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The Balkans – Twenty Years Later


Cloee Cooper • Dec 15, 2009

This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the same year that Slobodan Milosevic seized power in what is now former Yugoslavia. It is not surprising that the two events took place the same year. 1989 marks the end of Soviet-style Communism in Europe. The Balkans was commonly considered a crossroads where east meets west. Before Tito’s death, Yugoslavia often did not comply with economic and political pressures from the East or West. In the wake of his death in 1981, the region drastically changed.

The Cold War allowed ethnic nationalism to flourish under Milosevic’s guidance, which resulted in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. During Tito’s rule, Eastern and Western governments could not penetrate the region, however his death provided opportunities for them to move in – the Western European and American governments had an interest in dissolving the communist bloc in Europe – and dissolve it did.

In 1989, when the Berlin wall came falling down, Yugoslavia fragmented. The same year Kosovo and Voyvodina, (two territories in what is now Serbia and Kosovo) were annexed. In 1991, the bloody conflict in Croatia resulted in its secession from Yugoslavia. Macedonia declared independence later that year. Like an onion that was sliced through the middle, the Balkans peeled away, through both peaceful and bloody conflicts, into a series of nation states.

Twenty years later – the place where World War I was triggered – is a vastly different place. Traces of communism line its streets and are entrenched in the memories of older generations. If you ask a person 40 years or older from Croatia or Bosnia or Serbia “tell me about the way you lived under Tito”. They will likely reminisce positively on such times, exclaiming that “then, we were all neighbors… now, you see how we live”. But if you hit the streets of any urban city in the Balkans, you will find a young generation seizing every opportunity to embrace western culture.

There was a great Balkan Documentary film series that recently came out entitled “Under Construction”. The documentary filmmakers explore themes from collective memory of the region to experiences of ex-combatants. Six documentary films show how ethnic nationalism, conflict and the shift from communism to a free market society shaped the lives, memory, music, and activism of those who experienced the downfall of Yugoslavia.

1989 marked the end of the East-West divide. Twenty years later, we experience the repercussions of it, not only in former Yugoslavia, but right here at home. As Yugoslavia split, many individuals were forced to seek refuge elsewhere. The following blog traces the lives and stories of families who fled Bosnia to find a new home in the United States.

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