|Ethnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (United Nations University, 1996, 298 p.)|
|9. The dissolution of multi-ethnic states: The case of Yugoslavia|
The consequences of the war in Yugoslavia which began in 1991 in Croatia and has now engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina have been frightful: tens of thousands have been killed and at least three times that number wounded; millions will remain psychologically injured; more than seven hundred thousand people have become refugees; hundreds of thousands of homes have been ruined, families separated (a great number of whom were ethnically mixed), and industrial plants and infrastructure destroyed.
Seeing these atrocities and being aware that this is not yet the end of the destruction, one must ask a very logical question: Could the survival of the Yugoslav federation have avoided this cataclysm?
Before answering this question it is necessary to consider some facts. Economic, social, political, and other problems had been accumulating unresolved in Yugoslavia for decades, especially since the collapse of the economic reforms announced in the 1960s and the suppression of "liberal tendencies" at the beginning of the 1970s. The "results" of the "settlement" with liberalism in Yugoslavia could be compared with the "results" of two similar political-ideological phenomena in the communist world which were happening at approximately the same time: the cultural revolution in China and Brezhnev's rule in the Soviet Union. The dissolution of Yugoslavia had begun, in fact, in the seventies, after that liquidation of liberalism. The beginning of this process was marked by three factors of a general character.
First, the so-called "agreement economy" had been introduced, which meant, in fact, the abolition of market laws and legal obligations between economic entities.
Second, the decision-making process at the federal level regulated by the federal constitution of 1974 was ineffective. The major economic and political decisions regarding the "equality of nations and nationalities" had to be adopted by consensus of the republics and both autonomous provinces. It was very hard, if not impossible, to obtain, for instance, a consensus between the "developed" republics and provinces (Slovenia, Croatia, "inner" Serbia without provinces, Vojvodina) and the "underdeveloped" ones (Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo) on economic and political reforms and the restructuring of industry, reforms which have been in the last two decades a basic need for ensuring the stability and progress of the country.
Third, the political tes whom Marshal Tito had brought to power, at the levels both of the republics and the two autonomous provinces and of the federation, had neither adequate political wisdom nor the personal capacities necessary for managing the country.1
The one-party regime provided no opportunities for genuine corrections and adaptations of the political and economic system. The routine appointment of mediocre but contemptible "cadres" to political, economic, and other public posts further worsened the prospects for adequate governing of the country.
Inter-ethnic tensions, swept under the carpet by the political leadership of the country, have been another source of the ineffectiveness of the system. The situation was made even more complicated by political and legal systems which lacked effective methods and procedures for the democratic resolution of problems.2 By the 1980s the country had become a pressure-cooker without a safety valve. The brutal reaction to the Albanian rebellion in 1981, and the escalation of Serbian and, later, all other nationalisms ignited the final explosion.
The answer to the question of whether the survival of the Yugoslav federation would have avoided the cataclysm in this country is therefore very simple: no, because the Yugoslav federation had few chances for survival. But another assertion is unfortunately very clear, too: most of the ethnic leaders chose the worst of all possible ways for dissolving the federation, and in so doing have driven several generations of the members of "their nations" into war, stagnation, misery, and humiliation.
How many successor states have emerged on the soil of former Yugoslavia, and what international status do they have at the beginning of 1995? Of the former six federal republics, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia have declared their independence. Serbia and Montenegro have prepared a draft project of their unification in new/old Yugoslavia. The leaders of the Albanian political and trade union organizations in Kosovo are persistently declaring the right of the Albanians to self-determination (and to unification with Albania on this basis) but so far no actions have been undertaken in this regard.
Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been internationally recognized. The recognition of Macedonia has been delayed because of the objections of Greece, which is of the opinion that the use of the word "Macedonia" for the new state would imply territorial pretensions to that part of Greece with the same geographical name. Serbia and Montenegro claim to be the only successors of Yugoslavia and want thus enjoy the benefits of its legacy.
The situation concerning the territory of new states is thus complicated from the very outset. Approximately one-third of the territory of Croatia is under the control of the local Serbian population, strongly supported by the Yugoslav (federal) army. This is a territory where the UNPROFOR peace-keeping units are supposed to be deployed. In a part of "independent" Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbs have established the "Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina." The Croats, on the other hand, are trying to gain de facto control over another "portion" of this state, western Herzegovina.3