Yugosphere: The beginning of the new integration in the Balkans?
This article is a special addition to New Eastern Europe Issue 2 (VII) / 2013: Painful Past, Fragile Future. To read Dorota and Tomasz Majkowska-Szajer's article on Yugonostalgia please download the whole issue from our mobile application.
The term Yugosphere emerged relatively recently, and was first used by a British journalist, Tim Judah, in 2009 when talking about the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which included Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. “Yugoslavia is dead. Long live the Yugosphere!” wrote Judah, a similar idea to that postulated in the early 1990s by Boris Vukobrat (a Serbian businessman living in France), who in his project of the so-called federation of regions wrote that the republics which emerged from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia should be economically integrated with Europe and create a tie between the South-Eastern and Western part of Europe.
In the former Yugoslavia, the term Yugosphere was treated by some as a conspiracy theory generated by Great Britain thanks to which Yugoslavia was, supposedly, to be created anew. However, Yugosphere was to become a process of renewing the ties and connections that have been cut off after the collapse of the former state. This process does not mean a return of Yugoslavia. It could be beneficial and is not impossible. Yugosphere is a social and economic phenomenon. Think about cooperation at the company level: if a Croatian company buys a Slovenian firm, which owns Serbian firms, and the latter sells goods in the territory of Yugoslavia, then we are dealing with Yugosphere.
Judah also believes that in the economic sphere, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia are talking about tight economic cooperation. Plans include creating a common airline, a common stock exchange and a common railway. These activities would contribute to economic growth in the region. The mode of these talks was set up by Slovenia, which is already a member of the European Union. Croatia, which is to join the EU in 2013, could also become a pillar of this cooperation. Such common economic market would be worth, as Judah has calculated, 192 billion dollars. In addition, different companies, including supermarket chains such as Slovenian Mercator, Croatian Konzum, and Serbian Delta, are now opening their stores in the other countries.
Judah believes that what is important is that the countries of the former Yugoslavia conduct trade mainly between themselves: Bosnia exports mainly to Serbia and Croatia and imports primarily from Croatia, Germany, Serbia; Macedonia exports mainly to Serbia and Montenegro; while Kosovo likes trading with Serbia and Macedonia. Tourism could also be an indicator of this cooperation. In Serbia one can find more and more billboards encouraging people to travel to Croatia and Montenegro. Many Serbs and Slovenes still have summer houses in Croatia. The situation with the labour market, which is not limited to individual countries but the whole region, is not much different. Without a doubt, what pushes this process forward is similarity of language (until 1992 the language was called Serbo-Croatian).
Judah also adds that the concept of Yugosphere has nothing to do with Yugonostalgia but is also of a political nature. In the future one can expect even greater cooperation between the nations (states?) of the former Yugoslavia. Encouraging examples come from such organisations such as the Visegrad Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia), the Benelux Economic Union (Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg), and the Nordic Council (Scandinavian countries). Through these organisations the states engage in cooperation with each other, and by doing so facilitate different forms of integration: cultural, political, economic, as well as those related to security and membership of the European Union.
The beginning of post-Yugoslav cooperation was the Sarajevo-based Regional Co-operation Council which started in Sofia in 2008 at the summit of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Southern and Eastern Europe who were participating in the South-East European Cooperation Process, which was later to become the successor of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. It was created to coordinate and promote cooperation between the countries of the region and to support the EU and Euro-Atlantic integration. Its members include 46 countries, organisations and financial institutions. During the SEECP in Istanbul, in June 2010, the Strategy and Programme for 2011-2013 was accepted. The main areas of activity are: social and economic development, infrastructure, energy, law, mutual relations, cooperation in the area of security, human capital, and cooperation at the parliamentary level.
Essentially, after 20 years, a symbolic transfer to the full cooperation between the states which emerged from the collapse of Yugoslavia was the summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Egypt in 2009. At the summit, Boris Tadić (the president of Serbia at that time) suggested that the next summit of the Movement should take place in 2011; that is, the year commemorating the creation of the movement in 1961 in Belgrade, when Yugoslavia was a host country. Tadić also proposed that the summit should take place in Belgrade and its organisation should become the responsibility of the former Yugoslavian republics.
The Serbian president also proposed tighter cooperation between enterprises of the former republics of Yugoslavia in seeking foreign military contracts. This, on the one hand, was a reference to former Yugoslavia, and, on the other, the creation of a new form of cooperation, to which the key was economic integration of the region. In September 2011, the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement took place in Serbia’s capital.
The idea of Yugosphere meets many difficulties, including the issue of recognising Kosovo, the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina and instability of the governments, the limited cooperation with the Central European Free Trade Agreement, and the unsolvable ethnic tensions between Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia, and Serbs and Bosniaks in Sandžak.
Two options for the Yugosphere
Tim Judah sees two options for the Yugosphere. First, combining forces and using the potential of its shared culture, history, languages and market for cooperation. This, unquestionably, would bring many advantages to the region. Or the second option: with its ageing population, the region can continue being Europe’s suburbs from which anybody with even only a little talent is trying to get out.
Yugoslavia enjoyed a strong international position. It tried to balance the policies of Western (democratic) countries with the policy of the Soviet Union, and played the role of one of the three political blocs. It enjoyed certain respect from other countries in the international arena: it was respected as a successful country in such areas as sport, culture, and science. Yugoslavia was based on a certain idea – an idea for creating a federation state of many nations, based on common cultural, geopolitical and economic space.
Just like the United States of Switzerland it created a state and common geographical and social identity; all to the point at which some people dare to compare Yugoslavia to the first European Union. Had Yugoslavia entered the EU when it still existed, it would have lasted until today. A scenario that is also possible is that there will be unification (especially at the economic level) of the states of the former Yugoslavia within the European Union. The first steps of this process are, for sure, the Stability Pact for Southern Europe, signing of the CEFTA agreement and entering the free trade zone.
The idea of Yugosphere and other forms of cooperation are, without a doubt, a long-term process, which could contribute to the states that emerged from the collapse of Yugoslavia becoming closer to each other. In the future, this may lead to a creation of a new political union not based on cultural and ethnic, but economic relations; and the language proximity will facilitate this.
Translated by Iwona Reichardt
Anna Jagiełło-Szostak holds a PhD in political science, graduate from Wroclaw University with a degree in international relations and Serb and Croat philology. Currently, she is an assistant professor at the Department of East Research at University of Wroclaw. Her academic interests include ethnic issues in Europe, nationalism, foreign and security policy, especially in south-east Europe, as well as social and cultural security.