The Last Years of Yugoslavia

Article excerpt

The past three years have witnessed unprecedented upheavals and rebellions by millions of people in East European countries. Rigid social and political structures disintegrated and tyrant after tyrant fell from the domain of absolute power when the rebellious masses took matters into their own hands. People rebelled against their system believing that what they were fighting against was socialism. They believed that only a Western-style market economy would deliver them from years of oppression and deprivation. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed, the Berlin Wall was torn asunder, and East Germany's Erich Honecker fled to Moscow. Bulgarians, Hungarians, Czechoslovakians, and Albanians fought for a Western-style political and economic system. In Yugoslavia, which was already integrated into the Western economies, the peoples' struggle took a different form - the struggle for national liberation.

To understand the failure of the Yugoslav regime and the resurgence of nationalism it will be argued that the ruling class in Yugoslav politics failed to exert its dominance in society. The first crisis was manifested in the construction of Yugoslav-style socialism based on the concept of self-management development in 1950-1980, which led to uneven economic development and growing foreign debt. The second crisis was reflected in Yugoslavia's circumventionist approach to the question of internationality which gave birth to nationalistic sentiments during Tito's rule and led to ethnic unrest in the post-Tito era and then to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The ruling class failed to transform itself from a position of domination to that of hegemony. It did not seek the active consent and support of Yugoslavia's multi-nationality but rather relied on coercive force in maintaining its domination. The ruling class organized a powerful secret police apparatus (UDBA) and used it to suppress opposition. To become hegemonic, the ruling class (or faction) must prevail in society in terms of its economic, political, intellectual, and moral leadership through the articulation of a national popular outlook based on the active consent of its subjects.

Building and maintaining hegemony ~involves taking systematic account of popular interests and demands, shifting position and making compromises on secondary issues to maintain support and alliances in an inherently unstable and fragile system of political relations ... and organizing this support for the attainment of national goals which serve the fundamental long-term interests of the dominant group'.(1) Hegemony also requires an accumulation strategy based on ~a specific economic growth model complete with its various extra-economic preconditions and outlines the general strategy appropriate to its realization. To be successful such a model must unify the different moments in the circuit of capital ... under the hegemony of one faction (whose composition will vary inter alia with the stage of the capitalist development)'.(2) The crisis of a modern state occurs when the ruling class lacks active social support. ~If the ruling class lost its consensus, i.e. is no longer leading but only dominant, exercising coercive force alone, this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies and no longer believe what they used to believe previously, etc. The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear'.(3) Policies and practices of external social formation (multinational and transnational corporations) as an external factor also can precipitate the crisis of a modern state.

Yugoslavia emerged as a kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in December 1918 under the leadership of the Serbian King Alexander Karadjordjevic. It united the former Austro-Hungarian territories of Croatia, Slovenia, Dalmatia, Vojvodina, and Bosnia-Hercegovina as well as the independent kingdoms of Montenegro and Serbia. …