Memoirs of My Childhood in Yugoslavia


Larry Wolff


Wayne Vucinich, who died in 2005, was one of the most important and influential professors of the history of Eastern Europe during the second half of the twentieth century. He made his mark on the academic world through his publications on southeastern Europe, especially Bosnia, Serbia, and Yugoslavia, and through his training of Ph.D. students at Stanford over several generations, students who themselves went on to occupy a remarkable number of academic positions in American, British, and Canadian universities.

Among his papers, at his death, were an enormous number of manuscript pages of unpublished memoirs concerning his childhood in Yugoslavia in the 1920s. These pages not only told the unusual story of his life—which took him from his birth in Montana, to his childhood in the mountains of Hercegovina, and then back to America where he would eventually become a distinguished professor—but also included detailed observations of traditional village life in Yugoslavia in the 1920s, important material for the social history and anthropology of “the world we have lost.”

These memoirs are all the more valuable for taking us back to the first decade of Yugoslavia’s existence as an independent state, created after World War I. The land of Bosnia and Hercegovina that Wayne lived in as a child in the early twentieth century—participating in agricultural life, living as a pastoral shepherd in the mountains, attending school as a young Yugoslav—was the same land that was ravaged by violence, war, and the dissolution of the Yugoslav state at the end of the twentieth century. The world of Wayne’s childhood in Yugoslavia in the 1920s offers us some historical perspective on the headlines from Bosnia and Hercegovina in the 1990s.

I myself received my Ph.D. from Stanford in 1984, as a Vucinich student and member of the Vucinich academic family. Like all his Ph.D. students I always called him Uncle Wayne, and, when I returned to Stanford to visit him, especially in the 1990s, one of his avuncular activities was reading aloud to me sections of the memoirs that he was still writing and revising. Hearing his accounts of his childhood in Yugoslavia, in his own voice, made a powerful impression on me, and, in editing these memoirs for publication, my principal concern has been to preserve as much as possible the style and rhythm of his particular voice. The manuscript was composed in many small pieces, in various stages of revision, sometimes just fragments. I have attempted to integrate these pieces to form a consistent narrative whole—but always trying to stay as close as possible to Wayne’s own phrasing. I very much hope that those who knew him will find the recognizable resonances of his very personal and anecdotal style, while those who did not know him will feel some sense of personal encounter with a now almost legendary academic figure in the field of Eastern Europe.

I accept full responsibility for any errors or inaccuracies in the editing of this posthumous work. I am immensely grateful to Norman Naimark and Tom Emmert, Vucinich students themselves, who read the edited manuscript and gave me the benefit of their comments and suggestions. I am furthermore grateful to Ellen Elias-Bursac for consultation about the use of the Serbian language within the text. I also thank Janet Gardiner for her invaluable guidance through the many stages and intricacies of publishing this book. Finally, I could not have carried out the editing of the manuscript without the essential collaboration of Wayne’s daughters, Connie Vucinich Furlong and Annette Vucinich. They took on the huge task of reading and sorting through their father’s countless papers, and put together the approximately 600 relevant pages of manuscript from which I edited this memoir. They tirelessly read through the edited manuscript, offering important corrections and supplying crucial details concerning people, places, and events in Wayne’s life. Between them they also commissioned the map (Phil Hart was most generous with his skills and time), constructed the family tree, and supplied the photographs and captions which help to bring this memoir so vividly to life. This book could not have been edited and published without their tremendous effort and unstinting dedication. I myself am deeply honored by their trust in me to edit their father’s work, and deeply moved by their own commitment to honoring him and his scholarly legacy in the publication of this book.

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