Remembering Yugoslavia in Britain

I was very young when Yugoslavia disintegrated, a transition that happened relatively smoothly in Slovenia compared to the tragedies that unfolded in many other parts of the country. I have a few sense memories from that time that I may or may not have fabricated, including seeing a lorry pass by loaded with uniformed soldiers, associated with the feel of the sun on my skin. When my younger brother was born, I was smug that like our parents, I had still been born a Yugoslav, while he was this entirely new creature: a Slovenian. As I grew older I became more and more interested in how other people my age felt about socialist Yugoslavia, which we'd missed by such a narrow margin. If things hadn't gone the way they had, if the country had democratised without splintering, what would things be like today? Would I be travelling the world (as Yugoslavs had even during the Cold War) as the citizen of a multi-national project that predates the EU?

The day after the Brexit referendum, I met my brother in town. We always speak English to each other and 'pass' easily as British (quite posh British, even), but that day it felt important to speak Slovenian, to send a signal: not to our fellow shell-shocked Londoners, but to all the other non-Brits on the tube and city streets, that like them, we'd had nothing to do with this tragicomic fiasco.

But to be honest, it's hard to feel very excited about the EU, either, when it's been so busily putting up walls and letting countless people die at sea. An anti-racist project, it is not. I still feel ambivalent about walking past windows displaying massive European flags, or people assuming that as an EU migrant living here, my contribution to the Brexit debate counts only as long as it stems from my concern over losing my Treaty rights. I'd rather have the bigger conversations: what does it mean to be 'from here'? Whose stories get to count? And whose free movement are we fighting for - only Europeans'?

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Created: 27 May 2019, 4:32 p.m.