Yugoslavia Dismembered

By Heller, Henry | Canadian Dimension, April 1996 | Go to article overview

Yugoslavia Dismembered


Heller, Henry, Canadian Dimension


The Left internationally is divided in its view of the tragic conflict in Yugoslavia. There are those who believe that Serbia, as the last vestige of Yugoslav socialism, is the victim of bad press designed to finish off the final refuge of Titoist communism. Leftists of this persuasion, furthermore, argue that the Serbs are right to resist Croat nationalism which represents a throwback to the nightmare of Ustashe fascism. In addition it is said that the dismemberment of Yugoslavia was accelerated by an economic crisis engendered by a crushing debt owed to Western banks. Indeed, the German Federal Republic's hasty recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia was deliberately aimed at the dissolution of socialist Yugoslavia.

While not denying these claims others on the left put the blame for the breakup of Yugoslavic and subsequent civil war squarely on Serbian nationalism. The rise of nationalism within the most powerful of the Yugoslav republics was the catalyst behind all the other factors including Croat and Slovenian separatism. Catherine Samary, economics professor at the University of Paris IX-Dauphine, argues this case in this concise and clear study of the genesis of the Yugoslav tragedy.

Samary's argument rests on an analysis of the historical evolution of the Yugoslov state in the course of the 20th century. Yugoslavia was first created in 1918 in the wake of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Seizing the moment the Serbian monarchy absorbed the rest of Yugoslavia on its own terms. As a result the other national groups including Slovenians, Croats, Muslems, Albanians, Hungarians and Macedonians were forced into a position of subordination and inferiority. The Second World War marked the end of this first Yugoslov state. Under German rule the war saw a three-sided conflict between the right-wing Serbian monarchists (Chetniks), Ustashe Croatian Fascists and Tito's communist Partisans. Aside from the appeal of socialism, the strength of the Partisans lay in the notion of a new Yugoslav confederation of national republics in which the major ethnic groups were guaranteed equal treatment. The new confederation entailed the reduction of Serbian influence as an inherent principle. Under Tito the common political wisdom was that a weak Serbia made for a strong Yugoslavia. This principle was taken so far as to create two autonomous republics - Voividinja and Kosovo - within the Serbian republic itself.

Until the death of Tito in 1980 this framework endured. in retrospect it can be seen that it provided a certain stability and made possible some real economic and social progress. Travelling through Yugoslavia during the 1970s I recall a country enjoying a modest degree of prosperity. …

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