The dissolution of three multinational states in central and eastern Europe in the early 1990s posed a major challenge not only to the international community but also to the world of the social sciences. The break-up of a state is not just traumatic for its inhabitants (though many of them may welcome this development); it may also threaten the stability of neighbouring states and it is an event that requires explanation both as an important theoretical question and because of its public policy implications.
This chapter explores the circumstances behind the break-up of Yugoslavia. It begins with a discussion of general theories relating to secession. It then proceeds to examine the Yugoslav case in the light of these, providing an outline of the evolution of the national question in Yugoslavia, assessing the role of the various forces that contributed ultimately to the collapse of the state and looking at the mechanics of this process itself. In particular, this chapter considers the argument that, in addition to the most obvious factors that contribute to the fragmentation of a state (secessionist tendencies in its peripheries clashing with an initial unwillingness on the part of the international community to accept the break-up of a political system), Yugoslavia's fate was also conditioned by a disposition on the part of its 'core' Serbian nationality to follow its own path of secession in purely ethnic terms. 1
Why are theories of secession relevant to an understanding of developments in Yugoslavia? Misunderstanding about political phenomena rooted in inadequate concepts may have repercussions in real political life: international misconceptions about the origins of a crisis are likely to promote unsound foreign policy decisions. In other words, ideas and concepts are crucial in framing action. The study of secession has been