Yugonostalgia is like a vessel that everyone fills with their own ideas and meanings. What is it and why does it exist? How does it manifest and how do different people experience it? And where is it headed?
“The Future of Yugonostalgia”: Remembering Yugoslavia Podcast Episode #72
A deep dive into yugonostalgia plus a comparison with nostalgia in the former Czechoslovakia.
With Milica Popović and Boris Strečanský. Featuring music by Polemic & Medial Banana.
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The Future of Yugonostalgia: Podcast Episode Transcript (and More)
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PETER KORCHNAK: This is Remembering Yugoslavia, the show expl1oring the memory of a country that no longer exists. I’m your guide Peter Korchnak.
The question I hear most frequently is, “Why?” Why am I, a person not from the former Yugoslavia, dedicating my time and treasure to a place I don’t know, with the podcast, the writing, the photography. Why Yugoslavia?
There is no single or simple answer; the why is a river comprised of many tributaries, inflowing at different times and different places, from my childhood in Czechoslovakia to my new life between the US and the former Yugoslavia, from film to people, from dreaming to writing.
I talk about some of these tributaries in the origin story of Remembering Yugoslavia, in Episode Three. A major one was the exploration of Yugoslavia’s and my native Czechoslovakia’s dissolutions during my graduate studies at Central European University.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “The Balkan Night Train” by Dieter van Westen]
There is another major contributing tributary that after about a decade-long hiatus carried me back to Yugoslavia. On Friday the 13th, 2012, I went to the Atlantis Lounge, in Portland, Oregon, to see the local Balkan brass band Krebsić Orkestar. The frontman, Alex Krebs, who save for his Bosnian wife has no connection to the Balkans, sported a fez and a fake gold tooth and taught the crowd to paste dollar bills onto the musicians’ glistening foreheads. Shot glasses clanked again and again, and late into the party, a group of raucous Serbs carried a drunk birthday boy named Zlaja around the room in a chair.
Many questions burned like rakija through my chest that night but the one that ended up bringing me to this point was: Why am I nostalgic?
It took 300 years for nostalgia to morph from a disorder to a helpful emotion. In his seminal work, Yearning for Yesterday, published in 1979, Fred Davis separated nostalgia from homesickness and defined it as a longing for the past. In the nostalgic experience the discontents and anxieties of your life today trigger the yearning for the better times of yesteryear, yielding “a positively toned evocation of a lived past.”
Another school of thought sees nostalgia primarily as a mourning for the past. And the bittersweet view defines nostalgia as a happy-ish emotion mixed with sadness for an irretrievably lost past.
In any case, nostalgia acts as a psychological defense mechanism—“memory with the pain removed.”
For about a decade after I moved to America—for love—I was wrapped in a cloak of shapeless gloom that became heavier as time passed. “Nostalgia is a more precise term to describe the immigrant experience,” writes the Romanian-born professor Andreea Deciu Ritivoi.
The Polish émigré Eva Hoffman speculates that “exile is the archetypal condition of temporary lives” (indeed it is of our entire Western civilization since the expulsion from Paradise).
I was doubly exiled: An immigrant to a country of immigrants and a diasporan from a past country of perpetual diasporans. Nostalgia filled the gap between my past and present lives.
The questions led me back to Yugoslavia, to traveling and seeking and writing, all the way to the very moment we are sharing right now.
And the more I learned, the more the gloom lifted.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, “red nostalgia” gripped Central and Eastern Europe. Retrospection about the good life during state socialism helped people to cope with the dramatic and traumatic changes during transitions from socialism to capitalism, to channel discontent with their current situation, and to reconstruct their identity to replace the one demolished so effectively and so swiftly. Nostalgia flourished in that space between what had been and what was not yet in place.
The former Yugoslavia was no exception.
Yugonostalgia has come up time and again on the show; I’ve explored different facets of it with different guests, but it always felt like talking about a book without ever having read it. So today, I’m finally going to take a deep dive into Yugonostalgia. And because I’m from where I’m from and with a nod to the good old times as a student, I’m going to do it in a comparative way, contrasting nostalgia in the former Yugoslavia with that in the former Czechoslovakia.
As you’ll hear, nostalgia has a future-forward dimension. So do the gifts good people from all over the world send my way to help keep the show going—and the memory of the former country alive. Thank you, Alex, Ivana, Lisa, and Wendy for your contributions. I can’t do this without you.
If the podcast helps you process your own feelings, if it’s therapeutic to you in some way, as I know it is to many, be like Alex, Ivana, Lisa, Wendy, and many other contributors and support the show today. You’ll gain early access to extended and bonus episodes, but most importantly, to the knowledge you’re helping to bridge the past and the present and the future of a place that once was, is, and will in a different form be again. Go to RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate or follow the link in the episode description in your podcast listening app and donate today.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: There are so many different interpretations of what Yugonostalgia is.
PETER KORCHNAK: Milica Popović is a doctor of political sociology and Balkan studies from Belgrade. Born in 1982, she focuses on yugonostalgia, particularly among her generation, the so-called Last Pioneers. She identifies as Yugoslav. She spoke with me from Vienna.
Everyone has their own definition or at least an opinion of Yugonostalgia, it’s like a vessel everyone fills with their own ideas.
In the most general sense, “collective nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion that reflects sentimental longing for valued aspects of the past of one’s group.” It is a multilayered, emotional story we tell ourselves of bygone, irretrievably lost times that were better than today. It is less about what was than about what is; the past is but a distorting, romanticized mirror to the present.
Yugonostalgia then is a longing for positive aspects of socialist Yugoslavia. That is, not necessarily for the state or the regime or socialism per se, but rather, as Maja Maksimović writes, for “a certain mix of characteristics, values, and objects connected to that period, such as military strength, international reputation, economic welfare, prosperity, unity, solidarity, social security, friendship, cultural cooperation, geographical space, or even consumer products.” It is oriented toward “unfulfilled dreams, lost opportunities, and elusive ideals of the socialist Yugoslav past;” in other words, it’s about what people miss today rather than what they miss from yesterday. End quote.
Interpretations of yugonostalgia converge on these themes. An outlier is Ana Petrov who has defined Yugonostalgia as a kind of love. Quote: “If nostalgia was seen as a condition in which a person can suffer because of the loss of home…then yugonostalgia appears to be a similar kind of contemporary post-socialist condition in which one can be madly in love with their homeland. [T]he desire to return home is…realized in loving what was left of Yugoslavia: the culture, the music, the people.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: There are three main manifestations, so to say, of yugonostalgia.
One is, of course, the term used as a discursive strategy of the new nationalist, neoliberal elites in the post-Yugoslav countries, which are trying to mark as negative any kind of reflection on the socialist Yugoslav times, whether that reflection is positive or even just neutral.
PETER KORCHNAK: After 1991, simplistic discursive revisionism, where everything that came before was bad and everything that is now is good, aimed to legitimize the new ethnonational, neoliberal regimes. This revisionism, which the late Dubravka Ugrešić called the “confiscation of memory,” still takes on a number of forms: the erasure of or omitting to mention socialist heritage and its modernizing accomplishments, in textbooks, museums, or the media; presenting Yugoslavia as an aberrant and failed experiment; renaming streets and public spaces; damaging, demolishing, or removing monuments; labeling the regime as totalitarian (being from one of the most repressive regimes in the Soviet Bloc I find this particularly insulting); equating Partisans and Chetniks as anti-fascists; calling Yugoslavia the prison of nations; and the label “yugonostalgic” used to mark adherents to the old order, who are seen as reactionary losers and immoral traitors and enemies of the new order.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: The term itself, yugonostalgia, showed up for the first time in 1992 in the weekly Globus in Hrvatska. It was a term coined by Slaven Letica, a journalist. And in an article published under the title “Croatian Feminists Rape Croatia.” And it was a direct attack on five Croatian novelists, activists, among which was late Dubravka Ugrešić, that we have to mention and one of the people who truly also inspired my work and who has recently deceased. So the term Yugonostalgia was coined with a clear mission to denigrate and to erase anything, any serious discussion, dialogue, reflection on the socialist Yugoslav times.
PETER KORCHNAK: Yugonostalgia connotes all non-negative references to Yugoslavia. This is how, for example, an article about this podcast labeled it “yugonostalgic”, even though it is anything but, or why I’ve been called yugonostalgic merely because I sometimes listen to Yugoslav-era rock from the 1980s.
There are surprisingly few polls across former Yugoslavia tracking people’s perception of that disappeared country and its breakup. A 2016 survey by Gallup showed that perceptions regarding Yugoslavia’s breakup vary by former republic, by ethnicity, and by age. Perhaps as could be expected, the citizens of Serbia, politically dominant in the former Yugoslavia, rue Yugoslavia’s demise the most, at 81%, and Croatia’s and Kosovo’s the least, at 23% and 10%, respectively. Also as can be expected, older people, of near-retirement and retirement age, feel the most harmed by the country’s breakup. This and other polls and research reflect a sense of loss among the citizens of the former Yugoslavia. It’s only a short road from here to nostalgia—and to labeling all those wounded souls yugonostalgic.
After Yugoslavia’s disintegration, even the name of the old country was erased. Broadly, Yugoslavia turned into Southeast Europe turned into Western Balkans; and, of course, it’s always the Region or, naši or ovi prostori (our spaces, these areas).
MILICA POPOVIĆ: And then the second kind of manifestation of yugonostalgia is the moment where yugonostalgia becomes this very intimate container for all the cognitive dissonances of people who still remember Yugoslavia, for all the ambivalent, ambigious kind of positions towards the socialist Yugoslav past, and the very positive ones which are in direct conflict with a mainstream hegemonic memory narratives on Yugoslavia.
PETER KORCHNAK: Yugonostalgia can be subjective, experienced on the level of individual memories and recollections, and collective or cultural, manifesting in images, symbols, products, events, and so on in the public space. The two often overlap: people attend Day of the Republic or Day of Youth commemorations, dance at Ex-YU parties, listen to yugo rock, wear apparel with socialist symbols or even Tito himself, frequent yugo-themed cafes…
Svetlana Boym distinguished between two types of nostalgia. Reflective nostalgia is all about the longing for the lost home and time. It is wistful; it plays with the past as it processes it and brings it forth in a critical, comparative fashion; it can be ironic and humorous, as when people dress up in Pioneer uniforms. The vast majority of yugonostalgics feel reflective nostalgia.
Restorative nostalgia seeks to recreate and reconquer the lost homeland and era. It’s serious, it knows the past, and it aims to reconstruct it in the present day. Like the Trumpsters in the US, the nationalists across the post-Yugoslav space all feel restorative nostalgia.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: And then the third manifestation would be, how does it become this resistance strategy in the political field? Which is this point where yugonostalgia from all the potential of being a resistance strategy that many of authors before me have reflected upon, as Mitja Velikonja, Tanja Petrović, I think a lot of people who have already participated in the podcast—and how does it actually really translate into political activity?
PETER KORCHNAK: Mitja Velikonja distinguishes between passive and active nostalgia. The first type is apolitical, asocial, contemplative, sentimental, melodramatic, inert, introspective, with practically no social ambitions or impact whatsoever. Passive nostalgia is consumerist, for example by reviving old brands, say Bajadera or Cockta; aestheticized and objectified with retro and vintage stuff, memorabilia, or museum exhibitions; popularized through festivals, exhibitions, and other events; infantilized, reduced to stories from childhood and youth; spectacularized by highlighting major past achievements, say in sports; as well as banalized, focusing on small everyday details of life back then.
By contrast, active nostalgia uses the past to antagonise the present, it is involved in political and social movements, it is concerned with the idea of a different future and is fighting for it. Active Yugonostalgia is first a counter-narrative, a counter-memory, a subversive resistance strategy expressed in opposition to ethnonationalism and neoliberalism dominating the political and media landscapes. It defends the past, disses the present, and in a way describes the future.
To paraphrase Velikonja, where passive nostalgia makes for teary eyes, active nostalgia enables people to raise “a clenched fist.”
It is precisely through in this political dimension, writes Popović, that “we can identify the nature of nostalgia.” It is the politics of yugonostalgia that enables its classification, indeed this very podcast episode.
Now in Slovakia, things are similar but not as complex (that complexity, by the way, is a major reason why I study Yugoslavia, not my own Czechoslovakia).
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: The second half of the of the 70s, or actually the 70s and 80s, was a period of relative improvement of well being that could be visible through automatic washing machines, more modern refrigerators, more modern cars.
PETER KORCHNAK: Boris Strečanský is a doctor of European studies and policies from Bratislava. He works in the civil society and public management sector in Slovakia as a trainer, evaluator, and consultant, and writes on these topics as well. He was born in 1967 and spoke with me from Tbilisi, Georgia.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: All of these items that I mentioned, they were, of course, not in sufficient quantities so there have been all these queues and lines and it was not easy to get hold of them or to buy them but still this was kind of the period of— and I’m talking now specifically about Slovakia that was experiencing some kind of benefit of economic growth.
That experience probably was different in [the] Czech Republic, which probably has not been growing so much than Slovakia was.
PETER KORCHNAK: Though my country was nowhere near as prosperous as Yugoslavia, particularly in the less economically developed Slovakia socialism and the Communist government’s development and modernization policies brought a marked increase in the living standards. Traditionally agricultural Slovakia had for centuries been a backward breadbasket province of Hungary and thus was starting out from a low base. The Czech lands had a greater tradition of industry and a stronger economic starting point.
Nostalgia for, or at least positive evaluations of socialism emerged quite soon after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that brought regime change to Czechoslovakia. The rapid economic reforms benefited the country in the long run but hurt a lot of people in the first few years, especially in Slovakia where the heavy industries that were the hallmark of socialist development took a particular hit. We went from guaranteed jobs but empty shelves to unemployment and full stores in the space of months.
Following a democratic and economic downturn in the 1990s, the new millennium brought rapid economic development, membership in the European Union, and other positives to Slovakia.
A few years after I moved to the US I noticed in my old country a surge of memory of socialism that lasted for about a decade. The movie Goodbye Lenin! was still reverberating, social media was taking hold, the Great Recession was raging, and my fellow Last Pioneers were having children and rising in society’s ranks. Forums, social media, magazines and newspapers were flooded with pictures of cars and toys and snacks and other socialist-era products as well as smuggled Western products; reminiscences proliferated about “how things were in those times,” from school trips to Young Pioneer rituals to vacations in Bulgaria; companies ran retro-themed marketing campaigns. Though this commodification was certainly nostalgic, unlike in Yugoslavia it felt like a generation coming to terms with middle age coming at them.
Still, every year on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, reflections on socialism fill the media; the semimonthly show “Noc v archíve” (A Night in the Archives) featuring pre-1989 television footage has been a stalwart of Slovak Television programming for 14 years running.
“Staré časy,” or “The Good Times” is the title of the 2019 collaborative song by Polemic and Medial Banana. I’m playing it here for you with the bands’ and their labels’ permissions. Follow them on social media and buy their music! All the links are at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
In the song, the Slovak ska legend Polemic, established in 1988, and their reggae-loving GenZ friends list things from the socialist childhood that they juxtapose against the present day. “Remember those times we didn’t have mobile phones and played football out on the grass…” it begins. The chorus summarizes the generational feeling: “We’re there again, we remember everything / The same sun shines upon us today / We’re still ourselves and we will put our hands into the fire / For those old times that propel us forward.
[SOUNDBITE – “Staré dobré časy” by Polemic & Medial Banana]
PETER KORCHNAK: In 2018 a survey showed positive feelings for socialism to be quite persistent in Slovakia: 43 percent of respondents said life was better under socialism, with 20 percent saying it was much better. By contrast only 32 percent thought they lived better lives now than in socialism.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: Especially older respondents, so people who are in their 50s or 60s and plus, they view the life in Czechoslovakia before 1989 as positive compared to a younger generation.
PETER KORCHNAK: While only 18 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds thought life was better before 1989, 73 percent over-65-year-olds thought so. Of course, those younger cohorts have no lived experience of socialism.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: Most of these nostalgic feelings and sentiments are related to socio-economic situation or so-called guarantees of certain socioeconomic status, things like availability of housing or social security or support from the state or employment, availability of jobs. So these kinds of socioeconomic elements seem to play a major role in the nostalgic thinking.
PETER KORCHNAK: The other dimension of discontent was social status during socialism. People who after 1989 declined along that dimension, say miners, steel workers, other heavy industry labor, evaluate socialism more positively.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: And there are also other elements of nostalgia that are less material. They are also more sentimental and romanticizing the life during those days that view the life in Czechoslovakia as being more moral, in a sense that people were more inclined to help each other, or that they more closer to each other, they kind of have a sense of community or a sense of mutuality.
That’s something which we can say objectively exists in minds of people and I think that’s really something that also influences current politics to some extent.
But one thing that I think we should we should perhaps look in greater detail or ask a question, to what extent is this or whether this is a nostalgia for the regime and all those functions that this regime provided or is this nostalgia for a country? This seems to be a nostalgia not for Czechoslovakia as a state, this is more a nostalgia for a type of a state or a kind of a state or a kind of a regime that Czechoslovakia embodies in [the] minds of people today.
PETER KORCHNAK: There is no such thing as a Czechoslovakonostalgia, a nostalgia for the country, like there is in the former Yugoslavia. Certainly, yugonostalgia blends feelings for the country with feelings for socialism, for the kind of a country that Yugoslavia was, and the two are hard to distinguish, but there were aspects of Yugoslavia without socialism that people value.
By contrast, in the case of my homeland, the country and socialism are pretty much indistinguishable. And so whereas surveys in the former Yugoslavia ask about the country, polls in the former Czechoslovakia inquire about the system.
Negative evaluation of post-1989 capitalism and positive evaluation of socialism has been on the increase in my former country. A survey in 2009 found that 68 percent of Czechs and 53 percent of Slovaks thought the current regime was better.
In 2021 those figures declined to 58 percent of Czechs versus 45 percent of Slovaks who thought the current regime was better than socialism.
What people remember, the content of nostalgia, does indeed depend on a few factors. First, their generation (there’s a reason why I ask every guest to state the year they were born).
MILICA POPOVIĆ: As every memory, as every memory narrative, different generations have different stories and different memories. So for every generation, there was so to say a different Yugoslavia to remember.
PETER KORCHNAK: Popović explored Yugonostagia on the generation of the Last Pioneers, people like herself, born between 1974 and 1982. I fall into that demographic, too, though in the former Czechoslovakia we were called Husák’s Children, after the president of the republic at the time.
Generation here stands to mean a cohort of people with a certain collective identity marked by participation and socialization in the same events and realities that formed their identity. For the Last Pioneers, it was the Pioneer oath and various rituals imparting the values of brotherhood and unity, but I could also add 80s music or the wars of dissolution to this. They see themselves as a lost generation, who helplessly watched their world go down in flames and are still sorting through the wreckage.
Popović found the cohort commonly remembering happy, ethnic identity-free childhoods in a diverse country with a beautiful sea; life in a safe, secure, relatively abundant, and reasonably well-functioning state that was their home. They share the values of solidarity; anti-materialism; meritocracy; modesty; freedom; critical thinking; social equality and justice; brotherhood and unity; antifascism; and women’s emancipation. These were the things they learned while living in Yugoslavia.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: They were referring to yugonostalgia as just sadness for a normal life, and that there is nothing political in it. But with the way I kind of see it was truly how political the definition of what a normal life is. And what a normal life constitutes is fundamentally the way we think as political beings. Because the way we understand which elements need to be satisfied for us to consider our life normal are actually where we stand on the political spectrum.
PETER KORCHNAK: Popović found that the Last Pioneers (and this may be the case for all of us), think of normality through a political lens. Access to education and health care, freedom to travel abroad, solidarity and equality and druženje (socializing across borders), peace and stability, owning a house and a summer home, indeed, “having a chance” in life that they had during Yugoslavia is what normality still means to them. They’re not yugonostalgic, they just want a normal life.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: One of the interviewees said, “Well, actually, yugonostalgia doesn’t exist. Yugonostalgia is what they say you’re doing only when you start talking about a decent health care system or a decent housing system.”
And I think that it’s really the generation of the Last Pioneers who’s going to be able to kind of break the pattern and at least bring additional ideas to the fore in the political arenas of the post-Yugoslav countries.
PETER KORCHNAK: The Last Pioneers’ yugonostalgic memory is anti-nationalist—in opposition to the dominant discourse in their countries—and, strongly favoring socioeconomic equality—they’re against neoliberalism and its capitalist excesses.
In fact, their Yugoslav identities often don’t even contain Yugoslavia, past or potentially resurrected; they simply bring portions of their old identities from that time and place it into today’s context. They simply don’t want who they are and where they’re from to be erased; they want it recognized Yugoslavia existed and had both positive and negative sides. Their country did not disappear, but rather it’s a ruin. They embed their yugonostalgia, the memory and idea how things were, in the present as how things can be done better or how can they be once again. Less nostalgia for the past and more borrowing from the past in search of solutions to the problems of the present.
As Popović puts it in her dissertation, this generation “transforms the memory of the Yugoslav cause into a memory of a (post)Yugoslav cause, bringing back the idea of progress and hope into the political field of (post)Yugoslavia.”
And if the right-wing sees the world divided into ethnonational states, the left favors an international[ist] world brought together around a set of ideas they know from that former country. In addition to the generational dimension, yugonostalgia’s other dimension is political.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: Especially the question of certain types of Yugoslavism, the Yugoslav identity were much more connected to the generational positionality. And then, of course, especially the yugonostalgia as resistance strategy, the serious reflections about the socialist Yugoslav system is, of course, more embedded in the political positionality as such.
Especially when we were discussing the childhood of the last Pioneers, one hundred percent of the interviewees have depicted a happy childhood, and through that a very positive image of socialist Yugoslavia. And only in the moment when we would start discussing the war years and the dissolution years [was] where the cognitive dissonances would appear, especially in the cases where the political positionality was actually primarily negative towards the socialist past, the interviewees from the right-wing spectrum, would start finding various discursive strategies to reconcile these opposing, so to say, narratives. One of the strategies was kind of keeping yugonostalgia as this very intimate feeling and sentiment. For example, people would say, Yeah, but you know, actually, the repression was horrendous, but it was just me and I was lucky and my family was lucky that we didn’t experience it.
PETER KORCHNAK: If generation and political orientation were the two main factors behind the content of yugonostalgia, where people were from, that is what successor country they lived in, mattered much less. Popović’s Croatian, Serbian, and Slovenian subjects showed similar generational and political characteristics.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: What I wanted to underline as well was that actually these memories of childhood in the narratives were always strongly connected also with social and political values. So it wasn’t the fact that these childhoods were happy because those were the childhoods. They were in the interpretation of my interviewees happy because those were the childhoods in socialist Yugoslavia. And that is a very important distinction to make.
PETER KORCHNAK: In the case of Czechoslovakia, the republic does matter, as you’ve already heard.
Czechia had a greater tradition and historical memory of democracy, from the interwar period, and declined during socialism relative to Slovakia which improved markedly.
At the same time, in the Czech Republic, the Communist Party was in parliament until 2021, while its Slovak counterpart only four of the country’s 30 independent years. Go figure.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: It is really the socioeconomic grievances that that part of the population perceives as very important in their day-to-day life that contribute towards to and they nurture these nostalgic feelings.
But if you look at Slovak economic development over the last 30 years, we can see that it has gone through, of course, difficult periods in the 90s but then, then after the turbulent 90s, Slovakia got on the track towards the European Union integration and also jumped on the train of its economic reforms, which led to a significant growth, economic growth.
So then there comes the question, how is it possible that the significant proportion of people perceive socioeconomic grievances as very important. Does this mean that the economic growth did not precipitate to the population? And, and probably the answer is, is to some extent, yes. But also the answer is that part of the socioeconomic grievances are more on the level of perceptions than reality.
And let me explain that. Slovakia is one of the most economically equal countries in Europe or in OECD, measuring by the Gini index that measures the income inequality.
PETER KORCHNAK: Slovakia was the only post-communist country where inequality decreased in the early 1990s. Yes, inequality in Slovakia was actually higher during socialism, with incomes and perks linked to party privileges, the black market, and hidden unemployment, while the ideals of equality were promoted through coercion and especially propaganda. Coming out of socialism, people remembered the regime as more egalitarian than it actually was. And again, Slovakia continues to boast one of the lowest levels of inequality in the European Union.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: However, for a significant part of the population, the economic growth has not translated into them feeling perhaps more satisfied. So they can be objectively much better off than they were but they still feel not satisfied. By this, I definitely don’t to want to disregard any growing socioeconomic inequalities that Slovakia has been experiencing and is experiencing even today: there are severe pockets of poverty, especially of [the] Roma population that lives in terrible conditions, but also parts of population that is, that is somehow disadvantaged by their family status, for example, single parent families with multiple children or single living seniors. So to some extent, it’s not surprising that the socio economic factors do contribute towards nostalgia. But it seems that it’s a combination of a true socioeconomic status factor and a perception factor.
PETER KORCHNAK: It is perceptions, or perhaps misperceptions, of present inequality that drive nostalgia for socialism.
Additionally, the Slovak national character is quite egalitarian, with corresponding social and peer pressure; we notice and judge negatively people who stand out, so displays of wealth, even if they’re rare or minor, like a fancy car, are likely to generate an excessive opposite response. Cut off his head, so he doesn’t stick above the crowd, as the old song goes.
And then there’s the tendency to draw what we call a thick line between the past and the present. That was then, now is now.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: When the Velvet Revolution and when the change of the regime was happening, that actually meant also a opening up of Pandora’s box of different ideas and different expressions. And in this Pandora box, there were also expressions of identity, of Slovak identity, what is Slovak identity and what it is not, and these expressions have been suppressed by the regime. So the rejection of the socialism in 1989 basically meant also a renewed nationalism in the Slovak context.
PETER KORCHNAK: These new or revived and often mythologized ideas about the country’s history found fertile ground in the collective mindset emerging from 40 years of brainwashing.
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: Basically, [the] communist interpretation of Slovak history was not taken as true. I mean, it was, it was something like the noise of the leaves in the forest. I mean, it was everywhere, but people were not paying attention to it.
So the historical awareness of Slovaks had basically had a very little opportunity to be to be cultivated and to be to somehow be, you know, be more resistant to luring sort of different ideologized or somehow manipulated views of history.
Especially the 70s and 80s, as I remember it, you know, nobody believed what was being written in the newspapers, what was written in the history textbooks. I mean, it was kind of a ornamentalism, you know, of everyday life, but it didn’t have a substance.
The nature of investigation of history and study of history was completely deformed. And the historical consciousness of people who lived in Slovakia then has been deformed by this tilted narratives that the communist regime tried to implant it into people’s minds.
The mind of the public was not very, I would say, pretty well prepared to understand and to critically deal with these newly implanted ethnonationalist ideas that were fueling public space in early 90s.
And if we look at the socialist period in Slovakia since 1948 until 1989 and its reflection, we don’t see much of interest in looking at this, this period. Basically, during the 90s or early 2000s, there is not much of reflection of that period, there is generally very little of interest in critically reviewing and reflecting either modern history or the older history. It’s kind of a neglect to the history as such and that then creates a a fertile soil to implant any kinds of misperceptions in people’s minds.
PETER KORCHNAK: The same things that allowed nationalism to thrive made space for nostalgia to manifest. Democracy allowed for the free expression of various opinions and availability of information via the media and especially the internet created ample ideological space.
Nationalists in Slovakia did not rest on historic memory and independence did not enjoy mass support (in fact the country’s dissolution was executed by political agreement, there was no referendum). They were just louder and smarter and joined by turncoat communists with accumulated social and financial capital and adept at navigating the power structures.
In the Czech part of the former federation, the narrative that prevailed was the “continuity of national culture irrespective of political regimes,” as Veronika Pehe puts it in her book on the subject. Unlike Slovakia, whose peoples as a nation weren’t quote unquote invented until the mid-19th century, the Czechs have a centuries-long history of independent statehood, as pre-Habsburg kingdoms.
In this context, socialism was just a historical blip. The Czechs dealt with socialism through extensive public discussion about the former regime, with anticommunism as a major narrative, implying it was them, the Communists, who were ruling us, the ordinary Czech people.
The Czechs’ nostalgia goes beyond a simple victimhood narrative, however. Their nostalgia focusses rather on dissent and resistance during the socialist period, thusly perhaps harking back to the persistence of the Czech character through any and all circumstance. Socialism gets dismissed as aberrant and evil, the Czechs absolved of responsibility for it, and the return to democracy hailed as a regression to the mean.
In pop culture, particularly movies, even in their critical treatment of the former regime and its downsides, pushed forward an aesthetic, often ironic appreciation of the socialist past in the form of retro. In Slovakia film played a minimal role in memory politics for the first 20 or so years after socialism.
Finally, the legal processes. Restitution returned to original owners the properties confiscated by the socialist state. And through the process of lustration, communist secret-police collaborators were publicly disclosed and barred them from public life. Anniversaries of the Velvet Revolution tended to be about celebrating the now rather than reminding of the then.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: There is, of course, a lot of mix up with different other terms. Very often, also Yugoslavism was kind of mixed with what we call yugonostalgia. So in a way, my research wanted to give back the legitimacy to Yugoslavism, and to claim that Yugoslavism is still an empirical phenomenon which exists in the post-Yugoslav space, and is different, even if interconnected to yugonostalgia as such.
PETER KORCHNAK: Yugoslavism is contained within yugonostalgia. It is based on linguistic, cultural, and economic proximity of the Slavic peoples in the former Yugoslavia. It is non-exclusive: you can be both Serbian and Yugoslav or Croatian and Yugoslav. It’s both multiethnic and anti-nationalist: though its supranational nature does not look too kindly on ethnonationalism, it’s compatible if not parallel with other identities. And it is non-oppositional, it lacks a resistance element: you can be a Yugoslav anti-communist or an Orthodox Yugoslav.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: There might not be anything nostalgic about Yugoslavia, but there is a set of important values that socialist Yugoslavia brings upon and that’s anti-fascism, internationalism, solidarity, and socialism.
PETER KORCHNAK: The political and social identity of the Last Pioneers, especially the left-wing ones, was built on their childhoods in Yugoslavia and is a response to post-Yugoslav ethnonationalism and neoliberalism. And if that’s the case for people who only spent their childhoods in Yugoslavia, I can only imagine what people who spent most of their lives during that period must think and believe.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: Different people are nostalgic for different things. But what all the interviewees agree upon—and I am afraid not only the interviewees, I think that anyone who works in the post-Yugoslav region knows that this is a widespread sentiment—is actually the negative present.
All the memories, all the memory narratives are always in dialogue and reflection to our everyday present and in a way our memories, our response to what we are experiencing in present times. So in that sense, the memory narratives that we create and the identities we base on our memory narratives, of being Yugoslav, of being grown up in the socialist Yugoslav times, are also a sort of an answer to what has followed.
So I truly felt that somehow this generation in between, the generation of the Last Pioneers, was in a certain way forgotten. And that was the generation that was born in Yugoslav times, that gave the Pioneer sermon [sic], and when they started and entered their adolescence, their whole world crumbled, everything changed. There was a dissolution of the country, the war trauma. So for a very long period of time, they were growing into the adulthood through these very tumultuous times.
They were children, they were not truly truly understanding what was happening and as one of the interviewees said that there was a rupture of her becoming, from a bourgeois princess, she became a refugee.
And just about when the wars ended, it was time for them to actually enter the socioeconomic world and to enter the political world.
But at the same time also being faced with the absolutely catastrophic consequences of the newly recreated nationalist regimes and the neoliberal transitions in which today’s post-Yugoslav countries live in.
So I think that the fact, and on a much global scale, the moment when it has been proclaimed, that there is only one possible world in which we can live in that was the moment when actually the world truly did became totalitarian and erased the hope for any different futures to the humankind. And that was the moment where the past has started to provide the only inspiration and hope for something better.
PETER KORCHNAK: There is no such thing as Czechoslovakism today, but the two former countries do maintain a number of cultural connections, if not share a common cultural space. As during the common state, the flow is much stronger from the Czech to the Slovak lands, partly because of historical reasons but also market size (Czechia is twice as large as Slovakia in terms of population). One in five books sold in Slovakia is in the Czech language, while only 6 percent of all translations on the Czech market are from the Slovak language; thousands of Slovaks move to Prague and Brno for university studies and often stay; and the first foreign trip of each country’s president is to the other part of the former federation.
PETER KORCHNAK: Last year, a big article came out in The Guardian with the headline, “‘Everyone loved each other’: the rise of Yugonostalgia.” I was interviewed for that piece. The reporter did not pick the headline, which was toned down in the print edition to “Unity and brotherhood: thirty years from its disintegration, many hold affection for Tito’s state.”
Yugonostalgia may indeed continue to fascinate Western observers, including the Guardian’s editors, who, in classic Western-gaze fashion, quote unquote discover it years after its peak. From taboo to subversion to culture to commodity, the narratives of yugonostalgia and of Yugoslavia as its subject continue to evolve.
PETER KORCHNAK: What do you see as the future of this phenomenon?
MILICA POPOVIĆ: I think on one side there is, or at least I hope, going to be a growing body of brilliant research on socialist Yugoslav times. And I think that that’s going to help us elucidate the complexity of what socialist Yugoslav society has been [sic].
In the political field, what is really important is exactly this shift of generations, the moment in which last generations are taking up more and more space. A lot of people who were, for example, in 2017, 2018, when I interviewed them, at the time, they were maybe just members of parliament, simple members in their political parties, in the meantime, have, for example, came to leadership positions within their political parties. A number of social movements within which I have interviewed people have transformed into the political parties, which in some instances have won the municipal or city elections or have won some seats in the parliaments. And this is also definitely changing the landscape in a certain way. And I think that it changes then and provides different angles to the mainstream discourses as such.
But I think that what is also very very important to kind of understand is how much of these reflections on the socialist Yugoslav times open avenues for different reflections on the new geopolitical structural changes or we can call them even geopolitical earthquakes that we are currently living in.
PETER KORCHNAK: As generations turn over, people who spent a greater portion of their lives in socialist Yugoslavia than those born later die out and with them yugonostalgia—of their kind anyway. For every claim of yugonostalgia rising there are plenty more that show yugonostalgia to be fading.
While yugonostalgia has been with us since the late 1990s, in my estimation it reached its peak in the years after the Great Recession and has since been steadily integrating into the socio-cultural fabric.
And what’s generally labeled as yugonostalgia is in fact a minor part of Yugoslavia’s memory. Different people assess that vanished country with different lenses and different goals, from political to commercial ones, while the rose-colored, warm-and-fuzzy feelings are both in decline and receding into background.
MILICA POPOVIĆ: So I would say that it’s not nostalgia, yugonostalgia itself that has evolved, but I would say that it was rather the generational change and evolution of societies as such, which helped us understand the multi facets of yugonostalgia.
PETER KORCHNAK: As you can hear in the Inspired by Yugoslavia episodes, Yugoslavia also continues (and I believe will continue) to inspire artistic as well as commercial projects, many of which will cross, span, or outright ignore the current national borders.
And finally, the political aspect of yugonostalgia will continue to find expression in fostering relations, if not solidarity, among the former Yugoslav nations. As Popović puts it, “Nostalgia for the socialist Yugoslavia could persist as long as it takes for the myth of the Golden Age to become reality.”
Now in my homeland—
BORIS STREČANSKÝ: One thing is that what we are seeing today in Slovakia is definitely a tendency to accept more authoritarian type of government, even if democratic principles would have to be settled have to be sacrificed. More and more people is willing to accept the strong hand. And of course, [the] majority of those who believe that strong hand is the right one are the are from the parties which can be considered as promoting extreme or non-systemic, anti-systemic policies, with proto fascist orientation.
After the pandemics period, which wasn’t really handled well in Slovakia, many people are basically left with this dilemma that, okay, we don’t really want politicians who cannot provide order but on the other hand, there are these politicians who are promising a strong hand and maybe not order, but state capture.
Second is that these are also very strong they correlate[d] with the views that that are promoting some kind of intolerance, attitudes, features strong pro-Russian, pro-Putin attitudes or hostility towards the refugees be it refugees from whatever, whatever countries but including Ukrainian refugees.
These are some trends, which are disturbing, and that they may draw on some of these grievances, and that fuel fuel this nostalgia.
On the positive side, we are seeing maybe more attention is being paid recently to, to history education in schools. So there are some positive, more positive signs that the younger generation is getting more and more aware of certain aspects of history that we’re not proud of, and that have been not very well explained and the younger generation was rather agnostic about those.
So maybe, maybe as lived memory is dying out, as the older generation is fading away, maybe maybe there are some improvement[s] on the institutional level and the younger generation might be might be getting a little bit more insight into past of its country and its nation.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC – “Rainmaker” by Petar Alargić]
PETER KORCHNAK: Next on Remembering Yugoslavia.
DIJANA JELAČA: There is a lot to know about women in Yugoslavia cinema. Women most typically or most frequently appear in front of the camera. But the story is always a bit more complicated than that.
PETER KORCHNAK: Let’s go to the movies! Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav cinema is a rich, if underappreciated source of cultural insight. On the next episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, we’ll talk films, films, and also films from the former Yugoslavia and its successors.
Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts, follow to make sure you don’t miss out, and subscribe to support us.
PETER KORCHNAK: That’s all for this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, thank you for listening. Find additional information, sources, links, embeds, and the transcript of this episode at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.
Are you feeling nostalgic? Ready to take action? Contribute to Remembering Yugoslavia’s future and make a donation now to support the podcast and me in making it. Join the growing transnational community of supporters, many of whom do indeed feel yugonostalgic, and visit RememberingYugoslavia.com/Donate to contribute today.
Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić.
Additional music by Polemic and Medial Banana—buy their music!—and courtesy of the bands and Reggae Callin’ Records.
I am Peter Korchňak.
- Gonda, Peter and Peter Zajac, eds. Socializmus: Realita namiesto mýtov. Bratislava: Konzervatívny inštitút M. R. Štefánika, 2020
- Maksimović, Maja. “Unattainable past, unsatisfying present – Yugonostalgia: an omen of a better future?” Nationalities Papers, 45:6 (2017): 1066-1081
- Matejova, Miriam. “Why Was Communism Better? Re-thinking Inequality and the Communist Nostalgia in Central Europe.” Journal of Comparative Politics Vol. 11, No. (2018): 66-83
- Pehe, Veronika. Velvet Retro: Postsocialist Nostalgia and the Politics of Heroism in Czech Popular Culture. New York: Berghahn Books, 2020
- Tanja Petrović. “Zašto je nostalgija važna? Emocije i politička subjektivnost posle socijalizma.” In: Lana Molvarec i Tatjana Pišković, eds. Emocije u hrvatskome jeziku, književnosti i kulturi: Zbornik radova 48. seminara Zagrebačke slavističke škole. Zagreb: Filozofski fakultet Sveučilišta u Zagrebu – Zagrebačka slavistička škola, 2020, pp. 129-141
- Popović, Milica. “Yugonostalgia: The Meta-National Memory Narratives of the Last Pioneers.” In: Nostalgia on the Move, Belgrade: Museum of Yugoslavia, 2017, pp. 42-50
- Spaskovska, Ljubica. “Recommunaissance: On the Phenomenon of Communist Notstalgia in Slovenia and Poland.” Anthropological Journal of European Cultures Vol. 17, No. 1 (2008): 136-150
- Velikonja, Mitja. “When Times Were Worse, the People Were Better: The Ideological Potentials and Political Scope of Yugonostalgia.” In: Nostalgia on the Move, Belgrade: Museum of Yugoslavia, 2017, pp. 7-13
This is a running post; entries listed in reverse chronological order in each section.
Analyses and Reflections of Yugonostalgia
Books, Book Chapters, and Other Publications
Zala Volcic. Serbian Spaces of Identity: Narratives of Belonging by the Last “Yugo” Generation. New York: Hampton Press, 2011.
126-131 “Where politics have failed, capitalism is using consumerism to recreate a slice of the old Yugoslavia and bank the profits.”
Regime change brought about social disorientation, feelings of insecurity, and social disorder, leading to people seeking “some emotional anchorage and mechanisms of coping with their everyday struggle.”
Nostalgia is both a
- “subjectively experienced sentiment” – private; personal memories; reinforces small groups like family and friends
- cultural phenomenon – collective; images, symbols, and signs available to people within the same context; reinforces large groups like nations or generations, e.g. “the last Yugoslav generation”; “public nostalgia dwells in the content of the group’s history, and exploits the group’s cultural symbols, and especially its popular culture.”
- new conditions eliminated the need for the cultural reproduction of previous values
- “disturbed the process of collective remembering”
- nostalgia emerged “as a practice of preserving the collective memory”
Dubravka Ugresic, 2000: Yugonostalgia = “productive revisiting of the collective experience of citizens whose individual lives were embedded in the social life of the collapsed state” [paraphrased]
If nostalgia is escapist, it has political potential as a resource during the transition.
Memory projects proliferate online.
Revival of Yugo-rock, incl. re-relases and comeback tours.
Tito’s image has been coopted for advertising. “The revolutionary promise has been co-opted by a marketing “revolution,” ostensibly to empower consumers through the (commercial) consumption of history. The political dream has been reduced to yet another marketing appeal.”
“Yugonostalgia paradoxically sides with populist discourse that frame the Yugoslav past and culture as essentialized, dangerous, and exotic.”
Even if Yugonostalgia has potential to “celebrate the possibility of a redeemed future built on the ingredients from the utopian ideals of the past,” it risks becoming commodified, marketing hype.
Yugonostalgia = “imperialist nostalgia” of Renato Rosaldo, 1989: ‘imperialist nostalgia uses a pose of innocent yearning both to capture people and imagination and to conceal its complicity with often brutal domination.’ It also looks back at what it helped destroy and mourns its loss. People who feel Yugonostalgia this way mourn something they helped destroy. “It is as if the Yugoslavs had to destroy their country in order to truly appreciate its possibilities by confronting the prospect of living without them.”
Presentations, Lectures, and Other Performances
Dr. Ana Petrov, “Analiza jugoslovenstva u popularnoj kulturi,” Lecture at Fakultet za medija i komunikacije, Singidunum University, Belgrade, Serbia, September 2017
- Yugonostalgia is one form of Yugoslavism/Yugoslavia’s presence in today’s popular culture, along with simple remembering of Yugoslavia (as a country and system) and online manifestations, without necessarily the reference to the country or system but rather in terms of objects and popular culture like music
- The remembering of Yugoslavia has undergone several stages:
- ignoring, erasure, avoidance, taboo-isation of Yugoslavia / the socialist period for 10-15 years after the dissolution in dominant state discourse, media, academia; all the way to referring to the country as Western Balkans or region or “naši prostori” and time-wise as former times or the past
- Yugoslavia as a subversive discourse, explored in academic and media discourses
- Yugoslavia as a commodity, consumer product
- Characteristics of Yugonostalgia:
- part of the global trend of retro and cultural recycling
- consequence of Yugoslavia’s disappearance
- arose in the problematic period of transition as a response to it, “we aren’t that of the past but have not yet become that of the future”
- speaks more about the present than about the past and how the past was better, i.e. not about promoting the past but dissatisfaction with the present
- not just mourning for the past but also an active criticism of the present
- a legitimate discourse about the past, along with anti-nostalgia, historic amnesia, and revisionism
- a(n affective) communication method in ex-Yugoslavia
- emotion, via emotive/emotional reactions
- ideology, via discourses as cultural production
- product, via objects or as a delivery method for emotion and ideology
- theoretical problem:
- regressive and passive manifestation, esp. among older generations, without political potential
- emancipatory potential (Velikonja, Petrović, Hofman), for creating new communities like protest movements
- retro culture, as a combination of commercialized ideology and emotions with an ambivalent public reactions
- platform for the production of collective memory through individual remembering and commemorative (often bodily) practices, e.g. displays of souvenirs, attendance of concerts, participation in Facebook groups
- Platforms of Yugoslavism
- social media
- products, merchandise, tchotchkis, kitsch
- pop music (videos, concerts)
- Commodification/commercialization of memory and remembering
- “Yugoslavia sells” – Yugoslavia as a product
- Yugoslavia as an ideology of love
Academic Articles, Journals, and Other Media
Tatjana Takševa. “Post-war Yugoslavism and Yugonostalgia as Expressions of Multiethnic Solidarity and Tolerance in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” New Diversities, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2019) [pdf]
“post-conflict Yugoslavism and Yugonostalgia, as articulated by people living on this territory [of Bosnia and Herzegovina] today constitute an active expression of ethnic tolerance, peaceful multiethnic co-existence, and mutual respect. As such, the direct or indirect transmission and articulation of these ideologies among and within different population groups constitute an exceptionally important form of multiethnic postwar solidarity that is of great significance to ongoing peace and reconciliation processes and the continuing development of a meaningful post-war dialogue and a new culture of collective identity.”
“More specifically, in the context of Yugoslavism and Yugonostalgia as ideologies of shared cultural identities and multiethnic solidarity, the memories and narratives of individuals relating to interethnic co-existence and friendships as they exist not only in the nostalgic recollections of the older generations who grew up in socialist Yugoslavia, but in younger generations who were born during and even after the war, reassert themselves in…’mnemonic communities’ that create a ‘dialogic space bringing new visions of solidarity and new possibilities of coexistence’ into being.”
“…when today’s Bosnians recall the socialist past and articulate aspects of Yugoslavism and Yugonostlagia, they lament the loss of not only the recent political entity itself, but of the values of ethnic heterogeneity, solidarity and respectful multifaith co-existence that they recognize as theirs in a longer historical sense and that Yugoslavia enshrined within its federalist state borders and in its constitution through the discourse of ‘brotherhood and unity.'”
“Yugoslavism and Yugonostalgia represent more than simply a good memory of a time past. They constitute an ideological relationship to the present moment that is expressed through reference to values associated with the socialist past as they relate to a potential future. This orientation toward the future pertains precisely to forms of ‘sociality,’ to a mode of living and patterns of interaction that are based on peaceful ethnic co-existence, multicultural curiosity and respect, and a practice of solidarity on the basis of dimensions of civic life that are common to all, regardless of particular ethnic belonging.”
“…forms of Yugoslavism and Yugonostalgia as they are manifested and articulated through my interlocutors’ words, refer not so much to a particular state formation or communism, but to a mode of living and patterns of interaction predicated on peaceful co-existence, cross-ethnic tolerance and respect, and a practice of solidarity in dimensions of daily life that are common to all, regardless of ethnic or religious belonging. As such, these forms represent cultural and ideological consciousness through which Bosnia’s official ethno-nationalist politics is actively critiqued, subverted and exposed as ineffective. (…) As such, the discourse of Yugoslavism, as it emerges from the words of my interlocutors represents a complex conceptual tool with which to critique the present and imagine the possibility of a better civil society.”
“Post-war Yugoslavism as it is manifested in Bosnia and Herzegovina thus represents an oppositional discourse and a category of cultural and political dissent through which official ethno-nationalist politics is actively critiqued, deconstructed and subverted. It is a discourse that, given the country’s recent violent past, stands for a particularly enlightened and progressive orientation toward reconciliation and rebuilding of Bosnian civil society on the principles of mutual respect and solidarity among the different ethnic groups.”
Maja Pupovac. “Unattainable past, unsatisfying present – Yugonostalgia: an omen of a better future?” Nationalities Papers Vol. 45 No. 6 (2017): 1066-1081 [pdf]
“Yugonostalgia…is a popular memory of the Yugoslav socialist past and a longing for the socialist Yugoslavia. As Yugoslavia no longer exists, what nostalgics actually feel is affection for their former state, not allegiance and loyalty. Therefore, the socialist Yugoslavia is the core of the (selective) nostalgic memories. However, it is not Communism, socialism, or the political unit that are objects of nostalgic feelings or restorative desires, but rather a certain mix of characteristics, values, and objects connected to that period, such as military strength, international reputation, economic welfare, prosperity, unity, solidarity, social security, friendship, cultural cooperation, even geographical space, or a particular consumer product. In sum, nostalgia exists for the social side of the regime and the system, at the level of individual biographies and everyday life.”
“…certain aspects and manifestations of yugonostalgia, with its focus on positive and inclusive aspects of the common socialist past, can contribute to the reconciliation process among former Yugoslavs.”
“…yugonostalgia is oriented toward “past fantasies” – unfulfilled dreams, lost opportunities, and elusive ideals of the socialist Yugoslav past; toward all that was probable back then and seems so inaccessible today.”
“Former Yugoslavs long for national, spiritual and ethnic unity, peace, friendship, solidarity, and a world without hatred based on nationality or ethnic and religious differences.”
“Most of my interlocutors, while complaining about the socioeconomic aspect of their life, recalled the “normal life” [normalan život] they once had in Yugoslavia and said it is this “normalcy” they most miss today. To an already depressing recognition that the longed-for past cannot return, yugonostalgics add an equally depressing awareness that the present is full of disappointments, with not much hope for improvement. To these people, yugonostalgia primarily provides shelter from an unsatisfying present…”
“The first positive aspect of yugonostalgia is that through fostering personal memories of the past, yugonostalgics actually promote the preservation of their history, which has been threatened by the dominance of the nationalistic rhetoric in all former Yugoslav republics since the dissolution of the common country….no matter which form of yugonostalgia we have in mind, it always chooses remembering over forgetting. At the same time, keeping memories of Yugoslavia alive can serve as a reminder that post-Yugoslav societies still need a more critical debate concerning their socialist past and socialist heritage.”
“Another positive aspect of yugonostalgia is that it offers a counterbalance to the overcritical narratives of the past for young generations who never lived in the socialist Yugoslav era and who are trying to understand the past and discover their own truths. The active, emancipatory potential of yugonostalgia is probably most visible in yugonostalgics’ engagement in social critiques of their countries’ ruling structures and politics. Yugonostalgic groups not only organize meetings, exhibitions, and seminars to gather in one place many individual “sorrows for yesterday,” but they also actively participate in the criticism of particular political decisions and measures, or, more often, the general political course of their country. They also stand up against exclusive nationalisms and neofascist organizations and groups. Numerous yugonostalgic groups within online social networks show an astonishing level of everyday engagement in the preservation of the memory of Yugoslavia, but are also very active in social criticism.
“Through these associations and groups, yugonostalgia manages to produce one more important outcome: it creates a new form of collective identity, though unintentionally and unconsciously….by searching for desirable value-models of the past, yugonostalgia offers answers to what reality should be like, and what the future should bring.”
“Finally, yugonostalgia serves as an inspiration for cultural and artistic expression, which often treats nostalgic feelings and memories in a satirical and humorous manner; escaping from nostalgia’s melancholy, sadness, even darkness. This, furthermore, contributes to a cultural convergence among former Yugoslavs on a larger scale, having an even more important outcome – the re-establishment of cultural and other dialogues among the former compatriots, which carry the building blocks of the reconciliation process with them.”
Reconciliatory potential of Yugonostalgia is most visible in bottom-up activities:
- visits to places important in Yugoslavia’s history, particularly on anniversaries, e.g. Dan republike / Day of the Republic (29 November), or Dan mladosti / Day of Youth (Tito’s birthday, 25 May)
- cultural cooperation, e.g. Leksikon YU Mitologije, music (concerts, compilations)
- associations, clubs, and other organized activities
- social networks, e.g. Facebook groups
“the future of yugonostalgia is not determined by the lifetime of those who lived in Yugoslavia, nor will it completely vanish along with the last generation born in that country. Due to its usage by youth, yugonostalgia – although drastically weaker – could remain in the region as a reminder and a warning that the people of all generations are not satisfied with the political, economic, or social aspects of their lives. Nostalgia for the socialist Yugoslavia, thus, could persist as long as it takes for the myth of the Golden Age to become reality.”
Ana Petrov. “Yugonostalgia as a Kind of Love: Politics of Emotional Reconciliations through Yugoslav Popular Music.” Humanities Vol. 7 No. 4 (2018).
“listening to Yugoslav popular music has been often seen as a choice charged with political meaning, as a symptom of nostalgia for the lost homeland, and as a statement against the politics of the post-Yugoslav states.”
“it can be pointed out that one can hardly ‘just’ enjoy listening to the music from the Yugoslav era, without being aware of the political implications of that act
“seemingly banal repackaging of the past within the post-Yugoslav music market triggers supposedly genuine emotions.”
“the concepts of nostalgia and love have been interconnected from the beginning of the actual phenomenon of nostalgia. If nostalgia was seen as a condition in which a person can suffer because of the loss of home—the suffering often being characteristic by the desire to return to one’s homeland that was even described as madness of love for the homeland—then Yugonostalgia appears to be a similar kind of contemporary post-socialist condition in which one can be madly in love with their homeland. However, the ‘cure’ that was prescribed for nostalgia—the return home—cannot be used in the case of Yugonostalgia, since Yugoslavia no longer exists. Hence, the desire to return home is instead realized in loving what has left of Yugoslavia: the culture, the music, the people.”
“the conceptual framework of the discourse on love (towards the culture, the country, and the people in general) and its role in re-narrativisation/embodying of the past as a kind of Yugonostalgic narrative can be used to show the ways in which these collectivities have been made. The Yugonostalgic narrative is often characterized by the promulgation of a love discourse and extremely affective reactions; ignorance about the war; and clearly expressed enjoyment in certain products.”
“the discourses on love and Yugonostalgia intersect in the following contexts:
- “The context of the reconciliation of the peoples in the territory of former Yugoslavia. Loving the music from the past could often imply loving the Yugoslav past itself, or the people who used to be your compatriots and are now your enemies. In that context, love is intertwined with the process of reconciliation after the wars.
- “Romancing (the concept of) nostalgia, i.e., neutralizing the process of reconciliation and promoting the concept of romantic love. Another way to deal with the Yugoslav past is to romance Yugonostalgia, which means to put it in the context of romantic love or the universal love between people.
- “The context of neutrality and universality (of the love and connection among people) in the act of listening to music. Certain people in the audience, on different occasions, mentioned the music as a ‘universal’ category, together with the idea of ‘universal’ love that transcends meanings attached to the Yugoslav past.
“Unlike some other manifestations of nostalgia, which one could argue are utopian imaginaries of a loss of something that has never existed, in the case of Yugonostalgia, the object of nostalgia, the country, did exist, no matter how one remembers it. It is most certainly a place that many people now feel as their own personal loss.”
“it seems that the post-Yugoslav market lacks the organization and interconnectedness, so that the musicians have been trying to draw attention to themselves and to make a sense of continuity with the previous Yugoslav market using various strategies, the reference to Yugoslavia being one of them. Thus, one of the currents of Yugonostalgia tends to commercialize the current Yugonostalgic cultures in post-Yugoslav spaces.”
“Yugonostalgia should not be seen only as a transparent pro or contra socialist or pro or contra Yugoslav ideology, connected to the experience of living in Yugoslavia, but rather it is often an ideology that is not easy to locate—the ideology of supposedly neutral love, transnational universal bonds between people, the ideology of nostalgia, understood as a general “yearning for yesterday”, (Davis 1979 ), or the ideology of enjoyment and music-loving, and so on.”
“the farther the post-Yugoslav space goes from the end of Yugoslavia, the more the Yugoslav culture is being used and repacked for further commercial exploitation.”
“Yugonostalgia appears to be a means for current politics of emotions in post-Yugoslav spaces to further promote the idea that the music and musicians seem to be one of the most important legacies of socialist Yugoslavia.”
Primož Krašovec. “(Yugo)nostalgia.” Atlas of Tranformation, 2011 [pdf]
- erasure of memory by new regimes
- dominance of realism
- rewriting of history to elevate the nation state
- destruction of socialist politics and of the memory of socialism
- “(Yugo)nostalgia is a result of a process whereby collective (and thus political) memory becomes reduced to a sum of personal experiences and individual memories. Yugonostalgia is what remains after the process of depoliticization of the collective memory of socialism—it is a form of popular memory that has been washed clean of all traces of political demands for social equality, workers’ participation in the production process, and internationalism as well as for the antifascism, antiimperialism, and antichauvinism that constituted the core of the revolutionary politics of socialism.”
- “Since there is nothing left of the memory of the politics of socialism, the memory of socialism takes on a cultural form as a web of similar, shared experiences from childhood and youth involving rock and roll, fashion, foods, and other such matters. The culture of socialism is looked upon with sympathy; there is a nostalgic yearning for the good old times. Socialist culture is represented, in the cultural imagination of young postsocialist adults, by objects, habits, and forms of sociability harking back to a happy and innocent childhood. In this depoliticized form of popular memory, political history is reduced to personal history…”
- “Old banknotes, red star pins, posters portraying working-class heroes and other such objects can become valuable as nostalgic collectors’ items precisely when and if they no longer signify anything socialist, when and if they are no longer symbols of socialist political ideas and ideals (in other words, when and if the work of historical revisionism is completed).”
- “The process of culturization thus transforms Tito from a political figure to a bizarre, Berlusconiesque character.”
- “sentimental nostalgia…is usually accompanied by a cynical attitude toward socialist politics, which is radically excluded from the happy set of childhood memories.”
Ana Hofman. “Tabu na sećanja: Bolest zvana jugonostalgija.” Nova srpska politička misao: časopis za političku teoriju i društvena istraživanja. 11/5/2007. [pdf of original | English translation]
“Yugoslavia was not only a product of political and social conventions or of official narratives, but part of the everyday experience of people who enjoyed an enviable level of economic stability and social mobility. It is for this reason that the Yugonostalgic discourse has succeeded in mobilizing so many people and becoming a burning issue of public debates in the lands of the former Yugoslavia.”
“The intensity and representation of nostalgia for socialism in public discourse in each of the countries differs in relation to the degree of de-ideologization of the official version of the past or the deconstruction of the monolithic discourse of the past.”
- Bosnia: “Yugonostalgia appears as a reaction to dissatisfaction with everyday life in the atmosphere of constant ethnic tensions.”
- Croatia: “Yugonostalgia is considered a trivial feeling and an ephemeral effect that is most commonly associated with the consumption of genres of popular culture from other former Yugoslav republics (primarily from Serbia).”
- Serbia/Montenegro: “As a result, conflicts arise between different interpretations of the past and create confusion in relation to socialist times. On the one hand, Yugonostalgia was left to “true” Yugoslavs who never wanted to replace their multi-national identity and, on the other hand, referred to people are kind of transgressive “losers” unable to manage new social circumstances.”
“Yugonostalgia affirms its market potential primarily through the commercialization of Yugoslav popular culture. Yugonostalgic websites are full of period music, movies, photos, and books. The commercial effect of Yugonostalgia is also visible in the real world, through the concerts of former Yugoslav stars and symbols of the former state, such as the Bijelo Dugme. Yugonostalgia is also recognized as a very lucrative concept for many businesses in the hospitality industry, e.g. [various bars, cafes, and restaurants named after Tito]. The revitalization of the gathering in Kumrovec and a series of similar commemorative events around the former Yugoslavia, including the House of Flowers in Belgrade, shows the commercial importance as tourism products. There are also concrete attempts to recreate Yugoslavia for tourism purposes, such as Mini Yugoslavia near Subotica or the General Consulate of SFRY in Montenegro.”
“There is also a very interesting phenomenon of “second-hand nostalgia,” more precisely Yugonostalgia among young people who don’t have their own experiences of this period but create a picture of it on the basis of the existing interpretations of the past.”
“This phenomenon is not reserved only for members of certain social groups like former elites who have lost their privileges or marginalized dissidents. This is the feeling shared by many citizens of the countries of the former Yugoslavia: nostalgia for the “best”—Yugoslavian—years of their lives. As an alternative discourse of the past, it helps overcome the conflicts arising from the dominance of nationalist discourses and demonstrates the possibility of dialogue in the region, precisely because it honors the the existence of a political form of common life of different ethnic, cultural, and political traditions.”
Yugonostalgia in Bosnia and Herzegovina
“Back in the SFRY: Yugo-Nostalgia and Dreams of Communism,” Novara Media, 7/23/2017
- “Now, a quarter of a century later, much of the population of former Yugoslavia look back with nostalgia at the communist days of old.”
- “The old talk of those years with a mixture of nostalgia and pride, the young with admiration and longing.”
- “The populations of five of the six republics of former Yugsolavia [sic] wish, to some degree or another, that it had never disappeared at all.”
- “The people of the former Yugoslavia do not long for dictatorship, nor for arrests, repression, and secret police. They do, however, long for a time when jobs were secure and well paid, when workers voted for their bosses, when social rights were respected, and when different peoples, of different faiths, with different histories could live side by side in peace and, to some small degree at least, “brotherhood and unity.””
Yugonostalgia in Serbia
“Belgrade Remembers Tito’s ‘Golden Age’,” Balkan Insight, 5/26/2015 [pdf]
A report from the annual celebration of Tito’s birthday at Korčagin tavern.
- What makes them celebrate this date, an anniversary that is now mostly forgotten by the rest the society, is nostalgia for gentler times, the 65-year-old says. “People come here on this day and talk about the times that brought them together. This is how we preserve our tradition,” Marusić explains.
- “If they are eager to preserve that history, I think it is very nice that we, the younger generation, are part of it as well,” she says.
Yugonostalgia Across Ex-YU Borders
“Yugo-Nostalgia Thrives at Tito Memorials,” Balkan Insight, 6/25/2013 [pdf]
A report from Belgrade (Tito’s grave), Užice (effort to reinstate Tito’s statue), and other locations.
“Yugo-Nostalgia Prevails In Serbia, Bosnia,” Radio Free Europe, May 26, 2017
A report on the Gallup poll about perceptions of Yugoslavia’s breakup.
“‘I think that this [positive] disposition toward Yugoslavia is more a reflection of present-day problems than a result of Yugoslavism as an ideology.'” -Vjeran Pavlaković”
“The gloomy present faced by many Serbians and Bosnians arguably makes them more likely than some of their neighbors to indulge a rosy vision of the past — at least some of which is fantasy. This stereotype is seemingly perpetuated through popular culture and media that harken back to a better time.”
“But it may also reflect a bleaker future and a struggle between competing pasts. While Yugo-nostalgia has grown in Bosnia and other parts of the region in recent years, the goal of joining the European Union is becoming more distant.
“Some former Yugoslav states may be less Yugo-nostalgic than others because they have been more successful in nation-building, suggested Pavlaković.”
“according to Skender Lutfiu, a historian working at the Kosovo Institute of History, the absence of nostalgia among ethnic Albanians has as much to do with their experience in Yugoslavia as it does with the realization of nationhood in the present. Lutfiu said that Kosovo Albanians ‘have no reason’ to remember Tito fondly.”
“Ultimately, both the nostalgia for the former Yugoslavia — whether for a time when Serbia dominated its neighbors or, as many Bosnians remember it, a place of peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups — and a desire to honor the architects of its demise are founded upon selective — or faulty — historical memory.”