THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Bojana, are you ready to go on? Alright.

I want you to focus again and try to remember everything, even things you forgot, wanted to forget and think you don’t remember. You limbs are getting heavy…heavier. It feels as if your hands and fingers were made of lead…You are sinking into perfect relaxation. I’ll count backwards now. 10, 9, 8…Inhale. Exhale.7….deeper still…6…let it all go now…5. Still drifting down…4, 3, 2…You feel this heavy relaxation in all parts of your body…deep and misty…Allow yourself to relax. Open your mind and your heart. Unburden…1.

Tell me what is going on.

 

It’s Sunday afternoon, May 4, 1980 and we’re enjoying our weekend. The TV screen goes black for a few seconds. A statement is read live on national TV:

Comrade Tito has died. His great heart stopped beating at 3:05 PM.’

I’m 3. ‘Mom, why are you crying? Mom, don’t be sad. Is it me? Did I do something wrong?’ I’m too little to understand, too little to remember. Scenes of mass crying in the streets and during the live broadcast of a soccer match. The whole country is mourning Tito’s demise, expressing numbed disbelief and promising to remain loyal to his policy. He is buried in Belgrade, Serbia, in the House of Flowers a few days later, in the presence of 209 delegations from 127 countries, 700,000 people and a direct television broadcast of the funeral procession in 58 states. Tito’s funeral is noted as the most attended presidential funeral in the history of mankind to that time. To date, 17.5 million people have visited the Mausoleum.

Tito’s regime outlives him by as many as 10 years. An average Yugoslav lives in blissful ignorance throughout the 80s, that is the one who has a job. Life is comfortable. My family travels a lot: France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Egypt. Little do we know that in a few years from now everything will fall apart. No one sees an economic collapse and civil unrest on the horizon. Nobody could have predicted such a downfall, really.

The mid 80s are challenging time for a country poising precariously between economic welfare and social catastrophe. Yugoslavia is falling into heavy IMF debt due to the large number of loans taken out by the regime. Another concern is the unemployment rate, severely aggravating in the second half of the decade.  Self-management ultimately drops the ball by the end of the 80s because of its bureaucratic degeneration and authoritarian political structure, where the seemingly autonomous working class has always played second fiddle to strong leaders, accepting their decisions uncritically. Basically, CEOs have been responsible to higher CEOs, instead of workers’ councils, and have as a rule had strong political ties. Knowing that the party has been god of all gods there, I’m sure you get the picture. What is more, after Tito’s death, political elites promote the idea of republican or ethnic working classes, as opposed to the united Yugoslav working class advocated by the late president. In other words, republics and autonomous provinces favorize their own working class by for example giving their workers inordinate wage increases, which creates even a bigger gap between the more developed and underdeveloped republics. The regional inequalities result in an economic crisis which further leads to a deterioration of the living standard. Let me put it into perspective for you. The scope of work is decreasing, companies are becoming insolvent, low wages, unsteady paychecks, lower wages, minimum wages, no paychecks AT ALL, millions are behind on bills, workers’ motivation is non-existent, work discipline zero, efficiency fictional. The outcome: the end of the movie for self-management. It was nice while it lasted. Two thumbs up for workers’ councils that survived for 40 years. Wow. Honestly. No kidding. I guess it would have been too much to ask…

However, there’s another problem. Besides the financial crisis, there’s also the crisis of system legitimacy after Tito’s death, with the long-simmering revival of nationalism coming to a boil by the end of the 80s. The introduction of self-management and decentralization was meant to encourage the liberalization and democratization of the mutual space. However, market competition turned the companies and republics into competitors, which then made republics’ party oligarchies act first as the guardians of republic interests and then the nationalist ones in the 80s.

With Tito’s death, Yugoslavia’s 6 constituent republics gain more autonomy, with a rotating presidency. The main issues troubling the elites in the post-Tito era turn primarily into a Serbian-Slovenian debate, marked by a growing divergence in the ‘national question.’ Confusing time. Before long, the fragile union he held together starts to unravel. The forces of nationalism he kept under control are unleashed, culminating in a brutal three-sided civil war hard to imagine in 20th century Europe. The outbreak of nationalism is followed by the awakening of patriarchal values, as is often the case. Sure there are civil initiatives, organizations and groups in all republics warning of the rapid militarization of society, nationalist mobilization and consequences they might have. Unfortunately, none of these anti-war movements is strong enough to prevent or stop the war. The end result: over 100,000 people killed (and God knows how many missing), 2 million driven from their homes, and Yugoslavia disintegrated.

The Croats and Slovenes, always reserved about Yugoslav unity, decide to secede. The latter try to avoid warfare, suggesting a plan for a loosely united country, based on the Swiss model of independent yet confederated cantons. The proposal is however turned down by other parties wanting full autonomy. Slovenia is the first Yugoslav republic to hold multi-party elections in the spring of 1990, which comes as no surprise. It is the most western-oriented, prosperous and ethnically homogeneous. Tensions are growing. The future of the country is at stake. We are cool…or just pretending. I’m an 8th grader about to take the grammar school entrance exam in Serbian (easy peasy) and math (ouch). My parents are panic-stricken and worried about my future. She’ll never make it. She sucks. Yeah, I know. But I’m cool (for real, not pretending). I rarely study.

Croatia is next to request more autonomy. First armed incidents begin, with open hostilities escalating in the majority-Serb populated areas in March/April 1991. Practice questions and tests, exam registration information, FAQs, tips, prep books, workbooks, study guides…not for me though, for my sister. She’s ready (read: if she’s ready, I’m ready too). I walk into the big room full of students and teachers, cool as ice. A kick-ass cheater, Tito’s school. Slovenia declares independence on June 25, 1991. Belgrade sends the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to take control of its borders with Italy and Austria. Fighting breaks out on June 27, which will last 10 days. A total of 47 JNA soldiers are killed, aged between 18 and 22 from all the ethnic groups of Yugoslavia. The whole nation is shocked. I pass the exam with honors by applying the infamous partner (sister)-cheating method, that is copying down the answers sissy wrote on a ruler, and disposing of the evidence without getting caught. I’m shocked. I knew I’d pass but never thought my test scores would show such brilliant performance. I’m 14 and happy. I’ve got a crush on an out-of-towner. In September, the Republic of Macedonia gains its independence from Yugoslavia. My freshman year in high school may officially begin.

As violence erupts in Slovenia and Croatia, predominately Muslim Bosnia and Herzegovina (43% of the population) is ominously quiet until the fall of ‘91, when President Izetbegović starts to pursue independence. Bosnian Serbs (31%) oppose, creating their own ‘state’ and enjoying military support of Serbian President Milošević and JNA. The stage for a bloody secession is set. On the first school day, I sit down at a random empty desk in the third row by the window, where I remain till the end of high school. By the time I become a senior, it’ll be full of scribbles, hard to decipher by anyone but me.

The methods used by Croatian President Tuđman are extreme, invoking the spirit of the fascist and ultra-nationalist past. Its more than half-million Serb residents see the writing on the wall and begin to rise up, declaring independence from Croatia. JNA, now dominated by Serbs, sweeps in to put down the Croat rebellion and keep the nation together. The standoff lasts from 1991 to 1995, throughout my high school, and is full of scribbles, hard to decipher by anyone to date, let alone me. The now well-equipped Croatian army retakes the Serb-occupied areas in two offensives, retaliating for earlier ethnic cleansing by doing pretty much the same: torturing and murdering people, and destroying their homes. Scenes of warplanes opening fire on refugees. An eye for an eye. Most of remaining 300,000 Croatian Serbs, many of whom have been killed, are forced into Serbia. Up to now, few have returned. Croatia immediately establishes the borders that exist today.

In spring 1992, the Serb take control of a strip of Muslim-majority towns, also invading numerous mixed-ethnicity towns and villages, executing, and arresting thousands of Bosniaks and Croats (17% of the population), many of whom are taken to concentration or rape camps, while the remaining ones are forced to leave their homes. Bosnia, with its gruesome attacks and unthinkable atrocities, is torn apart, along with many families forced to choose sides. Absurd time. I now live in the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, created from the two remaining federal republics of Yugoslavia after its breakup in ‘92. Cut-off phone lines between post-Yugoslav republics become an everyday reality. The best is yet to come. In the beginning, Bosniaks and Croats fight together against Serbs but, once tensions increase, the former allies engage in open conflict. There’s the so-called Croat–Bosniak war, or ‘war within a war,’ part of the larger Bosnian war, lasting from Oct 1992 to Feb 1994. Bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all). Violent time.

war of all against all.PNG

My generation is coming of age, watching the war live in neighboring Croatia and Bosnia, with its unspeakable cruelties, monstrosities, sieges, shelling, mass murders, mass rapes, mass graves, attacks and counter-attacks, led by regular and paramilitary armies, with thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, displaced and disappeared on all three sides. The world loathes it, the world is disgusted, the world is watching in discomfort, the world condemns it. The world is sending over ‘the Smurfs’ (UN Protection Force). They have the best seats in the theater, sitting in the first row. They are watching. The world pays no mind.

We’re boisterous, feisty and tough, my friends and me, or just play tough. We don’t suck up to upperclassmen. We’re no underdogs. We’re the intolerant and contemptuous ones. There are no cuties to crush on either so we might as well hate their guts. Eventually, we decide to pursue a middle way. We’re sort of on speaking terms, but I can’t say we’re friends either. Befriending refugees with a suitcase full of memories. We hate rules and being told what to do. We hate things that are compulsory. We defy authority. The principal’s a jerk. Teachers too (with a couple of exceptions). Many look down on us, so how can we look up to them?! We are smartasses with superior intellect, perception and wit, beating them so easily that it hurts.

don't listen to your teachers.PNG

No one gets suspended or expelled. It’s not that kind of school. There’s nothing much they can do, which annoys the hell out of them. We’re unbearable. When a teacher starts asking too many questions, we sneak off for a quick grope in one of the empty classrooms on the 3rd floor. Experimental time sharing. The remains of soldiers are shipped like parcels back home on a daily basis. When we’re bored or restless, we play hooky. We hate kissasses. Currying favor with teachers is a big no-no, inconsistency, reluctance and fear being punished in not so subtle ways. Truancy is always intentional, though unjustified, and unauthorized. So, we show up every now and then, which in our world means attending school but not going to class that often. Skipping. Yes, we stay away from school without explanation (or with a lousy one), we are absent without permission, we shirk work, and evade duty. I study only the things I’m interested it, in which case I’m enthusiastic, pro-active, resourceful, detailed, alert, studious, meticulous and nerdy. I dodge the stuff I find utterly unappealing and pointless for that matter, in which case I’m idle, lazy, sluggish, passive and neglectful. I’m pretty good at it. Packed orphanages and shabby refugee centers wherever you turn. I don’t move in a girl pack only nor do I need at least two besties with me at all times when entering the school, going to the bathroom, or walking to class. We attend funerals, walk behind coffins and listen to funeral speeches, saying a last goodbye to those killed in war, ‘too young to reason and too grown up to dream.’ I shave my head, and have different-colored socks on, along with my grandpa’s funky ties which I love cutting off. I wear a Sex Pistols sweatshirt/T-shirt, cuffed pants or worn out jeans with frayed edges and big holes at the knee and black boots that I never ever take off.

Ethnic hatred grows as various incidents fuel the powerful propaganda machines on all three sides. We’re told who to love, and who to hate. We live in a black and white world in which we’re the good guys fighting the bad ones, that is evil incarnate. Our religion is better than theirs. ‘Our flag is the embodiment of history,’ and OUR leaders the epitome of courage, determination, commitment, principle and vigor. By contrast, THEY are the personification of omnimalevolence: their politicians, their soldiers, their citizens, their males and females, their children, their dogs. Confusing time. 18-year-olds are drafted into the army in the middle of the night and transported to war zones like cattle in trucks to fight for ‘our cause.’ On our way to school and back, my girlfriends and I touch each other’s breasts and send them kisses, waving hello and goodbye, and we can’t help but wonder if that’s the first and last time we’ve seen them. Mixed feelings of desire, lust, sadness, rage, fear and impotence.

 

We’ll call it a day now, alright? In a few moments, I will awaken you. This time much quicker than the last one….more relaxed. I’ll count from 1 to 5. At the count of 5, you will open your eyes. You’re relaxed…1, 2…You’ll feel wonderfully refreshed when you wake up…3, 4…so relaxed, so calm…whole day…5.

How are you feeling?

Like shit.

Author: Blogging_with_Bojana

I'm diggin' Need to grow, have to push Flicking through vinyl and feeding the rush I dig for that one and I open the haunt It's takin' all day from the back to the front I'm diggin' and diggin' You know Sorry baby I'm gone diggin' www.bloggingwithbojana.com

72 thoughts on “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY”

  1. Holy Shit! I don’t even know… where, when, how… god I feel like an idiot for not knowing ANY of THIS history! This is a post I will print out and research! May I share it too??? I am in shock mode right now. Wow. Incredible piece! Heartwrenching and raw… ~Kim

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Yesterday the new colleague introduced himself. He talked about his time as soldier in the Yugoslavian war. Everyone was shocked and praised him that he “got back to normal” after such a terrible experience.

    He seems like a good man, so nothing against him and his fellow soldiers. However, when my parents tell their story, there is a different reaction.
    “That’s past, no need to remember that”.
    “You’re lucky that you have the good life in Holland now”.

    It hurts my heart that the real victims, who lost everything, are not getting the same recognition.

    Wonderfully written Bojana!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I think we have to remember no matter where we are and what language we now speak. I need to. It’s part of my identity, my history. You grew up elsewhere and luckily did not have to see what became of that country but you were born there so make sure you learn things since you couldn’t remember them.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree. Luckily I didn’t see what it did to the country, but unfortunately I did see it my family / relatives. Suicide, depression, physical issues.
        No matter where I live, that country and its history will always have a place in my heart.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG, Bojana…the way you unfolded this….talk about carving yourself open and showing us you in your most honest and form!

    I sat here reading, trying to recall what I remember of those events, and I realized that so much of the world just doesn’t want to know the horrors happening in other parts. The lives shattered and wasted. The selfish uncaring and callous disregard for basic rights.

    This piece has humbled me in ways I didn’t think was possible. My eyes see more now than I ever believed visible. This touched so deep I feel as though I don’t want you retracing this or feeling it anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m doing fine, George. Don’t worry about me. You asked and this is what you got, my/our reality back then and an attempt to find a meaning in a meaningless world.
      Besides, I needed to do this. I needed to go back so you don’t have to feel guilty. As I said, the world was watching and just didn’t give a damn. Rarely did people know what was going on there, if at all. Funny is this fucked up world of ours, we talk about sympathy, compassion and solidarity only when the devil comes knocking at OUR door. Other that that, we just don’t give a rat’s ass. It’s a far-off world, different kind of people, different language and customs, somebody else’s problems and children.
      Thanks anyway, you know I appreciate it.

      P.S. There’s more to come, lots actually, so stop feeling sorry for me, get that notebook and learn.
      I’m not asking you to get a grip on yourself. If it touches you so deeply, then cry.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I know I asked…I want to know. We all need to know.

        It balances it some that you needed to do this. The depth of your recall…I now can see why you asked if I kept a journal during my Katrina story.

        You are so right…we were watching. And we couldn’t give a damn. And the stories we DID get were tainted by the bias of global corporations with interests and self-serving demons in human guise. Feeding off the folly and profiteering from the pain. It’s not you I feel sorry for. I am utterly amazed at who you are today surviving just this…let alone what I am dreading is to come.

        Fucking yay go us as the human species!!!

        I think I will go cry now.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yes, it’s always sb else’s fault, it’s always one man and one side to blame. Wars and conflicts are complex as hell. One of the hardest parts during and after the war was defending oneself when attacked abroad, Serbs being traditionally found guilty on all charges from the get-go. It was not easy, that’s for sure. It still isn’t sometimes, always having to explain and justify. So what I’ve tried to do here is not take sides, point a finger or count victims but show how we all equally suffered.
        I hope I succeeded.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. First of all, I had never heard the word “omnimalevolence” before, and now it is my favorite word. 🙂

    Second of all, absolutely riveting. This was Bojana growing up?! Wow. To come of age while an empire crumbles, while a nation-state collapses, while the world, violently, changes around you. There is no “wonderful” feeling upon awakening from that, only feeling like shit. I have so many questions, now, about that time in that world, so many things I want to learn. I may go on a research binge after this to find some good articles and books on the subject. I can’t imagine what being a teenager in that kind of turmoil must be like. Where you were, did you feel safe? Or was there a constant wonder if there can be any safety, at all, anywhere?

    It’s telling and a great reminder that times of great tumult are foreshadowed by times of nationalistic resurgence. I live in a country that now is seeing those uneven signs of jingoistic, blind super-patriotism. I have friends, close ones, who posted this morning about how fake the children were who survived the Florida shooting last week, in their appearances on television. How amazing Donald Trump has been in response to it. How proud they are to be in a country that will challenge this – for lack of a better term, and the term is mine – “uprising” against the constitution. The leader of the NRA called for strength and unity in the face of “elitist forces” that will use this tragedy to come after guns (and kill their funding). The answer? Arm more people. The only way to stop a man with a gun is with another man with a gun, don’t you know? A nation’s strength is in its disunity. I don’t have to tell you that, though, you lived it. Division and intolerance make a country strong, right?

    Perhaps I should take solace in the knowledge that a crumbling nation forges strong character, such as I see in you.

    But I’d much rather stop the disintegration and make everyone understand, “there is a better way.”

    I ramble. I must stop. Kudos on another fabulous, engaging, and revelatory entry. I need a nap and a beer, now. Maybe not in that order.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Tom and enjoy that beer.

      As for your question, I was safe but as you can see we were all affected by the war. Make sure you take a look at the pic of es YU again. I was in southern Serbia at the time which was engaged in the war in Bosnia and Croatia defending its people there. However, a war cannot be waged without consequences (you’ll get to see them in the next post), which are visible to date.
      Paranoia, intolerance and division – Gilead’s most powerful weapons. A futuristic novel my ass.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Beloved Bojana – I am stunned stupid by the journey of your words. Like George, I remember the sanitized version Uncle Walt shared with us on the evening news. But never have I known the details. You bless me with your open soul. Talk about a gift from above!!!! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t always know how to react to a compliment, but I’ll take this one. Of course, this is reader’s’ digest. It would take ages if I mentioned every single incident and enumerated all the towna/villages affected. I hope you guys worldwide get a clearer picture of the complexity of it and actually of a series of events and incidents which led to such a bloody resolution.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In this, we are soul sisters. I hate compliments. However, your story is so astounding and enlightening to one who has seen similar storm clouds rolling on our horizon throughout her life, I can’t help but compliment you on sharing a tale that should open the eyes of those willing to see and learn.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You were right Bojana, there are many tears to be shed as your telling of your story continues. In this narrative, I hear at once, the voice of the child and that of the woman, and I know now that they are one and will always be one. I know now that the scars cannot be dissolved or forgotten, that they shouldn’t be. You give your eyes and your heart so boldly, openly and fearlessly. I cannot help but be in awe of you. I cannot help but be grateful for the opportunity to learn from you. I cannot help shedding tears for the child who bore the wounds that created the scars that would forever alter the life of the woman.

    I can’t say that I look forward to the next part of your story. But I will read it and, to the best of my ability, try to see and feel it through your eyes. I am humbled more than you will ever know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel pretty much the same, Susan, trust me. I am humbled and touched by the interest my story has aroused and the emotional support I’ve received. When you have friends like this to share your sorrow and joy with, everything’s easier.
      I’ve never been really good at talking about my experience and the things which bother me but I decided it’s about time I got out of my shell. It’ll do me good and in return you’ll all get to learn sth so it’s a win-win, equally beneficial for all.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am happy at the way your readers are responding. War in a far away place is something we watch on TV and then forget, and we don’t know what it really means. It’s good to see people wanting to find out more.

    I had a Serbian friend who lived in Greece. He had a happy, carefree disposition and was great fun to be around. But he never talked about the war. Never wanted to say anything.

    So thank you again for talking.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kein Problem, Bojana! Jetzt kam ich endlich mal dazu die beide Postings in Ruhe zu lesen. Wirklich verherrend was Menschen immer wieder anrichten, und die meisten Leute die “Spielbälle” sind. Ich bekomme seit einiger Zeit auch eine ganze andere Sicht auf diese Dinge, und unser Staatswesen hier. ;-(
    Wünsche Dir einen schönen Sonntag, und hoffe Du hast wärmeres Wetter. 😉 LG Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I learned so much!
    I must say I had a sinking feeling as you say “like shit” several times during this story because I recognized strong parallels to the rising militarization, nationalism and identity politics being stirred up currently in many places in world: the USA, England, Spain and more. I had to make an effort to keep my anxiety at bay while I read it!

    I found your personal story so vivid and refreshing as it was interspersed between the larger sociopolitical circumstances. It occurred to me that people like to define each side clearly as simply “good” or “evil”, but war, like hate is much more insidious and murky, it begins and continues in so many subtle ways: forming rigid identities, castigating the “others”, producing propaganda–all under the guise of establishing seemingly benevolent, altruistic ideals (“for the sake of unity”, “for preserving the union”). You have given us a lot to ponder and a lot of this to recognize in our selves and in our nations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your support MP. Always. You know I appreciate it.
      You’re so right. We do have growing nationalism, along with black and white politics in many countries worldwide nowadays. I talk about it extensively when I touch upon crime in Serbia, where you’ll get a chance to find out more about propaganda, justifying the war, glorifying criminals and fight against the ‘other’ (neighboring peoples or evil residing among us). So, the room for growing and sharing thoughts is pretty big.
      Hugs

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Authentic and I feel it. Congrats, Bojana!
    This has been the message of my fictionalised book, talking about similar experiences in Kashmir, India. The how and why of such events and what we can do about it.
    Keep up the good work: the more, the better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear. I appreciate it. We have to talk about these things, right? Lots of people don’t know what’s going on in their own neighborhood, let alone in other parts of the world. So this is not only an important lesson in history but also raising awareness of growing nationalism worldwide.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. We’ve lived in neighborhoods in NYC of people from Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia. I’ve heard so many stories about what happened in these countries. One friend told us that he escaped Kosovo carrying his children over dead bodies. By the time I got to NYC, there weren’t many problems between the groups but my husband said there were a lot in the early 1990s.

    It’s shocking that groups can live together peacefully one day and kill each other the next. Like you said, people are too quick to believe terrible things about other groups. I’ve gotten to see my own country destroyed by hate. Hate is the best emotion to get people to act.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s terrible that people can live together happily one moment and then hate each other the next. Society is more fragile than we think. My country was destroyed by hate.

    We’ve met a lot of people here from Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo and they’ve told us a lot of stories. It was terrible what you lived through, Bojana.

    Btw, I posted a comment but it looks like it never made it to you…..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You’ve made me think about the push for devolution here in Cornwall. Although I don’t think it has the same deadly potential, you make a good point about how regions turned against each other–how leaders pushed the regions to turn against each other in a quest for power. I’m sympathetic to Cornish nationalism, and it makes me uneasy. In roughly equal measure.

    Liked by 1 person

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