Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Country Part 2

Tito's Yugoslavia developed under conditions far worse than anything that could possibly emerge today due to a financial collapse. We tend now to see it simply as a part of history, but World War II was the greatest calamity by far that ever befell the human race. It was truly an unimaginable disaster that no book or movie could ever begin to convey. Yugoslavia was unique in being the only country that liberated itself and as a result, Tito was able to remain independent from either the Western powers or the USSR. I won't claim he was an angel, but he was certainly an extremely capable leader and politician, who understood how to manage a country that began in total abjection and poverty, not to mention all the many political strains due to the fallout from the war -- which had pitted certain parts of the country against others.

He united the country to the point that, when I visited, it was truly a multicultural society. The family I lived with in Mostar were "Muslims," i.e., of Turkish background, though no longer practicing as Muslims, but they had close friends of Serbian and Croatian background and no one thought anything of it. Not then, anyhow. Yugoslavia was theoretically a "communist" country, but Tito's brand of communism was very different from that of Stalin. He initiated communal farms, but when that didn't work out, he backed off and allowed the small farmers to keep control of their land. I remember hearing church bells ringing out on Sundays, and once visited a small village during an all day Catholic festival (that was actually partly pagan, which is why I was there, because that interested me). Stalin persecuted Muslims and Christians alike, but not Tito, he tolerated them.

One day I took a hike through some mountainous terrain, feeling very proud of my strength and endurance -- until I encountered a family coming from the other direction, including a woman and her small children, a family of Gypsies migrating in their usual fashion, from one mountain to another. While Gypsies were either persecuted or forced to settle down in most other countries, they were allowed to live their traditional lifestyle in Tito's Yugoslavia.

Economically things were very interesting, because it really did seem to me that poverty had been eliminated. So had wealth. Everyone had a house to live in. Everyone had enough to eat. Everyone, so far as I could tell, had a job. No slums. No beggars. Nothing much extra, either. A typical birthday present was, for example, a pair of socks. Individual families were allowed considerable leeway when it came to doing a certain amount of business. The family I stayed with were able to regularly take in boarders and make a profit from that bit of "free enterprise." I saw no real signs of government interference in any aspect of daily life and as I said, no one seemed afraid to speak openly on any topic, including politics.

There was also an excellent health system, as far as I could tell. When I got sick (actually a bad case of constipation and nothing more, though I was sure it was appendicitis), my friends took me to the local health center, a modern, well equipped establishment, where I encountered the first female doctor I'd every seen. (This was back in the 60's remember.) She was young and seemed extremely competent. She examined me and decided I was constipated and prescribed some medication that would have cost a dime in US money -- only my girlfriend insisted on getting me the meds for free with her worker's card. If you had a worker's card, you paid nothing for your health care or medications. (She was a lawyer for a local factory, by the way, the first female lawyer I had ever met.)

The biggest problem, especially for educated people, was boredom -- a feeling of being shut off from all the interesting cultural developments taking place in the "developed" world around them. For this reason it was not a country I would have wanted to settle down in. But the people as a whole were far, far better off than in any capitalist country you could name. Better off not only for not living in poverty but also for not living in wealth either, which as I see it is also a problem. I wouldn't want to be poor but I also wouldn't want to be wealthy and, for example, be expected to have servants and need to worry about being robbed or kidnapped and having security people around me all the time, who I could never be sure whether or not to trust, etc.

Ultimately, after the death of the dictator (which Tito was, after all), the country collapsed into a horrible civil war and when I heard about that and had to read about what was going on during that period it broke my heart. But the war had nothing to do with economics, nothing to do with "communism" or "socialism" or "free" markets. It was due to tensions that had festered for many years, thanks to very deep divisions during WW II when certain regional ethnic groups sided with the Nazis and others had sided with the partisans. Not to mention much older divisions stemming from ethnic rivalries going very far back into European history. Tito was able to hold all these factions together, but he made the huge mistake of not allowing the country to develop into a true democracy, so after the "strong man's" death, all the old problems re-emerged.

The moral of my story is that a free and equable society, based on a reasonable, sane approach to politics and economics, CAN emerge, even out of the most disastrous imaginable conditions. It happened in Tito's Yugoslavia and it can happen here. Oh and by the way, Yugoslavia wasn't really a communist country. But it WAS a socialist country, for sure. Also a dictatorship. You can't have everything, I guess (though you can certainly TRY).


  1. To supplement what you have written about Yugoslavia, here is a footnote (p.328) from Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Klein quotes the communication director for Clinton's lead negotiator during the 1999 war when NATO bombed Belgrade. "As nations throughout the region sought to reform their economies," (privatize their economies Chicago-style to Western European and American corporations) "mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to delight in continually moving in the opposite direction. It is a small wonder NATO and Yugoslavia ended up on a collision course. It was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform -- not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians -- that best explains NATO's war."

  2. nice vid i cant play spy to save my life but after watching your vid ive decided to have another crack at it.


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