The Cold War and The Americanization of Yugoslavia in the 1960s

In 1948,  the termination of cooperation between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union played a key role in the change of direction of Yugoslav politics. The country found itself in a difficult economic situation and asked for help from the West, more specifically, from the USA. The first form of help the country received was weapons, but given the difficult situation and the drought that hit Yugoslavia, food aid was also requested. However, before the USA agreed on food delivery, certain conditions needed to be met. After the agreement was reached, the delivery of American goods began, which in some way influenced the beginning of the Americanization of socialist Yugoslavia.

Soft Power

The USA, as the leading power of the twentieth century, acquired and demonstrated its supremacy in various ways. Although it dominated the world militarily, economically, and technologically, it also exerted its influence through soft power. According to Joseph Nye, the soft power of a country rests on three pillars; its culture, political values, and foreign policy.

The USA built its soft power on these three pillars. During the 20th century in the fight for “Hearts and Souls”, the export of American culture was particularly effective, because it has been shown that states can achieve political goals through the export of culture, value systems, and ideas, that is, attracting and winning over other cultures and countries using public diplomacy.

Jazz in Yugoslavia

Apart from scholarships that influenced the intellectual elite all around the world, radio influenced played a huge role in public diplomacy and the process of americanization. Namely, through government radio stations, of which the leading ones were “Voice of America” and “Radio Free Europe”, the desired image of America was spread to the whole world. 

The goal was to better promote a better understanding of America in other countries, and a mutual understanding of the people of America with the people of other countries. During the entire socialist period, the voice of Grga Zlatoper echoed throughout Yugoslavia with a greeting to the listeners “Here is Washington, the voice of America”. Consequently, the sounds of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll echoed from many houses 

One of the most famous radio shows on the “Voice of America” was “Music USA” which was hosted by the famous Willis Conover. The show did perhaps the most for the promotion of jazz in the Cold War world, including in Yugoslavia. Yugoslav jazz musicians such as Duško Gojković formed themselves by listening to this radio show and were broadcasted on it, later on. This shows that American diplomacy didn’t go in one direction, but there was also an exchange and establishment of serious contacts. Jazz very quickly began to play an important role in the Cold War, because jazz musicians became a kind of American jazz ambassadors.

Duško Gojković playing the trumpet
Dusko Gojkovic, one of the pioneers of jazz in Yugoslavia

Source: Wikimedia

In the mid-1950s, Lois Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, and Dave Brubeck went on a tour as jazz ambassadors. Thanks to Yugoslavia’s turn to the west, along with American public diplomacy, the biggest stars of American jazz played in Belgrade including Dizzy Gilespie, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Lois Armstrong,  Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, and Woody Herman. . Furthermore, in 1971 the first Jazz festival in Belgrade was organized which hosted names such as Miles Davis, Charley Parker, Ray Charles, etc.

Jeans, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Coca Cola

The everyday life of young people in Yugoslavia in the 50s and 60s indicated the extent of Americanization and the acceptance of American popular culture. Young people were listening to jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll, wearing jeans, drinking Coca-Cola, and watching American movies. 

Thanks to “Radio Luxemburg”, “Voice of Amerca” and many local rock radio shows, music magazines such as “Jukebox”, and shows such as “Koncert za mladi svet”,  the Yugoslav youth enjoyed the music of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc.

Theatre, Contemporary Art, and Movies

Due to American soft power and the activity of both the CIA and the information services of the USA, great changes occurred in the realm of Yugoslavian high culture. For instance, the Museum of Contemporary art in Belgrade held many American exhibitions, giving Belgraders the chance to see the latest art movements of the new world.

Scholarships also played an important role in these changes. Miodrag B. Protić, who received a Ford scholarship, organized a museum of contemporary art that was based on the model of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The museum organized exhibitions of American expressionism and pop art, making Yugoslavia the only communist country where such a thing was possible. 

Yugoslavia’s openness towards American culture was also visible in the theater. During the 50s theaters in Belgrade were open to American drama pieces and writers such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O’Neil. Furthermore, musicals such as “Hair”, “ Jesus Christ Superstar” and even avant-garde troops such as “La Mama” and “Living Theatre”, which haven’t gained much interest in the West, performed at BITEF(Belgrade international theater festival)

American Movies

American movies played an important role in creating the people’s perception of life in America and provided insight into the splendor of American society. Americans understood that film was accessible to a great number of people, hence, it can be used for propaganda.  During the cold war period, and only between 1948 and 1954, more than forty anti-communist films were shot. These films often were based on topics such as communist conspiracies, and Soviet spies, which created panic among the people.

However, such movies were not popular amongst the masses, so the US turned to Hollywood productions. These productions glorified the American dream so that the people behind the iron curtain could see the luxury in which the American people live.

After the conflict between Josip Broz Tito and Stalin in 1948, the attendance of soviet movies in movie theaters began to decline. The turning point was in 1950 when not a single Soviet movie was imported to Yugoslavia.  One of the first imported films from the US was “Ball on the Water”, which was watched by 333.000 people in six months. 

An important step for the further spread of American movies in Yugoslavia, was the arrival of the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association, Eric Johnston, to Belgrade in 1952. A meeting was held and an IMG(Information Media Guaranty) was signed between Yugoslavia and the United States. 

This program made it possible for Yugoslavia to import American films at low prices, and thus began the domination of American films in Yugoslav cinemas.  Through these films, the cult of Hollywood stars was born, and magazines such as “Filmski Svet” soon followed. Readers were eager to read biographies of their favorite actresses and actors, and constantly asked for pictures of stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, etc.

The influence of Western movies was particularly great on children, who along with the games of partisans and Germans, started playing cowboys and Indians. Other American games such as “Hoola Hoop” or “Indian Fire” were also a definite sign that the American culture has already spread its roots deep into the Yugoslav mentality.