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EU > Slovenia > Maribor

Post Yugoslav Era

Maribor, SI (View on map)

Up until 1991, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia which, for almost a century, showed itself to the world as a show case for multi-state federalism. United under dictator Tito, Slovenes shared an artificially created country with Croats, Serbians, Bosnians, Kosovars, Macedonians, Vojvodinians and Montenegrans. Little of that is left. Slovenia is now a country of its own. It`s its population still qualifies as Yugoslav, by the simple fact that Yugoslav literally translated as Southern Slave, which is the ethnic family to which Slovenes belong. But how Yugoslav do they still feel after almost 20 years of independence?


..spent the ten-day independence war in the basement with her parents and grandparents
The basis for Yugoslavia was laid by the `The Country of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs` in 1918. The country later developed into a federal state, which combined six distinct republics and two autonomous regions. Yugoslavia was a largely artificial state, based on mutual needs for a well-developed industry, defense system and agriculture. Cultural and religious differences had been cast aside to make room for a powerful nation that should form more than the sum of its components. Yugoslavia used `Serbo-Croatian` as its dominant language and the Dinar as its unique currency. The country`s stability was largely guaranteed by support from the Soviet Union and the United States. It successfully serves as a buffer between East and West.

Although Yugoslavia had to deal with much the same problems as the other Central and Eastern European countries, the Yugoslav Federation managed to keep up a positive image of multicultural integration. Its market was relatively open to foreign investment, tourism was flourishing and the living standard was high compared to other countries in the communist block. Within its borders, Yugoslavia combined three religious mainstreams and a mixed Mediterranean, Germanic, Slavic and Ottoman heritage. The country`s communist dictator Tito injected the country with national pride and kept all of it together. His legacy hardly survived for a decade after he passed away. Regional nationalism led to the dismantlement of the federation, with Slovenia as the first country to successfully separate itself from Yugoslavia.

Slovenia almost silently maneuvered itself out of the country. It faced armed resistance from Yugoslavia, but the threat only lasted for 10 days. Marijan (30) remembers how he spent most of those days in the basement of his house. `Military aircraft was flying over and the bombing alarms kept going off. For some reason, the Yugoslav army did not insist. They thought that showing their force would be enough to change our minds. When it didn`t, they backed off`, he says.

Marijan further explains: `I do not feel that Slovenia is responsible for the subsequent Balkan war. We may have been the first to break free and we may have triggered reactions in other region, but I think we were also the most diplomatic and had the best timing. I don`t remember feeling scared. I just trusted that all would end well, and it pretty much did. Slovenia had always been very different from the rest of Yugoslavia. After having belonged to so many big empires, the time was right for us to finally make our independence dreams come true.`

According to Marijan, the difference between Slovenes and other ex-Yugoslavians is their sense of national identity. Croatians are very nationalistic. We do not get along with them very well. They like us for coming to their beaches and spending out money, but they are equally jealous of our economic prosperity. They like us as much as they hate us. They think we want to possess their beaches, like we think they want to expropriate ours.`

Early years
Like Marijan, Barbara (26, photo) remembers spending a few 1991 summer days in the basement of her house: `In our case, that was not much of a problem. We had our kitchen in the basement, and common living area as well. The one thing that was different was that I was not allowed to go outside. I remember reading books while lying on a stretcher and eating beans for dinner on most of the days. And one day, my mum had been to Ljubljana and she couldn`t come back because the trains were not running. I was told that there were barricades in the main street, but as I was not allowed to go out, I haven`t seen any of that in reality myself.`

`The events that occurred in the rest of Yugoslavia after our independence certainly got some coverage in the press. We know what happened in Croatia and Bosnia, and we also had quite some refugees staying in Slovenia for a while, especially Bosnians. My impression is that most of them returned home a few years after the way. With peace returned to the region, we still hear a lot about Croatia and Serbia, but a lot less about the other parts of former Yugoslavia. I couldn`t tell you what is going on in Macedonia, simply because the country doesn`t appear in the news very frequently. I know that Kosovo claimed independence and Slovenia was quick to recognise it, despite some hesitance because we were sure it wouldn`t be very beneficial to the Slovenian-Serbian political relations. With Croatia, we have territorial disputes about the sea and the coast line. Fortunately, their claims are restricted by their desire to join the EU, and the fact that they will soon have elections. So far, they have not been able to carry out push their plans through.`

`Although I only spent 10 years of my life living in Yugoslavia, I still somehow feel attached to the idea of living in that country. I remember our history classes in primary school, and how we had to dress up on national holidays. Whenever I travel to other former Yugoslav countries now, I don`t know whether to feel at home or not. I learnt Serbo-Croatian in school, which was the most commonly spoken language in Yugoslavia. I can speak to people and understand them, but I do need to show my passport at the border. I have been to most of the northern part of former Yugoslavia. I even once crossed Bosnia on the way from the Croatian coast to Zagreb and them home. Bosnia was a very fascinating country, but they still have a long way to go. In a way, their territory is a condensed representation of the Yugoslav issue. They still have three regions composed of completely different cultures.`

`I feel about Yugoslavia in the same way as I feel about communism. It was a beautiful idea. It worked in a way, but in the end it did not. I think that the current system of capitalism is too aggressive and too imposing. The middle class is getting smaller and differences between people are getting bigger. The fact that I was partly raised in communist times probably explains why I have difficulties feeling comfortable with the new situation: capitalism under the Brussels instead of communism under Belgrade. In the meantime, the countries from former Yugoslavia are drifting further apart. There is no more such thing as Yugoslavian history in schools and the languages are moving away from each other too. I was part of the last generation to learn Serbo-Croatian in school. It`s no longer taught to children now.`

Peter (27) also has slightly nostalgic feelings about Yugoslavia: `You should ask the old people. They will tell you about the good old life under Tito, when unemployment only existed for people who did not want to work, and when we had a big country to be proud of. It`s still quite easy for us to travel to other former Yugoslav countries. Whenever I go to one of those, I feel half at home ? half away.`

European Union
Renato (30) thinks that the idea of Yugoslavia was a mistake of history: `The people living in Yugoslavia had no common history. They came from areas with different climates, different background and different mentalities. They were artificially held together. And now that we have finally reached independence, we joined the EU. I would much rather see us in an independent position like Switzerland or Norway. Now we are just being exploited by the EU who see us as another sales market for their products. Slovenian supermarkets are full of tomatoes from The Netherlands, which are cheaper than the ones grown in Slovenia. How can that be?`

Renato thinks that Slovenians are too flexible and adjust to quickly when they have a goal in sight. `When we were under communist rule, we looked up to the west. If something came from England, France or Germany, we would automatically think it was better than the same thing from Slovenia. We were always comparing ourselves to other and we keep doing that until this very moment. We would be well off with a little more self-confidence.`

Tjasa (25) thinks that what happened to Yugoslavia ? the violent disintegration of a multicultural federal state ? could also happen to the European Union. `Most of it was due to the hot-tempered character of the Serbians and the Croatians. But now that I come to think about it, if such strong nationalism arises somewhere else in the EU, I do actually think that it could potentially lead to similar problems.`

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