept. In June 1950, Neven Segvic, the editor of Arhitektura, published an article openly criticizing socialist realism and defining prewar modernism as an acceptable heritage on which to draw.4
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Published texts from the first Congress of Yugoslav Architects on the question of urbanism and decorating, held in Dubrovnik in November 1950, sug-gest that the architectural profession seized this moment to reassert its leading role in building socialism. As the official conclusions to the meeting stated, the number of people qualified to undertake the enormous challenges of the reconstruction and the first five-year plan had been quite limited, as had been the resources at their disposal. Along with the authors of the official conclu-sions, architect Milorad Macura and Vladislav Ribnikar, an important figure in the Yugoslav Communist Party and director of the newspaper Politika, also blamed “bureaucratism” for the poor quality of projects realized between 1945 and 1950. According to Macura, architects were forced to concentrate on meeting a plethora of standards and norms, as a result “completely ignoring the most basic—the object and the individuals who create it.” In other words, he stated, “today, we are building apartments for auditors in offices, for direc-tors, for the oversight committee.”5 As bureaucratism was one of the central accusations leveled at the Soviet regime, Macura was essentially blaming the shortcomings of architects on the Stalinism of the early postwar years.
The break with the Soviet Union offered a golden opportunity to revisit the regime’s approach to urban planning and decorating in a way that gave a more important role to architects. The author (or authors) of the official conclusions of the congress harnessed the rhetoric of the moment to promote their agenda. They argued that Yugoslav architects could play a leading role on the world stage, trumping the Soviets: “[Led] according to the correct line by our party, our architects haven’t fallen into the formalism that is characteristic of the decorating of the Soviet Union, an expression of its ideological dogmatism and Marxist revisionism. . . . Progressive architects the world over, disappointed by the decorating and urbanism of the Soviet Union, which is effectively uncreative and unsocialist, expect from us real results in the field of decorating and urbanism.”6