Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

It Could Never Happen Here: The Breakup of Yugoslavia

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Sally Fleschner


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

10-Week Course

Feb. 26 - May 6. No Class April 22.


How could a country that had achieved a highly functioning, prosperous society based on socialist principles, fall apart and plunge into war culminating in genocide in less than ten years? This course follows the formation of Yugoslavia, its socialist experiment, its break up and eruption into war, the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II, pitting neighbor against neighbor. In 1985 the Bosnian people had the good life: health care, pensions, the right to education, the right to a job. If you had a job, you had the right to an apartment, you could travel throughout Europe, nobody was rich (except maybe the politicians) and nobody was poor. We will examine the region, the republics and their different ethnic groups, the politics, the rise of nationalism and the independence movements that ultimately resulted in seven separate countries. We will ask ourselves, are dictatorships always bad? How did Tito fail? The class will examine how the events in Yugoslavia are relevant today. Do we still think, “It could never happen here?” The format consists of class discussion, led by the SGL and guided by a BBC video. The last five sessions will include live Zoom interviews with three survivors in Bosnia: a war hero, the AP correspondent covering the war, a former international judge hearing war crimes' cases, and an international human rights expert. A fourth survivor, the author of a book relating her family’s experiences, and now a member of the diaspora here in the Boston area, will answer questions about her book and her experiences. 

Group Leadership Style

More facilitated discussion than lecture.

Course Materials

The River Runs Salt, Runs Sweet by Jasmina Cesic. Blue Helmets Black Markets by Peter Andrea. Handouts, maps, and BBC Documentary, Yugoslavia, Death of a Nation. Skype/Zoom interviews with Bosnian experts.   

Preparation Time

60-70 pages per week.


Sally Fleschner has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from Northeastern University Law School. She practiced law for 25 years before heading overseas for 15 years to work in post-conflict countries, including seven years in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During this time she worked on various rule-of-law projects, reforming courts, drafting laws and providing support to justice institutions, including giving numerous trainings on the development of legislative policy and drafting legislation.