60 years since the formation of Yugoslavia – Was life really better back then?

On April 7, 1963, the former Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia changed its name to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was made up of six republics – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro and Macedonia – plus two autonomous regions – Kosovo and Vojvodina.

The 1963 Constitution of Yugoslavia is also known as the “Charter of Self-governance”, because the self-governance model was applied in all spheres and at all levels of social life.

The state was defined as “a federal state of voluntarily united and equal peoples and a socialist democratic community based on the power of the working people and self-governance”. Also, the territory of Yugoslavia is described as “unified and composed of the territories of the socialist republics”.

By the same Constitution, the Autonomous Region of Kosovo and Metohija was declared the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.

Eleven years later, a new federal constitution was adopted, which gave more autonomy to the republics and provinces. The republics got more rights, and the powers of the federal state were reduced. One of the provisions emphasized the territorial integrity of SFRY.

In the same year, Josip Broz Tito was proclaimed the lifelong president of both the state and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia.

After Tito’s death in 1980, tensions between nations increased, and in 1991 and 1992, Yugoslavia collapsed, amidst a bloody civil war.

“We have shed a sea of blood for the brotherhood and unity of our peoples. And we will not allow anyone to touch us or destroy us from the inside, to destroy that brotherhood and unity”, said Tito.

He also said that “none of our republics would be nobody and nothing if we were not altogether” and “protect brotherhood and unity as the apple of your eye”.

And what was life in Yugoslavia really like?

As those who were born during and before the founding of the SFRY remember, there was a “strong middle class” in the country, and there were very few or no overly wealthy people.

Most of the workers in the country could afford a new car and vacations, while it was the company that the worker was employed at that provided the apartment for the employee and his family.

Most of the cars on the streets were Zastava 750 (the popular „fića“), Zastava 101 (“stojadin”) and Yugos.

People also remember the sense of safety and security that the population felt. Education and medical treatments were free and there were no private doctors, dentists and pharmacies. Knowledge and skills were highly valued.

“Our wealth is not only factories and roads. Our wealth is a man, a new man, a socialist man, who needs to be supported,” said Tito.

However, there were other, not-so-great, things too. For example, there was no political pluralism as the Communist Party was the only political party allowed to exist at the time. Consequently, there were no elections either.

Custom duties on foreign cars were extremely high and a foreign car in Yugoslavia cost 2.5 times more than abroad.

Although Yugoslavia was a one-party state, there were distinct differences from other iron curtain countries. Tito founded the non-aligned movement and maintained balanced relationships between the West and the USSR, and Yugoslav citizens could travel to either region. The strength of the old Yugoslav passport is mentioned by many of those I meet visiting Tito’s grave who now require visas to enter most countries.

Still, recent surveys show that 81% of people in Serbia said they believed the breakup was bad for their country. In Bosnia, which was always the most multicultural of the republics, 77% share that sentiment. Even in Slovenia, which was the first ex-Yugoslav country to join the EU and is widely regarded as the most “successful”, 45% still say the breakup was damaging. Unsurprisingly, only 10% in Kosovo, which didn’t have full independence from Yugoslavia, regret the breakup.

(N1, The Guardian, 07.04.2023)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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