Yugoslavia Through The Eye Of A Foreigner

flag of Yugoslavia during communist era

It is almost 30 years (Yugoslavia stated to fall apart in 1991 with the self declaration of independence by Slovenia) since the disintegration of one country that had the potential to be one of the best, most loved and the most prosperous countries in the world – YUGOSLAVIA. I can already see eyebrows raising at the mention of the name. The truth is, many people from the outside think they know everything about the former Yugoslavia but little do they know. Many people thought they had seen it all but they did not see anything.

When I first came to Yugoslavia, I was a foreigner or “stranac” in the Slavic language. An African who was on scholarship to study at one of the most reknowned Universities of the former Yugoslavia – The University Of Novi Sad. After more than 37 years, the best years of my life spent in the region, and now a citizen, I feel I can speak with authenticity on a number of topics concerning this “once upon a time” great country. Yugoslavia was a great country that was destroyed by her very own people.

Unfortunately, Yugoslavia is remembered today in a negative way. Anytime you mention the name, people immediately associate it with the terrible wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were however so many positive things about this country. It is in human nature to let negative things dwarf the good things and so Yugoslavia is no exception.

In case you don’t know. The best people, the most welcoming and most friendly people come from this part of the world.

I will also write about the peoples that were part of the country, my interactions with them and their specific peculiarities. Therefore if you want to follow my writings, simply subscribe and you will be notified of my newest post. Or you can contact me through the contact page.

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Same Ethnicity But Religious Diversity

Now, these are ethnic entities of the same language, the same cultural backgrounds, the same tradition and the same everything else but lived under different powers who dictated their ways of life for centuries. Their only differences are in religion.

narodno kolo dance in one of the republics of former Yugoslavia

Narodno Kolo: Foklor dance: People of the former Yugoslavia love, appreciate and readily participate in the Foklor dance. They proudly display traditional dresses peculiar to their respective regions.

I traveled Far And Wide In Yugoslavia.

While I was at the University, living in the students quarters and due to the hospitable nature of the people, somebody always invited me to their homes during public holidays and even during our summer vacations. Before I knew it, I was all over the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Deep into Serbia proper, Macedonia and Montenegro etc. “From Vardar to Triglav and from Djerdap to the Adriatic sea” “OD Vardara pa do Triglava, Od Djerdapa pa do Jadrana” as the locals used to say and sing.

“Oh you went with Miroslav (or some other names) to his home town, the next time, you are going with me to my home town”. That was just a common thing back then. Oh how I miss those good old times in the former Yugoslavia. As an African in a European country, I was overwhelmed.

Of course I loved those travels. Everywhere you went, you felt welcome. A person walks in to a bar for instance. He sees you and approaches. Asks you are you new, and asks can he buy you a drink? Unbelievable isn’t it? Go there and prove me wrong. I dare you.

Religious Profile And Diversity Of Yugoslavia

The Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians are mostly Orthodox Christians, The Croats and Slovenes are mostly Catholics while Bosnia and Herzegovina is a mix of every religion in the region (Orthodox, Catholic, Muslims, Jews, you name it, it is there in Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Vojvodina The Most Mixed

Talking of diversity in religion, culture, languages and many other aspects? Talk Vojvodina. Period. Vojvodina is a province in Serbia. It was originally part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was given to Serbia after the first world war.

Vojvodina is probably one of the most diversified regions in the world. There are so many different peoples that have been living peacefully in this province for centuries.

Ethic Composition Of Vojvodina

  • Serbs
  • Hungarians
  • Croats
  • Bunjevci
  • Romanians
  • Germans
  • Slovaks
  • Rusins
  • Montenegrins
  • Romas
  • Others

Others are people from other parts of Europe and the rest of the world who came to the former Yugoslavia and were granted the right to be citizens and be registered as constituent citizens. We now have Africans like me as well as people from Asia settling in this part of Europe.

Historic Facts About Project Yugoslavia

I don’t want to be a history teacher. Wait a minute. Why wouldn’t I turn this into a kind of series of articles about my personal view? You can then subscribe to my newsletter to be informed whenever I put up a new personal post about Yugoslavia.

Was Project Yugoslavia An Experiment?

king aleksandar karadjordjevic
Many volumes have been written by acclaimed scholars, many poems have been written by famous poets and many “facts” have been made public by seasoned writers, spiritual leaders and even members of the respective Academies of Sciences. I wish I were a writer. I would have written volumes on the subject on Yugoslavia. I think that if every reasonable person knew what project Yugoslavia was all about and understood it, the global view will change and the world as we know it will start to get better. I mean what I am saying because I have seen it in action. I will tell you why it did not succeed later on in this very post or sometime in future posts.

Yugoslavia came into existence after the end of the First World War in 1918. The country was conceived as a unifying factor, a dream come true of freedom for the South Slavic people and the final blow to end the aspirations of super powers to dominate the “little people”. If you noticed I placed little people in parenthesis. These people are by no means little neither in stature nor in their heroic ways. Little they are because the super powers thought and still think they are little.

The Ottoman Empire dominated the major part of Serbia proper; Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina for 500 years, Croatia, Slovenia and Vojvodina (pronounced Voyvodina) were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries.

Therefore, the idea of having a country to call your own was a verily, verily welcome idea.

On the December 1, 1918, a delegation called the People’s Council Of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes had a “meeting” with Prince Regent Aleksandar Karadjordjević. The Kingdom Of Serbs, Croats And Slovenes was born. This later was named Yugoslavia! King Aleksandar Karađorđević was later assassinated in Marseille in France on the 9th of October 1934.

Explanation Of The Word Yugoslavia

I don’t know yet who figured out but I’m going to find out who. When I do, I’m gonna put it right on this page.
Yugo in all Slavic languages means south
Slavia in all Slavic languages means Country of the Slavs.
Yugoslavia therefore means Country of the South Slavs.

Oh my God, I forgot to tell you! We have a problem with alphabets here. In written Slavic language, J is pronounced as Y in English. For instance Jelena would be Yelena and Jugoslavija would be Yugoslavia.

The Tito Era

picture showing Josip Broz Tito with his adoorable wife Jovanka
Yugoslavia was an enigma to those who did not understand, a mystery to those who thought they understood it all and a reason to be awed by those who had the slightest ideas about the way things built up since the end of the first world war, to the onset of the second world war, through the reform periods and until the death in 1980 of the best leader that has ever lived in the region – Tito. I can see eyebrows raising again. This claim that Tito, full name Josip Broz Tito was probably the best leader that has ever lived in the always tumultuous region of the South Slavic’s may sound over exaggerated but the facts corroborate the claims at least from my point of view.

Tito determinedly carried on the idea of unification of the South Slavic people. He was the author of “Bratstvo Jedinstvo” meaning “Brotherly Unity” and brutally suppressed any idea that threatened the stability of this idea. He believed that the people of Yugoslavia, whether Croats, Serbs, Slovenes or anybody else should forget their past differences and unite towards a better future for everyone.

The longest streak of peace in this region’s history was from after the Second World War to the early 1990s when the country started to disintegrate from within.

radna akcija

Omladinska Radna Akcija: Youth Action: The youth took it upon themselves as their responsibility to rebuild and build the country after its destruction during the second world war. Bridges, railway lines and roads were built.

The Break Up Of Yugoslavia

I never believed that Yugoslavia could ever break up and even less believed there could be a brutal and horrific civil war. I know a lot of people are gonna disagree with me on my conclusion but at the same time, the majority of people who lived in Yugoslavia in the late 80’s will agree with most of my points because I happened to be there too. What events led to the dissolution and final destruction of the country that had the potential to be one of the best countries in the world? History will tell but we may never find out the real truth.

Who Destroyed Yugoslavia?

The person who brought down project Yugoslavia was the person who made the country famous, the leader whose ideas established the country to be respected worldwide, the machine tool technician who built factories where his people could work, an educator who even when he didn’t have a University degree believed that everybody had a right to free education, a medical expert who thought that primary health care was a fundamental human right. A CEO who believed that his workers must have a wage to enable them to live a decent life and also believed that his employees had a right every year to go on a month long paid vacation with their families in company built facilities at the Adriatic sea shore.

None other than – Josip Broz Tito himself!

When Josip Broz Tito died in 1980, he left behind a big vacuum. He was a great leader. A leader who was respected all over the world. Testimonies to his greatness as a leader were evident at his funeral. 128 United Nations member countries were represented at his funeral.

  • 31 presidents
  • 4 kings
  • 6 princes
  • 22 prime ministers
  • 47 ministers of foreign affairs
  • 40 political parties
  • 6 movements
  • 7 multilateral organizations.

Tell me. Which other president of a country died and such a number of dignitaries were present at his funeral?

I remember being glued to the television. I also remember a point when Leonid Brezhnev who was then the president of the Soviet Union was not able to stand on his feet and they had to give him a chair to sit. Such were the dignitaries that were present at Tito’s funeral.

Neither had there been such impressive numbers of dignitaries before him nor will ever be after.

The Tito Legacy

After his death in 1980, there was a very big and wide void that was left and the question “Who will carry on Tito’s work?” Who will continue to uphold the unity? Experiments were made with the introduction of the rotating presidency. It didn’t work.

The beginning of the end of Yugoslavia started to manifest at the so called “Osma Sednica” or the “8th Session” of the Communist Party Of Serbia in September 1987. Slobodan Milosević took power in Serbia from the incumbent president Ivan Stambolić. It was practically a coup d’état. Stambolić would be murdered many years later.

Into the void left behind Tito walked Slobodan Milosević, Franjo Tudjman, Milan Kučan and Alija Izetbegović. All these individuals at some point in their lives had history of nationalistic aspirations – a term that was heavily punished during Tito’s time. Each of them aspired to be the second Tito (I told you Tito was guilty for the breakdown of Yugoslavia). If not in the entire Yugoslavia, at least with their own people. Milosević advocated for “Svi Srbi u Jednoj Drzavi” “All serbs in one country”, Franjo Tudjman wanted “Neovisnu Hrvatsku” “Independent Croatia” Milan Kučan wanted “Samostojna Dežela Slovenija” “Independent Country Slovenija”.

Momir Bulatović as the president of Montenegro affiliated with Milosević, Kiro Gligorov of Macedonia (now called Northern Macedonia) as well as Alija Izetbegović (who originally was not the elected president of Bosnia and Herzegovina) were waiting for the outcome of decisions from the top powers, Milosević of Serbia and Tudjman of Croatia.

The fate and future of Yugoslavia were now hanging with these two individuals.

To Be Continued!

This is just the first post on my take about Yugoslavia. Many more posts will come about this amazing country and her amazing people.

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