This engine originally belonged to the so-called Plavi Voz (“Blue Train”) that used to take Marshal Tito on his journeys around Yugoslavia and beyond. From 1957 this piece of Hungarian engineering became an ordinary locomotive, in service on regular lines. In 1982 it was brought to Belgrade, next to the Main Railway Station, and turned into a monument. It wasn’t only a monument to the significance of the Blue Train—it also marked the place where, in 1980, the train that brought Tito’s dead body from Ljubljana stopped as well as the place where it was brought out of the station into the square.
Initially well kept, with the disintegration of Yugoslavia the Blue Train fell into oblivion and hasn’t seen any repair or renovation works since the early 1990s. The fence that separates it from a parking lot makes it difficult for the passers-by to read the commemorative plaque, but most of the older or middle-aged people on the street still, undeniably, know what it is. In July 2018, Belgrade’s Main Railway station closed down; the station building is bound to become a museum. The question then arises: what will happen to this forgotten monument?
The locomotive is not protected as a heritage monument. The monument hasn’t been touched since it was installed, hence it is in dire need of repair. Many metal parts are rusty and falling apart. In the cabin–and indeed all around the locomotive–there’s a lot of rubbish.
Text by Vladimir Dulović
Form of government
1982 Socialist Federal Republic
2018 Parliamentary Democracy
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
Interview with Strahinja Vuković
SV: Well, it all depends who’s passing by and what attitude they have to, let’s call it, a cultural good of a technological nature. So, most people know: they see a big blue locomotive and now, somehow, whether it’s passed down, people know what it’s about. Except I think it should be better protected, maybe even raised up a bit from that square, placed under a canopy or, as they did in Slovenia – they literally have some glass tunnels that are hermetically sealed and maintained…
VD: But then it wouldn’t be a monument anymore! That is, it would be a technological monument but not a monument in the space.
SV: Yes, yes… So that’s the crux of the problem. It should be protected from the elements, from bad weather and simply maybe a little… So, not some big investments, it could all be resolved with a bit of investment. Now, whether there’s any desire, any will, that should come from the “management” from the headquarters of the Serbian Railways.
VD: Look, when I was there last I saw some remnants – whether these poor migrants – i.e. refugees - slept there, stayed there and they’re hanging around there. So, it is a kind of monument but it serves a practical purpose.
SV: That’s right, just like this here little green locomotive right in front of the museum that also serves, sorry, but as a kind of toilet.
VD: For number ones…
SV: Right. And my goodness for number twos too. That’s what we found a couple of times… There’s a taxi rank nearby and some people and anyway… This neighbourhood is well known for the various “types” who “hang out” in that park… So I don’t know… I mean, it’s very, how can I put it: there’s no will or desire to change things, we can’t do anything ourselves. I don’t know what has to happen in this country to change people’s attitudes. I don’t know, I just hope we’ll do something in the next few years considering we haven’t done anything for so long.
VD: This is a completely tangential question. Is there any hope of getting any of the money from these big investments in the railway, the Belgrade-Budapest line, then this and that. For some 0.01% to come to you?
SV: The problem is we’re little bit, how can I put it, in the wrong line of work. This is a company that deals with moving goods by road and so on and we’re some kind of cultural department. I mean, we’re not even in that business. Simply, we’re the bottom rung in a company that does something else. Also, we have a problem because we’re a “museum subdivision” like the BKT Museum, for example, and then, when it’s time to write a project proposal, can we get some funding for this or that, a couple of times we got the reply, “See with the Railways because you’re part of the Railways”. In the same way, for example, the Night of the Museums is coming and I remember a couple of years ago we did something, some sort of exhibition, we have a gallery and, now, in front of the Museum there are a couple of lights on this locomotive and its own light also lights up. And all of that is connected to the city grid. And I literally couldn’t find out who to call and I can’t replace them myself. So, to change those two lightbulbs I had to write five letters, “Please could someone from the City come and…”. And, again, part of this belongs to City Landscaping, part to I don’t even know which City department. So I suppose now we’re in that kind of country where everything’s still bureaucratic and very slow.
Interview with Branimir Gajić
BG: The locomotive is a model MAV 424, by the famous Hungarian locomotive manufacturer, Mavag. That model was one of the most widespread steam engines in Europe – but also in Asia. It was made from 1924 until the end of the 50s and was one of the best and most reliable steam engines of its day. It was imported to Yugoslavia in 1947 as one of three engines of the same type specially made for use by the Blue Train in which the then lifelong President of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, travelled. That locomotive has certain modifications compared to the original MAV 424 – a bit more power and certain technical improvements due to its role. And it pulled the Blue Train until 1958 when new, more modern locomotives were purchased from Germany. It wasn’t retired then – because it was a very reliable and high-quality locomotive it was transferred to regular railway service and it pulled passenger trains and then freight trains across Yugoslavia until 1981 when these models, called “steamers”, we're finally retired from service. In 1982 it was placed as a monument in front of the Belgrade railway station…
VD: Do you have any idea who’s idea that was and how it came about?
BG: I’m sure it was done as a kind of sign of respect, considering that was the spot where the coffin containing Tito’s body was unloaded upon its return from Ljubljana, where he died, before being taken to the House of Flowers to be buried. That was where the coffin – or rather the body – was ceremonially received before the procession to the House of Flowers, to its resting place, and I believe that that’s where the idea came from to put the locomotive there. There’s no record of that. I couldn’t find any documents that show who said to put it there and on who’s initiative but everything points to that being the only explanation. So, the Railway Station, Tito, the Blue Train. Considering we have four other Blue Train locomotives, more modern ones, manufactured in the US in the 1960s, that are now rotting away on a siding in Topčider.