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The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugrešić – Book Review

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender 
Translated into English by Celia Hawkesworth
Reviewed by Natasha Ravnik

While reading Dubravka Ugrešić’s book, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, I wondered if humankind had learned anything. Although Ugrešić wrote this work between 1991 and 1996, when her homeland of Yugoslavia was being destroyed by war, her words remain current. 

There are many threads in Ugrešić’s writing that are worth exploring, but I have limited this review to just one aspect of the work: the life of the exile. 

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender is unusual from the beginning: it starts with a catalogue of the contents of the stomach of Roland the Walrus in the Berlin Zoo and continues with an experimental mixture of genres. The use of narrative from various viewpoints, diary entries, and quotations parallels the recurrent fragmentation effects of trauma on the psyche – shards of not fully put back together-able language, memories, and images, bring us back to a starting point that can never be the same. 

By definition, an unconditional surrender is one in which no guarantees are given to the surrendering party. It can be demanded with the threat of complete destruction, extermination, or annihilation. To what kind of life does the refugee surrender to? 

“Those are all cold, melancholy, objective images (or more precisely: verbal photographs) from a past life in a former country which it will never again be possible to connect into a whole,’ writes Mihajlo P. in a letter.”

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender is a disparate archive of the bleak reality of loss as a result of forced migration. The stories within are mournfully human – they endear with their naked vulnerabilities. Displayed openly like a pack of cigarettes on a card table at a flea market are the visceral consequences of a nation’s spontaneous dissolution.

“10. ‘Refugees are divided into two categories: those who have photographs and those who have none,’ said a Bosnian, a refugee.”

With exquisitely simple sentences, Ugrešić brings out complex truths – the utter senselessness of the effects of war is tied up with a tender bow. Her prose unfurls unexpectedly like a poem, a jewel offered on a platter of tears, shiny but dissolving. 

“Like the train of a gown, he dragged after him his secret, which, it seems, bore the simple name: indifference.” 

Much of the narration is from a singularly feminine viewpoint ranging from a quiet melancholy,

“What a woman needs most is air and water.”

to a lonesome inevitability,

“As she crossed the Yugoslav border she was suddenly afraid, either because of the custom official’s black mustache, or the finality of her decision. And as she opened her suitcase, thinking in panic that she still had time to change her mind and go back, it slipped out of her hand and scattered its modest contents over the floor. She remembers the rolling apples (“There were lots of them, lots of apples,’ she says. ‘I don’t know myself why I had packed so many.’) Her memory was stuck on that picture of apples rolling over the floor. And it was though the apples had made the decision and not her: she had to pick them all up, and then the train left…” 

Dubravka Ugrešić’s gift is the struggle: internal and external – of longing for the seemingly impossible – simply to belong, and in peace.  Descriptions of oppressive banality under communism mingle with the tell-tale vacant stupor of a person without a home, an address-less individual with no country or state, constantly in motion – unmoored due to outside circumstances.

Her words are precise, chosen with exquisite care. Much like a museum exhibit, many of her paragraphs are numbered, catalogued, and exact. Equally precise is the English translation. 

The pain of exile is not pretty, but Ugrešić’s words capture a sadness that is quite beautiful. The real tragedy of losing one’s country and the baggage (or lack thereof) that goes with it, how this loss seeps into the cracks of everything, reaching the most nuanced recesses of one’s personal identity. 

“I hear my heart beating in the darkness. Pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat…I feel touched, as though there were a lost mouse inside it, beating in fright against the walls. Somewhere far behind me the landscape of my deranged county is ever paler, here, in front of me, are steps that lead to nowhere.”

Dubravka Ugrešić is a literary powerhouse, and The Museum of Unconditional Surrender is a book to be savored again and again. 


Natasha Ravnik

Natasha Ravnik is a first-generation Slovenian American writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is fascinated by stories of cultural resilience, with a particular interest in women’s voices. Natasha is currently writing a fictional memoir based on Slovenian migration stories. Her documentary short film, “Moja Nonica – My Grandmother” was a finalist at the 2016 SEEfest Project Accelerator. A big fan of SEEfest, Natasha believes in the power of art to encourage dialogue, in the hope of finding mutual understanding. She is constantly searching for beauty and common ground.


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Ukraine in the 17th edition of SEEfest

The 2022 South East European Film Festival announces the inclusion of Ukraine in the 17th edition

The 2022 South East European Film Festival announced the inclusion of Ukraine in the program, with two outstanding films, the 2022 Sundance directing award winner Klondike by Maryna Er Gorbach and the US premiere of Blindfold by Taras Dron. Both films focus on ordinary people trying to live their lives under the constant threat of new conflict and war traumas that just won’t go away. 

2022 Sundance directing award winner Klondike by Maryna Er Gorbach

SEEfest is proud to bring to L.A. audiences these remarkable films with strong female characters at the center of the story,” says Vera Mijojlic, founder and director of the festival. “We have previously worked with Maryna Er Gorbach who co-directed, with Mehmet Bahadir Er, 2020 festival entry Omar and Us. We look forward to continuing this collaboration and supporting our colleagues in Ukraine.”

US premiere of Blindfold by Taras Dron

Info about Blindfold is here. Klondike info is here.

Two short animation films from Ukraine are also in the program. The 17th annual edition of the Los Angeles-based film festival is slated to unfold as a hybrid, with in-person as well as virtual screenings on the Eventive platform. 

SEEfest is proudly co-presented by ELMA, the L.A.-based foundation for European Languages and Movies in America


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In Solidarity

Less than a quarter-century since the last deadly fighting was over in Eastern Europe the winds of war have again engulfed the region. Under attack, hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing Ukraine and pouring into neighboring countries. Non-Ukrainian residents and Ukrainians alike are seeking shelter in Romania and Poland, and farther afield. The danger of a widening conflict is ominously present.

Please check these two internationally recognized relief organizations working with refugees worldwide:

International Rescue Committee, the IRC, is already working on the ground in Poland; and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, helping displaced families.

Romania has already accepted a large number of refugees, and the Embassy of Romania, together with the Romanian United Fund, has established Ukrainian Peace Fund to support health facilities with necessary supplies such as medicine, as well as food and hygiene items.

Art, especially visceral cinema such as recent movies by Ukrainian directors, brings us up close to what people on the ground experience. Art by itself may not stop tanks, but it gives the fuel to the human spirit to fight them.

Memorable films from the SEEfest archives

Some of the memorable films from the SEEfest archives about either the societies at war or in the post-conflict state include No Man’s Land, The Cordon, Before the Rain, Borderline Lovers, Kukumi, The Paper Will Be Blue, California Dreamin’, The War is Over, Medal of Honor, Valley of Peace, A Day on the River Drina, Fuse, Sarajevo, My Beautiful Country, Half Shaved, Babai, A Good Wife, Refugee 532, That Trip We Took With Dad, Politiki Kouzina, Omar and Us, Ethnophobia, The Grey War, Men Don’t Cry, The Other Side of Everything, The Diary of Diana B., Zana, So, What’s Freedom?, and Quo Vadis, Aida?

They are mementos of the past that should not be forgotten.

Cover image is a still from Quo Vadis, Aida?


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Brâncuși, Miklós Jancsó and Ivan Cankar

Brâncuși Around the World

Brancusi Around the World Poster

On the occasion of Brâncuși Day, on February 19, the Romanian Cultural Institute is launching, in partnership with Art Safari, as part of the ArtSociety initiative, a dialogue with the great museums of the world about the universal influence of the great Romanian artist.

The first stop is the Noguchi Museum where Curator of Research Matthew Kirsch challenges us to rediscover Brâncuși through his influence on another famous creator, Isamu Noguchi.

February 19 at 2 p.m. New York & Toronto time / 11 a.m. Los Angeles & Vancouver time / 9 p.m. Bucharest time.

RSVP to watch this event

Miklós Jancsó Retrospective

Miklos Jancso_poster

The recent Kino Lorber restorations of six films by Miklós Jancsó start on Friday, March 18th. at the Lumière Cinema: 


“The greatest Hungarian film director of all time” – Béla Tarr 

All films are restored in 4K from their original 35mm camera negative by National Film Institute Hungary – Film Archive.

Series INFO 

Lumière Cinema 

Discover Slovenian Writer Ivan Cankar – First English Translation!


Ivan Cankar, playwright, essayist, poet, and political activist, is regarded as the greatest playwright in the Slovene language and has sometimes been compared to Henrik Ibsen, Franz Kafka, and James Joyce.

This play translation project is a collaborative effort between Presernovo Gledališče Kranj, a professional repertory theatre located in the city of Kranj, Slovenia, and Crane Creations Theatre Company. This project is generously supported by the European Commission and the Slovene Government.

Ivan Cankar is known by many as the “undiscovered Eastern European Ibsen” and the “father of Slovene drama”. 

The Collection   |  Amazon

About the Translator:

Micheal E. Biggins is a translator and Slovene language scholar. He has translated numerous Slovene titles to English, including the works of Drago Jancar, Tomaz Salamun and Nobel Literature Prize Nominee, Boris Pahor. 

Team of translators: 
Tom Priestly and Tina Mahkota (Lackeys, Beautiful Vida)
Rawley Grau (Depravity in At. Florian Valley)
Jason and Alenka Blake (The King of Betajnova)
Michael Biggins (Romantic Souls, Jakob Ruda, For the Good of the Nation)

We thank Tom Brandi from the Slovenian community in San Francisco for his steadfast efforts to promote Slovenian culture on the West Coast. 

Support SEEfest

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We Welcome YOU!

South East European Filmmakers at Cannes Film Festival

7 Filmmakers From South East Europe Will Premiere Their Films In Cannes This Year

New films from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria are selected for the 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival: Ildikó Enyedi’s first English-language feature, The Story of My Wife, is in the official competition. Based on the 1942 Hungarian novel by Milán Füst, it is a story of a sea captain who makes a bet in a cafe with a friend that he will marry the first woman who walks in. Enyedi’s previous film, Of Body and Soul, was nominated for an Oscar.

In Un Certain Regard section of the festival Bulgarian filmmakers, Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova will present their film Women Do Cry, and Turkish veteran filmmaker Semih Kaplanoğlu’s Commitment Hasan (Baglilik Hasan) is also in the selection. Kazakova’s previous film, Cat in the wall (2019) enjoyed critical acclaim, while Kaplanoğlu is known for his meditative films Egg, Milk and Honey, among others.

Another Hungarian filmmaker, Kornél Mundruczó will have his new film Evolution in Cannes Premieres. His previous films include Pieces of a Woman (2020), currently showing on Netflix, and White God (2012).

Other Eastern European films in Cannes this year are Petrov’s Flu by Kirill Serebrennikov (Russia) in the official competition program; in Un Certain regard section are Kira Kovalenko’s Unclenching the Fists and Alexey German Jr.’s Delo, both from Russia; and in Seances Spéciales Sergei Loznitsa’s Babi Yar. Contexte (Ukraine).

Directors’ Fortnight (Quinzaine Des Réalisateurs)

Întregalde by Radu Muntean

Three more filmmakers from South East Europe will premiere their films in Cannes this year at the Directors’ Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) which is the parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival.

From Romania, Radu Muntean’s new film Întregalde, his seventh feature, is a suspense story about testing the limits of generosity when three humanitarian workers run into difficulties.

The script was co-written by Alex Baciu and Radu Muntean with Muntean’s regular collaborator Răzvan Rădulescu, one of the most talented writers of this generation whose other credits include The Death of Mr. LãzãrescuShelterThe Paper will be BlueTuesday, after Christmas, and Child’s Pose, among many others. All except Mr. Lãzãrescu were screened or co-presented by SEEfest in Los Angeles.

Shot on location in Transylvania, the title of the film refers to the rural community of Întregalde, in the Apuseni Mountains.

SEEfest audiences were first introduced to Muntean’s work in 2007 when we co-presented The Paper will be Blue, an excellent examination of the toll on ordinary people serving as unwitting soldiers in the chaos of the 1989 Romanian revolution.

MurinaCroatian director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s debut feature film, Murina, is also on the program of Directors’ Fortnight. SEEfest audiences have seen Kusijanović’s acclaimed short film Into the Blue at our 2018 festival.

Starring Gracija Filipović and Danish-Serbian star Danica Ćurčić (she can be seen on Netflix USA in Equinox and the upcoming The Chestnut Man), Murina explores the tensions between a restless teenager and her oppressive father when an old family friend arrives at their Croatian island home.

The cast also includes Croatian master actor Leon Lučev, one of the most sought-after thespians in the region; and Cliff Curtis, New Zealand’s actor of Maori descent best known for Whale Rider and co-starring in two upcoming Avatar films from director James Cameron.


The Hill Where Lionesses Roar, a France/Kosovo coproduction – debut feature by Luàna Bajrami, French actress from Kosovo turned auteur who’s known for A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Céline Sciamma’s critically acclaimed film. 

Somewhere in Kosovo, in a small remote village, three young women see their dreams and ambitions stifled. In their quest for independence, nothing can stop them: time to let the lionesses roar.

The 74th Cannes Film Festival is scheduled to take place from July 6 to 17, 2021.


In order to help us bring you more SEE programming in 2021, we hope you will consider becoming a SEEfest Cine-Fan member as we continue to bring you the best film and culture from South East Europe.

SEEfest 2021: Conversations with Filmmakers – Video

Excerpts of Conversations with Filmmakers featured at #SEEfest2021

With filmmakers Marko Dješka, Nicolas Iordanou and Sylvia Nicolaides, Kata Gugić, and Elka Nikolova.

1. ALL THOSE SENSATIONS IN MY BELLY short animation trailer 
While transitioning gender from male to female, Matia struggles to find a genuine, intimate relationship with a heterosexual man.

Filmmaker: Marko Dješka
Interviewer: Casey Shuttuck, intern;

2. AMALGAMATIONshort documentary trailer
A soulful portrait of a female choir revisiting traditional songs in a contemporary way, bridging past and present, with a strong voice and deep sense of community and friendship.

Filmmakers: Nicolas Iordanou and Sylvia Nicolaides
Interviewer: Daylyn Paul, intern

3. COCKPERAshort animation trailer
This short opera is inspired by Aesop’s fable The Fighting Cocks and the Eagle.

Filmmaker: Kata Gugić
Interviewer: Casey Shuttuck, intern

A documentary film about the legacy of the Holocaust in the Balkans, as seen through the eyes, and conflicting memories, of three Bulgarian Jewish survivors in New York.
Filmmaker: Elka Nikolova
Interviewer: Lauren Brown, associate programmer


In order to help us bring you more SEE programming in 2021, we hope you will consider becoming a SEEfest Cine-Fan member as we continue to bring you the best film and culture from South East Europe.


SEEfest 2021 Awards and Wrap Up – Video

Showcasing the outstanding films and events featured at SEEfest 2021…

The 2021 South East European Film Festival Filmmaker Awards

Andrea Štaka’s Mare wins Best Narrative Feature, and Catherine Harte’s Faith & Branko is named Best Documentary Feature.

SEEfest 2021 Filmmaker AwardsBest Cinematography awards went to In The Shadows Hayk Kirakosyan (Narrative), with Nun of Your Business’ Ivana Marinić Kragić’ and That Other Village’s Srđan Kovačević co-winners in the Documentary category. A complete list of awards is here.


Audience Award winner: SO, WHAT’S FREEDOM?

So, What's Freedom?

The powerful drama about the 1951 deportations in Romania, SO, WHAT’S FREEDOM? by American-Romanian filmmaker Andrei Zinca, was the highest-rated film of SEEfest 2021 and the winner of the festival’s Audience Award. With a score of 88 out of a maximum of 100, this film proved to be an audience favorite in spite of the difficult subject matter and traumatic events from the country’s past.

Accepting the award, filmmaker Andrei Zinca said,

“SEEfest’s audience understands the power of cinema to reach beyond countries, beyond language barriers, and take us to places and experiences in the past that can resonate with us today.  “So, What’s Freedom?” was not intended to be just a Romanian story. Freedom, the lack of it, and its manipulation by all political systems has been and still is an everyday and everywhere story.“

Congratulations to the filmmaker, the talented cast and crew, and big thanks to our audience members who judged the films with their votes.

What was your favorite film?

Let us know in the comments which films you liked! We’d love to know.

The 2021 South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) Announces Film Lineup for 16th Edition

SEEfest Honorees Dubravka Ugrešić (by Shevuan Williams), Jasna Djuričić (by Nebojša Babić) , Marija Škaričić

Award-winning writer Dubravka Ugrešić will receive the SEEfest Legacy Award and Marija Škaričić (MARE) and Jasna Djuričić (QUO VADIS, AIDA?) will both receive the inaugural Legacy Acting Award.

The 2021 South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) (April 28-May 5), co-presented by ELMA, foundation for European Languages and Movies in America, announced the lineup of official selections for the 16th annual edition of the Los Angeles-based film festival. Presenting and celebrating cinematic and cultural diversity of 18 countries of the Balkans and Caucasus to American audiences, the film festival continues to provide a platform in the U.S. for the discovery of new talent from South East Europe.

SEEfest will honor internationally celebrated author Dubravka Ugrešić (“The Age of Skin,” “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg”) with this year’s Legacy Award (April 17) and Marija Škaričić (Mare) and Jasna Djuričić (Quo Vadis, Aida?) with the film festival’s inaugural Legacy Acting Award.

Legacy Acting Award honoree Jasna Djuričić stars in Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aida?. a 2021 Academy Award nominee for International Feature Film from Bosnia Herzegovina

A true discovery film festival, this year’s virtual presentation is once again rich with premieres, including two world premieres (Elka Nikolova’s A Question of Survival and Kata Oláh’s My Digital Nomad), and two international premieres, Jadran Boban’s That Other Village, and Sidar İnan Erçelik’s Wind Horse. Among the seven North American premieres at SEEfest are Marko Djordjević’s My Morning Laughter, Gjergj Xhuvani’s final feature, My Lake, Ivan Živković’s Galeb (Tito’s Boat), Nebojša Slijepčević‘s 70, Ivana Marinić Kragić’s Nun of Your Business, Bruno Pavić’s Landscape Zero, and Pavel Cuzuioc’s Please Hold the Line. The two films making U.S. premieres are Marija Perović’s Breasts, and Catherine Harte’s Faith & Branko

Legacy Acting Award honoree Marija Škaričić stars in two other highly anticipated films among SEEfest’s official selections.

SEEfest Executive Director Vera Mijojlić, said,

“This is another exciting year programming-wise with several films from South East Europe set to make their debut here in the States with our virtual film festival presentation. We are especially excited to host a conversation with our wonderful Legacy Award honoree Dubravka Ugrešić on April 17 and the opportunity to celebrate the great work by Marija Škaričić and Jasna Djuričić, who star in four of our highly anticipated selections, Mare, Breasts, Quo Vadis, Aida?, and My Morning Laughter with the inaugural Legacy Acting Award.”

Making their world premieres at SEEfest will be two documentaries, including Elka Nikolova’s US and Bulgarian co-production, A Question of Survival, which traces the legacy of the Holocaust in the Balkans, as seen through the eyes -and conflicting memories- of three Bulgarian Jewish survivors in New York, and Kata Oláh’s My Digital Nomad, an intimate, first-person documentary from Hungary about the nomadic lifestyle turns into an intimate conversation between mother and daughter throughout countries and years.

Kata Oláh’s My Digital Nomad

SEEfest’s two International premieres include; Jadran Boban’s Croatian film That Other Village about a remote village that changed twice its name, population, and its own history as it continues to be torn by never-ending historical traumas triggering new conflicts; and Sidar İnan Erçelik’s Wind Horse, a poetic Turkish film which tells the story of two shepherds from Anatolia, one of whom becomes a celebrated jockey; the film juxtaposes human desire for success with the toll on the spirit of freedom in both humans and horses.

Sidar İnan Erçelik’s Wind Horse

North American premieres include; Ivana Marinić Kragić’s Nun of Your Business, a Croatian film about two young nuns, driven by their blossoming love, who choose to leave the convent and start a new life together; Marko Djordjević’s My Morning Laughter, a Serbian dramedy about a 30-year-old trying to lose his virginity; and the late Gjergj Xhuvani’s final feature, My Lake, an Albanian drama about a man who has become a small-time marijuana smuggler to support his family.

Ivana Marinić Kragić’s Nun of Your Business

Following in the tradition of SEEfest films which bring to life world history in a dynamic way is Ivan Živković’s Galeb (Tito’s Boat), a Croatian film which tells the story of the ship that Yugoslav president Tito sailed numerous times, visiting close to 20 countries as he negotiated an alliance of non-aligned countries, the world’s largest after the United Nations. Other North American premieres include Nebojša Slijepčević‘s 70, a documentary about the LADO Ensemble, the only professional folk music and dance ensemble in Croatia.

Ivan Živković’s Galeb (Tito’s Boat)

Bruno Pavić’s Croatian film, Landscape Zero will also make its North American Premiere, as will Pavel Cuzuioc’s Austrian film Please Hold the Line. The former follows the lives of people who are either fighting for their survival among dangerous facilities surrounding their homes or coexisting with them in harmony, while the latter focuses on cable technicians in Eastern Europe as they navigate a modern-day Tower of Babel. One of the 2 films making its U.S. premiere is Catherine Harte’s Faith & Branko, an intimate story that chronicles the cross-cultural relationship between musicians Faith and Branko over seven years. 

Legacy Acting Award honoree Marija Škaričić stars in two other highly anticipated films among SEEfest’s official selections. Andrea Štaka’s Mare, a multiple award-winner including the Solothurn Prize, is a Swiss and Croatian co-production about a woman dedicated to her family life, yet always feeling out of place until a chance romantic encounter with a new neighbor just may put everything to the test. Marija Perović’s Breasts, which makes its U.S. premiere, is a light-hearted drama from Montenegro about four friends from high school brought together again at their 20-year reunion, who all are forced to go beyond the usual pleasantries when it is revealed that one of them has become gravely ill.

Elka Nikolova’s A Question of Survival

Fellow Legacy Acting Award honoree Jasna Djuričić stars in Jasmila Žbanić’s Quo Vadis, Aida? a 2021 Academy Award nominee for International Feature Film from Bosnia Herzegovina, the film follows a translator for the UN in a small town taken over by the Serbian army forcing her to use her connections as an insider to look out for the safety of her family and people. Eugen Jebeleanu’s directorial debut Poppy Field follows the struggle of a young Romanian gendarme who tries to balance two opposing parts of his identity: that of a man working in a macho hierarchical environment and that of a closeted gay man. Andrei Zinca’s So, What’s Freedom? is a Romania and U.S. co-production inspired by real events exploring how the lives of a group of people turn when they discover their freedom has become a forced exile. 

Click here to preview the complete lineup of films and preorder your tickets.


Twice the recipient of the prestigious festival grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and five other awards for programming excellence from the State of California, County and City of Los Angeles, Cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s festival grant, the festival’s growing list of renowned organizations which now support the festival includes the California Arts Council, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, ELMA Foundation, UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Blue Heron Foundation, Villa Aurora artists residence, Film & Ink LLC, West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, as well as a roster of cultural community partners representing the diversity of our State.

South East European Film Festival Los Angeles (SEEfest) is a competition festival presenting cinematic and cultural diversity of 18 countries of the Balkans and Caucasus to American audiences. It provides a platform in the U.S. for the discovery of new talent from South East Europe, with a wide selection of films, art, and literary talks, workshops, and panels. The film festival serves as the cultural hub and resource for scholars and filmmakers, and creates opportunities for cultural exchange between Hollywood industry professionals and filmmakers from South East Europe. It is a 501 © 3 non-profit, public benefit corporation. For more information, visit

The Legacy of the Non-Aligned Movement – The Dream of Peaceful Coexistence and Encouragement of Cultural Diversity

Did you know that the 1st Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement took place right in the heart of South East Europe?

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was formally established nearly 60 years ago—in one of the regions our festival covers—Belgrade, in today’s Serbia, then the capital of Yugoslavia. The first official conference of the non-aligned countries took place in September 1961, with 25 countries participating. 

In short, NAM was founded during the Cold War by leaders from countries that aimed to establish the principle of peaceful coexistence and remain non-aligned with either of the two power blocs—the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Leaders of the Global South at the Belgrade Summit 1961,  © Museum of Yugoslavia, Belgrade

“In September 2021 we mark the 60th anniversary of the Belgrade Conference of the Non-Aligned Countries. Recent academic meetings and exhibitions (like the one held in 2019 at the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, titled Nonalignment and Tito in Africa) have at long last blown open the lid of inquiry on an important historical period and movement which offered an alternative approach to global affairs. Non-aligned movement forged previously unthinkable geographical alliances and challenged bi-polar global policies of the time. We need to explore Non-Alignment from a humanist, cultural, and public diplomacy angles, similar to what the world is trying to do today with a global agenda on climate change”, says Vera Mijojlić, founder of SEEfest

Let’s take a look at the initial steps that led to the formation of NAM—which is the largest grouping of states just after the United Nations—and look at the deeper implications of how this movement worked toward peaceful coexistence. 

To begin, the Cold War is directly responsible for the emergence of the terms, “first world”, “second world”, and “third world” —the western and eastern blocs, and the nations that decided to stay outside of these blocs. 

Alfred Sauvy, a French demographer coined the term “third world” in his 1952 article, “Three Worlds, One Planet”. The “first world” was meant to refer to the United States and its democratic-capitalists allies like Western Europe, Japan, and Australia; and the Eastern bloc, the Soviet Union and “its Eastern Europe satellites” were considered the “second world”. The “third world” then comprised of the nations that chose to be non aligned, and which were also considered underdeveloped as many had just recently won independence from their European colonizers, like nations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. 

In 1955, twenty-nine government representatives from Asian and African countries—representing nearly 54% of the world’s population—met in Bandung, Indonesia at what would become known as the Bandung Conference, “to discuss peace, and the role of the third world in the Cold War, economic development, and decolonization.” 

Asian-African Conference at Bandung, April 1955

These nations called upon the meeting out of the frustration and alienation they felt as the non-aligned “third world” and decided to come together to dispel colonization through their unity and support for one another as well as their advocacy for other nations that were still under colonial rule. 

It was at this conference that they established and signed a communique of the principles they would stand by, which included: “the promotion of economic and cultural cooperation, protection of human rights and the principle of self-determination, a call for an end to racial discrimination wherever it occurred, and a reiteration of the importance of peaceful coexistence.” (Office of the Historian)

These principles and their concept of banding together to support one another economically and culturally laid a lot of the groundwork for the Non-Alignment Movement. They figured as a majority of them were newly freed of their colonial ties, they would use this unity to build one another up through peaceful coexistence, the dismantlement of colonialism and racism, and the promotion of diversity.

SEEfest promotes cross-border cultural diversity

Promoting lesser-known regions, their history, heritage, and their cultural diversity through film, literary and cultural events is at the core of SEEfest, a cultural festival that pioneered the concept of regional, cross-border programming with issue-driven films that tell a larger story about South East Europe (…) by presenting multiple points of view from this troubled region,” to quote from the festival’s mission statement. 

On the occasion of the historical 60th anniversary of the first NAM conference, we look back at the world as it was then, and how a small country in the heart of South East Europe, only recently freed from the oppressive dominance of the Eastern bloc, took center stage in hosting a meeting of Asian, African and Latin American countries. Aside from politics, this conference would have a lasting cultural influence on people and artists of Yugoslavia: from The Museum of African Art, the first and only museum in the region entirely dedicated to the cultures and arts of the African continent, to several recent documentary films about NAM and upcoming magnum opus by acclaimed filmmaker Mila Turajlic, “The Labudovic Files” about the cameraman who filmed not just the leaders of the movement but preserved on film living history and cultural traditions of many nations. 

“We look back at the main protagonists and at what deep sense of solidarity Tito was able to instill wherever he went on his extensive travels. There is strong evidence of trust between Nonaligned nations — something not only completely absent from but pretty much unthinkable in our present world,” says Vera Mijojlić, founder of SEEfest

From Left to Right: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Josip Broz Tito, and Jawaharlal Nehru

NAM was headed by the president of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito; the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser; and the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. 

Josip Broz Tito, who played a pivotal role in the movement, achieved something no other Eastern European nation succeeded in doing until the fall of the Berlin Wall: he managed to distance Yugoslavia from the Soviets and retreated from the USSR-led alliance in 1948. As stated in Non-Alignment and Tito in Africa,  Tito defied “Soviet hegemony to launch (Yugoslav) own program of socialist development.” 

Through his foreign policy and anticolonialism, Yugoslavia strengthened its ties and influence in the ‘third world’. Tito’s legendary travels to Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been well documented on film, primarily by the state-funded newsreel service Filmske Novosti.  The company still exists and serves as a treasure trove of unique archival material for scores of young filmmakers, scholars, and media organizations throughout the world.   

Extensive travels and Tito’s meetings with leaders of non-aligned African countries led to “economic packages, military aid, technical support, and cultural and academic exchanges, it helped build factories, power plants, ports, hospitals, and research facilities in numerous African countries. In return, Yugoslavia gained access to African raw materials and new markets to trade its surplus consumer products.” (Non-Alignment and Tito in Africa)

Tito also strengthened Yugoslavia’s ties with other third-world countries in South America, notably with Mexico, and this, in turn, introduced Mexican films from the golden age to Yugoslav audiences across the country. This then led to the 1950s-1960s “Yu-Mex” craze, when Mexican music became so popular in the region that many Yugoslav musicians began covering traditional Mexican music. The documentary film by Miha Mazzini, “Yugoslav Mexico” from 2013 is dedicated to this cultural phenomenon. 

Another notable thing Yugoslavia did under Tito’s leadership was aid the third world in anti-colonialist movements, and it was the Yugoslav delegation that first brought the demands of the Algerian National Liberation Front to the United Nations.

Nelson Mandela

Later, another important figure that would serve as a Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement would be President Nelson Mandela. From September 1998 to June 1999 he served as NAM’s 19th Secretary General.  After the 7th NAM Summit of 1998, he relayed the discussions and outcomes the group had to the United Nations General Assembly during their 53rd session. 

SEEfest will continue to highlight this, and other influential historical and cultural milestones of South East Europe. Stay tuned for the next update!

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City Spaces: Diocletian’s Palace

At the heart of Split lies Diocletian’s Palace

Before Croatia became a country in its own right, the area was under the rule of various powers and empires, each of which has left its mark on its cities and culture. One of the earliest is the Romans, whose architecture formed the foundation from which cities such as Split continue to grow and evolve.

DIOCLETIAN’S PALACE, CroatiaAt the heart of Split lies Diocletian’s Palace, built at the start of the fourth century for the Roman emperor. The white stone that makes up its walls and streets are characteristic of the architecture in the city as well as the greater Dalmatian region and lighten the city even on the rare cloudy days.

The palace has four arched entrances, fortress-like walls shielding all sides, and a bell tower, added later on around the twelfth century, that stands as the highest point in the city center. The wall, once bordering the Adriatic, now stands as the permeable boundary between the palace and the Riva, a walkway lined with cafes by the sea.

Once the site of defense and trade, now it is a social area of small-scale business. Underground is the palace’s cellars, with cavernous ceilings and cobblestones, which now house the stands of artists and artisans selling handmade jewelry, sculptures of wood and limestone, and tourist paraphernalia of all kinds. The ebb and flow of people through the palace’s streets follows time-worn paths; looking at the smooth, time-worn flagstones, one can see the repeated indentations of millions of steps.

Over the many centuries since its construction, the palace’s narrow streets and tunnels, small squares, and leftover pillars have remained largely unchanged architecturally, but the spaces have transformed in functionality, serving new purposes with each new era.

In the time of Diocletian, the Peristyle—a large square lined by pillars—was the site of the emperor’s announcements and appearances, adjacent to a building that contained a mausoleum. That mausoleum later became known as the cathedral of Sveti Duje (Saint Domnius), where mass is still held today. The bell tower above it rings with every hour and is still a defining feature of the city’s skyline.

During certain periods this area of the palace was simply another part of the city center and everyday life, not used for any particular purpose. On one hand, this led to decay from lack of maintenance, but on the other, the palace was spared from external harm. Despite the turbulent events in this region throughout the twentieth century, Split remained largely untouched by the wars and skirmishes and none of the palace’s architecture had to be rebuilt as a result of wartime damage.

The Peristyle has come to be known as the city’s “living room,” a space where performances, from orchestras to street artists, are staged and people frequently gather to dance, eat and drink, and spend time together.

As tourists become an increasingly prominent presence in the city, there has been pushback against letting these cultural spaces turn into architectural and historical museums. After all, cities are made to be lived in, never truly preserved in a crystallized state. They take on a life of their own and transform with the times, constructing on top of their architectural and cultural foundations.

Beyond the walls, the liveliness of the palace spills out into the surrounding area. Layers of history take the form of ruins, parks, and houses, and on the outskirts of the city, the architecture transforms into modern apartments. Nevertheless, the essence of Mediterranean living has been preserved in these various forms. Open spaces and squares with coffee shops are ubiquitous and a source of food, socializing, exchange of information, and a part of everyday life. The way of living, persistent through the ages, is reflected in these spaces even as the city continues to evolve.