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Volunteers from Slovenia, Macedonia and Serbia Are Joining Forces to Rebuild After Catastrophic Floods

Volunteers reconstructing a country road in Slovenia during a youth work action in 1960. This image is public domain.

Volunteers reconstructing a country road in Slovenia during a youth work action in 1960. This image is public domain.

After the recent tragic floods in the region, residents of several former Yugoslavian countries seem to have taken to old habits to help fix the vast damage done by the natural disaster. In Kraljevo, Serbia, as reported by Bosnian Radio Sarajevo and Serbian national news agency Tanjug, over 50 volunteers from Macedonia, Slovenia, and several Serbian cities have gathered in Kraljevo for a “youth work action” to rebuild roads and other basic infrastructure.

After World War II, a country formed out of six southeastern European states and dubbed the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia became known to the world, as an anonymous author once put it, as “the only place where the iron curtain sways”. Yugoslavia was a firmly socialist country — it was the only communist country in Eastern Europe never to have been a satellite of the former USSR. Hence, while in good relations with both East and West most of the time, it was often left to fend for itself. What most people today don't know is that the young Yugoslavia, made up of states that were terribly damaged during the World War, rebuilt its country mostly on its own.

Youth work actions were popular voluntary labor activities in the former Yugoslavia, organized by the Young Communist League of Yugoslavia. Some of the more massive labor actions built roads, railroads, new neighborhoods and the Highway of Brotherhood and Unity, which stretched 1,180 kilometers across the country, from Slovenia in the northwest to Macedonia in the southeast. These work actions perished with the fall of Yugoslavia.

The youth work action today in Kraljevo is a self-organized, civic activity, led by a handful of people who participated in the youth work actions of the former Yugoslavia. They are focused on 10 locations in and around the city that have been left “uncategorized” by government agencies assessing the flood damage, meaning that authorities deem that the damage done to uncategorized infrastructure and homes are not damaged enough to qualify for government aid in one of the six categories established so far.

The 50 volunteers are mostly between 18 and 30 years of age. Zoran Stevovski from Ohrid, Macedonia, is among the oldest volunteers and recalled for Radio Sarajevo his experience taking part in the youth work actions organized in the former Yugoslavia:

“Predsjednik sam udruženja koje okuplja bivše akcijaše, ali i one mlađe, koji žele da učestvovati u ovoj našoj priči. Bio sam 12 puta na radnim akcijama, a počeo sam upravo u ovim krajevima, na Moravi, 1979. godine i to je trajalo do 1990. godine u Beogradu. Radili smo na nasipima Zapadne Morave i Rasine. Vratio sam se tamo gdje sam i počeo”, kaže Stevovski.

“I am president of the association that gathers former [work] action volunteers, but also those who are younger, who want to participate in our story. I participated 12 times in work actions and I began in this exact area, on the Morava [river], in 1979, and that lasted until 1990 in Belgrade. We worked on the river dikes on Western Morava and Rasina. I came back where I started,” says Stevovski.

This YouTube video shows the youth work actions, that included volunteers of all ages, that built the Highway of Brotherhood and Unity, connecting all six states of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The video includes footage of then Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito congratulating the volunteer workers on fulfilling their promise of getting the highway built in under a year and on schedule (English subtitles included).

The work action days in Kraljevo begin at 5:30 in the morning and end at 10 in the evening, with visits to cultural institutions, meals, an some entertainment during the work day.

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