"It’s no surprise that the government were reluctant to let members of the public in"

The space around it is more opulent than was the norm in this or any other era – intense rose-coloured marble, a top-lit ceiling with a Mondrian-esque pattern in yellow and violet. One of the first functions of this room on completion in 1961 was the first meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, founded by Yugoslavia and newly independent countries like India and Ghana, intended as a counterweight to the imperialism of America and Russia – a support network of countries committing themselves to an agenda of modernisation and equality. Many of the artworks reflect on the architectural legacy of socialist-era Yugoslavia, from Marko Lulic and Andrea Palasti’s works exploring Belgrade’s (never built) Museum of the Revolution, to Igor Bosnjak’s images of Tito’s bunker in Bosnia, Darko Aleksovski’s drawings of now-disused small-town factories in Macedonia, David Pujado’s series of photographs of Belgrade’s most dramatic Modernist buildings, and most relevantly of all in Dusan Dordevic’s images of the Federal Executive Council itself. It’s no surprise that the government were reluctant to let members of the public in to see the Federal Executive Council. Here, nearly every fitting, nearly every artwork has a political meaning – with dozens of paintings, abstracts, reliefs and sculptures referring to the Partisans, plenty of others referring to socialism, and most of all, with the entire design and layout of all but one room designed to evoke the history, climate and values of countries that are not Serbia. However, the Festival Hall, or Niemeyer’s public buildings, are still used by their original owners. As much as the art and design of the United Nations in New York or UNESCO in Paris embodied the post-war spirit with the unusual bonus of a massive budget, so too did SIV exemplify what socialist Yugoslavia liked to think about itself. Placed by the entrance, it would be seen by everyone that entered the building. This then leads to the Council’s main hall, which is flanked by several subsidiary halls for each republic. The central Hall of Yugoslavia, however, is truly astonishing. The tour was part of the programme at the 55th October Salon, an arts event held in the Serbian capital, this year on the theme of Disappearing Things. His books include Militant Modernism (2009), A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (2010), and A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys Through urban Britain (2012). Sometimes, functionality and architectural interest trumps ideology. An identikit riverside development backed by developers from the UAE appears on billboards around the city, as does the current Russian president, accompanied by the banner “Thanks, Putin!” (he recently negotiated a gas deal with the Serbian government). The most recent monuments built in Belgrade are figurative bronzes in the likeness of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, funded by Russia, and the Azerbaijani dictator Heydar Aliyev, funded by Azerbaijan. The first Republican office we came to was Macedonia – “there’s a lot of red, because Macedonia is very hot” – the next, Montenegro – “that lion on the carpet is there because that’s how Montenegrins like to see themselves”. The furniture is both comfortable and sharply modern. Owen Hatherley is a critic and author, focussing on architecture, politics and culture. In a context like this, a building that speaks of internationalism, solidarity and openness rather than provincialism, oligarchy and graft might give people ideas. This was this long dead state’s equivalent in symbolic importance to the Houses of Parliament, and while it hasn’t quite been filled with dung, the disrespect in which it was held by its owners was conspicuous. Or he’d point to an abstract by a Kosovan artist and call it “a typical Albanian landscape”, or to another painting and describe it as being by “a Croatian Jew”. The basic plan of the Federal Executive Council (it has the catchy acronym SIV in Serbo-Croatian) was first designed in the late 1940s when Yugoslavia was briefly allied to the Soviet Union, and reflects Stalinist practice in its monumental symmetry and the enormous plaza that frames it. “We’re as distant from this now as modern Greeks are from ancient Greeks”, comments one of the symposium’s Serbian participants. Opinion: an unloved relic of 1950s socialist Yugoslavia is one of the finest buildings of its era. Palace of Serbia as it may now be, in the building’s original design, Serbia is but one of six republics given its own office. Still, the big turnout suggested a lot of people wanted to see inside. However, he did take care to point out his own contributions, copies of Byzantine icons or photographs of Tesla. In the building’s original design, Serbia is but one of six republics given its own officeAnd here, really, is where the thoughts of the Houses of Parliament as dung-heap came in. Its reminder of pan-Balkan unity and equality obviously didn’t help much when the state collapsed into war in the early 1990s. The current owners, the Serbian government, who use it occasionally for meetings and ministries, did not agree to give permission until literally the night before. But in modern Serbia, its overtly political message doesn’t chime well with the prevailing ideology, says Owen Hatherley. In a context like this, a building that speaks of internationalism, solidarity and openness might give people ideasThe most obvious criticism that could have been made of SIV was its occasional gestures to national kitsch, particularly in the cosy warmth of the Macedonian office. It was obvious why our host’s paintings on national themes were thrown in, as a sort of inoculating charm against the values of the building. An Abstract Expressionist painting in rich oranges and reds by the painter Petar Lubarda takes up one wall, a bright, naif/abstract representation by Lazar Vujaklija of Yugoslavia and its role in the world occupies another, and a mosaic of the Partisans frames the doors, all under a convex circular light-well, its glass faceted and patterned, arranged into the shape of a star.

Updated: 15.11.2014 — 02:25