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My Century And My Many Lives, by Frank Munk
Memoirs, 1993
Postscript, 1994

Frank Munk, my grandfather, wrote this autobiography to record his memories from 1901 onwards. This history and its postscript are available on our family website in his memory as they tell a complete story of the 20th century. These memoirs may be referenced as long as proper attribution is made; our family retains ownership and copyright. We have one request: if you reference this material in any way, please send us email at feedback@theragens.com and a copy of the paper, if possible, as we would like to know when this material is of interest and we are curious as to how it is being used. We'd like to hear from you.
Copyright 1993, 1994, The Munk/Ragen Families

REQUIEM FOR YUGOSLAVIA
CHAPTER 22

Just as the Bosnian crisis of 1908 awakened my curiosity about international politics, the first war in my memory was the Balkan war in 1912 and its sequel the second Balkan war in the succeeding year. The first war was waged by Serbia, Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria against Turkey and it ended Turkish domination over the Balkans, except for a small area around Istanbul. The second war opposed all the other states to Bulgaria. They all represented the preliminaries of World War I.

To us in Czechoslovakia it was not an ordinary war. The prevalent ideology in East-Central Europe was Slavism [erroneously called Pan-Slavism]. We cheered on the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Bulgarians because they were Slavs, i.e., people speaking Slavic languages. It was Slavism that led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 and thus to the big bang. It also was Slavism that led to the creation of Yugoslavia (then named Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) as well as the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918. And it is the demise of Slavism, resulting from the experience of Russian hegemony under Communism, that now presides over the splitting of the two countries, even though one disappears in blood and the other in an unpleasant divorce.

My first personal contact with Yugoslavia was a boy from Montenegro. His name was Nikola Radovic. He was one of thousands of children who were invited by Czech families to stay with them for the duration of the war. It was a very popular cause. Nikola was staying with one of my friends and became immediately a pet of the whole school. We all were very eager to meet him. He knew no Czech, but we could communicate with him quite well--the two languages have much in common. He was learning fast and so were we.

I visited Yugoslavia shortly after it was founded, but my most important experience happened during the sixties. By that time I was teaching at Portland State College, having retired from Reed College in 1965. One of the inducements for my switching colleges was an invitation from my old friend Fred Peters to become Associate Director of the Central European Studies Center, which he had just helped establish at PSC. As part of this program we were teaching many of the relevant languages and had launched a very respectable course in area studies.

In 1965 it was decided to establish a program in Yugoslavia and to make it available to our students. Having received the necessary funding from the U.S. Office of Education, we negotiated with the University of Zagreb and came to an agreement establishing a Zagreb Institute for Central European Studies. I was selected to be its first Director. I arrived in Zagreb on September 20, 1967, and shortly afterwards 17 students arrived, all of whom had had two years of Serbo-Croatian as well as other pertinent classes. Nadia naturally came with me.

I vividly remember my initial confrontation with Yugoslavia's problems: When I arrived, my first visit was to the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy. His first question was whether I spoke the language. I answered that I spoke Serbo-Croatian, more or less. His answer was: "Dr. Munk, we do not speak Serbo-Croatian, we speak Croatian." In fact, there are no two languages, only numerous dialects, but I understood that his statement did not reflect linguistics, but politics.

Our year in Zagreb was most interesting and we made quite a few good friends. It was somewhat marred by an unfortunate experience: shortly before Christmas, while returning from an official trip to Belgrade, I stumbled over a suitcase while detraining at the Zagreb train station and broke my leg. They took me to the Emergency Hospital. My stay was a special experience by itself: all the surgeons who operated on me were women. I was in a room with several former partisans. The Director of the hospital was also a professor at the University, and a general of the army medical services. He came often to see me and explained that everything was ready for war and that male doctors would serve in front hospitals. I might add that those female surgeons were very good in fixing my complex fracture so that I now have to think twice to remember which leg.

However, it was spring before I could leave our apartment house. In the meantime, I continued to meet my students regularly and lectured while lying in bed. Later I spent several weeks in a charming resort on the Istria Riviera which specialized in physical therapy using sea water baths. When I returned to Zagreb I found a worsening political climate. Students at the University were demonstrating against the Belgrade government, and there were occasionally violent clashes with the police. Marshal Tito finally put an end to it by a show of force, but that did not solve the problem.

All through the year, we were exposed to the realities of Yugoslavia whenever we saw our friend Radoslav Katicic, professor of Slav Linguistic, an expert on the original, prehistoric language from which all Slavic languages started. He hated the Serbs and made no effort to conceal his feelings. His face changed when he recited the sins of Belgrade. He expected the worst, and soon after we left Zagreb he moved to Austria and joined the faculty of the University of Vienna.

I was advised by the American Embassy to keep a low profile, although I gave some public lectures and spoke over Zagreb ratio, naturally in "Croatian." The reason for the advice was the war in Vietnam, which was extremely unpopular with the students. All of this changed abruptly after the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August of 1968--overnight the U.S. became the good guy and the Soviet Union the bad guy.

Before the end of the school year, I went with the students on a tour of Yugoslavia, visiting Banjaluka, Sarajevo, and Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Split, Dubrovnik, and Kotor in Dalamtia, Cetinje, and Titograd in Montenegro, Skopje in Macedonia and, of course, Belgrade, the capital, where we met many officials. It surely reads like a contemporary newspaper.

Perhaps I ought to say something about the internecine fighting going on now in 1992. It is a mistake to believe that ethnic relations were always at razor's edge. For a deeper understanding of that part of the world, I recommend a Nobel prize-winning novel by Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina, or a famous book by Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia. The former deals with the history of a real bridge at Visegrad between Bosnia and Serbia in the 16th century. It describes relations between Moslem Slavs and Orthodox Slavs [i.e., Serbians]. Most of the time they were peaceful and indeed intimate. Interspersed were violent conflicts. Originally all of the nationalities [not counting minorities like Hungarians or Albanians] welcomed the creation of Yugoslavia. But later they objected to Serbian domination, until we got to the present tragic situation.

I revisited Zagreb a year later at the request of PSC to evaluate the continuation of the program. It may not be out of place to quote a part of my report to PSC, which deals with the political situation in 1973:

"The situation in Croatia, while still in flux, has reestablished after the events of 1971 and 1972 and is generally calm. The new government of Croatia is on the whole carrying out the policies of Savka-Dabcevic [popularly known as Queen Savka]: language laws have been amended to appease Croatian nationalism and economic policies have been more favorable to Croatia. The fundamental problems of Yugoslavia are still unresolved viz. federalism vs. confederalism, planning vs. socialist market economy, party rule vs. a degree of free discussion, but at the moment Tito has reestablished a balance, and, incidentally, his own position as arbiter. The students are quiet and studying, faculties somewhat apprehensive, but not alarmed." 

I should add that Yugoslavia had broken with orthodox Communism since the break with Stalin in 1948. It pursued some radical reforms, most especially by replacing state ownership with socialist ownership, at least in name. It adopted a system known as socialist self-government. In theory each enterprise was managed independently. The workers elected their managers and decided how to distribute profits. They also were supposed to choose the managers and to dismiss them. During our stay in Zagreb, Yugoslavia probably had the highest standard of living in East Europe and the least oppressive of its governments.

I deplore the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was a noble experiment and, unfortunately, it failed like many other noble experiments. It was a great opportunity and not only was it missed, but we shall miss it, too.

 

The books listed below provide additional background on Montenegro and Yugoslavia to help illustrate this portion of my grandfather's memoirs.

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The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War; Misha Glenny

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Blood and Vengeance: One Family's Story of the War in Bosnia; Chuck Sudetic

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To End a War; Richard Holbrooke

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Bosnia: A Short History; Noel Malcolm

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History of Montenegro; by Francis S. Stevenson. (1971)

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The Falcon & the Eagle: Montenegro & Austria-Hungary, 1908-1914; John D. Treadway. (1998)

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Montenegro: Its People and Their History; William Denton. (1977)

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Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia; Rebecca West

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Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History; Robert D. Kaplan

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The Bridge on the Drina; Ivo Andric

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Kosovo: A Short History by Noel Malcolm

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The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1809-1999 by Misha Glenny

 

 

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