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Integrative Problems: Interwar Yugoslavia and the Major National Ideologies


Integrative Problems: Interwar Yugoslavia and the Major National Ideologies

One prevalent explanation for the eventual demise of the Yugoslav state is that it never succeeded in constituting itself as a political community, as a nation-state whose identity conceptually and structurally transcended the various nations that it comprised. While the special function and purpose of the Yugoslav state ideally would have accommodated a large, diverse collectivity of many different ethnic groups, national minorities, and religions, as well as cultural, economic, and linguistic differences, the reality was that each of Yugoslavia's nations sought to use Yugoslavia to protect its own particular national identity and develop its own idea about statehood. The more obvious reality was that these different conceptions of the Yugoslav state were decidedly asymmetrical: Yugoslav statehood had to compete with its individual nations’ desires for statehood. Yet the Yugoslav state itself would eventually be usurped by the largest nation–Serbs–to serve its own national interest. To be sure, the creation of a Yugoslav nation-state reflected Serbian interests, while Croatian interests (and, later, those of the other republics) fostered the ideal of a Yugoslav confederation of independent states.

The first Yugoslavia (the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) enshrined the idea of “national unity” in a liberal, parliamentary monarchy. The idea of “national unity” presumed that there lived in Yugoslavia one people with three names–Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The wartime allies promoted unification of these “tribes” in a common state as an expression of the right to self-determination on the basis of nationality, following the example of the creation of the Italian and German nations in the second half of the nineteenth century.16 Of course, such “Yugoslav ethnic unity” was spurious.17 Its foundation of putative ethnic unity was, in essence, a joint project among the various South Slav nations to ward off any territorial aspirations of neighboring countries and to protect their national identities through a “unified” Yugoslavia. The state was dominated by Serbian institutions (above all, the Serbian House of Karadjordjevic), including the military, the political leadership, and the civil service. These institutions were mechanically transferred to the new parts of Yugoslavia, even though these old Serbian institutions lacked the integrative potential for a new state that was five times larger than Serbia and that now brought under its dominion fragments of old empires that were arguably more developed than Serbia from a legal, cultural, and economic standpoint. After the creation of Yugoslavia as a unified nation and centralized state under Serbian domination, the Croatian political parties entered the opposition, obstructing the work of parliament and state organs. Practically from the very founding of Yugoslavia, the Croatian national question was opened up.

Even before its formation as a state, there were debates over how the first Yugoslavia should be organized, even though Serbia entered the debates with a considerable advantage. Serbia had a stronger position in the negotiations over Yugoslavia, largely owing to its reputation as one of the victors in the Balkan Wars (1912-13), then as a state on the side of the Entente during World War I (in which Serbs suffered enormous casualties), and finally as an organized military force capable of blocking the pretensions of neighboring countries to Yugoslav lands (primarily Italy's claims on Dalmatia). For these reasons, Serbia believed that it had the right to speak in the name of all Yugoslav peoples and to influence decisively the form of the state in conformity with Serbian national interests. Given the historical circumstances and balance of power, the Serbian position prevailed.18

Serbian politicians rejected outright the Croatian proposals for a federation. Such a scheme was foreign to Serbian history. Moreover, anything less than a centralized state would deprive Serbia of its dominant role in ruling the new country. If Serbian politicians were to accept the federal model, they would have to link together all of the “Serbian lands” so that Serbia could be assured of a dominant role in such a federation. The “Serbian lands in Austria-Hungary” that would be linked with Serbia were understood to include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojvodina with Srem, and a part of Dalmatia. Montenegro, which had already united with Serbia, also fell within these “lands.” Moreover, Serbia had already obtained Vardar Macedonia and Kosovo in the Balkan Wars. As a result, the Serbian federal unit would be substantially larger than its Croatian and Slovenian counterparts. The idea of a federation created on the basis of historical provinces was not up for consideration, since it would “break up the Serbian nation” and the leading role of Serbia.19 Serbian politicians were not prepared to “drown Serbia in the Yugoslav community” and rejected the example of the Piedmont region, which renounced its own past for the unification of Italy. This is the reason why Serbia did not agree to call the new state “Yugoslavia,” which came only in 1929 under the dictatorship of King Alexander.

Debates over how Yugoslavia should be organized–as either a unitary or a federal state–constantly plagued the first Yugoslavia, and the debates continued on into the second, communist, Yugoslavia until its disintegration. But debates over the country's political structure involved much more than arguments about the nature and extent of federal relations in the two Yugoslavias. At the heart of these debates was the ongoing battle to resolve Yugoslavia's national question. The opposing sides in these debates almost always divided along the lines of the two historically dominant ideologies that inevitably destroyed both Yugoslavias: Croatian and Serbian.

Well before unification, a strong political current in Croatia advocated an independent Croatia within its “historical boundaries,” which included Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of contemporary Serbia (a so-called Greater Croatia). Because Croatia long enjoyed an autonomous status under Hungarian rule, it joined Yugoslavia as a nation with a well-developed consciousness about the “right of statehood,” that is, the right to an independent state.20 Given the circumstances at the time, Croatia was not in a position to exercise this right or to advance the cause for a federal Yugoslavia. Pressed by an internal Yugoslav movement (which was especially strong in Dalmatia and among Croatian Serbs who were pushing for unification with Serbia), Croatia joined Yugoslavia, but with a strong feeling of its unequal position in the partnership.21 Given its ambivalent relationship toward the unified state, and the fact that such an arrangement was ill suited for advancing its own interests, Croatia maintained a strategic position of separatism regarding its conception of the Yugoslav state. This position alternated between a pro-Yugoslav ideal of an autonomous state within a confederation of other South Slavs and outright secession from the Yugoslav federation and the establishment of a truly independent state. Regarding the latter position, Serbs posed the only obstacle to its achievement, according to the more extreme strains of Croatian nationalist sentiment. Croatian nationalist ideology and a historical longing for the national state it lost a thousand years before gave ample support for such a position.

Serbia's basic objective remained the unification of all Serbs in one state. Following this nationalist ideology, Serbia entered World War I with the aim of bringing together all Serbs and Serbian lands, including those in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Vojvodina (all under Austro-Hungarian rule). However, Serbia officially defined its war goal as the broader unification of all South Slavs within one state. The idea of Serbian unification was based on two principles. One reflected narrow Serbian interests: It envisioned a large Serbian state that would be a center of power in the Balkans after Serbian military victories and strategic alliances with the other Balkan nations forced the dying Hapsburg and Ottoman empires out of the region. Serbia achieved this goal, ending Ottoman rule and annexing Macedonia and Kosovo. The Serbian diaspora had a dual role in fulfilling Serbian unification: providing the resources needed to occupy a dominant position in the Balkans and focusing on the national question. While the borders of this “Greater Serbia” were not clearly drawn, Serbia's more ardent nationalists invoked the image of a rebirth of the medieval Serbian kingdom lost to the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389.

The second principle was broader: namely, Yugoslavism conceived in a number of ways. Yugoslavia as a multinational enterprise, and not an expanded Serbia, was more popular among prominent segments of the Serbian intelligentsia and youth than in official political and military circles.22 The pervasiveness of Serbian ethnic boundaries coincided with both the Yugoslav ideal and the cooperation established in the mid-nineteenth century with other nations that included large Serbian communities, principally Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. However, Serbian politicians did not renounce the Piedmont-like position of Serbia and its leading role in the creation of Yugoslavia. Toward the end of World War I, the Serbs realized their unification plan with the establishment of Yugoslavia under the slogan “national and state unity.” From that time on, they considered Yugoslavia the permanent solution to their national question. Accordingly, they made great sacrifices during World War I, assigning themselves the role of the Yugoslav “state people” and “liberators” of the other peoples.23 This dual identity remained a permanent part of the Serbian national character up to the emergence of the Serbian national movement in the 1980s, when this tie was broken with the rejection of Yugoslavism and Yugoslavia as the Serbian homeland.

Under the pressure of national, social, and economic problems, Yugoslavia did not survive for long as a parliamentary democracy. King Alexander's imposition of dictatorship in 1929 decisively defeated the idea of Yugoslavia as a liberal state based on “national unity.” Through repression and persecutions, the King imposed his own version of national unity, including extensive regional reorganization aimed at severing ties among ethnic communities and lessening their potential for resistance. This policy was not only unsuccessful, it intensified dissatisfaction among the national groups it sought to include in the monarchy's ideal of Yugoslavism, including Serbia. Such a policy found support only among diaspora Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

With the weakening of the dictatorship in 1934, pressure to resolve the Croatian question was so strong that on the eve of World War II the regime established the Croatian region (banovina). In addition to the traditional Croatian lands, considerable parts of Herzegovina and northern Bosnia were included in the new region. The establishment of the Croatian administrative region, in turn, reopened the question of where and how far the Serbian lands extended.

During Yugoslavia's partition in World War II, the conflict over the national question culminated in ethno-religious war and genocide in the fascist Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which included Bosnia-Herzegovina and part of present-day Serbia, near Belgrade. Ethnic atrocities committed by the Nazi-sponsored Croatian Ustashe regime in the NDH left an indelible mark on Serbian national consciousness, as well as on the consciousness of peoples who suffered Serbian revenge. The mass liquidations that were carried out by the new communist government against so-called collaborators and “class enemies” further traumatized the Yugoslav nations.

The scale of the massacres in the NDH and other mass executions would not allow their examination in the atmosphere of “national reconciliation” that followed the war. Such a possibility was further denied by communist ideology, which rejected attempts to define the problems of ethnic war in “national” terms. As such, genocide and massacres were not carried out by members of national groups, but by “fascists,” “Ustashe,” and “Chetniks.” Monuments were raised to the victims, but a veil of silence covered over the climate of fear and mutual distrust.24

Ever since the founding of Yugoslavia, two distinct nationalist policies have struggled for primacy in the debate over the country's political future: Croatian separatism striving for an independent state and Serbian centralism striving to preserve the common Yugoslav state under its dominion. Croatian nationalism was separatist and oppositional, Serbian nationalism alternated between outright Serbian rule and a strict federalism governed through central government institutions. While the former would be nurtured by economic growth through a reorientation of the Croatian economy, the latter would have to rely on the army and the police. The Croatian policy supported the devolution of power from the center outward and found support among most other Yugoslav nations, which would eventually articulate their own national aspirations–Slovenian, Macedonian, Albanian, and (in the Bosnian experience) Muslim.

Both of these strident, ethnocentric, national ideologies preordained the failure of any attempt to constitute Yugoslavia as a modern unitary and liberal state. To be sure, such attempts lacked a genuine appreciation for the term “liberal state.” For Serbia, the Yugoslav state became nothing more than a vehicle for Serbian domination, which, in turn, stimulated Croatian national opposition and, in a somewhat subsidiary fashion, Slovenian nationalism. The position of the other Yugoslav nations was simply not a matter for discussion. The first Yugoslav state was not only unable to pacify internal conflicts and dilute rigid national ideologies, but its collapse in World War II left no mechanisms in place to prevent extreme methods of resolving the national question.

Ethno-national Federalism under Communist Rule

The disintegration of the second Yugoslavia and the activity of the main actors up through the outbreak of violent conflict can be understood in a specific context, that of a multinational federal state operating within a socialist framework. Both of these elements, which served as the bases of Yugoslavia's renewal after World War II, produced new problems of integration at the level of both the federation and the new federal units, or “national states.” New contradictions emerged with the radical rejection of the civic principle of citizenship as a means of integrating the Yugoslav state and its constituent parts.

“National in form, socialist in content”

The renewal of the country from the start of the war was taken up by the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, which played the role of “mediator” among the quarreling Yugoslav peoples. It promised a resolution of the national question, which from its ideological standpoint, could be settled only as an inseparable part of a social revolution. The party's linkage of social and national revolutions offered a specific way to “resolve” the national question and constitute Yugoslavia as a unified state. The linkage between nation and revolution was presented as a comprehensive arrangement, best expressed by the classic Soviet formula, “national in form, socialist in content.” What exactly did this formula mean for the formation of Yugoslavia as a state, and how exactly was the national question “resolved” according to this formula?

The contradictory nature of Yugoslavia as a state was apparent from its very inception. On the one hand, the Communist party was able to come to power only as a Yugoslav movement; on the other hand, it could not hope to attract the “oppressed nations” to the revolutionary cause with the promise of a Yugoslav solution to the national question. The social revolution, following the tradition of the Soviet experience, subsumed class and national divisions within the categories of the oppressed and the oppressor. Simply put, some of Yugoslavia's nations were “working class,” and others ranked among the bourgeoisie. According to the LCY, the “Serbian bourgeoisie” was both a class and national oppressor. Thus, the party did not offer a Yugoslavia that its “exploited nations” would continue to view as a Serbian creation; rather, it attempted to move the new Yugoslavian project as far away from Serbian influence as it could. This was achieved by emphasizing the revolutionary right of each nation to self-determination and by offering the promise of a federal organization of Yugoslavia. The resulting framework of social revolution (which, according to party ideologists, was coterminous with the country's national war of liberation) could only be a new, socialist Yugoslavia. In its formulation of the new socialist project, “the party had come to acquire a sensitivity to the point of view of the individual Yugoslav nationalities while at the same time being fully committed to finding a Yugoslav solution to the national question.”25 How would such a Yugoslavia be constituted? On what institutional assumptions would it be based?

According to official communist doctrine, Yugoslavia could not be established as a nation-state, even in a federal arrangement. “Nations” were products of capitalism, not socialism; so any attempt to establish administrative units based on historical categories, such as nations, was out of the question. Unity in the new, socialist Yugoslavia was to be realized by merging the basic differences (including national ones) among its various peoples in an all-encompassing proletariat.26 This presumed unity was not political (i.e., national) but apolitical (i.e., class-based) in nature. Until the time when this new unity could be fully established, nations would be recognized and constituted as sovereign states, but only until that “form” could be transcended by an authentic community of working people. Of course, recognition of the nations as sovereign states was, from the start, more established on paper than in fact, particularly with regard to their own national policies. The major decisions were taken in the central party organs, and all state institutions, including republican governments, were merely “transmitters” of these decisions.

The formula “national in form, socialist in content” established Yugoslavia as a state based on one ideological project, or more precisely, the absolute and centralized power of the Communist party and its apparatus of state power.27 The subjective dimension of Yugoslavia as a state is expressed by “socialist patriotism,” which reduces its identity to that of a communist supranational ideology. This tenuous conception of Yugoslavia would later provoke its crisis. The weakening and disappearance of socialism's ideological sovereignty raised perforce fundamental and profound questions about Yugoslavia's existence as a state, as happened in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

As long as communist Yugoslavia could not be defined as a nation-state (“nation” defined as a shared political community), nor its citizens as constituting a unified nation, its communist leaders could safely allow its composite parts to be constituted in national terms.28 Yugoslavia institutionalized the relations among these nations through an unusual federal arrangement based on a hierarchy of two kinds of ethno-nationality. Enjoying the higher status were the “constitutive nations” that originally “joined together in the common state” and theoretically enjoyed the right to be recognized as sovereign states. Thus, Yugoslav federalism was based on an ethno-national sovereignty that would bear the seeds of future ethnocracies once its socialist framework fell apart.29 Five constitutive nations were so recognized–Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, and Slovenes–each of which was territorially and politically organized as a republic in the Yugoslav federation. One republic, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was not recognized under the national principle until 1971. After the recognition of Muslims as a separate ethno-nation, Bosnia-Herzegovina became a republic consisting of three constitutive peoples: Serbs, Croats, and Muslims.

The constitutive nations enjoyed the status of states (republics), while all of the other national groups held the status of national minorities with recognized cultural rights. Later on, this status was elevated to the level of “nationalities” (narodnost), granting them proportional representation at the local level, and at the provincial/republican and federal levels for larger minority groups (e.g., Hungarians in Vojvodina). Within the Serbian republic, two autonomous provinces were formed: Kosovo, populated primarily by ethnic Albanians, and Vojvodina, populated by significant numbers of ethnic Hungarians and other minorities.30 Under the 1974 constitution, both of these regions took on a state-like status similar to that enjoyed by the republics.

Despite the regime's attempts to control national aspirations by institutionalizing them within the political and territorial boundaries of the titular republics, the more abstract aspects of nationhood could not be so confined. Conferring the sense of statehood upon Yugoslavia's major ethnic groups had far greater consequences in strengthening the territorial and ethnic integration of these nations. That is, their rights to be “constitutive” were recognized not only within their respective states, but also among their conationals inhabiting the territory of other Yugoslav republics. In some cases, these ethnic diaspora communities viewed the constitutive nature of Yugoslav nationhood as giving them the right to extend the sovereignty of their national “homeland” to the territories they inhabited. Such was the case with Serbs in Croatia, constituting 12 percent of the republic's population in 1991. Later, this status would produce enormous problems, giving Croatian Serbs the “right” to secede from Croatia, and giving Croatia the right to deny them this status by designating them as a “minority” in its new constitution. An even clearer example was in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where, according to the same principle, three nations held sovereignty: Serbs, Croats, and Muslims.31 This principle held for Yugoslavia's other nations as well, but it did not have the same consequences due to the significantly smaller share of other nations in their populations.

Yugoslavia's institutionalization of these two opposing principles of integration–territorial-political and ethnic–posed an apparent contradiction that had two major consequences.32 First, none of Yugoslavia's constitutive nations acquired its own national state (with the exception of Slovenia, which was more or less ethnically homogeneous), since members of other “constitutive” nations lived within their borders. The second consequence bears on the issue of the right to self-determination. Specifically, who is the bearer of that right in the Yugoslav experience? Does self-determination apply to the republics or to “peoples” as members of national groups? (Serbian nationalists insisted on the latter, referring to the federal constitution, which states that “nations” and not republics “joined together” to form the common state.)

There was a third consequence whose significance would become increasingly apparent in later conflicts: When “constitutive peoples” were in the minority of a particular republic, they were denied the exercise of their cultural rights, since they already enjoyed such rights in their own titular republics. Thus, for example, Serbs in both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Croats in the latter, could not carry out their own cultural policies as ethnic groups, nor could they maintain cultural links with their home republics.33 Such policies not only precluded the possibility of peacefully integrating national minorities into the majority ethnic group's titular republic, but they prevented these minorities from maintaining vital cultural linkages to their national homelands within the territorial and political framework of that republic. This absolutized the political (i.e., state) criteria for guarding and protecting the “nation” in the ethno-cultural sense. Moreover, this arrangement later gave Serbia's policy of unifying all Serbs unlimited possibilities for playing upon Serbian discontent in order to escalate conflicts in Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina.

This system was the logical consequence of rejecting the civil state as a framework for integration under the socialist regime. Such a “supranational” arrangement could be maintained only with the unlimited power of the Communist party, which kept an eye on any and all attempts to raise national consciousness to the level of nationalism among Yugoslavia's myriad ethno-national groups.

Could the new Yugoslavia have succeeded in attenuating the country's two major national ideologies–Serbian domination and Croatian separatism–that threatened the very survival of the Yugoslav experiment? The obvious answer is that it could not, but less obvious is why it could not. Was the Yugoslav experiment doomed to fail from its inception? The key to answering this deeper question once again lies in the different perceptions of Yugoslavia's two main ethno-national groups about the purpose of the new federation.

The revolutionary bases–national and social–underlying the legitimacy of socialist Yugoslavia can be understood as a compromise between the two major national ideologies. Yugoslavia's new federal arrangement within a socialist context not only provided all of the region's major national groups their own territorial sovereignty, but ensured a de jure equality among the federation's new states. At least this was the perception among most of the Yugoslav nations, including Croatia. Serbia perceived the new federation differently: Yugoslavia's renewal under a strong, centralized communist order would once again fulfill Serbia's historical quest to unify all Serbs in one state.34 Serbs accepted the new federation and the borders that defined its republics and provinces only because Yugoslavia, not the republic of Serbia, would now be the guarantor of their national interest. In spite of its new configuration, Yugoslavia's basic asymmetry survived under the guise of arbitrary “national balancing acts” that would later serve as the basis for new nationalist grievances. The most obvious of such “national balancing acts” was the overrepresentation of Serbs in the federal organs of power–military, police, and administration. Disproportionate numbers of Serbs outside of Serbia joined Partisan forces in World War II and were active in the revolution. For their efforts as a loyal cadre, these Serbs were awarded state and party positions in these republics in disproportionate numbers. This circumstance especially caused discontent among Croats, even though the numbers of Serbs did not undermine the dominant position of the Croatian cadre in its own titular republic. On the other hand, this circumstance “balanced off” the reduction of Serbia as a republic (with its two autonomous provinces).35

Centralism and decentralism

Beginning in the early 1960s, the debate over centralism versus decentralism in the federation highlighted the differences between the two fundamental views of Yugoslavia's national purpose. Serbia's official policy strategically sided with the center of power and “Yugoslavism,” resisting until the end of the decade the push for decentralization and economic reforms that would lead to a redistribution of power in favor of the republics and provinces.36 Croatia and Slovenia extended their original support of economic decentralization to the central Yugoslav party and state apparatuses, resisting periodic attempts by the party to renew the idea of “Yugoslavism” outside the context of “socialist patriotism.”37 This position found support among the other non-Serbian republics and provinces, not because of similar economic interests, but for political reasons–namely, to weaken the central government as a Serbian stronghold. Thus Croatia (along with Slovenia and the other non-Serbian republics) adopted the strategy of loosening and weakening the central role of the federation, preferring that it merely represent the positions the republics and provinces had already agreed on.

If one event foreshadowed the specter of nationalism in postwar Yugoslavia, it occurred in 1964 at the Eighth LCY Congress, which rejected the idea of “Yugoslav culture” as assimilationist. Croatia and its supporters denounced “integral Yugoslavism” as a chauvinist policy advanced by Serbian hegemonists. Similarly, the congress rejected the “bourgeois prejudice about the withering away of nations” and the specious notion that “national differences will disappear quickly after the revolution.” These viewpoints were judged as being not only incorrect but also bureaucratic, “unitarist,” and hegemonic.38 In line with such criticism, the congress witnessed a complete turnaround in efforts to establish Yugoslavia as a nation-state. From that point on, nations/republics were to become the real bearers of sovereignty, as all nations have the right to do. At its next congress in 1969, the LCY followed the same pattern, transferring party power to the republican organs. Thus, Yugoslavia's Communist party practically disappeared as a unified organization, although it continued to function primarily because of Tito's sacred and absolute power.

The devolution of power initiated at the Eighth LCY Congress eventually produced a series of comprehensive constitutional changes that culminated in the 1974 constitution. Tito's personal power was strengthened under Yugoslavia's new basic law (which only served to codify the tremendous growth of his personality cult during the 1970s), as was the political role of the Yugoslav National Army, which became the ninth member of the collective presidency of the LCY, along with the eight representatives of the republics and provinces.39 On the other hand, the new constitution also transferred power to the republics. In the federal organs, decisions had to be made according to consensus (with each republic and province holding veto power). All of the republics were represented equally in government bodies; the provinces had a smaller number of representatives, but this did not affect their position. Representatives in federal organs consisted of “delegations” from the republics and provinces, and they were accountable to these bodies for their decisions. Republics and provinces could develop their own independent foreign relations, and the organization of territorial defense was left up to the republics as well.

The formal bearers of sovereignty in Yugoslavia were its nations. Without the agreement and approval of the country's eight national states (six republics and the two provinces), the federation could not function, as it did not have its own autonomous source of authority.40 The need for agreement among disparate national states operating within a framework of overlapping federal and confederal jurisdictions (the proscribed powers of the federation were fairly broad) meant that every question was necessarily “nationalized,” inevitably leading to national confrontations on a regular basis.41 Under the 1974 constitution, so-called international relations were established within Yugoslavia.42 Every question affecting the entire federation first had to be cleared in one's own state and returned to the federal level for final agreement. Since there were no federal bodies with their own source of legitimacy that transcended that of the republics, Yugoslavia under the new constitution could neither frame issues in terms of their impact on the federation as a whole, nor arrive at federal solutions that attempted to effect compromise outcomes.

Finally, the 1974 constitution established a symmetry that precluded linking Yugoslavia's identity with any particular republic. As such, Yugoslavia essentially had no citizens; rather, it was inhabited by citizens of its respective republics. In reality, though, the country's political life belonged to Tito and the Yugoslav National Army. The country's political elites would begin their competition for real political power only after Tito's death in 1980.

The institutionalization of Yugoslavia as an ethno-national federation constituted the first step in dismembering Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. This analysis suggests that Yugoslavia, as a multinational state, was formed in such a way that it emerged and survived only under the aegis of authoritarian rule, and that the battle for ethno-national statehood results in either the construction of a common “nation-state” that seeks to pacify separate national identities, disintegration into independent states, or the formation of a confederation (which is not a “state” in the real sense of the term). However, neither possibility obtained in postwar Yugoslavia, since asymmetrical national interests and the very institutional structure of multinationality precluded these alternatives. Rather, Yugoslavia's states resorted to yet another alternative–to change Yugoslavia's internal borders through prolonged, bloody conflict.

http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/early/pesic/pesic2.html

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