Yugoslavia—A Land of Fascinating Variety
By Awake! correspondent in Yugoslavia
“HOW do you say it in Yugoslav?” That question from a foreigner may evoke one of at least three different answers—each in a different language! Furthermore, ask a native of Yugoslavia, “What nationality are you?” and the odds are that he will give one of at least six different answers—likely not one of them being, “Yugoslav”!
Yugoslavia is indeed a land of surprising variety. Its very geography helps make it so. Yugoslavia sits on the Balkan Peninsula in the southeastern part of Europe, with the Adriatic Sea to the west. Rubbing shoulders with seven nations—Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania—Yugoslavia is subject to a variety of cultural influences.
Even the weather is varied: hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters on the coast; short, cool summers and long, snowy winters in the mountainous regions; hot summers and cold winters in the northern plains. All of this in a country that extends only some 600 miles [1,000 km] in length and 400 miles [600 km] at its widest point from east to west.
A Nation of Peoples
Even greater diversity, though, is found among its people. According to the 1987 estimate, of the nation’s 23.5 million inhabitants, only a small proportion declare themselves to be Yugoslavs (South Slavs). The rest of the population consider themselves to be Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins, or one of numerous minorities.
Thus, there is no “Yugoslav” language; Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, and Macedonian share the distinction of being the official languages of Yugoslavia. And to add to the variety, two alphabets are in use here: the Latin and the Cyrillic.
This is because Yugoslavia is really a blend of a number of smaller nations, each with its own language, customs, culture, and traditions. However, this amalgamation of nations has existed for a relatively short period of time, since they only became allied in 1918 when the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was born. It was an uneasy alliance, but it lasted up until the outbreak of World War II. Out of the ashes of that war rose the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. So from its start, Yugoslavia has been diverse. Furthermore, it also bears the cultural imprint of two large empires that have dominated it in the past: Austria-Hungary in the north and the Ottoman Empire in the south.
Variety to Tickle the Palate
Since variety is so intrinsic to this land, you could hardly expect to find such a thing as a typical Yugoslav dish. In the northwest, you can enjoy Central European food. In the middle and in the southeast, you dine on Turkish-Oriental delicacies. On the coast, fish and fine wine are served. Nevertheless, certain items are quite popular with tourists. Many ask for ćevapčići (pronounced “che-vap-chee-chee”), a grilled, spicy meat roll with a tantalizing aroma. Also in demand is šljivovica (pronounced “shlee-vo-vee-tza”), the famous plum brandy. And in hospitable homes all around the country, you will almost always be offered turska kafa, a strong, black Turkish coffee—a must at friendly gatherings. Although it is served in a small cup called a fildžan (pronounced “fil-junn”), sip it slowly so that it lasts as long as the conversation.
The people of Yugoslavia also vary in outlook and temperament. In the north, people resemble the Central Europeans. They are more or less reserved, limiting the closeness of their relationships and respecting the privacy of others. Southerners, though, tend to interpret this behavior as a lack of interest in the well-being of fellow humans. By way of contrast, they have a more typically Balkan temperament: expressive of their feelings, appreciative of close relationships, cooperative, and, some say, inquisitive to the point of nosiness!
For example, in the south one sees crowds, usually in the evening, walking up and down a street, apparently for no purpose. This is korzo—a stroll down a street where one can surely meet one’s friends or make new ones. One may also see groups of men who sit or squat every day in front of their homes or their favorite shops. Strangers cannot pass unnoticed in these neighborhoods. Why, when you first call at a home, you are soon surrounded by children and grown-ups who assail you with questions: “Who are you?” “Where do you come from?” “What do you want?” But when you come the next time, everybody in that street knows who you are!
This has an interesting effect on the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses are known the world over for their house visits, and no less so in this country where an initial visit often attracts much attention from neighbors. Upon returning, Witnesses often find that everyone in the neighborhood has formulated strong opinions about them. Where positive comments prevail, they find a warm welcome.
In their work, Jehovah’s Witnesses encounter quite a variety of religious beliefs. The Serbian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Islamic faith, and the Macedonian Orthodox Church claim the largest number of adherents. Again, such diversity is a result of the forces of history. Christendom’s missionaries—Greek missionaries in the east and Frankish missionaries in the west—converted the Slavic people in the ninth century. But the later split in Christendom into the western Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches likewise divided the Slavic people. To this day, Roman Catholicism dominates in the northwest while Eastern Orthodoxy prevails in the southeastern part of Yugoslavia. The Ottoman invasion of the Balkans brought the Islamic faith to this land.
To its credit, the government of Yugoslavia has taken a tolerant view of this religious variety. Jehovah’s Witnesses are especially appreciative of being able to worship together freely. In recent years they have even been given permission in the region of Slovenia to use public halls and gymnasiums for their assemblies. They are delighted to be able to share the Bible’s truths with others in this land of fascinating variety.
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Mladinska knjiga; Turistička štampa
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Mladinska knjiga; Turistička štampa