Balkan Nationalists Bring Back Personality Cults in Tattoos of Ruling Politicians

Tattoos of former political leaders have to become so popular in the Balkans in recent years that it has has launched these leaders into worship-level status.

A previous tattoo tradition, mostly from the 1950s until the late 1980s in former Yugoslav states, was that of emblems and symbols of the Yugoslav People's Army. Conscripts who had to endure one to two years of mandatory military service often came back with almost prison-like tattoos as mementos. These included state symbols, images of weapons, or the face of then Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, while his personality cult was still going strong.

After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, images of other historical figures began to appear in tattoo form, in particular on the bodies of young males with a nationalist flare, such as images of 20th century Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelić among Croats and of Chetnik Serb leader Draža Mihailović among Serbs. New color techniques began being used for new versions of Tito tattoos as well, among those who remained nostalgic.

Tattoos of Tito (younger and older), Pavelic and Mihajlovic.

Tattoos of Tito (earlier and newer versions), Pavelić, and Mihajlović.

In 2009, Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija reported that a man from Banja Luka tattooed the image of contemporary Bosnian-Serb politician Milorad Dodik. The phenomenon of tattooing the faces of contemporary Balkan leaders seemed only to grown stronger after that.

Bosnian Serb politician Dodik's face as tattoo and model photograph.

Bosnian Serb politician Dodik's face as tattoo and model photograph.

Current Macedonian right-wing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been in this seat since 2006. Over the years, some Macedonian social network users have shown their apparent devotion to the leader of Macedonia's ruling VMRO-DPMNE party by posting photos of their tattoos of Gruevski. One such man had tattooed the Prime Minister's name and surname, along with the letters VMRO and a cross. Another had Gruevski's face tattooed with an inscription that reads: “Loyal to the grave”.

Tattoos showing loyalty to Macedonian right-wing Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Tattoos showing loyalty to Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

The most recent example of this phenomenon ended on the front page of the Macedonian newspaper Vest. A man from Shtip tattooed the faces of the prime minister's cousin and Secret Service chief Sasho Mijalkov, and his son. The tattooed man claimed he's grateful for the help provided by the powerful and wealthy VMRO-DPMNE offical throughout his life.

Front page of Macedonian daily Vest from August 7, 2014.

Front page of Macedonian daily Vest from August 7, 2014, with photo of a man with Mijalkov tattoos.

This revived tradition has been subject to ridicule by humorists in several Balkan countries. Croatian satirical site News Bar published a fake news piece about Croatian right-wing politician Tomislav Karamarko who, in this piece, asks a tattoo artist to put the image of the “greatest Croatian statesman of the 20th century” on his chest. Instead of his late party boss and Croatian leader Franjo Tuđman, as expected, he gets a Josip Broz Tito tattoo from the artist.

Macedonian independent political magazine Fokus also posted a a satirical piece recently, poking fun at two trends: the tattoos and the appointment of surprisingly young government ministers with very little prior experience to their name.

Откако неколку големи фанови на ВМРО-ДПМНЕ ги истетовираа ликот на Груевски и на Сашо Мијалков на своите рамења, владејачката партија реши да им излезе во пресрет и на најмалите и тие да ги украсат рацете со некој од вмровските функционери.

Па така, освен Сунгерот Боб, Дора, Диего и Том и Џери децата ќе може на своите раце да аплицираат уште еден нивен херој. За таа цел пуштена е во продажба посебна серија на мастики со кои доаѓа и привремена тетоважа со ликот на Диме Спасов.

Тетоважата се вади сама за неколку дена или веднаш со „бекутан“ сапун.

After several big fans of VMRO-DPMNE tattooed the images of Gruevski and Sasho Mijalkov on their shoulders, the ruling party decided to meet the needs of the youngest generation for decorating their arms with some of their functionaries.

Therefore, the kids will be able to apply wider range of heroes besides Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer, Diego, and Tom and Jerry. A special series of chewing gums with temporary tattoos with the image of [Dime Spasov] is on sale.

The tattoo peels off in several days or can be removed by Bekutan soap [a popular local brand of baby cosmetics].

1 comment

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.