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70 Years of the Railway Line Brčko –Banovići

This month’s archivalia, using mostly records kept by the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia, aims to present the reasons for the building of the Brćko-Banovići “youth railway line” and to describe the role of Slovenian youth in this project. An almost 90 km long railway line was built in just over six months.

Pencil drawing.

Drawing of the construction of the Brčko-Banovići railway. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

Presented as this month's archivalia is the first work action performed by the youth of the Democratic Federative Yugoslavia (DFY) and by other participants in constructing an almost 90 km long railway line between Brčko and Banovići. The line connected industrial centres around Zenica with the industry and the people in Vojvodina and in Belgrade, it enabled coal supply, especially for the Nikola Tesla thermal power station in Obrenovac, and finally, it facilitated the provision of salt and farm produce from the Tuzla district.

All this was reason enough for the Central Committee of the United League of Anti-Fascist Youth of Yugoslavia to promise, on behalf of all Yugoslav youth, that a 88.5 km long railway line would be built within a year and already on March 27, 1946 young people were asked to join the project. The building itself was to cost 600 million dinars. Since this financial burden was not planned for 1946, they were granted a loan of 200 million dinars and for the rest they would have to put in manual labour. Who granted such a loan remains unclear until the present day and not even archival records can bring us any closer to solving this mystery. In March 1946, the construction department of the Ministry of Transportation of DFY was charged with the task of doing preliminary work. Within a month expert report was prepared and on April 1 all preparations began. Work started on May 1 and ended on November 4. Solemn opening of the line took place on November 7, 1946, 22 days before the set deadline. To complete this railway, workers had to dig 1.5 million cubic metres of soil and stone, they built 300 dikes, 2 tunnels and 22 bridges, installed 2100 electric and telephone poles, put up 177 buildings, and laid 90 km of railway ties and tracks. Operating with only 14 compressors, 21 concrete mixers, 13 crushers, 23 bulldozers, and 14 pumps, the brigadiers had to do the rest of the work themselves using shovels, picks and wheelbarrows. The railway was built by youth work brigades from the entire territory of Yugoslavia and from abroad. In total, a little more than 63,000 brigadiers were involved in the project.

Among the participants involved in the building of Brćko-Banovići railway line there were also 6220 (6209) Slovenians, who put in 39,090 days of work. 4810 of them came from Slovenia and 1399 came from the territory of Venezia Giulia. In fact, the majority of the preserved archival records on this topic relate precisely to these territories that after the Treaty of Rapallo were assigned to Italy; young people over there were involved in the League of Anti-Fascist Youth of Venezia Guilia. Such brigades were bilingual, operating in Slovene and Italian. Records concerning the work on Brćko-Banovići railway can be found among the archival records of the national liberation committees for individual towns. Brigadiers comprised 23 brigades, among them 10 were shock brigades and 13 were commending brigades. Some information about the Brćko-Banovići project can also be found among the books and articles published to commemorate the anniversaries of this event, and in miscellany “Brćko-Banovići” published by Mladinska knjiga in 1947. In the latter, the building of the railway was celebrated and praised by Slovenian poets, writers and artists.

Despite obstacles, work actions in general followed certain operational plans. Youth work brigades were work groups that operated mostly in post-war territory of Yugoslavia. Based on the military scheme, they involved (conditionally) voluntary work with the aim to improve the national economy and strengthen the political unity of Yugoslav youth, of its nations and nationalities, as well as to help achieve cultural and educational goals. The building of Brćko-Banovići railway, and later also of Šamac-Sarajevo railway strongly influenced the actions taken in individual Yugoslav republics. There were initiatives for work to be performed on a smaller scale, with smaller units and groups of three or four. The results of such work were often discussed at assemblies and conferences held by brigades and troops, contributing to the ever growing sense of competition. According to the official politics, the only shortcoming of such work actions was their inability to achieve more in the sense of strengthening the youth’s ideology and education. Although a number of literacy trainings, lectures and similar events were being organized, this was often done superficially, since the leaders were more concerned with the organization of work and with the provision of supplies and technical equipment then with the issues of ideology. Over a thousand young Slovenians working on this railway line attended organized professional courses and by doing so took up occupations so that they could then get a job in the field of construction. In Slovenia, work actions did not include any of such professional courses.

This month’s archivalia, using mostly records kept by the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia, aims to present the reasons for the building of the Brćko-Banovići “youth railway line” and to describe the role of Slovenian youth in this project. It would perhaps be wise to resuscitate the experience involved in Brćko-Banovići project in the present day to build the second track of the Divača-Koper railway line.

Gašper Šmid, Žarko Štrumbl