The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

6 November 2013

Transmutation #24 - Museum and myth in the making of Croat Yugoslavism

Joel Palhegyi currently researches the role of national museums in creating individual senses of identity in the larger Soviet Yugoslav Federal block. His paper reflects the ruptures and continuities of this process in a post-Socialist context.

He focuses on the Museum of the Revolution and the Creation History Museum in the city of Zagreb, and is interested in how these were involved in the production of nationhood. He asks how the myths they developed in the Soviet period have continued into the post-Soviet period?

Soviet slavism emphasizes the idea of common identity whilst also accepting the differences between the cultural units witin the block. Through exhibition catalgoues, he hopes to understand how museums worked with the political scheme to create nationhood.

In the Croation Museum Journal, the instituions were understood as scientific, with the power to create and reaffirm the socialist identity, now and in the future. He argues that museums are both products and producers of communist history and that of the Croatian Nation and the Yugoslav state.

The Museum of the Revolution of the Croatian people commemorates the partisan communist struggle during World War Two. The location of the museum, in the centre of New Zagreb, shows how fundamental and permanent this was for the development, creation and perpetuation of that ideology. The most dominant myth developed at this time was that of a state forged in revolution and war, the necessity of rebuilding the Yugoslavian version of a socialist ideal., Here, a paralell myth of everyday socialist heroes - everyday people who reprsented the ideal, suggesting that everyday people were able to help create the state. Many exhibitions praised the ideals and capabilities of the Croation people, and how they took part in the creation of the phsycial infrastructure of the revolution and the state.

The Croatian History Museum has different roots. It began in the late 19th century, its origins in the Romanticism of the time. So it seems odd that the communist Yugoslav culture would take on this institution. What it offered, however, was an opportunity to exhibit and re-appropriate, heroic and important figures from the past - to create some historical continuity and a sense of the inevitability of revolution. The figures of Illyrianism, for instance, are lauded as egalatarians and prefigurations of revolution. The Peasent's Revolt and Matija Ivanica of the sixteenth century was displayed, in one exhibition, as a proto-Revolution, and Ivanica as a heroic past precurser: very different to the rather ineffectual position it has been given in other histories. One thing that permeates all the displays is the idea of Yugoslavianism: particularly the inclusion of the Croats.

These myths have continued to influence Croatian museum practice inthe last few decades. In 1991, the Revolutionary Museum was decommissioned, it's contents incorporated into the History Museum. The collections provided the raw material for the new presentation of self in the post-Socialist context. There were continuing themes, however - war, outside aggression (particularly from the Serbs). The objects taken from the Revolutionary Museum now have to be re-appropriated. Objects once seen as evidence of the ideals of the Croatian peoples, now those objects are seen as evidence of the fight for, not socialism, but a self-determined state.

Communist myth-making hasn't gone away. The top-down, authoritative narrative, tied to the authority of the state, has survived. We have spoken today about how things change with changing political systems - but some things, it seems, remain very much the same.

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