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.

The relative role of instrumental motives, especially externally derived motives, has been higher for “free market” and even higher for “privatization”. They have proved controversial in the political systems: between presidents or governments and parliaments, in election campaigns and opinion polls. Parties and leaders have taken various positions: enthusiasm coupled with satisfaction about the external pressure; seeing privatization as a costly acquiescence to Western demands, justified by Western punishment for resistance being still more costly; or as something to resist or minimize.

Using a sociological perspective rather than political journalist language in analyzing transformation, we must look at the subsystems in societies. By the theoretical taxonomy of Talcott Parsons, four essential subsystems are defined by their functions:  1) the economic system, with production as the defining function;  2) the political system, providing aggregation and achievement of collective goals;  3) the social system, for integration, with two essential functions: defining who belongs inside and outside the society and providing norms making all subsystems mutually compatible;  4) the cultural system, whose function is carrying essential patterns of basic values and definitions of reality.

It is an empirical question what concrete social institutions contribute to what function in a specific society. Several institutions may contribute to the same function; an institution may have two or more functions. How much these subsystems have changed varies, the starting points of post-communist societies having varied greatly. Some had much command economy; others large private sectors in agriculture and small enterprise. Some were pure one-party systems with new parties built from scratch; others had more parties with some officially recognized existence, which transformation could change from largely symbolic to highly real.

In some societies the Nomenklatura monopolized the definition of social stratification; in others, traditional bases of prestige were still important. In some societies, official Marxism-Leninism had penetrated social consciousness deeply, both in terms of values and definitions of reality; in others, its undoing was assisted by people sharing much of its values but refusing to believe that the communist regimes fulfilled them (Koralewicz et al. 1987); in some societies it had serious competitors in the Catholic church, a strong national identity, a West-inspired liberalism or a tendency to total skepticism.

Yugoslav specificities

Yugoslavia was a very particular post-communist case in several respects (“Yugoslavia” will refer to the old state or its geographical area, “FRY” to the present federal republic). Its economic system started by copying the Soviet Union, but the break with it in 1948/49 allowed large non-governmental sectors: predominantly private owned agriculture, plus a big sector of self-managed enterprises. There was an economic growth of Japanese proportions until the mid-1960s. The later economic reforms in 1965 abolished most of the central planning, consisting of much free market and little privatization. By 1990, Yugoslavia suffered from unemployment at a West European level, initiated by the 1965 reforms; a foreign debt of some US $ 20-25 billion and a permanently high inflation, averaging some 30 percent per year in 1965-1990.

Yugoslav transformation being the oldest, the controversial question whether its economic miseries (and those of its successor states) are due to too much or too little transformation. Decision makers knew that the 1965 reforms would create some short-term unemployment and counteracted it by permitting labour migration, with a beneficial effect on the balance of payments; they did not foresee that the unemployment would settle permanently at a high level. The abolition of central planning and decentralization of economic decision-making eventually made Yugoslavia helpless to deal with the increasing economic crisis. Remittances from migrant labour in Western Europe first served as a buffer; it dwindled after the “oil crisis” in 1973, as many workers returned home and many others settled permanently abroad.

The next short-term remedy was made possible by the lending spree in petrodollars in the second half of the 1970s. It created the bulk of Yugoslav foreign debt and made long term problems worse, being primarily used for consumption based on salary increases with little basis in increased productivity. The debt trap sprung when real interest and dollar rates skyrocketed after 1980, making Yugoslavia face tough IMF conditions, so that the political leadership must choose between accelerating inflation and painful cuts in real incomes. The high decentralisation and the divergent economic republic interests made the choice impossible and Yugoslavia got very much of both.

One political effect was that Slovenia eventually decided that the thorough economic reform it needed could only be achieved by de-linking from the Yugoslav economy, as de facto independent (with its own currency, etc.) in a confederation after radical constitutional change, or – failing that – by disregarding the constitution and proclaiming itself independent. This made war virtually inescapable: with Slovenia’s departure the whole system of balances broke down.

The political system of Yugoslavia had become far more decentralized than in any other communist system by decades of political and constitutional compromises. In the theoretical one-party state, there were in reality the eight parties of the republics and two autonomous provinces. Initially, this mattered little: the strong element of “democratic centralism” entailed purges of deviant party members, like those encouraging the 1971 upsurge of Croatian nationalism. The economic decentralization in 1965 and the increased political one in 1974 made these eight parties develop into “ethnocracies” engaging in local protectionism and forming shifting alliances à la the nineteenth century system of major European powers (Ramet 1992). The political decentralization in 1974 also made the federal government increasingly helpless in curing the deteriorating economic problems.

The social system was too weak to manage integration in the face of contradictions between different functional spheres of society and between different regions. The anti-nationalist Tito regime first counteracted national cleavages by encouraging people to identify themselves as “Yugoslavs”, rather than Serbs, Croats, etc. Those attempts towards a Yugoslav identity changed character after 1964, now limited to making it superordinate to ethno-national ones, not a substitute for them. The self-declared Yugoslavs, most of whom were from ethnically mixed families rather than “ideological” Yugoslavs, decreased from over ten percent to six percent in the 1981 census and three percent in the 1991 census. Many more combined identifying themselves ethno-nationally with a political identification as Yugoslav citizens, even taking some pride in self-management and non-alignment as particular Yugoslav features. This combination, however, was very vulnerable to possible perceptions of contradiction between its elements.

As for the cultural system, no European state, except the USSR, contained such a cultural variety; there were many competitors to Titoist Marxism-Leninism. Religion seemed to be relatively neutralized: all religions were tolerated, having agreed to stay out of politics; and the great majority of nominal Catholics, Orthodox and Moslems were secularized by the mid-1980s. Yet, as later developments showed, religions remained latent elements of ethno-national identification, resurging when the possibility arose. The position of the regime to national identification was also ambiguous. The expression of national cultures was encouraged and supported. To the three traditional “constituent nations” – Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – Macedonians and Montenegrins were added after 1945 and Moslems around 1970. The official languages of Yugoslavia were for a long time Slovenian, Macedonian and Serbo-Croat, after 1953 in two versions (Croatian was recognized as a separate language in 1974); Hungarian was also official in Vojvodina and Albanian in Kosovo, and schools were run in Italian, Romanian, Rusinian, Romani, Bulgarian and Turkish.

On the other hand, anything resembling political nationalism, or even implying contradictions between nations, was heavily suppressed, from individual jail sentences to the crushing of the Albanian revolt in Kosovo in 1968 and the Croatian revolt in 1971. Nevertheless, the regime made concessions to both in the 1974 constitutional reforms, which eventually led to Serb allegations that they had been sold out and then increasing Serb nationalism, in particular after next Albanian revolt in 1981.

Yugoslav Marxism-Leninism was also in a weaker position than most other communist regimes to successfully claim a monopoly on defining values and images of reality. After 1965, people could travel freely, i.a. to take jobs in Western Europe. By the late 1980s, millions of Yugoslavs had had long experiences of the West or close relations to relatives living there. Many were fluent in some Western language and had participated in civil society there: associations, trade unions, political parties.

Competing social cleavages

Let us now look at the relative importance of different social cleavages: classes, ideologies, regions, ethno-national groups and combinations. To see the specificity of Yugoslavia, we should first survey other post-communist states.

In several countries, ideological and class terms soon came to dominate, even if their political rhetoric had abandoned the Marxist language. The first elections brought center-right wing governments. Their economic programmes had painful short-term effects for large segments of the population, so the following elections produced center-left wing government, according to the well-known Western pattern: governments make more enemies than friends by governing.

Ethno-national movements have acquired a social basis in some states, but have rarely become separatist, Slovakia being the only clear case outside the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In most post-communist cases such movements have rather tended to look across the boundaries of their state: at co-nationals in other states, with irredentism as the strongest version, or by seeing neighbouring states as big and threatening, traditional threats, or both, in each case calling for internal national unity. Cleavages of a more regional character have sometimes played a role of their own, sometimes interacted or merged with ethno-nationally defined ones.

Each country has its specificities; sweeping generalizations should be avoided. Yet, we may find one crude basis for prediction (or postdiction) as to what cleavages would be strongest where by looking at the ethno-national composition of the post-communist states in CSCE Europe and their successor states.

We rank them from highest to lowest degree of ethno-national heterogeneity; the brackets give percentages of the second largest group(s). “DD” means that a state is dissolved, “D” that it is divided, “I” that at least one national group in it has called for some kind of sovereignty, and “W” a war with at least several hundred people killed inside the state since 1990 or after its later independence (some “I” may be missing for lack of information).

The simplest hypothesis on the relationship between heterogeneity and the balance of different cleavages is the following: “The more ethno-nationally heterogeneous a state is, the higher is the likelihood that ethno-national cleavages, possibly also identified as regional cleavages, will predominate over class and class-related ideological cleavages.” This hypothesis is also strongly supported by an inspection of the table below: its upper half contains far more dissolved states, internal political tensions and wars than the lower half.

Yugoslavia (I,DD,W):  36 (Serbs, 20 Croats)
Bosnia-Hercegovina (I,D,W):  40 (Moslems, 32 Serbs)
Kazakhstan: 41 (Russians, 36 Kazakhs)
Kyrgyzistan: 49 (Kirgisians, 26 Russians)
USSR (DD): 52 (Russians, 16 Ukrainians)
Latvia: 54 (Letts, 33 Russians)
Tadzhikistan (W): 59 (Tadzhiks, 23 Uzbeks)
Moldova (I,D,W): 64 (Moldovians, 14 Ukr., 12 Russians)
Czechoslovakia (I,DD): 64 (Czechs, 32 Slovaks)
Estonia: 65 (Estonians, 28 Russians)
Macedonia (I): 67 (Macedonians, 22 Albanians)
FRY (I): 67 (Serbs/Montenegrins, 16 Albanians)
Turkmenistan: 68 (Turcomans, 13 Russians)
Uzbekistan: 69 (Uzbeks, 11 Russians)
Georgia (I,D,W): 69 (Georgians, 9 Armenians)
Ukraine (I): 74 (Ukrainians, 21 Russians)
Croatia (I,D,W): 75 (Croats, 12 Serbs)
Azerbaijan (I,D,W): 79 (Azeri, 8 Russians, 8 Armenians)
Belarus: 79 (Byelorussians, 12 Russians)
Lithuania: 80 (Lithuanians, 9 Russians, 8 Poles)
Russia (I, W): 83 (Russians, 4 Ukrainians)
Bulgaria: 80-85 (Bulgarians, 13 Turks)
Slovakia: 80-85 (Slovaks, some 10 Hungarians)
Romania: 85-90 (Romanians, 8-10 Hungarians)
Armenia: 90 (Armenians, then Azeri)
Slovenia: 91 (Slovenes, several small groups)
Albania: above 90 (Albanians, then Greeks)
Czech Republic: above 90 (Czechs, then Slovaks)
Poland:  cirka 95 (Poles, then Germans)
Hungary: 97 (Hungarians)

Conflict prognoses in Former Yugoslavia

By the table above, Yugoslavia would be expected to run the highest risk of ethno-national cleavages dominating over others, side by side with Bosnia-Hercegovina; problems should also be anticipated in Macedonia, FRY and Croatia; Slovenia stands alone in having a low-risk figure.

And ethno-national mobilisation has indeed left little room for class mobilisation in most of these states; in Slovenia only have we seen the more class-related changes in government composition and the relative failure of ethno-national mobilisation that have been characteristic for several other post-communist countries in Europe.

This element of prognosis only tells that the likelihood that mobilisation would be predominantly ethno-national was high in most parts of Yugoslavia. High mobilisation, whether of ethno-national or other kinds, does not automatically mean armed conflict; there are often other ways of acting out conflicts and arriving at temporary or long term decisions.

In addition, however, Yugoslavia had a gloomy prognosis on the basis of several other dimensions that tend to be related to conflict (and most of them to conflict seen as ethno-national).

First, no other state had been through as long and deep an economic crisis by 1990; the average Yugoslav lost about half his real income in the 1980s. Second, it was difficult to find any other European state, except perhaps the USSR, with as deep historical traumas between ethno-national groups, further nourished during World War II (Croatian genocide against Serbs and many other atrocities between groups) and even after it (Serbian repression of Albanians). Third, Yugoslavia’s history of disagreements over the constitution since (actually even before) its creation in 1918 is hardly rivalled by any other state; from the very beginning, the Serbs wanted a “French” state, the Croats and Slovenes a “Swiss”, and these conflicts had repeatedly brought the state to, or even over, the brink of collapse.

Fourth, very few of the other states has regional differences in economic development and GNP per capita that could be compared with those in Yugoslavia, where the gap in GNP per capita between the extremes, Slovenia and Kosovo, had grown from three times in the late 1940s to eight times by the late 1980s. In addition, there was a strong, though far from perfect, relation between region and ethno-national composition. Fifth, there was the opposite of economic integration, the republics trading relatively less with each other while becoming more dependent on northern Italy and southern Germany. Sixth, very few other states had been as dependent for internal cohesion on the Cold War or were, for this reason, as negatively affected by its end.

Given all this, it would have been a miracle if Yugoslavia had no broken up – and not done so very violently.

No miracle occurred. Different nationalisms spiraled each other, political leaders in several parts eager to use and manipulate the breeding ground that had been provided by the factors above, blaming it all on crooks on the other side; in particular, the propaganda barrage in 1990-91 between Serbian and Croatian mass media contributed heavily to the actual explosion (Malešic 1993; Thompson 1994). The blame game then quickly spread to the surrounding world, fairly closely related to religious boundaries: whom people see as the main crooks and victims depends heavily on whether they live in a Catholic, Orthodox or Islamic country.

From Christian or Islamic (but not, e.g., Buddhist) perspectives, it is also important to pinpoint guilt at individual or collective actors in order to pass moral or legal judgment. There is a plethora of conspiracy theories about various actors, and it is likely that some of them are true; but it will take many years’ patient work by historians to tell with some certainty which of them. Since our focus is on analysis, not on blame, we shall rather concentrate on the complexity and multi-causality of the conflicts. Let us begin with actors and issues.

For a long time, there had been ten significant actors: the leaderships of the six republics and the two autonomous provinces, plus the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) and the Federal Council (with one representative for each of the eight territorial units, and the YPA (JNA) de facto secured veto power in issues concerning national security). The reduction of autonomy in 1987-89 meant that the actors were reduced to eight, with Serbia having three votes in the Federal Council. On the other hand, new de facto actors emerged in 1989-91: the Serb leadership in Krajina, the Serb, Croat and Moslem leaderships in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Albanian leadership in Kosovo; more marginal cases were the Albanian leadership in Macedonia and the Moslem leadership in the Sandjak Novipazar, straddling Serbia and Montenegro.

There was also a long list of major issues. A long-standing one was what to do about the economic crisis. The last attempt was the Ante Markovic austerity plan in 1989-90, but that eventually broke down when it turned out that Serbia (and others) had created more money than agreed, to pay its pensioners, etc.

Another issue came to the fore in 1990: Croatian and Slovene demands for heavy reductions in the federal budget. Since main parts of that budget went to finance the YPA and the poorer republics, none of the other actors were in much sympathy, and the demand in fact led to the YPA leadership, with its strong “Yugoslavist” orientation, getting closer to Miloševic, previously regarded by many of them as a dangerous (Serb) nationalist, but who could now present himself as a protagonist of the integrity of Yugoslavia.

That issue spawned off an even larger one: the constitution. The Slovene leadership, backed up by the Croatian, called for very far-going changes, making Slovenia and Croatia de facto independent states in a very loose confederation with the others. Slovenia also threatened in 1990 to unilaterally declare itself independent in 1991 if it did not get its way. Serbia and Montenegro would not agree to any radical changes in that direction; the leaderships of Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina tried to find some compromise formula, but neither side in this conflict would accept it.

Slovenia declared itself independent, having made sure that it was followed by Croatia, on 25/26 June 1991. This automatically made the main conflict a territorial one between Serbs and Croats, especially in Krajina, and the apparent Croat-Slovene alliance immediately disappeared when Ljubljana and Belgrade could agree, after a few days of mock war, on a common interest in Slovenia not becoming a forced ally of Croatia.

The price for this was de facto acceptance of Slovenia’s independence and withdrawal of YPA from Slovenia. This was obviously worthwhile for Belgrade, but it created new situations and great dilemmas for several other actors, since a division of Yugoslavia would carry a very high risk for a division of most of its parts. The potential “second generation” secessionists were primarily Serbs in Croatia, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Albanians in FRY, with Albanians in Macedonia and Moslems and Hungarians in FRY itself as further candidates. In each case, territorial conflicts would exacerbate the constitutional ones.

The Slovenian solution cemented the Zagreb dilemma of trying to get the Croatian fist out of the Yugoslav bottle without first dropping the Krajina nut in the fist – and it is still not solved.

It thereby also undermined the possibility of finding a compromise in Bosnia-Hercegovina, even if the three leaderships there continued to negotiate about that for several months after the outbreak of the Serb-Croat war in July 1991. The problem was great, the preferences of the leaderships being so difficult to reconcile. The Serb leadership preferred B-H to remain in Yugoslavia, with an independent Serb republic as fallback position; the Croat leadership a confederation with Croatia, with an independent Croat republic as second best; and the changing circumstances eventually made the Moslem leadership switch from remaining in Yugoslavia to getting an unitary independent B-H state, much preferred to the alternative: three independent republics. The first preference of each was strongly unacceptable to the two others.

The Western invitation to declarations of independence cemented the Moslem dilemma: getting a war with the Serbs by leaving Yugoslavia, or a war with the Croats by remaining in it. The choice was eventually an alliance with the Croats against the Serbs, based on common interests in getting out of Yugoslavia and getting the YPA, or at least the minority in it that was from Serbia and Montenegro, out of B-H. These things were taken care of by the Western recognition on 6 April 1992, the Moslem-Croat alliance quickly fell apart, succeeded for a long while by a de facto Serb-Croat alliance against the Moslems. The recognition had given them common defensive interests against the unitary state claimed by the Moslems, as well as common offensive interests in dividing B-H between them, if possible. The fragile ceasefire between Croats and Moslems in spring 1994, dressed up as a federation, has permitted the Moslems to concentrate on the war with the Serbs, and the Croats to decide for themselves when it is, or is not, to their advantage to cooperate with the Moslems. No solution to this extremely difficult conflict is in sight within a foreseeable future, the stakes having risen by the atrocities of war: even if, by outsiders’ counts, Serbs have been the main perpetrators and Moslems the main victims, each group can point at villages killed off and burnt by each of the two other groups, and we can be sure that memory is highly selective in each group.

All this said, the worst may still come. While the Serb-Croat-Slovene and Serb-Croat-Moslem triangles have exploded, the Serb-Albanian-Macedonian triangle has not. If relations between Macedonians and Albanians break down completely in Macedonia, or if the spiral between repression and separatism in Kosovo spawns a war, there is a high risk that the southern triangle becomes as much worse in comparison with Bosnia as Bosnia has been in comparison with Croatia; the military balance of power is more uneven, and there is, by contrast to the two others, a high risk that several neighbouring states are drawn into the war, at least Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The other side of this coin is that awareness of these risks may make all parties back down from risking a war, just as the three leaderships in B-H tried for many months to find a compromise.

Transformation: conditions and directions

Transformation in the parts of Yugoslavia has thus been very heavily affected by the perceptual primacy of ethno-national and regional cleavages over other dimensions. How popular sentiments and populist leaderships have interacted to bring about this primacy cannot be analyzed here. It may matter for the issue of whom to blame for what, but matters little for prognoses, given the classical Thomas’s Theorem: “What people define as real, becomes real in its consequences”. And the horrors of these consequences will have made ethno-national cleavages even more predominant, no matter how “false” these perceptions may be from a social scientist’s points of view.

Let us now look at the transformations that have taken part under these adverse conditions.

First, the economic system. The successors of Yugoslavia have had, or still have, war economies; in Slovenia, this phase is largely over, and in Macedonia it is less prevalent than in Croatia, FRY and B-H. In addition, the UN economic sanctions have had catastrophic effects in concentric circles. Worst hit is of course FRY itself, with GNP per capita at a quarter of that before the war and something like half of the labour force unemployed; the relative causal weight of sanctions, military efforts and economic mismanagement is a matter of dispute. The UN sanctions, with a Greek boycott added since early 1994, have also had very grave effects on Macedonia, where about one-third of the labour force is unemployed. Among the other main losers are the other parts of Yugoslavia, plus Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Albania, and to a lesser extent Hungary, Ukraine and a few others.

The total effect consists in decreases everywhere in GNP per capita since 1990, ranging between relatively modest ones (10-20 per cent) in Slovenia and pressing the population down to one quarter of the prewar level in FRY. Unemployment has risen everywhere, modestly so in Slovenia and to between one third and one half of the labour force in FRY and Macedonia (and even far worse in Kosovo). Inflation was a long-standing problem in Yugoslavia, where the last monetary reform cut four zeros out of the banknotes in 1990. After the division, it has been limited to a two-digit, and since mid-1992 one-digit, monthly inflation in Slovenia, whereas a number of zeros have been cut away from the currencies in other parts: two in Macedonia, three in Croatia, and in FRY first six in 1992, then seven in 1994: a hyperinflation with which only the Hungarian one in 1945-46 can compete in the history of money. Bosnia-Hercegovina has a currency in theory only: the Croatian kuna or the FRY dinar are used in the greatest parts of its territory, the Deutsche Mark everywhere.

The development of new economic institutions in different parts of Yugoslavia has thus taken place under very particular conditions, and governments everywhere have had a stronger interest than normally of keeping as much control as possible. “Privatization” has indeed been on the agenda, and laws on it have been passed in Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia, and private enterprise has been encouraged in FRY. Still, the percentage of GNP deriving from private enterprise (30 to 40) lies at Bulgarian and Romanian level, much below that of other European post-communist states; if employee-owned enterprises had been included, the difference would have been less. In several parts, much of the proclaimed privatization has de facto meant transfer of ownership from government or the employees to supporters of the government parties, accompanied by large scale corruption.

Second, the political system. After decades of political monopoly, there were multi-party and relatively fair elections in all republics from April through December. While the rumours about widespread direct cheating have not been confirmed by reports from external observers, there were other ways in which the elections may be seen as rigged, especially in FRY and Croatia, where the opposition had scant possibilities of getting heard in the largely government controlled mass media and the election laws provided for a very great over-representation of the biggest party.

Ethno-nationalism of any kind had been kept down by strong repression until the late 1980s; once that lid was lifted, ethno-national mobilisation became predominant and the party system became as ethnified as it had been in the elections in the 1920s. The effect of this was amplified by the first multiparty elections in 1990 taking place over more than half a year, and in the separate republics, rather than in Yugoslavia as a whole.

The new governments in Slovenia (with the centrist DEMOS leading) and Croatia, where the right-wing and highly nationalist HDZ won, soon proclaimed their (initially ill-defined) sovereignty; in addition, Croatia deprived the Serbs there of their position as a constituent nation and started firing Serbs from public jobs. The biggest party in Macedonia was the ultra-nationalist VMRO, which was, however, kept out of government by a coalition of somewhat more pragmatic Macedonian and Albanian parties. The elections in Bosnia-Hercegovina followed ethnic lines fairly closely, almost four fifths voting for the three ethnic parties: the Serbian SDS, the Croatian HDZ and the Moslem SDA, and only a small minority for trans-ethnic liberal or socialist parties.

The communist party in Serbia, later transformed into the Socialist Party, had been the first (with the exception of Croatia in 1971) to embrace a nationalist platform already in 1987; when Serbia was the last republic to hold elections after all the other events, it scored a clear victory, partly because the Albanians boycotted the election. All these new governments then spent half a year quarreling about the future constitution of Yugoslavia. Croatia and Slovenia called for extremely radical changes, to make them independent states in a very loose confederation with the rest of Yugoslavia; Serbia and Montenegro stonewalled any radical changes; the Macedonian-Albanian government in Macedonia and the coalition of SDS, HDZ and SDA in Bosnia-Hercegovina worked hard, but in vain, at finding some constitutional compromise that all the others could live with. After that half year, the first war broke out.

In spite of this, the political machineries in all parts of Yugoslavia have continued to operate. Parliaments have continued to function and one or more new elections, against the formal carrying out of which external observers have had no serious criticism, have been held almost everywhere. In these respects, Slovenia has behaved as a “normal” post-communist state. In Croatia, the HDZ has a complete power monopoly due to its election laws, with hardly even token respect paid to the opposition; there is still no agreement between the two sides as to what status the Serb-controlled areas are to have in relation to Croatia. In Serbia, Montenegro and FRY, which constitutionally defined a federation between them in April 1992, the Socialist Party has lost its parliamentary majority and is forced to make coalitions or political deals with different opposition parties, initially relying on support from the ultranationalist Radical Party and then seeking more centrist cooperation; the Albanians in Kosovo continue to boycot the Yugoslav political system, and have created their own parliament and government in elections that were tolerated, but not recognized, by FRY authorities. In Macedonia, the latest elections in 1994 gave Gligorov’s reformed communist party a majority of its own, as the ultra-nationalist Macedonian opposition was split; it has nevertheless preferred to keep the main Albanian party in the governing coalition.

The exception is Bosnia-Hercegovina, where a referendum was held at EU request in February 1992. It was boycotted by the Serb majority areas, whereas the areas with Croat/Moslem majority almost unanimously voted for independence, after which the Serb areas proclaimed their independence. When the war broke out, the Serb party SDS was declared illegal by the others; its elected parliament members then set up their own parliament in Pale. Soon afterwards, the Croatian Community Herceg-Bosna set up its own parliament in Mostar. In May 1993, a referendum was held in the Serb controlled areas, in which a great majority rejected the Owen-Vance plan; the large amount of refugees from this area could not participate. The nine-person Presidential Council continued to exist until autumn 1993, when its majority (all six Serbs and Croats, plus the Moslem Fikret Abdic) called for negotiating on the basis of the further concessions made in a Serb-Croat offer after the Owen-Stoltenberg plan, but were disregarded by Izetbegovic. Abdic then proclaimed the Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia, which immediately led to the still continuing Moslem-Moslem war in the Biha_ area. After the Croat-Moslem accord, the number of governments in the area increased even further: one government in Sarajevo that claims sovereignty over the entire B-H and another for the new Croat-Moslem federation; the Herceg-Bosna government continues to function, however, as do the Abdic and Bosnian Serb ones.

Third, the social system. Speaking about “society”, Slovenia is the only case where it is clear what it refers to. Even before the war, there was perfect correlation on municipality level between having Slovene majority and lying in the republic of Slovenia. The present government is in control of exactly the territory it claims, and is regarded as legitimate everywhere in that territory. Who does and does not belong to that society is no more problematic than for normal virtually mono-ethnic states, even if complaints have been made over restrictive citizenship laws and practice. The constitution also refers to the small Hungarian and Italian minorities (but not to the larger, non-autochtonous minorities from other parts of Yugoslavia).

In all other parts of Yugoslavia, the very notion of society is problematic. There does not exist a B-H society and it is questionable whether one can ever be (re)created; Krajina Serbs clearly do not regard themselves as being part of a Croatian society, nor Kosovo Albanians a part of a Serbian society; the position of Albanians in Macedonia seems less decided. In each case, the groups differ by both religion and (officially self-defined) language; outside Russia, it is only the Baltic states that have integration problems of a similar magnitude in Europe.

Finally, the cultural system. As is often the case in intense conflict situations, cultural specificities are more emphasized than ever, by state policies as well as in social movements. For most Yugoslav states, one central problem is to make a nation out of the state that the majority ethnonational group has cut out for itself. History is being rewritten to emphasize old heroes and martyrs. Religion is mostly given an elevated role in defining national identity, with two main exceptions. The Albanians, like the Palestinians, are divided, rather than united, by religion, and the leadership therefore tries to keep it out of national identity. The Bosnian Moslem leadership is split between those who want to emphasize Islam as a part of national identity, there being little else to define a difference from Serbs and Croats, and those who want to de-emphasize it, so as to make possible a common Bosnian identity anchored in territorial history, etc. The number of officially different languages multiplies even further as each government wants its own: the latest addition is the creation of a Bosnian language in 1993, and some local intellectuals are calling for a Montenegrin one. In most Yugoslav states, however, these are changes in the majority culture; but as they are accompanied by similar changes in the minority cultures, most of these states have inherited the problems of Yugoslavia in even worse forms, notwithstanding their official proclamations to please the West. Their political systems then get working at them, with discrimination and forced assimilation as the mildest instruments, harsh repression, mass expulsion and mass murder being further steps on an ascending scale.

Future developments

In the tradition of Talcott Parsons, history is primarily assumed to be governed from the cultural system downwards through the social system, the political system and the economical system. By this token, the prospects for virtually all parts of Yugoslavia are morose: what was a relatively modern system ten years ago has broken up into a number of much more traditionalist splinters. There is no chance of recreating that system within foreseeable future, if ever, and the splinter states – and groups within them – are likely to stimulate each other into even more traditional attitudes, with Slovenia as a possible exception. The bases for more modernist orientations have been greatly eroded by war, economic catastrophes and external pressures. In the social systems we may anticipate close linkages between majority nation and state, with “citizen states” as a distant prospect only, and the political systems are likely to remain authoritarian, even if in the forms of parliamentary democracy.

The perspectives do not become much brighter if we make the opposite assumption, along Marxist lines, about influences between systems. If economic developments are assumed to define the infrastructure that serves as a matrix for the political and ideological superstructure, the diagnosis is that war and economic sanctions, both of which are likely to last for many years, will continue to ravage the economies, again with the likely exception of Slovenia. That in turn will lead to authoritarian regimes and reactionary nationalist ideologies to legitimate them, and again modernization will be a distant project.

Each part of the former Yugoslavia contains movements and intellectuals, e.g. those represented in Palau & Kumar (1993), trying to counteract these sombre prognoses. They are likely to have time on their side in the long run; but it is equally likely that the run will be long indeed.


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