This Was My Yugoslavia

By Vladimir Unkovski

In the backdrop of a raging war in 1943, a workers' republic was proclaimed for the first time in the history of this part of the Balkans. It was to succeed and fundamentally change the defunct monarchy of Yugoslavia that had existed there before the war. Indeed, a workers' and peasants' army, the only force during the second world war that had transcended nationality in this hilly Balkan nation, carried through both a national liberation struggle and a socialist revolution. This was significant in itself. After the end of the war, furthermore, this great revolutionary wave inspired deep and profound changes to the fabric of this resurrected nation. This was the beginning of my Yugoslavia.

Initially following the dictates of Moscow, a Stalinist form of socialism began to be introduced. Various national interests, however, and ideological disputes, caused the famous split of Yugoslavia with the Eastern Bloc. Yugoslavia, in isolation, began carefully to tread its own, meandering path. This independent path was only possible because the Yugoslav revolution had been the sole one in Eastern Europe not to have been based on the might of the Red Army; its popular strength was that which made its resistance to Stalin at all possible. This fact in itself had an immense significance for the international working class. If the character of a revolution was a popular one, then its path to socialism need not be the same as that one which the Stalinist bureaucracy had forced on its own workers and those of Eastern Europe. It was this which was one of the most important lessons of the Yugoslav revolution.

After the historic split of 1948, attempts were made to manufacture a socialism, that is, an economic and political system, different to the Stalinist type; a balance between East and West became the favoured choice by Tito and his colleagues for dealing with the country's insecure position between two mighty blocks; and the balancing of the national aspirations of its constituent peoples became the main way in which the bureaucracy decided to maintain national cohesion in the country.

The results of this policy were wide and varied. Our parents' and grandparents' generation grew up and worked in an undoubtedly different country from any other one seen before it in the history of the Balkans. For many decades, well into the 1970s, Yugoslavia's economy rose at unprecedented high rates, under "workers' self-management". An indicator of this is the fact that GNP per capita doubled between 1960 and 1975. Not only this seemed to be a spectacular break from the past; Yugoslavia seemed to be catching up to the Western states while offering universal healthcare, access to education, and full employment.

The generations of the day would also have enjoyed other comforts and experiences. They could go to a beautiful seaside, that of the Adriatic; they could travel a culturally and geographically diverse nation; they could enjoy a variety of cuisines from the sea to the mountain foods; for a long time, they could travel to many foreign lands without visas; they could boast a freer society than the Eastern Bloc and a society much fairer than that of the Western states. Children, like us, and like we used to do, could play in the streets and travel without fear of the unexpected. They could hope, aspire, dream of a brighter future and a different world. They could play and work, regardless of nationality, character and talents; they lived in a society that would try to accommodate them, rather than vice-versa. Yugoslavia served often as a practical help to and a beacon of hope for, not just the nations and nationalities of Yugoslavia, but all those in the world who believed in a more humane and free society (as, for example, the working peoples of the non-aligned movement).

Despite all these achievements, benefits and joys, "socialist" Yugoslavia had had deep-rooted problems from its very birth in 1943. The vanguard of its revolution had had their origins in Stalin's purges of earlier years. For this reason, and for the objective temptations of unlimited power, Yugoslav socialism remained but an offshoot, however bright in many ways, of Stalinism. Self-management and democracy in Yugoslavia were never allowed in their entirety; the State remained always the supreme authority. The might and growth of the bureaucracy that ruled the nation often made grave tactical errors that could have been avoided, in all probability, had workers and professionals collaborated in decision-making. An example could perhaps be the two billion dollar Smederovo steel works in Serbia, a factory that was never as efficient as was desired (it never returned a profit). Obviously, the interests of the bureaucracy would always prevail over those of the workers.

Balancing between the Western and Eastern blocs could only get the country so far; it could never be more powerful than either side. So, instead of a politics of more extreme internationalism, based on more active agitation for worldwide workers' unity, Yugoslavia skilfully walked a tightrope, which inevitably had to snap. In addition to all this, to unify a workers' state by balancing national interests and desires could only end in failure, especially if this were done by a degenerated and alienated bureaucracy. The assumption that eight local bureaucracies would be better than a central one, when none are democratised, was naive. The assumption that the bureaucracies would not use regional economic differences to their own advantage, however, was even more so. It was, in fact, ludicrous.

With Tito's death, and the economic reforms primarily caused by bad investments by a corrupt and disconnected central government, and other similarly-rooted policies, Yugoslavia's many bureaucracies and regions began to see their interests elsewhere. A crossroads in history was being approached. Which path would the people take?

The rock band Bijelo Dugme put the choice well: "Spit and sing, my Yugoslavia…Who does not listen to your song shall listen to the storm…" ("Pljuni i zapjevaj moja Jugoslavijo…Ko ne slusa pjesmu slusat ce oluju"). Either the people would choose everything Yugoslavia, even unjustifiably, had stood for: socialism, internationalism and freedom. Or, they would choose capitalist restoration, their local bureaucracy and the security it presented in nationalism, and war. As history had shown perhaps best during the second world war, these were the only two choices. Sadly, the people were pushed into the second choice. The interests of the international financial elites coincided with those of the local bureaucracies. The former had their interests in the destruction of a cosmopolitan, relatively strong, and (however degenerated) "socialist" state, in a very important geo-strategic pathway. The latter had the power to achieve this aim, and only had this option to choose in order to stay in power. The people were cowed. And the storm broke.

What happened from 1987 to 2002 need not be repeated. Brother turned on brother, worker on worker, man on man. The successes, the joys, the hopes of a generation were destroyed and were inexistent after the storm. Destruction and demise returned. The bureaucracy, and the interests and presence of the bloodthirsty international financial elite remained, albeit in different form. Yugoslavia had died two deaths. The first, real one occurred when the working people of Yugoslavia, pushed into the choice by their local nationalist apparatchiks and the imperialists, decided to break with their creation in the beginning of the 1990s. The second occurred when the international capitalists dictated, in 2002, to the local bureaucrats, that they no longer tolerated the name…Yugoslavia. That name, that nation that had once offered such benefits, hopes and joys to peoples across the globe, that had achieved such successes despite its parasitic bureaucracy, that had been my and my generation's birthplace…that name, that nation, that was so mercilessly and callously destroyed by the owners of international capital, local bureaucrats and nationalist warlords, that has become such a dirty name and notion through the world media, that had been so riveted with petty internal arguments and problems…that was my Yugoslavia.

That Yugoslavia is today dead. And yet, it is still alive, in the hearts and minds of the working youth, in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the ideals Yugoslavia had stood for, though had not realised in reality, but had realised enough to be a small, but for us big, step towards those ideals…Tomorrow, Yugoslavia, may your children again not fear to travel, play and sing in the streets, may your workers have their factories, may your peoples sing the Internationale and help create a Balkan and World Socialist Federation! May the nations and nationalities be truly equal, society truly democratic, the population truly prosperous! May the blue Adriatic and highest Triglav be the destinations of your peoples on holiday, may they and your successes be your peoples' pride before other peoples! May the bureaucrats not betray you, the international capitalists not destroy you! May you be the Yugoslavia and world of my children's generation!

April 2002

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