Nations above all: The Yugoslav tragedy

By Håkan Wiberg

Written 1995 or 1996

There are two crucial questions about transformation in post-communist states:

1) What is being transformed?
2) What conflicts with what main parties do the transformations entail?

The first question may be specified to different subsystems of society.  The second key issue is whether the main perceived cleavages will be by classes, ideologies, regions, ethno-national groups or various combinations.

Political keywords on transformation have been “democracy”, “free market” and “privatization”: the agenda set by Western institutions (EU, IMF/WB, NATO, etc.) and embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm or recalcitrance by governments and populations in post-communist states. Some transformation were attractive without external prompting: most people wanted “democracy”, with the exception of parts of the Nomenklatura and some groups wanting a “strong man”. In formal terms, say multiparty elections by secret ballot, democracy was introduced in virtually all post-communist states; but there are great variations in what people understand by “democracy” (Uzunova & Vydrin 1995) and in the political systems actually created.

“Free market” and “privatization” have remained controversial, especially in terms of how much, how soon, on what conditions and with what protection for the victims of the process. “Democracy” has generally been seen as desirable in itself, negating the old communist system and expressing a growing demand for self-rule and a new state identity. It has also to varying degrees been seen as instrumental; motives have been domestic, e.g. the belief that democracy is a quick road to affluence, or concerned relations to the West, democracy being a condition for different forms of support and even more for what most governments have high on their agenda: as close relations as soon as possible to Western organisations. [Read more…]