'Danas je Dan Republike'. So went the chorus of one of the songs we played on Saturday. Today it's actually true: today is the Day of the Republic. It was much like any other day in Jajce when we wandered to the supermarket in the early afternoon. Saturday, however, was a different prospect altogether. Hundreds of people had gathered from across the former-Yugoslav republics to remember Tito and Yugoslavia. As if they had arrived through some rift in time, proud communists and uniformed Partizans gathered in the areas close the the AVNOJ Museum. AVNOJ stands for Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia and the Museum is housed in the building that played host to the meetings that led to the forming on Yugoslavia.
Like in much of post-communist Eastern Europe it is not hard to find people nostalgic for how things were. For these people Saturday's events are a reminder of the togetherness and sense of identity that gave them a place on the world stage. And a memorial for the man who orchestrated that. Tito clearly still has a profound influence.
I confess I felt a bit of an imposter, climbing on stage to play as part of the official programme outside the Museum. A friend who was singing with us had bought a 'Born in YU' T-shirt from Jajce's main tourist shop. It looked cool but was a reminder that we weren't...although I did visit Yugoslavia for maybe eight hours one October in the mid-eighties! So why did we agree to get involved? I think there are two main reasons.
The first is that in the sort of work we are doing I believe it's important to identify with the things that are important to the community you are in. For the people we are working with, and for many people in Jajce, this is an important event. The willingness to get involved helps our differences become less important. In all our conversations with those from the Museum responsible for the event we never picked up any sense that they were concerned we weren't local.
The second reason is while it is unlikely that this region will ever see something exactly like Yugoslavia again there are positives that remembering the past bring. The Balkans would certainly see a brighter future if it found more time for focusing on its similarities - like the old concept of brotherhood - and less for the divisiveness of nationalistic political posturing. There's also something to be said for anti-fascism. Europe is facing the rise of the right-wing, and, perhaps alarmingly, in some unexpected places. France hit the headlines with its stance on Romanian Roma but I was surprised by a recent article I read about the plight of Sweden's of immigrant communities. Whoever the victims, it's important that we remember the reason why Tito was bringing together anti-fascists in the first place. It would be nice to think Europe has learnt its lessons. I certainly don't want to be one who makes the same mistakes.