29 November

She was in the first grade of elementary school, just turned 7. At school they learned a lot already about Yugoslavia, socialism, and anti-fascism. She felt it was something sacred. The Day of the Republic was approaching, 29 November, which also was the day for the first graders to become Tito’s pioneers in a big school ceremony and celebration. They were to receive their pioneer cap and scarf and make a pledge to love and protect Yugoslavia, its brotherhood and unity and appreciate all the peoples of the world working for freedom and peace. The words of the pledge were stuck in her head, they have repeated it with their teacher so many times in the classroom. As the pupil with best results in literacy and math, she was selected by the teachers to be the first one to receive the red scarf and have it tied by some municipal dignitary. She thought the dignitary just had to be a deserving hero of the People’s War of Liberation. She was excited beyond belief. She repeated the words of the pledge in her sleep. 

The day arrived, she was briefed by at least three teachers on what posture to take, how to behave, how to leave the right impression on the dignitary. She had a bit of a tummy ache at the thought that all of these things mattered. When the moment came, she was escorted to the stage by her class teacher and, as she was beginning to step out, she suddenly felt somebody pulling her back by the arm. At the same time, she could see some other kid confidently walking towards the dignitary, escorted by another teacher (the elderly teacher was also the school principal's wife and a party member). The dignitary, a short, plump and sweaty man with little hair – this is not how she imagined the heroes of the people - he smiled, the teacher smiled, the other kid smiled and everyone applauded once the scarf tying was over (her teacher gave her a bit of a nudge to remind her to do it). She was confused and saddened, and somehow, she felt ashamed, like she did something wrong. It was bewildering, she couldn’t tell who was good and who was not nice in all this – her teacher, always so kind with her bright open face, was now quietly frowning; the monumental elderly teacher seemed as monumental as always, smiling sternly while posing for the photos. No one was looking at her or talking to her, the children were taken by the moment and the teachers seemed somehow nervous, annoyed even. She understood for the first time that some people were beyond rules. Still, she wondered, what was it that she did wrong?