Yugoslavia was a federated country that tried very hard to be a thing in the 20th century. Starting as a kingdom in 1929, which fell apart during WWII. Following the war, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija) took its place.
Translating to “Land of the South Slavs”, Yugoslavia consisted of several territories which are now countries in their own right. Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tensions had always been high in Yugoslavia. So high in fact, that all it took to finally tear the Socialist Republic apart was a bottle and a farmer's anus. This is the story of the Đorđe Martinović incident.
Tension in Kosovo
Serbia contains two autonomous regions, Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohija. The rest of Serbia is controlled by the central government. Both of the autonomous regions have been that way since before the collapse of Yugoslavia.
In broad strokes, as a generational tension like this is beyond the scope of this article, the problem was that Kosovo is sacred to the Serbs. This region is controlled by the Albanians, who hold the majority. Kosovo being the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
This region is also where the Turks first defeated the Serbs in 1389, and where the Serbs threw off the yolk of Turkish rule in 1912. During the Turkish occupation, the Kosovo Albanians adopted Islam as their faith.
By 1985, bad things were on the horizon for Kosovo, Serbia, and Yugoslavia as a whole.
The Đorđe Martinović Affair
1 May 1985, Đorđe Martinović arrives at a hospital in Gnjilane, Kosovo. Martinović was a 56-year-old farmer, although his injuries that day weren't farming related. The man was bleeding profusely from what appeared to be a broken glass bottle that had been shoved up his rectum.
Đorđe Martinović told doctors that he had been attacked by 2 Albanian men. He claimed that they had attached the bottle to the end of a wooden pole. The assailants proceeded to rape Martinović with the stick until the bottle shattered deep inside the farmer.
Doctors treated Martinović for his injuries, but were quick to summon an investigator from the Yugoslav People's Army. The investigator interrogated Đorđe Martinović, and extracted a different story from the farmer.
According to the confession recorded by the investigator, Đorđe Martinović's injuries were self-inflicted. He had been using the bottle as a masturbation-aid, when it broke.
Community leaders were quick to hold up the confession as proof that Đorđe Martinović was responsible for his own injuries. Case closed. Nothing to see here, no sir.
Martinović was transferred to the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade. His injuries being too severe for local doctors to deal with. There, a team of 6 doctors from all over Yugoslavia examined him.
Their conclusion was that the injuries could not have been self-inflicted. Concluding that the injuries were caused by:
“a strong, brutal and sudden insertion or jamming of a 500 ml. bottle, or rather, its wider end, into the rectum”
The medical team at the Military medical Academy went so far as to claim that this act would have been physically impossible for Đorđe Martinović to inflict upon himself, and that it:
“could only have been carried out by at least two or more individuals”
Serbian media latched onto the case. Their coverage took a decidedly nationalist turn, and the fires that would end Yugoslavia were stirred. Đorđe Martinović became something akin to a martyr, despite still being alive.
Dr. Janez Milčinski, a Slovenian Professor, led a commission to get to the bottom of the Đorđe Martinović affair. Their findings contradicted the medical team. Declaring that the injuries had been self-inflicted after all.
An incident like this is fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Both Serbs and Kosovo Albanians had their own versions of the story flying around. This naturally broadened the chasmic divide between the two groups.
On the Serb side, it was claimed that the attack had been perpetrated by an Albanian family that wanted to buy Đorđe Martinović's land. He refused, and they resorted to violence.
The Kosovo Albanians believed that Đorđe Martinović was nothing more than an embarrassed pleasure seeker. Claiming to have a secret recording of his confession.
Soon enough the alleged attack was being likened to the persecution of the Serbs by the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish rulers of Serbia had been quite fond of impalement as a form of torture and execution. Comparisons to Đorđe Martinović's case draw themselves.
Soon people were marching on the Serbian parliament, demanding that Kosovo be brought to heel. Regional autonomy was actively detrimental to the Kosovo Serbs, they claimed.
Nationalism ran rampant. In 1990, Kosovo's autonomy was revoked. Soon afterward, an unconstitutional parliament of Kosovo Albanians declared their region's independence.
Ethnic hate crimes became common in Kosovo. Albanian nationalists lashed out at the Kosovo Serbs. Things were rapidly getting out of hand, and the government of Yugoslavia was insufficient to control the situation.
Member states began seceding from Yugoslavia. By 1992, only Serbia and Montenegro remained. They formed their own federation, while both countries operated under separate constitutions.
Kosovo Albanians established their own army, called the Kosovo Liberation Army. The KLA began attacking Serbian police forces, as well as Serbian politicians. Yugoslavia responded.
War had come to Kosovo. The KLA and Yugoslav forces killed indiscriminately, leading to a refugee crisis. Global powerhouses like the USA, UK, Russia, France, Italy, and Germany demanded a ceasefire.
Yugoslavia's president agreed to the ceasefire, but failed to implement it. During the lull in conflict, the KLA rearmed themselves. Soon they were raring for a fight, and resumed their attacks on the Yugoslav forces.
The counteroffensive by the Yugoslav military turned into a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Systematically, all the Kosovo Albanians were driven from Kosovo. The UN, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the only thing that could end the conflict, was an intense bombing campaign.
UN bombing continued for 11 weeks. Eventually leading to the bombing of Belgrade's civilian population. Finally, Yugoslavia conceded defeat. Peace was achieved, and all Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo. The region was placed under UN control.
Kosovo's independence remains a disputed topic.