Galaksija: Representation of science in Yugoslavia’s socialist-era popular science magazine

How science was represented in socialist-era Yugoslavia? The cult magazine Galaksija found a niche in freely reporting science from both sides of the Iron Curtain, apparently avoiding censorship and political influence on its science content by appeasing authorities with its political science articles in lead slots and on the covers.

At the same time, it managed to be subversive, with covers that featured socialist topics positioned side-by-side with the utopian myth of Atlantis. Another example is the country’s leader Tito sharing covers with aliens.

Galaksija of the 1970s escaped the narrow ideological confines of communism often seen in the Soviet media. Its articles cite research and scientists from both the capitalist United States and Western Europe, and the communist Soviet Union. Its science coverage is broad and rich, even sometimes extending into sensational and pseudoscientific fields including topics such as myths, UFOs and telepathy – though always citing research and evidence to back up such ideas.

The topics covered are more likely to be about whimsical and far-out schemes dreamt up by foreign futurologists, about how humanity can reach other planets, colonize Mars or set up farms in the outer space, than they are to be about Yugoslavia’s own science programmes or their applications in the revolutionary struggle to create a just socialist society. But the content also includes articles that do seem to be part of the state propaganda machine, including extensive coverage of political issues directly related to President Tito, and his efforts in international diplomacy to foster a worldwide socialist system through the Non-Aligned Movement and ideals of self-governance. It is not clear, however, exactly to what degree this was directed from above.

There is some evidence for political influence over content. A new publishing advisory board in 1975, including state and military officials, advises to write more about the efforts of the people’s army and about developing nations. Five months later, a Q&A with a military official about the army’s efforts to protect the environment finds its way into the cover lines and takes the lead story slot, in addition to a new regular section, ‘military engineering panorama’, being set up. A few months later, there is also an extensive coverage of the fifth meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, with articles about Africa (e.g. ‘Hydropower in Ghana’, March 1976), and a cover line and lead article entitled ‘Happy land Lanka’ dedicated to Sri Lanka, the host of the meeting (August 1976). This seems to indicate a clear link between advice given by state officials sitting on the magazine’s advisory committee, and its editorial content.

The leader of the country, comrade Tito, also appears on three covers in 36 magazines I examined from the mid 1970s (‘Tito – Scientific Thought and Work’, ‘Tito and Technical Culture’ and ‘Tito’s Four Decades’); socialism and its self-managing governance system on three; Yugoslavia on two; the Non-Aligned Movement and the peoples’ army on one each.

Every time such political topics were on the cover, they also took pride of place as the magazine’s lead story. Tito’s prominence on the cover lines seems to be more political than scientific, given that he had no significant scientific background or training. Curiously, though, he shares the covers with topics such as ‘flying saucers’ and ‘forged dinosaurs’, and socialism shares a couple of covers with the mythical land of Atlantis (e.g. ‘Socialism – a global process’ is on the same cover as ‘The last moments of Atlantis’); it is not clear if these were a result of thoughtful subversion or simply coincidences.

Such articles often promoted socialist ideas, and occasionally took a dig at capitalism. One article quotes the president of the country’s parliament speaking at a conservation congress, blaming environmental degradation on ‘the exploitative, inhumane nature of the capitalist society, which is based on a sacred right to private ownership and profit’ and contrasts it with a better, socialist way, which the article concludes will ‘humanize the environment and return it to humanity’.

Within the more strictly scientific content, some articles carry overconfident and overly-specific pronouncements about the future. For example, an article about the computerization of knowledge predicts that by 1987 there will be fully-computerized open access to all scientific research, something that has still not been fully realized. And an article about the colonization of the stars states that experts think that by the year 2000 there will be several permanent and semi-permanent manned bases on the moon, something that did not happen, though the same article does also acknowledge that technology might not necessarily continue to develop at the current rate.

Mićo Tatalović

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