Former Yugoslavia citizens reflect on market-socialism

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Amedhin Karaman came to the U.S from the former Yugoslavia. “You got eight hours a day of work,” Amedhin Karaman said. “The rest of your time was spent with family. Here it’s work, work, work.”

In the 1990s, a landslide of conflicts and political turmoil accelerated the downfall of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By January of 1992, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and its market-socialism economic system ceased to exist.

The turmoil and series of inter-ethnic incidents of violence reached a boiling point with the outbreak of the Bosnian Civil War. Untold atrocities followed, and many refugees of the former Yugoslavia fled abroad.

St. Louis became a primary destination for Bosnian refugees. As of 2013, 70,000 Bosnians live in the city according to Bloomberg. This makes it the largest Bosnian population outside of Europe.

Today, Denis Milardovic and Lamija Karaman, both Webster University students, live in the capitalistic United States. They are unique in that their parents grew up in a largely different economic system called ‘market-socialism.’

Milardovic’s father, Mario Milardovic, worked at a hotel in the former Yugoslavia as an electrician. Denis Milardovic’s mother, Mediha Medic, did not work but attended school before marrying and starting her family in Yugoslavia.

Mario Milardovic currently works as a welding inspector and sometimes is self-employed, while Medic works as a private cleaner. Looking back to their work and life in Yugoslavia, Mario Milardovic and Medic feel so much was different.

“It was way different,” Medic said. “There were full benefits, full insurance plans no matter what, four weeks paid vacation every year in addition to holidays.”

Their sentiment was echoed by Karman’s father Amedhin Karaman. Amedhin Karaman worked as a security officer in a theater in the former Yugoslavia.

“You got eight hours a day of work,” Amedhin Karaman said. “The rest of your time was spent with family. Here it’s work, work, work.”

Denis Milardovic said both his parents liked the system. However, Mario Milardovic and Medic did point out some of the flaws that existed within the socialist system at the time.

“When it comes to general living, depending on where you were,” Medic said, “you could have had it easier or more difficult.”

Mario Milardovic and Medic pointed out the divide existed primarily between the rural and city communities of Yugoslavia. According to Mario Milardovic, living in the city meant needing to work to have a “relatively decent income to afford general things, much like how it is here.”

In the countryside, owning farming equipment allowed citizens to “provide for themselves,” as Mario Milardovic put it.

The Milardovics stressed the difference between the socialism of the former U.S.S.R. and the former Yugoslavia. To them, the difference comes from the opposing outlook of two socialist leaders of the time: Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz Tito, the president of Yugoslavia from 1953 until his death in 1980.

To the Milardovics, the socialism of Yugoslavia was “significantly better” than the socialism of the U.S.S.R.

“Everyone had the same rights and were able to express themselves better than in the Soviet Union, specifically under Stalin,” Medic, who is a Bosnian Muslim, said. “Religion wasn’t a thing to be scrutinized about.”

Denis Milardovic pointed out that his parents were particularly fond of Tito, who was considered to be a dictator by many in the West.

“From my childhood until he died, our lives were so beautiful,” Medic said, “our country was clean, nobody was scared to go anywhere, or to have anything happen to them at any time of day.”

Lamija Karaman’s father also echoed his support for Tito.

“[Tito] was the best leader ever,” Amedhin Karaman said.

Medic said she dreams of market-socialist policies being implemented here in the United States one day. Denis Milardovic is a diabetic, a disease that requires often costly insulin. His medical problems cause his parents to recall the past.

“They always say, ‘You always have access to insulin over [in the former Yugoslavia],” Denis Milardovic said.

To Mario Milardovic, their new lifestyle in America is one with “bad pensions and wages not fit for the average person to live.”

“I feel constantly tired,” Mario Milardovic said.

Amedhin Karaman, on American capitalism, simply said, “It’s not bad.”

In the United States, news headlines often paint the experiences of those that lived under socialism to be homogeneously negative. Thus, the perceptions of “socialism” are largely negative, with 57% of Americans having a negative opinion of the word, according to Gallup. 

Former President Donald Trump once said, “[America] will never be a socialist country.”

However, Medic has a different view.

“If tried out for a month by the average American,” Medic said, “then they would see how it really is. They’d never go back.”

For Denis Milardovic, hearing his parents speak about Yugoslavia was largely what he had heard growing up. Denis Milardovic, who was born in the United States, wondered if how his parents described it was “as accurate as it truly was.” He also felt he had some disagreements with his parents.

“Yugoslavia was market socialist and was pretty much under a dictatorship,” Denis Milardovic said, “though not as bad as Stalin’s.”

He pointed out that, unlike his parents, he does not like the economic system in which he has grown up in. His parents miss the old market-socialism of Yugoslavia, but American capitalism leaves much to be desired for Denis Milardovic. 

“It makes me feel consistently unsafe,” he said. “My parents grew up in a much easier environment from what it seems like.”

Lamija Karaman is grateful for the opportunities she has in the U.S. but wishes there was more of an overlap in her and her parents’ upbringings.

“Hearing how life was different back in Yugoslavia definitely made me realize that communism definitely could become more beneficial,” Lamija Karaman said. “Especially when looking at the differences between America and Yugoslavia.”

By growing up under a different economic system than their parents, Lamija Karaman and Denis Milardovic don’t experience the world in the way their parents once did. The past life of their parents and the current lived experiences of Denis Milardovic and Lamija Karaman are in contrast but allow their families to share their differing experiences.

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Caleb Sprous
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