by Owen Lipsett
New York, New York
May 14, 2005
The remainder of the museum’s exhibitions can’t compare with this rather unique display, but the vast majority of them are quite outstanding, and all are accompanied by explanatory wall plates in English. Potentially dull collections of historical artifacts are often given new life with unusual display techniques. An electronic ticker lists the names of unfortunates condemned to die as witches in Room 6, presenting this mass hysteria in a disarmingly immediate manner. Similarly, the combination of a television playing news footage of the Yugoslav Army bombardment of the nearby Sabor (Parliament) with mangled furniture from President Franjo Tudman’s office, in Room 44, brings the reality of the attack closer to home than either would have individually.
Unlike most civic history museums, which focus on either political developments or social history to the detriment of the other, The Museum of Zagreb, in general, links the two. For example, the placement of paraphernalia from the nationalist Sokol Society alongside artifacts from less overtly political groups serves to usefully locate it in the social milieu of its times. Somewhat leavening this careful curation are some delightfully eccentric collections of phonographs (Room 49) and "Old Packaging" (Room 50), the latter virtually inviting you to sing "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall…"
Although the museum is excellent, it is far from flawless. The display on Ban Josip Jelačić (Room 28), Croatia’s greatest military hero but regarded as an Austrian minion by Hungarians, could explore the nature of Croatian-Hungarian relations more deeply. Similarly, and while the exhibition in Room 44 on the fascist "Independent State of Croatia" decries the genocidal practices of this regime and points up the activities of its opponents, it fails to underline its basic status as a Nazi puppet state, a fact crucial to understanding its role as a cudgel used against Croatian nationalists in the post-World War II era.
From journal Zagreb: A Central-European Metropolis with Balkan Charm