Hated by drivers, and considered the ugliest square in Belgrade, Slavija’s riveting history ironically started off as an attempt to introduce British-style urban planning to Belgrade.
The development of the square began with Francis Mackenzie, an enterprising Scottish missionary who moved to the city in 1876 in hope of making Belgraders devote more time to the Bible, rather than smoking and drinking. In 1879 he bought a large patch of marshy land, drained it and started building a neighbourhood which, ironically, became known as “Englezovac” – “English town”.
The main square of Englezovac featured a “Hall of Peace”, where Mackenzie performed his philanthropic activities of educating less fortunate Belgraders, and, since mid-1890s, a hotel named “Slavija”, a nod to the pan-Slavic movement.
The philanthropic activities devoted to the poor in the Hall of Peace made it perfect place for the budding socialist movement. In 1910, the Hall was bought by Dimitrije Tucovic’s Serbian Social-democratic Party and Worker’s Union and turned into Socialist People’s club, a base for their activities and publications. In 1919, hotel Slavija hosted the meeting of various socialist, social democratic and worker’s movements from across the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, at which the first Yugoslav Communist party was founded. The party won the subsequent municipal elections in Belgrade, but was barred from taking power and banned in 1921.
After its tenants were forced underground, Socialist People’s club was turned into a restaurant, and then remodelled into a handsome art-deco cinema, also named Slavija. Nevertheless, Slavija’s socialist connections remained strong and the square was the site of a mass student and workers’ protest on 14 December 1939.
Despite the Slavija’s socialist connections, a wealthy Serbian merchant and owner of several upmarket department stores, Vlada Mitic, bought a large plot of land on the square and planned to build the largest department store in the Balkans. His plans were thwarted by WWII and then the arrival of the Communist party, who nationalised the land, but left it undeveloped, which led to the part of the square between Beogradska and Kralja Milana streets being named “Mitic’s hole”. Mitic’s grand store was not the only casualty of WWII at Slavija. The Nazis destroyed the old hotel and built the square’s much hated roundabout.
During the socialist times, in a piece of rather macabre urban design, the remains of Dimitrije Tucovic were placed in the middle the square and the new hotel Slavija was built. However, as Yugoslavia started to crumble in 1980s, Slavija’s communist spirit was slowly eroded.
In 1989, the communist heart of Belgrade became the home of the first McDonald’s in the Balkans, and a few years later the old Slavija cinema, birthplace of Serbian socialism was cleared to make way for an uninspiring parking lot.
Finally, in 2016, Dimitrije Tucovic’s remains were removed from the roundabout and replaced by the controversial “musical” fountain which occasionally blasts Michael Jackson tunes after the year-long face-lift of the square.
A version of this article appeared in Belgrade Insight newspaper
4 thoughts on “Hidden Belgrade (26): Slavija’s strange history, from MacKenzie to McDonald’s”
Dobro jutro Branislave. Da li je ovo tvoj članak? Sjajan. Uvijek se nešto novo nauči. Koje izvore si koristio, molim. Našao sam da je dotični misionar preminuo u BG, ne znam da li je sahranjen, i da je darivao plot zemlje na kojem je izgrađena crkva Sv. Sava. Fascinantno koliko se malo zna o bliskim lokacijama i istorijama.
Bilo bi zanimljivo uraditi sličnu disekciju prostora cijele Jugoslavije, kako se to sada kaže ‘bivše’. Iskreni pozdrav.
Pozdrav i hvala na lepim rečima. Koristio sam izvore sa interneta, članke Večernjih Novosti, Politike i par blogova na koje sam se sapleo. Mislim da ja MacKenzie sahranjen u svojoj domovini jer se tamo pred smrt i vratio. Cela ideja ove serije tekstova je da pokaže bogatstvo i kompleksnost istorije ovih prostora i to koliko imamo više priča od rat rat rat, tragedija tragedija tragedija, a i da potakne ljude na svest o zaštoti kulturnih dobara. Tako da bi super da je više ovakvih projekata širom ex-Juge. Ovaj tekst, kao i manje više sve na ovom blogu sam pisao ja, Srdjan Garcevic.
Dragi Srđane. Puno hvala za odgovor. Našao sam da je Mackenzie navodno darovao zemlju na kojoj je sagrađen hram. Hvala i puno pozdrava.