Yugoslavia’s brief existence.

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To many folks twentieth century Yugoslavia was a multi-ethnic fantasy that ended tragically in the 1990s at a virulent civil war, mostly concentrated on but not restricted to Bosnia.

Well the solution is simply I wanted to inquire into the circumstances which resulted in the first major armed conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War and more especially the lessons in it for additional multi-ethnic countries like mine. For of one thing we could be certain and that is that the Yugoslav civil war wasn’t one of a kind and wouldn’t be the last at the break-up of multi-ethnic states. What’s significant about Yugoslavia is the southern Slavs were united for as long as they were, through much of the twentieth century into one thing, first as a kingdom and afterwards as a republic.

Why then did things grow as they did? These are the obvious questions which strike us on any consideration of the Yugoslav issue. To answer the second question first it would be worthwhile reading the most recent book on the problem by Robert West,’Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia.’ I have not as yet but do intend to. However certain obvious things happen to us before reading that book which is that Yugoslavia existed though in another form even before Tito’s coming on the scene. Second Tito did not preside over a typical communist state under the stewardship of this L.Y.C. For example private enterprise and tourism were permitted to flourish at a time when they had been heresy into the Communist world. Tito might be thought of as a mild dictator in that respect. He did enable a nation with small resources to punch above its weight in global affairs. However he showed Yugoslavia managed to diversify its options when Cominform turned its back on the nation. The remarkable part of this liberty was that it did not lead to a Soviet invasion as happened in Czechoslovakia or Hungary. This has to be attributed entirely to Tito’s leadership.

Many are tempted to look at the Yugoslav civil war from the prism of the Soviet collapse but in my opinion there are limits to such a perspective. For example Yugoslavia was not a typical communist state as stated earlier. However the de-legitimization of this L.Y.C. ideology, of what was a one-party state proved deadly. Undoubtedly the hand of Tito could have been a steadying element in steering the nation through a tricky period but this wasn’t to be. A favorite Western premise is that the growth of ethnic nationalists like Milosevich contributed to the civil war. However this ignores the fact that cultural loyalties were always paramount in Yugoslavia and had caused Tito to warn of a possible collapse of the federation based on Fred Singleton. Likewise the cleavage between Roman Catholicism of Croatia and Eastern Orthodoxy of Serbia proved too combustible since it reflected fundamentally different cultural traditions.

Yugoslavia definitely started out well but the failure to create institutions and foster democratization ultimately proved fatal. Economic liberalization alone was not enough. Likewise geography also proved aggressive as the mountainous terrain of the nation impeded the development of national infrastructure which may have welded the nation into a cohesive entity. As far as Fred Singleton’s comprehensive work on the topic is concerned that the book’s most significant lacunae is obviously that it came out too soon, before the twentieth century was really over. One wishes he had waited for the 1990s to complete and introduced a chapter on the civil war.

From a modern perspective that the chapters on nationalism and geography are of topical interest. While the ex-Yugoslavs May Not consider a revival of the dead nation they’d do well to facilitate cooperation among themselves through multilateral frameworks for the sum is always greater than the parts and this is nowhere more evident than in the Balkans now

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