Sunday, September 04, 2011

Culture. Roots of the old Yugoslavia. And the Pride of Montenegro

 Pride of Place: Montenegro
I.  Overview
Yugoslavia. The old union of republics in the Balkans. Brian Hall's book about that union calls Yugoslavia, "The Impossible Country." See 1994's notable presentation at;

Those nations are now independent, with a great deal of bloodshed in the separations. What are those roots.  We noted a difference in the children and adults of Montenegro:  a pride of place not seen elsewhere, but how reliable is our impression? We were only there a few days.

"How do you like our beautiful city?" asked children playing soccer, with buildings in need of vast repair, but the architecture glowing with past political, diplomatic and other glories.  In Cetinje, waiters waving off questions with nods to other places, so we understood, but clearly wishing  they could speak freely.  Nothing furtive about them.  Just matter-of-fact. The election deciding independence from Serbia or not, was looming.  We sensed wariness, but not fear.  Is that worth noting?

How to generalize.  Impossible, with no "scientific" samplings, data, controls. 

Possible explanation for our unscientific observation.  We were sent an old article on Balkan history, New York Times from 1991, at,%201991&st=cse.  It notes that Montenegro and Serbia were the only old Yugoslav nations that were independent before WWI.

Is that the difference, and does that help explain the forcefulness of the Serbian sense of territory?  That people that know they were independent, have the privilege of a known past without subjugation, pass that on.  Here, we offer a review of that article with our own observations so far, to be augmented.

The history of this area is critical to understanding its conflicts.

A review of history is difficult before going there, because the groups are so many, and the cultures so varied.  We are not taught much about the Balkans in our schools. After returning, it is easier to seek out sources to get a grip on the conflicts, the groups.  Places and ideas are familiar.
  • In Montenegro, we found a difference from other Balkan states that were part of the old Yugoslavia. This was only an impression, based on surface happenstance of who we met, what we talked about, what we saw.  And we were only there a few days, so no generalizing is feasible.
  •  those things, over only a few days, are unreliable for generalizations, but worth noting.
II.  Balkan History:  How to get a grip

A.  The old Yugoslavia now is no more, but the individual nations that once comprised it share history. The blends of cultures are seen in the architecture, religions, politics.  Islam in the south of the Balkan peninsula, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Orthodox Christianity in those areas as well, competing; and Roman Catholicism in the north, essentially.

We are using as a starting framework an old journalism piece, before the severances of the last decade, at,%201991&st=cse.  Look at old articles because they give detail without having to justify information with current events.  Look back at a sense of immediacy that gets lost in current accounts.  From here, we will fill in other sources. As of now, this is a kind of review.

1.  Yugoslavia was the land of the south Slavs. It was comprised of six very different republics: Croatia, where we began, Bosnia - Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia (we only saw a corner because Sarajevo, where we wanted to go, was not included in our car insurance), Macedonia, that we did not see; and Slovenia.

2.  Before WWI, only Montenegro and Serbia were independent.

The others were part of either the Habsburg Empire, or the Ottoman.  Croatia 800 years earlier joined Hungary. The Slovenes were ruled by the Habsburgs since the 14th Century.  Croats and Slovenes enjoyed industrial development through the Habsburg connections.  Most Serbians and Macedonians remained barely subsisting as farmers.

Macedonia was Bulgarian and then Ottoman, and there were independent principalities in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the middle ages, but they fell under Turkish and later Habsburg control.  Find this history outlined at,%201991&st=cse

We are repeating the cite because it was so good.

3.  The idea of the one nation for south Slavs was the product of intellectual and religious leaders, including the 19th Century Bishop Josop Juraj Strosmajer, Croatian, spellings vary.  As Strossmayer, also see him commemorated in Prague, Czech Republic, see

4. The first attempt at a Slavic nation was created in 1918, after WWI, when the Habsburg Empire of Austria and the Ottoman Empire of Turkey collapsed . It was called the Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes.  Then in 1929, the Serbian King Alexander imposed a dictatorship and renamed the nation as Yugoslavia. He favored Serbian ways.

In 1941, the Axis armies quickly overran Yugoslavia (it took 11 days), and civil war also began began - Serbian royalists against Croatians serving the Nazis. Then, enter the partisan guerrillas of the Communists, and the fight became a three-way disaster.  In 1944, the Partisans prevailed.  Belgrade came under control of the Soviet interests.  It continued as a communist republic in 1946, under the Croat Josip Broz Tito, Prime Minister and later President. He had led the partisans successfully as a guerrilla group in WWII. 

5.  The mixmaster

Ethnically, most of the population was Slav - say 83%, NYT July 6, 1991 article by David Binder, National Rivalries Cloud Dream of Yugoslav Unity. There were Slovaks, Bulgars, Ruthenians, Russians, Poles; as well as Albanians, Hungarians, Gypsies, Greeks, Vlachs, Jews, Tsintsars (who?) and Austrians.  Each wanted, or already had, a stake.  Serbs held most positions in the army, secret police, federal bureaucracy, thus Tito being a Croat was somewhat offset.  But the brutality modeled after Stalinism emerged. 

6.  After WWII, Yugoslavia became a police state: fair use quote -- "Hundreds of thousands of anti-Communist Serbs, Croats and Slovenes were rounded up and killed, among them the Serbian royalist commander, Draza Mihajlovic." See,%201991&st=cse.

7. Long-standing rivalries between Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic Christians also erupted - see issues related to whether Cardinal Stepinac stepped aside as Orthodox were led to their deaths, content to try to convert them before they went; or were his hands tied, see Zagreb, Croatia, St. Stephen's Cathedral,

B.  Divisions persist

1. How could such a patchwork of different interests possibly work together for long?  Each found some satisfaction in a new status, recognition of individuality, desire for nationhood, and these seemed to satisfy most groups.

Then emerged huge rifts among the Serbs, Slovenes and Croats - an inter-ethnic civil war. 

2. In 1948, Stalin had put Tito out of the Soviet Bloc because Tito refused to follow orders.  The threat of reprisals seemed to unify Yugoslavia to degree, but various components still sought nationalist goals for their own group. Croats wanted home rule, Albanians in Kosovo, and Slovenes pressing for roads, for example.

3. Tito died in 1980, and some powers passed to the republic-areas.  But in 1987, Serbian Communist Slobodan Milosevic rallied the Serbs for a nationalist agenda  and set out to subdue (which became genocide) the Albanian populaiton in Kosovo.  Collision course. The Communist Party collapsed in 1990, and Croatia and Slovenia pursued separatist policies.

And so, to today.   To be continued.

1 comment:

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