Social Choreography: The “Black Wave” in the Yugoslav Slet

Ana Vujanović (2013)

Slets were a form of mass events that were staged in socialist Yugoslavia on a variety of occasions. The most famous and spectacular slets were staged on the Day of Youth, every May 25th, at the Yugoslav People’s Army Stadium in Belgrade. The slet was the central and final event of every Day of Youth, preceded by the Relay of Youth. The Relay was a form of ceremonial mass run organised every year beginning in 1945 and involving thousands of youths, who would run for dozens of miles across Yugoslavia, carrying a baton with a birthday card for Josip Broz Tito, the president of Yugoslavia.[1] In 1957, upon Tito’s suggestion, his birthday was made the Day of Youth and Tito’s Relay was renamed the Relay of Youth. Still, for the rest of his life, until 1980, he remained the “birthday boy” of the Day of Youth – every year, he received the baton, along with the card, and occupied the place of honour at the stadium.[2] This direct association of Tito’s birthday with celebrating youth seems odd, given that at the time, he wasn’t young anymore, not even at the beginning of the tradition – in 1957, he was already 65 – so could not really symbolise youth. Of course, the association was made for other reasons, which take us directly into the history of the slet and its social functions. First of all, it is well known that Tito seriously counted on Yugoslavia’s “youth” and tried to forge a direct link between them and himself, and that he used his speeches to interpellate them as those who would eventually take over and continue down the same path, where their elders – Tito’s own generation – were obliged to stop. But that couldn’t happen just like that. To continue down the path of revolution, which included labour as well as defensive warfare, Yugoslavia’s youth had to be healthy, strong, and physically and spiritually cultivated and robust. And the spectacular self-performance of a slet was the best way to show just how strong, cultivated, and robust they were.

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