The Last Yugoslav Generation - Youth Cultures and Politics in Late Socialism
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I intend to turn the PhD into a book.
The thesis examines the role of the ‘last Yugoslav generation’ in rethinking Yugoslav socialism and the very nature of Yugoslavism. It focuses on the way in which the elite representatives of this generation - the publicly prominent and active youth actors in Yugoslav late socialism from the spheres of media, art, culture and politics sought to rearticulate and redefine Yugoslav socialism and the youth’s link to the state. This thesis argues that the Yugoslav youth elite of the 1980s essentially strove to decouple Yugoslavism and dogmatic socialism as the country faced a multi-level crisis where old and established practices and doctrines began to lose credibility. They progressively took over the youth infrastructure (the youth media, the cultural venues and the League(s) of Socialist Youth) and sought to hollow out their dogmatically understood socialist content, by framing their artistic, media or political activism as targeting specific malfunctions of socialist self-management. Hailed as ‘a new political generation’, they sought to re-invent institutional youth activism, to reform and democratise the youth organisation and hence open up new spaces for cultural and political expression, some of which revolved around anti-militarism, environmental activism, and issues around sexuality. A progressive wing of this generation essentially argued that Yugoslavia could be reformed and further democratised. Two dominant strands become obvious: a line of argumentation which targeted the ruling elite, exposed its responsibility for the poor implementation of socialist self-management and the necessity to thoroughly revise the socialist model without abandoning its basic principles; and a later trend in which experimentation with liberal concepts and values became dominant. The first type of critique - reform socialism - was almost completely abandoned during the very last years of the decade, as more and more dominant players in the youth sphere started to turn away from socialism and came to appropriate the discourse of human rights, pluralism, free market and European integration. In this rejection of the socialism of the older generation and search for new values – some liberal, some leftist – they were also trying to re-imagine what being a young Yugoslav was about. The thesis maintains that this generation embodied a particular sense of citizenship and framed its generational identity and activism within the confines of what I call ‘layered Yugoslavism’, where one’s ethno-national and Yugoslav sense of belonging were perceived as complementary, rather than mutually exclusive. Whilst many analyses have focused on the powerful tensions that would lead to Yugoslavia’s dismemberment, this work reminds us of the existence of countervailing forces: that until the moment of collapse, a series of alternatives continued to exist, embodied most powerfully in the political and cultural work of a young Yugoslav generation.
PhD in History