GeneralNewsOlympicsThe Ghosts of 1984: In Search of Sarajevo’s Olympic Past

FasterSkier FasterSkierMay 10, 201214

Today’s the day. After two days of searching through the war-scarred mountains south of Sarajevo, I am finally going to locate the cross country ski venue from the 1984 Olympics. This theoretically simple quest has not been simple at all, requiring about a bronze medal effort in the detective work department. Of course, as I set off in the morning from my resort hotel in a rented Chevrolet Aveo with Hungarian plates and make the turn down another narrow, snowy road in Republika Srpska, I don’t yet know I’m going to find it today. All I do know is that this must be the most neglected, unmarked, unknown former Olympic site on earth.

It’s March 2012 and I’m on a two week road trip through the former Yugoslavia. I have wanted to come here for 20 years, ever since I spent time in Budapest in the early 90′s before the war. Despite living an easy train ride away in neighboring Hungary, somehow I failed to visit the socialist, multi-ethnic republic before its violent end – a major mistake in retrospect. But I was still curious what the place was like and eager for a second chance to find out.

Before arriving in the history-soaked land of Habsburg and Ottoman, already high on my “to see” list was the Sarajevo ski venue. Sure, I wanted to see traditional tourist sights like the Adriatic coast, the Mostar bridge, Počitelj old town, and the Slovenian Alps. But I really wanted to stand on the ground where Olympic ski racing had come to the Balkans during the twilight of the Cold War.

Part of the interest of those ’84 games now is that they took place on a historical knife edge between two eras. Communism was sputtering out, while nationalism’s pilot light suddenly snapped on. The story of what followed the Olympics is unbearably sad and still hard to believe. Only five years after the world came to lovely, mellow Sarajevo, the first signs of ethnic tremors could be detected. Another three years after that and Sarajevo was trapped in what would turn out to be the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare.

In the time span of two Olympic cycles, the mountains and valleys where countries had competed for sporting glory became war zones. The bobsled run turned into an artillery position. The men’s downhill ski area was commandeered for a military base. Where medals had once been awarded below the ski jumps, podium steps were used for executions. Any search for Sarajevo’s Olympic past, it turned out, would also have to address the more recent Bosnian war.

During the war, the podium backdrop was an execution site.

War tourism is a tricky business. Often I had to temper the humor and fun of my own adventure with the knowledge that real people died here, that most people I saw every day had probably lost someone in the conflict. And of the people who were 40 or older, some of them had killed people. Nothing in my account here is meant to discount in any way the terrible suffering the Yugoslav wars caused.

I rented a car in Budapest. After crossing Romania and Serbia, I arrived in Sarajevo, where it was cold and snow lay on the ground. The dreary gray of Central Europe hung in the air like cigarette smoke, mixed liberally with exhaust fumes from old East bloc cars and – a lot of real cigarette smoke. Sarajevo is wedged in a tight valley with mountains on three sides, and when a winter inversion descends, the results are poisonous. Instead of staying down in that toxic soup, I headed up to Jahorina, the women’s downhill venue and still an operating alpine ski area.

One of the first things you notice about Sarajevo is how close the city is to the countryside and surrounding mountains. Sarajevo is not a large city, though the old town feels dense and crowded. From the urban crush of a market packed with vendors, it’s a mere 12K to the rural landscape of farms above. A little farther up and you’re at a ski area. From city center you can look right up to the hills where the guns used to fire from.

Old town Sarajevo.

But to get from the city to the mountains you first have to enter a different country – or at least another administrative entity. Heading east or south out of Sarajevo, you enter the Bosnian Serb sub entity that was created as part of the Dayton Accords at the end of the war. Ah yes – Republika Srpska. (Queue the theme music from JAWS.)

What was Republika Srpska (or RS as it is abbreviated) like? I had no idea. There had to be some residual anger toward the US from NATO bombings in 1995 and 1999, right? Americans couldn’t be real popular here, could they? Well, my car had Hungarian plates. That should cover me. But – I slowly realized that no Hungarians would ever come here. So… that meant the Bosnian Serbs could see right through my little ruse. To them, Hungarian plates clearly signified: “American infiltrator in rental car.” Hmmm. I was marked. (Bump up volume on JAWS music.)

Each time I tried to use Google Maps for directions anywhere in Bosnia, I got the mysterious “you can’t get there from here” message. Why was that? Was that because you weren’t actually allowed to go into RS after all? Would there be a checkpoint stop on the RS border where they frisk you and confiscate all Nutella products? Churning the scenarios gave me something to worry about other than air pollution, but as it turned out (of course), all my concerns were completely unnecessary. Entering Republika Srpska was as uneventful as driving two miles east of Sarajevo and watching a large “Welcome to Republika Srpska” sign flash by. RS was no problem at all. (Cut the JAWS music.)

So there I was. Within hours of arriving in Sarajevo I was embedded in a mountaintop ski hotel outside Pale, the Bosnian Serb war time capital. I can’t say this was part of the originally conceived plan, but it seemed to be working out. It was a 25 minute drive to get down into the city – a small price to pay for clean air and mountain quiet. As I was sure the Olympic venues would be among the most visited attractions in the Sarajevo area, I did not make particular haste to find them. I’d already found one (Jahorina) without even trying, and I was now staying there in a hotel. This was going to be easy. I’d look around the city for a few days, top up the culture tanks, and then make a pilgrimage to the nordic ski shrine.

But it was not to be. Several days later when I took up the Olympic torch, finding the nordic venue was not a slam dunk at all. Basically, a combination of no maps or signs, a big language barrier, and a local lack of interest in cross country skiing all conspired to keep the venue location top secret. At least from me. Basically they could not have hidden it any better from visitors if they wanted to.

My research began in Sarajevo. While visiting museums, cafes, etc., I was on the lookout for Olympic signs or displays. Didn’t see any of those. Then I looked for handouts or maps. There was a print map with an artist’s rendering of the area, but it was not sufficient to navigate by. It also didn’t say where the CROSS COUNTRY skiing was. You mean there is more than one kind?

I started asking people where the CROSS COUNTRY (carefully enunciated extra emphasis added) ski venue was. Surprisingly few people I encountered spoke English, and yet my French, German, and Hungarian didn’t work either. Once they heard the word “ski” they would say “Jahorina”. That’s the women’s downhill venue where I’m staying deep inside Republika Srpska.

A map of what was at Jahorina.

“No, no. The CROSS COUNTRY ski area. CROSS COUNTRY.”

“Jahorina.”

After running through that drill a few times, I asked someone up at Jahorina. At least they didn’t have the out of answering “Jahorina”. They said “not here” (aha!) but provided little additional info. Someone else said to go down the road and “go left”. So on the first official day of my search I did that. I “went left”.

The road was snow covered with some ice. The Aveo was no Subaru but it would have to do. I trundled along past farms and several bombed out and abandoned buildings, and I assumed there would be signs. There MAY HAVE BEEN a sign for what MAY HAVE BEEN a ski venue. But it certainly wasn’t clear given my language problems.

A destroyed hilltop position.

What I did find the first day were numerous destroyed hilltop installations that had been used to fire on the city below. Standing in these trashed buildings today, you can instantly grasp what the siege must have been like. Gruesome. I also passed the remains of the bobsled run, which was almost totally gone. The road continued to descend and at some point after about 20 miles I realized this couldn’t be where the cross country venue was. I ended up down in Sarajevo. Because the road was steep and narrow, this expedition took a good part of the day. I returned to the hotel empty-handed. At this point I didn’t have a lot of time left in Sarajevo. I had to find the cross country venue soon. Like tomorrow.

On the second day of the quest, I took a different road heading for the men’s downhill ski venue, Bjelašnica. Surely someone in the lodge there would know. Again the language bloc was almost total. I had to do some physical miming of what cross country skiing was, and still I had the feeling that they had no idea what I was talking about. A few people were consulted. But incredibly none of them knew. Or maybe I was not asking in the right way? It turned out that the CROSS COUNTRY venue was about three miles from that lodge. But they either did not know that or I did not understand their answer.

I set off again in the car, continuing my circuit heading west through the mountains. I knew it had to be there. The lack of signage was frustrating. And then a completely unmarked but plowed road appeared on the left. Aha. I turned down it and found a small weathered sign that had the Olympic symbol on it. Not the rings but the symbol for the Sarajevo games. Bingo.

Alles klar? The sole sign identifying the nordic venue. That little thing at the bottom is the symbol for the '84 games.

Funny enough, when I pulled up to the youth hostel that is now the only building on the location, the person there did not know if this was the venue. How could you not know that you work on a former Olympic site? She referred me to someone outside in the ski rental shack. Again no English. At this point I was reduced to just saying the word “Olympics” and pointing down to the ground. Here? Nothing. “Olympics. Olympics.” Nope. “Olimpija.” I improvised a Slavic delivery. Aha. That got something. “Yes.” And she motioned down the road. “Not here?” Again, about a 20% level of confidence that a) she understood what I was asking and b) I understood what she answered. It turned out she was sending me off down the road to the ski jumps.

Despite the rings, the person inside was unsure where the Olympics took place.

I headed outside and started wandering around an open meadow. There were small groomed ski tracks, but nothing like an Olympic venue. And no buildings or landscaping to indicate a stadium. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t going to get that big definitive YES THIS IS THE PLACE moment.

And then out comes the groomer guy, a tough burly dude with a military crew cut dressed in a one piece insulated maintenance suit wearing badass boots. He looks like a commando. Blank-faced, he pantomimes firing a gun and motions for me to follow him. Hmmm. Well, I figure either he has seen through the Hungarian plates and has plans for me, or we’re on to something. Like – biathlon?

YES. We walk over to a flat open meadow, and through 100% physical gestures we confirm that YES THIS IS THE PLACE and that he was here for the 1984 Olympics. Thank god. At that point a guy from Sarajevo who is studying in Germany and does speak English skis by and we recruit him into the communication effort. And then all questions are answered.

Except the ones I couldn’t ask. Like what the groomer guy (likely a Serb) was up to between 1992-95. Like what the student from Sarajevo (likely a Muslim) remembers from the war. In hindsight, that moment of random meeting and interaction was a good sign of gradual but steady normalisation of life in Bosnia. It probably could not have happened 10 years ago.

That sign.

How strange that what could be a major tourist sport destination is so hard to find and completely undeveloped. As I drove home, what should be next door but the ski jumping venue, also with barely any signage and in a similar state of decay.

Maybe Sarajevo will rise again. I did hear mention of the idea of applying again to host the winter Olympics there. Could it happen one day?

For anyone else about to embark on this pilgrimage (and I highly recommend a visit), here is the key info you need to know. CROSS COUNTRY skiing took place at Igman, Veliko Polje and ski jumping took place at Igman, Malo Polje.

You should have no problem finding it. Really.

Just follow the signs.

The author’s narrative in photos. Please click the thumbnails for a larger version.

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14 comments

  • Avatar
    abarrett

    May 10, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    And people think it’s bad in Lake Placid…

  • Avatar
    T.Eastman

    May 10, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Excellent account! Expand this and submit it to the New Yorker, it contains powerful observations through the lens of sport.

  • Avatar
    davord

    May 11, 2012 at 7:04 am

    Win, thanks for the article!! The story is indeed sad. Nationalism, hatred, bigotry and propaganda sucks and what transpired in the years following the Olympics is nothing short of a human tragedy. An interesting and exciting thing about Sarajevo and the competitions is that Yugoslavia got its first ever winter Olympic medal via Jure Franko (Slovenia) in the men’s giant slalom.

    Some things to note though, and I am sure that vast majority of the FS readers and in general most Americans don’t realize this, Yugoslavia, was never a part of the ‘Eastern Bloc,’ nor was it ever a part of the Soviet Communism and/or a satellite nation under the Warsaw Pact. Yugoslavia, since its beginnings in 1945 until its end in 1992 was never part of a specific alliance, it was a neutral country, part of the ‘non-alignment movement.’ In fact, the Soviets tried (unsuccesfully) to kill Tito several times. Yugoslavia, even though neutral, had quite a few important ties with the US, especially in the first few years after WWII. Life in Yugoslavia was much, much, much better than any of the Soviet satellite nations, perhaps even comparing them today. Having a Yugoslavian passport was just about as good as having a US passport. You could pretty much go anywhere, and it was an open society. Many foreigners, many tourists, actors, and exchange students could travel and study freely. Yugoslavia was the EU before the EU. Sorry for the history rant, just wanted to clear things out…and I guess add on a bit.

    Today, as you can see in the FIS database, Sarajevo still holds nordic racing. National and Balkan cup races take place in Sarajevo each year. Lots of talent in that area and really across the former YU countries. It can still be a beautiful area, but it will take some time, perhaps a long time…

  • Avatar
    nate

    May 11, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Great article.
    There is much insight to be gained by studying the past.

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    May 11, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Davord andWin–thanks–super interesting for me from the point of view I was in Sarajevo the year before the Olympics and during the Olympics and felt like I was behind the Curtain on both trips. Also, how you explained the relationship between the Americans and Yugoslavia, that was not my experience in that part of Yugo. The summer I did a pre-Olympic visit with my Program Director, we were counselled by the Elan ski people not to drive there and essentially were skeptical about us going there by ourselves. We were indirectly confronted both nights we were in the hotel in Sarajevo with numerous phone calls both nights(with some nasty USA references) and we expectred a cold meal after having one the 1st night and they came through, it was really cold the 2nd night.
    During the Olympics the military presence was huge—tanks, other military vehichles all over the place, soliders with weapons every 100-2oo meters on the trails during races—all well armed.
    The hoops we had to jump through when it came to our 2-way radios–paper work, totally inspected—had the feeling they were looking for bombs. It was scary.
    I’ve beeen to northern Yugo for a number of WCs and the friendliness and accomadation was totally opposite. Standard of living was quite low—not a big difference from our other trips to the DDR, Russia and Cecho during the 70s and 80s. Life was hard in those country in those days.
    I always felt it was a mistake for the IOC to give the Olympics to Yugo as this was a country that really could not afford this kind of financial burden at the expense of the standard of living in that country at that time. Also, the legacy was close to zero as Win’s story relates and like he says, its like no one has a clue that the Oylmpics ever took place. The IOC blew it on this one.
    It was a stressful Olympics.

  • Avatar
    davord

    May 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Wow. I am guessing there weren’t enough McDonald’s and KFC’s to keep you happy over there, eh Marty? Smh…

    The difference is and was huge in standard of living from other countries in the area. You can’t compare it, actually. If you ask the people from all 6 former Jugoslavian countries, the vast majority would say they would love to go back and/or have it be one nation where multiculturalism thrives. The Bulgarians, or maybe it’s the Romanians, have/had saying(s) of how they would have loved to have a standard like Jugoslavia. Again, Iron Curtain? In Jugoslavia? That’s like saying Canada, Washington, Oregon, Mass, and Vermont are behind the Iron Curtain. There was no such thing there. The conditions at the time in Jugoslavia and standard of living is still much, much better than what you see in post Communist Czech Republic and Slovakia (most advanced former Communist countries in Europe right now).

    The military that you saw was because Sarajevo was a major place for army training. You know, that thing that Europeans have to go through for 10 months (in some countries more, I believe) after they turn 18 (think of Ft. Benning). That plus they knew one Marty Hall was coming and they had to be on their guard, lol.

    Some of the administrative things you talk about, for example, are basic things. In fact, they are all over Europe, especially with the EU and the 27 member states. It’s called bureaucracy. Don’t think so? Look in the US and Canada as well, it’s there. It’s in every country in the world, no matter the political/social/economic system. Speaking of Canada, you’d be surprised how similar Canada and the former Jugoslavia is/was. The IOC didn’t blow anything. You know what ‘I’ in IOC stands for? If not, you should check it out. It’s a pretty important part.

    Legacy? The legacy is still there, despite years of war and destruction. I guarantee you 200% that if the country had stayed together, there would still be World Cup races and other major winter competitions there. The IOC isn’t made up of some bushwacking mountain men who’ve never seen a map or been to the real world. They knew and they still know what they are doing. If they felt giving the Olympics to Sarejevo was a mistake, they wouldn’t have given the city and country the Olympics in the first place. Carefully examining potential Olympic cities/venues is a serious endeavour. With your experience in this sport, you should know that.

    Slovenija (northern Yugo, as you call it) is the best sporting destination in that whole area. The people are great. The food is wonderful and plentiful. It’s a small country and relatively easy to get to (look for in the map, it’s right smack in the middle of Europe and the Alps region alongside Italy and Austria). A couple hours in the car, and you can drive through from the south to the north, and it’s a great combination of mountains and sea. People there speak multiple languages and know how to work with tourists and provide them with the best possible service. Why would they host major nordic competitions (WC, Ski Flying, among others..) if they weren’t capable or if the venues weren’t/aren’t suitable? If you don’t think so, just ask the many North American skiers that have traveled to that area over the last few years, including USST members and coaching staff. As for other parts of the former Yugoslavia, you can ask former skiers like Pete Vordenberg, Cory Custer, Eli Brown and Jon Engen. As I said in my previous comment, hopefully in the future (sooner rather than later) the area will become more vibrant again and skiing will flourish once again.

    To Fasterskier, sorry for the rant (again). If you deem it necessary to delete, I understand. No direspect intended to anyone involved with either the US or Canadian XC teams at the 1984 Olympics.

  • Avatar
    caldxski

    May 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    One of my ideas is to collect a lot of xc articles for publication on a website to be named, hoping the articles would serve as archival material. We are not good here in the US with regard to legacies, traditions and the like, and so I thought a whole bunch of recollections might serve as a starter for some historical references. I have a long list of potential contributors–no one has been asked yet–and that is about as far as I have gotten. But I am in a decent position to do something like this.

    Win Goodbody’s article is marvelous and if I could get materials with even half as much information, and color, I would be very happy.

    There are drawbacks to this whole website business and quite a while ago I decided if I did get this project going, there would be no allowance for comments on the written materials. You read the articles, perhaps they send some sort of message, you like it or you don’t (and that’s OK), end of story. My approach seems more sensible all the time, thanks to people like “Davord.”

    Marty Hall wrote of his experiences in Yugoslavia in 1983 and 1984 and this too is valuable stuff. He was there.

    But then we get Davord writing about history after ‘84 while taunting Marty along the way. My sources tell me Davord was not even born before 1984, yet reading his remarks one might assume he was there during the OWG. And who needs snide comments like, “Not enough KFC’s for you, Marty?” Or, “Marty, do you know what the “I” stands for in IOC?” These are sophomoric, immature.. Davord could give us his history lesson without the taunts. They detract from Marty’s comments and his own as well. I find it demeaning for people like Davord to make comments like this and that’s why I feel the way I do about my idea above. Why would anyone want to write something only to get sniped at by people like Davord?

    Marty was with the Canadian Team and I was there in Sarajevo as a gopher/coach for the US. I’m in agreement with Marty’s observations. If you think it’s a routine matter to ski around the xc trails and run into rifle-carrying soldiers (loaded, of course) every hundred meters or so, try it. (I’ve been a part of plenty of drills in the Navy and none were with loaded weapons. Loaded weapons pose a risk.)

    The Team gave me the official US Odlo jacket with the huge USA letters on the back. One of the first evenings there I was going out to dinner with another US Coach, Lennart Strand. We trundled down the stairs of our dorm and he stopped and turned his jacket inside out, showing the all-red interior on the outside. I asked why he was doing that and he said the lettering of USA stood out and made a good target for a sniper. I’m smart enough to learn from Euros (Lennart is a Swede) and so I was a bit stressed. Next time out I did not wear my uni while parading the streets of Sarajevo. Getting shot is not a statistic I’m interested in.
    So sure, there were and there are some factions who are sympathetic to the US and Canada. And then, there are others.

    There were many memorable moments at those ‘84 Games, but I won’t go into any more of them here. Maybe as part of another production.

    John Caldwell

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    nordic_dave

    May 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for this article, I am amazed at the savage carnage that took place here in the break up of Yugoslovia. As a Political Science major at CU/Boulder in the 70’s, we were told this was going to be a problem when Marshal Tito died. He was a great leader and knew how balance things. He was a visionary and had to walk a fine line. Yugoslavia was an incredible place when the difference between East/West Cold War relations were so black and white. I am sure that’s why the IOC gave them the nod at the very peak of it’s existence as a country.

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    nordic_dave

    May 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Go easy on Davord, I don’t know him, but I do know his father.
    I doubt they came to the U.S. just because it seemed like a fun thing to do. In SLC we have many refugee’s of the former Yugoslav Republic, they arrived here shell shocked from a carnage I hope we never experience in our country. We are talking killings, rape and displacement on a mass scale. Somehow a ski coach’s point of view shrinks in comparison.

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    May 15, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Davord–this is a tricky situation—#1–I was in Yugoslavia in the 70s and 80s primarily—long before you were born—so, totally different eras
    #2–you left Macedonia in the late 80s or early 90s and that is the era you are talking about—I have no experience with it. I guess you came to the US for the McDonalds and the KFCs—actually I do McDonalds—can’t beat their Egg McMuffins and a medium OJ with some ice—twice since early January—being a young whipper snapper I’m sure you and your buddies can beat that.
    #3–I know what I saw on my first trip to Bohinj—a poor country–not enough gas for the tractors to pull the manure spreaders to the fields—the women were pushing sleds with the manure in them and then throwing it on the fields–hard work, but still gettting it done.
    #4–A ski club that lived up to it’s word in supporting our team for ten days of trng/racing and then transporting us to Castlerotto.
    #5–I stand by my feelings concerning what I said above about Sarajevo and the games not being affordable for Yugoslavia(my opinion again)—many great men build their status and reputations off the backs of hard working men and women who have very little. The IOC awards the games, they are hosted and the IOC then goes home.
    #6–You can excuse the comments about the military anyway you want—again, I know what I saw–and they were everywhere in a very disconcerting way—-they were armed, and the tanks were big and very visible.
    #7–If there is any legacy–it will be in the future–even that is doubtful as there has been none since the games. I looked up Sarajevo on a web site–it was a promotional piece–no mention of Sarajevo as a previous Olympic city.
    #8—those people that you know Pete V, John E and Eli and mention above–yes, they have been to Yugo, but not as many times as I have and I’d be very surprised if in all seasons of the year. I have been to Yugoslovkia many many times at all times of the year. I have even played golf on one trip while staying in Bled. What a gorgeous place—–the lake is stunning.
    #9–the other ironic thing is that we always raced in Pokljuka, up above—as the snow below was marginal. The WW 2 monumentthere gives cause to reflection. It is very sobering and makes you realize how awful war is. Again they were in a different era in their visits, I’m assuming.
    #10–I have been to Begunje and the Elan factory, often, and been a guest of Peter Petricek’s, the nordic boss, then and also sat on a FIS committee with him for a number of years.
    #11–there is more I could tell you–ethnic hatred displayed a few times–very upsetting. The FIS Congress in Dubrovnik—what a lovely place that is for a congress–just loved the climate and also the ride there from the airport. I enjoyed myself immensley.
    So, Davord–enough time for this–I know what I saw and experienced and respect your comments. I could write more, but have made my points—good luck.

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelley

    May 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    To John Caldwell: Your idea for a US Nordic skiing history web site has merit. And I agree – most Americans are not good at remembering or caring about history. It is much less effort to rewrite history than to research and learn what actually happened in the past.

    Like you allude to – a web site that has vetted and verified comments that are emailed to the website administrator, instead of anonymously posted, is best for historical web sites. Over the last 10 years I have developed such a skiing history site for Alaska: http://www.alsap.org

    For history web sites a “survival plan” needs to be made. If the person administering the web site goes away (for whatever reason) the web site will vanish when the next payment to the website hosting company is missed. So a web site succession plan is essential so that all of the generous submissions of stories and pictures you get from people are not lost.

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    davord

    May 21, 2012 at 4:56 am

    No direspect to either Mr Caldwell or Mr Hall, but if you knew any history about the former Jugoslavia, you would know it was never a Soviet satellite country, nor was it behind any curtain, be it iron, metal, wood, paper, plastic, etc. If you seriously think that it was, you are being ignorant and obtuse. I am not backing away from anything I wrote. Those aren’t opinions, those are facts. Facts you are gonna have to deal with. All these ‘you weren’t born then, so how would you know…’ stuff is really irrelevant in this case. I wasn’t around during the American Civil War, but I know about it. Do a bit of research (just a bit, not much) and you’ll see (as I said in my earlier comment) Jugoslavia had much more in common with the US than the Soviets. Heck, Kennedy and Tito even collaborated during the space race. Saying that Jugoslavia was behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ or part of the ‘Eastern Bloc’ is like saying Switzerland was part of Nazi Germany.

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    Martin Hall

    May 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

    You aren’t listening—too bad for a young person…

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    nordic_dave

    May 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    On many points you are both right and talking past each other.
    I tend to agree with Marty on many things and respect him a great deal. Yet I can see where Davord is coming from in this particular situation. Yugoslavia and Tito helped form the 3rd World Non Alignment movement along with Indonesia and other countries stating that they were neither aligned to the Soviet Union, China or the U.S./NATO blocs. During this period of Cold War politics, it was hard for most countries to escape these sphere’s of influence. Yugoslavia did and walked a fine line being so close to Eastern Europe/Warsaw Pact countries. They accomplished this through strength by fighting Nazi Germany mostly on it’s own and warning the U.S.S.R not to invade or they
    would effectively make life hell for them. Since the Balkans have such a troubled history, the Soviets allowed Yugoslavia a great degree of autonomy that other countries like Czechoslovakia, and Hungary were brutally crushed for attempting to do the same thing.

    It took a strong man like Tito to pull it all together and guns and tanks were definitely used to show strength externally as well as internally. I do recall people from Yugoslavia being allowed to travel to Western Europe or the U.S. freely. Yugoslavia had a robust trade with both Eastern and Western bloc countries and had an industrial capacity that made them superior to many Eastern bloc economies. Who can forget Yugoslavia’s contribution to the auto business with the infamous Yugo!
    At a time when small cheap econo cars were in demand in the 70’s , they sold a bunch of them around the world. Alas it was a true junker like the Ford Pinto but popular at the time.

    If any of you are not familiar with the formation of the 3rd World Non Alignment Movement it was quite a concept in what was then a very black and white world. Today to refer to a country as a Third World developing country , it is not often used as a compliment yet it’s design and intent was to try and develop it’s economies without the financial/political strings that came attached to being a “client” country of the U.S. or U.S.S.R.
    I am certain that if the IOC’s decisions of selecting Sarajevo were reviewed that it was based on the real economic progress that Yugoslovia had made through it’s unique political structure. Personally I disagree with many selections of countries for the Olympics yet that is probably my bias as to Western stds as to how things should be and having loaded guns do make
    people nervous yet that was probably by design for both the East and the West to see.

    Thank you for this thought provoking article, the haunting song “Sarajevo” is running through my head and the memories of people of the former Yugoslav Republic being indiscrminately shot by snipers during the Bosian conflict of the 90’s.

    As you say Marty, that’s “The way I see it”, btw you are overdue for an article 🙂

    Dave

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