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My Youth Under Socialist/Communist Regime


Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.


Unclear Political Definitions

"Socialism" might as well be viewed as a homonym word with different meanings -- even though people believe that they are always talking about the same thing. Actually, if we cared to see more of such homonyms, we could also talk about concepts like freedom, faith, justice, etc...because they also mean a different thing to different folks around the world.

We are shortly going to understand it better, as I am going on with the story of that particular version of socialism in ex-Yugoslavia. That's where I was born close to the end of the World War II, and where I was going to spend the next 23 years of my life, before emigrating to Canada.

Formed right after the war and composed of six republics -- Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-and-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro -- it was held together under the iron hand of the Marshal Joseph Broz Tito, the dictator, the idol, and the bad-ass leader, as far as any foreign interests were concerned.

For an example, after having established a strong political influence in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary, the mighty Stalin wanted to grab Yugoslavia as well, mostly because of its strategic position, and its exit to a warm sea.

On that, Tito reacted by daring the Soviets to try it -- but "they would first have to destroy the whole nation", was his message to Stalin, as some 11 million people were ready to fight for their country. Stalin backed off.

Tito was, in short, a personality-cult icon, and the rule of the thumb was in those days that you could say anything against anything, but not against Tito or "Brotherhood and Unity" -- meaning those six republics.

While he and his political disciples kept preaching about "equality", he dressed like a king compared to other global "comrades" like Fidel Castro or Mao Tzu Tung, and lived like a king in a residence that was even called "White Castle".

Well, something comparable to the Pope worshiping a messiah in modest robe and sandals, while living in the artistic wonder of architecture like the Vatican.

Now, up there at the beginning I talked about socialism being a mononym word, so let's see how that depicts Yugoslavia's version of it.

Ours was nothing compared to that in the Soviet Union, Cuba, or China. In a sense, it was a caricature of socialism. Yes, except for smaller businesses, all economy was nationalized; and yes, it was a one party system -- but it was openness to the world's culture which made it so different and unique.

Among visiting dignitaries that every so often were seen parading on our streets, we had anybody from Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, to Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, with their political diversity never being an issue.

Capitalism was strongly "demonized" at the surface of political game, but -- funny enough -- we were to be friends with everybody. There was no rock star who was more popular in America than in Yugoslavia. On our radio we had music from all over Europe, we had English and American "Reading Rooms" and foreign press, and there was no movie from anywhere that was censored.

Of course, the story could go on and on about the political environment of my childhood -- before it fell apart in 1990, and it became so much sweeter to call myself just a "Croatian". Not that I had anything against other five nations, but it was a forced "Brotherhood" after all, and being a "Yugoslavian" always sounded fake as a three dollar bill.


A Disciplined and Educated Nation

As far as my childhood was concerned, aside from something between a chronic soap opera and a poignant family drama, that political system did not affect me negatively one bit.

I played chess; played soccer in teams "street vs. street"; hiked on a heavily forested mile-high mountain at the edge of the city -- even at night and alone climbing it all the way to its top -- for my "special meditative ambient"; I buried myself in books on philosophy, psychology, astronomy, medicine, archaeology, with occasional adventure/historical novel; went camping with Scouts...

Saving the best for last, I played guitar sitting at the curb, surrounded by sighing girls, and singing American songs with my romantic Pat Boone-ish voice.

Politics was never discussed at home. Actually, it was a kind of nuisance, a "given" in life over which we had no control. So, whenever the "News" came up on the radio program, we would quickly change the station.

Spanking kids was in fashion, and that surely sucked. At home we were belted, never slapped -- slapping was the privilege of school teachers for the first 8 years. More precisely, slapping and standing in the front corner of the classroom facing the wall. Which often ended up with some more slapping, because the "convict" was making some funny gestures which made the class laugh.

There was no sitting in your chosen style in the classroom; straight back, hands on the desk in front doing nothing, and displaying a full attention to the teacher -- that was the drill, and we got used to that. Any fidgeting was quickly spotted by that hawk-of-the-teacher, and warning always sounded convincing enough. Exams were mostly oral, up at the blackboard. Among the usual subjects for that age, we had to be able to read and write Serbian alphabet which was close to Russian.

Discipline in high school was similar, but hey -- no more slapping or standing in the corner. The curriculum was consisting of insane 18 subjects. Here they are, if you care to read them all: 1) World's and domestic literature, 2) History -- with archaeology from "Flintstone times" on, every single civilization and country in the world, from century to century 3) World's geography, with political and economic systems, 4) Political economy, 5) Constitution, 6) Chemistry, 7) Biology, 8) Physics, 9) Math, 10) Psychology, 11) Philosophy, 12) Latin, 13) English, 14) Art, 15) Classical Music, 16) Logic, 17) Evolution, and 18) Physical education.

Yes, we were "over-schooled".

No wonder I am pretending to be such a smart ass in my articles.


So Much Free In an Unfree Political Arrangement

In that particular version of socialism, all schooling was free -- all the way to post graduate and doctoral levels, except for the books and any other tools of learning.

All medical care, including dentist, psychiatrist, and special treatments like thermal therapies in pools at mineral hot springs, or anything imaginable related to health -- was free as well.

Yearly paid holidays were one month long right after the first year of service. And if you didn't do anything of a criminal nature, it was practically impossible to lose your job, or even to get laid off due to a slack production.

Now, doesn't it all sound like I am advertising socialism? Don't kid yourself. Money for all that had to come from somewhere, and wages were low for ordinary folks. Needless to say -- most of the people were "ordinary folks", including my wife and myself.

Another big issue was scarcity in available living space. That made young couples forced to live in a wall-to-wall-family arrangements, which, again, included my wife and myself.

So we decided that I'd first do my army service -- without which I could not be issued a passport, and then to emigrate, to start our own home, having our (not yet born) kids away from the family dramas and socialism, to give them a chance in a free world that we didn't have.

I went to the army, served it in Macedonia; soon after got promoted into a drill sergeant, got a medal in all disciplines with all personal weapons -- all in all, I was doing well there.

My civilian life resumed with my arriving home shortly after midnight, and at 7 in the morning I already had a job appointment where my mother worked. It was a big, in Europe much awarded company producing chocolates, cookies and candies, and I was to become the third generation in my family to work there.

The company is still there after 53 years that I left, still carrying the name of the hero with whom my grandpa was a close friend and an illegal fighter in pre-war Yugoslavia.

As I started working there, I noticed some older women looking at me and obviously commenting something between them. O.K. there seemed to be bunch of young ones also displaying some interest, but a constant eyeballing of those old ones I could not understand.

It went like that for some days, when I finally asked them if they had been finding anything particularly strange about me.

They smiled and explained how I incredibly looked like my grandpa -- and he was known to be quite a "ladies' man", which in his case apparently was translating to a damn chronically horny womanizer.

Well, I had no time to either continue his reputation or not -- because after less than a year I disappeared with my wife and a couple of suitcases in Austria, where I applied for immigration at Canadian Embassy.

I am still here, with a dual citizenship -- Croatian and Canadian -- 53 years later.


Politics -- Never My Cup of Tea

I am a political cynic.

As such, I don't see a damn difference between a corporate or a communist elite calling all shots. I also see myself as quite spiritual. And as such, I see a hypothetical spirited person in jail freer than a materialistic slave in Wall Street. Which momentarily brings us back to those "mononym" words meaning different things to different people -- and this time it's about the word "freedom".

Now, humans are the same everywhere, no matter how much we may be tempted to flatter ourselves with our national narcissism -- especially when it's about their dreams. Namely, those in socialist Yugoslavia were dreaming about "having more", just like a billionaire in the West is dreaming about "having more".

And a politically pissed Iranian is not any different than a politically pissed American. It's the same tune with just different lyrics, which may, or may not become a national hit.

People are only people, no matter what significance they are giving to their slogans, their amateurish ideologies. They pay taxes, and then it's none of their business anymore how that money is being distributed. Trillions may be spent on sophisticated defense against a hypothetical, imaginary enemy, while there is no money in the purse for a very realistic basic need like a good medical care for everyone. But, lulled into some illusions they fancy how they have a say in how their country is being run.

People are so used to singing in political chorus that they forgot to use their own minds, their own eyes. So they sing political songs composed by this or that manipulator, and see with eyes that are not theirs.

So, as soon as one of them makes up a boogieman like "socialism", people seek their protection from it. What they somehow fail to fathom is that, in a final analysis, it doesn't make a damn difference who is making a fool of them -- as long as they are willing to play one.

I am also a pragmatic dude. As such I don't give a rat's ass what people do, as nobody is asking for my opinion anyway -- and I am not even writing all this with that ambition. Believe it or not, I just like seeing my thoughts in a written form.

Writing is fun.

And reading is fun.

I know it from experience with some comments that I got, that some, not necessarily many, readers will have fun reading all this.

And then they will read something else, and promptly forget about this. Why not. Hardly anything these days would be worth chiseling into stone. Looks like people are satisfied with the number of messiahs they've got, and with the number of chiseled tablets that they don't obey anyway.

And yes, I am a satirist, unless you've already noticed. As such, I try to use mild humor, at times resembling mocking, as I am writing about the "human condition".

My youth spent under the socialist/communist regime is to be seen as my youth, not anybody else's. Geez, I hate generalizing! So many people these days take your own impressions based on your own experience as something that's generally applicable on everybody else. That's what domination of collective consciousness over individual consciousness does to people. They think that everything somehow concerns them.

So, please, don't do that now. Keep your own concept of "socialism".

Like, I can see "socialism in one corporate America" as the most idiotic impossibility, because those rich democrats in power and at high places would have to decide to nationalize their own assets, so that one poor Joe or Jose would be able to buy themselves a car. Not in this universe!

But you don't have to see it that way. So, continue believing in that scary possibility of a "socialism in America" by all means, if that appeals more to your intellectual appetites.

And by the way, I love the memories of my youth.

You know why? Because they had absolutely nothing to do with politics.

And I love my present time here in Canada -- for the same reason.

© 2021 Val Karas


Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 28, 2021:

Mike -- Thank you for reading and for a nice comment.

In this world full of people with strong convictions, it's not easy to find those who would agree with me -- since I am not strong in department of beliefs, political or religious.

Thus, if I don't "know" something, I won't resort to "beliefs" -- which makes me a relativist, different from those whose firm beliefs make them see some absolutes worth wasting, or even losing, their lives.

I have studied some shitloads about all aspects of suggestive influencing, from my personal use of self-hypnosis to gradual conditioning, to covert subliminals, to the big scale brainwashing, so I simply can't trust either politicians or their main tool, the media.

But I see it as an entertaining national pastime, and it's fine, people also like watching sports, and I don't -- so to each their own. The world is O.K. with all its diversities. You could catch me write about politics, but I might as well write about classical music, and in either case it wouldn't mean that I know much about it. Hey, we write for HP, not for some prestigious science magazine, right?

Thanks again, buddy, have a great weekend.

Readmikenow on May 28, 2021:

I enjoyed reading your story. It provided some interesting insight. Thanks for sharing.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 28, 2021:

Ken -- I'm glad you liked it, and thanks for reading. As for my "form of articulating", that's all I could produce with my English as a second language; and a dash of mocking is something that I will always use while talking about politics and politicians. Quite honestly, I am having a hard time understanding how people succeed trusting them.

Namely, I've never seen a sudden rise in national prosperity after either of the parties took hold of the power -- so what's the big deal about voting, and ranting, and losing nerves. I do my voting as a citizen's formality. While I was in Yugoslav army, I had to take oath to "defend the socialist Yugoslavia":.

And then I came to Canada, and to become a citizen I had to take oath to the Queen of England. Being a political cynic, I would take oath to Santa Claus if I was required to. Labels, labels, labels...while people are only people, anywhere you look.

Have a great weekend, my cyber- friend, and thanks again for reading and commenting.

Ken Burgess from Florida on May 26, 2021:

Interesting read Val, sounds like quite the interesting life.

Your form of articulation differs from my own, as does your background and experiences, still, I think we have similar views on politics and politicians in general.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 26, 2021:

Peggy -- Thank you for the nice comment, and I agree.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 26, 2021:

Angie -- I am glad to hear how you look at politicians.

You be well, too.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2021:

Thanks for sharing your observations of what it was like growing up in Croatia under that type of government. Words do mean different things to different people, depending upon how they paint with them.

A B Williams from Central Florida on May 26, 2021:

Politician & Trust is definitely an oxymoron my friend and will never be used by me in the same sentence. So, we are beyond basically agreeing.

Be well.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 26, 2021:

Angie -- Hi, the frequency of visits doesn't define friendship, thinking here of some of my past friends whom I saw very often but wished I didn't. So, it's always a pleasure seeing you, especially when you are leaving such an interesting comment. I basically agree with all you are saying. Except that, being a political cynic, I don't trust ANY politicians, seeing them all as careerists lying to the people just to get votes.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day, my friend.

A B Williams from Central Florida on May 26, 2021:

Suffice it to say, whether we are from the Northern and Western hemisphere or the Southern and Eastern, people just want to live their lives without government or anyone else breathing down their neck, treading on their freedom. It is instinctive for us, individually, to look out for ourselves, our families and to {*naturally} do for others in need (*it is not the same when it is forced upon us)

For those who have had the luxury of actually living this way for any amount of time and understand what that means, accepting anything less is impossible. If it is taken out from under them, it will change them;it will be as if they are imprisoned, enslaved, controlled and they'll never conform or accept it, they'll die first.

We aren't born to be slaves to anyone or anything.

Great article Val. Long time, no talk.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 25, 2021:

MG Singh -- I appreciate your praise.

MG Singh from UAE on May 25, 2021:

This is a very nice article bringing out the nuances under socialist rule and now Canada. Interesting stuff.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 25, 2021:

Umesh -- Thank you, I am glad you liked it.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on May 25, 2021:

Good observation. Well presented.

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