Year XXXV, 1993, Number 2 - Page 57
Europe and the crisis in Yugoslavia
Unfortunately, there are no miracle solutions on offer today which would enable the atrocious events currently taking place in ex-Yugoslavia to be brought to a swift and decisive end. But this makes it no less important to try to establish the conditions and mistakes which provoked the civil war, and to sketch the outlines of a framework which can provide new cause for hope, and mobilise efforts towards the re-establishment of peace and civilised co-habitation in the region: a framework which has so far not been provided by European governments, the Community as a whole, or the United Nations.
The Yugoslav tragedy is a particularly savage and bloody episode in the confrontation which represents the great historical choice of our time: that between nationalism and federalism. It has been precisely the inability of the European Community’s member-state governments, and the UN’s Security Council, to view events in Yugoslavia in such terms that has deprived them of a means with which to interpret developments, and implement a policy capable of preventing the outbreak of war.
Following the death of Tito, the Yugoslav Federation was gradually weakened. The unanimity rule regarding the most important decisions in the Republican and Provincial Council (confirmed, moreover, by Art. 286 of the constitution) gave an increasingly pronounced confederal character to Yugoslavia’s institutional structure. Even the League of Communists, which in the preceding period represented the effective bond which maintained the unity of the state, was transformed into a confederation of regional parties sensitive to nationalistic calls, and hence fundamentally incapable of taking decisions and gathering support in a pan-Yugoslav dimension. Nationalism made strides in the republics and provinces, emerging in a particularly acute form, initially, in the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, and in Slovenia’s separatist urges.
The situation was further exacerbated by two factors: the polarisation between the wealthy republics of the north-west and the less-developed (or outright poor) ones of the centre and south; and the religious basis of the various ethnic identities. Lastly, the old political class, committed to the concept of Yugoslav unity, was progressively replaced by a new generation which regarded nationalism as the most effective means to drum up support and increase its own power.
This trend became clearly more pronounced during the 1980’s, due to a serious economic crisis and the loss of the Federation’s international prestige, which it had previously enjoyed by virtue of being one of the main leaders of the group of non-aligned countries.
Nevertheless, this is but one aspect of Yugoslavia in the wake of Tito. In reality, there remained important factors working in favour of cohesion in Yugoslavia in the 1980’s. There existed an internal market, which absorbed the greater part of Yugoslav industrial production. There existed in large swathes of the population, and among many politicians and intellectuals, a Yugoslav patriotism, which operated without conflict alongside that for the individual ethnic groups (it is important not to forget that nationalism made its debut in this part of Europe at the end of the 19th century in the form of Serbo-Croat nationalism). The intermingling of population groups, further enhanced by internal migration, created forms of peaceful and tolerant co-habitation which had their symbolic expression in Sarajevo, where even today “ethnic” Serb, Croat and Muslim men and women struggle side by side against the savagery of ethnic cleansing. Mixed marriages were common (47 percent in Sarajevo according to the most recent statistics available), and from these unions were born children who considered, and still consider, their Yugoslav identity as their only real one. Moreover, if a strong Yugoslav patriotism had not existed in large sections of the population, the current nationalist regimes in Serbia and Croatia would not have needed, in an effort to make their policies acceptable to public opinion, to proceed with those radical purges in the mass media which are now starting to come to light. Finally, it should not be forgotten that in Yugoslavia, before the crisis broke, democratisation, openness to the West and interest in the Community were far more advanced and well-established than in any other East European country.
Hence, when the disintegration of the communist regimes began, Yugoslavia’s destiny could not be considered decided. It largely depended on the evolution of the international context, and in particular on the attitude of the countries of the European Community. Had they been more aware, and had they conducted a clear policy of close association between Yugoslavia and the Community with a view to future membership, dependent on the specific condition that the country continued down the path of democratisation and retained the unity of its state structure, then the Slovenian secession (which represents the origin of the civil war, and was motivated by the desire of the richest republic to join Europe within a short space of time, without the dead weight of its ties to the rest of the federation) would have been discouraged, and the forces for unity and democracy would have prevailed over those for division, fascism and national-communism.
But the Community proved unable to maintain a decisive and coherent stance in relation to Yugoslavia since it did not exist as a political entity. Each of its member states carried out its own foreign policy, supporting one or other of the republics (and hence encouraging nationalism) according to their real or supposed interests, thus causing tension to rise. Moreover, the Community lacked the authority to impose a multinational federal state model outside its own borders which so far it has been unable to achieve internally. The reality in the current confederal context is that member states continue to base their by now vanishing legitimacy on the national principle. Their governments have hence seen themselves forced to recognise the legitimacy of the secessionist republics, which called on the national idea to justify their claims to sovereignty. In this way they have allowed themselves to fall into the trap of the so-called right of peoples to self-determination, a principle which, in as much as it justifies all claims to secession, is ill-fated in any social-historical context, but which has had particularly devastating consequences in a region such as Yugoslavia that features an inextricable ethnic tangle. Hence by uncritically recognising that Yugoslavia could be legitimately dismembered by virtue of applying the principle of the conjunction of state and nation, they have given implicit endorsement to the savage practice of ethnic cleansing that they now condemn (albeit while “realistically” accepting it as a fact).
It is worth recalling that Community governments, in the name of Realpolitik, have evoked a spectre that risks endangering their own stability. Nowadays, national states, overtaken by history since unable to respond to their own citizens’ demands for peace, democratic participation and justice, are in irreversible decline. The national idea has for sometime now ceased to be the expression of a movement to enlarge the sphere of the state and break down the last barriers left over from feudal Europe, and hence to promote human emancipation. Rather, since it has not been replaced by a more advanced principle of legitimacy, it has remained entrenched in the collective conscience as an idea legitimising tribalism, violence and disintegration. The western European states are not immune to this disease, and the weakest of them are already in their turn being undermined by the rise of new regional-size “nations”. Their cynical and short-sighted policy with regard to the Yugoslav tragedy has in this way been turned against themselves.
The civil war in ex-Yugoslavia will end when the tribal hatreds which feed it are subdued and when an entirely new political class replaces the bands of assassins and gangs of profiteers who are currently prevailing. No plan to re-organise Bosnia and no outside military intervention will ever be able to achieve this goal in the absence of a far-reaching political design. Clearly this does not mean that the involvement of the blue helmets to protect peoples threatened with destruction, or the often heroic efforts of innumerable voluntary groups to alleviate the suffering of civilians through the provision of humanitarian aid does not merit the greatest respect. Nor that exhaustion, the calculations of the conflicting parties, or the efforts of international diplomacy can not gain for this tortured region periods of truce for varying lengths of time. But a new stable political order, which allows the re-establishment of peaceful cohabitation between the south-Slav populations and the regeneration of their economic and civil development in a climate of trust remains a distant and problematical aim. Anarchy brings rogues to power and corrupts the weak. It generates interests and power situations which, despite operating in a context of confusion and instability, possess an inertia that is difficult to overcome.
There remains the fact that ex-Yugoslavia is an integral part of the European context, and that hence a new peaceful and evolutionary balance will only be attainable (albeit with difficulty), if in Europe the movement towards unity prevails over that towards division. This responsibility falls particularly on the European Community and its component states, since the Community is currently the subject presented with the historical opportunity of giving an initial realisation to federalism as a formula for the organisation of relationships between peoples on the basis of law and democracy. Only the birth of a strong federal nucleus in western Europe will provide the European Union with the capacity to act and the necessary moral weight to win the difficult battle against nationalism in the rest of the continent, particularly in ex-Yugoslavia, and to impose a new form of co-habitation, based on unity in diversity.
The Yugoslav question is not yet closed. The unity of the country has been destroyed, but its division has not yet been achieved. The Bosnian drama symbolises the larger issue of a country which has proved unable either to maintain its unity or to divide itself clearly and decisively. The existence of a European Federation that is strong and open on the borders of what used to be Yugoslavia, would breath new life and energy into that section of its people, and those of its intellectuals, who have condemned the partition of their country from the outset, and who continue to lay the blame for its ruin not on the “enemy”, but on nationalism itself. The number of such men and women is impossible to calculate since they are condemned to silence by the din of war and by the persecution to which they are subjected, but they are undoubtedly much more numerous than is normally held to be the case, and, of particular significance, represent the better part of Yugoslavians. The federalists should help these men and women not to feel abandoned, should take such action as to let them know that their repugnance of nationalism and their hope to overcome it is shared by others, and that there exist people who struggle for a project with which they can identify.
This plan provides for the admission of a democratic Yugoslavia (in one step or by stages) into the European Federation, once it has re-established (or at least once consistent pressure exists for re-establishing) the country’s unity on a federal basis. It is true that this project seems impossible in the current situation. But often in history the fiercest explosions of hatred have been followed by strong movements in favour of unity, due precisely to the revulsion which such experiences arouse. In any event, the fact that the accomplishment of a project seems unlikely can not, and should not, prevent us from stating and re-stating that it represents the only real solution to the problem.
There remains the fact that this plan can nevertheless only be effected within the framework of European federal unification, and that this is the decisive historical stake. As long as Europe is divided, peace in Yugoslavia will remain a dream.