‘Market’ and ‘non-market’ nations: Albanian entrepreneurialism in late-socialist Slovenia

Delo (‘Labour’) was once the most read daily newspaper in socialist Slovenia and still today its circulation is among the highest in the country. In 1988, one of its Saturday editions (Sobotna priloga) featured an article ‘Tržni in netržni narodi’ (‘Market and Nonmarket [Yugoslav] nations’) written by journalist Dragiša Bošković.[1] The author attempted to deconstruct a popular notion at the time in Slovenia, that Yugoslavia was internally split among the market-oriented Northwest and a Southeast reliant on state-intervention. A similar dichotomy was voiced when discussing alleged ‘productive’ nations in the north and the ‘unproductive ones’ in the south of the federation. The former were represented by Slovenia and Croatia and the latter by most of the other republics, most notably Kosovo. In Slovenia, this dichotomy was usually invoked when Slovenian Party officials and part of the public argued against the distribution of wealth among the republics or opposed financial support for the economically less developed Southeast.

Such essentializing claims of ‘market’ and ‘nonmarket’ nations were oftentimes explained by stressing this or that cultural or religious characteristic of whole nations: Catholic vs. Orthodox or Muslim, frugal vs. lavish, Habsburg legacy vs. Ottoman legacy. For the author of the above-mentioned article, the example of Kosovo Albanians was a direct refutation of such simplistic divisions. While belonging to the economically most underdeveloped region of Yugoslavia, Kosovo Albanians were overrepresented among Yugoslavia’s small business owners – despite the less than ideal conditions for private business owners in the socialist state. Bošković’s article goes on to mention all the different types of businesses typically associated with Albanians in Yugoslavia such as bakeries, sweet shops, fruit and vegetable stands and fast-food joints to illustrate the Albanian affinity to market practices.

While Bošković was at the time openly advocating for a free market, he dismissed the notion of whole nations in Yugoslavia being for or against this. Rather, he argues that the attitude of republican or provincial leaderships was at stake. The argumentation is interesting because it attempts to provide an economic justification for the emerging political alliance between Kosovo Albanians and Slovenes and their respective political elites. With emphasizing the same market orientation of Slovenes and Albanians in Yugoslavia, the author obscures the hitherto dominant interpretation regional elites were following throughout most of the 1980s. Namely, Slovenian republican leadership was pushing against republican funds being ‘drained’ by the less developed south (e.g. Kosovo)’[2] while on the other hand, there were voices in Kosovo against the Slovenian exploitation of the province’s natural resources. For instance, one of the slogans during the 1981 demonstrations in Kosovo was: “Slovenia is exploiting Trepča.”[3]

As the project ‘To the Northwest: Intra-Yugoslav Albanian migration (1953-1989)’ will encompass extensive oral history interviews, it will be interesting to see how the changing political alliances and their economic justifications affected the everyday lives of Albanian migrants in Slovenia. From what we know so far, alliances weaved in the late 1980s were limited to political elites and cultural production. It remains for the project to answer the following questions: how did Albanian migrants interpret these shifting political alliances, and did it make their livelihood in Slovenia seem more or less secure? How were the workers and family business owners experiencing market liberalization? Did Albanian small businesses typically finance political movements and organisations of Albanians in Kosovo?

Mladen Zobec, 30.11.2020

[1] Dragiša Bošković, ‘Tržni in netržni narodi’, Delo: Sobotna priloga (23.01.1988).

[2] Žarko Lazarević, ‘Raznovrstnost, decentralizacija in ekonomska suverenost v Jugoslaviji’, Zgodovinski časopis 69, br. 3-4 (2015): 426–47.

[3] Mile Šetinc, ‘Kosovo, moja usoda’, Delo, Sobotna priloga, (04.03.1989).