- Constructing the 'City of International Solidarity':Non-Aligned Internationalism, the United Nations and Visions of Development, Modernism and Solidarity, 1955–1975*
The exhibition Solidarity, an Unfinished Project? […] highlights the importance of asking ourselves if it is still possible to believe that somewhere within us lies a utopian spark worth preserving; a spark necessary not only for great changes but sometimes needed in order to persevere and to continue to defend the abandoned or forgotten idea of solidarity.(Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje, October 2014)
The exhibition that opened in October 2014 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje was conceived as a tribute to the numerous international artists who contributed their works to the collection of the newly established Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art after the 1963 Skopje earthquake, including Pablo Picasso, Victor Vasarely and Alexander Calder. Both the Museum's collection and the Museum itself were products of an unrivalled exercise in UN-coordinated relief and trans-bloc international collaboration. While most of the collection was composed of West European and American art, the building was a gift from the communist Polish government, designed by the well-known group of [End Page 137] Polish architects known as the 'Warsaw Tigers'.1 Some of the most prominent initial gestures of solidarity in the aftermath of the 1963 Skopje earthquake, that left one of the eight regional Yugoslav capital cities almost completely destroyed, included: the 120-bed hospital dispatched in 24 United States Air Force C-130s under orders from President Kennedy the day after the earthquake; the battalion of Soviet military engineers; the British, Polish and Japanese experts in urban planning and reconstruction; and one of the richest collections of contemporary art in Southern Europe. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito declared that Skopje would become a symbol of Yugoslav and international solidarity. A United Nations General Assembly resolution from October 1963 noted 'with satisfaction that the spirit of international solidarity demonstrated on this occasion has transformed the reconstruction of Skopje into a real symbol of friendship and brotherhood among peoples'.2 The trope of international solidarity marked the decade of the 1960s and persisted both officially and unofficially as a prominent marker of global and urban citizenship. It shaped public discourse in the former socialist world and the former Yugoslavia and it was globally disseminated through international organisations and taken on by West European governments.
This case provides a unique venue for contextualising post-WW2 internationalism at the intersection of liberal and socialist conceptions of internationalism. The socialist federation's vision of international cooperation was conditioned by a unique Yugoslav self-imposed bipolar neutralism; that is, an imperative to strike an almost perfect balance between the state socialist East and the industrialised West.3 On the one hand, this was underpinned by a genuine desire to combine 'the best of both worlds', and by an anxiety to appear neutral and live up to the ideal of active neutrality, on the other. This article embeds what has been referred to as 'the first major international collaborative exercise [End Page 138] of such magnitude' into a broader story about decolonisation, visions of post-war modernisation, Yugoslavia's global role as a leader of the non-aligned world and the alliances and tensions between developed and developing countries at the UN.4 With Warsaw's Chief architect Adolf Ciborowski at the helm as project manager of the Skopje Urban Plan Project (the Plan), it was arguably unlike any other operation of its kind undertaken by the United Nations Special Fund (later the UN Development Programme). The choice of experts (from the capitalist West, the socialist East and Japan) mirrored Yugoslavia's and many of the developing world nations' visions of hybrid modernity, where Western concepts and idioms of technological achievement, planning and construction could be translated and adapted to local contexts and fed into a form of post-colonial, post-revolutionary nationalism. By integrating and resorting to experts, initiatives and technologies from both sides of the Cold War divide, the Yugoslavs were also actively constructing their own post-war legitimacy, both at home and abroad, against voices which often blamed them for either being...