Recently, The Economist published an article introducing the idea of the “Yugo-Sphere”, which has been attributed to Tim Judah. Its argument that the “former Yugoslavia patches itself together” echoed across the ex-Yugoslav media. The supra-ethnic trans-Balkan cultural inclination which the article refers to, among other things, slowly turns on one hand into a more conscious realization about the unsustainability of the parochial-cum-tribal self-isolation from the 1990s when new borders were built where none had existed before; and into a more emotional, culturally-framed awareness related to the vibrant inter-connected cultural life in this region.
Yet, the economic ties and the more pragmatic market-oriented mindset is what drives the region towards a greater integration. Yugoslavia with its population of 22 million was a relatively big market, in particular when compared to the post-1992 fragmented political and cultural spaces. To quote one example from Sabrina P. Ramet’s 1994 book Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia, the figures of production and sale in the music industry when compared to present-day standards seem almost utopian: in 1986 one of the two largest record companies, Jugoton from Zagreb produced about 1 million rock records and cassettes, while well-known rock bands were selling between 200 000 – 500 000 items.
Thus, it is the emerging shared cultural sphere which is likely to boost the figures economists are concerned about. Increased mobility for tourism and educational purposes as well as music, film, art and literature make the physical borders in this region more porous and communication more effective. Examples range from regional film productions of which “Karaula” (Border Post) is probably the most prominent and successful example, theatre performances, literary/academic cooperation projects such as “Sarajevo Notebooks”, great musicians whose concerts are regularly sold out in Skopje, Belgrade, Sarajevo or Zagreb (among which Macedonian guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski has the status of something of a guitar guru all over former Yugoslavia), to sports-related reminiscences (see the documentary film “The Last Yugoslav Soccer Team” by Vuk Janic) and commercial projects such as MTV’s branch MTV Adria covering all former Yugoslav republics.
After all, it is in the interest of both the former Yugoslav states and the EU to have a stable, developed region on the model of the Visegrad Group where regional integration and cooperation would not be just words on paper.