Memories of Yugoslavia
1. "Too late, your Majesty…"
Two dramatic tales exist about the moment the Slovenian nation left the Habsburg monarchy. Both contain an appropriate measure of historical tension and pathos, stirring enough and emotionally the right amount required for such accounts that later become legend. Countless variations on both of these have also been related, differing in content and emphasis.
The first takes place in the quietness of the Austrian Court, in the Emperor’s royal audience chamber. The protagonists are Charles I., still the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and Dr. Anton Korošec, a member of the State Parliament and indisputable political leader of the Slovenian people, to that date always loyal to Austria. The date is 11 October, for Austro - Hungary the war is practically lost, the monarchy falling apart at every seam, the great and famous land now militarily, economically and politically disintegrating. The young ruler is visibly depressed; Korošec, a Catholic priest, appears self - confident. They converse slowly, with long intervals of silence. The pauses belong to the Emperor; it is he who wishes to retain a hold upon the historical era now coming to an end. Korošec knows that outside this Court, history is rushing towards its fresh goal according to God’s will, as he relates to the Emperor: together with the Croats and the Serbs, the Slovenes will establish a new country. The Emperor states that all this saddens him greatly, Slovenes had always been extremely loyal and he himself had always got on so well with Korošec. Unheard of persecution, meetings prohibited, censorship everywhere, says Korošec. The Emperor cautions him that the Slovenes will not get on well with the Orthodox Serbs, nor with the Croats. Korošec is convinced that they will all be equal, on a par, and the most adept will make their presence felt. The Slovenes had already demonstrated their tenacity in the struggle - including the economic struggle - with the Germans. And the Serbs are tolerant. With the manifesto of his own nations in the drawer, to be declared a few days later, the Emperor offers Slovenia autonomy. This is the political aim for which they have been battling for almost one hundred years.
Too late, Your Majesty, replies Dr. Korošec, Too late. The Emperor enquires as to whether it is really possible that the Slovenes will abandon him? Then he covers his face and begins to sob. According to Korošec’s own version, he slowly withdrew when he realized the Emperor could no longer talk. This was their last meeting.
In the second tale, history happens on a massive set - eighteen days later. Congress Square, Ljubljana, 29 October 1918. A vast throng of people, flags, banners, slogans and delegates from all corners of Slovenia, a large number of people still wearing the uniform of the Austrian army. Political leaders are reading from the balcony of the Regional Palace the Declaration by the National Council on the secession of Slovenia from Austria and her inclusion into the new state of Austrian southern Slavs, Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. The crowd invokes the self- determination of nations and Wilson the liberator, ancient law and the land of SCS, the Republic and Slavic-ness from Gdansk to Trieste, and calls for Dr. Anton Korošec, who is not on the balcony. In its document the National Council has declared secession and the founding of a new country, mentioning not a word about Slovenia’s also withdrawing from the monarchy. The crowd wants more, wants everything. Something unexpected occurs. A reporter from the daily newspaper "The Slovenian" wrote: "A young first lieutenant, Dr. Mihajlo Rostohar, drawn sword in hand, steps up to the balustrade and, in the name of Slovenian officers of the Austrian army, revokes obedience to Austria, swearing allegiance to the National Council. Indescribable mass joy. A great wave flows through the crowd; each and every one knows that we are moving from old Austria into Yugoslavia."
Slovenes entered the newly created State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, with its temporary seat of government in Zagreb, with great enthusiasm. The Austrian "prison of nations" no longer existed and, for a moment, the world seemed well and ideally ordered.
2. The balance is disastrous
But truly only for a moment. For a month later, when the state, without any really precise prior discussions, suddenly united with the Kingdom of Serbia and Montenegro, general enthusiasm had already waned somewhat. In a parish in Ljubljana a priest wrote: "...I did everything to ensure that people would attend Mass upon the founding of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but the church was not full." It is unclear as to what actually occurred during this month. Perhaps it was because the country, envisaged as a republic, had become a kingdom, the capital moved from Zagreb to distant Belgrade; perhaps it was simply that during that month living standards had not improved by even a millimeter. People were impatient and enthusiasms rapidly forgotten. Two years later disillusion was complete. After barely two years of this new country, men in police and military uniforms shot at striking, demonstrating workers. Thirteen killed and thirty wounded. Throughout the whole of the previous restless century under Austria, this had only happened once in Ljubljana when two Slovenian demonstrators fell during a nationalist Slovenian meeting in 1907. A session of the Austrian Parliament; public protest throughout the monarchy; an enquiry was held.
After two years it was clear that the new country was not what people had expected it to be. Austrian money in the form of the crown was exchanged at a rate unfavorable to the Serbian dinar, Slovenian military departments had been disbanded, taxes had increased. Slovenia lost Carinthia (now in Austria) and Primorska (to Italy), national servicemen had to serve in southern Serbia, officials were sent to the South, the post-war economy was unable to establish itself.
Nevertheless, the Yugoslav idea survived all this and many other problems. Fair and foul. Although dissatisfaction was also on the increase in Croatia and even within Serbia itself, this all appeared transitory. Now, now, this country dreamed of by generations would stand upon its own feet. It never did.
Nor does it even today. Seventy and more years after those glad, enthusiastic October days, the balance is disastrous. The population fearfully awaits another wave of crazed inflation, unemployment is rapidly increasing, the economy is on the brink of collapse and disintegration. Inter-national attacks seem imminent daily, and likely to escalate into civil war. Serbia has declared a state of emergency in Kosovo; Serbs in Croatia - in what used to be an Austrian military district for defense against the Turks - break into police stations to arm themselves, blockade roads and stop tourists on their way to Dalmatia. The Federal administration is no longer effective, the army openly threatens a coup d’etat. After seventy years and more, Yugoslavia has admitted to itself that it has experienced a debacle. During those years absolutely everything that can possibly be experimented with politically has been tried out on the people in these regions. A short-term parliamentary system that ended with a shooting in Parliament. The introduction of the monarchic Serbian dictatorship in 1929. A military coup in 1941. The start of Communism and, once again, great rejoicing in Congress Square in 1945 - the speaker Josip Broz Tito. A Stalinist-type dictatorship. An era of socialist plans and liberal intermezzos. Free elections after the end of communism last year, dividing the country even further. In all these seventy and more years, not one essential problem has been resolved, neither those of the economy, nor social or national ones. As I write this today, 9 January 1991, a fresh dramatic radio report. Serbia has broken into the country’s monetary system at the National Bank, to siphon off an unbelievable amount - half the country’s convertible currency balance for 1991 - for its own use. The commentator does not mince his words - "the robbery of the century". Sessions of the National Presidium are attended by generals. A policy for disarming any unit that does not come under the jurisdiction of the Yugoslav army is accepted. No one believes that this means what it ought to mean: the disarming of the road blockade ruffians in the old Austrian military district. Everyone is convinced that this is an attempt to disarm the territorial units of Croatia, and in Slovenia, considered not to be reliably "Yugoslav" or of the "people", these are the beginnings of intervention against the two republics where the communists lost the elections. January 9, 1991 is an ominous reminder of the dictatorship of 6 January 1929.
Last year, on 23 December, Slovenia held a referendum which asked the question: Do you want an independent, sovereign Slovenian state? Yes or No. Eighty-eight percent of all voters answered YES. Truly, Yugoslavia does still exist, but only on the map and in the heads of generals. Perhaps by the time this article is published it will no longer exist. Perhaps I am not writing about Yugoslavia Today, but Memories of Yugoslavia as I jokingly called this article when discussing it in Graz in October last year with the editor.
After seventy or more years since the happy wedding, life together in this Yugoslav marriage has indeed become unbearable.
3. Is all this really lost?
When life together in a marriage becomes unbearable, married partners decide upon divorce. And when, after long and tortuous discussions, terrible and universally degrading formalities, this finally occurs, an emptiness yawns upon both sides. The emptiness of the empty flat, the emptiness of life’s amputation, the empty resonance of the quietness of what is missing, even though this may have been full of misunderstandings, yes, hatred even. But where there is hatred there is love, as every popular novel will tell us.
Reflection upon the urgent and unavoidable moment of the split between Slovenia and Yugoslavia fills me with unease. The tortuous discussions continue, the greedy partners are already stashing their wealth safely, away, newspapers are already full of arguments as to how much this or that partner brought, has acquired, what each will pay to the other before they sunder. Reason argues that it must be so, for this country was never well established right from the start. And yet: we have lived our lives with it, by it, in it. I love Dalmatia, sentimental memories bind me to its wine nights, full of Mediterranean scents, the cool stones of her squares and churches. Antiquity, the Renaissance, the stillness in the gardens of the Catholic monasteries of the islands. Bosnian rivers, Sarajevo’s unique blend of culture and religion, the bustle of oriental marketing, the fine, tiny hammers beating upon copper in the narrow streets. Biblical Macedonia, the bubbling speech of my Macedonian friends, full of feelings and witty turns of thought. The Danube, Novi Sad, where we celebrated transitory moments of theatrical glory during the theatre festival, drowning the equally transitory moments of defeat. Belgrade, with its own perpetual vitality, its own morning scents from countless bakeries. Serbian colleagues with their black political humour, today apparently defeated, with their once refined irony and self-deprecation. Southern Serbia, Vranje, where, against my will, I spent a whole year of my life as a soldier, experiencing not only the loathsome barracks but also the paradoxical mixture of oriental sybaritism and Orthodox mysticism; the sweet sorrows of the Morava, the Slavic song accompanied by oriental drums. And finally Zagreb, even in this article loathe to appearing on the same page as Belgrade or - God forbid - Southern Serbia. Zagreb with its eyes turned towards Vienna and both feet in the Balkans; Zagreb which is almost Slovenia but is still something else: its historical pathos, the Croat chess-board, the narrow Catholic mission, the centre of the region that defends western civilization: antemurale christianitatis. Yes, Zagreb too will be in another country, to be known as the Republic of Croatia. And not without a touch of fearful egoism do I think about my own books on the shelves of booksellers in all those towns, in different languages, alphabets and dust jackets, and the stages of larger and smaller theatres where, with an intensity of mind and body, actors completed my fabrications.
Is all this really lost?
And I reflect again with unease upon the moment when I shall find myself exclusively amongst my beloved Slovenes, entering Europe, blabbing European phrases, amidst coarse industrialists and gentle singers, amongst kindred omniscience and its appropriate sarcasm, envy and malice. Before us lie solely pure aims and solutions. And "pure" solutions do not exist in my habitus. The hope remains that the new independent Slovenia will be a synthesis. Firstly a synthesis of what it already possesses, what the land inherited from a millennium of existence in the Central European space. This does not necessarily mean merely a sense of practicality and industriousness, but also its open-ness, curiosity and patience with differences within oneself and everything around. This means not only an eternal interest in one’s own originality or a renewal of interest in one’s Central European cultural neighbors, the Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians and Italians, but also in all creative, cultural human impulses including those that will come from former Yugoslavia.
But how will we manage and what we shall do alone with ourselves is another question. Only the future itself will actually answer all the mass of writing about the possibilities and requirements of independent Slovenian life. One thing is certain: No longer will anyone be able to argue that someone else is to blame for our lack of success, or that some unpleasant qualities in the Slovenian character are the consequence of ceaseless suppression, or that the organism cannot completely vitalize the economy and society cannot develop completely because someone else is inhibiting this - once Vienna, then Rome, thirdly Belgrade, fourthly Moscow. No longer will Central European depression and a tendency to suicide be ascribable to external servitude.
4. Their hearts flamed for Yugoslavia
I probably do not speak solely for myself if I say that I love Yugoslavia, that is, the geography, the culture, the people. Yugoslav-ness - in other words, the Yugoslav idea - is something I hate from the bottom of my heart. Even more: I am sure that it is precisely the so-called Yugoslav-ers, the zealots of the idea of Yugoslavia, who have definitively destroyed Yugoslavia. The idea has stamped out the reality. Political terminology between the two wars accurately defined the notion of nationalism. The nationalists were Yugoslavs. They had their own organization known as ORYUN (Organization of Yugoslav Nationalists). Culturally this organization desired the unification of the Yugoslav nations, the removal of every difference, including linguistic ones. Socially, they were narrow, loyal monarchists, devotees of the iron fist and the dictatorship that eventually came about. Left-wingers and cultural autonomists considered the black- uniformed armed guard who beat up and killed their political opponents throughout Slovenia and Dalmatia as fascists, which indeed they were. And yet they too were idealists. Their hearts flamed for a Yugoslavia, united and indivisible, born of the fire and blood of the First World War. The idealism of the Yugoslav idea of this extreme right, in one differentiated form or another, reached far into many a head, including intellectual ones, from Serbian Piedmontists through Croat integralists to the Slovenian men of culture who had hated the defunct Austria, the "prison of nations". The Yugoslav idea found its most secure haven and dwelling-place within the army, "one of the best in Europe", as the newspapers of the time reported from manoeuvre to manoeuvre. Nevertheless, the army too collapsed at the first thrust in 1941.
Anyway, the Yugo-nationalism and integralism that forcibly and artificially concealed the actual state of affairs automatically triggered off their own opposition. The collapse of Yugoslavia. A State of Croatia, supported by Berlin and Rome came into existence, with limitless hostility towards Serbs, the East, everything that was not Croatian, European, western. They were undisturbed by the fact that Bosnian Muslims were accepted into their embrace, for according to their theories they were merely Croats of another faith. The Serbs organized their own units and the terrible massacre began, to be remembered throughout history as a dark, Balkan frenzy of bloody violence against everyone and everything. The Slovenes, the third nation of the happy triumvirate of SCS from 1918 were not mixed up in this battle. They were killing each other, left and right, red and black. Let us leave the historical excursus, so confused and complicated as to have even today not arrived at any relevant historiography, and let us come to a halt with a summary: in 1941 Yugoslavia seemed lost forever. Neither former Yugoslavs - now again simply Croats, Serbs and Slovenes - believed in it any more, nor did those creating new maps of Europe, reflecting as they were upon the restoration of a Serbian state on the one hand and a beyond-the- Danube Central European federation on the other. At that time, those seizing upon and renewing the Yugoslav idea were those who a decade before had desired the destruction of this artificial Versailles creation and an independent Russian republic upon its soil. Such a plan for Slovenia was signed, in some document or other, by the communist parties of Italy and Austria. We shall never know whether the idea for the restoration of Yugoslavia grew in some Comintern Moscow office or in the heads of some suddenly integral Yugoslav thinking communists.
5. An era of immortality
1945 saw Congress Square in Ljubljana witness again a glad throng. In 1945 Yugoslavia was renewed, born of blood as they taught those of us who came into the world later in our school lessons. An era of perpetuity and immortality had begun.
Not only did those of us who wore the Pioneer scarves about our necks, clenching infant fists in greeting to the immortally wonderful man in the white uniform, but also those who taught us all this, and the workers and soldiers as well, the whole of Yugoslavia believed itself to be living in an age that would never pass. No one gave any thought at all to the fact that the physical body of the man whose biography and the many songs about whom we all knew by heart would once simply die. Once again the Yugoslav idea became exchanged for one of geography and culture. The intangible and immortal idea possessed an abstract triumvirate image: Tito- Yugoslavia-Communism. Of course, many thinkers produced entire subsystems of this triumvirate, with infinite numbers of analogies and variations that reached into every cell of the body of society. After the quarrel with Stalin, the Idea, in a sophisticated kind of way, was externally strengthened. Not merely politically and militarily. Jean Cassou and many others wrote eulogies to it. For the nations of Eastern Europe it signified hope. The Yugoslav rivers, the Adriatic Sea, the Alpine summits - none of this had any connection with reality any more. All of these were merely metaphors for the idea of the trinity with its own subsystem. At the time, no one considered that - amidst the magnificent dynamics of History - there were also the humiliated and sorrowful, the imprisoned, the tortured and the numerous killed . Not only was the price paid for the idea of Yugoslavia and its personification a high one during the war, but also after it. Fifteen thousand corpses were flung into Karst caves in the dark forests of Slovenia, and opponents sentenced without trial at a time when peace had settled over the rest of the world. As the world sang of Tito’s courage in confronting Stalin, one of the worst concentration camps of recent European history was opened on the Adriatic island of Goli. Zealots of the triune Yugoslav idea infiltrated the army, the secret police, factories and universities. And Yugoslavia, which really was more liberal than the remainder of Eastern Europe became - as its dissident faction - the spoilt child of the West that was required to forgive the country’s shadier deeds for they were negligible when compared to the benefits and hopes otherwise aroused. And it must be said that in this Yugoslavia too life was not too hard to live. Needless to say, on one condition: one must not even think anything against the triune deity, and increasingly, not even against the entire subsystem. To be a Croat, let us say, was to be quisling, a traitor, without a job or in prison. Farmer or Catholic - dangerous categories; an intellectual, if not a true Marxist, was suspect. And so on, down to the details described in numerous contemporary publications of already repetitive books of memoirs.
Yes, we lived through an era of immortality and perpetuity. One pop group achieved enormous popularity with a song entitled "The Name of Perpetuity", along the lines of "...and if perpetuity exists /and if perpetuity has a name/ then that name is Tito’s." "Yugoslavia, that’s Tito" said the banners. And see, after his death, suggestions were indeed made, and indeed seriously discussed, about renaming Yugoslavia after him. I have no idea what - probably Titoslavia. I will not say Titoland, it would be as tasteless as all the general expectoration upon the dead president is becoming against which not even the Committee for the Protection of the Person and Name of Marshal Tito, still in existence, can afford protection. Nowadays it seems to me that most of all I would myself like to afford him protection. Many of those now competing in the mudslinging are those who only yesterday elevated him to the heavens. A short while ago a Serbian writer exceeded everything, speaking in holy wrath and suggesting that Josip Broz be exhumed from his grave, to be impaled upon a branch of hawthorn.
Fresh zealots are again at work. If I am here concerned about anything linked with Tito, it is this unfortunate idea of Yugoslav-ness that has elevated itself above reality, to bury the latter beneath itself.
In truth many a man in the street considers that things were all right under Tito, better than today anyway. As those who were citizens under Emperor Franz Joseph and are still living today can tell us, bread was cheaper then.
6. A 99.9% communist army
Matters in Yugoslavia went well only as long as they were going well in comparison to something else. This something else was the remainder of Eastern Europe, which was continuously worse off. So it was that Yugoslavs looked upon Romanians, Poles, even Czechs and Hungarians with a mixture of pride. derision and pity - sentiments springing from the link with the Orient. There was some solidarity but only a little, very little. Self-satisfaction prevailed. Some skeptics, particularly in the western regions of the country, where daily comparisons with life in Italy and Austria were possible, were even then vociferously drawing attention to the relativity of the self-satisfaction of the Yugoslavs. The veils upon the Marshal’s life began to drop; inflation, the signs of an even greater recession, unemployment, workers moving from the south of the country to the north, from the country into Western Europe. According to the criteria prevailing at the time, these migrations were in the main a sign of the right to free movement and employment. And it was true, but this apparent liberty concealed a whole wave of fears and repressions within the State, also concealing the latent state of crisis in the country’s economy, to be increasingly rapidly revealed. After the death of the Marshal it was soon evident with what means the relative social peace and aforementioned self - satisfaction of the citizens had been purchased: a vast mountain of dollar debts, so large it was impossible to see beyond.
After the disintegration of part of the Soviet empire, after the establishment of democracy, first in Hungary and then elsewhere, the painful truth revealed itself to even those final few who, right up to that very moment, had thought that Yugoslavia was the enshrinement of Tito, from whose route we were never going to diverge, the waving of flags after basketball matches and empty blustering in every sphere of life. By then even they were forced to admit the truth, all of them, the cunning and the naive, for it penetrated at least to their brains if not to their credulous hearts, when they began to ask about their own empty pockets: rampant inflation gone wild, an economy falling apart. The quasi- reforms and fresh debts those in authority brought from the West as the reckoning for their own former, counter-Soviet tampon position provided no relief. And none of yesterday’s methods can assist any more: complete economic ruin, vast unemployment, the explosion of social conflicts which in this country will also become national ones - all this lies at our door.
I do not know how Tito succeeded in "leading the thirsty across the water" - this very expression used in praise of his cunning and in mockery of his victims, how he used western politics and his anti-Soviet flexibility to squeeze out of them fresh and fresher support and loans. In reality the whole country, and above all the army, was saturated with communist ideals and values. Every adult Yugoslav male who has been in the army knows that he existed for that year in a fortress of the most orthodox, most backward, most dogmatic communism. And is it this army that would be the ally of the West in any crisis? Who on earth believed that? No one in Yugoslavia. Apparently everyone in the West.
Today, western politicians and strategists can still be found who see in this still 99.9% communist army some kind of surety for some kind of stability in this part of the world. With their mathematical and geopolitical and strategic studies, those pragmatists who turned their backs upon principles have done more harm to mankind than the principalists who are not innocent either. Did not the West shower bloody Ceaucescu with aid merely because he directed a somewhat, fractionally better, independent foreign policy?
Needless to say, it was not the western strategists who paid for this, these politics were paid for in blood by the Romanians. And they are still paying today.
If, upon the death of Tito, upon the wailing of the sirens and scenes of ancient sorrow, we knew that some epoch was drawing to its certain close, that the immortal and infinite is also mortal and finite, then we saw the final collapse of the greatest eschatological idea of this century during the Christmas days of 1989. Television, that crazy anti-Gutenburg invention, made it impossible to read dramatic literary scenes about this. Live and direct, day after day, hour after hour, we were shown the drama of the bloody king who today strode down the red carpet at the airport, the next day was having his blood pressure measured in some back-of-beyond military comer just before being shot to death. And the tyrant’s kingdom in chaos and blood.
And only here did an era truly end, in the manner in which it had begun. I am terribly afraid that final scenes, which also have wonderful moments - the bringing down of walls, the embracing, the dissident writer raised more or less from prison to throne - are also followed by epilogues. In the Soviet Union, in Yugoslavia. In both countries where the nature of the world has not only been forced in the social sense, but where they have also attempted to alter the country’s organic, that is, its cultural image. In the Soviet Union theoreticians and practicians have created the so - called Soviet; in SFRJ, the Yugoslav nation. And brought up a whole mass of people who also believe in these constructions. For some, fiction has become reality, but wakened reality cannot acknowledge it as such.
7. This matter could not end well
The final illusion that the Yugoslav, that is the socialist, that is Tito’s idea, in relation to world communist eschatology, is in actual fact a Protestant one, came to us at the end of the seventies. Reforms brought a liberal atmosphere, and those of us who were of an age when the young person is being formed took this condition to be self-evident. We were unaware that this idea did in fact pulsate within its universal, fraternal, ideological arena. We did not believe that the Yugoslav "protestants" had once before double-crossed the Hungarians, and we believed even less that they would abandon the Czechs who had borne our Communist Luther upon their shoulders through Prague. Not one of us even imagined that the Cold Fifties might return to us. Consequently, we all, alone and together, paid for our liberalism, left-wing notions and nationalism. The seventies arrived, Czech quislings embraced our leaders at airports. Tito returned from a visit to Kim Il Sung and hordes of joyous people repeated the scenes from Korea, week after week in Europe, scattering flowers along the roads he drove along. I do not know whether he was interested in anything else at the time, but the zealots took matters into their own hands, to the very end. His portrait became as sacred as in the fifties, then on account of the "revolution that still continues", now because of inertia and the fervor of zealots. There was not even any room for Schweik- like jokes. Flies were not allowed to defecate on these portraits. My naive friend, who like many had joined the Party after the occupation of Czechoslovakia (many fell for the unusually paradoxical campaign of those years, that was against all logic and reason) once came to see me in despair. His daughter had returned from kindergarten to clearly tell her parents: I love you both, but not as much as Comrade Tito. To love Comrade Tito, to proclaim yourself a Yugoslav (never a Slovenian, a Croat or even an individual) became more than a matter of patriotism. This was a matter of ideology.
Yugoslavia at the end of the sixties - acknowledging her own differences, cultural peculiarities, diverse thoughts on life and the world - drew near to something of a contract with reality. During the seventies, the country again became only the triune Idea. But because the country had open boundaries (proof of its self-confidence and great belief in itself) the work of the zealots grew more and more difficult. Reality did exist elsewhere. The zealots threw themselves into the fight with truth with ever greater patriotic fire: flags, stadium rituals, pop songs, the subtle declarations by the literati, the chant of Yu- go-sla-vi-a or Ti-to- Ti-to brought tears of emotion back to the eyes of many. Those of us observing this fresh wave of delirium from the wings or behind bars - and there were more than a few of us there during the seventies - knew then that this matter could not end well.
8. A Balkan Inn
During those few years when the country was known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, prior to the start of the dictatorship that was to rename itself Yugoslavia in 1929, matters - at least at first glance - did appear to be in order. The militant Serbian, cultural Croatian and economically successful Slovenian peoples, each of them with its own piece of the power and the glory. And even here, with these sample indications of the Yugoslav idyll, we encounter dual difficulties. The first is a stereotype, well enough expressed by the Croatian writer Miroslav Krleza: God spare us from the Serbian cannon and Croatian culture. The second is linked to reality. Also living here are Macedonians, considered to be southern Serbs, Muslims who were thought of as Turkified Serbs and Croats, and Albanians, considered to be Arnauts, in other words, only worthy of Karl May and his novel "In the Land of the Shiptars". Even as early as this, Slovenes were convinced that they were being taking advantage of economically, and subjected to cultural unification. And the Croats believed that they were suppressed, and the Serbs that they did not possess the leading role their military victories deserved. Hence in the new socialist state the communists took particular care not to repeat the issue that had sundered the first Yugoslavia, using their own theoretical aims in the form of Lenin’s theory on the question of nationality. When establishing the republics, they granted the Albanians an autonomous region within the province of Serbia. Needless to say these "republics" did not possess any authority, everything was controlled from the center, the Politburo. The greater the rights of the republic (and the individual) as written in the laws that were altered every few years amidst great pomp, the less their actual possibilities. As we said, the Idea was Yugoslavization, and the most numerous nation, the Serbs, were the people who seized upon it most avidly. This concept was also introduced as a nationality category into the population census. Forty years later and after an incredible amount of energy had been invested in this new people, only one million Yugoslavs could be counted amongst the twenty million inhabitants of the country. After Tito’s death, the rapidly cracking cement of "Yugoslav-ness" soon revealed what lay below.
A memory returns, it was 1979. We were seated in the marvellous Roman arena in Pula, at the annual open-air, beneath-the-stars Yugoslav film festival that presents the latest films from the whole country. For long years these had been those of the variety where the audience enthused wildly if one partisan was shot and twenty Germans fell, and sighed sadly when twenty Germans were shot and one partisan fell. That evening we were waiting for a different kind of film; we had already seen an extraordinary introductory film. A documentary from Kosovo was shown. A portrait of the life of a large Albanian family, several generations beneath one roof, each family with its own hearth. Half way through the film was its end - every member of the family coming down the steps of the house, one after the other, from the youngest to the oldest. The message was clear: we are here. You may reckon us Arnauts or the Shiptars of Karl May, you can say we have spread into ancient Serbian regions, but we are here and no one can alter that fact. The Serbs, with their ancient cultural monuments, monasteries, the cradle of the medieval land of Serbia in Kosovo itself could not bring themselves to acknowledge this, as the bearers and supporters of the Yugoslav idea could not accept the truth that, in fact, the Yugoslav nation does not exist. The first eruptions in Kosovo came two years later - demonstrations with the demand for an independent republic. These demonstrations were suppressed by force, as have been all the others that followed.
In the years following, it was rapidly made clear that not only were the Albanians in this country dissatisfied, but everyone, all the peoples, including national minorities. As if Lenin’s principles had solved nothing in any field whatsoever, although these solutions had been endlessly praised. By the mid-eighties it was obvious - if we summarize very briefly and not without some fear of stereotypes - that the Slovenes were dissatisfied because they were being made use of economically and were culturally under threat; similar reasons applied to the Croats, and additionally because Serbs had been put in power at every level in their own republic of Croatia, from the secret police to the government. The Serbs registered discontent because they had lost their own sovereignty in Yugoslavia, and the Albanians in Kosovo were repressing them, destroying their ancient culture, while the developed North (Slovenia and Croatia) as was generally known, was taking advantage of the underdeveloped South and not the other way round. The Macedonians were economically bankrupt and Yugoslavia was not doing anything at all towards their international recognition. The Albanians were discontented because they were suffering universal repression from the Serbian police and the army. Similar reasons for discontent in Yugoslavia exist for the Montenegrins, Muslims, the Hungarians in Vojvodina, the Italians in Istria. Stereotypes grow rapidly: the Slovenes are Austro-types and separatists, hate the army and are undermining the State; the Croats are a genocidal nation, rotten rebels, supporters of the Vatican-Comintern connection; the Macedonians are parasites; the Montenegrins lazy sods; the Albanians primitives and rapists; the Muslims are Khomeini’s men.
Chaos. Who is able to understand it? The aforementioned Krleza described this condition as similar to a Balkan inn, all of those within already somewhat drunk and dangerous. And all of them waiting, waiting for when one of them smashes the light. This metaphor has been accepted into the phraseology of daily talk in Yugoslavia.
9. "The island of freedom" and irrationalism
Last year the fracturing of Communism throughout Eastern Europe rendered the Yugoslav picture a little clearer. Diverse opinions, and not merely those of the Politburo, but also writers’ and philosophers’ phantasmagoria on the state of the country and society were laid aside. Finally we were united in the desire to show through elections what the truth was. The elections in Slovenia, the first republic to hold them, gave the communists approximately the same percentage as in Czechoslovakia. In Croatia they suffered total defeat; in Serbia, renamed Socialists, they achieved an absolute majority. In Montenegro, now under a completely Serbian leadership, they won under the good old name of communist. In Bosnia and Hercegovina the voters divided their votes between the national parties: Muslim, Serbian and Croatian. The Albanians boycotted the Serbian elections, Macedonia remained divided between the nationalists, the Yugoslav reformists and the communists.
In short, the East remained Red, as in Romania and Bulgaria. I am not interpreting that maliciously, but am merely noting that the cultural ingredients are older and more powerful than the ideas they wish to enforce. Nor do I write with malice because our Serbian colleagues endlessly drone on at us about the democratic traditions of their own nation and the provincial Central European-ness of the Croats and Slovenes. I note this with sorrow. During the difficult seventies, when the atmosphere in Belgrade was more liberal than that of Slovenia, it was our Serbian colleagues who assisted us a great deal. Numerous links were forged then, and later in the eighties when in the Slovenia Newsweek described as "an island of freedom", we were publishing prohibited and persecuted Serbian authors. I write with sorrow because I feel that it is not communism that has won amongst the Serbs, but rather irrationalism, the Kosovo "convulsion".
And it is indeed writers who have contributed to this, the Serbs’ holy war against the Albanians and anyone attempting to understand them. The passions that have come to light, the gigantic potential of a traditionally politicized Serbian nation, have been used by the professionals for the irrational, for ideas far from reality: the rule of communists. The result is that only half of Yugoslavia still has communists in power, still blinding themselves and others with the "Yugoslav" idea, while the other half has two democratic states, Croatia and Slovenia, that no longer want any dealings with irrationalism of the Balkan and communist kind.
10. The “Sardine-tunnel” and a lyrical theme
The story of writers in the East who found themselves involved in politics whether they wished to be or not, is well known and needs no repetition. Those who overnight moved from prison and silence to some leading position ceaselessly in the limelight will soon realize that intelligence, an ethical stance, and enlightened reason- ing are not only insufficient for political pragmatism, but even sometimes undesirable qualities. Many a bitter disappointment awaits them, not least the realization - never foreign to them, but evidently always only applicable to others and not themselves, that the world of politics, power and authority is indeed something different from the world of literature. But what awaits those of our colleagues who have lost all sense of autoreflection, who are dragging their own readers, or merely those of their own people who blindly trust them, into a dangerous sphere, into violence?
Did we, I ask myself, talk for so many years about politics not interfering in literature, only for some literati to now be interfering in politics in a more obscure manner than the politicians themselves?
Some years ago, when the constricting band about Yugoslavia began to crack, the first signs of national impatiences began to appear. Nothing untoward for anyone in any way cognizant of the soul of this terminally ill country. The violence in Kosovo - unfortunately elevated by some of our colleagues into a sacred creed in order to defend the justifiable matter of eternal Serbian-ness - has cooled the traditionally good relationships between Slovenes and Serbs. In Slovenian and Serbian PEN we agreed upon open panel discussions which we held in public in both Ljubljana and Belgrade. We failed to agree upon nearly everything. Our support for democracy in Slovenia was to them "particularist", our tales of Central Europe "provincial". Their Kosovo traumas were to us "anachronistic", their submission to MiloseviÊ‘s charisma, which was to legally turn the Serbian question into a post-Tito, - Comintern- Yugoslavia, was to us a submission to a national Bolshevism. Of course, I am simplifying matters, the talks were far more complicated and wittier than can be conveyed here. Nevertheless, we did talk. Now we no longer even talk. The last chat I had with a Serbian colleague, a fighter for the sacred matter of the Serbian people and their Orthodox tradition, was after a fresh wave of violence in Kosovo, when the police drove young Albanians through the so-called: "Sardine- tunnel", beating them up as they passed through. Not only did I express my personal protest, but also the fear that this madness would spread throughout the whole of Yugoslavia which has bitter, the bitterest, experience of national quarrels. Western Europe, itself far from innocent in this sense, came to its senses after the last war. Here in Yugoslavia, where so much blood has been spilt, everything indicates that we are prepared to repeat it all over again. Is it not time for us at least to keep quiet if we are not even now capable of raising a voice against everything that is being prepared? Perhaps I was somewhat pathetic, but he was even more cynical. "What you are saying," he said, "is nothing but a lyrical theme." If this writer, Miodrag BulatoviÊ, the Serbian expert on the lyrical theme, and I could not agree upon even the care for human life and its dignity, then I really do not know what else we have left to discuss. Of course, someone can always be found to state that something greater than life does exist: the truth. The Serbian truth, the Albanian truth. Between them are knives and an epic theme. Always anew. Let me be allowed to step aside from this debate. Let me be allowed to take an interest in something else in this world.
11. We up here - you down there
Our deceased president liked to make use of the phrase "we up here - you down there". This meant that they up there with all the responsibility arranged something that we down there were to implement with all responsibility. I was the editor of a student newspaper and such a haranguing of the people seemed unprecedented to me. We published a cartoon depicting two granite blocks, carved upon the upper one was "we up here" and on the lower "you down there". The upper one cracked, fell apart. This cartoon caused us grave trouble with the zealots of Communism. But it was not that. It was that people accepted this as something natural. Nowadays, as writer colleagues also speak of major and minor cultures of peoples, of the ancient and more recent peoples of Yugoslavia, of statesmen or bondsmen, even of lower races (Albanians), I understand why that syntagma was so ingenuously received. In the Balkans there is always someone up there and someone down below. As in Byzantium. Or the Ottoman empire. Rulers above, the small fry below. One nation above, another below. The bureaucratic Party caste above, the kulaks and reactionaries below. One violent, the other fearful. The ones above, whenever they are in power, must make use of that power, otherwise they are deemed worthless. If by any chance a Parliament convenes in which everyone wishes to be equal, Croatian delegates shoot themselves there. It sometimes looks as if the traumas of the recent and distant past have simply crept under the skin of the people here, entering their genetic structure. I have no other explanation for the state in which writers lend their brains and their pens to prove national, cultural and political superiority. And if this is so, no intelligent idea, no modem sociological or social method, no consequential democratic suggestion or system will save Yugoslavia.
In a land where every thought is shaped with regard to "up here" or "down there", every idea will also be altered into a political pragmatism. In such a land the subtlety of the soul will always be subjugated to the kings, heroes, drums and gods; it will be impossible to hide from them. As through all the years to date, history will continue to knock once at every home in one uniform or another. Those "down there", circumspect in the face of whatever authority, will continue to ask, as does the peasant in Euripedes’ "Electra", "...which man, which hero, which god? And who are those people? ... What kind of a noise is that? Am I allowed to be what I have been? To knead bread, chop wood, desire my wife? Which man, which hero, which god?"
After free elections and after all the changes in Europe, political prisoners still abound in Yugoslavia. The January 1991 issue of The Index on Censorship, published in London is enough. Three columns of data close to home, all from Serbia, the majority from the unhappy region of Kosovo, three columns of data behind which lie the human stories of imprisonment and repression. And where are the thousands of tales from the "tunnel of sardines" and from earlier years throughout the whole country? Rendered as it is through the principle of up here, down there it is impossible to avoid History here, even by fleeing into the streets. During the era described at the beginning of this article, the Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar said: let Austria suffocate in her own filth. Shall I today repeat this after him, substituting Yugoslavia for Austria? With my departure from Yugoslavia, together with the Republic of Slovenia, shall I really be able to avoid the chaos and madness of the contemporary world?
12. And now, dear God, with bared teeth
Yugoslavia is a chaotic part of the European world. To me it also seems ungovernable. And it also seems to me, and possibly I exaggerate, that because a metaphor for the deeper chaos of the world can be sensed here, all are washing their hands of it. This conglomeration of cultures, civilizations, religions, Byzantine, Catholic and European rationalistic ingredients, reflects the confusion of the world, where reason - linear and arranging-the-world - shrugs its shoulders with the argue- met: I do not understand.
Even if television were not serving us half-hourly snippets of a condensed, chaotic image of the world every evening, even if the world about us and around us, the world of Yugoslav shouting today, the forerunner of tomorrow’s madness and pains, it were not definitively chaotic; the fact would always remain that, in his dealings with and even in his ideas about the world from earth to heaven, twentieth century man is no longer capable of control. It does seem as if today all man’s endeavors, from let us say the spiritual, the ethical through technology, science and economics, are directed towards making life more bearable, more tolerant, greater in material comfort and more controllable from every aspect. In actual fact, outbreaks of impatience of the most different kinds are growing increasingly worse, even those we thought belonged to the previous century. Man simply no longer has any check over what is happening in the world and within himself. Communists and Nazis have compromised all the enlightened mottos of earlier centuries and instead of orderly social and national states we now have a murderous weld that has intensified the worst that existed in individual and national collective ideas. How can I understand Yugos- lavia, how can I carry on being mixed up in the ordering of the affairs, when the world as such is not in order. Hordes of one kind or another have been rolling across the European cultural continent for centuries, shouting slogans: religious, national, social. Some persons stride stiffly along red airport carpets: salvoes, national anthem, secretive and unclear reports from behind closed doors, reports followed by boycotts, economic wars, assassination, real wars. Nor have all - redeeming economy and technology redeemed anything at all. Some sniper shoots twenty people from a tenth floor. Some Korean rushes around Seoul from morning until night on behalf of his computer business and to buy a new car, instead of seating himself beneath a tree to reflect upon the harmony of the principle of male and female, as he did two decades ago. What I want to say is that there is more to our lives than the bare history of logical causes and effects. As in the world at large, there is also a great deal that is irrational in the Yugoslav confusion. I know that this interpretation will not be of any assistance to anyone, least of all in the example given.
Nevertheless it can at least serve to illustrate the fact that people do exist who have had enough of risking their lives and reason, words and actions so that some country called Yugoslavia can enter at least the twenty-first century as a democratic, modem and free country, a country without any political violence of any kind, without an unbearable self-perpetuating practice of threats and intimidation, a ceaseless "we up here, you down there."
I have already spent half my life pleading for a respect for difference, for the reciprocity of differences, national, cultural, individual, creative. And, ever anew, the result is always that at the end these differences stand opposite each other, with bared teeth. Ever since I encountered reason, in other words, skepticism, I have put up with all the Yugoslavist, communist symbolics, its iconography, its Marshal’s stadium rituals, with the utmost difficulty. Beneath these worked the secret police, the courts, the military apparatus, fear in every cell of the micro-organisms of society. And now, 0 dear God, when there’s an end to it all, fresh potentates with coats of arms, mottos, fluttering flags, lined-up squads me already appearing to me. It is not the same, I do know that, but couldn’t they have thought of something else? Something that would not ceaselessly, persistently remind us of the yesterday still squatting nightmarishly upon our chests?
13. Today Lithuania, tomorrow Slovenia?
This has been a writer’s prejudice. Truly, democracy in Slovenia is not working as one would hope. Parliament is squabbling over minutiae, the people peep askance at the new authorities through their fingers: vast amounts of malice, narrow- ness, constant anger. Today they have already forgotten yesterday. Let alone what will happen tomorrow. All the same, even the worst democracy is better than none at all, and infinitely better than tanks on the streets. As I finish this article, tanks are at this very moment on the streets of Vilnius. Lithuania is experiencing the same fate as Czechoslovakia in 1968.
I had wanted to end this article at this point, drawing attention to the relativity of man’s freedom, even in the national, democratic countries, to the relationships between the authorities and the individual, which are deeper than social legalities and from which we shall not be able to retreat with our own questions and criticisms, even in the newly coming republic of Slovenia, achieved calmly through referendum.
Now I must finish it differently. The fate of Lithuania is also the fate of Slovenia. Europe, of which we in precisely Lithuania, Slovenia and other small eastern European countries talk so much, ought to know that this is also her fate.
The movement for the independence of Slovenia is actually an ancient matter. Only the one that ended in a referendum last December did not begin with nationalism. It began with the fight for man’s rights, with the writing of literary magazines, courageous columnists, with alternative movements, with the persistent, calm resistance of the Slovenian Catholics. It began with the movement for the freedom of the individual, for democracy, for pluralism. And Slovenia - in other words the many thinking and politically active people in the land - has long thought that it would be possible to achieve this through a change in circumstances within Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav army, the prime defender of Yugoslav and careful guardian of communist ideas responded by imprisoning three young journalists and one sublieutenant from its own ranks. And only then was Congress Square once again filled to overflowing. Fifty thousand people demanded their release, and since 1988, when this occurred, right until today, attempt after attempt has been made to alter conditions in Yugoslavia, one after the other doomed to fail. The arrogance of a people that has long lost touch with reality has been shown to be boundless. And it has been here that matters have matured into the decision to render valid the right to self - determination. Slovenia co-founded this country of Yugoslavia. If, after seventy years of long reflection, the great majority of its citizens no longer wish to live in it, then this unit also has the right to leave. I do not know when European diplomacy will accept the fact that this decision is irrevocable. I do not know when the European public will begin to deal with the problems relevant to its own continent and rather less with those of South-American coups. It does not appear that this will be soon, it does seem as if with the disappearance of the German Democratic Republic from the European map the last great problem is thought to have been solved.
I am afraid that it will have to be unhappy Lithuania that will prove that this is not so. And tomorrow Slovenia? Croatia? Kosovo? The whole of Yugoslavia?
Last week someone high up in the European world lectured in Ljubljana. He was greatly in favor of youthful Slovenian democracy and his audience were grateful for his goodwill. With satisfaction he ascertained that pluralism and respect for Man’s rights have now, thanks to the World, spread to eastern Europe. When he had finished some ignorant listener raised his hand to ask whether the right to self-determination of nations belongs to the fundamental Rights of Man, that ancient principle Slovenia had called upon in 1918. Absolutely, he replied, but for Slovenia, that very moment carrying out its referendum, of great value, there were some legal reservations; it was not a sovereign state. But what must Slovenia or Lithuania do to become this, when in 1918 a referendum answer would have sufficed. They must take over all authority upon their own territory, came the answer, they must become sovereign. And what if Russian tanks roll into Lithuania tomorrow or the tanks of the Yugoslav army appear on the streets of Ljubljana? You will have every moral support replied the dignitary. Thank you, replied the naive listener, the writer of these lines.
With its referendum and all the required Parliamentary acts, Slovenia has decided upon independence. It has, however, allowed one other possibility before this: discussions on a confederation. In other words, upon those common links that will rest upon the actual state of matters, upon the geography, interests and cultures but not upon the voluntaristic ideas of "Yugoslav-ness". The communist presidency of the country and the people’s army have sharply rejected the idea of a confederation. The moment will come when the presidents and the generals will realize that Yugoslavia is a reality, not an idea about reality. Only then will they offer Slovenia a confederation. And some other K. not Korosec, will have to reply to them, in accordance with the natural state of things: Too late, comrades, generals and presi- dents. Too late.
I do not know what will follow and what historical tales and legends may arise from what may come, I do know that Slovenia will have moral support. And that, with or without it, the end result will be the same as it was in October 1918. Something will have ended and something will have begun. Those who have the luck to survive it all will write their memoirs seventy years hence.