Microhistories of Socialism and Postsocialism

Microhistories of Socialism and Postsocialism. 8th doctoral workshop

Igor Duda, University of Pula; Anita Buhin, University of Pula / University of Lisbon; Tina Filipović, University of Pula / University of Zagreb; Sara Žerić, IOS Regensburg
University of Juraj Dobrila; Faculty of Humanities, University Pula
Vom - Bis
24.08.2022 - 27.08.2022
Sara Žerić, Leibniz-Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung Regensburg

The Doctoral Workshop of the Centre for Cultural and Historical Studies of Socialism (CKPIS) and the Department of History of the Faculty of Humanities was held for the eighth year in a row, intended for postgraduate students of contemporary history and related humanities and social sciences. Sixteen doctoral students and four invited lecturers were brought together this year by the topic Microhistory of Socialism and Postsocialism, which is connected to the multi-year research project Microstructure of Yugoslav Socialism: Croatia 1970-1990 (Microsocialism).

The topic of the micro-history of socialism and postsocialism has been appearing for second year in a row, and the large number of applications from doctoral students testifies how necessary it is to continue talking about unresearched micro-topics. This year, the main topics of the doctoral students’ presentations were the history of local labor movements, as well as the history of individual factories, institutions, collectives, politics, the everyday life of people, and gender history. Apart from the common focus on socialism (or postsocialism), participants approached the topics using the method of research of the history "from below", to find out whether a larger, macro-historical moment can be explained using micro-history. With these examples from microhistory, they ultimately wanted to construct socialism as a socio-political arrangement, but to emphasize the role of the individual in the creation of socialism. All topics covered at the doctoral workshop were substantive, well researched, and rich in sources. That was exactly one of the goals of the workshop – to use often neglected research material, which refers to a local community, and find meaning in its content.

This year, four keynote lectures were held by local and foreign professors who presented their latest research. RADINA VUČETIĆ (Belgrade) presented her research on the smallpox epidemic in Yugoslavia. In this lecture, Vučetić focused on the impact on everyday life and the socio-political implications of this epidemic in Yugoslavia. MAGDALENA NAJBAR-AGIČIĆ (Koprivnica) presented a cross-section of the history of local media in socialist Croatia during the entire period of its existence with an emphasis on continuities and changes in their position and framework of activity, based on two case studies – Varaždin and Karlovac. This lecture was part of a detailed research of the position of the media in local communities, which is the focus of her research within the Microsocialism project. TANJA PETROVIĆ (Ljubljana) held a lecture on the revision of visual archives of international solidarity between Yugoslavia and the non-aligned movement. PIETER TROCH (Ghent) in his keynote analysed the miners’ strike in late socialist Kosovo and the interconnection of socio-economic divisions and nationhood through a case-study of the Trepça mining complex.

KARLO DRŽAIĆ (Zagreb) opened the section of doctoral presentations with his presentation entitled “Bolshevism has infected our town” – 1919 Varaždin rebellion as Zeitgeist. In this presentation, Držaić described the riots in Varaždin in 1919 caused by general social discontent. Rebellions of conscripts and soldiers, which were joined by citizens, soon grew into the so-called Varaždin rebellion. Then, using the understanding of microhistory from Jonas Lindström and Karin Hassan Jansson, CARL-ERIK STRANDBERG (Turku) gave an insight into the history of the Finnish-Swedish labor movement from 1920 to 1930. He chose the city of Vaasa as a case study, and the political parties he followed in his work were the SDP and the illegal and exiled SKP. Based on that, Strandberg got into the question of language, politics, and party affiliation. PETRA ŠARIN (Lisbon) in her presentation emphasizes underground activities of the Agitprop and significance of the media (print, radio) and technology, (in)accessibility of the equipment, as well as copying, distribution and Communist Party dynamics associated with illegal services in Zagreb during the resistance of the World War II. Šarin's talk was based on overview of three printing services in Zagreb where the illegal activities were coming from. Moreover, Šarin´s topic is also part of collection of papers, Kartografija otpora: Zagreb 1941-1945 (Cartography of Resistance). About the turbulent year 1989 spoke DIMITRIJE BIRAČ (Zagreb). During 1989, when the crisis was already at its peak, when the relations between the republics were very bad, the battle for the president of the League of Communists of Croatia also intensifies. Presenting about the battle between the candidates Ivica Račan and Ivo Družić, Birač talked about the conflict which was between reformism and dogmatism. As he pointed out, in this conflict Račan was representing former, while Družić was a candidate of the latter. IVA JELUŠIĆ (Budapest / Vienna) presented her recently defended doctoral dissertation in which she researched how Yugoslav partisan women (partizanke) were presented in Yugoslav media and what was the role this image in the making of the Yugoslav new woman (1945-1980). In her research, Jelušić analysed the educational women’s journal Žena u borbi (Woman in Combat), published by communist activist women, the fashion magazine Svijet (World) inspired exclusively by Western trends, family weekly Arena and the lifestyle magazine Start. The research highlights the tensions between the New Woman figure and personal attitudes or ideals that were reflected in the editorial prerogatives of different chief editors and editorial teams and war participants themselves. SARA ŽERIĆ (Regensburg) presented everyday life of women during the socialist period in municipality of Imotski. Žerić had a special focus on women who stayed home at home after their husbands went to work abroad. She spoke about the emancipation of women using the example of employment in the local textile factory "Pionirka". Continuing with gender´s topics, PAWEL BAGINSKI (Warsaw) presented women’s transition in the post-socialist Poland. Using a similar method as Jelušić, he researched selected Polish women’s magazines with the aim of describing changes in the norms of treatment of women. Baginski´s focus were problems of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and habitual behaviours toward women to examine how specific behaviours were redefined as violence against women in the context of Polish culture, the reproduction of which depends on a family to a great extent.

In the next panel, DORA TOT (Bologna) presented the engagement of Yugoslav technical experts in the Global South, in Algeria. Tot argues that these same experts were in a conflict of ideology since they presented themselves to the local population as "carriers" of modernization. In her research, Tot presented a contrasting image of the "new socialist man". That contrasting “new socialist man” avoided daily social interactions with the local population and imposed cultural superiority. HELENA TRENKIĆ (Cambridge) presented her research about The University of Zagreb International Student Club of Friendship (MSKP) which offered a community for students from non-aligned and developing countries, and interested domestic students in Zagreb. The main source of her research was student journal Solidarnost (Solidarity) which reveals how students practised non-alignment in everyday life and how student-state tensions over the suitability of certain student actions. Moreover, Trenkić presented how non-alignment shaped actions at a local level, and how those actions fed into the wider security of the socialist project.

In the next group of papers, PETAR GRUBIŠIĆ (Ghent) presented the framework of his doctoral research in which he researches agrarian reform and the colonization of Dalmatian settlers in Slavonia. He analyzes how this process of colonization from south to east Croatia took place, how the land was allocated and to whom. MLADEN ZOBEC (Graz) also presented his doctoral thesis project in which he explains how political and economic conditions in socialist Yugoslavia together with Albanian cultural legacies enabled the proliferation of Albanian ethnic and family businesses in Slovenia and elsewhere in Yugoslavia. In doing so, he is researching three interconnected factors: the Yugoslav socialist unemployment, orientalizing practices directed towards the Albanians, and the Albanian extended family.

Furthermore, next panel opened ANDREA ČEKO (Zagreb). Her presentation was based on the research of the intangible infrastructures involved in the “construction” of the 1979 Mediterranean Games in Split — or how this mega-event was given shape and what the nature and method of its organizational structures were within a Yugoslav socialist system. Focusing on architectural and infrastructural renaissance in Split, she presented how the city was “constructed” within the context of the Games. IRINA REDKINA (Hamburg) also presented research that is closely related to the history of architecture and infrastructure, however in context of socialist legacy built in post-Soviet Russia. As a case study, Redkina took the city of Mezhdurechensk, which she explains as a typical product of Socialist Modernity, a so-called “monotown”. As Redkina pointed out, “monotown” was a key element of Soviet ideology, a flagship of state socialist modernity, where the relationship between socialist ideology, urban planning and space were highlighted.

OSKAR OPASSI (Ljubljana) presented his research on critical jokes in the Delamaris Company newspaper Naš glas from Slovenia. According to his research, Opassi classified jokes into three categories: jokes about meetings, jokes about the salary level, and jokes about the management of the company. As he concluded, those jokes can certainly give an indication of the points where the workers´ discontent is concentrated. EMILIJA CVETKOVIĆ (Belgrade) gave presentation about the Yugoslav-American joint venture, in the field of the computer industry, Ei Honeywell, through the analysis of factory newspapers and computer magazines from the second half of the 1980s, with a particular focus on technology transfer and its effects. MARTA CHMEILEWSKA (Florence) talked about post-socialist Poland with a special focus on sexuality which became a central question of the new post-socialist state. By focusing on bras, i.e., how new, and modern bras replace old and traditional ones, she brings the story of the penetration of capitalism into a post-socialist society. Chmielewska argues that changes in the representation showed how new hierarchies of power were formed which reshuffled categories of class, generation, and gender.

In the discussions that followed, the participants of the doctoral workshop concluded that case studies from various socialist countries, as well as research on the micro-topics presented at the Doctoral workshop, can contribute to the agreement and rearrangement of a wider global-historical context. Moreover, the importance of networking for the quality and future of doctoral research is underlined. The questions that were often thought about in the discussions were how to correctly position the subject of research, how to formulate research questions and how to avoid generalization in creating conclusions. The doctoral students have well mastered the goal of this year's topic, which was to connect an event from micro-history with general events from macro-history. Case studies were treated from the perspective of different countries like Yugoslavia, Poland, the USSR, or Algeria.

Different topics, such as early communist movements, everyday life, gender history, and different approaches to methodology, but also some different disciplines (sociology or history of art) contributed to a fruitful dialogue between participants and to an excellent discussion. Despite the diversity of topics and methodological approaches, a high-quality scientific dialogue was achieved between the participants of the desired new comparisons and suggestions for directing their own research. Furthermore, thanks to the presence of keynote speakers throughout the workshop, from whom much can be learned and who can help solve some research questions with their comments, doctoral students had the opportunity to receive feedback related to their work, as well as motivation for further research.

In addition to the lectures and presentations, in the additional program the participants visited the Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria and the parts of the city in which they got to know some aspects of the historical and contemporary urban development. Moreover, this year the Doctoral's workshop also organized the presentation of the collection of papers, Kartografija otpora: Zagreb 1941-1945, whose editors are Josip Jagić and Marko Kostanić, and among the authors are participants of the Doctor's workshop from this and previous years who spoke about their work on that project.

Conference overview:

Workshop opening


Radina Vucetic (Belgrade): The Invisible Enemy – Smallpox epidemics 1972 (Microhistory of Yugoslavia)

Magdalena Najbar-Agicic (University North / Sveučilište Sjever): Local Media in Yugoslav Socialism

PhD Presentations

Karlo Drzaic (Zagreb): “Bolshevism has infected our town” – 1919 Varaždin rebellion as Zeitgeist

Carl-Erik Stranndberg (Turku): The creation of Fenno-Swedish Communism 1920-1930

Petra Sarin (Lisboa): Underground Printing Service of the Communist Party and the Resistance Movement in Zagreb 1941-1945

Dimitrije Birac (Zagreb): Battle for the League of Communists of Croatia in 1989 – political struggle between Ivica Račan and Ivo Družić

Iva Jelusic (Budapest / Vienna): Gender and War in the Yugoslav Media: The Figure of the Partizanka in the Making of the Yugoslav New Woman

Sara Zeric (Regensburg): “My thoughts are in Frankfurt”. Everyday life of women from Imotski 1968-1989

Pawel Baginski (Warsaw): “Being a woman in Poland in 1990 is not much fun” – women’s timing of the postsocialist transition in Poland


Tanja Petrovic (Ljubljana): From Bandung to the Non-Aligned: Revisiting the visual archives of international solidarity

PhD Presentations

Dora Tot (Bologna): A socialist “civilizing mission”? Experts’ colonialist perspective of Yugoslav development efforts in Algeria

Helena Trenkic (Cambridge): Contributing to the non-aligned project: the University of Zagreb International Student Club of Friendship, 1966-1981

Petar Grubisic (Ghent): Adapting to the new land: Dalmatian settlers in the reports of the People's Districts of Đakovo and Beli Manastir

Mladen Zobec (Graz): Proletarian entrepreneurs: Albanian private craftsmen in socialist Slovenia

Andrea Ceko (Zagreb): Constructing a Mega-Event in a Socialist City: Planning, Organization and Management of the VIII Mediterranean Games in Split

Irina Redkina (Hamburg): XX Century Modernism and Monotowns: Socialist Legacy of Built Infrastructure in post-Soviet Russia


Pieter Troch (Ghent): Ethnopolitical mobilization and the microstructures of socialism: The miners’ strikes in late socialist Kosovo

PhD Presentations

Oskar Opassi (Ljubljana): Self-Management Is a Joke: Social Criticism in Jokes Published in Delamaris Company Newsletter

Emilija Cvetkovic (Belgrade) Yugoslav-American Computers from Niš: The Case of Ei-Honeywell (1979-1991)

Marta Chmielewska (Florence) From cooperation to competition: Lingerie production in socialist and postsocialist small-town Poland

Closing remarks