The Story of Unhappy Leaves

All oppressive regimes have it. In fact, one can recognize if a regime is autocratic by that style of communication. I’m not sure how to call it, so let me show it. Here is a picture from Yugoslavia (I’ve found it on the site of the National Library of Serbia):

A poster for the official celebration of the Youth Day 1987

A poster for the official celebration of the Youth Day 1987

This poster was done by Slovenian designers (design Jani Bav?er ; photo Dragan Arrigler), in 1987.  Slovenia was well on the way out of Yugoslavia, its separatist forces had already won the leading media and almost all political institutions in the tiny republic by that time. “Dan mladosti” (Youth Day) was celebrated as Tito’s birthday while he was alive — but this was several years after he had died and at the time when the first champions of nationalism were taking the stage.

A tricky prelude for the designers of a political poster, such as this one. They couldn’t say ‘no’, because the posters for this holiday always had a huge circulation (hundreds of thousands) and no artist woud run away from such promotion. Also, the budget for that event was always generous and the sums paid for such work dizzying. The carrots were large and fresh. What were the sticks?
Well, the notion of Yugoslavia was losing its popularity fast. In Slovenia, it was ‘in’ to be on the separatist side, not to work for the unitarists. So, some sort of social and artistic excommunication was to be expected.

Now, take a good look into the design:

  • The background is red, it symbolizes communism, the large canvas against everything in the country (and this poster) is painted; regime — happy.
  • The title is large, with a very good contrast, visible from afar and unambiguous; regime — happy.
  • The leaf is fresh, it’s ultra-green, the symbol of youth. It is large, it is central; regime —happy.
  • There is the element of the red star, entering the area of the leaf. As in ‘communism and youth become one, they are inseparable’; regime — happy.


  • It is not a happy leaf. It is thorn away from its tree. In other words, it is separated. Separatists — happy.
  • It is positioned at 45 degrees down, not up. It is a graph of fall, not of success. Separatists — happy.
  • Something is eating into the leaf. That something is a red star. Communism is damaging its youth. Separatists — happy.

In the end, both sides seem to win. The regime can always say, “Look, we found the artists from the separatist side who are proud to do this for our cause!”, while the other side can claim, “You really stuck it to them, boys!”

That is the form of communication I am talking about. The content is both within and between the lines. It is prostitution and sainthood in one. But it is doubtlessly deep  and poetic in its twisted, immoral way. And it’s great for the brain games. So, is everyone winning here?

Go back to the beginning of this essay: this is a sure sign of an oppressive regime. Wherever you see this form of public communication, know that all sorts of abominations can (and will) follow. Such regime might send you to war, it might take your money away, it might cheat you and it doesn’t care if you die for its purposes.

Now take a look into the following pictures. And think for yourself.

With a flag in his hand and a tear in his eye

HOH works every time (Hand on Heart)

HOH* works every time (*Hand on Heart)

Putin fishing (for compliments)

Fishing (for compliments)