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Once upon a time there was Yugoslavia. Today, there is Yugonostalgia, and it runs through different generations, even among young people who never actually lived under the regime. Is Yugonostalgia just a harmless myth, or is it a timebomb that reflects the danger of the present in former Yugoslavian countries? E&M talked to people from different generations, with different memories and views on the Yugoslav past.

WHO IS MOST YUGONOSTALGIC?

nostalgia chart
Figure 1 Data Source: Jutarnji List
A simple visualisation of the poll result, which shows that 68.8% of those surveyed in Serbia think that life was better 20 years ago, compared to 59.1% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 43.6% in Croatia and 38.6% in Slovenia.

"A nostalgic emotional attachment to idealised desirable aspects of the SFRY. These are described as one or more of: economic security, socialist ideology, multiculturalism, internationalism and non-alignment, history, customs and traditions, and a more rewarding way of life," is how Nicole Lindstrom, author of Yugonostalgia: Restorative and Reflective Nostalgia in Former Yugoslavia, defined the phenomenon. 

poll carried out this year by media from Croatia ("Jutarnji list") and Slovenia ("Dnevnik"), which also included participants from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, also showed that the majority of people in all this countries feel that their lives are worse - rather than 'better', 'I don't know' and 'the same' - than 20 years ago. Analysis shows that Serbs mainly featured as the most Yugonostalgic (See Figure 1), in agreement with the result from another poll from 2010, which showed that as many as 81% of Serbs believe they lived best in the former Yugoslavia.

YES, WE LIVED BETTER 

"It is a bit funny and characteristic for our world - the Balkans - that we are sentimentally attached to the past and in that sense I feel sorry that Yugoslavia broke apart, therefore I am Yugonostalgic. I loved Yugoslavia as my homeland and now I feel constricted. Serbia is not enough for me as a homeland, compared to the one I had, that doesn't exist anymore," says Dr Vera Cenic, a writer and a professor of literature in her eighties, from a town in Southern Serbia. Her novels "Kanjec filjma" and "Ista priča" speak of the dark side of the SFRY, her political imprisonment on Goli otok - a Croatian island where anyone who (allegedly) leaned toward the Soviet Union was sent to for hard labour, beatings and torture - and about life afterwards living under the label of a "re-educated political opponent." 

Tito_and_kennedy
Photo: Wikimedia Commons (PD)
Josip Broz Tito (right) greets US President John F.Kennedy during his visit in 1963.

Despite her tragic experience of inhumanity under the SFRY, Vera still holds fondly to her impression of former Yugoslavia under the current situation.

"I think that we really lived objectively better in that [old] system, although it had many negative elements. [Josip Broz] Tito knew how to balance between East and West and he made use of the fact that the West had embraced him, when he said that historical "no" to Stalin.

"But I knew and was fully aware that this kind of system, built on the weakness of socialism and capitalism, is not sustainable and that it could only last while there was Tito. And, since no one is eternal, that period had to be finished and unfortunately it finished catastrophically because nationalism began to appear," she says.

According to Vera, people could travel abroad more easily at the time and employment was almost certain after graduation.

"It is a fact that one had to be a member of the Communist Party then to land on high positions, but today if someone is not a member of [any] party, he can't even be employed.

"Yes, we lived better then than all the generations after Tito's death," she adds laughingly, "if we exclude tycoons and thieves."

Outside Serbia, Tito and Yugoslavia's legacy is also very much alive in Montenegro, a republic that was one of the most devoted to the socialist cause, says Petar Marković, a 25-year-old Masters student in European Integration. 

Like many other Montenegrins who decide to pursue higher education in Serbia, Petar now lives in Belgrade. He feels that the support and recognition of former Yugoslavia has been increasingly present among the young generation, who did not even live in those authoritarian times. He believes that the root of this phenomenon does not only reside in the past.

"Montenegrins are traditionally an authoritarian people. All too often, they surrender their political destiny to firm leaders and are very prone to cultivating cults of leaders. They do this today, but glorify the times of Yugoslavia because the leader of that era was the most successful one they probably had," said Petar.

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