Yugoslavia Name Change No Surprise to Geographers

George Stuteville
for National Geographic News
February 14, 2003
Judging from the news reports, it would seem the nation of Yugoslavia was overthrown overnight and suddenly renamed Serbia and Montenegro.

"Yugoslavia Abolished," screamed the February 4, 2003 headline in hundreds of newspapers and Internet Websites around the world.

But there was no surprise for the cartographers of the National Geographic Society. For nearly a year, David Miller, senior editorial cartographer for National Geographic Maps, has been planning to issue maps marked with the new name of the Balkan nation formerly known as Yugoslavia.

"With the Society being headquartered in Washington, D.C. we have access to significant geopolitical developments through the foreign embassies, the U.S. State Department, and even the CIA, when they return our phone calls," Miller said.

Since March 2002, when the countries of Serbia and Montenegro agreed to become a new nation under an agreement brokered by the European Union, Miller has been waiting for the countries to formally ratify the Constitutional Charter.

"We had a lot of warning this would happen. At the Society, we are now in the process of purging Yugoslavia," Miller said.

On February 13, National Geographic Maps was ready with its updated map, which includes a downloadable version on the Web site. This map replaces Plate 84 of the National Geographic Atlas of the World, Seventh Edition.

It was no trouble, Miller said, to make the map change—unlike the sweeping changes that occurred during the aftermath of the breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991. From that event, the names of 21 new nations had to be added to maps depicting Eastern Europe, Russia, and Asia.

A Nation is Born

Renaming a country does not erase its problems. Consider: Serbia and Montenegro have no common flag they can wave in the ongoing European soccer match-ups (in fact a squabble is brewing over which color of blue they should adopt).

They have no seal that can be stamped on passports (both nations use a double-headed eagle, but there is a difference in the bird's wing).

They have no shared anthem, and no motto. "Decisions on [the] flag will be reached in next 60 days, on coat of arms, by the end of the year," said Dragana Aleksic, spokeswoman for the Serbia and Montenegro Embassy in Washington, D.C. "For the moment, we are still using the old flag, and anthem."

There is also no clear agreement on what the 10 million Serbs and the 650,000 residents of Montenegro should call themselves.

What the two republics share is a long, long history. But let us just stick with the last century, when the modern name of Yugoslavia, which means "the country of southern Slavs," was adopted in 1929. Since 1918, it had been known as The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. However, in reporting the new name, the Croatian newspaper Novi List noted that it was the "seventh name change of a state which has continuously existed since Yugoslavia was first proclaimed."

Through the decades, it resisted Nazi Germany and under the Communist dictatorship of Marshall Tito, managed to hold the Soviet Union at bay as a non-aligned satellite nation while, at the same time, constructing a productive national economy.

For a brief period in the 1980s, it exported, worldwide, its state-produced boxy little automobile, the Yugo and in 1984, the beautiful city of Sarajevo played host to the winter Olympic games, putting the Yugoslavian nation on world display.

Within six years, however, Yugoslavia began crumbling. It started slowly when the republics of Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence in the exuberation following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Yugoslavia's other two republics, Macedonia and Bosnia, eventually broke away to become sovereign nations. Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro, in 1992, had formed the Federation of Yugoslavia under the brutal Serb nationalist, Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

The national fractures set the stage for bloody wars that introduced the Holocaust-like practice of "ethnic cleansing." This new nation of Serbia and Montenegro was signed into existence by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, in an agreement brokered by the European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The arrangement was sought as a way to introduce stability in the still volatile Balkans. The new country will have dual capitals—Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, will serve as the primary capital while Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, will administer that republic. Kosovo, though now administered by NATO, is part of Serbia.

Both states will share a common military and foreign policy, yet will have separate economics, customs services and currencies. The office of federal president would remain. The formation of Serbia and Montenegro allowed them to move up a few positions in the alphabetical arrangement of seats in the United Nations.

The national changes are reflected in the day-to-day routine at the Serbia and Montenegro Embassy in Washington, D.C. where the embassy staff is changing its official stationery, Aleksic said.

How long will the union last? Observers like Miller, who is also a political scientist, believe that the odds are long that unity can last as long as Montenegro deeply longs for its own independence. Under terms of the agreement, the two republics can vote on whether to continue the union in 2006.

And if a another map change is in order, Miller said his department would be ready again.

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