However, the hoped-for rubber stamp was not to be, and Petricic’s plan set off a lively debate about New Belgrade’s role in the city and the federation. Lead-ing the assault on Petricic’s plan was Nikola Dobrovic, former director of the Town Planning Institute, author of the initial conception for New Belgrade, and disgruntled president of the Society of Urban Planners of Serbia. To a certain extent, his interventions can be read as self-serving. Dobrovic was keen to assert the superiority of his original concept to the new plan, and his jarringly rude put-downs suggest that he disliked Petricic personally. Furthermore, Dobrovic was annoyed that the recently founded Society of Urban Planners of Serbia, which he headed, had not been adequately consulted about the plan. 12 Beyond the grandstanding and personal attacks, however, Dobrovic made a substantive point: it was imperative that New Belgrade have a potent symbolic meaning. He accused Petricic of deluging the Urbanism Council with enormous quantities of technical information, implying that the discussion should focus on details. But what was the concept, the big picture, that underlay this new plan? What would New Belgrade symbolize? Petricic’s design might be technically excellent, but neither he nor anyone else had given any thought to what New Belgrade should signify to Belgrade and to Yugoslavia in light of the new political system.13
Seven years earlier, it had a clear significance as the administrative center of Yugoslavia, a function to which he had sought to give architectural form in his plans. The center of New Belgrade, now occupied by housing, had been dedicated to federal administration buildings. The swath now devoted to a munici-pal park had been assigned to cultural buildings and a diplomatic quarter. The residential quarters to the south and west of these areas were meant to house the employees of these institutions. Dobrovic had designed sweeping vistas to connect these sites visually with important sites in the old town, such as the Belgrade fortress. In Petricic’s plan, however, New Belgrade’s function appeared to be merely to act as an overflow pool for Belgrade’s surplus population. Dobrovic attempted to convey the importance of a clear program: “In contrast to the old conception for New Belgrade, which did have some kind of program, of literary, artistic, formal concept and this in a concrete sense, in the proportions given to natural elements in this case, I have not been able to feel what is sought after, what is projected, and what is the face of this New Belgrade whose con-struction pushes us to unbelievable sacrifices. This symbolism has to be such that everyone, from the worker to the most sophisticated intellectual, under-stands it.”14 Dobrovic had understood a fundamental characteristic of socialist urbanism: because the state ideology proclaimed that urban space belonged to the people rather than to private interests, this space was inherently endowed with political significance. Consequently, it was imperative that a clear and posi-tive message be conveyed through new buildings and developments.
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Momcilo (Moma) Markovic, a member of the Central Committee of the League of Communists, federal secretary for social policy and health (savezni sekretar za socijalnu politiku i narodno zdravlje), and member of the Federal Executive Council, agreed with Dobrovic’s concerns. It was unnecessary and even harmful, he said, to fix in stone how every corner of New Belgrade should look, “but we must clearly establish the philosophy, appearance, and general concept for what New Belgrade should become.”15
If Petricic’s plan lacked an underlying concept, it reflected the general confusion among urban planners regarding New Belgrade’s significance in the new political conjecture. How should the capital of a state that embraced selfmanagement differ from other capitals? Most of the council members opted to simply postpone the issue. For the past months, they had been de-bating whether to use New Belgrade to satisfy the urgent need for housing or to preserve it in its current condition to later invest it with ideological signifi-cance. Dobrovic and others warned against using such an important site as an overflow pool for housing. Djordje Lazarevic had earlier cautioned that build-ing housing in New Belgrade was not necessarily the most economically effi-cient way of raising the living standard and warned that residential neighbor-hoods in New Belgrade would be isolated from the rest of the city.16 Others, such as Milos Minic, had argued that the most expedient means of satisfying the dire need for housing was to build in New Belgrade.17 the Petricic plan and putting the finishing touches on a program for building New Belgrade. The proponents of using New Belgrade to satisfy demand for housing appeared to have won. By this time, the council had decided that New Belgrade held no special significance for either the city or Yugoslavia. They enshrined this principle in the new program by inserting a clause stating that New Belgrade was a part of the city “equal in rights” to the other parts. In the words of Aleksandar Bordevic, who at the time was president of the Society of Architects of Serbia and would shortly become director of the Belgrade Town Planning Institute (UZB), Belgrade as a whole was to be the country’s capital, not just New Belgrade. This consensus appeared to signal the fading of New Belgrade’s special status.
Or did it? Although Bordevic downplayed New Belgrade’s national importance in relation to the rest of the city, he also hinted that a transformed leadership role for New Belgrade was possible. He argued that the state’s rejection of Stalinist “bureaucratic socialism” called for a parallel abandonment of monumental urban planning in favor of planning centered on housing. Unlike Dobrovic, he felt that a program focused on housing could be a powerful sym-bol of Yugoslavia’s more humane form of socialism: “I would also not underestimate the value of housing construction as a symbol for New Belgrade. To the contrary I believe that Europe is a witness to this, and if we can speak of symbolism in these past 5-6 years in the whole world, we can find it precisely in housing construction as opposed to some idea of central monumentality. . . .
I would emphasize the idea of areas that would first and foremost serve the human needs of the little worker.”18 Alluding to the postwar drive by states around the world to address or even eradicate poverty through mass housing construction, Bordevic was suggesting that it was in fact possible to combine a focus on housing and a strong symbolic message.19