Three Eras of Political Change in Eastern Europe

By Gale Stokes | Go to book overview

5
Yugoslavism in the 1860s?

The motto of historians who attempt to uncover historical roots might be "Seek and ye shall find." Since we believe in causation, the very existence of a phenomenon guarantees that persistent research will uncover the forces that made it possible, even inevitable. And, if we believe the final result is a good thing, we may judge its roots accordingly, even at the risk of anachronism. Some such process seems to have been at work in the case of the Yugoslav idea. It appears self-evident that historical forces which could be called "Yugoslav" must have existed in the nineteenth century because the state of Yugoslavia actually existed for more than seventy years in the twentieth century. And indeed, historians found the Yugoslav idea a major theme. One scholar even suggested that Yugoslav unity was "the best solution" to the conflicts between Serbs and Croats in the 1860s, "the most natural possibility," 1 and another was chided for trying to graft the good term "Yugoslav" onto the bad phenomenon, Serbian nationalism. 2

The remarkable thing when one considers the enthusiasm with which Yugoslav ideas were uncovered in the late 1960s and early 1970s is the almost utter lack of community-building forces at work among the South Slavs during the nineteenth century. During the 1860s no social structures existed that held hope of drawing the South Slavic peoples together. Economic development, the strongest force for breaking up the traditional isolation of peasant societies, had not achieved the implacable force it attained in the twentieth century; literacy was extremely low; communica-

From Southeastern Europe, 1 ( 1974), pp. 126-135. Reprinted by permission.

-83-

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