[Marxism] Yugoslavia

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Sun Dec 19 16:58:44 MST 2004

A few more comments, which are mostly just impressions from visiting
Yugoslavia in 1967 and 1968. On the first visit I spent most of my time on
a Youth Brigade (Omladinsko Naselje) outside Zagreb. On the second I
travelled on through Serbia to Bulgaria.

I found the place kind of grim, which was how I was later to find other
countries in Eastern Europe. That was a disappointment, because I was
looking for an alternative to western capitalism. 

Yugoslavia certainly had the attraction of being “freer” than the other
East European states. You could buy Rolling Stones records, and pretty much
say what you thought as long as you didn’t frontally challenge Tito.

The traditions of the partisan struggle against the Nazis were still sort
of “live”, with curious reflections: youngsters of the Youth Brigades who
sneaked off into the bushes to pash referred to it as “partisani” – playing
guerrilla fighters. When I traded the badges I’d brought from Berkeley, I
got a horrified reaction to one that read “Kill a Commie for Christ”. It
was meant ironically, but across the language barrier it was taken
literally. Beyond that, however, I saw very few signs of political
consciousness. Berkeley was a far more political place than the Youth

Our Brigades were theoretically working to build a dam. The hardest workers
got Shock badges – or if you like, Stakhanovite badges (Udarnik – shock
worker). I wanted one of those badges in the worst way, and I got one too!
after pushing endless wheelbarrows uphill in the merciless sun. Then one
day a bulldozer arrived and did the work of a dozen of us in the twinkling
of an eye, and I realised the real agenda wasn’t to build a dam. It was
nation-building: gathering people from different republics together to
develop a sense of national solidarity. It seemed quite successful to me:
there was no sign of the supposed “age-old” hostilities between groups that
we were later told explained the break-up of Yugloslavia.

Later in Germany, our SDS branch invited some visiting East German big wigs
to speak, and posed some very sharp questions. I asked why East German
citizens couldn’t visit the west, or even go to Yugoslavia. They insisted
East Germans could visit Yugoslavia, but the upshot of the discussion was
that this only happened under fairly controlled circumstances. Yugoslavia
was too open politically.

That was connected to Tito’s break with Stalin and de-facto tilt towards
the west, which was also linked to his early experiments with what came to
be called “market socialism”. This led to unemployment, which would have
been a serious problem without the West German jobs to mop it up.

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