Security and Identity in former Yugoslavia

By Håkan Wiberg
Presumably written 1995 or 96


The concatenation of conflicts in former Yugoslavia are of a complexity that makes them difficult to fathom for the great majority of external observers, in particular mass media and politicians. This complexity derives from the high number of actors in various phases, as well as from the varying characters of actors and from the fact that different dimensions of security have played – and continue to play salient roles.

When external actors have tried to relate to this set of conflict, the heritage of the Cold War has apparently played a great role. Its essence is not to be found in the specific propaganda themes in 1991, rather in a general pattern of perception. It can be summarized in three main axioms:

1. There can be no more than two actors in a conflict.
2. These actors are states.
3. Among these, one is good and one is bad.

In virtually every situation, however, the actors have never been less than three, and even then only after great simplification. Peoples have been just as much actors as states, and – with few exceptions – the actions of these actors are a matter of bad and worse, rather than good and bad, at least if judged by generalizable morality rather than political expediency.

In addition, it must not be forgotten that the former Yugoslavia had an appallingly bad prognosis in its last period of existence by a wide range of indicators. No country in modern Europe had had such a long and deep economic crisis, in addition to which the differences between the richest and poorest parts were uniquely large and growing, at the same time as the trade between the republics was relatively decreasing. Few European states – if any – had a longer history of consitutional conflict. No European state had deeper historical traumas between peoples inside its boundaries. No state in Europe had its raison d’être more questioned by the end of the Cold War.

When such a complex reality confronts the Cold War axioms, one of two things tend to happen. The axioms may “win”, resulting in an image of the conflicts which, when made the premise for what external actors try to do, normally misrepresents reality to the extent that their attempted interventions do more harm than good. The other alternative is that reality gets too much for the axioms; the result of that, however, tends not to be a better understanding of the conflicts, but rather a kind of intellectual and moral capitulation, a picture of a region of madmen at each others’ throats. In this chapter, I will try to stear clear of both these mistakes and to present at least the elements out of which the complexity was, and is, built.

1. The basic concepts and the complexity of security

It normally makes sense to use the conceptual lenses referred to by the term “security” when analysing conflicts on the macro-level, even if these lenses only capture some aspects of a complex reality. In order to use them on the set of conflicts in former Yugoslavia, however, we must first inspect the lenses closely. If we uncritically accept the traditional notion that security is about military threats only, and furthermore about such threats against states, then we are apt to miss crucially important parts of the picture.

All authors agree that security is good. For that reason, there is no agreement as to what “security” is to mean; it is an essentially contested concept (Buzan 1991, 7).

There are two crucial conceptual choices to make: security for whom and against what? Traditionally, the conceptualization of security was generally taken – explicitly or implicitly – from the classical Realist paradigm. The answers were then obvious: security for the state (ambiguously called “national security”) against threats of its being attacked or subjugated by violent means by an external enemy (“aggression”) or an internal enemy (“subversion”). Different doctrines of national security gave different emphasis to these two kinds of threats. It was gradually recognized that there could be a security dilemma, the attempts of states at increasing their own security threatening each other’s security, no matter the declarations issued about being “for defensive purposes only”.

This conceptual consensus broke up long time ago. This was partly due to political initiatives to rethinking security (The Palme Commission’s Common Security 1982; Lodgaard and Birnbaum 1985; United Nations 1986), partly due to a serious of penetrating conceptual and theoretical analyses (e.g., Krell 1979; Stephenson 1982; Buzan 1983). Buzan demonstrated the importance of levels by reminding us that the security dilemma goes in two directions: national security may also both support and threaten subnational (e.g. group or individual) security. Later analyses showed the need for a level between the state, whose security problems can very rarely be seen in isolation, and an international system that is not sufficiently interconnected in this respect to make it analytically meningful to talk about “global security”. This led to the notion of “security complex” (Buzan 1991, Ch.5; Wæver et al. 1993): a set of states for which it is true that the security of each is interlinked to the security of other states in the set, whereas there is little such linkage to states outside the set.

The subjects of security are thus to be found on different levels; so are the objects. To the dimension of military security have been added political, economic, ecological security, etc. If these have it in common that it is (on this level) the state that is threatened, there is also the need for considering society as the threatened subject (Wæver et al. 1993).

1.1. The military dimension

Let us now consider the dimensions of security we need to take into account in order to begin to understand the Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav reality. We need several types of subjects. First we have states, such as the former Yugoslavia and all the states – or statelets – that have emerged as splinters from it. For our purpose, we may take for granted without much technical definitions what is a state: a territory where a government, legally subjugated to no other government, claims sovereignty and actually exercises it, at least in the major part. As long as recognition was predominantly treated as a mere registration of a matter of fact, essentially based on these criteria, there was also a close statistical relationship between recognition (by major powers, by the League of Nations or by the UN) and de facto statehood. Recognition recently having become more politicized, major actors trying to wish states out of existence by non-recognition or into existence by recognitions, the relationship has naturally weakened. When analysing security dynamics, we are therefore bound to disregard the recognition element: it is the actual existence of states that counts.

For the present purpose, we will focus on two kinds of threats against states: military threats and political threats. The first category, being so traditional, may not need much further general explanation here; when we return to Yugoslav reality, however, we will see that it can be quite difficult to make precise definitions of what entities constitute such threats or are subjected them, respectively.

By traditional analysis, there are essentially two ways of averting such threats: military preparedness in states or groups of states, or international norms. The growth of international norms against war may have had some effect: one sign of this is that today’s wars are predominantly fought inside the boundaries of a single state, the intervention of external powers only including combat troops only when they have managed to get themselves an invitation from some government in that state. Such interventions, on the other hand, tend to make the wars longer and bloodier, whatever their effects for the outcomes of the wars (Kende 1978; cf. Dunér 1985). And there are few signs that actors in such civil wars put so much trust in international norms that they are willing to entrust their security to these norms only.

1.2. The political dimension

According to Buzan (1991), there are essentially three ways in which a state can be threatened. The first is the classical external military threat. The second threat is an overthrow of the legitimate political instititutions of a state by means of what is often and vaguely referred to as subversion, with or without the use of violence, with or without external support for the overthrow. Any state will consider such threats, but there are great variations. In many states a clear distinction is made between illegitimate challenges to these institutions and legitimate opposition to the incumbent government; in many states, any form of opposition is regarded and treated as a subversive security threat. As a crude rule, the more legitimate the government is (in the sense of being regarded by the citizens as representative of them), the clearer a distinction is made between permissible and prohibited forms and contents of opposition.

The third threat is somewhat platonically phrased as being against the idea of the state. One extreme case is the strong state, where neither any significant group of its inhabitants, nor any neighbour or great power question the legitimacy of that state, its institutions or its boundaries. The opposite extreme is the weak state, where sizable groups of its inhabitants, or significant other states, or both, question its very existence, its constitutional definition or its boundaries. Security problems of the latter type of states are often labelled in terms of separatism, secessionism, irredentism, etc. Ethnically homogeneous states tend to be stronger than others (Iceland, Poland, Japan); but this is neither a necessary condition (Finland, Switzerland), nor a sufficient one (Somalia, former GDR). Being a strong or a weak state in this sense has no logical relation, and limited empirical relation only to military capability: we find all combinations, including some cases where the very weakness of the state has been one factor behind its acquiring great military strength, e.g., the former USSR or Israel. As Buzan puts it, the character of India as a secular state and the religion-based definition of Pakistan automatically make them threats to each other’s raison d’être.

1.3. Society as subject – and identity as object

If the military and political threats belong to the same category by being threats against states, there is also another category: threats against societal security (Wæver et al. 1993). When such threats are perceived, what is seen as threatened may be collective identity, cultural specificity or national cohesion. The perceived carriers of such threats may be national minorities; immigrants; a nation-blind market; or globalized mass media. Threatening developments may be supranational (e.g. the EU) or subnational (minorities insisting on language rights, own cultural institutions, etc.). Counteractions include xenophobic mob violence, socially institutionalized but not legally defined discrimination, protest voting against supranational institutions, popular cultural movements, etc. They may also include demands and pressures for the state to do things: limit or abolish immigration; make foreign citizens leave the state; forbid radio, TV or parabolic antennas; forbid the public use of foreign or minority languages; subsidize national cultural institutions, and so forth.

Collective identities may be of many different kinds: the perceived collectivity may be in terms of class, language, religion, political opinions, and so forth. Under normal circumstances we have complex identity budgets with many dimensions. Under certain circumstances, e.g. acute conflicts, identities seen as national may acquire great saliency. They then tend to “crowd out” other dimensions (class, etc.) as well as other levels on their own dimensions (those below or above the “nation”). In these cases, they become central in societal identity.

How such nations are conceptualized varies strongly, however. In one tradition of thinking, the concept of nation virtually coincides with the concept of state. For example, the French dictionary tradition takes a nation to be, “the totality of persons born or naturalized in a country and living under a single government” (Dictionary of the Academie Francaise, 1878; quoted after Sureda 1973, 23). That this conceptualization is widespread is a fact with important empirical consequences; yet there are others that are equally widespread.

“Objective” definitions say, in essence, that a specific “nation” (or “people”) consists of all persons who have the same value on some dimension, such as language, religion or ancestral myth. No such dimension can be generalized, however, if we want a close relationship to how people actually define themselves and act. Some communities primarily define themselves in religious terms (Northern Ireland), others in linguistic terms (Belgium, Canada), others again by mythical common ancestry or, for that matter, by citizenship.

Perceptions may change: during the past century, the primary cleavage in Cyprus and Canada have shifted from Moslems/Christians and Protestants/Catholics to Greeks/Turks and Anglophone/Francophone, although religious and linguistic distinctions largely coincide in both cases. German Swiss were always primarily Swiss: interwar Austrians were deeply divided on whether to see themselves as Germans or not, whereas today they are first and foremost Austrians. Individual dimensions, such as language, offer the additional problem that the dividing line(s) often cannot be drawn “objectively”, by purely linguistic criteria, without taking into account political, historical and other factors. Historical accidents or political compromises often decide whether two idioms count as “dialects of the same language” or as “different languages”; distinctions tend to be made by how governments think that people should speak and write, rather than by how people actually speak.

“Subjective” definitions, on the other hand, essentially define a nation as consisting of those people that count themselves to it. They are the most adequate ones, if our question is who belong to the same “imagined community” (Anderson 1983); but we then get new terminological and definitional problems.

Social science and everyday language alike contain differing uses of such terms as “ethnic group”, “nationality” and “nation” in relation to the distinction between groups that merely have “common belonging” and those that also have a project to form an autonomous or independent political unit. “Nation” (or “ethnic group”) may refer to the broadest category, but is sometimes reserved for groups with a political (“nationalist”) project. Subjective definitions can thus be hard to operationalize, and it is often difficult to predict whether and when an “ethnic group” will cross the line to become a “nation” in the more narrow sense: such collective ambitions as cultural autonomy, regional home rule, state formation, etc., are variable and – sometimes – volatile.

This is also to some extent true for the other types of definitions: States emerge, expand, contract and disappear over time, just as languages and religions change, converge or subdivide. Relating “state”, “objective” and “subjective” definitions – rather than picking one and excluding the others – we thus get many possible discrepancies, and changes in these over time. In particular, boundaries between nations are only sharp in special cases, e.g. where states have managed to get their citizens to identify themselves by passport or have successfully committed ethnocide – or by historical accident. In most cases, boundaries between nations are wide geographical areas with varying percentages of populations from different nations. Only in exceptional cases do the external boundaries of state and nation coincide. Most states are divided between different nations and many nations by state boundaries.

How much this matters depends on several circumstances. A minority only of the thousands of nations in the world have any political project at present; the wave of recent recognitions may well inspire an increase in their number. Some states give a wide latitude for national mobilization; others either successfully suppress it or create a vicious circle of increased attempts at repression and stronger national mobilization escalating each other. The state and the nation are equally potential monsters, then asking for total and undivided allegiance from their members. Where both monsters are relatively tamed, the potential for conflict is low; where neither is, the risks for developing collective violence tend to be particularly high. Notions of autonomy and self-determination clash in the legal field (Hannum 1990) as well as the political.

It is instructive to compare Western and Eastern Europe from this point of view. In the couple of decades after 1945, the previous wave of ethno-national movements in Europe seemed to have disappeared, marxists and liberals alike writing obituaries to explaining why with reference to their favourite theories (class struggle, integration). When such movements reappeared in Western Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, they did so under beneficial circumstances: there was affluence and growth, there were firmly rooted democratic cultures (except under the moribund Franco), and the Western integration project made state boundaries mean less and less.

With the exception of a few minorities within minorities (North Ireland, Euzkadi, Corsica), ethno-national movements opted for the normal pattern of political mobilization, campaigning, bargaining and haggling, normally leading to results all parties could live with. On the other hand, when ethno-national movements reappeared in Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s (some of them having survived a long period in the communist ice-box, others having disappeared and others again having been created there), they did so under the worst possible circumstances. Long and deep economic crises provided breeding-grounds for forms of political radicalism (left, right, populist, nationalist and combinations) with no – or very distant – democratic traditions to mitigate them. WTO and COMECON disappeared unlamented and governments tried to make state boundaries mean more and more – and often to create new states strongly molded (e.g., in terms of language or religion) by the titular nations, whose demographic majority was often slim, which in turn led to a second wave of secessionism.

2. The case of Yugoslavia

Let us now look at the different complexities in the concatenation of Yugoslav conflicts through these conceptual lenses. We begin by using one lens after the other, returning in the concluding section to how the analysed phenomena interact with each other.

2.1. The military dimension

Through long stretches of history, the area that was yesterday “Yugoslavia” has been replete with military security problems. For a long time, the Ottoman and Habsburg empires were the main threats to other; their subsequent dissolution created many states, all of whom saw themselves as threatened by their neighbours or alliances of them. A series of wars showed that these threats were not merely hypothetical. Several Balkan states have had their very existence threatened – which experience tends to lead to extreme emphasis on national security and a disregard for the security concerns of the neighbours.

Yugoslavia was created in 1918 – among other things – to solve security problems. For Croat and Slovene politicians, these consisted in the threat of Italy being rewarded with large tracts of ex-Habsburg land for having joined the entente; for Serb and Montenegrin politicians with their recent experiences of temporary disappearances of their states, a bigger state looked more secure than a smaller. The continous neighbourhood of Mussolini’s Italy, an increasingly nationalist Austria and Horthy’s Hungary, continued to provide a security raison d’être for Yugoslavia until Hitler’s attack.

After World War II, the location of Yugoslavia in the Cold War provided another one, in addition to which it had several neighbours whose countrymen were ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia or who had had to cede territory after the World Wars. Yugoslavia thus continued to see itself as extremely threatened. By contrast to other non-aligned states in Europe, whose military doctrines were primarily about dissuading marginal attacks motivated by secondary strategic targets, Yugoslavia’s doctrine emphasized its primary strategic significance in several contexts and had the more ambitious strategic goal of throwing any invader out (Wiberg 1994, cf. Ljubicic 1977, who was at that time Commander-in-Chief). In the early postwar period, its military expenditures consumed as much as one-fifth of its Gross Domestic Product and its standing forces amounted to three per cent of the population, and both figures long continued to rank among the highest in Europe.

Its war experiences could be, and were, interpreted in different ways, emphasizing either the central control over operations or the guerilla warfare (Roberts 1976). Its initial stance stressed frontal defence backed up by very large standing forces. The notion of territorial defence gained ground, however, and after the Czechoslovakia shock in 1968, this was made the main concept of the doctrine in 1969. The standing armed forces eventually reduced to about one per cent of the population, being rapidly expandable to a territorial defence engaging about 10 percent of the population and armed from vast decentralized munition stocks.

Did the doctrine work? Against external threats, possibly: to the extent that there were any dangers in connection with the rupture with the USSR in 1948, the conflicts with Italy and the West over Trieste in 1947-54 and the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, dissuasion was successful. For a multinational state to have armed its people proved internally disastrous, however, once the cohesive force deriving from the Cold War had thawed away (Gow 1992). The end of the Cold War redefined traditional security problems. JNA had been part of the solution; some republics now saw it as the problem, calling for drastic cuts while creating national guards. This attacked one of the few remaining symbols of Yugoslav identity: Yugoslavist ideology harmonized with vested JNA interests and with government interests against secessionism. Republics defined their security problems even before proclaiming independence.

In fact, the wars since 1991 seem to demonstrate how limited offensive capability the standing forces had and how strong the decentralized character of the defence had allowed secessionist forces to become. The Slovenian defence was well prepared, the disarmament of territorial defence forces carried out by the federal army in spring 1990 having been discovered by President Kucan and stopped in the process (Bebler 1992). Yet the skirmishes there may not have provided much of a test, since there were strong common interests in not making Slovenia a forced ally of Croatia. The performance of the Federal Army in the full war in Croatia must be seen as less than impressive, however. When the war broke out, local Serbs already controlled some 20 percent of the territory of the republic. When the fifteenth truce became effective half a year later, the combined forces of the Federal Army, local Serbian militias and volunteer militias from Serbia had only increased it to some 30 percent, although the Croatian defence was to a large extent improvised.

There are important elements of ambiguity, however. One of them has to do with competing war aims on the federal and Serbian side and some uncertainty as to whether there ever existed superordinate war aims there. “Yugoslavists” would see reestablished control of Croatia as their aim, whereas “Great Serbs” would rather try to make gains as beneficial to Serbia as possible and the local Serbs to control all areas with Serbian majorities and large Serbian minorities. Judging the results in purely military terms, the record is one of clear failure, if we posit “Yugoslavism” as predominant force; mixed but rather successful if we posit “Great Serbism”, and almost complete success, if we posit “Small Serbism” – whether it can be translated into political arrangements remains to see.

The civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina provides another example of the potential fate of a decentralized defence. Once the armed forces there had become “lebanonized” after the withdrawal of the Federal Army in May 1992, there were initially as many as nineteen armed forces under seven different political leaderships, fighting each other in shifting coalitions. Battles have been reported within each national group (the Moslem-Moslem war still rages in the Bihac area), between any two national groups and in every combination of two national groups against one.

The net result of the dissolution of Yugoslavia parallels that of Habsburg and Turkey: about a dozen actors, whether constituted as more or less recognized states, mass movements or political parties, all of whom perceive one or several neighbours as constituting grave potential – and in several cases actual – threats to their security on various levels, from state to individual.

2.2 The political dimension

Let us first consider the political threats to former Yugoslavia: those to its institutions and those to the idea of the state. In this case, the two types of threats were closely linked, the threats to its institutions largely deriving from the periodical weakness of the very idea of Yugoslavia.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Yugoslavia in 1929) was as multinational as the Habsburg empire before it when pieced together in 1918 from Serbia and Montenegro (with recent gains from Turkey) and parts of Austria-Hungary. From the very beginning its instutions defined internal disagreement, the Serbs wanting a French-type centralized state and initially getting it, whereas the Slovenes and Croats preferred a Swiss-type decentralized state. The initial Serb victory was also seen in the systematic attempt not to identify administrative parts in national terms. Each banovina/zupanja was named after a major river and some boundaries differed from historical or ethnic ones. After protracted internal conflicts and a period of royal dictatorship, the 1939 sporazumen finally defined a specific Croatia. It was expanded and proclaimed as independent state in 1941, when Yugoslavia was otherwise divided between Italy, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria.

When Yugoslavia was reconstructed after 1945, this was done of the basis of the Yugoslav version of Leninism, which entailed constitutionally categorizing peoples into nations (narodi), national minorities or nationalities (narodnosti) and ethnic groups. Nations were peoples whose primary existence was in Yugoslavia: Macedonians and Montenegrins were now added to the three original constitutive nations, all getting their own republics (In the sixth republic Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Moslem minority later achieved narod status around 1970). People whose majority was in another state: Hungarians, Albanians, Turks, Italians, etc., were seen as national minorities with no claim to having republics. As a concession to the two biggest ones,
Serbia was internally divided into what we may call Central Serbia and the two autonomous provinces of Kosovo/Kosova and Vojvodina.

The degree to which these eight administrative units corresponded to national demography differed greatly, as illustrated in censuses, where people defined their own nationality (NOTE: The two last ones were in 1981 and in 1991, the latter much more politicized than before in some areas. All figures should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.).

Let us begin by going from nations to territories. Out of the 8.5 million Serbs, 60 percent lived in Central Serbia, 16 percent in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 14 percent in Vojvodina, 7 percent in Croatia and 2 percent in Kosovo. 80 percent of the 4.6 million Croats lived in Croatia, about 15 percent in Bosnia-Herzegivina and 3 percent in Vojvodina. The 1.8 million Slovenes lived almost exclusively in Slovenia and 96 percent of the 1.4 million Macedonians in Macedonia. 70 percent of the 0.6 million Montenegrins lived in Montenegro, the rest in Serbia. Five sixths of the 2.3 million Moslems lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 8 percent in Central Serbia, 4 in Montenegro and 3 in Kosovo. Out of the 2.3 mn. Albanians, finally, some three quarters lived in Kosovo, one fifth in Macedonia, 3 percent in Central Serbia and 2 percent in Montenegro.

If the concentration into one single area thus varied greatly, so did the homogeneity of the territories. The most homogeneous part was Slovenia, where the Slovenes were 88 percent in 1991 (most of the others recent labour migrants from other parts). In Central Serbia, the Serbs were 87 percent of the population, Moslems and Yugoslavs about 3 percent each. In Kosovo, the Albanians were an estimated 82 percent in the 1991 census (boycotted by them, whereas Serbs were 10, Moslems 3 and Roma/Sinti 2 percent. Croatia had around 77 percent Croats, whereas Serbs were 12 percent in 1991 and Yugoslavs 2 percent. In Macedonia, the Macedonians were 65 percent in 1991, when there were also 21 percent Albanians, 5 percent Turks, 3 percent Roma/Sinti and 2 percent Serbs (Albanian leaders claim that the Albanians are 35-40 percent and the percentage of Macedonians correspondingly lower). In Montenegro, Montenegrins were 62 percent in 1991, when Moslems were 15, Serbs 9, Albanians 7 and Yugoslavs 4 percent. In Vojvodina, the Serbs were 57 percent, in addition to which there were 17 percent Hungarians, 8 percent Yugoslavs, 3 percent Croats and 2 percent Slovaks. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, finally, there was no majority at all the Serbs were 31 percent in 1991 the Croats 17 percent, the Moslems 44 percent and the Yugoslavs were 6 percent. In several areas we find marked changes in the post-1945 period, but it is usually an arduous task to assess how much of these were due to differential fertility and mortality, differential migration, differentially improved statistics and individual recategorization between censuses, respectively.

These variations were not intended to matter, however, since the idea of the state in Tito’s Yugoslavia was decidedly not built on national terms or concepts. On the contrary, the idea was to transcend national cleavages by means of creating a common Yugoslav identity based on its version of socialism (samoupravljanje) and its international (non-aligned) position. In accordance with this, a plethora of institutions were created, on the federal, republican, municipal and factory levels; Yugoslavia eventually had the longest constitution in the world. After the break with Stalin, a series of political compromises made the state more and more decentralized, both de jure and de facto. The de facto development had to do with the threat to the Yugoslav institutions also coming from within: the eight Communist parties increasingly became local ethnocracies fending for local interests rather than branches of a supreme ruling party implementing a party line.

After the elections in 1990, the more or less reformed successors of these parties won in some parts of Yugoslavia and lost in others. This only mattered to a limited extent, since ardent nationalists won everywhere, irrespective of party colours, and the runners-up included even more extreme nationalists, giving the winners little leeway for compromises. They engaged in various demonstrations of sovereignty, accelerating the conflict spiral: attacks on remaining pan-Yugoslav institutions increased Serbian fears and actions inspired by these fears.

Three such institutions were eventually left: the Constitution, the Communist Party (LCY) and the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). The party had long been disintegrating, parties of different republics seeing themselves primarily as representing their republics. The party congress in January 1990 was discontinued by a Slovenian walkout; the Slovenian and Croatian parties left LCY in February.

Croatia and Slovenia set up national guards in 1990, seen as non-constitutional by the Yugoslav government; JNA secretly tried in spring 1990 to bring all weapons of the territorial defence forces into central depots. This succeeded in Croatia; it was discovered and halted in Slovenia (Bebler 1992).

The constitution was also attacked. Slovenia and Croatia demanded changes making them de facto independent states and drastic cuts in the federal budget, in practice primarily that of JNA. Serbia and Montenegro blocked constitutional changes, suspecting them to aim at total dismemberment of Yugoslavia; abolishing province autonomy improved their blocking power, giving them four seats out of eight in the Presidency. Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were caught in the middle, having made declarations of ill-defined sovereignty but objecting to secessions, presenting federative-confederative alternatives until the last moment in June 1991. After their failures in this, the majorities there opted for independence too.

This gradual weakening and eventual demise of the institutions had much to do with the parallel weakening of the idea of the state. On the one hand, it was weakened by increasing nationalisms. The early outbursts of Albanian (1968) and Croatian (1971) nationalism were rapidly contained, but the new wave of Albanian nationalism in 1981 led to a rise of Serbian nationalism and thereby eventually a multinational spiral of nationalisms that spelled the death of Yugoslavia, which was accelerated by the underlying historical traumas between – primarily – Serbs and Croats, Serbs and Moslems, and Serbs and Albanians (Wiberg 1993).

On the other hand, the defence of the idea of the state of Yugoslavia had rested on a communist version of Yugoslavism to the extent that survival became very difficult with the gradual demise of communism. The emerging but weak liberal versions of Yugoslavism never got much of chance, giving the timing of the elections. Nor did the creation of a Yugoslav super-identity beyond the national ones have great success. The attempts in this direction were called off at the party congress in 1964, when just over 10 percent of the citizens gave “Yugoslav” as nationality (it sunk to 5.4 percent in 1981 and 3 percent in 1991).

On the political dimension of security, Yugoslavia therefore appears to have been largely doomed, given the development that occurred. By the same token, however, there were from the very beginning serious threats on this dimension to most of the successors, with Slovenia as the notable exception. If rising nationalism was a mortal threat to the idea of the state of Yugoslavia, it could also be expected to be so to the idea of the states of Croatia (Serbs), Serbia (mainly Albanians and Moslems), Macedonia (Albanians), Montenegro (Moslems and Albanians) and Bosnia-Hercegovina (Serbs and Croats). This was the more so, when the biggest national group in each of these states manifested clear ambitions of a centralized state with little or no regional autonomy – and was therefore seen as threatening by the other national groups in these states. The new states might have been consensually seen as legitimate by their inhabitants by a miraculous new identification in terms of territory/citizenship – but that was highly unlikely, it being precisely the opposite types of identification that in the first place had broken Yugoslavia up.

2.3. Identity and societal security

The complex web of conflicts we have today in former Yugoslavia concerns different elements of (state or quasi-state) security: military security in the traditional sense, societal security including (national) identity, and political security inbetween these. Most bilateral or triangular conflicts contain all these elements, with varying emphasis. Let us now first focus on societal security and then see how it interacts with the other dimensions.

Collective identities of “ethnic” or “national” type are normally anchored in one or more of the following factors: language, religion, territory/citizenship and historical myths (with a varying degree of factual basis), such as state traditions. What combinations were chosen by the leadership of what national groups in former Yugoslavia in what time period varies greatly. In addition, the definitions made by different groups often differ strongly on several of these dimensions. What is to be regarded as different languages or as different dialects of the same language constitutes long-standing disputes between Serbs, Croats and now also Moslems, as well as between Macedonians and Bulgarians. The history of religion is a matter of controversy in Bosnia-Hercegovina and elsewhere. Former Yugoslavia had dozens of parts with at least partly different history in the last few centuries (fourteen in Croatia alone).

The versions of history remembered by different groups often differ greatly, and in some cases, such as Bosnia, Dardania and Ragusa, it is even disputed to whose ancestors an ancient state belonged.

The Slovenes belonged to German and Austrian states for a millenium; never having an independent state, they were the great majority in some duchies there (thought to have formed a state before Charlemagne). The banovina Drava in interwar Yugoslavia can be seen as a predecessor to the Slovenia that for the first time appears as a political unit under that name in 1945. Being Catholics (with a Protestant minority), they were primarily distinguished from their immediate neighbours by the Slovene language, in some respects closer to Czech than to Serbo-Croat. Slovenia thus had few identity problems, having a clear territorial identity, virtual coincidence of territory and people and an unchallenged language and culture of its own. Whatever threats there may have been of increased Yugoslav centralism, perhaps even Yugoslavization, have been fended off, apparently irreversibly. It remains to find the place in the West the Slovenes claim without having to abandon the elements of “Slavonic” identity that are also there (Hansen 1993), – and to become ecclesiastically independent (Slovenia is still under the archdiocese of Zagreb). On the other hand, military security problems deteriorated, once Slovenia turned secessionist: they included the possibilities of Yugoslav occupation and of an entanglement into the Serb/Croat war, and have now also largely been solved.

The Croats share a historical identity based on a state tradition, recalling the Triune Kingdom (Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia) a millenium ago, then incorporated into Hungary for 800 years: in the Hungarian empire, under Turkish rule, and under Habsburg with Hungarians as Herrenvolk. The States Rights confirmed by Hungary in 1102 played a central role in early Croatian nationalist mobilization from the 1820s, initially focusing on the competence of the sabor (assembly) of the Croatian nobility. Croats, Hungarians and Austrians alike being Catholics, religion initially played a lesser and language a larger role in identity formation. The Croats objected to German replacing Latin as administrative language, then resisted attempts at Magyarization after 1867. There was then little reason to differentiate between “Serbian” and “Croatian”; grammarians and linguists cooperated in setting norms for what was often called “Serbo-Croat”. After 1918, it was primarily religion that set Croats off from Serbs, giving it an increasing role for identity; it also became more important to differentiate the languages. After 1945, a large part of the Serb minority in Croatia eventually appeared as relatively assimilated minorities in larger cities. Another large part was in local majority in several municipalities in Krajina and the largest group in some others, most of this part strongly resisting incorporation into an independent Croatia.

In Croatia, problems were therefore much more complex. Thus, JNA was perceived as an external military security problem, local Serb militias an internal one; they cooperated closely. There were also severe identity problems. The battle for distinctiveness of Croatian language, culture and religion had been fought for a long time, by systematic attempts to make the Croatian language maximally distinct from Serbian (a two-front war, with dialects in Croatia as the other front Sprognoten), and by catholicizing Croatia. In 1990, these attempts accelerated, constituting grave identity threats to the Serbs and thereby contributing to making them, a military security threat, at least in Krajina.

Another vicious circle originates in Croatian identity being so closely linked to state identity. This played a significant role in resistance to the Habsburg empire and to the Serbian domination in interwar Yugoslavia. In 1990, however, the only independent predecessor in many centuries as Croatian state was that of Ante Pavelic. Many Croats would distinguish between its good side (independent Croatia) and its bad side (Ustasha), taking it for granted that symbols taken over or copied from it stood for the good side only; a minority, like Paraga’s HSP party, saw the Ustasha state as something to be proud of altogether. To many Serbs all symbols and behaviour that resembled that Croatia were equally deadly threats to Serb security and identity; the mutual spiral of threats was again reinforced.

This sanctity of the State also ruled out the territorial compromises necessary to get a Croatian state that was also ethnically Croatian; in addition, Knin in Krajina is the same “cradle” symbol to Croats as Kosovo to Serbs. EC support for the former republic boundaries to become state boundaries then made compromise impossible for President Tudjman.

The Serbs share a historical identity recalling the medieval Serbian empire and centuries of struggle against Turkish rule until a small Serbia with some autonomy was recreated in 1815. Increasing autonomy culminated in international recognition in 1878; territorial expansion southwards liberated all Serb areas from Turkey, then incorporated predominantly Albanian and/or Macedonian areas. Only in 1918 did (virtually) all Serbs live in one state.

Most Serbs are Orthodox, whether actively religious or secularized; a small Serbo-Catholic church exists. They mostly use the Cyrillic alphabet; most can read the Latin alfabet; some cannot even write in Cyrillic. The church has played a central role in Serbian identity, especially in the Turkish period, when the church represented the Serb nation in the millet system. The primary distinction was then in terms of religion: “Turks” denoted ethnic Turks and Moslem Slavophones.

Problems were therefore even more complex for Serbs and Serbia. In state security terms, Serbia is primarily threatened by the fragmentation of Yugoslavia making it small, landlocked and surrounded by hostile neighbours. Serbian identity is as tied to nation as the Croatian is tied to state, and the Serbian nation inhabits a much wider territory than Serbia. Dividing Yugoslavia along administrative rather than ethnic boundaries hence defines a strong threat to Serbian identity; this makes local Serbs a security problem to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they are many.

Given history, recent and more distant, the secessions of these two republics would be seen by Serbs there as identity threats and – by many of them – as deadly threats to the security of the Serb communities there; hence the Serb secessions from the secessions. This convolution of problems is also seen in Kosovo, the largest part of Serbia where Serbs are a minority; the problem is seen by Serbs in both security and identity terms. This makes the Serbs a formidable threat to the Albanians, in security terms (oppression) and in identity terms: competing claims of being autochtonous and renewed attempts at Serbianization of Kosovo.

The Macedonians are Orthodox South Slavs; the normative language is closer to Bulgarian than to Serbo-Croat. The present Macedonia has belonged to Alexander the Great and his successors; to the Roman empire; alternately to the Byzantine and Bulgarian empires; and to Turkey from about 1400 A.D. Orthodox religion distinguished them from the Turks; Macedonian nationalism was manifested in rebellions, culminating in 1903 (Ilinden, St. Elijah’s day). Macedonia first appears as a political unit with that name in the post-1945 Yugoslavia, when a Macedonian language and nationality were recognized. In the late 1950s, the Macedonian church was also granted some autonomy under the Serbian church; it later unilaterally declared itself autocephalous, which has not been recognized by other Orthodox churches.

The problems of Macedonia and the Macedonians also include all three kinds of security problems. The military security problem lies in being small and little armed and risking to face, in case of armed conflict, being between the devil and the deep blue sea: joining Albanians and Bulgarians, who, if victorious, might divide Macedonia between them along the 1941 line; or joining Greeks and Serbs, who, if victorious, might want no independent state between them.

The identity problem can be succinctly described by recalling that Macedonia is surrounded by Bulgaria, recognizing a Macedonian state but no Macedonian people; Yugoslavia, recognizing a Macedonian people, but no Macedonian state (it has declared that it will follow EC policies here); Greece, recognizing neither state nor nation as long as the name “Macedonia” is used; and the Albanians, only recognizing a Macedonian state that is not (exclusively) that of the Macedonian people.

To the extent identity is anchored in language, Bulgaria is the main threat: it regards Macedonian as a Bulgarian dialect (having no special status in Bulgaria itself). To the extent it is anchored in religion, the Serbs are the main threat: the Macedonian church is still considered by them to owe allegiance to the Serb patriarchate in Nis; the Serb, Bulgarian and Greek churches informed the Russian that they would not attend its millenium in 1987 if the Macedonian church was invited on a par with them.

To the extent identity is anchored in statehood, the Albanian minority will not accept Macedonians defining themselves as the state-carrying people. When it is defined by territory and history, the Greeks object strongly to the biggest party, VMRO, showing maps where 38 percent of “Greater Macedonia” is present Macedonia, 51 percent northern Greece and 11 percent western Bulgaria; and to Macedonia having heraldically incorporated the Vergina star of Alexander the Great from Greek territory. Behind these issues, there is also the (virtually consensual) Greek nightmare of a Turkish/Moslem encirclement.

The Zeta Serbs, today Montenegrins, remained independent of Turkey; identity is strongly based on state history and Orthodox religion. This also defines identity problems, however: since a century, the “Whites” want to join Serbia, the “Greens” Montenegrin independence; there is also a movement for an independent Montenegrin orthodox church. Furthermore, one quarter of the population of Montenegro consists of (Slavophone or Albanian) Moslems. At present, the “Whites” prevail; Montenegro has a separate identity within Yugoslavia, but in federative rather than confederative form.

These five peoples of former Yugoslavia are titular nations in states of their own, although with correlations between state and nation varying between very high for the Slovenes and rather low for the Serbs. Among the larger peoples in former Yugoslavia, we then have two even more complex cases: Albanians and Moslems.

The Albanians have a language distinct from all their neighbours, being the only surviving one in the Illyrian family of Indo-European languages. In Albanian self-perception, they descend from the ancient Illyrians, the kingdom of Dardania in the first two centuries A.D. being seen as a first expression of nationhood (Macedonian historians also claim it, however). Another historical element of identity recalls Albanian principalities resisting Turkish invasion for a while. Most (but far from all) Albanians became moslemized, especially denizens and immigrants in Kosovo, which had belonged to the Serbian empire; Albanian and Serbian historians disagree as to who was in majority then.

Modern Albanian nationalism was originally expressed in language and literature, and in resistance against Serbia and Montenegro conquering Albanian areas from Turkey: minor parts in 1878-80, all of Kosovo in 1912-13. Religion seems to play a smaller role in Albanian identity, presumably because it divides, rather than unites them. For Kosovo Albanians, territory is also important, but this also defines a strong element of dispute; during the past century, there have been periods of Serb settling and expelling Albanians and vice versa. After World War II, the Albanian majority in Kosovo has increased strongly, whereas the Serb and Montenegrin population has decreased rapidly, also in absolute terms; interpretations differ on whether this is due to their being pulled out by economic factors or pushed out by the Albanians (Petrovic); Blagojevic 1992).

In 1968, Albanian demonstrations in Kosovo demanded a status as a republic in Yugoslavia. This eventually resulted in its getting a very high degree of autonomy within Serbia in 1974, but the claims for a republic were repeated in 1981. Since then, the situation has got even more polarized. On the one hand, Serbia has abolished the autonomy; on the other hand, an Albanian referendum has proclaimed Kosovo an independent state (so far recognized by Albania only), and a parliament and a president, Ibrahim Rugova, has been elected. Serbia neither stopped nor recognized these political acts.

Notwithstanding proclamations from the other group, neither Albanians nor Serbs tend to trust that they can live as a minority in a state run by the others without their identity as well as their physical security being severely threatened; both groups base this fear on their respective readings of the historical record. If it is possible at all to find a formula that both groups feel that they can live with, it is likely to call for very long and complex negotiations.

The Moslems, finally are descendants of Serbs, Croats and bogumils (a Manichean heresy similar to the contemporary Cathars in France), many of whom were islamized after the Ottoman conquest to get a privileged position in comparison with other Slavophones. The relative proportions of these groups are highly disputed. In this chapter, we speak of Moslems in the modern Yugoslav sense of a nationality: whereas “Moslems” was always a category in religious statistics, they were given a status as a nation in 1974 and accordingly in the latest censuses.

There are two territories to which the Moslems are primarily linked. Sandzak Novipazar (or Raska) was a unit of the Ottoman empire until 1878/1912 and then divided between Serbia and Montenegro in 1912; Serbs and Moslems are about equally many. The more important one is obviously Bosnia-Herzegovina, which contains the name of the medieval kingdom of Bosnia before the Turks. Claiming it as state tradition, however, brings the Moslems into conflict with the other groups. There were obviously no Moslems in it, so the linkage has to be made qua Bosnians, rather than qua Moslems; but that claim will obviously be disputed by the Serbs ho appear to have been in a slight majority in 1878 and were then the largest group in the censuses until 1970; in addition, a part of it was in the Croatian banovina in 1939 and all of it in the 1941-45 Croatian state. The 1974 constitution stated Serbs, Croats and Moslems to be the nations of the republic. The compromise in the Washington accord with the Croats in 1994 was – in its English version – to give up the term “Bosnians”, rather referring to the Bosniak and Croat (and Serb) peoples in Bosnia-Hercegovina, thus making it clear that neither Serbs, nor Croats are Bosniaks.

History also offers another complication: when the Moslems base the distinctness of Bosnia-Hercegovina on the long territorial continuity under Turkish rule, precisely that rule will be a traumatic memory to the Serbs, even apart from the position of the Moslems in it being ambiguous. They fought the Turks in 1830; with the Turks against a Christian rebellion in 1861; with Serbs and Croats against Turkey in 1875-78; and against the Austrian occupation in 1878.

Another option is language, the problems of which are indicated by the description of the official language of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the 1974 constitution: “Serbian or Croatian or Serbo-Croat/Croato-Serbian, as it is spoken in Bosnia/Herzegovina”. Among the dialects spoken there, ije-kavski was mainly spoken by Serbs and Moslems, whereas some Croats spoke ije-kavski and others i-kavski. According to the Sarajevo government, “Bosnian” is now a distinct language with its own dictionary, and the Washington accord was made “in the Bosnian, Croat and English languages, all equally authentic”. As a result, school children all over Bosnia-Herzegovina are now taught languages that differ from their own vernaculars: those in the Moslem-controlled areas are taught “Bosnian”, those in the Serb-controlled areas are now taught “Serbian”, i.e. e-kavski, and those in the Croat-controlled part “Croatian”, as defined by the ministry of education in Zagreb.

The claim to identity the Moslems can make without its being disputed by the other groups is precisely in terms of religion. On the other hand, the Moslems in Bosnia-Hercegovina have traditionally been as secularized as Serbs and Croats (some 15 percent only being actively religious a decade ago).

Furthermore, the Moslem leadership itself tries to avoid this, both because definitions in religious terms goes against the secular state its dominant faction speaks for and because it would play into the hands of the Croat and Serb leaderships,
who make much out of the writings on an Islamic state by Izetbegovic (for which he spent several years in prison under Tito).

Notwithstanding this, revitalization of religion as centre of identity has strong causal pressures in its direction, precisely because the other options immediately imply conflicts with Serbs and Croats (where this revitalization is also clearly visible, in spite of both groups having other options).

Moslem problems include both security and identity to an extreme degree. To the Moslems, the armed forces of Bosnian Serbs (and Croats) define the security problem: occupation, expulsion and massacres, with minority status in chauvinist Serb and Croat states as worst case.

“Serbo-Croat” was officially divided into an “Eastern” and a “Western” version in 1953, and then into “Serbian” and “Croatian” in 1974. At that time, Bosnia-Herzegovina solved the problem by defining its official language as “Serbian or Croatian or Serbo-Croat/Croato-Serbian as it is spoken in Bosnia-Herzegovina”; one of the competing Moslem governments (that in Sarajevo) has now defined a separate “Bosnian” language. Whether the Serb-Croat majority in this country will ever see themselves as speaking “Bosnian” remains to be seen, as does whether or not “Croatian” will see further subdivisions (“Istrian”, “Slavonian”, “Dalmatian”) and whether “Montenegrin” will break out of “Serbian”.

2.4. Latent ethno-national contradictions

Peaceful coexistence long seemed successful (except in Kosovo); yet several underlying historical traumas defined latent conflicts. Residing in long-standing popular sentiments, they contributed to constitutional compromises; they were occasionally exacerbated by political manipulation. Expressions were local (Kosovo) or quickly suppressed (Croatia, 1971); after the mid-1980s, they spiralled between political leaderships, eventually trapping the politicians.

Three traumas are particularly important. We describe them without assessing factual accuracy; traumas are defined by different historical memories of nations, not by professional historiographers.

The trauma between Serbs and Croats is recent. When Serbs and Croats from the Ottoman and Habsburg empires fought, it was as soldiers, not as peoples. A widespread Croatian view is as follows. The basic cause lies in the Serbs dominating post-1918 Yugoslavia. The royal family Karadjordjevic was theirs; the Orthodox Church was favoured; Serbs completely dominated the military and police. Croatian protests were repressed, even by political assassinations, especially under the post-1929 royal Serbian dictatorship. In 1941, the Croats finally recovered their own state after centuries of foreign overlords, but German and Italian tutelage brought to power Ante Pavelic, who massacred Jews, Gypsies, Croatian democrats and Serbs. Croats constituted the bulk of Tito’s partisans, suffering vast causalties fighting the Ustasha regime. Civilian Croats were massacred by Serbian ultranationalists, Cetniki; Tito’s bolsheviks exterminated Croatian troops and civilians returned by the Allies. The postwar communist regime was anti-Croatian and Croatian national sentiment oppressed by censorship, imprisonment and party purges.

To many Serbs, Croatian sabotage of the post-1918 constitution made it collapse in 1929. Croatian terrorists, Ustashe, engaged in political assassinations, e.g., King Alexander in 1934. After Hitler’s attack, Pavelic got his Greater Croatia (including Bosnia-Herzegovina). His “final solution” for two million Serbs there was “kill one third, convert one third, expel one third”; Ustasha slaughtered several hundred thousands of Serbs in concentration camps and local massacres. During and after the war, the Serbian Cetniki were persecuted and massacred by communists under the Croat Tito. The communist regime was anti-Serbian and Serbian national sentiment oppressed by censorship and imprisonment; constitutional changes gave Vojvodina and Kosovo influence in Serbia, but Serbia none in them.

The second trauma is between Serbs and Moslems, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sandzak Novipazar. In many Serbian eyes, Moslems were willingly used against them by Turks, Austrians and Ustashae. Moslem eyes, in contrast, see racist Serbian behaviour, including expulsions to Turkey, culminating in genocide in Bosnia-Herzecegovina by the Cetniki.

The third trauma is between Serbs and Albanians. Albanians see a ruthless Serbian occupation since 1878 of increasing Albanian areas, then a Serbian colonization of Kosovo and racist attempts at Serbianization and expulsion of Albanians to Turkey. Serbian massacres against Albanians occurred during World War II, repeatedly reappearing later. A widespread Serbian version remembers Turks expelling Serbs from their historical heartland, implanting Moslemized Albanians there. During World War II, Albanian fascists, Balli Kombetar, collaborated with the occupiers against the Serbs, expelling many from Kosovo. Tito rewarded Albanian riots by installing in 1974 a corrupt Albanian government which discriminated against Serbs; many were killed or threatened, fleeing north for safety.

Most of these perceptions, originating in family traditions or political propaganda, have some historical background, sometimes much; they disagree on how many were killed, to what extent different peoples took part, and whether events were typical or exceptional. All groups see themselves as historical victims of brutal oppression, even genocide. After 1945, these feelings were suppressed in the name of national reconciliation (“Brotherhood and Unity”); they did not disappear from, e.g. oral family traditions. What one group sees as genuine historical grievances is often dismissed by others as mythical or monstrously exaggerated; this exacerbates the traumatic relations, adding the extra trauma of not being heard.

3. The recent background: the 1980s

All these factors are known as belligenous; several were present to an extreme degree. Any choice of “watershed events” must be arbitrary; where “points of no return” can be located, they signify triggers rather than basic causes.

In the last decade, the 1981 uprising in Kosovo is the first such event. Kosovo Albanians repeated their 1968 demand for a republic of their own inside Yugoslavia. The Serbian leadership refused, contradicted by no other republic. Some Serbian arguments were in terms of identity: Kosovo as historical cradle of the medieval Serbian empire, encompassing Kosovo Polje and Serb cultural monuments like medieval churches and monasteries. Other arguments expressed worst case calculations concerning security. Republics, but not autonomous provinces, could constitutionally secede (all republics agreeing); an Albanian republic might declare independence, then join Albania.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had created great concerns in Belgrade, engendering the scenario of tensions between Yugoslavia and a Soviet Union cooperating with Bulgaria and Albania: a nightmare for all Yugoslav security planners. The clinching constitutional argument was that only nations qualified for republics.

3.1. Spiralling nationalism

Demonstrations for a Kosovar republic were ruthlessly suppressed, several hundred Albanians were killed and several thousand imprisoned. Economic crisis provided a breeding ground for nationalism; Albanian nationalism was further strengthened by being oppressed. The aftermath also revitalized Serbian nationalism. Serbian journalists undermined the long-standing taboo on “nationalism”, covering or freely inventing Kosovo Serb complaints about Albanian persecution, thus intentionally or unwittingly paving the ground for the Serbian Communist Party establishing a nationalist platform when Milosevic took over in 1986 (then becoming President of Serbia).

Simultaneously, a working group prepared a draft memorandum to the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was never officially presented; copies or excerpts were leaked, creating widespread rumours. Its main points appear to have been: 1) Preserve and democratize Yugoslavia with equal rights for all peoples; 2) If Yugoslavia disintegrated, Serbs should live together, hence administrative boundaries must be revised; 3) Proposals for revisions and implementation were presented.

The effects of this memorandum exemplify the complex dialectics. To Serbs it would appear innocuous, just stating the obvious in terms of identity and security. If it was intended to dissuade secessions, it was extremely counterproductive: other peoples ignored 1), seeing 2) and 3) as immediate plans. Fears of Serbian nationalism and Yugoslav centralism increased when Serbia limited province autonomy in 1988 (later abolishing it) and oppressed protests in Kosovo, while Serbian mass demonstrations in Vojvodina created a more “Serbian” government there. Open Croatian nationalism reappeared; Slovenia turned secessionist for the first time, revising its constitution in 1989 to authorize a declaration of independence.

3.2. The road to dissolution

Gorbachov contributed to the dissolution by ending the Cold War which defined the same national security raison d’être of Yugoslavia as that provided by prewar Fascist neighbours. This weakened a main Slovenian reason (the other being the Yugoslav market) for remaining in Yugoslavia. The fall of East European regimes contributed to multi-party elections in all republics in 1990, first in Slovenia and Croatia, last in Serbia and Montenegro. Given the cumulation of factors mentioned above, elections came at the worst possible moment. Ardent nationalists won everywhere, irrespective of party colours; the runners-up included even more extreme nationalists, giving the winners little leeway for compromises. They engaged in various demonstrations of sovereignty, accelerating the conflict spiral: attacks on remaining pan-Yugoslav institutions increased Serbian fears and actions inspired by these fears.

Three such institutions were left: the Constitution, the Communist Party (LCY) and the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). The party had long been disintegrating, parties of different republics seeing themselves primarily as representing their republics. The party congress in January 1990 was discontinued by a Slovenian walkout; the Slovenian and Croatian parties left LCY in February.

Croatia and Slovenia set up national guards in 1990, seen as non-constitutional by the Yugoslav government; JNA secretly tried in spring 1990 to bring all weapons of the territorial defence forces into central depots. This succeeded in Croatia; it was discovered and halted in Slovenia.

The constitution was also attacked. Slovenia and Croatia demanded changes making them de facto independent states and drastic cuts in the federal budget, in practice primarily that of JNA. Serbia and Montenegro blocked constitutional changes, suspecting them to aim at total dismemberment of Yugoslavia; abolishing province autonomy improved their blocking power, giving them four seats out of eight in the Presidency. Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were caught in the middle, having made declarations of ill-defined sovereignty but objecting to secessions, presenting federative-confederative alternatives until the last moment in June 1991.

There is a basic dialectic in the process. To many Serbs, Yugoslavia was never pro-Serbian and became increasingly inimical to Serbian interests, but provided two basic guarantees. Serb identity was protected by all Serbs living in the same state; and the physical security of Serbs, hence of the Serbian people, was protected in Yugoslavia (with some shortcomings). The more these Yugoslav guarantees were deflated (by secessions or further confederalization), the stronger became the pressure on the governments in Serbia and Montenegro to provide their own guarantees. The Yugoslavia project and the “Greater Serbia” project were thus complementary to each other. (By the same logic, “Little Serbias” in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina then became complementary to “Greater Serbia”.)

This dialectic has another aspect: the more the Serbs insisted on living together if Yugoslavia would disintegrate, the more the northern republics wanted to secede; the more secessions, the more “Serbian” became the remaining Yugoslavia, spurring further secessions. And once Slovenia and Croatia had seceded, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina turned from mediation to secession.

The development in Croatia provides some illustrations. The Croatian parliament elected in April 1990 immediately introduced various forms of discrimination against non-Croats, worst felt by Serbs redefined from constituent nation in Yugoslavia to minority in Croatia. The normative Croatian version of Serbo-Croat with Latin alphabet became exclusive official language. People were requested to give loyalty oaths. Serb policemen in Serb majority areas (and elsewhere) were fired and replaced by ethnic Croats. Some symbols resembled those of Pavelic’s Croatia, from the checkerboard flag to the cut of uniforms. The Serb areas in Krajina, apparently encouraged by the Socialist Party of Milosevic, then created their own administration and police, declaring that if Croatia would leave Yugoslavia, they would leave Croatia. When this led to clashes, JNA units interposed themselves between the parties, ostensibly as neutral, de facto protecting Serb independence. Since Serbs in other parts of Croatia suffered from this and even more Pavelic symbolism appeared, the spiral continued.

4. Endgame and war

Yugoslavia had three major powder kegs: the first powderkeg was the conflict between Croatian and Slovenian separatism and the (initial) desire of other republics to preserve Yugoslavia. It was highly inflammable: the complex and grey-zoned boundary between Serbs and Croats differed widely from the Serbia/Croatia boundary. In the second powder keg, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbs would never accept making it an independent and unitary state, the initial goal of Croat and Moslem leaderships. The third powder keg is the Serb-Albanian-Macedonian complex with possible extensions to Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.

The political deepening crisis made the EC attempt to mediate, offering generous development aid if the parties agreed; they did not. Croatia and Slovenia met Serbian intransigence with fait accomplis on 25 June 1991; their non-Constitutional declarations of independence led to war. (NOTE: This was ruled by the Supreme Court of Yugoslavia in October 1991: secessions required the consent of all republics.)

4.1. The northern powder keg

Developments demonstrated that Slovenia and Croatia differed greatly: the EC-brokered Brioni agreement on 7 July 1991 included a ceasefire and monitored JNA withdrawal from Slovenia, but created no durable settlement in Croatia.

There was also a complex endgame between Croatia and Slovenia, neither wanting to secede alone while having different interests as to timing; Slovenia won. If its strategy can be reconstructed from actions, it was to rely on Slovenian resources only; be well armed and prepared; force Croatia’s timing by announcing that Slovenia would proclaim independence on 25 June; and demonstrate Slovenian defence capability, hopefully giving Ljubljana and Belgrade common interests in excluding Slovenia from the Serb-Croat conflict, thus saving Slovenia the all-out defensive war it was also prepared for. This strategy was perfectly calculated and capably executed.

Given the brittle balance, Slovenia’s success exacerbated all other problems: domestic political pressures forced Croatia’s government to exceed its resources (NOTE: To compensate for its initial shortage of resources, the Croatian government greatly overanticipated the support from neighbours and the West) in trying to retain the Serb majority areas (Krajina, etc.) that had declared that they would leave Croatia if it left Yugoslavia. In both cases only military occupation could keep the smaller unit in the larger. The resulting war was therefore about the secession itself and about boundaries between Serb areas and Croatia, also giving Croatia an interest in its spreading to Bosnia-Hercegovina and elsewhere.

The original core problem remains in essence the same today. President Tudjman, like the monkey in the fable, could not extract the Croatia hand from the Yugoslav bottle without dropping the Krajina nut and could not drop it without risking his and his regime’s political life to more extreme forces; President Milosevic could not widen the bottle without similarly risking his political life.

When Croatia and Slovenia revived their declarations of independence (“frozen” since Brioni) on 8 October, the withdrawal of JNA forces from Slovenia was completed in October. In Croatia, it predictably escalated the wars: front wars in and around the Serb-majority areas in Krajina and East Slavonia and in southern Dalmatia (Dubrovnik), JNA and allied militias facing Croatia’s national guard and allied militias; siege wars (Croatian forces surrounding JNA bases); guerilla wars behind the fronts; and mutual terrorization of civilian populations by the worst Serb and Croat militias. The fronts moving further into mixed or predominantly Croatian areas, and the EC became increasingly anti-Serbian.

Another escalation followed the EC decision in mid-December 1991 on possible recognitions of Slovenia and Croatia after 15 January 1992 and the unilateral German recognition on 23 December. The UN representative/mediator Cyrus Vance then arranged a ceasefire in early January 1992, durable since then notwithstanding frequent skirmishes. It included a complex package of monitoring, demilitarization, etc., permitting different interpretations by different parties selling it at home. UNPROFOR plays an important role monitoring front lines; Tudjman’s demand for their withdrawal in March 1993 would reopen the war. The Serb republics have merged to the Serb Republic Krajina (RSK), which has agreed with the Serb Republic Bosnia-Herzegovina that UN withdrawal will make them merge.

4.2. The central powder keg: Bosnia-Hercegovina

Invited by the EC, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina applied for recognition of their independence. On 13 January 1992, the Badinter commission recommended recognizing Slovenia and Macedonia, but not Croatia; nor Bosnia-Hercegovina, where the commission, probably out of ignorance, called for a referendum. This was held on 1 March in Croat- and Moslem-dominated areas (a Serb referendum had already proclaimed them independent), a new declaration of independence following: the EC position had forced the cautiously balancing Moslem leadership to join the Croats, ignoring very strong Serb warnings.

After minor skirmishes, the EC decision on 6 April 1992 to recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina made inevitable an all-out and increasingly Lebanon-like war: three peoples, seven political leaderships, nineteen armed forces, etc. – ccording to Milos Vasic, military analyst and editor of the opposition magazine, Vreme, in Belgrade. (NOTE: The choice of 6 April, the anniversary of Hitler’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1941, was probably due to sheer incompetence/ignorance. But it was beyond Serbian imagination that the EC decision makers could be that ignorant; it was therefore read as an extremely threatening signal. The U.S.’s formal recognition was dated April 7).

President Alija Izetbegovic claims to represent the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina; that claim is at least nominally recognized in a minor part of its territory. His government might be seen as representing the Moslem-Croat majority, some sixty percent of the population, given the ambiguity of Croatian positions. What is controlled by this majority, however, is mainly controlled by Croatian forces taking no orders from Sarajevo; where the Croat and Moslem leaderships have common goals, they are primarily anti-Serbian. Present Serb and Croat leaderships have common interests against Moslem ambitions for a unitary state.

It therefore appears more analytically meaningful to see Izetbegovic as representing the Moslems only; forces at his disposal include predominantly Moslem parts of the government forces (TO), plus local Moslem militias reinforced by international mujahedeen. The actor interests we can ascribe to Moslems include Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent unitary state where Moslems are safe for Serbs and Croats. And this defines a conflict with the two other major actors.

The Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, under President Radovan Karad_i_ can be ascribed the goal of its independent existence, within as wide – and as purely Serbian – a territory as possible. It will not rejoin any unitary Bosnia-Herzegovina, but possibly a suffiently cantonized version if that proves necessary and joining Yugoslavia impossible. The Serb leadership will attempt to force the leaderships of Serbia and Yugoslavia to support it (to avoid coups or civil wars in Serbia and Montenegro). Local Serbs, who were in great majority in JNA in Bosnia-Herzegovina, shifted flags and took over most arms and armament factories when JNA withdrew. Local Serb militias, and paramilitary groups hailing Belgrade fascists like Seselj and Arkan, both cooperate and compete with Serb Republic forces; pitched battles have been fought.

The Croat Republic (or Community) of Herceg-Bosna under President Mate Boban differs from the Serb Republic by its political ambiguity and double role as independent entity and nominally loyal part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its present goals parallel those of the Serb leadership: preferably joining Croatia, with independence (more threatened by a unitary Bosnia-Herzegovina than by the Serbs) in as large and purely Croatian (including converted Serbs and Moslems) canton(s) as possible as fallback position. Its offical armed forces are HVO, primarily cooperating and competing with HOS (loyal to Fascist leader Dobroslav Paraga in Zagreb); pitched battles have been foughtin this case too. Izetbegovic was forced to recognize both as legitimate. Parts of TO are Croat dominated by Croats; there are also local Croat militias.

Serb-Croat relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina are no less complex. The leaderships have some contradicting interests, especially about division of territory in minor areas where they are main competitors; common interests primarily lie in blocking a unitary state. President Karadzic hailed the proclamation of the Croat Republic Herceg-Bosna in May 1992 as a reasonable exercise of Croatian national self-determination, asking President Izetbegovic to state his claims for Moslem parts and join negotiations on territorial division. The Serbs can only lose their independence by major Western invasion – which would equally deprive the Croats.

Both leaderships know that sheer demography will shortly give the Moslems majority in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They therefore agree that the only acceptable independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is one sufficiently cantonized to give them de facto independence. The Moslem leadership must see this as threatening: geography and demography would locate the Moslem cantons in the northwest, around Sarajevo and in the southeast; they become isolated enclaves if Serb and Croat cantons “vote themselves home” – unless the Moslems can conquer corridors through the particularly mixed central area of Bosnia by (militarily) cutting Serbian areas off from each other.

The Serb and Croat leaderships might go further, making their areas completely independent states, presumably later to join (Rest) Yugoslavia/serbia and Croatia; or nominally preserving Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state with one Serb and one Croat canton, observing decorum by constitutionally guaranteeing full religious freedom to Moslems. (NOTE: YUGOFAX No. 11 of May 1992 reports about several meetings in Graz and elsewhere between Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders discussing principles for division and agreeing on 65 percent to the Serbs and 36 percent to the Croats; and about repeated Milosevic-Tudjman talks on “swapping lands” in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.)

The Moslem leadership therefore seeks an external military protector; the alliance with Croatia is too ambiguous. A major Western invasion would be indispensable for its maximal ambition (forcing the Serb and Croat republics to join a unitary state); it is unlikely, unless Serbs (or Croats) make extremely provocative moves. Turkey is apparently willing; since Turkish military intervention probably means war with Greece, NATO has strong motives to discourage it.

4.3. The southern powder keg

The southern triangle consists of Serbs, Albanians and Macedonians. The Albanian majority in Kosovo proclaimed the independent Republic of Kosova in 1990 (recognized by Albania only) and has elected a multi-party parliament appointing a government under President Ibrahim Rugova. Kosovo remains under JNA control; the police force is virtually exclusively Serb; the numerous attempts at keeping Kosovo Serbian include firing most of the Albanian labour force, arrestations, sequestration, etc. The Albanian strategy of pragmatic nonviolent resistance includes running a set of institutions (schools, hospitals etc.) parallel to those controlled by Serbia.

Internal conflicts in Macedonia are primarily between Albanians and Macedonians; the Serb minority is small, JNA has withdrawn entirely and Yugoslavia has no territorial claims. The present coalition of reform communists behind President Kiro Gligorov and Albanian parties keeps the largest and irredentist party, VMRO, out of government. The Albanian referendum (10-11 January 1992) gave 90 percent for independence; there have been clashes between Albanians and Macedonians.

Armed struggle in this triangle would probably repeat the pattern of shifting coalitions in the northern and central triangles; it carries a greater risk of internationalization, with Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey as immediate candidates.

5. Conflicts, context and conclusion

The spider web of conflicts is thus even more complex than first indicated: security problems of political units define security dilemmas; there are several “identity dilemmas”; security and identity problems interact, usually negatively.

Local conflict dynamics was further affected by feedback from the EC (and, later, a wider coalition). How has the EC perceived the web of conflicts, what stands has it taken after abandoning its mediator role in late 1991, and what effects have they had?

EC intergovernmentality makes it see conflicts as being between states rather than nations: Serbia and Croatia, rather than Serbs and Croats. Conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina were perceptually transformed into a bipolar conflict with Serbia; a similar transformation is likely if the southern powder keg explodes. Recognition of states was therefore a central issue.

EC policies largely became delayed or diluted German ones. Among factors affecting national positions, most predicted a Greek pro-Serb position and all a pro-Croatian stand in Germany, whose weight in the EC was multiplied by domestic consensus. (See Håkan Wiberg, Divided States and Divided Nations as a Security Problem – The Case of Yugoslavia, Copenhagen: Centre for Peace and Conflict Research, 1992 (Working Paper 14/1992).

EC policies also became more abstractly “German” in three respects:
a) Germany reinforced the inherent EC emphasis of state over nation, e.g., when making the EC invent, in autumn 1991, the principle that secessions should follow administrative rather than national boundaries. This radically new approach to national self-determination answered the question from Yugoslavia in October 1991: “Who can be the subject of the right to self-determination from the standpoint of international public law – a nation or a federal unit; is the right to self-determination a subjective collective right or the right of a territory?” (See John Zametica, The Yugoslav Conflict, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1992 (Adelphi Paper No. 270), p. 63. )

b) Germany made the EC follow its own tradition of using recognition as a political weapon, notwithstanding some other members traditionally seeing recognition as a merely factual issue; and:

c) German Rechtstaatlichkeit was embodied in criteria for recognition, especially human rights and minority protection.

The EC thus completely favoured state before nation, with serious implications for the legal distinction between “nations” entitled to national self-determination and “national minorities” merely entitled to minority protection. Serbs outside Serbia became minorities, as Croatia had intended by its 1990 constitution and in contradiction of the Bosnia-Herzegovina constitution.

This being absolutely central to Serb identity, the EC position deepened the conflicts by inevitably being seen as anti-Serbian. Local Serbs would have little faith in assurances extracted from Croatia by an EC that was not seen taking its own conditions seriously. Germany stated on 23 December 1991 that it was satisfied that Croatia fulfilled the conditions for minority protection and human rights. Serbs would conclude that Germany believed more in Croatia’s government than in Serb corpses and refugees.

Hubris made the EC overestimate what its formulas had solved; its state-over-nation emphasis made it drastically underestimate what was at stake for the Serbs, especially those outside Serbia, hence how deep it must dig in the Realpolitik toolbox to extract concessions. Serb concessions consist in state behaviour: withdrawing JNA, Yugoslav renunciations of territorial claims, calls to Serbs in Croatia to accept a “special status” there. The EC awards are seen as threatening the Serb nation; all parties expecting enforcement, they first engendered Croat illusion politics and Serb paranoia politics, then Moslem illusion politics, Serb paranoia politics and Croat Realpolitik; with ominous implications for the remaining powder keg.


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