Backward through the Looking Glass: the Yugoslav Labyrinth in Perspective
E. A. Hammel
Departments of Anthropology and Demography
University of California, Berkeley
In press in a volume edited by J. Halpern and D. Kideckel, reprinting revised essays from the Special Issue of the Anthropology of East Europe Review.
Political Status and Location
Political Status Living In Ascendant Subordinate Own Territory A B Other Territory C DIn instance A, a tribe lives in its local area and is ascendant in it; there may or may not be non-ascendant tribes in the same local area. In B, a tribe lives in its local area but is not ascendant in it; it is subordinate to another tribe that may occupy only that area or a broader area. In C, a tribe lives in an area beyond its traditional local area and is ascendant in it; it is an expansive, conquering tribe. In D, a tribe lives outside its traditional area and is subordinate to another tribe also living there. Members of a single ethno-linguistic group may occupy from one to four of these statuses. For example, the Serbs of Serbia are today in status A, but under the Ottoman regime were in status B. The Serbs in the so-called Krajina who have rebelled against the Croatian government are in status C, while they had been in status D in the historical Military Border under Austria-Hungary. The Greater Serbia philosophy is to resolve these paradoxes with the motto, "All Serbs in one state," reducing all arrangements to status A, in which all territory in which Serbs reside constitutes a Serbia, in which Serbs are ascendant, although other coresident ethnic groups might be in states B or D. State A is a stable one, net of any external threats or revolts from below. State B is as stable as any colonized situation can be, as is its mirror image, C. State D can be stable if the subordinate group no longer has any territory it could have called its own, but it is unstable if members of the same group are in state D in two different areas, or if members in state D are in reasonable proximity to members of the same group in state A. Consider the situation of the Albanian minority in Kosovo and Macedonia. They are in state D with ascendant Serbs or Macedonians and could seek to coalesce. At the same time, the country of Albania has an Albanian population in state A. The situation is made more complex by competing historical claims to indigenous status, for example in Kosovo, which the Serbs regard as their ethnic homeland and holy ground; it is not always clear what is "own" and what is "other." Analogies with Palestine come easily to mind.
The kind of ethnic shatterbelt evident in the Balkans is nothing new, either in Europe or elsewhere. In Africa, for example, it appears as a result both of Bantu and Arabic expansion and sometimes both combined. In Europe its history is at least as old as the Indo-European invasions that date back perhaps 2,500 years to the first appearance of Greek speakers attested in writings in so-called Linear A and B about 1600 B.C., followed by waves of Celtic, Thraco-Illyrian, Italic, Germanic, and Slavic tribes that overwhelmed and pushed back earlier inhabitants. These earlier inhabitants have either now disappeared (the Picts or the Etruscans, for example) or exist in refuge areas (like the Basques), and some of the early Indo-European invaders have been similarly isolated in remote regions (like the Albanians) or have disappeared entirely (like the speakers of Venetic on the Adriatic), or have been pushed into refuge areas (like the Celts on the Atlantic fringe). Some invaders have come and gone, like the Vandals in Spain; others have been absorbed culturally by those they conquered (like the Turkic Bulgars in Bulgaria).
Sometimes numerous themselves, sometimes less numerous but very effective militarily and organizationally, ascendant tribes created spheres of influence within which they extracted tribute, from which they conducted profitable trade, and over which they sometimes exerted strong administrative control. The first major multiethnic empire of this kind was that of Alexander of Macedon; it was short-lived, but through the continuance of active trading networks, the influence of Greek language and culture persisted through much of the Mediterranean. The second such empire was the Roman, which lasted in one form or another for almost six centuries and left behind a similar legacy of language and cultural forms. The Roman Empire in particular extended citizenship to those not of Roman descent who swore religious and political loyalty to the Emperor, just as the Ottoman Empire did later to those who converted to Islam. The legacy of common culture, most notable in the former Roman Empire, is very important in laying the ground for later nation-building.
By contrast to these early developments in the Mediterranean and west of the
Rhine, those to the east resulted in much less cultural homogeneity and came
much later. While the Germanic rebound to the east began as early as the ninth
century as the Drang nach Osten under Charlemagne and his successors on
a line from the Alps to the North Sea, Germanic language and cultural forms
achieved less territorial hegemony than the Latin analog. Slavic speakers
formed islands in a German sea around Berlin, but Germanic speakers (Norsemen)
became Slavicized in Russia or (as Goths) formed islands in southern Russia
until their disappearance in the 18th century. German speech islands of some
antiquity exist to this day in Poland. Austrian expansion after 1683 had only
modest success in Germanizing Slavic populations, for example in Carinthia,
Carniola and the Steiermark, where Slovene dialects remain still as a second
and home language to a large extent. Speakers of these same Slovene dialects
may have extended in the eighth century well into the Tyrol but were pushed
back by the German advance and split from more northerly Slavic speakers (the
ancestors of today's Czechs and Slovaks) by the Germanic wedge. The Bulgars
became Slavicized in the 9th century. While the Hungarians maintained their
identity after crossing the Carpathians in the 9th century, they seem largely
to have eliminated those they conquered rather than magyarizing them. The
Ottoman Turks, who controlled most of the Balkans for as much as five centuries
acculturated a portion of the local inhabitants, and those mostly in urban
The dialects of the capital cities of now even smaller remnant states (the republics of the former Yugoslavia) have not imposed linguistic homogeneity on their inhabitants for purposes of standard spoken discourse. Although the existence of local dialects is obvious throughout Europe, the heterogeneity exhibited within Serbian or Croatian is not like that exhibited, for example, in Great Britain, in which newscasters speak standard literary English while usually only sportscasters use the local dialect. It goes further than having a local person use the local dialect in an informal situation. Native Zagreb intellectuals will speak the urban dialect of Zagreb at the dinner table, while it would be a rare Cambridge don of local origins who would speak the dialect of the fens at his, except as a joke. Regional or ethnic marking persists at all class levels in the Balkans. The dialect of Belgrade or its Sumadijan hinterland has not become the standard for spoken Serbian throughout Serbia but takes second place outside that subregion to other forms that have much in common with features of Croatian. Thus, it seems that in England some speakers will not code switch to the local dialect even under conditions of informality, while in the Balkans they will, and that conditions of formality will not induce speakers to adopt the dialect of the capital.
The Belgrade dialect is, however, the standard for written communication within Serbia. Similarly, ikavian, cakavian, kajkavian and other local dialects are common throughout Croatia and Dalmatia, but the Croatian standard jekavian is used in publication. In independent Montenegro however, where the spoken dialect is a particular variant of jekavian (ijekavian), the spoken dialect is also the written standard. Thus, diversity in spoken language is overridden in the written form by the standard for the political region. The political region in question, however, is not the nation state at the Yugoslav level but the nation state at the republic level. What is perhaps most curious is the situation in Bosnia, where persons distinguished by religion and ethnicity (Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Slavs) speak virtually indistinguishable jekavian dialects but use written standards that reflect their ethnic and religious differences. Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Muslims all write in jekavian, although there is said now to be some pressure for Bosnian Serbs to write in ekavian, and the Muslims have a higher proportion of Arabo-Turkic words in their vocabulary.
Linguistic diversity in the former Yugoslavia is compounded by orthographic diversity, and the use of one or another alphabet is powerfully symbolic of political allegiance. Thus Bosnian Serbs write in jekavian and Cyrillic, Bosnian Croats in jekavian but in Latinic. The major newspaper with a large Muslim readership, Oslobodjene in Sarajevo, published alternating pages in Cyrillic and Latinic in each edition, starting one day with one alphabet, the next day with another, symbolizing its ecumenical stance. Indeed, ethnicity as a differentiating factor seems to have reached its nadir in the milieu of pre- civil war Sarajevan intellectuals, among whom multiculturalism and intermarriage were fairly standard but far from the tenacious ethnic reality of the countryside. Professional folklore dance groups under the Communist regime performed dances typical of all Yugoslav ethnic groups and were expected to be flawless across the ethnic spectrum, regardless of the ethnicity of the members of the troupe. One can expect from all this that the ethnic hatred that has emerged in Bosnia was characteristic mostly of ethnically homogeneous rural villages, thus more typical of Serbs and Croats than of Muslims, who lived mostly in the towns. Under the current conditions of strife and separatism, linguistic symbols are now being stressed more than ever as criteria of differentiation. For example, Croatian neologisms (sometimes known from earlier times) now replace international words like "telephone". Serbs of the diaspora seek to indicate unity with Serbia proper by adopting ekavian at least in writing. Muslims now emphasize the Turkish elements of their vocabulary. Oslobodjenje is now reported to use the Serbian word for bread (hleb) rather than the Croatian one (kruh).
Local linguistic diversity is of course not unique in Europe; not every country
has achieved the relative cultural homogeneity of France, in which for example,
a standard French is the language of instruction in every school. A good deal
of heterogeneity still exists in Italy, as illustrated in the classic Italian
saying, "Fatta l'Italia, dobbiamo fare gli Italiani." ("Now that we have
created an Italy, we need to create Italians." Viz. Putnam 1993.)
Nevertheless, newpapers in Palermo are in Italian, based on the Tuscan
standard, not in Sicilian. No such unity was achieved in Yugoslavia. Instead
of the aggressive centralization evident in Britain, France, and Germany one
finds competing aggressive centralizations at lower levels, reflecting the
lesser span of political control. Something of the same kind is evident in
Switzerland, where standard French and German are overlaid on a patchwork of
local Romance and German dialects. A less extreme example is found in Spain;
there is a myriad of local dialects, but standard Castilian is the official
written language except in Cataluña, where Castilian and Catalan
publication co-exists but Catalan is pre-eminent.
The major religions are Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and Islam. There are some traditional Protestants in a few regions and a small number of Jews in urban areas who survived World War II. Religion is largely but not entirely congruent with ethnic identity, and this association has become stronger over historical time, having been weak in the mediaeval period, when status in the feudal system was most important. The Orthodox are mostly Serbs, Montenegrins, Vlachs, and Macedonians. Most Gypsies and some Albanians are also Orthodox, although in Macedonia and southern Serbia the Gypsies are often Muslim. Croats and Slovenes are Catholic, but there are many Albanian Catholics. The Muslims are partly Slavic, but the majority of Albanians are also Muslim. Some Muslim Slavs were Turkicized urban dwellers of Serbian or Macedonian ethnicity, but they have almost entirely disappeared except in Bosnia and the Sandjak. These last two are the only regions in which there are still large numbers of rural Muslim Slavs, and their ethnicity is a classificatory puzzle. It is misleading to refer to Bosnian Muslim Slavs as ethnic Bosnians, because "Bosnian" has never been an ethnicity, only a region (and in mediaeval times a kingdom, sometimes independent, sometimes tributary). Bosnians cannot be called Serbs or Croats in modern times, because those two ethnicities have come to be thought coterminous with Orthodoxy and Catholicism, respectively, and Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats co-exist in Bosnia with Muslim Slavs. The situation was similar before the Turkish conquest of Bosnia, in which many Slavs adhered to the Bogumil heresy that had originated in Orthodox contexts in Bulgaria. Turning this puzzle on its head we see that Slovenes and Croats are always Catholic, Serbs are almost always Orthodox (although there are Catholic Serbs in Dubrovnik), Albanians are either Orthodox, Catholic, or Muslim, Hungarians and Germans are Catholic or Protestant, and the ethnically nameless Muslim Slavs in Bosnia are just that. Only if they succeed in establishing an independent state in which Muslim Slavs are ascendant can ethnicity and political control be congruent in Muslim regions.
There is a multitude of local spoken dialects, as suggested earlier, and these can be distinguished at different levels. The first level is that of mutually unintelligible languages. German was common among rural populations in the Voyvodina before World War II. Albanian is spoken widely in Kosovo and Macedonia as well as by urban migrants throughout the former Yugoslavia, and although it is Indo-European it is not mutually intelligible with German or any other Balkan Indo-European language (like any of the Slavic tongues or Greek). A substantial proportion of the coastal population in Dalmatia, Istria and the Adriatic islands was bilingual in Slavic and Italian, although bilingualism has declined since World War II. Hungarian is not Indo-European, not mutually intelligible with any other Balkan language, but all Hungarian speakers in Yugoslavia in modern times were bilingual in Serbo-Croatian. The Slavic languages of the region are part of a dialect continuum running from the Carinthian Alps to the Black Sea. For reasons of political history, that continuum has been divided into languages that are no longer mutually intelligible between the political center of one area and that of an adjacent area. However, speakers of local dialects of these languages who are adjacent on the ground can understand one another easily. For example, while Slovene and Croatian are not mutually intelligible any more than Spanish and Portugese are, speakers of southern Slovene dialects can easily understand the speech of Croats in the Zagorje above Zagreb, and the dialects of southern Serbia grade imperceptibly into Macedonian. Some Macedonian dialects are only politically distinguishable from western Bulgarian. In general, educated speakers can more easily understand dialects other than their own because they have a larger vocabulary than less educated persons and are thus more likely to share an alternative dialect form as a cognate.
Within Serbo-Croatian itself, that is the language spoken between the hills above Zagreb to the country south of Nis, and from the Adriatic to the Drava and the Danube, any Slavic speaker can generally understand any other Slavic speaker, although pronunciation and vocabulary will differ. This major dialect area is differentiated in four ways: by the pronunciation of a particular vowel from Old Slavonic (jat') that has taken a different form in the daughter dialects, by the position of stress accent in polysyllabic words, by the form of the interrogative pronoun, "what?", and by the frequency of Turkicisms in everyday speech. Vowel differentiation distinguishes ekavian, jekavian, a stronger form of the latter sometimes called ijekavian, and ikavian. Thus the word for "milk" is rendered as mleko, mljeko, mlijeko, or mliko. Ikavian, now found only in Dalmatia and some pockets along the Sava and Drava, once stretched from the Adriatic across Pannonia and parts of northern Bosnia. Ekavian is found mostly in Danubian Serbia, although there are pockets among non-Serbs in Croatia. Jekavian originated in Bosnia, Montenegro, Hercegovina and adjacent Dinaric areas and was displaced northwestward as refugees fled the Turks in late mediaeval times, splitting ikavian and driving a jekavian wedge far to the north. This migration carried with it an accentual shift that pushed syllabic stress toward the front of the word. The most extreme forms are found in Montenegrin, which is ijekavian in vowel form and manifests the stress pattern even across words. For example, in Montenegro the verb "I am not", which is nisam in all other dialects, is rendered as nijesam. Similarly, a word like nastavnik (instructor) which once had and still has in some ikavian dialects the form nastávnik, has in most Serbo-Croatian the form nástavnik. In Montenegrin the phrase "into the city" which would be rendered u grád in other dialects, is spoken as ú grad.
The treatments of the Old Slavonic vowel jat' are crosscut by differences in the word for "what?": sto, ca, and kaj. Stokavian is the most widely distributed dialect and encompasses ekavian, ikavian, and jekavian forms. Cakavian exists now only on some Dalmatian islands and the littoral and possibly until recently in some interior regions along the Sava and Drava rivers. Cakavian was probably always a subset of ikavian. Kajkavian is a dialect of northwestern Croatia, a kind of extension of Slovenian, and is usually ekavian, although an ekavian apparently independent of Danubian Serbian ekavian. The urban slang of Zagreb is kajkavian but jekavian.
Orthographic usage is an intensifier of linguistic differences and used to differentiate individuals who feel themselves ethnically different even though they share the same spoken dialect. Orthographic history is complex, dating to the original Christian missionary work by the SS Cyril and Methodius and their disciples in Macedonia, Moravia, and the Balkans in the 10th Century. The original alphabet for the Scripture was the Glagolithic, based on the Greek minuscule. It was adopted and continued in use in Dalmatia and Bosnia until recent times, in two forms, one called glagolica, the other called bosancica. Important as a way of distinguishing Protestants from Catholics or Muslims, and perhaps as a way of distinguishing Bosnian Muslims from Orthodox or Catholic Bosnians, it became an historical curiosity after the Counter-Reformation. Glagolithic was early replaced by Cyrillic (based on the Greek uncial) among Orthodox populations and forms a strong bond of solidarity between other Orthodox Slavic users of Cyrillic (as for example the Serbs, Macedonians, Russians) and Greeks. Cyrillic is an indicator of Orthodoxy, or at least of non-Catholic identity; some kinship is felt with Uniates (Orthodox in ritual but acknowledging the Pope). In the Balkans, Catholics employ latinic, as do Poles, Czechs, and Slovaks. In Communist Yugoslavia, everyone who could read and write Cyrillic could also read and write latinic, but the reverse was not always true, even though both Cyrillic and latinic were taught in the schools. In Serbo-Croatian, both alphabets are equally phonemic.
Class is a slippery variable in the Balkans, being much confounded by the urban-rural distinction and the historical association between Islam and urban location in formerly Ottoman areas. In Communist Yugoslavia social class was importantly conditioned by pre-Communist social standing. Members of the formerly upper class (government officials, establishment intellectuals, the bourgeoisie) were often referred to as bivsi svet ("the former world"). In Bosnia the elite stratum was and to some extent still is associated with the aristocracy of Ottoman times, the begovi. They preserved an urban, literary culture and continued to have influence, many of them entering the Party and playing leading roles. They stood in contrast to those who achieved influence through Party connections but came from humbler pre-Communist backgrounds, often peasants, often prvoborci ("first fighters", members of the early Partisan movement). Those who achieved high position and influence, with concomitantly superior standard of living, were condemned by Milovan Djilas in The New Class. In more recent years the westernized, often indolent, often self-serving offspring of members of the new class were referred to derisively as the zlatna omladina (the golden youth). With the collapse of Communism, the legitimacy of social position achieved through Party connections was removed, and connections to the bivsi svet emerged again as a factor in stratification. At the same time, wealth acquired through foreign employment or participation in the underground economy became the primary dimension of stratification. The position of intellectuals, especially those employed in universities and research institutes, began to decline as their wages stagnated. In this situation of flux, no perduring system of stratification has emerged, and social strata do not seem to form self-conscious interest groups (except perhaps in Sarajevo where the urban elite had a conscious identity).
The upshot of these details is that the ethnicity of an interlocutor can
sometimes be determined relatively easily at a distance, but not always with
certainty, and that in the absence of personal knowledge such determmination is
actually often quite difficult locally. For example, it is quite easy in a
café in Zagreb to pick out the voices that are Serbian from Serbia
itself rather than Croatian. It is not so easy to pick out those that are
Serbian from western Croatia without paying attention to key lexical items. Some clues are obvious; only Muslim
women wear dimije ("harem pants"), only Catholics and thus usually
Croats or Slovenes wear a Roman cross,. Men's headgear is often a clue. Only
Muslims wear a fez, only Montenegrins wear their variety of the pillbox hat
(some other distinctive pillbox hats are also found in southern Dalmatia), and
only Albanians wear white skullcaps. Somewhat more personal mechanisms of
identification are sometimes employed, especially in guerilla warfare. Forcing
a man to remove his pants will reveal whether he is circumcised and thus a
Muslim or Jew on the one hand or a Christian on the other, and traditionalist
Muslim women can be identified because they shave their pubic hair. But most
frequently, in the local context and in the absence of obvious visual cues, one
simply cannot determine the ethnicity of an interlocutor. If people have that
information it is based on local knowledge over the life course. You know who
the Muslims are in a Bosnian context or who the Serbs and Croats are because
you went to school with them. Indeed, the personal "fingering" of old
acquaintances that often sent them to their deaths is one of the most
horrifying aspects of the war.
The nature of native political institutions is also important. All through the history of the Balkans the family unit has been a primary focus of allegiance, and these families were embedded in continuingly strong lineage systems. Lineage systems provide fairly clear templates for political fission, and the cross-cutting ties that are more characteristic of bilaterally organized societies are not as pervasive or decelerative of political fragmentation. This is especially the case in societies in which the primary links are through exogamously married women but the society is intensely patriarchal, so that women have little public political role. At the same time lineages also provide mechanisms of mobilization, so that such societies may not remain passive in the absence of mechanisms of mobilization (like class or party), but have them intrinsic to the lineage structure itself. Such mobilization occurs most easily in response to external threat, and indeed large-scale coalescence of lineage structures and tribes was common only in response to imperial incursions, whether by the Ottomans in late mediaeval times or the Germans in modern times.
Lineage organization of this kind played an important role in the halting attempts to establish centralized government in Montenegro. The patterns of cleavage thus established continued to be evident in the struggle over whether to unite Montenegro with Serbia or to maintain a separate identity. This conflict, between the centralist tendencies of the Montenegrin royalty in Old Montenegro and the separatist tendencies of the lineages there and on the peripheries, crosscut by pressures to unite with the Serbs or remain an independent country, persists even today in Montenegrin politics after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. In Serbia, dynastic feuding and the alignment of supporters was crosscut by conflicts of centralist independence and affiliation with one or another foreign power. Neither Montenegro nor Serbia had a developed tradition of pragmatic cooperation between opposing parties, and the remaining regions had no democratic experience at all. Although it requires some stretch of the imagination to think that ancient structures leave their trace in modern politics, it is not too fanciful to think that a society with a history of pervasive factionalism under lineage and familial organization would not carry those habits of the heart forward into modern party politics, especially if one views ethnicity as an extension of kinship and examines the ethnic divisions of the Balkans today.
Economic factors are similarly important. Where economic activity is rudimentary, extractive, or directed mostly toward subsistence, little in the way of Durkheimian organic solidarity can emerge. Under such circumstances there are few economic interests that are not congruent with those of the family or at most of the lineage, these being relatively self-sufficient and mechanically identical units. Political cooperation need not extend beyond the bounds of the farthest pasture. More than 80 percent of the population of the Balkans before World War I was engaged mostly in subsistence agriculture. In the Ottoman period, the only commerce to be found was in towns and practiced by Turks, Jews, and other ethnic groups under the Ottomans and to some extent also in Habsburg areas.
Thus, nothing in the history of the former Yugoslavia prepared its populations
for an aggressive attempt at political cooperation that transcended traditional
alliances. Its economy had been rudimentary until 1914 and to some extent
until 1939. Different regions attempted economic self-sufficiency as they
industrialized under Communism and before, rather than developing intricate
trade integration; this characteristic was intensified by government policy
after World War II, when industrialization was fomented in the most backward
regions, partly to satisfy local political demand but partly also to diversify
and place strategic industrial resources beyond the reach of (especially)
The first major impact from above, bypassing intermediate structures, was in the establishment of direct Habsburg control of the Military Border of Croatia in the 16th Century. The Border was controlled directly from Vienna (although control was manipulated by local military officers and administrators), and the Croatian nobles were bypassed, creating a constant political tension that resulted, for example, in the establishment of the two socalled "Banska" regiments, over which the Croatian nobility had some jurisdiction at least before the middle of the 18th Century. Civil Croatia was under the control of Croatian magnates, who were subordinate to the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy. (Slovenia and Istria were under the control of Vienna.) Political and economic structures in the Border and Civil Croatia continued to be different even after dissolution of the Border and unification of the two parts of Croatia in the 19th Century, down to World War II. These distinctions were most intense in that portion of the Border that was strongly Orthodox, namely west of the Ilova River, and increasingly so west of Karlovac. In these regions particularly (as well as in extreme Eastern Slavonia) the Orthodox refugees from the Ottoman Empire that formed the backbone of the Border force were under increasing pressure of Catholicization and Germanization since the time of Maria Theresa and Joseph II.
By the middle of the 19th Century two sometimes conflicting political philsophies had emerged to challenge the current structure. The first of these can be called autonomist and refers to the growing pressure among all the Slavs of the Habsburg Monarchy for some recognition of independence. The pressure for recognition by the Croats, amounting to demands for co-equal status in the Dual Monarchy (trialism) was worrisome for centralist politicians in Vienna and Budapest, because it might lead to demands for a confederational structure by many ethnic groups. It was particularly rejected by the Hungarians, a rebuff that accounted in large part for the alacrity with which Croatia assisted in putting down the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. With the Compromise (Nagodba) of 1868 Croatia had in fact achieved a considerable measure of independence within the Monarchy, one always opposed and blocked by Hungarian interests, and one that led to intense Croatian demands for autonomous status within Yugoslavia after 1918.
The second political philosophy was Pan-Slavism, the recognition of a commonality of all Slavs, especially those within the Habsburg Monarchy. This current of thought was also worrisome to Vienna and Budapest, since it raised the possibility of secession by numerous Slavic populations and their union with other such populations outside Austro-Hungarian control. The rise of an independent Serbia, haltingly in 1804, partially in 1815, and increasingly after its ejection of all Turkish troops in 1868 was a thorn in the side of the Habsburgs except insofar as it weakened their Ottoman enemies, since an independent Serbia became a magnet for the pan-Slavic sentiments of Slavs within the Monarchy, notably the Croats and Slovenes. Serbian independence and stature was even more threatening to the Habsburgs when it was supported by Russia, and the mutual sympathy between Serbia, Montenegro, and Russia was a constant threat. The Habsburrgs were able to contain the Serbian threat under the passive and pro-Austrian Obrenovic dynasty, but the assassination of the king and the Serb revolt of 1903 began a process of increasing independence on the part of Serbia. Indeed, it was in large part the rise of Serbia as an independent power, opening its own trade routes through Salonika instead of Budapest and Vienna, buying armaments from France rather than from Austria, that led to Austrian occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Sandjak in 1878 and outright annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, in an attempt to block Serbian recruitment of the Serbian Orthodox and perhaps also the Muslim and Catholic population of that region. Anti-Austrian feeling ran high among the Balkan Slavs and especially the Serbs. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 was executed by a Bosnian Serb terrorist group advocating union with Serbia, and a Serbian terrorist group (Crna Ruka -- The Black Hand) was implicated as well. Thus, World War I began largely as an attempt by the Habsburgs to smother the rise of Serbia as an independent Balkan power. Nevertheless, even though it was Serbia as an independent and expansionist state that was the focus of Habsburg anxiety, it was Croatia that always played the strongest role in seeking unification (albeit on a federalist basis) of the southern Slavs.
The same kind of drama, autonomist vs. centralist, were played out in minature in Montenegro between those advocating union with Serbia (supporters of the Karadjordjevic or Obrenovic dynasties in Belgrade) or of the native Njegos dynasty of Montenegro.
The major later developments in centralization were two. The first was the establishment of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as an outcome of the Treaty of Versailles. This experiment at nation-building, dictated by the Romanticist ethnodeterminism of the Allies and their desire to contain any future German expansionism, was not a success. The only regions of this new state that had had recent independent political experience were Serbia and Montenegro. The only regions that had been clearly on the side of the Allies and not part of the Habsburg or Ottoman empires were Serbia and Montnegro. The Serbs were the majority ethnic group. The Allies, intent on creating a Slavic buffer state at the edges of former and perhaps future German empire, gave political control to the Serbs. However, populations of Serbian origin were also widely scattered through other territories, principally toward the northwest, as a consequence of Serbian diaspora under the expansion of the Ottomans. They were heavily concentrated in Eastern Slavonia, the mountains south of the Drava and in the Voyvodina where they had crossed after the Austrian defeat at Pec in 1689, and also in the western regions of the Military Border, from Sisak to the sea (that region now commonly called the "Krajina"). The placement of overall political control in Serb hands, with so many Serbs outside Serbia itself, led to substantial political infighting in the early years of the reign of King Alexander. Serbs occupied virtually all positions of political power and dominated the military. Demands for local autonomy, especially for Croatia and Slovenia, immediately surfaced, especially through the Croatian Peasant Party and were vigorously opposed by centralists in the Belgrade government, notably by Nikola Pasic, and the Serbian Radical party. The leader of the Croatian Peasant Party, Stjepan Radic, was assassinated in the Parliament by a Montenegrin delegate of the Radical party in 1928. King Alexander suspended the constitution in 1929 and took personal responsibility for government in a dictatorship. The name of the new country was changed to the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia." Serious tensions, especially between autonomist Croats and centralist Serbs, persisted, and in Croatia and Slovenia the Yugoslav regime was seen as fundamentally Serbian, expansionist, and hegemonic. King Alexander was assassinated in Marseilles in 1934 by terrorists from the Ustasa Croatian emigré nationalist movement based (mostly) in Italy, with the complicity of Macedonian terrorists.
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia collapsed under German and Italian attack in World War II after a tortuous diplomatic dance in which Germany pressed for Yugoslav cooperation, the British and Americans sought Yugoslav cooperation against the Germans, the Yugoslav government vacillated, and the Yugoslav Army finally overthrew the government of King Peter, vowed to resist the Axis, and thus triggered the invasion of April 1941. Nazi collaborators emerged throughout the region, just as they did throughout Europe, and such collaboration was often stimulated by feelings of prior grievance, the Nazis often being seen as potential liberators from earlier regimes of oppression. Additionally, many thought that the Germans would clearly be the victors and wanted to be on the winning side. Thus, a substantial number of Croatians allied themselves with the Nazis, establishing a collaborationist Independent State of Croatia. An equal or greater number of Croatians did not so ally themselves but instead joined the communist-led Partisans. In Serbia there were also Nazi collaborators. Although the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government opposed German diplomatic moves to establish control and thus triggered the invasion, elements of the government actively collaborated; for example, under the leadership of the Serbian General Nedic, Serbia was the first country in Europe to declare itself "free of Jews", and many of the local Jewish population were rounded up. Nedic, as a member of the Yugoslav government before the coup of 1941, strongly advised King Peter to join the German side. A substantially larger number of Serbs did not collaborate but participated in a violent resistance to Nazi occupation. Some joined the Communist-led Partisans along with many Croats, others joined the royalist forces ("Chetniks"). Unfortunately, in this triadic scheme, the Partisans fought the Chetniks as much as they fought the Germans, and the Chetniks in particular occasionally collaborated with the Nazis to put down the Partisans. In Bosnia, the Muslim population was assiduously cultivated by the Nazis and by the Independent State of Croatia (into which Bosnia-Hercegovina had been incorporated), attempting to capitalize on Muslim resentment at Yugoslav (read "Serbian") control and on the historic links with Ottoman society and culture. There was a special Muslim unit, the "Handzar Division", which fought on the German side. The Germans also settled more Muslim Albanians in Kosovo, driving out Serbs and Montenegrins in the process. German strategy in the Balkans was like German strategy in the Near East, seeking Muslim allies against the British and the French. The British General Sir Hugh Maclean played Lawrence to the German Balkan policy in World War II.
The viciousness of internal warfare exhibited during World War II had its
precursors in World War I and indeed in previous conflicts. Montenegrin
guerillas raided the Muslims of the Sandjak (just across the Tara River from
Montenegro) in the last quarter of the 19th Century and even into the 20th.
Albanians attacked the retreating Serbian army as it fled to Corfu during World
War I. It is out of this history that the mutual and internal massacres of the
interwar period and of World War II flowed, leading to the easy conclusion,
common in the popular press, that the entire region was possessed of ancient,
demonic, racial hatreds that could not be quelled. The picture is not a pretty
one; perhaps the most evocative account of the brutality of that life is
contained in Milovan Djilas' autobiography of his youth, Land without
Justice. In defense of those populations, however, or at least in defense
of their brutal logic, it cannot be denied that ethnic groups were set at
eachother's throats by imperial policies favoring one over the other and the
constant shifting of borders that could change the fortunes of settlers
To complete this ferment, the Slovenes voted to secede from the Yugoslav union, as did the Croats soon afterward. Two sets of events unfolded immediately. First, the Yugoslav National Army, still charged with maintaining the borders and integrity of a state that continued to exist on paper, attacked the Slovenes but failed to bring them to heel. It then attacked Croatia with the same intent, especially in Eastern Slavonia where Serb villages lay cheek by jowl with Croatian ones and were close to the Serbian border. Second, the Serb minority in Croatia, concentrated especially in the extreme West and East, rebelled as noted above, refusing to live under Croat domination and demanding independence and union with Serbia. The Yugoslav Army, heavily staffed by Serbs despite policy driven attempts under the Communist regime to keep the upper ranks ethnically balanced, either tried to enforce union and political control from Belgrade, which was what minority Serbs wanted at minimum, or it consciously tried to advance the Greater Serbian position. The political situtation deteriorated further when the Bosnian plebescite led to a declaration of secession from the remnant Yugoslavia, and again when the Macedonians voted similarly. Substantial numbers of Serbs now found themselves in category D of Figure 1, a minority in a territory controlled largely by another ethnic group. Against this structural situation, and with memories of atrocities committed by Croats or Muslims when the Germans were in power in World War II, they seceded from the seceding states. Just as the Yugoslav National Army had attempted to maintain control of a united Yugoslavia, the seceding states (Croatia, Bosnia, and now increasingly Macedonia) have moved to suppress any internal secessionist movements.
At this writing in June 1995, the chaos in the former Yugoslavia deepens.
Neither the participants nor the so-called Contact Group from the United
Nations have been able to find a solution to the collapse of empire and the
resultant power vacuum other than dismemberment. Dismemberment in the Balkans,
however, is more like the successive disassembly of a Russian doll than it is
like cutting up a pie. As the original secessionist moves showed, other than
in virtually homogeneous Slovenia, every newly sectioned territory contains a
minority that has a primary locus somewhere else. Massive relocation of
resident populations is the only solution under this scenario. Indeed, that is
what "ethnic cleansing" is designed to do. It is the same solution followed
after the earlier Balkan Wars in the relocation of Greek and Turkish
populations, although that relocation under international supervision did not
have the explicit horror of the current war. Population exchange does not work
particularly well because there always continue to be some minorities somewhere
(consider Cyprus) and because the hatreds engendered by such relocation simply
concentrate inimical ethnic groups within opposed but now contiguous nation
states. The idiocy of this relocational ethnic homogeneity philosophy, pursued
since Versailles, has no more horrifying example than the policies of Nazi
Germany and is nowhere more apparent than in Bosnia or Slavonia, where ethnic
heterogeneity is extreme. The recent Croatian recapture of Western Slavonia,
in which there resided many Serbs, has led to an exodus of Serbs who will now
apparently be settled in Kosovo, to replace other Serbs who have fled from
Kosovo under Albanian demographic pressure for centuries but especially since
World War II. Ironically, the Serbs of Western Slavonia (and indeed of Croatia
in general) had come largely as refugees from Kosovo at the end of the 17th
Century, when the Austrian offensive into Ottoman territory and a Serbian
insurrection accompanying it failed at Pec. The Western Slavonian Serbs are
just going home after 300 years, to exert pressure on Albanians who have no
place to go except back to Albania. The fate of the Krajina Serbs may be the
same if they and the Serbs of Serbia fail to achieve unification.
Similarly, it would have been difficult to achieve rapprochement between the Croatian Serbs and the Croatian Croats, given the long history of Catholic proselytizing under the Austrians and the murderous regime of the Ustasa Nazi collaborators in World War II. That situation was exacerbated by the strongly nationalist tone of Tudjman's presidential campaign and the adoption of cultural symbols of identification that reminded the Croatian Serbs of their prior oppression, with a history going back to their settlement under the Habsburgs.
One could not have expected a class-based confederation to have emerged as it often did in mediaeval times or in the creation of countries like the United States; that is, there could have been no revolution of a nobility or of a bourgeoisie. One might have expected an international imperialist solution such as the one that resulted in the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, but none of those have worked well in the past, since they ultimately put the momentarily cooperative imperial powers at one another's throats. Remember that it was the motto "Unity or Death" (Ujedinjenje ili Smrt) of the Bosnian and other Serbs pursuing a Greater Serbian ideology that led to the assassination of Ferdinand and to World War I. Local politics in Washington, Paris, London, and Moscow prevented strong restraining action by other countries in 1991 just as it cripples the UN peacekeeping force in Croatia and Bosnia in 1995. The West, dithering in some confusion, could do no more than applaud the emergence of "democracy" and a "free market economy." The West, still obsessed by the Cold War, failed to understand in Yugoslavia just as it did in the USSR that unfettered economic freedom gave free rein to criminality, and that the collapse of structures of central control opened again the Pandora's box of local ethnic fascism.
The quickest solution in the short run might have been to support the efforts
of the Yugoslav National Army to block the secession of Slovenia and Croatia.
At least the West could have insisted on prersevation of the state and its
re-casting in a federalist form. Precipitous German recognition of Slovenia
and Croatia destroyed that chance, even though U.S., French, and British policy
was originally to support maintenance of a united Yugoslavia. Even this
solution would have required extensive international intervention to ensure the
civil and political rights of the minority populations. Various forms of
inducement could have been offered, such as membership in the EEC, although
arranging to do that would have incurred substantial political costs among the
Western nations, who cannot agree about organizational principles even for
Western participants. None of this occurred, and policy error followed policy
error, with a fairly strictly observed arms embargo against the Croats and the
Bosnian Muslims and a very leaky blockade against the Serbs. The presence of
U.N. peacekeepers has acted more to consolidate Serbian territorial gains in
Croatia and Bosnia than it has deterred actual fighting, the presence of those
lightly armed peacekeepers has set British and French policy strongly against
NATO retaliation, joining the Russians, who are simply pro-Serbian.
In the end we are left with the distressing outcome that where ethnic groups have long had territorial claims, and where intemixture on the ground is substantial on account of previous imperial adventures and refugee migrations, there are few easy routes to the creation of a civil society. Pure regionalism has little chance when the regions are deeply divided ethnically. Class divisions would have been difficult, since social stratification depended largely on political position in the Party, the legitimacy of which was destroyed by the collapse of Communist rule. Deep ethnic divisions prevent the emergence of other principles of political organization. On the other hand, ethnic bonds are insufficient to create the kind of unity that an expansionist ethnic ideology like that of Greater Serbianism proposes. The unity of the Serbs is chimerical, and they know it, as in their proverb, "Only unity saves the Serb" (Samo sloga srbina spasava). No military action was undertaken by the Krajina or Bosnian or Serbian Serbs to prevent the Croatian takeover of Western Slavonia. Western Slavonia is not strategically important to the maintenance of a Serbian corridor along the Sava that would link the Krajina through Bosnia to Serbia itself but only to the maintenance of Croatian control of the Zagreb-Belgrade highway and rail lines. Declarations of unity between the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs are common, and they reflect the importance of the Sava corridor, which the Croats intend to cut in order to maintain their own access to Dalmatia. The Serbs of Serbia, suffering from international economic sanctions, have remained on that account largely mute but manipulative with a byzantine vengeance, sometimes explicitly disowning the Krajina and Bosnian Serbs, sometimes aiding them. If they support their ethnic brethren in Bosnia and Croatia, it will not be now, but latter when the attention of the Western powers has been distracted by other issues. Then they will try again for the reunification demanded by ideology. No state in the region will have thought to defuse that movement by aggressive civil rights actions that erect a secular regionalism where only mystical ethnic identity ruled before.
The conflict in the former Yugoslavia is far from resolution in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, and it has scarcely begun to unfold in Kosovo and Macedonia. The Western powers are probably unable or unwilling to impose a settlement by force, and such settlements have not worked before. They may be willing to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims, but in the long run they face the worrisome prospect of a brutalized Muslim population on the doorstep of Europe. However secular and politically restrained that population may have been two years ago, it now offers fertile soil for fundamentalist reaction and retaliation. Indeed, President Izetbegovic has not rescinded the so-called Muslim Declaration that holds that Islamic law will be paramount in a future Bosnia. Although a tame Bosnia would have been a useful bu ffer state for the Western powers, the opportunity to create and nurture it has slipped away. Thus, cynically, it may be in the Western interest to see Bosnia go down to defeat and partition in some deal between the nationalist regimes of Croatia and Serbia, with Western humanitarian insistence on civil rights and the like. Separatism has an inexorable logic of its own, no matter how obvious are the rational and humane solutions.
Reason has no force before a folly that is five centuries deep. Democracy cannot wean people from ethnic adventurism but only gives political demagogues and malcontented populations enhanced opportunity to resonate with eachother until the vibrations of their chauvinism crack the very ground on which they stand. While demagogues have played a critical role in this war, their charisma needed the mirror of a population trapped in myth. An attention to economic efficiency through the construction of unfettered cooperative linkages might replace ethnic nostalgia with an attention to making a real living, although a free and unregulated economy is a weak reed. Perhaps the practicality so evident in the hard work and achievements of the Balkan peoples who have escaped the trap of myth by moving to places like Australia and California (and have stayed there) will emerge even in the homeland. Perhaps some fresh wind will rise that blows away the deceiving mists of history and drowns out the croaking of politicians whose only hope is to incite fear as a way of maintaining their ascendancy.
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