The Second October Revolution
A Review of "The Fragmentation of Yugoslavia"
By: Alexandar Pavkovic
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
 

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DISCLAIMER
The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author

Written: October 15, 2000

Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources
to cope with mythical fears and hopes.
(Murray Edelman)

"Whoever is a Serb and of Serb blood
And he comes not to fight at Kosovo
May he never have any progeny
His heart desires, neither son, nor daughter;
Beneath his hand, let nothing decent grow
Neither purple grapes, nor wholesome wheat
Let him rust away like dripping iron
Until his name shall be extinguished"

(Prince Lazar's curse, quoted in page 8)

"These federal borders ... should be something similar to those white lines on a marble column ... What is the meaning of federal units in today's Yugoslavia? We don't consider them a group of small nations; rather, they have a more administrative character, the freedom to govern oneself. That is the character of independence of each federal unit, full independence in the sense of free cultural and economic development."

(Josip Broz, "Tito" in a speech in Zagreb, year not mentioned, quoted in p. 48)

"Semper aliquid novi Balkanam adferre.
"The Balkan always brings us something new."

--"Historia Naturalis" by Pliny the Elder, somewhat paraphrased
 

In the interregnum that Kostunica's regime most likely is, ideas proliferate in febrile urgency. EU officials talk of a "Southeast European (substantially economic) Association". Kostunica - perhaps about to be replaced by his puppet-masters, Djindjic and maybe Draskovic - contemplates the substitution of a "Republic of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes" for "Yugoslavia". It is all a chilling deja-vu. Balkan history books rarely require a second edition.

"The Fragmentation of Yugoslavia" is the second edition of a tract in political science. It is interesting to compare the Tables of Content of both editions. "Slovenia and Croatia at War" becomes "Wars for Independence: Slovenia and Croatia", "War in Bosnia Hercegovina" mutates to "An Unfinished National Liberation". The chapter "A War against the Serbs or a US-brokered peace" vanishes altogether and another enters: "Kosovo: National Liberation through Foreign Interventions". He identifies four cycles of grievance-fuelled and paroxysmal national liberation wars. We are amidst the fourth, he says and offers a naive and impractical solution: plebiscites in the contested areas (Western Macedonia, Kosovo, Krajina, etc.). Exasperatingly, the author asks in an epilogue: "National Liberations: Is there an end to them?".

With the stirrings in Montenegro and the forthcoming civil war in Kosovo, it doesn't seem so. But the author does a superb job of charting the territory with only the slightest and almost imperceptible (and inevitable) bias. He cleverly heaps disclaimer upon disclaimer in a 4 page preface. His, he assures us, is only a "partial framework for understanding the ideological motivations which political and/or military leaders had in pursuing their political programmes and policies". Yet, the result is much more than this. It is the history of the cold-blooded and murderous manipulation of the unsuspecting peoples of the region by their rapacious and inane elites. It is the melancholy and recurrent tale of how "national ideologies", "national liberation movements", "national myths" and history itself, molested and mutilated, were used to corrupt the people, intimidate them to submission, hurl them at each other and transform them, time and again, into bloodthirsty mobs. No one is exempt, none exonerated. Tenuously conjured, precariously maintained, autocratically or centrally administered, thuggishly missionary and assimilative and always xenophobically mutually exclusive - these forged national "identities" (replete with desultory history, folk customs and lore) were weapons of mass destruction, fatuously and short-sightedly and suicidally employed time and again.

Yugoslavia was the result of conflicting political models imposed in rapid succession on rival (or indifferent), heavily mixed populations by venal politicians. The first model was incorporation (or merger) of all the nationalities in a meta-state. Its alternative was exclusionary: ethnic cleansing achieved by population transfers or harsher measures. Federalism versus unitarianism, equality of nations versus the dominant nation paradigm. This was a choice faced by virtually all the denizens of Europe in the nineteenth century. Some - like the Italians and the Germans - succeeded in creating and sustaining their own "Yugoslavia". Others - like the Slavs of the South - failed dismally. They failed because they were not as homogenous as they - and others - thought they were. The label "Yugo-Slavs" misled many into thinking of Macedonians, Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as "tribes" or "branches" of one nation. They were not. The liberation movement of the Serbs preceded that of the Macedonians by almost a century. The Bosnian Moslems discovered theirs together with the Jews, not one hundred years ago.

Moreover, the national ethoses of the Yugo-Slavs were concerned more with the identification and extirpation of the "enemy" than with the running of an economically underdeveloped state. The national myths were used to mobilize the nation to resist foreign occupiers or ethnic fifth columns and fight them, not to cope with an emergent modern polity. They were characterized by whining and complaining (against iniquities, inequalities and injustice) - not by planning and production. These were negative and adversarial narratives - rather than positive platforms. They were incompatible with Yugoslavia and rendered it redundant.

The author records drily and meticulously the paradox that Yugoslavia was. The cadres of communism - the supranational ideology - formed the kernels of the nationalist-bourgeois elites of the future republics. Self-management, that uniquely Titoist hybrid of grassroots democracy and stifling bureaucracy, paved the way to both participatory politics and networks of corrupt patronage. The no less unique Yugoslav territorial defence doctrine with its paranoidically dispersed infrastructure - enabled the nascent republics to make use of it and to successfully take on the hitherto invincible JNA (Yugoslav Federal Army). Communist leaders usurped the nationalists' agenda and co-opted its leaders, transforming marginal and virulent ideologies into mainstream politics. The Serbs proudly ignored the Western media - to their detriment. Yugoslavia disintegrated on television, in bloodied frames and to vehement narration. It is a sad tale of good intentions and the road to hell, aptly told. It is a recommended and thrilling introductory text and a thorough documentation of the human folly and malice that put the noble idea of "Brotherhood and Unity" to such a butchered end.