The view that the past was somehow better is not so unusual in many parts of the world. If you ask my grandmother—of Welsh and Irish stock, and going strong in her mid-90s—she will sometimes tell you the same. And if you ask my mother—of English and Yiddish stock, and in her mid-60s—she will also tell you the same.
But two things differentiate Bosnians from my mother and grandmother. First, Bosnians have a more specific idea about what “the past” means; they mean, before the collapse of Yugoslavia. Second, by at least one objective measure, Bosnians are right—the past was better.
In 2012, the average Bosnian had an income of a little shy of $4,900, around the same as Albania, Macedonia, or Tunisia, but less than the average Bosnian income in 1989, which was over $6,100 (in 2012 prices). That is a fall of around 20 percent. A recent study found that, of all former Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia was significantly richer than in 1989, and most have seen significant declines. This stands in contrast to typically slower growing developed economies like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, where average incomes rose by around 75 percent between 1989 and 2012.
Branko Milanovic calls Bosnia one of the “absolute failures” of Eastern European transitional countries that is “not likely to reach its 1990 income any time soon.” He notes that at current growth rates it might take two generations to go back to the income levels the country had at the fall of communism.
Yet, much of Bosnians’ “Yugo-nostalgia” does not come from the loss of GDP. A non-scientific survey of friends and colleagues revealed a few other examples, including:
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