Saturday, April 25, 2009

Holding on

My post from the other day on mixed marriages in Bosnia caught the attention of the Witch-King, and I thank him for it.

His conclusion made me think some more:

They may have retained their lives but lost their homeland and anything resembling an identity. There was very little option for them but to find another place to live, and start rebuilding from scratch, not only in a material but in spiritual sense as well.

The devil of it is, they aren't the only ones. All of us who've been through the 1990s have had to deal with this to some extent. Whether they want to admit it or not, many people's identities were tied into Yugoslavia, socialism, and Tito's cult of personality. Some folks still haven't got over any of them. Others found it easier to slip into the new, custom-made identities furnished by opportunistic politicians. And a few have chosen the thorny path of rediscovering what it truly meant to be a Serb, Croat, Muslim, or whatever.

Whoever it was that said that "you can never go home again" was right. For many people, not just those of mixed ancestry, Yugoslavia was home. That place is no more. There is something else, many something-elses, there now. Things may still look the same, sound, or smell, or taste the same. But the same they are not.

I can understand why many people choose to remember Yugoslavia fondly. Trying to build a new life in a foreign country can be frustrating at times, so to those who left memories are a way to cope. And those that stayed live in a world of cronyism, "transition" and crime, where all the seedy aspects of socialism seem to have endured, and none of the things that made it bearable: unimpeded travel, annual seaside vacations, and a country in which everyone had a job, a car and a place to live (and let's not quibble about the quality of any of those). Time burnishes their memory of Yugoslavia so that only the good things remain. This romantic vision of the past gives them hope that the world wasn't always bleak, cruel and capricious, and that things can be good again.

And they can. They might. But nothing can ever be the way it was.

I'm still trying to decide whether those of us who understand this are better off for it. I don't think I'll ever really know.


Marko said...

Well there certainly existed a certain Yugoslav pathos, Yugoslav patriotism. Right until the break up Yugoslav national teams in different sporting events were receiving thunderous support.

Then as some people made an abrupt about face, others - perhaps in rebellion to this - dugg their heels in and stubbornly held on on a dreamy picture of Yugoslavia.

But of the two extremes, I must view the first more criticaly. There is something disquieting about people who can completely change the tune in an instant.

Simon said...

Mr. Malic:

I read your column regularly and, by and large, enjoy it. I do, however, have a bone to pick with one of your arguments, referred to by Marko, above.

You state:

"All of us who've been through the 1990s have had to deal with this to some extent. Whether they want to admit it or not, many people's identities were tied into Yugoslavia, socialism, and Tito's cult of personality. Some folks still haven't got over any of them."

I find it rather alarmingly convenient, in your and Srdja Trifkovich's writings, to diagnose all the wrongs with the Serbs and Serbia (and other Yugoslav nationalities) to trace back to Yugoslavia (and Tito).

There are millions of former Yugoslavs now in their sixties and seventies, many of whom never tire of blaming Yugoslavia and Tito personality cult. Those same people swore undying loyalty to Tito and Yugoslavia, for the first 50 years of their life. Does that mean that they spent half a century living a colossal lie perpetrated upon them by one clever man? Or, more likely, that these people were never trustworthy, as they illustrated in their behaviour toward Milosevic, Krajina and Kosovo?


Gray Falcon said...

Oh, I absolutely agree that Serb problems do reach beyond Tito and Yugoslavia - I've written about this elsewhere.

Tito's regime was bigger than just "one clever man" - there was a whole apparatus of control. That apparatus never collapsed - it just broke up into smaller units and swore fealty to "republican" leaders. Perhaps this explains how so many people who once worshiped Tito switched their loyalty to the successor regimes so quickly and without breaking a sweat. And you also have to keep in mind that staying loyal to Tito (given that he was dead and his system had abandoned Yugoslavia) was not exactly an option, even if these people weren't fickle to begin with.

Do I think the "brotherhood and unity" was a colossal lie? Yes.

MikeVronsky said...


this would most certainly come as an off-topic (which I apologize for), but perhaps I could offer a little help about the authorship of the phrase "you can never go home again". As far as I know, it was coined by Thomas Wolfe (the Tar Heel guy who wrote, maybe most famously, You Can't Go Home Again, of course - not his younger Virginian namesake and the insider in the Merry Pranksters-tourings :), and the man of the Electric Kool-Aid/Bonfire of the Vanities-fame).

As for the subject you're dealing with here, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You and Witch-king 've both nailed it. The ethnic horrors in the former Yu must have been the gravest emotional burden for the people from the mixed marriages, no matter which - if any - side they've chosen). Apart from the sufferings of the victims and their families themselves, of course.

On Yu-identity, my two cents. I think it came a tad bit "too little, too late", to serve as the unifying element in the Balkans. If it had only been created some half a century before (ie, in the mid-19th century), perhaps it could have survived. Both Serbs and Croats (even Slovenes) have went the full circle in the formations of their modern national identities until the 1918, so, Yugoslavia was a kind of a romantic anachronism from its very beginnings.

Tito's time, though, has been remembered as a Belle Epoque of a kind, simply because the most of its population (here I'm talking about the generation too young to remember the WW2) was offered (from the 1960s on) a considerably unique opportunity in the peak of the Cold War. To them, Yugoslavia appeared to be, to put it simply, like a "Best Of"-collection in regard to both socialism and capitalism. A little bit from here, a little bit from there and there we've had it. In comparison to the capitalism, we've had a welfare state. At the same time, we looked funnily affluent and well-off, compared to the dismal reality of the communist countries behind the Curtain. There was (relative) freedom, and Tito knew how to handle it, by letting the people play r 'n r, make movies, travel abroad and have enough money to spend. So, Yugoslavia was the only place on Earth at the time to look as equally intriguing an experiment both to John Lennon (who admired Yugoslav socialism) and to some Pole or Czech or Soviet who considered it a promised land (in comparison to the Communist hardline-policy in aforementioned countries).

Of course, all the grim questions and traumas were buried in order to make the experiment work. And it collapsed.
Had it been otherwise, perhaps the Croatian people would have faced the fact of their Nazi-puppet regime crimes, and started the process of the national catharsis, the way the Germans did after the liberation in 1945. And the Serbs would have been given a chance to bury their dead with rememberance and dignity.

And the whole hell of the 1990s might have been avoided.

Since it hadn't happened, our past came hunting us half a century later.

People often forget that the initial reason for Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia in 1991 (and in Kosovo, a few years after) to choose the war - was in their fear that the horrors of 1941 could happen again.

And Croatian nationalists (along with Muslims, unfortunately) did not even tried to conceal the whole agenda of reviving the most threatening rhetoric and symbolism of the Ustasha genocidal policy.

Gray Falcon said...

Not off-topic at all, Vronsky. I agree with your analysis on Yugoslavia. However, the reason the genocide of Serbs was suppressed under Tito was that the Communist Party regarded the Serbs as the foremost "class enemy" and sought to strengthen other identities at their expense for the sake of controlling Yugoslavia.

Suvorov said...

To confirm what Vronsky wrote, in USSR Yugoslavia was hardly ever referred to without the adjective "blossoming" preceding it. For common Soviet citizens it was Eldorado (or El Dorado), the promised land. Those most advanced in building Communism were given vacations in Yugoslavia. And since Srdja Trifkovic was mentioned earlier, are you by any chance aware of his current "activities"? He wrote only one article for Chronicles so far this year and he was the primary reason I read Chronicles. Looking forward to your next column!

Johan said...

Gray Falcon said:

“However, the reason the genocide of Serbs was suppressed under Tito was that the Communist Party regarded the Serbs as the foremost "class enemy" and sought to strengthen other identities at their expense for the sake of controlling Yugoslavia.”

There was a very strong suppression of Serbian nationalism by Tito's regime, especially in the first decade after WW2, one reason being as stated above, for the sake of controlling Yugoslavia.

At first, Tito's prisons were full of political prisoners, including many Serbian nationalist sympathizers, most of whom could not be considered “activists” in any sense, but merely people who were careless in expressing their views in front of secret informants.

Among the many obvious outwardly signs of national inequities one could mention the fact that in Serbia it was forbidden to skip work or school on Orthodox Christmas (7 January), whereas in Croatia and Slovenia one could freely do so on Catholic Christmas (25 December). People in Serbia were viewing this as Tito's unprincipled concession to the powerful Vatican, since Tito was big on toadying to the western powers, especially since the Big Schism with Stalin in 1948 (incidentally, Tito did not “break with Stalin”, it was exactly the other way round - for disobedience) when he earnestly feared for his very hide, and then later, when he was playing both sides in his “nonalignment” charade. Tito's exceedingly lenient sentencing (to a mere home confinement) of Croat genocidal war criminal Bishop (later Cardinal) Stepinac was entirely consistent with this.

It may seem paradoxical that all at the same time in Serbian schools, from the first to the twelfth grade, pupils were taught of valors of Serbian heroes and rulers from past history, from the founder of Serbian schooling St. Sava to the mighty XIV century emperor Dusan to the hero Milos Obilic of Kosovo Battle, of glorious Serbian folk poetry of resistance under the Ottoman yoke, and of the Serbian XIX century heroes in rebellions against Turks. But in fact, there were clear reinforcing parallels between Serb past history of rebellions against Turks and the recent communist led rebellion against Germans, in particular with the majority of partisan guerrillas being ethnic Serbs.

Concerning Tito's suppression of history of genocide of Croat fascist Ustasas over Serbs, I did mention Stepinac. It was also very well known that at the end of WW2 the communist retribution against Croat fascist criminals was indeed minor in comparison to the one communists meted against the Serb royalists and Serb paramilitary collaborators with Germans.

On the other hand, while a distinction between Croat people and Croat fascists was always underlined, I do remember that in late 1950-s the Belgrade daily “Politika” published a series of articles in its prominent insert section detailing fully the truly unspeakable horrors of Ustasas' war crimes over Serbs, Jasenovac death camp included. My own interpretation at the time was that there were very distinct currents in the communist apparatus, even then, a view perhaps vindicated by the events in the early 1990-s.

Simon said...

Allow me to post again.
I am not here to disagree for the sake of disagreeing, but I do have a hard time rubber-stamping the version(s) of Tito's anti-Serb agenda.

Right now all former Yugoslavs are accusing Tito of being "anti-them." Serbs do it, Croats do it, Slovenes do it, Muslims do it, everybody does it. For whose benefit did, then, Yugoslavia exist? Tito's, and nobody else's?

There were more than plenty of high ranking Serbs in the Communist League, Federal Government, Army, and other places of influence. From what I can tell the problem is that the Serbs' sense of ethnic identity, national awareness, was entirely contingent, and subordinated to their sense of being Yugoslavs. That was not the case with other groups.

Consequently it was not so much Tito's anti-Serb agenda, as it was the failure of the Serbs in the position(s) of power and influence who failed to protect the interests of the Serbs in the Federation.

The war of disintegration was tragic. Nostalgia for Yugoslavia is more than mere Schmalz, and largely justified. Regrettably, Serbs, the biggest losers in this war, bear responsibility not of guilt but of neglect as to their national interests and future, which appears bleaker every day.

Gray Falcon said...

"...failure of the Serbs in the position(s) of power and influence who failed to protect the interests of the Serbs in the Federation."

But those Serbs identified themselves as being Yugoslavs first and foremost! There were no "interests of the Serbs", and merely talking about them would trigger the accusations of "nationalism." Oh sure, everyone now complains how things were terrible under Tito and how they were oppressed, but when you look at the facts and not just post-hoc feelings, they are quite instructive.

I am not saying that the Communists suppressed only the Serb ethnic identity, but I do argue, and I believe the evidence bears me out, that they suppressed it the most, because it was seen as the biggest threat to their entire concept of Yugoslavia. Worse yet, Tito and his cohorts didn't just suppress ethnicity, but twisted it around to serve their ends. Yet their maxim all along had been that for Yugoslavia to be strong, Serbia had to be weak.

In all the other "republics," ex-Communists were able to turn coat and declare themselves ethnic democrats; only in Serbia are ex-Communists the worst sort of Serbophobes.

As I wrote elsewhere, Tito's Yugoslavia had almost nothing in common with the country it replaced, except the name. Yet it was sold as the successor, and many people bought into it. The results of that deception are still felt today.

Johan said...

“Tito's Yugoslavia had almost nothing in common with the country it replaced, except the name.”

That is right. And even apropos of the name: the communists came up with that quaint semi-official nickname “Putrid Yugoslavia” (“Trula Jugoslavija”) for the antecedent Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the term hammered over and over - throughout the educational system, press, radio and movies - lest anyone still missed the clear distinction from their glorious “New Yugoslavia”.

Simon said...

I remain to be persuaded of the black and white portrayal of the Titoist and pre-Titoist Yugoslavia.
I'm sure you are aware of the shooting of a Croat deputy by a Serbian parliamentarian in the thirties, I believe.

The fact remains that all of the Yugoslav peoples were former subjects of foreign powers. There is no doubt that the Balkan mentality has this deeply ingrained suspicion towards authority (government), even when elected by them and of their own ethnic stock.

On the other hand current events illustrate, beyond any doubt, how all of them are easily bought: Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Albanians, Montenegrins. They all serve the interests centered in Washington, Bruxelles, Paris, Berlin, London. How is that any better than the (imitation of) loyalty to one man in Belgrade, now dead for three decades but guilty of everything that went wrong in the Balkans lately?

MikeVronsky said...

Suvorov, thanks for the confirmation. In addition to that, another aspect of the Yugoslav Cold War-conformity should be mentioned. We were, quite possibly, the only place in Europe that felt culturally 'at home' with the most of the stuff from both blocks. For example, while it took the special, state-approved commissions to discuss the cultural exchange between, say, US and the USSR, our publishing companies seemed to have the equal access to Russian and American stuff at the same time. And the Yugoslav contemporary culture reflected it more clearly than any other, I think. At the film festivals, both Tarkovsky and the 1970s New Hollywood have been looked upon as the major influences. So we were given, I think, a sense of an importance of our country as a place where it all formed a unique mixture.

Now, the topic that Falcon, Johan and Simon are discussing. While I agree that we have no use of a should've-would've-could've hypothesizing around, please, allow me to engage into an alternative history for a second. I can't stop wondering what might have happened during the WW2 and after, in case that the more patriotic section of the Serbian Communists remained a visible fraction both in pre-war Moscow and in the military leadership during the war? It is a well-known fact that Tito got rid of his possible rivals in the Stalin purges, while the most prominent of them all, Mustafa Golubic (a Muslim from Herzegovina, nationally a Serb, a Young Bosnian and WW1-Serbian war veteran) had been captured by Gestapo during the fist few months of Nazi occupation. Rumor has it that his capture was a trick pulled by Tito himself, in order to get rid of a great rival. (Btw, the German torture and execution of Golubic, carried in June 1941, was one of the most brutal openning episodes of a brutal Nazi occupation of Serbia: they did it almost publicly, in order to prevent any idea of a more organized resistance).

So, in case that Golubic somehow managed to avoid the German trap, and took a commanding position of the Communist guerrilla in making, I think the outcome might have been a bit different. For example, perhaps the tragic civil war between two resistance fractions (Royalist and Communist) could have been avoided. Given that Draza Mihailovic had had some pre-war links with the Soviets (and showed his readiness to form a united front against the Nazis and Ustashas), I guess there is enough space for such speculations. Perhaps whole tragedy of the internal fight between Chetniks and Partizans would have never occurred. And we might been able (maybe) to crush Pavelic altogether by 1943, and save the hundreds of thousands of lives.

Tito and his cronies could not have cared less for how many Serbs might perish in Jasenovac, that's self-evident. But, there might have been slightly different outcome if the anti-Nazi and anti-Ustasha struggle had been led by two Serbian WW1-heroes, Mihailovic and Golubic, than by Austro-Hungarian "Devil's division"-vet, Tito.

And given that Mosa Pijade's (who was a proud Serbian Jewish) concept of a territorial organization of Yugoslavia (not dramatically different than Moljevic's and Draza's idea), had been outnumbered by Tito's claque of clones at AVNOJ, the whole picture might have taken a different look, if only the Communists were led by someone else that Tito and his band of Croat Communo-chauvinists (some of whom were in bed with Pavelic, actually: remember that Andrija Hebrang was in favor of organizing the Communist Party of the Independent State of Croatia in 1941, thus recognizing the legitimacy of Ante Pavelic's Nazi-puppet slaughterhouse).

Gray Falcon said...

Oh, I am absolutely not blaming Tito for everything that's happened. That's equally specious as blaming Milosevic (though many Serbs do just that). But we should not gloss over the systemic problems inherited from Communism, such as the "Serb guilt" complex that I've mentioned.

You make two almost mutually exclusive claims here: that Balkans peoples are wary of authority - but that they are also easily bought and willing to serve. Well, which is it? Historical record shows the Serbs most mistrustful of governments, even their own, and least willing to serve foreign interests. Contrast this to, for example, Albanians' propensity to always be on the side of the strongest power at the time.

Simon said...

"...You make two almost mutually exclusive claims here: that Balkans peoples are wary of authority - but that they are also easily bought and willing to serve. Well, which is it?..."

No, I really don't, but, perhaps, I should've been a little more careful about the way I stated it.

A better way to put is that the most of them are duplicitous, which those in power know rather well.

Serbs themselves have killed Karageorge, one Obrenovich, extradited Milosevic, Karadzich,....Croats, via Stipe Mesic claim to be anti-fascists, but the Croatian youth refuses to fall in line. Your observation about Albanians I agree to: possibly the first Christians in the Balkans, the most ardent Ottoman followers, the last Stalinists of Europe, and the latest NATO recruits.

All of the above only piles up more of unsustainable: Tito is to blame.

If one is to gore a bull, gore one that nobody will defend, and Tito seems to be the one.

Johan said...

One and the same person can hardly both be wary of authority and be easily bought and willing to serve (hopefully we are not delving into psychopathology and personality disorders). On the other hand, it is true that “Serbs themselves have killed Karageorge, one Obrenovich, extradited Milosevic, Karadzich” - provided the qualifier “some” is placed in front of that proposition. Every ethnic tribe on planet Earth has its s***, as well as its heroes, but - as is easily observable nowadays - the former tends to float to the top, if one may paraphrase a well known Russian folk proverb.

Simon said...

"....One and the same person can hardly both be wary of authority and be easily bought and willing to serve (hopefully we are not delving into psychopathology and personality disorders)....."

I would like to set the record straight and point out I did NOT say that the Serbs are/were "wary of authority." That was Mr. Malic's interpretation of what I said, and, now, it is, implicitly, attributed to me.

I shall repeat my original contention: those who seek to explain, and put the blame for the misfortunes of the Serbs, - almost exclusively - on Tito and the faults of Yugoslavia, do so out of convenience. Only those prepared to be labeled as nostalgia freaks are willing to disagree. Tudjman's attempts to "outlaw" the memories, and public hounding of the "Jugostolgicari" in Croatia attest to.

Mr. Malic himself states that a more charitable view and memory of Yugoslavia is unwarranted. That, indeed, may be the case. However, it is an undeniable fact that the first 2 years of the war the Serbs fought for the preservation of Yugoslavia. General Mladic, while still commanding the Krajina forces, is reported to have said repeatedly: "I have two mothers: Milica and Yugoslavia."

It is only after Serbs woke up to the fact that US, NATO, and EU had a permanent liquidation of Yugoslavia as their goal, that they started mimicking Croats' and Muslims' rabid nationalism. By the time the Serbs started to milk that cow its adder was bone dry. Serbs are now singled out for their nationalism by those same people who accused them of trying to save what cannot be saved - Yugoslavia.

Let us be honest about it: Serbs' sense of timing isn't exactly something to boast about. The sheer fact that Serbia elects the government that casts its lot with the also rans (NATO, US, EU), and seeks to antagonise the re-emerging Russia should offer some proof of that.

Gray Falcon said...


Your own words: "There is no doubt that the Balkan mentality has this deeply ingrained suspicion towards authority." No weaseling out of them, please.

Also, you continue to insist that I blame Tito and Yugoslavia "exclusively" for the misfortunes of Serbs, even though I've explicitly said otherwise. So who's doing the misinterpreting here, exactly?

The point I made with the original post was that a lot of people have had to take a long, hard look at their identity following Yugoslavia's murder. Some have done this by contrasting the post-war environment with a romanticized image of Tito's Yugoslavia. The risk in that, I maintain, is to gloss over the very real problems created or nurtured by Yugoslavia that led to the wars in the first place.

Simon said...

Mr. Malic:

I regret that this exchange of views has taken an unduly argumentative tone. That being said, I wish to point out that what you said was my stating that you blame Tito exclusively is incorrect. I said "almost exclusively," which, you'll admit, is not the same.

I agree, in the past writings, you have admitted that not everything that can be said of Tito is uniformly bad.

I have re-read the current post and have not found evidence of what you term as "explicit" acknowledgment that Tito is not to blame for everything.

Your statement "Whether they want to admit it or not, many people's identities were tied into Yugoslavia, socialism, and Tito's cult of personality," is perhaps what you have in mind.

But, even if you don't, what is one to make of your taking an issue with "many people's identities were tied into Yugoslavia, socialism, and Tito's cult of personality?"

Are you suggesting that there is such a thing as an identity in abstract?
I doubt very much that you mean it seriously.
Why would an identity built on a sense of being a Yugoslav be any inferior to a sense of being a Serb, a Croat, a Bosnian, or a Montengerin, the latter two in particular?

Of course people have romantic memories of Yugoslavia. All memories by definition are of that order. People remember what is in some ways noble and inspires them, even if unromantic. Memories validate one's past. You, essentially argue that millions have spent half a century deluding themselves, as if in a conspiracy to perpetrate a fraud upon themselves.
Not plausible.
Even the horrors, such as Auschwitz and Jasenovac, are remembered by that same logic: the triumph of human spirit over evil.

Yugoslavia may have not measured up to most of Western Europe and America, but it was the best country those people had, and by all counts, and your own admission in previous writings, was far superior to what they have now.