Struggle and division are the reality of today’s Balkans after the devastating conflicts of the 1990s. These are being met by a wave of “Yugo-nostalgia”, with many hankering for the stability and prosperity they had under Marshal Tito’s rule.
Everyone in Skopje knows Slobodan.
His cafe “Yugoslavia” is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike keen for a Yugo-nostalgia taste.
Stepping inside is really like taking a step back in time. There, one can only order food and alcohol that was available in the former Yugoslavia, and the signs dotted around say that the customer should pay in local currency only – no dollars or pounds.
But now Slobodan Ugrinovski is channeling his love for everything Yugoslavian into politics, founding the fledgling “Alliance of Tito’s Left Forces” party.
“When you say Tito, you think socialism, peace, brotherhood and unity – it just says it all. Life was better then, it was cheaper to live, it was safe, and we could travel more. People had jobs and factories were working. Now everything’s imported,” says Slobodan Ugrinovski, Cafe Yugoslavia owner, and leader of the Alliance of Tito’s Left Forces.
Youngsters may not remember life under Tito, but they certainly know who he was.
A poll by a Macedonian-based think tank revealed that most believed life was better in the former Yugoslavia, where they felt richer and freer.
“The late Tito era and the 1980s, which is considered a progressive period of the former Yugoslavia, the positive image about this period has never faded. It’s always been kept as positive,” says Anastas Vangeli, research analyst at the Center for Research and Policy Making.
Results tally with similar surveys carried out across the Balkans.
“I remember that life was good. Nowadays things are miserable in all the ex-Yugoslav republics,” a market trader in Skopje says.
“There’s no need to ask if life was better then. You could live off your monthly salary and still save something, now it lasts just three days,” another salesman says.
But is it just fear talking?
“When the Earth is shaking, when everything is uncertain, the only thing that provides absolute certainty – a fixed point, an Archimedean point if you like – is the past,” says Sam Vaknin, former economic adviser to the government.
The recent wave of crises in the Eurozone has raised concern among some in Macedonia, as their country moves steadily towards joining the bloc, that the membership might not actually help solve their own pressing domestic problems of high unemployment and economic stagnation.
Some fear that Macedonia’s IMF request for 480 million euros will further indebt the country and tie it to a Europe in the throes of a financial crisis.
So while governments in the former Yugoslavia have their eyes firmly set on Europe, Yugo-nostalgia remains for those keen to fly the flag for days gone by.