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From the mid 1950s through roughly the 1980s, some or many children and youth of the Socialist Yugoslavia, especially those of us in Belgrade, the capital, lived in a curious, almost surreal “window” in the space and time. This surreal window of space-time, offered to children and youth of Yugoslavia, unprecedented opportunities for personal development, exposure to the classic cultures and the newest events in the cultural worlds from all over the world, freedom of speech, gathering, activism and opportunities to travel and interact with a multitude of people of the world who came to Yugoslavia. Such special window in time and space sounds impossible to believe, all the more, in the light of the subsequent brutal and bloody civil wars of the 90s in which Yugoslavia perished. And yet, for many of us this window in time and space did exist! It was a product, I think, of several paradoxical tensions that may have created unprecedented loopholes in the fabric of an otherwise authoritarian and often brutal regime that had its ugly underside in suppression of any actions and words which would be critical of the ruling regime and its leaders.
One could arguably say, that, when I talk about this curious, surreal time, I talk from a point of view that can only belong to the children of the privileged: children of the high officers of the Communist party, of the Belgrade political, intellectual, cultural and economic elite. Of course, in many ways, I cannot escape, some of the privileged vistas of my own background – as no one can entirely escape the bent of their own lives. However, my privileged view comes from being among the intellectual elite of Belgrade, rather than the political elite. But my views were also based on the experiences of “ordinary” others which I shared in the everyday ways of life in which I was not segregated from everyone else: my neighbors, school mates, people I met in various other gathering places.In this auto-ethnographic essay, I explore a uniqueness of my Socialist Yugoslav childhood, where a lot of children and youth lived as if in a golden cage. This golden cage had an internal reality that was in many ways protective of our wellbeing. In this reality we experienced freedoms, stood for justice, had many opportunities to participate in cultural clubs, art studios, musical bands, poetic societies, sports clubs, summer and winter camps, etc. At the same time, the world that surrounded us, and even in many ways created our childhoods, was harsh, often brutal and did not hold any of the high ethical principles and values that we believed and lived in.
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