Yugoslavia Autumn 1988

I have no photos of my own from my 1988 visits to Kosovo and the then-wider-Yugoslavia, but this is one BBC radio feature, recorded for Radio Four’s International Assignment with the eccentrically wonderful Adam Raphael, of which I am perhaps most proud.

It’s nearly 30 minutes long, and a challenging listen. Feature starts at 2’10”, after quaintly dated-sounding news bulletin, including references to Pinochet.

Of its time, and going on once we get under way to quote Serbian author and later politician Vuk Draskovic warning Europe that it could, if it wished, allow then-united Yugoslavia to become a European Lebanon, disintegrating into civil war. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

You can also hear Serbian nationalists in Nis, in the south of the country, calling for weapons – “hochemu oruzhiye” – to fight the Albanians they accused of “genocide” against the Serbs in that predominantly ethnic Albanian province of what was then the constituent Yugoslav republic of Serbia.

It was a prescient feature, recorded on one of my regular visits to Yugoslavia while Diplomatic Correspondent at the World Service, although none of us at the time could have imagined just how terrible the violence would be.

Torvill and Dean, practicing Bolero in Sarajevo 1984

After all, just four years earlier, I had covered the 1984 Winter Olympics in nearby Sarajevo, a celebration of unity and goodwill, with the British ice-dancers Torville and Dean memorably scoring perfect 8s in their gold-medal winning performance of Bolero.

I didn’t see them win the gold itself, but was greatly moved to watch them in practice.

Eight years later, Sarajevo and the Bosnia around it descended into the terror of ethnic cleansing worse even than the worst excesses of Lebanon summoned up by Draskovic in our Belgrade interview in 1988.

2 thoughts on “Yugoslavia Autumn 1988

  1. True, of course, that at the time it was mainly Albanian. This was mainly due to the incredible difference in brith-rate between ethnic Serbs (around 2.2, the European average at the time) and the Albanians at over 7.5. Kosovo was the cradle of Serbia and Serbs still feel very strongly that they were forced out by an unholy alliance of Islamists and NATO. Interesting to note that a different kind of ethnic cleansing is going on now that the boot is on the other foot so to speak.
    An intriguing interview nonetheless. Those were momentous times, probably for all the wrong reasons!
    Tim B

  2. Dangerous political territory, Tim, on which after many years on the patch one develops one’s views. As you know. The psychology of the Balkans conflict fascinates me even more, now I’m a therapist, than it did in the old correspondent days. As Freud was the first to identify, we accuse others of the things that most discomfit us in ourselves – and proceed to bring about the very things we most fear. Individually and as a nation – that is, until we become just a tad more conscious. One wishes that nations would go into therapy and sort their stuff.

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