It's the twenty-first question! The one with the potential to dwarf them all.
What that questions might be? You still haven't guessed?
WHAT WAS IT ALL FOR?
It could have been asked as the first question since it pre-dates them all, but it would have been much better as the last - to end them all, possibly to shame them all. It would have jumped out at the unwary. It might have made them think they've wasted the time answering the first twenty. Better still, it might have made them think they've (we've all) wasted all those years (and lives - never forget the lives).
On the face of it, one may decide that there was a point to the whole exercise. Just look at the successful Slovenia. Even Croatia can boast it achieved almost all it wanted from the start. Others have mostly been less lucky, but I wouldn't be surprised that even amongst them there'd be those who thought it all a worthwhile exercise.
But let's look at where we were, and then where we are now, practically 25 years after you could say it all started...
In the late eighties, Yugoslavia was, first and foremost a country of considerable size. Twenty-five million is a respectable size for a European country. It had industry to match, too. True, it has both seen better days, and was in need of radical overhaul, but that process has been started under the premiership of Ante Marković.
A full shift towards market economy and western-style democratic rule was still required, but if you looked carefully into your own personal crystal ball you would have been able to see it - right there just across the horizon, or on a good day just around the corner.
Also true, the federal system was creaking and also in dire need of repair, but to say it would have been impossible without first de-constructing it entirely is silly. And to say that it needed military action to destroy it completely is and was criminal - and was in fact found to be literally criminal in most cases, at least when it comes to the actual methods employed. If the will really was there to move forward with the least amount of strife, surely there were models that would satisfy all levels of independence required. After all, Slovenia was, quite genuinely, proposing a loose confederation at some point. Unfortunately, it was laughed out of room - more or less.
Why do I go on about keeping the country as a whole? It should be obvious, really. Bigger countries have bigger internal markets which makes for more stable economy in times of trouble. Bigger countries also generally have more clout in international trade and politics. Again, something useful to have in times both good and bad.
So, we were, in the late eighties, apparently much closer to the proclaimed aims of democracy, European Union, economic recovery, and so on, and so forth. What do we do? We throw it all away because every little semi-local elite wants to run their own show (or everybody else's shows, too, for some).
And what do we all end up with in the end?
First and foremost, with hundreds of thousands of dead. That can't be good in anyone's book, can it? Can it? Not to mention all those more numerous others who were forced into various forms of exile.
Then, most of the economies were ruined - there's really no other word for it. Everybody, with the exception of Slovenia, are now starting from a much worse economic position than 25 years ago. And even Slovenia has lost most of its backup markets (which she is slowly but surely regaining, thus repeating the history - and we know who repeats history).
Finally, most of the ex-Yugoslav republics, in their quest for "democracy" went through spells of regimes that were anything but, and which were probably far less democratic then what we had in the late eighties - all its failings included!
Did we really need to go through all of that so that we can now start from a much worse position? Did we really? I don't think so. And it's not just about hindsight always being 20-20. I was saying all of this to everyone who would listen for the past 25 years.
The problem was, not many would listen. Not to mention the periods when it felt distinctly unsafe to raise one's head above the parapet like that.
And to close this all off, the last bit is still very much true when it comes to the problem of Kosovo and Serbia, the problem that is probably 35 years old. Those 35 years ago, Serbia had Kosovo nicely wrapped in two layers of protective sheets, safely inside itself, and Yugoslavia. It also had a Kosovo that was reasonably happy with the levels of autonomy it was granted. In the next 35 years of making Kosovo more Serbian what was achieved is that it will soon probably join United Nations as a 193rd member. A wise man once wrote that if you hold your stick too tight it can easily take control of you, rather than the other way around. Not to mention that a carrot is often - if not always - more effective than a stick.
So, in the end, much was lost, little was gained (and what was gained was usually what was first lost). Indeed:
WHAT WAS IT ALL FOR?
Some may wonder why write about this in English, and why write here rather than possibly here? Well, nobody really wants to listen to this in any language so English is as good as any other. Plus, especially most in ex-Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia, don't want to hear these things, lot less think about them, so I think English is really a service to all of them. It is, after all, ex-Yugoslavia, and ex-Yugoslavs who I care about...