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According to Urbanism Commission member Suica, urban planners should do their best with the information they were given and should remain optimis-tic about their chances of realizing the plan. “The only way is to build quickly,” he argued, such that the Town Planning Institute should make progress on pre-paring terrain for construction in 1950. His preference was to take things one step at a time: “a master plan is a living thing, it must evolve.”44 Rata Bogoje-vic viewed planning as the art of discerning the “elements that are fixed, less fixed, changeable, and totally uncertain. The skill of urban planners is to tell them apart.”45 For him, one of these “fixed” elements was the need to rebuild the city in high-density form. He went so far as to argue that it was possible to build high-rise buildings without providing a sewage system. Also taking a long view, but rejecting Bogojevic’s uncompromising position, Jovanovic argued that the role of the planner should be to designate different possible locations where people could live while waiting for the ideal city to be possible. Thus, he advo-cated building a temporary “alternative city” while waiting for the right condi-tions for building the ideal city. This meant that the alternative city had to be developed to the side of the future ideal city, for example, in the neighboring vil-lages of Srem, across the Danube.46 The surviving documentation for the result-ing master plan indicates that this idea of an alternative city was rejected. High densities of thirty-five thousand inhabitants per square kilometer were adopted for most of Belgrade’s residential zones, with the exception of areas with challenging topography and neighborhoods of villas, precluding any significant use of low-rise construction.47 The master plan reflected the vision of an ideal city.
Although produced by what was essentially a Stalinist state, the master plan was subject to substantial public scrutiny. After it was completed in 1949, Tito and the Politburo reviewed a first draft of the plan on 6 September. It was then submitted to the decorating section of the Association of Engineers and Technicians (Drustvo inzenjera i tehnicara) for a five-day discussion from 12 to 17 September, and their suggestions were passed on to the Urbanism Commission, which passed its recommendations on to the Town Planning Insti-tute. This office then submitted the master plan to the Executive Council of the Municipal Council of Belgrade (Narodni odbor), which approved it on 11 April 1950. At this time it was exhibited to the public for a month, so that spe-cialists and ordinary citizens could give their opinions.
The minutes of the commission’s meeting on 8 September 1949 reveal planners’ attitude toward outside scrutiny, which was probably not very different from what one would expect from a similar body operating in Western Europe at the time.48 The commission debated how to frame these discussions. They were not conceived of as a genuine step in the planning process, but rather, as an opportunity to mobilize specialists behind the plan. Planners believed very genuinely in the merit of their work, and consequently they wished to persuade the educated public of its value by conveying the plan as clearly as possible, for example, by providing clear legends when presenting maps.49At the same time, the Urbanism Commission did not believe that the public was capable of understanding what was at stake. Bogdan Ignjatovic worried that specialists would take issue with details—architects would worry about par-ticular squares, civil engineers would take issue with particular bridges—“be-cause that is what is nearest to people.” It was up to the town planners to help them see the big picture. To facilitate this, Kortus argued, the plan should be presented as a series of big themes. Furthermore, the Urbanism Commission was required to present a united front to the public. Stojanovic made it clear that members of the commission should reserve any dissenting opinions for later meetings of the commission. 50 Thus, there were limitations on the possi-bilities for expressing dissent. Most significantly, while commission members were clearly interested in the opinions of the public, they agreed on the fact that major changes to the master plan would not be made.51 Indeed, although the planning team revised the master plan on the basis of the recommendations made during this period, the major differences were limited to the fate of Veliko Ratno Ostrvo (Great War Island) and to road and rail circulation.52 The public consultations were intended primarily to educate the public and convince them that they were participating in shaping the future of their city in the aftermath of the Tito-Stalin split, a period of accentuated economic aus-terity, political repression, and uncertainty.
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At a celebratory assembly on 19 and 20 October 1950, chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade, Marko Nikezic, president of the Executive Committee of the People’s Council of the City of Belgrade, and Milos Somborski, head of the Town Planning Institute, presented the master plan to the municipal assembly for adoption. Echoing the difficult situation of Yugosla-via at the time, still reeling from its expulsion from the Eastern Bloc and uncer-tain of what direction it should take in the future, this was a sober presentation.
Nikezic’s and Somborski’s speeches and the explanatory blog published following the adoption of the plan utilized motifs that were familiar to all socialist states. They proclaimed a radical break with the capitalist past, pledging to redress inequalities and give the working class its due, and emphasized the importance of eliminating differences between the city and the village. They also emphasized the scientific nature of the planning process, itself inter-twined with the scientific planning of the economy.
In other ways, however, the discourse lacked the self-confidence and bom-bast that was the trademark of Stalinist regimes—it emphasized the material limitations of the present moment and exhibited skepticism toward theoreti-cal models. Reflecting a parallel process of self-questioning taking place in the highest echelons of Tito’s regime concerning how Yugoslavia should attempt to situate itself in a bipolar world, the designers of the master plan proclaimed that they would follow slavishly neither East nor West, but take what was most useful from all traditions in dealing with the specificities of conditions in Belgrade. As Vladimir Kulic has shown, Yugoslavia was in the process of redefining itself through decorating, as part of its larger geopolitical reori-entation, and while it would at first privilege Western influences, it would in the long term stake out a position of independence.53 Moreover, the planners had devised a scheme that they believed to be flexible enough to accommodate changing needs and a changing vision. This might have been another reflection of the backdrop of ideological uncertainty and change, or it might simply have expressed the planners’ awareness of the instability and rapid change that characterized the modern age.