Requiem far Yugoslavia

Branka Magas

As with any bereavement, the hardest thing for those left behind is accepting the fact of death. But now even I am forced to admit defeat after years spent keeping the log of Yugoslavia’s march towards the point of no return. It is merely a sign of my irresponsible faith in some last-minute miracle that it should have taken a full-scale Federal Army attack on one of Yugoslavia’s constituent republics to force me to accept that the past must be buried. Over the past four years or so I had become increasingly convinced that Yugoslavia was indeed dying. That it was just a matter of time. That its death made sense and should be welcomed. Yet even now, as I insist that the last rites be performed and the international community recognise the reality of Yugoslavia’s collapse, the appropriate response to this death eludes me.

A Yugoslav, I think of my country in all its magical, seductive variety of landscapes, nationalities, languages, religions, histories and regional identities. Bosnia, northernmost outpost of European Islam, its minarets interspersed with Christian-Orthodox and Catholic steeples, has ever since Roman times firmly resisted the encroachment of the Mediterranean world – my own world – into the Balkan core. This is where the bell began to toll for Austria-Hungary, another multinational state which failed its peoples. Gavrilo Princip has entered the history textbooks, but few would recall that he was just one of a generation of Croat, Slovene, Serb and indeed Moslem and Montenegrin plotters against an empire already dead in all but name.

A Croat, I think of my Serb friends in Belgrade and our friendship born in the bright light of 1968. In the mid-Eighties we fought together against an earlier attempt to stem the tide of democratisation in Yugoslavia. Macedonia, which has gone on, decade after decade, producing some of Yugoslavia’s finest poets, I know less well: but the row of books behind my desk contains histories of Macedonia and a soon-to-be-used Macedonian-Croat dictionary. The many jokes I, a Dalmatian, have shared with my Albanian compatriots about our common Illyrian origins cannot have been completely jokes, for how otherwise would you explain why I felt so much at home with them? And what should one make of the fact that it took ten years of pedantic examination by experts, not to speak of passionate quarrels, to distinguish the poetry and language of Mountain Wreath – one of the masterpieces of Balkan literature, written by the Montenegrin Bishop-Prince Njegos in the middle of the last century – from those of a similar work written by Ivan Mazuranic, first commoner Ban of Croatia, in the purest literary Croat? For Slovenia my affection has if anything blossomed during the last five years, in the heat of obsessive arguments and counter-arguments about the future of socialism in Yugoslavia, compelling me to acquire a working knowledge of Slovene. These ties, as much as the formal state structures, made us Yugoslavs. Yet when I called a Slovene friend a week or so ago – it already seems like years – Yugoslav Army MIGs were flying over Ljubljana and she was rushing off with her small children to an air-raid shelter. As I write these lines, the radio reports MIGs in action over Osijek, a city in north-eastern Croatia which participated in the Croatian national revolution of 1848, when the issue of South Slav unity was addressed for the first time.

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