Igor Duda

Everyday Life in Both
Yugoslavias: Catching up with





Case study 2


As in most of Europe during the past century, the everyday life of the majority of the population in both Yugoslavias was taking big strides toward change. Shorter and traumatic periods of high mortality rates and destruction (during the wars) alternated with long peaceful periods, and the initial and final results of both Yugoslav half-times pointed to an increase in the quality of life. This was especially felt among those strata of the population – workers and most peasants – whose initial position was low and unenviable and their basic material safety uncertain over both the short and long term. After two wars, social, economic and cultural circumstances were guided by the idea of shaping a better environment and significant leaps towards moderization, which was especially pronounced during the second post-war period, when the society was shaped according to the principles of socialist modernization, based on rapid industrialization, electrification and urbanization. New everyday practices and customs were permeated with new conceptions, shaping different identities and gradually changing long-established mentalities.

Due to the initial, predominantly agrarian, structure of the population, the village-city relationship is the paradigm within which it is possible to consider the complexity of social change since the place of residence implied a slower or faster movement towards modernization. The quality of this movement was also determined by distinct regional differences within the country. Moving from one environment to another meant breaking up the centuries-long structure of social relations – usually patriarchal and sometimes even feudal – and entering the world of a more distinct individuality that was integrated, on a different basis, into the collective, ranging from the nuclear family to the broader community. Strict parental authority within the extended family or cooperative community was fading away, while new supportive social networks, like those of neighbors, friends and colleagues, as well as extended family and homeland networks, were taking shape. Within these communities women and children, the group to which the 20th century brought emancipation, were becoming increasingly independent, so that their role in the everyday life of their community was increasingly pronounced, their successes increasingly important and their defeats increasingly hard to accept. The new role of woman who was now entering the world of the labour force and public life, took shape simultaneously with the new role of man, who was more clealry turning to his family and becoming emotionally engaged in it. Social upheavals could mean the loss of old traditions and the adoption of new ones, transition from old rituals to new collective public events, the weakening of religious feelings and the acceptance of secularism, or a different understanding of religiousness. At the same time, literacy and the educational level of the population were on the rise, thus creating conditions for a greater openness of society and the mitigation of class differences. In the 1980s, the grandchildren of illiterate grandparents could play computer games. After growing up in fields or pastures, they could spend their youth working on an assembly line or at an office desk. The transition from peasant clothes to civilian clothes and blue jeans, from the woman's more or less covered head to coloured hair and perms, from sleeping on straw to sleeping on a comfortable mattress, was very fast. The participants in all these changes included adults and their children who were, for example, mostly called Vesna, Snežana, Ljiljana, Zoran, Dragan and Goran in Belgrade in the 1960s, and Snježana, Gordana, Branka, Željko, Tomislav and Mladen in Zagreb at the very beginning of the 1970s. In many respects, their everyday life, like that of their parents and grandparents, has so far been studied historiographically, including related disciplines, but it is still necessary to deal with those processes and practices for which there exist only rare data and general notions handed down orally or in print.

Apartments, Household Appliances, a Better Diet...

During the past century, the housing situation improved for the majority of the population. In the inter-war period, the housing infrastructure outside cities was either poor or non-existent, lacking electricity, water and sewage connections. Living conditions in municipal workers' or peripheral settlements were poor. Life in the villages located in the northern part of the country was better, but in other regions those who had a bed of their own were rare. In the underdeveloped parts of the country, the bed was usually reserved for the head of the household, grandfather, sick person or small children, while numerous other housedhold members slept on the floor, together with the animals in winter and outdoors in summer. A great wave of urbanization took place in the second half of the century when settlements with larger residential buildings and skyscrapers were built. New cities or larger urban complexes, such as New Belgrade, New Zagreb, New Gorica, Velenje and Split 3, were also built. From the aspect of urban planning, the reconstruction of Skopje after the disastrous earthquake of 1963 was especially successful. These new settlements were based on contemporary urban planning and architectural concepts such as residential buildings with social amenities, surrounded by green areas and having no direct access to major roads. Kindergartens and schools, parks, health centers, trading and small-scale craft facilities were also built according to plan. The provision of additional amenities was often delayed, so that such parts of the city were often called dormitories: “People go home to the settlement only to eat and sleep, while for everything else they must go into town”. However, due to a higher percentage of young families and a greater number of children, their life was far from the usual notion of alienated urban life. Each year, from the early 1960s through the 1980s, 100-150 thousand apartments were built and one third of them was built by the socially-owned sector. These apartments were given to workers on the basis of their occupancy right acquired in the enterprises and institutions where they were employed. A survey shows that in the years of peak housing construction, that is, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, all three-member worker households had electricity, almost of them had water and sewage connections, one third had central heating and eight out of ten had a bathroom and toilet in the apartment. These above-average results were contributed to by certain rural areas and, occasionally, illegally built peripheral urban settlements. Namely, the state tacitly allowed the illegal construction of entire individual housing complexes in order to mitigate the housing problem among the fast-growing urban population. The state did not succeed in meeting the demand for telephone line connections fast enough. It often took years to get one, so the arrival of the telephone was a reason for celebration and calling up all and sundry to spread the happy news.

Until the mid-20th century, shifts in equipping apartments and houses with furniture and household appliances were modest. In 1938, the price of a kitchen table was equal to 70 percent of a salary on the first and second pay scale, which was received by every tenth worker. An enamelled stove cost as much as the monthly salary on almost the highest, eleventh pay scale, which was received by every twentieth worker. Laundry was washed by hand and washing was often part of the social life of women who would take this opportunity to get together. Over time, cleanliness standards improved. Home and personal hygiene became increasingly important, especially in the 1960s when there appeared an automatic washing machine that cost as much as three times the average salary. Sales increased rapidly and by 1973 every third Yugoslav household had an automatic washing machine and by 1988 – two out of three households. This machine greatly facilitated housework, so that housewives could also do something else – pay more attention to their children or enjoy leisure time. It was increasingly supplemented by TV sets, record players and tape recorders. By 1973, every second household owned a TV set. In 1978, its price was equal to the average salary, and byl 1988 a black-and-white or colour TV set was owned by 96 percent of non-agricultural households and 58 percent of agricultural households, which otherwise lagged behind in the purchase of household appliances. The TV set brought the greatest number of changes into family life; it assumed a central place in the living-room and became the most accessible source of entertainment in leisure time. The light of the TV screen brought together household members as the fireplace had done before.. Other appliances also found their way to users, but at a different pace. Up to the end of the 1980s, a vacuum cleaner was used by two out of three households and a refrigerator by nine out of ten; an electric or gas stove was owned by all households and only a very few still used wood-burning stoves. During the same decade, meat shortages and purchases of larger amounts of meat through trade unions or from private sources enhanced the importance of freezer chests and drawers: “I cook a larger amount and then divide it into daily portions. I put everything in the freezer and everyone will reheat their portion later on. If it weren't for this aid,I don't know how we would eat. The freezer chest is of the greatest help to me. I would sacrifice both washing machine and vacuum cleaner, but I couldn't give this up.”.

Food supply problems, shortages and hunger were not only the result of wartime and post-war circumstances; they also depended on weather conditions and the situation in the countryside, which was the only or main source of supply. However, the problems also included overpopulation, fragmentation of land holdings, technological backwardness and the burden of debt. In the 1920s and 1930s as high a percentage as 75-80 of the population earned their living exclusively from agriculture. The years 1935, 1950 and 1952 were especially dry. During the first drought, hundreds of children from Lika, the Croatian coast, Dalmatia and Herzegovina were sent to regions north of the Sava. The wave of droughts in the early 1950s coincided with the already aggravated food supply and decline in agricultural production. Post-war hunger would have been even more pronounced if it had not been for shipments from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). From 1945 to 1952, the government resorted to rationed or guaranteed supply, dividing the consumers into categories and restricting the availability of goods, so that they could only be obtained by presenting a ration book. Thereafter, food supply was normalized, but the average food consumption and the energy values of foods were not satisfactory until the 1960s. According to the statistical data, consumption reached its maximum in 1982. Thus, per capita consumption included, for example, 149 kg of wheat products, 61 kg of potatoes, 96 kg of other vegetables, 52 kg of meat and meat products, 3.8 kg of fish, 101 l of milk and 187 eggs. Accordingly, daily consumption included about 16 dag of fruits and 15 dag of meat, as well as an egg every second day. The food industry gained great momentum in the second half of the century, while a modernized diet also included packet soups and cooking in the pressure cooker. Numerous cookery books were published; there appeared TV shows giving cooking instructions, and recipes for the preparation of various dishes and cakes were exchanged. Travel and migration within the country contributed to the establishment of culinary linkages, the permeation of different tastes, the mixing of traditional cuisines and the formation of new food habits. Despite the existence of numerous restaurants and cafes, workers' canteens, school cafeterias, the first pizzerias and fast food restaurants, the main cooked meal was most often eaten at home with the family where the womenfolk were still in charge of food provision and cooking.

A Rise in Consumption

Nutrition and hygiene greatly influenced the health of the population. In some parts of the country the rural population did not go to the doctor, at least not until the mid-century. They preferred to turn for help to quacks, herbalists and medicine men. Health culture and the availability of doctors in the first Yugoslavia were not sufficiently developed, so significant steps were taken towards changing people's understanding and modernizing the system, with the emphasis on prevention and hygiene activities, as well as the development of social medicine. In the late 1930s, 7.5 percent of the population was covered by social and health insurance, but the state succeeded in developing a system of two hundred or so hospitals and over five hundred social-medicine institutions, including institutes of hygiene and public health centres. However, the masses still remained without regular health care and were exposed to epidemics of tuberculosis, malaria, trachoma and other diseases.

The post-war development of medicine and health institutions made possible a greater availability of doctors and an almost fivefold increase in the number of hospital beds (in 1986 there were about 143,000), while all services were covered by mandatory health insurance. Regular medical check-ups and mandatory vaccination of the population were also organised. Occupational medicine and an occupational safety system provided greater security for the employed. Pensions and homes for the elderly instilled confidence in end-of-life care. Thanks to better health and hygiene as well as improved socio-economic conditions, the estimated life expectancy for those born in the early 1980s was 68 years for men and 73 for women, that is, twenty or so years longer than that for the generations born in the 1940s. For the same reasons, infant mortality declined from 143 per thousand in the 1930s to 27 per thousand in the mid-1980s, ranging from 12.6 per thousand in Slovenia to 54.3 per thousand in Kosovo. In the mid-20th century, Yugoslavia underwent a demographic transition: the birth and death rates declined to 15 and 9 per thousand respectively. In the early 1950s, the higher level of development brought about family planning and expansion of the right to abortion. During the 1960s, Yugoslavia also experienced a sexual revolution, while a more liberal attitude toward homosexuality led to its legalization in some parts of the federation.

Trade modernization and the spread of consumer culture were largely changing the consumer's purchasing behaviour and attitude towards goods. Traditional trade at fairs and markets – implying direct buyer-seller relationships, negotiating prices, occasional exchanges of goods and an inevitable backdrop of noises, smells and colours – were preserved in rural and urban environments, but were not the only methods of purchasing goods. Green markets were the meeting place of the urban and rural, or industrial and agricultural worlds, which supplemented each other well since urban citizens needed goods from the immediate vicinity on a daily basis. In big cities there were department stores, which had been known as temples of consumer culture since the 19th century. They represented both selling and exhibition spaces and usually attracted middle-to-upper class customers. However, there were even more smaller and technically ill-equipped shops. In the 1920s, there were more than 100,000 shops of this type, while in the 1930s their number remained at about 86,000, which meant that there was one shop per 182 inhabitants or, more precisely, one food shop per 277 inhabitants. These ratios were two times better in comparison with only 40,000 shops in the post-war period. Due to reorganization and nationalization, their number decreased to 35,000 in 1955, but thereafter began to increase, reaching 100,000 in the late 1980s. Being used to communication with the seller who would show them goods, put them on the counter and collect payment, buyers were faced with an unknown and quite new method of sales when self-service shops appeared. The first such shop was opened in 1956, in the town of Ivanec in northern Croatia. Thus, strolling around the aisles, picking up industrially-packaged goods within close proximity and spending more time on shopping were becoming part of everyday life. In Yugoslavia, less than ten years after the opening of the first self-service shop, there were almost a thousand shops of this type, while in the second part of the 1980s there were seven times more. During the same period, the number of department stores increased at the same rate and exceeded the figure of 700. Modernization of the trade network and methods of sale formed part of the development of consumer culture, whose key features, especially among the upper and middle strata of the population, were already present in the inter-war period. However, consumer culture was only embraced by all strata during the period of higher economic growth and living standards, so that in the late 1950s and during the 1960s one could speak about the formation of a Yugoslav consumer society. At the popular music festival in Opatija in 1958, the winning song Little Girl, better known for its refrain Papa, buy me a car... buy me everything!, marked the beginning of the consumer revolution.

Daily shortages did not lastingly characterise Yugoslav trade. However, between 1979 and 1985, due to an economic crisis, there were shortages of oil, detergents, coffee, chocolate, corn cooking oil, citrus fruits, hygiene items and the like. For the first time since the immediate post-war period, citizens waited in line and coped with the situation in various ways. Whatever could not be found in the country between the 1960s and 1980s came through private channels from abroad: people would travel usually to Italy and Austria, and make purchases within a day. Goods were also brought in by Yugoslavs working abroad and tourists. Customs officials at border crossings sometimes met women wearing fur coats in the summer heat, or men wearing several pairs of trousers. The earnings of about one million Yugoslav workers temporarily employed abroad flowed into domestic banks. In addition,, these workers were also bringing new life habits. However, an even stronger engine of consumerism was tourism.

Transport Development and Population Mobility

Population mobility in this territory was poor. Life mostly unfolded in the vicinity of one's place of birth. The culture of travel began to develop only in the second half of the century. Up to then, the rural population would most often go only to a fair or for pilgrimage, usually on foot, or emigrate to European and overseas countries, or move within Yugoslavia as part of land reform and colonization. During the 1920s and 1930s, the number of rail passengers doubled and reached over 58 million. The maximum number was reached in 1965 – 236 million. Before the Second World War, there were more than 900 buses providing public transport services on almost 500 intercity lines. In the early 1950s, there were about 15 million bus passengers, while 30 years later there were even 70 times more – over one billion. The bus was absolutely the most popular form of public transport. For example, according to relevant data for the late 1970s and early 1980s, maritime transport services were used by up to about 8 million passengers each year, while air transport reached its peak in the second half of the 1980s, exceeding 6 million passengers. At that time, the Yugoslav fleet operated about 250 routes with 50 planes. Most of the credit for these figures should be given to Yugoslav Airlines (JAT) which, as the key air carrier, connected 53 cities on five continents. Domestic passengers were attracted by such slogans as “The shortest route to the sun”, or “Turning a trip into a vacation”. The beginnings of the first scheduled passenger airline service, Aeroput, were much more modest. During the ten years of its existence, until the late 1930s, it increased its fleet to 14 planes and carried a modest number of more affluent passengers – about 13,000.

Down on the ground, roads still bore the burden of the greaterst number of passengers, but during the inter-war period there were still no larger infrastructure investments. According to statistics, unpaved roads were prevalent until the early 1980s, although the first highway sections were constructed in the early 1970s. The country's development level and way of life were unable to make possible anything more than a rather slow development of automobile culture. In 1938, only 13,600 cars and 7,700 motorcycles were registered, which means that horse carriages and occasionally bicycles were still the dominant modes of personal transport. After the Second World War, up to the 1960s, people most often drove motorcycles. In 1955, however, there appeared the Zastava 750, popularly called “Fićo”, “Fića” or “Fičko”, the first Yugoslav passenger car and the first product of cooperation between the Zastava factory in Kragujevac and the Italian Fiat, which were to roll down down the assembly line for 30 years. The importance of this first car in the country's motorisation was not even overshadowed by Zastava's later basic models: Zastava 101 or “Stojadin” produced in 1970, or Jugo 45 produced in 1980. While the price of more expensive Western car models was equivalent to 40 or more average monthly salaries, a Fića and Stojadin cost 13 and 20 monthly salaries respectively in 1971. However, money was found and the country embarked on a fast motorization process in which the car was becoming a status symbol. In 1970, one newspaper printed a photograph of a man from Sandžak with his car in front of a dilapidated shack after deciding to invest money first in a Fića and then in his home. It was also written about the residents of a Macedonian village on Mount Šar who kept their forty or so cars in the neighbouring town of Tetovo because their village had no connection to a road. In 1972, butcher Štef Galović told journalists that owning a car was not a luxury; it was his right after so many years of service. Many people were guided by precisely this principle. In 1961, there were as many as 238 Yugoslavs per passenger car, 10 years later – 24 and in the late 1980s – seven on average; in Kosovo there were as many as 23 persons per passenger car and only four in Slovenia. After being considered a luxury, owning a car was gradually becoming the sign of a common standard of living. However, it was still viewed as a striking consumption item and the most expensive asset kept outside one's safe home. It enjoyed the status of a pet or family member, so that it could often be found on family photographs. A car was treated with personal or family pride. Its owner purchased accessories for it, its engine was maintained and its body was polished. In return, it faithfully served its owners, helping them to carry out everyday tasks, whose pace and success were becoming increasingly dependent just on it, as well as to conquer new spaces during excursions and travels. Thus, it was becoming the symbol of freedom because one could travel by car almost everywhere at any time, regardless of public transport lines and timetables. Simply enjoying the ride became part of everyday life.

The Rise of Tourism

If the culture of travel had not taken hold, such rides would not have been possible. At the time of the formation of the first Yugoslav state there already existed a good basis for the development of domestic tourism. It included the Adriatic coast, spas in the interior of the country and regions with a tradition of mountaineering clubs and chalets. In 1923, the Putnik Travel Agency was established as a joint-stock company with the aim of “preparing travel programs and organizing tours, instructional people's and other tourist travel within the country and abroad”. Four years later, it became a state-owned company and, as such, it restored its operations after the Second World War. A number of independent travel agencies sprang up from this first seed. Tourism did not occupy a special place in the inter-war economy and everyday life. During the 1930s, Yugoslavia was visited by about 900,000 tourists, spending about five million nights each year. In the years preceding the Second World War, domestic tourists constituted the majority, while one fourth were foreign tourists, mostly Germans and then Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Italians, Britons and Austrians. Domestic tourists included middle-to-upper class holiday-makers, while the other urban population would stick to urban resorts, and seaside and freshwater bathing areas. In the 1920s, the sun-tanned body became the symbol of health and well-being. Otherwise, bathing and wearing a swimming suit in public were not easily accepted by the older generations. A defining moment for the popularisation of tourism was a new approach taken by socialist Yugoslavia by introducing paid annual leave and social tourism. The general workers’ right to annual leave for two to four weeks was introduced in 1946. Going on holiday was understood as an essential part of the standard of living and the right of the entire population. Social tourism anticipated preferential accommodation and transport rates, a holiday bonus, and workers', children's and youth holiday homes. Despite some remarks, many workers were satisfied: “Workers' holiday homes are cheaper and make you feel more relaxed because around here there are mostly your friends and acquaintances. It is more comfortable than being with unknown people. In addition, everything is organised, so that I don't have to think about anything. So you can spend comfortable and really carefree holidays.”

In the mid-20th century, many people traveled and saw the sea for the first time. The sea was the main holiday destination. Fascination with the sea was a frequent theme in popular songs and media, which regularly reported on the holidays of workers and domestic film, music and sports stars. One of many similar statements published in the domestic press was: “My most favourite encounter is with our blue Adriatic coast and I feel best when I swim.” Thanks to large investments, tourism grew rapidly until the record year of 1986 when over 111 million tourist nights were realised. According to their share of tourist nights, most domestic and foreign guests came from West Germany, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Kingdom, Austria and Italy. The surveys showed that during the period of late socialism every second citizen travelled somewhere on annual leave. These were mainly smaller families, better educated, with a higher income, and a permanent address in one of the larger cities in the interior of the country. Commercial and foreign tourism grew stronger during the 1960s when the country opened up to the West and when the importance of foreign exchange earnings from tourism was recognized. The proliferation of beds at private accommodation facilities and an increasing number of family houses exhibiting the sign “Zimmer frei” pointed to the change brought by tourism to the local population, especially on the Adriatic coast mostly in Croatia. With their consumer goods, behaviour and customs, foreign guests brought their hosts closer to the contemporary West, while well-appointed beaches, sports grounds, swimming pools, hotel restaurants and congress halls found a public purpose throughout the year.

In contrast to annual leave, the weekend had to wait to fulfil its complete role of weekly rest until 1965 when the working week was shortened to 42 hours by law. For most workplaces this implied five 8-hour working days and one working Saturday per month, or working extra two hours once a week. A weekend was often extended by one or more adjacent non-working state holidays. In 1967, every fifth citizen of Zagreb would go on a hal-day or full-day excursion, while in the early 1980s every third Yugoslav used to go on weekend excursions, at least occasionally. People were most often forced to stay at home due to the lack of money or time or the habit or need to spend their leisure time in this way. Weekends were inevitably associated with weekend cottages, whose building began in the 1950s. By the 1980s this practice had spread among different strata of the population. These cottages were mostly built in the vicinity of large cities and industrial centres where they really served for spending short weekly holidays, breathing fresh, clean air and having a barbecue. For many people it was important to have a summer cottage at the seaside: “We live here 'on our own terms'. „It's simply different from being a tourist. It gives you a different feeling, a different attitude. You feel comfortable and free […] You live life on your own terms.”

In the Rhythm of the Century

Apart from excursions and travels during this century, popular culture was also increasingly penetrating leisure time, promoted by thousands of daily, weekly and monthly newspapers, as well as programs broadcast by radio stations (Radio Zagreb since 1926, Radio Ljubljana since 1928 and Radio Belgrade since 1929) and television stations (TV Zagreb since 1956, and TV Belgrade and TV Ljubljana since 1958). Foreign radio and television programs were also popular. Cinemas showed domestic, Hollywood and other foreign blockbusters; record companies were producing records and cassettes featuring domestic and foreign artists; and publishing companies were printing literary works by domestic authors as well as translated works by foreign ones. Apart from actors, singers and authors, star status was also enjoyed by athletes. Sports events were watched live or through the media. Apart from professional sports, amateur sports were also developed, especially in the second Yugoslavia. Young people socialized with each other in the open, in city centres, dance halls and, finally, discotheques, turning evenings-out into nights-out and behaving in accordance with the selected subculture. From the 1960s onwards, leisure time was increasingly occupied by various hobbies, which reflected various life styles and were an increasingly important determinant of identity.

In 1938, the basic living costs per person amounted to 630 dinars each month or, more precisely, 1,500 dinars for an average worker's family consisting of 2.4 members. However, half of all workers earned less than the amount needed for only one person. So there was enormous dissatisfaction and strikes were frequent. In the 1920s, the share of food costs in the living costs of a four-member family in Zagreb amounted to about 40 percent. In the second half of the century, at the country level, a worker's four-member family had to earmark about 50 percent of its income for food, which still represented a high share. The lowest share, about 40 percent, was recorded in the late 1970s when the standard of living and purchasing power were at their highest level. In 1978, the average salary was 5,075 dinars, ranging from 4,084 in Kosovo to 5,903 Slovenia. If the consumer basket contained 1 kg of bread, 1 kg of sugar, 1 kg of beef, 1 kg of apples, 1 l of milk, an egg, a pair of men's shoes, a haircut and a movie ticket, it turned out that in 1978 the average salary could cover the cost of 8.4 baskets. Due to a drop in the standard of living ten years later, the salary could cover the cost of 5.7 baskets; in 1968 – exactly 8; in 1958 – 4.2 and in the pre-war year 1938 – only 3.8. This simplified example shows that in the late 1960s the average purchasing power was about double that of the pre-war year, and it went on increasing until 1978, when it reached highest level in the history of Yugoslavia. This picture of the increase in the standard of living will become more complete if one takes into account the achieved level of tehnological development, high health and hygiene standards and higher educational level of the population. Should the question of progress be posed from the aspect of everyday life, it would be reflected in the wish for electricity, paved roads, a comfortable apartment or house, a marriage of love and not an arranged marriage, fertile land, job security, as well as the wish for the children to be better off in the future. It is precisely these issues that are conversation topics in the prize-winning feature film Train Without a Timetable (Veljko Bulajić, 1959): “There is also electricity and a state road over there, and you can have a radio in the house. It can play and sing for you all day long! Just like in a dream...“ This dream was part of the changes brought by the 20th century to everyday life, including increased opportunities and needs. Yugoslavia was attuning the rhythm of the century to its own development level and political priorities.









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