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Like the old Yugoslavia it recreates, theme park could go under

Nostalgic theme park could close after bad loan

Blasko Gabric, owner of Yugoland theme park in Serbia, admired a bust of former Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito.

Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

Blasko Gabric, owner of Yugoland theme park in Serbia, admired a bust of former Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito.

SUBOTICA, Serbia — Blasko Gabric and his friends found it hard to cope with the collapse of Yugoslavia, so they made a miniature one of their own.

Now, they could lose this one too.

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The Yugoland theme park, for years a gathering spot for the admirers of the former communist state, faces closure because Gabric put up part of the property as collateral in a bank loan that went bad.

‘‘I will try to save Yugoslavia,’’ said Gabric, a 70-year-old retired Serbian printer. ‘‘It would be truly sad if this Yugoslavia disappeared as well.’’

Gabric’s mini-Yugoslavia is squeezed on 3.5 acres of land featuring a fake mountain, a ditch meant to represent the Adriatic sea, Yugoslav flags, and communist red stars. It all symbolizes the despair of a people whose country dissolved in brutal wars of the 1990s, leaving thousands dead and millions homeless.

Facing a new reality of shrunken lands and free market chaos, many former Yugoslavs have started to look back at the former communist dictatorship as a dreamland that offered equality and job security.

The trend became known as ‘‘Yugo-nostalgia.”And Gabric is a main proponent.

‘‘No Bible can describe a more beautiful heaven than the one we had in our Yugoslavia,’’ he exclaims. ‘‘We had the most wonderful country in the world.’’

During the Communist years, Gabric spent many years in Canada, where he owned a printing press. He returned in 1983 and set up a business in Subotica, a town near Hungarian border.

Then, in the early 1990s, Gabric saw Yugoslavia torn to pieces by nationalists: First Slovenia, then Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia left the federation in a series of bloody conflicts.

What finally spurred Gabric to action was the decision in 2003 by Serbia and Montenegro — the two republics that had remained together — to abolish the name of Yugoslavia altogether.

Gabric registered a ‘‘mini-Yugoslavia’’ on his land in February 2003. He and his friends put up border stones and a bronze bust of the late Communist dictator Josip Broz Tito. They recreated Triglav, Yugoslavia’s highest mountain, by piling up several tons of soil they dug out to create a miniature Adriatic Sea. They even started issuing virtual mini-Yugoslavia passports.

‘‘We wanted to preserve a piece of our lives here,’’ he said.

Mini-Yugoslavia today has 8,000 ‘‘citizens.’’ A sign at the park gate reads: ‘‘Yugoslavia will live as long as we live.’’

Over the years, thousands have visited the park, mostly to mark Tito’s birthday May 25, or other former Yugoslav holidays.

Gabric hopes to organize a charity concert to gather funds to pay off the bank.

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