In “Torlak” We (Would) Trust: Domestic Vaccine Production in Contemporary Serbia

Article Summary by Marija Brujić

An overly positive memory of life in socialist Yugoslavia, called Yugonostalgia, is very dominant among the public in contemporary Serbian post-socialist society. People who used to live in former Yugoslavia still talk with pride about the quality of life during that time, including the quality of its health system and health care. In public discourse, one of the institutions that represent a signifier of Yugoslav international success in the healthcare domain is the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera “Torlak” based in Belgrade. Throughout the socialist era, Torlak was a well-known vaccine producer and exporter worldwide. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia and, especially after the 2000s and the country’s orientation toward a plural democracy, it has lost importance in the vaccine industry. However, in public discourse, Torlak’s vaccines still occupy a prominent place—as a reminder of the country’s international success.

In this paper I was interested to know how positive (collective) memories on vaccination from former Yugoslavia influence contemporary vaccination discussions in Serbia. To achieve this, I analyzed electronic comments in the mainstream Serbian daily press. My findings showed that in public Torlak is an example of a functioning state. In this respect, public narratives on restoration of Torlak’s vaccine production represent a hope that the country would be able to return to “normality” as they remember it from the socialist period. In other words, public hopes for Torlak’s revival act as an implicit critique of the current political situation and a showcase of the “abnormality” of life in today’s Serbia.


Read the full paper on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Marija Brujić PhotoMarija Brujić is a senior research associate and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, where she teaches Anthropology of Migration (PhD level) and Anthropology of Material Culture (BA level). In addition to studying migration, her research interests include visual and medical anthropology and the anthropology of the EU. She received her BA, MA and PhD from the Department of Ethnology and Anthropology at the University of Belgrade. In addition to this, she finished her MSc studies in visual anthropology at the University of Oxford. She was also a visiting scholar at the University of Graz, Austria (2013) and at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands (2020).

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