The Train of Brotherhood and Unity was founded in 1961 as a grassroots commemorative initiative by Slovenian and Serbian journalists. Eventually, it became a manifestation of socio-political cohesion among Yugoslav nations, and a ritualized instrument for economic networking between Serbian and Slovenian municipalities.
Twin Towns in Yugoslavia and Beyond
Twin towns as the form of trans-local cooperation across national borders emerged in interwar Europe as one of the by-products of the Locarno Treaties, aimed at re-consolidating international relations on the continent, most importantly through Franco-German reconciliation. These two countries launched a new wave of twin towns after the Second World War, serving to reintegrate Germany within the western political system and secure a peaceful future for the continent by practicing pacifism on a local scale. This trend quickly spread across the continent and on both sides of the Iron Curtain, although the twinning initiatives that transcended the ideological divide remained confined to a few attempts between West German and East German towns, as the way to bypass this nation’s ideologically articulated territorial division.1  However, with the demise of European socialism, the practice of twin towns was gradually placed in the service of the eastward expansion of the European Union, fostering the idea of “multi-level governance”. This approach moved away from the previously dominant abstract notions of pacifism and intercultural understanding.2
What was peculiar about the twinning of towns in socialist
srp. Југославија, hrv. Jugoslavija, deu. Jugoslawien, slv. Jugoslavija, sqi. Jugosllavia

Yugoslavia was a southeastern European state that existed, with interruptions and in slightly changing borders, from 1918 to 1992 and 2003, respectively. The capital and largest city of the country was Belgrade. Historically, a distinction is made in particular between the period of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1941 (also called 'First Yugoslavia') and communist Yugoslavia from 1945 (the so-called 'Second Yugoslavia') under the dictatorial ruling head of state Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980). The disintegration of Yugoslavia from 1991 and the independence aspirations of several parts of the country eventually led to the Yugoslav Wars (also called the Balkan Wars or post-Yugoslav Wars). Today, the successor states of Yugoslavia are Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

was that, although they did participate in international twinning projects, the emphasis was put on twinning within Yugoslavia itself, most importantly between towns in two different constituent republics. These initiatives were supposed to encourage a sense of belonging to the same community among members of different Yugoslav nationalities, figuring as a practical application of the official policy of “brotherhood and unity”.3  The focus on intra-Yugoslav twinning did not mean that Yugoslav towns were precluded from also forming relations with foreign partners, yet intra-state twinning was of greater significance in public discourse because of its embodiment of the political ideal of “brotherhood and unity” between the constituent republics’ titular nations.4
Commemorative Roots
Among the thousands of such intra-Yugoslav twinning initiatives—which could proceed organically from bilateral connections in economy or draw on historical connections—the twinning between municipalities in western
srp. Srbija, deu. Serbien, srp. Србија, srp. Republika Srbija

Serbia (Serbian: Србија) is a country in southeastern or central Europe. The country is inhabited by 6.9 million people. Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. Serbia belongs to the so-called landlocked countries and is geographically classified as part of the Balkan Peninsula. The majority of the population are Orthodox Serbs.

and southeastern
slv. Slovenija, deu. Slowenien

Slovenia is a state in southeastern Central Europe. The territory of the present state came into the possession of the Habsburgs as early as the Middle Ages and was part of Austria-Hungary until World War I, with a brief interruption in Napoleonic times. In 1918, today's Slovenia became part of the newly founded Kingdom of Yugoslavia and after 1945 was part of the now socialist Yugoslavia as the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. Slovenia has been an independent state since 1991 and part of the European Union since 2004.

was part of a much broader network of trans-local interactions that relied on commemorating one episode from the Second World War. The episode in question referred to the expulsion of ethnic Slovenes from the regions of
ita. Carniola, hun. Krajna, slv. Kranjska, slv. Dežela Kranjska, deu. Krain

Carniola is a historical landscape in southeastern Central Europe and today belongs to Slovenia. The region fell to the Habsburgs as early as the Middle Ages and became Austrian crown land in 1849. Only in the period of the Napoleonic Wars there was a short period of French rule, when Carniola became one of the so-called Illyrian provinces (1809-1813).

After 1918, Carniola and the wider area of the present-day Slovenian state became part of the newly established Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Historically, the sub-regions of Carniola were mainly Upper Carniola, Inner Carniola and Lower Carniola.

and Steiermark by the Nazis in the summer of 1941 with the aim of replacing them with German populations. From 80,000 exiled Slovenes, some 7,500 moved to western Serbia where local families volunteered to host and safeguard them until the end of the War.5  In 1961, local journalists from Svetozarevo (Serbia) and Maribor (Slovenia) decided to commemorate the 20th anniversary of these deportations by reuniting the former refugees and their hosts for several days in the same home settings. For this, they used the familiar cultural format of “caravans of brotherhood and unity“ between Yugoslav republics, and several thousand former refugees and their families travelled by a special train along the exile trail from Slovenia to Serbia, visiting the very same families that used to host them during the War. This event proved a huge success, becoming the regularly organized Train of Brotherhood and Unity (Serbian: Voz bratstva i jedinstva, Slovenian: Vlak bratstva in enotnosti) that would travel in a different direction between Serbia and Slovenia every two years. The spatial scope of the event grew as new municipalities from both republics joined the practice, and groups joining the journey included various political, cultural, and educational delegations, as well as representatives of the biggest local economic enterprises. The Train eventually became a biannual manifestation of socio-political cohesion between these two Yugoslav nations and their constituent republics, whereas its commemorative aspect gradually lost its primacy in favor of economic networking between the Serbian and Slovenian municipalities.
Twins Talking Business
The process of inter-municipal convergence entered a new phase in 1970, when the towns of Kraljevo (Serbia) and Maribor (Slovenia) signed the first Serbo-Slovenian twin town charter. This was quickly followed by other municipalities, so that by 1987, as many as 38 twin towns had been formed. The symbolical act of twinning became an intrinsic part of the Trains’ structure, so that the inclusion of new municipalities within this network meant that the new members would simultaneously have to search for a suitable twinning partner in the other republic. The criteria on which this search was based had to take into account common economic, social, demographic, and cultural traits from the respective communities. Moreover, apart from municipalities, twinning charters were signed between communes, sport clubs, schools, railway stations, alpinist associations, and numerous other smaller entities, transposing this trans-local diplomacy to the micro-level and presenting the established inter-municipal contacts as a version of the pan-Yugoslav brotherhood between republics and their titular nations.
Particularly useful for economic cooperation between the twinned municipalities were the twinning arrangements made between companies operating in the same field of production because they could endow their mutual cooperation with the symbolical aura of “brotherly” relations between their broader communities rather than justifying them based on purely economic motives. Consequently, “pairs” of local factories in twinned municipalities which operated in related fields signed their own twinning agreements. These cooperation projects ranged from production specialization, integrating production facilities, division of production, and procuring raw materials, to supporting auxiliary production. Even though the trans-republic cooperation between economic actors was not a novelty in Yugoslavia, the networking between entities from the municipalities that were part of the Train’s network were special because the actors involved used the rhetoric of historical connections, brotherly gratitude and solidarity, rather than that of profit motivated by economic logic.
Another important byproduct of The Train concerned the unemployment statistics in the various communities involved. For example, the coordination between employment bureaus in twinned municipalities, many young people from Serbia could now find job in the more developed Slovenian job market. However, this intra-Yugoslav “brain drain” of experts and trained workers—that arguably benefited the Slovenian economy at the expense of Serbian labour market—was balanced by outsourcing production in the other direction, from Slovenia to Serbia. This was done through greenfield projects, such as the erection of the factory Bratstvo in village Ušće in Serbia, financed completely by Slovenian capital. While creating tangible and long-term changes to the economic functioning of participating towns, the economic cooperation eventually overshadowed the original commemorative purpose of the practice itself. What once began as a “moving” commemoration eventually became a relatively continuous network of infrastructural and developmental projects encompassing almost all branches of production and service sectors. By the 1980s, the symbolical links between Serbian and Slovenian people were no longer merely symbolic but embodied in concrete economic projects and bilateral contracts that significantly shaped the economic policies and spatial settings of numerous towns and villages in both republics.
“The Train that shall never stop”... stopped
The supposedly harmonious combination of war memorial, institutional exchange, economic cooperation and personal bonding turned out not to be as frictionless as it appeared and was called into question when a political and constitutional crisis at the federal level began to affect local organizers. The economic recession and debt crisis that hit Yugoslavia at the beginning of the 1980s strained investment opportunities throughout the country, including the bilateral projects between Serbo-Slovenian twinned municipalities. The decentralized federation was unable to achieve a coherent economic recovery policy, agreed upon by all constituents, which resulted in a steadily increasing gap in living standard between the two republics. Consequently, local development policies started to prioritize the “domestic” economy, framing economic relations between Slovenia and Serbia within mutual accusations of exploitation. Despite having been founded on the principle of solidarity, The Train eventually came to serve the divergent priorities and interests of the respective republics, thus undermining the principle of trans-regional solidarity based on historical precedents.
On the broader level, two mutually opposed visions of Yugoslavia’s future crystallized by the late 1980s. While Serbian leadership spearheaded the movement for re-centralization and the maintenance of political monopoly under the communists, Slovenian political elites argued for further weakening of the federal power and for political pluralization. Simultaneously, perceived cultural differences between Slovenes and Serbs, once positively interpreted in terms of multi-culturalism, suddenly came to be seen as an obstacle to inter-ethnic communication. The rift between Serbian and Slovenian republican elites and the subsequent constitutional deadlock were reflected in relations between lower-level actors such as the municipalities, communes, and families. As a consequence, reactions at the local level were often less conciliatory than those at the republican level because local actors were under pressure to comply with the regime established at the republic level. This complex situation raised questions over the future of The Train in the late 1980s, perhaps best summarised in a statement by Jože Smole, the head of Slovenian delegation for the Train in 1989: “Train of brotherhood? Yes. Train of unity? No. We are too different to be united”.6
While, initially, these challenges were mitigated relatively successfully—by relying on the emotional power of face-to-face interactions—the ultimate breakdown of the practice followed the outbreak of military conflict between the Yugoslav army and Slovenian police forces in 1991 (the so-called “Ten-Day War”). The decentralized web of the inter-republican networking in economy, culture, and education was finally subordinated to political power games between the republics and the subsequent military escalation. In this unfortunate historical context, the republics ultimately voided the intra-state diplomacy that had been maintained by local activists for decades. As a consequence, the regions that thousands of families had formerly perceived as their “second home” became a foreign land beyond new state borders and under the burdensome historical legacy and political divisiveness the followed from the dissolution of Yugoslavia.