‘It was once our home’: Socialist Yugoslavia before the breakup
Children wearing the Partisan’s blue cap and red scarf, symbols of the Union of Pioneers of Yugoslavia, wait with other supporters of the late Yugoslav Communist president Josip Broz Tito in front of his memorial complex for a wreath-laying ceremony in Belgrade, Serbia, May 25, 2021. | Darko Vojinovic / AP

On November 29, 1943, in the midst of the Second World War, a beautiful, big, and strong socialist Yugoslavia was established in the town of Jajce in central Bosnia. It was established by the Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), at its second session, as a state of equal nations and peoples and as a republic that would not be presided over by a monarch nor by their bourgeois cohort of thieves and exploiters.

After initially attempting to endear themselves to Hitler—and being prevented from doing so by the popular uprising which in turn led to the German declaration of war against Yugoslavia—these royals and bourgeois elements fled to England. There, in peace, they awaited whatever the outcome of the war might be and their return to the throne and power. Their “Military in the Homeland” also decided to not fight and instead preferred to wait in relative peace for the “liberation” of the country by the Western Allies.

Meanwhile, some Serb-dominated parts of this military, under the protection of the Italian fascist occupation force, used the opportunity to launch a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs. In Zagreb, an actual horde of Croatian Nazis set out to exterminate all Communists, Serbs, Jews, and Roma from the vast territory they were granted by the Nazis, which they called the Independent State of Croatia.

On the other hand, AVNOJ—led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and Josip Broz Tito—rejected all collaboration with the enemy and began a campaign of resistance to the occupying Nazi forces. From day one, AVNOJ was a full-fledged member of the worldwide anti-fascist movement led by the USSR. This armed movement insisted on the unity of all the nations and peoples of Yugoslavia and absolute rejection of all ethnic, national, and religious hatreds and wars.

Because of that commitment and the promise of equality—not only of all nations but of all humans—and guided by the Marxist principle of “from each according to their ability to each according to their need,” this movement was able to garner the support of the great majority of the people. It translated that into military victories and super-human resistance to, and eventual defeat of, the occupying fascist forces and their domestic helpers.

That insistence on the brotherhood and unity of all the nations and religious groups of Yugoslavia, the sovereignty of that state, the smart politics of peace with regards to other nations and peoples, the self-management of workplaces and public property as the basis of economy, resulted in 45 years of peace and prosperity the likes of which the people of Yugoslavia hadn’t seen before—and which they haven’t seen since the end of that state.

People stand beside a long row of freshly-dug graves in the Lion’s Park cemetery in Sarajevo, June 23, 1992. Ethnic nationalism and genocide tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s. | Santiago Lyon / AP

Many of us who grew up in socialist Yugoslavia are now living in the diaspora because our country in the 1990s again became a victim of the politics of hatred, capitalism, and imperialism. It is now essentially a colony. Some of us left because we were literally running away from fascist knives, while others left to get away from poverty and backwardness. We now wander the world like lost strangers and bore our company with tales of a wonderful country that was once our home, a country so fantastic that it sounds a bit like a fairy tale.

But that was our country. That was the country that our mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers built, that they fought for and, like Tito used to say, “shed rivers of blood for.” That was the country we needed to guard like a drop of water on our palm, not to break down and destroy like we did.

Many of us got caught up in the winds of hate of the 1990s and regret that now, but it is too late to go back and do it all over again. We got carried away by capitalist advertisements and promises. A few of us even succeeded at accomplishing some form of the so-called “American Dream,” only to realize that that very “dream” is nothing but the carefree “normal and regular” life we all had in Yugoslavia—a life with secure jobs, good housing, cheap bills, free quality education and healthcare, and long and nice paid vacations.

With the gallows rope around his neck, Yugoslav partisan fighter Stjepan Filipović shouts “Death to fascism, freedom to the People!” seconds before his execution by a Nazi-collaborationist Serbian State Guard unit in 1942. | U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Some will say that whatever happened has happened and that there’s no use dwelling on the past. They call us “Yugo-nostalgic” to stop us from recalling our beautiful country. We do live in a new world, and we are suffering in exile just as our people “back home” are suffering. Both we and they are under the same imperialist boot and, precisely because of that, we need to not only remember our Yugoslavia—and talk about it and dream about it—but also learn from it. We need to learn historical lessons and intervene in the historical field as conscious actors, like comrades organized into AVNOJ did in the 1940s.

We know that our country was destroyed, in large part, by the organized communities of monarchists, nationalists, and fascists living in the diaspora. If they could come up from the dead like zombies and bring hatred and butchery into fashion and destroy our beautiful country, then why should we sit idle with long faces and regret that there is no turning back the clock of time?

To that end, a number of us Yugoslavs in different places decided to get together and celebrate this year’s “Day of the Republic” in a virtual gathering. We intend to continue to meet and organize ourselves into a political and cultural force that is able to intervene in the cause of socialism, both in the countries we are currently in and in the countries that were once Yugoslavia.

It is true that we cannot bring back the past, but it is also just as true that the future is unwritten. The future is what we make of it. If we give up, then the future will be one of hate and misery, of a conquered and broken-up Yugoslavia ruled by a small clique of imperialists in Berlin and Washington along with their few domestic helpers, while the great majority of the people are suffering from poverty, drugs, unemployment, overwork, and all the other universal ails of capitalist societies.

Let’s refuse that future. Let’s choose a future of comradeship, unity, and social justice, of real freedom, real peace, and real equality.

Happy Day of the Republic to all Yugoslavs in the diaspora.

We stick to the words of partisan fighter Stjepan Filipović, who in 1942, even with the rope around his neck, defiantly shouted to his Axis executioners: “Death to Fascism—Freedom to the People!”

People’s Voice


Ivan Stoiljkovic
Ivan Stoiljkovic

Ivan Stoiljkovic grew up in socialist Yugoslavia and is a member of the Yugoslav diaspora. He is an activist now living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.