The little and unknown country of Slovenia was, not so long ago, part of a large plurinational state named Yugoslavia since 1918. When it became independent in June 1991, it changed a lot for Slovenians that discovered an entirely new everyday life in a democratic and liberal state. The transition was sometimes challenging to make, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) is still deep-rooted in many Slovenian minds.
Yugonostalgia can be described as the “nostalgic emotional attachment to idealized desirable aspects of the SFRY.” It encompasses values, traditions, and conditions as the economic security, socialist ideology, and multiculturalism that were experimented in Yugoslavia, a way different reality than in actual Slovenia.
Discovering the concept of Yugoslavia allows us to learn more about the differences between the Yugoslav and Slovenian way of life, and even to step back in time while visiting Slovenia.
Scale and Description of The Phenomenon
The Yugonostalgia phenomenon was first defined by Dr. Nicole Lindstrom, a College teacher in comparative and international political economy and public policy, and author of the article Yugonostalgia: Restorative and Reflective Nostalgia in Former Yugoslavia.
She explains that Yugonostalgia is linked to many different aspects of society that go from economic matters to politics but also concerns the history of the state and its people, with their customs and traditions. It also refers to positive values such as multiculturalism and internationalism, anchored in Yugoslavia’s spirit, that does not reflect Slovenia’s present.
The extent of this concept was measured in a 2017 Gallup Poll. If the results show that Slovenia is one of the less nostalgic countries amongst the other former Yugoslav Republics, the numbers are still impressive compared to occidental beliefs and points of view on earlier socialist countries.
Asked if they think that the breakup of Yugoslavia has harmed their country, only 41% responded that they felt positive about the split in Slovenia. On the contrary, 45% stated that it was harmful.
These numbers are even more concerning in other newly independent countries. Only 6% of Bosniaks and 15% of Montenegrins agree that Yugoslavia’s breakup was beneficial for their country. 81% of Serbs, 77% of Bosnians and Herzegovians, and 65% of Macedonians agree on the belief that the split was damaging for their countries.
As Slovenia is the most successful former Yugoslav state on economic matters, it seems logical that its inhabitants feel less concerned about Yugoslavia’s golden age. However, since the country is doing particularly well, this is the proportion of Yugoslavia’s nostalgists that might seem surprising.
Yugoslavia is both a polítical and psychological phenomenon and concept that is used to describe two different faces of the same coin. Indeed, it is mostly intended by self-described nostalgics of peaceful coexistence and unity as a positive value rejecting the winning of nationalism and division, but it also can reflect irony.
The critic of Yugonostalgiacs hides an ethnocentric bias from the detractors of Yugoslavia since they use the term negatively. While it appears like a genuine expression of sympathy to Yugoslavia and to the grief they feel about the independence war, they use it to denigrate the nostalgics and their refusal of nationalism.
This animosity is explained by the fact that many other Slovenians link the Yugoslav era to its negative aspects, such as fear, economic deprivation, and repressed religious and national feelings. The marking experience they lived now pushes them to call the Yugonostalgics unpatriotic, public enemies, or even traitors.
The two interpretations of the Yugoslav period permit us to learn more about the remaining divisions amongst Slovenians, as those are still central matters in the collective unconscious.
Attachment to Socialist Ideology
We can then guess that most of the Yugonostalgics are more or less attached to the socialist ideology implemented by Tito in Yugoslavia after WWII. This 35-year socialist era, extended until 1991, was indeed positive and beneficial for a lot of Slovenians.
The nostalgists mainly regret the deep solidary that developed under Tito’s rule, as well as the economic security that was assured. Yugonostalgics told that they especially miss the guaranteed pension that allowed them to live without fear of not being able to put food on the table.
They also long about the fact that employment was almost assured after graduation back then, and more generally that it offered them a more rewarding way of life than actual Slovenia.
The socialist ideology was also particularly attached to meaningful values, deepened by Tito’s non-alignment policy. Indeed, he promoted internationalism and multiculturalism over the nationalism that followed Yugoslavia.
You can especially feel that aspect in present-day Slovenia, a small homogenous country where the 2 million inhabitants are, for an enormous part, Catholics, ethnically Slovene, and speaking the Slovene language. It firmly differs from huge Yugoslavia and its 25 million people speaking five different languages, practicing three religions, and living in 6 diverse republics.
Some people then miss the many possibilities it offered, such as traveling abroad quickly and cheaply. But above all, Slovenia does not keep up with the Yugoslav heritage when it comes to immigration. Indeed, immigrants coming from other former Yugoslav republics are now suffering from various stereotypes and even discriminations that grant them a lower social status in the country.
On the other hand, these discriminations can find their source in fear of these Slovenians for Yugoslavia, that they want to appease by marking borders and differences.
The Figure of Tito: Titostalgia in Slovenia
Thirty years after its death, Josip Broz, better known under the name of Tito, remains the most emblematic figure of Yugoslavia AND Slovenia. Nobody has forgotten him here, and a lot of Slovenians even mourn and regret him. Indeed, you can particularly feel it in May by the time of the commemoration of its birth: a pilgrimage is organized every year since 1999 to Kumrovec, its native village in Croatia. This procession is very popular among Slovenians.
By commemorating Tito, Yugoslavia’s strong man, Slovenians also remember the unique system that he implemented in the country. However, it was built based on the lack of socialism and capitalism, perduring mostly thanks to the iron fist of the leader. Indeed, with his death came the apparition of nationalism and the end of what the Yugonostalgics cherished so much.
In Slovenia, you can find many remains of the Tito era that are very popular tourist and locals attractions. The most famous and interesting one is its beautiful summer house, Villa Bled, which is both a museum and a hotel if you are interested in spending the night in a historic place. You will find it in Bled Lake, one of the most touristic areas of the country.
Nowadays, the former leader is recovering his credentials in Slovenia as many places and streets with Tito’s name are multiplying everywhere in the country. The present-day communist parties start reclaiming his legacy while the walls adorn with graffitis taking its communist quotes back.
More surprisingly, Tito is everywhere he is not expected. You will find its figure in all the souvenirs shops, newspapers, and even on tee-shirts, but above all in many bars, cafés, restaurants, or again clubs named after him, symbolizing the adhesion of a significant part of the Slovenian population.
His image has also become an advertising product. Nowadays, you can find plenty of goods bearing Tito’s face, from beers to computers.
What About The EU?
For the Yugonostalgics that are dreaming of a mystified golden age, the European Union might seem like the right answer to the hopes of a supranational organization promoting multiculturalism and fading borders.
However, ever since its entry in the European Union in 2004, and even as a member of the Schengen Agreements and as a Euro country, Slovenians do not have strong beliefs in it. For most of them, it indeed has the same annoyances as Yugoslavia, but without being able to guarantee them the same stability.
In fact, many Slovenians fear the risks of centralization of the organization in Brussels, just as Yugoslavia did with Belgrade.
Cultural Manifestations of Yugonostalgia
Even if the main aspects of Yugonostalgia are profoundly political and stand on economic and ideological grounds, the main visible illustrations of this nostalgia in Slovenia are seen in cultural and artistic fields.
The Slovene musical scene has undoubtedly lost a lot with the breakup of Yugoslavia. Then it was one of the leading centers of the subcultural scene through the city of Ljubljana. The music was very qualitative, and many Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, among others, traveled there to see their favorite bands.
Music was also an instrument to convey political beliefs, as shown by the example of “Racunajte na nas.” This song, written in 1978, is a true hymn to Tito and an anthem to socialism.
Nowadays, the little states have lost in quality, and they are not selling much anymore. However, we can still see the Yugoslav influence in their music shops. Indeed, they have a third category of music: besides the home and international music, you can find an “ex-home” section regrouping Croatian, Serbian, Bosniak, Macedonian, and Montenegrin music.
It shows that the Yugoslav era has left deep marks in the Slovenian culture, modeling the Slovenian preferences. It contrasts with the current media and political discourses that somehow try to divide these folks and present them as antagonists.
If you are curious to learn more about it, you can figure a part of this phenomenon in a documentary called Sretno Dijete, which can be traduced literally by “Lucky Kid,” which was a massive success in Slovenia. It was made by the Croatian filmmaker Igor Mirkovic, and it features him trying to find the heroes of his youth in the 70s and 80s, some Yugo-rock stars.
The Yugoslav Culinary Tradition
Yugonostalgics that want to go back in time or tourists eager to discover the old habits and customs will find themselves served in many Slovenian eateries. A lot of them have many Bosnian food options, and some of them are dedicated places.
The best restaurant for nostalgics remains Sarajevo ’84. There are several shops around the country, like in Ljubljana and Piran, that propose a Bosnian menu and a retro atmosphere. There, you will dive into the legendary winter Olympics that took place in Yugoslavia in 1984. You will also have the chance to admire posters from cult SFRY films as the 1972 Das Ist Valter tip their hat to Valter brani Sarajevo.
Yugoslav Products and Shops In Slovenia
If you want to taste or discover more SFRY products, Slovenia has plenty of what you wish for. Ljubljana especially offers an abundance of great meeting places for Yugonostalgics, starting with its antiquity market that takes place every Sunday.
More than some Yugoslav knick-knacks such as stamps, military medals, posters, and postcards all showing the likeness of Tito, you will have the chance to talk to passionate nostalgics. However, I recommend you buy an authentic storied souvenir to bring back home.
If you do not have the chance to be there on weekends or if you simply want to discover even more about the socialist period, you must stop by Ljubljana & Idea. On your way to the Castle, for example, you can push the door of this fantastic retro shop and discuss with its adorable owner that will explain everything you want.
This antique shop is at the same time a museum and a travel agency that will provide any flag, poster, pin, or toy you want. They are affordable, and the place is a safe bet, as true nostalgics and SFRY lovers also frequent it. This shop is one of the absolute must-sees in town!
After your many visits, you can still travel through Yugoslavia from your comfortable seat at a terrace with one of its many typical food or drinks. The most renowned Yugoslav products are the Slovenian Fructal and the Cokta, the SFRY’s take on Coca-Cola.
Other famous Slovenian specialties date back to Yugoslavia, like the popular burek, which was already a basic in all of the former Republics. The best places in town to savor one are the two local institutions of Nobel Burek and Olimpija, the specialists of this rich pastry dish that comes in different flavors, such as cheese, ham, or spinach.
While visiting Ljubljana, you may come across some companies proposing you to discover the city’s socialist past. Indeed, many tourist-oriented companies have figured out that you can make some profit based on people’s nostalgia. It can be compared to the frenzy about the DDR in Berlin nowadays, which has its own dedicated museum.
If you want to discover why Slovenians are so fond of the Yugoslav era AND visit the capital at the same time, you can go around Ljubljana’s wide range of Yugoslav apartments buildings that are more than the usual stereotypes of a grey, massive, and oppressive socialist architecture.
For example, you can take a look at the BS3 residential complex, located in the north, not far from the Stožice Arena. There, you will find lovely triangular roofs designed by Ilija Arnautović. You can also stop by Ferantov vrt, another socialist era’s modernist neighborhood that is particularly stylish or see the Drago Tršar’s Monument to the Revolution. You will also find some monuments while walking inside Tivoli Park’s southern corner.
What Future For Yugonostalgia and Slovenia?
Surprisingly, Yugonostalgia is a phenomenon that particularly affects young Slovenians that did not even know what life was in Yugoslavia. This concept should not be confounded with Yugoslavism, which would be their belief in the unity of all the South Slavs in the former Yugoslavia territories and according to its model.
For young people, the myth of Yugoslavia remains strong because the country was putting an intense focus on art, which is appealing to young generations. It was indeed a model on the fields of creativity and respect amongst the youth that Slovenia has to learn and duplicate if it wants to go past this myth that reveals the lack of the current regime.
If Yugonostalgia has been beneficial for the modern states by allowing them to maintain the level of faith and hope necessary to the transition, Slovenia must go behind this so Slovenians will not always dream about an achieved golden age.
This way, it shows that the fascination for an ancient past, no matter how good it was, always reveals the present issues, according to Tanja Petrović, who works at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
Yugonostalgia reveals that Slovenia is an eventful country with a vibrant and multicultural past that has a lot to offer. You will be able to learn more about it while visiting the country and its many attractions, but also by talking to people and impregnating from the mystic atmosphere of Slovenia.
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