What does it mean to be Yugoslav?
October 11, 2011 1:40 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean when someone self-identifies as a Yugoslav as opposed to a Serb, Croat, etc?

I met a man in his 20s who self-identifies as a Yugoslav and I'm curious what this means beyond an indicator of his personal preference.
posted by Cwell to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure he's identifying as a Yugoslav as opposed to saying he's from Yugoslavia?
posted by griphus at 1:42 PM on October 11, 2011

I used to work with a woman who called herself a "Yugo". I asked her this very question, and she told me that it was her way of rejecting the tribalism that destroyed the wonderful country of her childhood.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:52 PM on October 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

That's interesting, because Yugoslavia barely existed within his memory, unless you count Serbia + Montenegro.

I had a roommate in the 90s (he's probably about 50 now) who definitely grew up in Yugoslavia. He was legally and ethnically Croatian, but told me that he thought of himself as Yugoslavian even after Yugoslavia split apart—because he had Serb friends, perhaps in part because he was ashamed of Croatia's leadership, and because that's just what he grew up with. But that kind of thinking couldn't apply to this guy.
posted by adamrice at 1:52 PM on October 11, 2011

you can't possibly figure this out for sure without asking them directly. it's certainly an interesting subject and i'm sure the person would be glad to talk about it.
posted by alan2001 at 1:54 PM on October 11, 2011

I have a friend who identifies as Yugoslav because her parents were Serb and Croatian (I can never remember who was which) and she was married to a Bosnian. She was raised in a very mingled part of society so did not get the strong nationalist/insular upbringing that my other friends have had. She is the only one of my dozen or so friends from that area to lable herself as such though.
posted by saucysault at 2:02 PM on October 11, 2011

There are several possibilities which are not mutually exclusive:

a. Most Americans have a better idea of where Yugoslavia is and what it's like than they do its constituent nations, so it's easier than explaining to a bunch of fools that "Bosnia and Herzegovina" is actually one country, but it used to be part of a different country along with some other countries that all had a war after the iron curtain fell.

b. He comes from a mixed heritage of more than one former-Yugoslavian ethnicities that don't get along, and it's a mouthful to try and explain the history of his family against the background of the history of the region, so Yugoslav is a term that encompasses all of it.

c. The communist regime in Yugoslavia tried really hard to form a national identity independent of Serb, Croat, Montenegran, etc. with the aim of doing away with all the ethnic tension that accompanied it. He may have been a product of that mindset.

d. He is consciously rejecting the minor differences between the groups and identifying in a way that says "we all raise sheep, make olive oil, and sing with shape notes, and we've all been intermarrying for the last thousand years anyhow, so what's the difference?"
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:02 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Or a better iteration of d. would be DWRoelands':

she told me that it was her way of rejecting the tribalism that destroyed the wonderful country of her childhood.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:04 PM on October 11, 2011

I would second DWRoelands' comment except the guy's age doesn't make sense, as adamrice says. My guess is he was brought up abroad and his parents identified as Yugoslavs and rejected their own ethnic identity, so my vote is for Jon-Evil's options b and c.

I am now 40 and I used to say I was a Yugoslav until it no longer made sense in the early 90s. I had a very hard time accepting a narrower ethnic designation because I wasn't brought up in that spirit. (My family left the country when I was 4.)
posted by Dragonness at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2011

He might say he's from Yugoslavia because more people are familiar with Yugoslavia than the countries it split into and the history and contention behind it.
posted by catwash at 2:21 PM on October 11, 2011

I have a Serbian last name. He may take that route because it can be a politically charged topic and doesn't feel comfortable.
posted by blargerz at 4:48 PM on October 11, 2011

Randomly ran across the term Yugo-stalgia today. Thought you might find it interesting.
posted by jph at 11:26 AM on October 13, 2011

« Older Cold barefeet?   |   Who owns the rights to the artwork used in the TV... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.