From Communal and Communist Bonds to Fragile Statehood: The Drama of Ex-Post-Yugoslavia

By Sunic, Tomislav | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

From Communal and Communist Bonds to Fragile Statehood: The Drama of Ex-Post-Yugoslavia


Sunic, Tomislav, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The author surveys the socio-political forces behind the recent conflict between Serbs, Croats and Moslem Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia and concludes that the centuries-old ethnic tensions were actually ascerbated by state-enforced multi-culturalism under the Titoist regime and are today further ascerbated by the ongoing Marxist mind-set which survives as a legacy from Communism among many political actors in the no independent ex-Yugoslavian territories.

Key Words: Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Tito, state-enforced multiculturalism.

In 1991, a set of different, often mutually excluding, circumstances led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and to the subsequent war between its main ethnic groups, notably the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. During the "Greater Serbia"-inspired Yugoslav aggression on Croatia, and later, during the interethnic war in Bosnia-Hercegovina and following the signing of the US-sponsored Dayton peace agreement in December 1995, a multitude of analyses were provided as to the causes of the conflict. Crimes committed by the belligerents were also reported worldwide. Possible military and legal scenarios for the region, and particularly for the much smaller multiethnic state of Bosnia-Hercegovina, are still being debated.

While much has been written about the major culprits in the conflict and their roles in the ex-Yugoslav drama, relatively little has been said about the diverse ethnic groups' perceptions of each other, or about their sense of nationhood and statehood.1 Furthermore little has been said regarding the role of the Titoist ideological heritage and the communist mindset which was a significant factor contributing to the conflict - and which still subsists among large segments of the new post-communist citizenry. In the aftermath of the war, the new political elites which emerged on the ruins of the old communist Yugoslave elites like to use Western terms and slogans, such as "free market," "parliamentary democracy," and the like, although beneath their rhetorical veneer little substantive change has occurred. The old communist, clientelistic, and clannish structures still persist.

On a somewhat different level of analysis, the dissolution of multiethnic communist Yugoslavia in 1991 is also raising an array of disturbing questions regarding the viability of multiculturalism in Western Europe, and its chief engine, the European Union. To what extent was the multiethnic conviviality between the two pivotal ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia, notably the Serbs and Croats, real or feigned? Was the pluri-ethnic European Union at the time of the recent war in neighboring territories of the former Yugoslavia itself so "balkanized" that its political elites could not find a consensual and timely response which might have prevented the war from taking such a devastating turn? The war in ex-Yugoslavia can be studied from a multitude of academic disciplines; e.g. anthropology, sociology, psychology, and international law, with each, seemingly, providing interesting, albeit different conclusions. Arguably, the bygone war in the former Yugoslavia, with its cortege of interethnic and intercommunal violence unseen in Europe since 1945, may also cast a rather gloomy light on the possible state of affairs in a future European Union faced with interethnic confrontation in some multiethnic member state. While none can imagine, even in their wildest dreams, a war between Denmark and Germany over Schleswig-Holstein, or a war between Germany and France over Alsace, the possibility of inter-communal violence between ethnic Turkish gangs against German gangs in Germany, with the spill-over effects on the international community, is no longer a totally science fiction scenario.2

Already one conclusion can be offered about the past war in exYugoslavia: similar conflicts, albeit in a different form, can occur again, be it on the inter-ethnic smaller level, or on the intra-ethnic larger level. …

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