Books Swept under the carpet

Richard Crampton and Susan L. Woodward

Times Literary Supplement, 24 November 1995
Reprinted without permission, for "fair use" only

Chaos and dissolution after the Cold War
536pp. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution;
distributed in the UK by Estover: Plymbridge.
$42.95 (paperback, $18.95).
0 8157 9514 9

The political economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990
443pp. Princeton University Press; distributed in the
UK by Chichester: Wiley. 42.50
(paperback, 14.95).
0 691 08645 1

Christopher Bennett
Causes, course and consequences
272pp. Hurst. 30 (paperback, 9.95).
1 85065 228 7

Sabrina Petra Ramet and Ljubisa S. Adamovich
Politics, economics, and culture in a shattered community
502pp. Boulder, CO: Westview; distributed in the UK by
Estover: Plymbridge. 37.
0 8133 7953 9

Payam Akhavan and Robert Howse editors
Reflections by scholars from the region
188pp. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
25.75 (paperback, 9.95).
0 8157 0254 X

Norman Cigar
The policy of "ethnic cleansing"
247pp. College Station, TX: Texas A and M
University Press. $29.95.
0 89096 638 9

Edgar O'Ballance
269pp. Macmillan. 40.
0 333 63099 8

The first five books under review examine the origins of the
Yugoslav tragedy and all offer some prognosis, but because
they were written some time ago, their predictlons have
frequently been overtaken by events. They should therefore be
examined primarily for what they have to say on the causes of
the conflict. There is considerable agreement among them. All
condemn the facile, dismissive explanation so convenient for
many politicians, including Britain's prime minister: that it
was all the result of centuries-old ethnic hatreds.
Suspicion, rivalry and hostility there have always been, but
the elemental, ferocious hatreds seen in the past few years
are the legacy of the Second World War and of Tito; of the
war because of the atrocities committed at that time of
racialist dementia, and of Tito because he would not allow
proper discussion of those atrocities, on the grounds that
nationalism was a product of bourgeois society and would
disappear as the country evolved into socialism. The question
was swept under the carpet where it festered for forty years.

All five books also denounce the notion that the conflict is
due to some deranged form of Balkan mentality, and all are
convinced that the tragedy has its roots in external as well
as in internal factors. All five are also united in insisting
that the wars of Yugoslav secession were not inevitable. The
consensus is that the causes of the tragedy are to be found
in recent, or even very recent history. In her book Balkan
Tragedy, Susan L. Woodward is very insistent, and she is
supported by Christopher Bennett in Yugoslavia's Bloody
Collapse, that one cannot say that Yugoslavism failed in
1990, because Yugoslavism was never given a chance. The
federal prime minister and economic reformer, Ante Markovic,
formed his Alliance of Reformist Forces to carry the Yugoslav
flag in the federal elections which he believed would be held
towards the end of 1990. They never took place. Before the
federalists had had time to organize themselves, the
nationalist lobbies in Slovenia and Croatia had rushed ahead
with republic-level elections which were little more than
referenda on national sovereignty. They swept the board at a
time when other indicators were still showing that many would
have voted for the federal option if they had been given the

Woodward and Bennett also highlight the great importance of
the Slovenia-Serbia-Kosovo triangle. Slovene-Serb
co-operation was in some ways the basis of the Yugoslav state
between the wars and after 1944. The Serbs left the Slovenes
with a considerable degree of autonomy; and the Slovenes left
the Serbs to dominate Kosovo and, in the inter-war period,
Macedonia. Something similar seemed to be happening in the
late 1980s. In October 1988, Slovenia won concessions on the
federal constitution, concessions which increased Slovene
sovereignty, in return for which Slovenia did not contest
Slobodan Milosevic's revisions to the Serbian constitution,
by which the autonomy enjoyed by Kosovo and the Vojvodina
since 1974 was greatly reduced. It was a mephistophelean
pact, and early in 1989 the Slovene leader, Milan Kucan,
reneged on it. When Serbia repressed protests by Kosovar
Albanians, Kucan aligned with the Albanians, who were, he
said, only claiming what the Slovenes had recently gained. If
Serbia would not respect the Kosovar Albanians' civil rights
and their demand for Slovene-type devolution, then Serbia had
forsaken the principles of the Yugoslav federation which
Slovenia might as well therefore quit. As Bennett observes,
the difficulty for the federation was that Slovenia was more
important to Yugoslavia than Yugoslavia was to Slovenia. And
if Slovenia were to cut away, the Serbs would be so powerful
in the remainder of Yugoslavia that the Croats would also
want out.

The role of the Serbs was obviously crucial. All five books
devote some attention to the rise of Serbian nationalism and
to the generation in the 1980s of the "victim complex" which
affected so many Serbs. The collection of Petra Ramet and
Ljubisa S. Adamovich has useful essays on the part played in
the generation of Serbian paranoia by the army, the Serbian
Orthodox Church, the historians, the media and other factors.
To some degree, in all the Yugoslav republics, nationalism
stepped into the political vacuum left by the death of Tito,
the collapse of the economy and the withering away of
ideology. The use of nationalism as a legitimizing factor was
not a Yugoslav preserve, as Ceausescu, Hoxha and Zhivkov
proved. Nor was it new: Dusan Necak's contribution to
Yugoslavia, the Former and the Future, edited by Payam
Akhavan and Robert Howse, quotes a 1937 memorandum from Vasa
Cubrilovic, a member of the 1914 gang which assassinated
Franz Ferdinand and later a distinguished academic historian,
advocating the mass deportation of Albanians from Kosovo.

What was new about the rise of nationalism in the 1980s in
Yugoslavia was that it was nationalism in a federal context.
The federation had distinguished between "nations" and
"nationalities". The nations had the right to a national
homeland, to a territorial existence as a republic within the
federation; the nationalities only had the civil right to
protect their ethnic identity. When the federation broke up,
the nationalities lost that right. There was another and
greater danger. Many secessionists claimed that the right to
self-determination lay not with the nations nor with the
republics, that it was a matter of individual rights not of
territory. If that were so, the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia
could demand secession, or frontier rectification, in order
to achieve self-determination for a unified Serb nation. It
was a more sophisticated version of the old dream of a
Greater Serbia; and it was the origin of Serb expansion into
eastern Slavonia, the Serb rebellion in the Knin area, and
the armed rising of the Bosnian Serbs. (Radovan Karadjic
[sic] refused to accept the Vance-Owen plan unless it stated
in its preamble that Bosnia and Hercegovina was a state with
three constituent "nations", all of which had the right to

The nation / nationalities distinction was critical with
regard to the Albanians. There were more Albanians in
Yugoslavia than Montenegrins or Macedonians; and if 1 .2
million Bosnian Serbs had the right to a separate state, why
didn't the 2 million Albanians in Kosovo? The answer was
because an Albanian republic in Kosovo might join Albania,
and even if it did not, it would act as a magnet for Albanian
minorities in Montenegro and Macedonia. Also Kosovo was the
historic heartland of Serbia, the cradle of the nation. It
was here that Milosevic pinned his flag to the mast of
Serbian nationalism, and it was the Kosovar Albanians'
protests of 1990 which led to the breach between Slovenia and
Serbia. Kosovo, writes Dennison Rusinow in Beyond Yugoslavia,
"provided the time-fuse, and Slobodan Milosevic provided the
detonators" for the chain reaction which shattered

Kosovo was not the only fuse. Economic decline was another.
This was a general East European phenomenon, but in
Yugoslavia the problem was more intractable. Yugoslavia was
not a fully socialist state in the Soviet sense. It had
administered severe doses of economic reform in the 1950s,
the 60s and later, and therefore it could not turn to
perestroika as the answer to its problems; it had already
gone beyond that stage. Yet to turn to more socialism would
seem like tying a line to a sinking ship, while attempting to
become more capitalist would compound the social problems to
such a degree that it might destroy the basis of the regime's
legitimacy . Furthermore, Yugoslavia's economic difficulties
were, in no small measure, the result of the Yugoslav road to
socialism. The system of workers' councils and
self-management, which had been so attractive to reformers in
other socialist states from the 1950s through to the early
1980s, was a disaster. It even managed to bring about a
simultaneous decline in productivity and an increase in
unemployment. As Woodward's Socialist Unemployment shows,
left to themselves, workers with jobs tended to use profits
to increase wages; they did not invest in the means to
increase productivity, nor were they keen to cut the wages
cake into smaller slices by employing more workers.
Investment had to come from banks; and the banks were
increasingly free to borrow money abroad. Eventually, the
lenders in the West demanded reform of the system, and by the
early 1980s they had to be heeded. Retrenchment was
introduced, and intense debates were conducted on the causes
and the possible cures of Yugoslavia's ills. As the debate
progressed, it became more and more political; and in the
mid1980s that meant more nationalist.

Foreign loans had been a double-edged sword. They had
absolved the East European regimes of the need to restructure
their systems, but in so doing, they prolonged those systems
until they collapsed under the weight of their own
absurdities. The consensus in all these books is that the
West's policies have been misguided or even malign. The
Germans are generally criticized for their pressure over the
recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, but, as Woodward shows,
their belief was that recognition would deter further Serbian
pressures and that once recognition was granted and
sovereignty achieved, nationalism, having attained its goal,
would subside. Perhaps the Germans of all people should have
feared that nationalist appetites would grow with eating. The
British government comes out with little credit; it traded
off its doubts over recognition in return for German
agreement that Britain need not subscribe to the Treaty of
Maastricht's social chapter. These books were all written
before the recent Nato air strikes and the latest American
diplomatic initiative in Bosnia, but the authors' sceptical
tone would probably not have dissociated Clinton's belated
action from the forthcoming American presidential elections.

The other two books concentrate overwhelmingly on the Bosnian
conflict. Norman Cigar views the conflict very much from the
Muslim point of view; indeed the cartoons from Arab
newspapers are probably the most interesting feature of
Genocide in Bosnia. Otherwise Cigar has little to offer. He
is a man who does not know the difference between "reticent"
and "reluctant", and his approach to the complexities of the
Yugoslav problem is simple, if not simple-minded. The Muslims
are the goodies, everyone else, to a greater or lesser
degree, are baddies; the Serbs had laid a deep plot while the
Western states, for what he says were misguided reasons of
Realpolitik, did not want to pour out their money or their
blood to keep the peace. After such naive moralizing, Edgar
O'Ballance's worldly scepticism is almost a relief. On the
first page of Civil War in Bosnia, 1992-94, he notes that in
January 1991, as the pot was coming to the boil, Jacques Poos
the foreign minister of "Luxembourg (999 square miles)"
became President of the European Union and advised "Slovenia
(1,350 square miles)" that it was too small to set itself up
as an independent state. When the Bosnian war began,
O'Ballance notes, Alija Izetbegovic was not above
manipulating the Western media, even at the cost of Bosnian
Muslim lives; Cigar just manages to admit that the Serbs and
Croats have also been the victims of atrocities, but
O'Ballance gives chapter and verse and reminds us that there
are Muslim as well as Serb militias operating in Bosnia.

Two of these books stand out from the rest. Susan Woodward' s
Balkan Tragedy is long and detailed and must be regarded as
the most authoritative treatment yet. For a concise,
intelligent, sensible and sensitive short account of the
collapse of Yugoslavia, Christopher Bennett's book could
scarcely be bettered.