Three Eras of Political Change in Eastern Europe

By Gale Stokes | Go to book overview

7
The Devil's Finger: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia had neither a velvet revolution nor a velvet divorce. Midway through 1991 two of its six constituent republics, Slovenia and Croatia, declared their independence, provoking a vicious civil war that spread in 1992 to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ethnic emotions run deep throughout Eastern Europe, but nowhere did they reach the level of bestiality that they did in Yugoslavia. As one observer put it, the devil must have pointed his finger at this country. 1 Grotesque atrocities, ethnic cleansing, bombardment of priceless cultural artifacts, hundreds of thousands of refugees, cities destroyed, obsessive propaganda and disinformation -- these were the realities in many parts of Yugoslavia at a time when other East European countries were holding elections, negotiating with the European Community, writing constitutions, privatizing industry, and otherwise trying to find their way back to Europe. What happened? How did Yugoslavia, the first communist state to break with the Soviet Union and the most open communist state in the world in the 1960s, come to this depressing impasse?

The answer is not simple, but it revolves around the inherent weakness of Yugoslavism itself. The concept emerged first in the nineteenth century, when Slavic peoples in Russia and Eastern Europe were beginning to understand that they spoke related languages. 2 In a day of powerful empires, Panslavism suggested that the Slavs might form the basis of a power

From The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe by Gale Stokes . ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Reprinted by permission.

-109-

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