Democracy and Nationalism in Yugoslavia

By Dijana Plestina. Dr. Dijana Plestina, assistant professor of political science, Ohio, is a native of Yugoslavia who recently returned after six months there. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 1990 | Go to article overview

Democracy and Nationalism in Yugoslavia


Dijana Plestina. Dr. Dijana Plestina, assistant professor of political science, Ohio, is a native of Yugoslavia who recently returned after six months there., The Christian Science Monitor


THE trouble with democracy is that people vote the way they want rather than the way they "should." Consequently, election results can be not only wildly unexpected, but downright inconvenient.

Such is the case in Yugoslavia, where last month the first free multiparty elections since World War II were held in two of the country's eight federal units. The results in both Slovenia and Croatia, Yugoslavia's wealthiest and most developed republics, were an impressive 55 percent popular vote for Slovenia's DEMOS Coalition and an astounding 70 percent for the Croatian Democratic Union.

The "inconvenience" of these election results is that they show both the Slovenes and the Croats to be first and foremost nationalists and, if need be, separatists. Why is this so? What does it portend for the future of Yugoslavia? Could it have repercussions on the stability of the Balkans and beyond? And is there a role for the United States?

First, this is an anticommunist vote. With unemployment 20 percent nationwide and doubling as insolvent factories fold, some 60 percent of the workers are living at or below the poverty line. A decade-long decline in living standards has turned people against those associated with a regime that has led the country to the brink of economic disaster.

Second, this vote reflects the fear of Serbian expansionism, reawakened by the charismatic demagogue Slobodan Milosevic, who over a 21/2-year period has purged liberal elements within Serbia and has gone beyond his republic's borders to topple the leaderships of Vojvodina, Montenegro, and Kosovo. Moreover, there is the perception that Milosevic has tried unsuccessfully to do the same in other republics, including Slovenia and Croatia.

Third, this is an anticentralization vote. In the current dispute over reapportionment of power between Yugoslavia's federal government and its republics, Slovenia and Croatia are determined to keep or enhance their powers.

Fourth, political sovereignty has specific economic repercussions. With only 25 percent of the Yugoslavia population, Slovenia and Croatia contribute more than half the federal budget. The money thus siphoned off, they point out, has led to their stagnation while yielding neither political nor economic results. Thus, they perceive the federal government as unsympathetic and often hostile to their problems.

These accumulated frustrations resulted in electoral victories for political parties based on defense of their republics' economic interests, ethnic-national integrity, and political sovereignty.

What is next for Yugoslavia? …

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