You don’t think stable countries can descend into ruin quickly, and surprise you with its madness? Catalonia and Spain totter on the brink, and I see people saying “they’ll come to their senses. It’s not like they’re Yugoslavia!”. Let me tell you about Yugoslavia.
When I was 12 years old, I arrived at my best friend’s house and found his mother crying. My friend explained. Tito was dead, and she had loved him. I was too young to understand and wasn’t that interested. My friend, of Croatian and Hungarian origins, totally respected the Croat and Slovene Tito.
I didn’t want to know about some foreign country’s leaders and nagged my friend so that we went out and drove the gravity racer we had built together from scraps.
Later, that gravity racer would test our friendship, in a microcosm of the events that mirrored what would happen to Tito’s Yugoslavia. The fastest of friends can find some incredibly petty and small reason to start a conflict that may end the friendship.
With Tito gone, the Socialist country that didn’t descend into a horror show like Romania or East Germany, descended into an even worse fate. Tito died in 1980, and in 1991 the Yugoslav wars broke out. The eastern bloc country considered the most stable, fell into utter ruin.
At the time, people didn’t believe things could become that bad. Yugoslavia was a model to follow, and for an eastern bloc country, it was rich. It didn’t nationalise everything, and the communist party there didn’t impose a command economy. People could travel freely abroad. Many people, like my friend’s mum, loved Tito who had made that possible.
Tito had kept Yugoslavia united after the war and managed both to keep the country out of the Warsaw pact and develop normal relations with that pact. Now civil war broke out, and the iconography of Yugoslavia changed from that of Titoism to the likes of Radko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic.
Srebrenica happened, and the siege of Sarajevo with its frequent shelling of civilians was documented live on TV. The sight of Dutch UN troops impotently ripping their blue berets to shreds while crying happened. The images across our tellies was that of civilians in long lines fleeing fighting and genocide. It had all gone to hell, and fast too.
Things only seem predestined after the fact. Now common knowledge says Yugoslavia was doomed to fail, and that the tensions and conflicts were built in. I don’t believe it. Yugoslavia could have been dismantled peacefully. Because the alternative is the other way, and that’s the choice facing Spain and Catalonia now. Chose wisely.
I don’t want a Spanish Radko Mladic or a Catalonian Slobodan Milosevic in the history books. Nationalism, even if it calls itself civic, always has a beast trapped inside it. The blood and soil kind openly feed the beast and eggs it on, while the civic nationalism tries to keep it caged and bound and hidden.
But it is still there, and it takes very little for the beast to break free, and for future historians to trace the path a country took back to the point where it broke free and slouched onward to birth hell on Earth for whoever is caught in its path.
Yugoslavia was not predestined for its horror, and neither is Spain or Catalonia. What path both countries take is decided here, now. And it would help if the European Union didn’t act like amateurs and bumbling fools, and that they forcefully reminded the parties of the consequences of the wrong choices.