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This article does not have permission of the copyright owner, but is
being offered for comment, criticism and research under the "fair use"
provisions of the Federal copyright laws.
Source: Journal of Humanitarian Assistance,
Posted 29 November 1995
by Susan L Woodward
(Brookings Institution, 1995; cloth ISBN 0-8157-9514-9 $42.95; paper ISBN 0-8157-9513-0 $18.95 536pp.)
Review by David Hobart
Tolstoy would have enjoyed this book on the shambles that was Yugoslavia,
and not just for its size and density: everyone is at fault, but no-one in
particular; Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic have no more influence than
had Napoleon and Kutuzov.
Formerly an adviser to special representative Yasushi Akashi, Woodward metes
out criticisms with an evenhandedness that must have opened and closed doors
in equal measure during her year with the UN. It all started so well: her
early mention - on page 0 - of the ethnically-cleansed aphorism, "Why should
I be a minority in your state when you can be a minority in mine" seemed
wholly appropriate. For a page or two I was confident that a lack of
evenhandedness, or at least a lack of ethnic equilibrium in the political
process, must lie somewhere near the heart of the Balkan Tragedy - but
Woodward's use of Vladimir Gligorov's clever quote serves merely to
undermine the main theme of the book. Simply put, she argues that 10 years
of economic and social decline from the late 1970s, together with
Yugoslavia's changing international locus, were inimical to the politics of
trying to turn a socialist state into a democratic market economy. The
majority of the book is set in the 1980s, and provides a fascinating
economic, social and internal political background to the key events of
Slovene and Croatian secession. She rejects explicitly the ethnic argument
per se, and asserts that "the conflict is not a result of historical
animosities and it is not a return to the precommunist past ...". This
arresting claim merits the author's consequent lengthy examination, if only
to address the double-edged question of whether or not other socialist
states face a similar problem of transition to a democratic market economy.
If the claim is true, the implications for further humanitarian assistance
in Eastern Europe and Africa are depressing. Yet even if Yugoslavia has no
parallel, that provides scant comfort to the many states, post-colonial
socialist or otherwise, that have faced a decade or more of economic
stagnation, and now wish to reform.
Why Yugoslavia? There is a huge temptation to explain away the origins of
today's slaughter by confident references to the winners and losers in the
Versailles process, and to contemporary influences of Tito, and eventually,
Gorbachev. This approach could be accompanied by the vague rhetorical
question: 'Well, what do you expect from a unique country that simmers with
unresolved tensions, and which has had a changing population distribution
that inhibits ethnic and national hopes for self-determination and
statehood?' It might, of course, be a comforting thought to characterise
Yugoslavia as unique, if only to deny that lessons have relevance elsewhere,
but Woodward will have none of it: 'Why is the dynamic in the former
Yugoslavia so similar to that seen elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and
in parts of Africa?' She spreads the blame liberally on insensitive Western
failure - by institutions and governments alike - to provide consistent
economic support at a time of internal reform.
There is no shortage of evidence that the complexities of the political game
proved too difficult for the players. Anyone who saw the British Channel 4
documentary 'Death of Yugoslavia', set in the run-up to Slovene and Croatian
secession, could not doubt from the camera in the Yugoslav State Council
chamber that the participants were each acutely aware of their ethnic
constituency - and equally, they had no clear picture of where their actions
would lead. Moreover, Woodward herself illustrates the heavy political price
to be paid for multiethnic coexistence: 'the (provincial) governments of
Voyvodina and Kosovo could veto any policy from Belgrade that applied to the
entire territory, while Serbia proper had no equivalent power over decisions
within the two provinces'. In essence, the complex Balkan reality of the
hypothetical British 'West Lothian question'.
In one respect at least, it is a pity that Woodward has set her face so
emphatically against the role of ethnic tensions in Yugoslavia. After all,
the popular Western use of 'ethnic tension', rather than the more accurate
'nationalist tension', results more from laziness or lack of precision than
from a conscious wish to distinguish between ethnic and national motives.
She argues the point at length, but perversely this reinforces the
impression that Yugoslavia is, or was, unique, and consequently of less
validity as a paradigm to be avoided. The denial of an ethnic cause to the
break-up is valid only if one draws an improbably clear distinction between
the components of ethnicity, nationalism, nationhood, territory and
statehood. Indeed, and crucial both for explanation and for attribution of
blame, one could argue that the Yugoslav model possessed no such clarity to
interested participants or disinterested spectators alike. The subtleties of
state, nation and ethnicity spawned a political structure that was
indecipherable to the outsider - and eventually unacceptable to the diverse
On balance, this book is an excellent work of reference, but the narrative
is as impenetrable as the Balkans themselves. It would be dangerously naive,
of course, to expect simple answers to fiendish problems - though one can
always hope - but I am left with the frustrating feeling that I now know
more, but understand less, about the Balkan Tragedy.
((Book review of Balkan Tragedy reprinted from Brookings Institution))
Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War
Susan L. Woodward
Yugoslavia was well positioned at the end of the cold war to make
a successful transition to a market economy and westernization.
Yet two years later, the country had ceased to exist, and devastating local
wars were being waged to create new states. Between the fall of the Berlin
Wall in November 1989 and the start of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in
March 1992, the country moved toward disintegration at astonishing speed.
The collapse of Yugoslavia into nationalist regimes led not only to
horrendous cruelty and destruction, but also to a crisis of Western security
regimes. Coming at the height of euphoria over the end of the cold war and
the promise of a "new world order," the conflict presented Western
governments and the international community with an unwelcome and unexpected
set of tasks. Their initial assessment that the conflict was of little
strategic significance or national interest could not be sustained in light
of its consequences. By 1994 the conflict had emerged as the most
challenging threat to existing norms and institutions that Western leaders
faced. And by the end of 1994, more than three years after the international
community explicitly intervened to mediate the conflict, there had been no
progress on any of the issues raised by the country's dissolution.
In this book, Susan Woodward explains what happened to Yugoslavia and what
can be learned from the response of outsiders to its crisis. She argues that
focusing on ancient ethnic hatreds and military aggression was a way to
avoid the problem and misunderstood nationalism in post-communist states.
The real origin of the Yugoslav conflict, Woodward explains, is the
disintegration of governmental authority and the breakdown of a political
and civil order, a process that occurred over a prolonged period. The
Yugoslav conflict is inseparable from international change and
interdependence, and it is not confined to the Balkans but is part of a more
widespread phenomenon of political disintegration.
Woodward's analysis is based on her first-hand experience before the
country's collapse and then during the later stages of the Bosnian war as a
member of the UN operation sent to monitor cease-fires and provide
humanitarian assistance. She argues that Western action not only failed to
prevent the spread of violence or to negotiate peace, but actually
exacerbated the conflict. Woodward attempts to explain why these challenges
will not cease or the Yugoslav conflicts end until the actual causes of the
conflict, the goals of combatants, and the fundamental issues they pose for
international order are better understood and addressed.
Susan L. Woodward is a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies program
at the Brookings Institution and the author of Socialist Unemployment: The
Political Economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990 (Princeton University Press).
During much of 1994 she served as a senior adviser to Yasushi Akashi, the
top UN official in the former Yugoslavia and special representative of UN
Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
"This is a solid and comprehensive book, easily one of the best that has
been published on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia." Political Science
"This massive study brilliantly dissects the disintegration of
Yugoslavia.... With extensive firsthand experience in Yugoslavia, the author
weaves a penetrating analysis.... [An] exceptional book." Choice
Selected by Choice as an Outstanding Book of 1995
536 pp. / 1995
cloth 0-8157-9514-9 $44.95
paper 0-8157-9315-0 $19.95
International Affairs / Security
Brookings Institution Press
"U svojoj bi pobjedi Hrvatska trebala postupati velikodusno" - razgovor sa
Susan Woodward (16/1/98)
Razgovarao Bojan Klima
"Okoncanje mandata UNTAES-a jos jednom nas podsjeca na cinjenicu da je
Hrvatska u ratu odnijela pobjedu. U pobjedi ona bi trebala biti velikodusna,
te dopustiti svim Srbima koji to zele da se vrate svojim domovima", izjavila
je za Glas Amerike Susan Woodward, americka strucnjakinja za Balkan,
uposlena u washingtonskom Institutu Brookings. Inace, gospoda Wodward je
1993. i 1994. bila u Hrvatskoj - kao savjetnica Jasushija Akashija,
tadasnjeg izaslanika Ujedinjenih Naroda za bivsu Jugoslaviju.
Diplomatima je u Hrvatskoj bilo teze no u Bosni i Hercegovini
Prisjecajuci se tih vremena, Susan Woodward kaze da je "stranim diplomatima
u Hrvatskoj bilo znatno teze raditi negoli u Bosni i Hercegovini".
"Diplomati koji su radili u te dvije zemlje u razdoblju od 1991. do 1995.
uvijek su isticali da je u Hrvatskoj mnogo teze. Strane u sukobu su bile
tvrdoglavije, kompromis je uvijek bilo vrlo tesko postici. Na srpskoj strani
strah je bio vrlo velik, dok je hrvatska vlast cesto opstruirala medunarodne
mirovne napore, znajuci da ce - dugorocno gledano - na kraju ipak
prevladati. U Bosni, je ipak svima jasno - pogotovo od Daytona - da zive u
Bosni i Hercegovini. Uz to, razlike u kulturi triju zajednica tamo i nisu
toliko velike", smatra Susan Woodward.
Sto ce se u buducnosti pamtiti kao uspjeh - Bosna i Hercegovina ili
Zbog toga, ona tvrdi da bi se moglo dogoditi da ce se u buducnosti, mozda,
upravo Bosna i Hercegovina - a ne hrvatsko Podunavlje - smatrati najvecim
"mirotvornim uspjehom medunarodne zajednice". Naime, kaze ona, "jos uvijek
postoji mogucnost da iz Podunavlja isele gotovo svi Srbi, sto bi
predstavljalo pravi poraz medunarodne zajednice". sto bi Hrvatske vlasti
trebale uciniti da se to ne dogodi? " Hrvatske vlasti trebaju izvrsiti svoje
medunarodne obveze, pogotovo glede povratka izbjeglih Srba. Ako hrvatska
vlast misli da joj pobjeda u ratu daje za pravo da cini sto god joj je
volja, onda ona jos uvijek zivi u 19. stoljecu. Znam da su ovo teske rijeci:
rat je bio vrlo tezak, propatili su i mnogi Hrvati. Medutim, vrijeme je da
se postupi velikodusno. U svojoj pobjedi Republika Hrvatska bi se trebala
ponijeti velikodusno i dopustiti povratak svim Srbima koji su iz nje
pobjegli a zele se vratiti".
Neuspjeh u istocnoj Slavoniji imao bi negativne posljedice po Bosnu
Ako se to ne dogodi, posljedice ce se osjetiti i u Bosni i Hercegovini.
Susan Woodward objasnjava: "Ako se u istocnoj Slavoniji ne postigne uspjeh,
na Bosnu moramo gledati s velikim pesimizmom. Jer, zadatak medunarodne
zajednice u istocnoj Slavoniji bio je - citajuci sluzbene dokumente - mnogo
jednostavniji. Od pocetka mandata Prijelazne uprave - od 1995. godine -
znalo se da ta regija pripada Republici Hrvatskoj. Srbi su od pocetka
mandata UNTAES-a bili svjesni izbora: ili ce se prilagoditi toj cinjenici
ili mogu iseliti. Osim toga, tu imamo samo dvije strane, a ne tri, kao u
Bosni. Uz to, Daytonski sporazum nije bas previse jasan: je li Bosna
federacija ili konfederacija? Kakav bi trebao biti konacni cilj mirovnog
procesa? Prema tome, u Podunavlju je postojao jak i precizan mandat, dok to
u Bosni nije slucaj. Zbog toga je u Bosni i Hercegovini zadatak medunarodne
zajednice znatno tezi i slozeniji".
This article does not have permission of the copyright owner, but is being offered for comment, criticism and research under the "fair use" provisions of the Federal copyright laws.
Source: Bosnia Page
An Ideological Ally for Belgrade
by Attila Hoare
(Review of Susan L. Woodward's Balkan Tragedy - Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C, 1995, xvi + 536 pp.)
Apologists for Communism and Western Cold Warriors, though from opposing trenches, tended to agree on one point at least where the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were concerned. They saw a complete dichotomy between a-national Communism and the national-democratic (or bourgeois-reactionary) socio-political orders that had gone before. The events of 1989-91 in this view represented a sharp break: a victory for liberal democracy and/or reactionary nationalism over Communism. In the former Yugoslavia and the Caucasus, in particular, this break was accompanied by bloody wars of succession, and former Cold War antagonists in the West have often joined in lamenting the passing of the 'Communist man's burden', whereby authoritarian but impartial Marxism-Leninism 'kept the lid on ethnic conflict'. From here it is only a short step to support for the attempts of the imperial centres, Moscow and Belgrade, to 'restore order' among the tribes. Thus Walter Laqueur, in his vitriolic anti-Communist polemic against even the most vaguely pro-Soviet intellectuals and historians (The Dream that Failed, Oxford, 1994), did not think it odd simultaneously to praise the Soviet regime's murderous occupation of the Azerbaijani capital of Baku in 1990, stating baldly that 'the intention of Russian forces was to restore law and order'.
The ideological strait-jacket of the Cold War has been a particular barrier
to efforts to understand the break-up of Yugoslavia. Those who have bothered to look at its history during World War II know well that Tito's Partisans, who brought the Communists to power in Yugoslavia, constituted a heterogenous force if ever there was one, including as it did Croats fighting for Croatian sovereignty, Serbs fighting to unite all Serbs within a single state and Bosnians fighting for Bosnian statehood. Alongside the original anti-fascist patriots, the Partisan ranks came to include by the end of the war former Ustashe, Chetniks and Muslim SS recruits. Yet post-war historians consistently mistook form for content, seeing in Communism the negation, rather than the uneasy reconciliation, of Yugoslavia's conflicting national projects. Since 1991, a wealth of books have appeared arguing that, once the undemocratic but anti- national Communist order began to break down in the 1980s under the impact of an economic crisis, its antithesis spontaneously and inevitably re-emerged: irrational but popular 'rival nationalisms' that plunged Yugoslavia into war. Since the war was caused by the 'collapse of Communism', it followed that it could have been avoided if only elements of the Communist Yugoslav old order had been propped up, such as those represented by Yugoslavia's reformist and centralist last Prime Minister, Ante Markovic or, more ominously, by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) seen here as a force of 'law and order'. The secession of Slovenia and
Croatia, and their subsequent recognition by the EC, are regularly presented as the actions most responsible for the outbreak and prolongation of war. Although the principles of Croatian and Slovenian sovereignty were integral elements of Yugoslav constitutionalism, and although the JNA in 1991 was hardly an impartial defender of the 'brotherhood and unity' of the Yugoslav nations, writers of this ilk have persisted in viewing the crumbling Yugoslav state, stained as it already was with the blood of thousands of its own citizens, as the only bulwark against 'rival nationalisms' analysed with equal vagueness (form once again being confused with content), so that Serbian nationalism appears as just one nationalism among many, and not necessarily the worst.
Each writer adhering to this line of reasoning implants on it the stamp of
his or her own political or professional background. Susan Woodward's book is the most extensive version to date. Writing as a one-time advisor to UN Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi, her thesis is familiar enough: economic and constitutional collapse coupled with widespread social despair created a void that the rival leaders of the Yugoslav national groups sought to fill through mutually exclusive national projects. She writes euphemistically that 'fundamental disputes' concerned 'the locus of sovereignty and of new borders that had been created by the breakup of the state' (p.13) - in rather the same way, she might have reminded us, as the 1939 dispute between Germany and Poland over the 'locus of sovereignty and of new borders' was created by the collapse of the Versailles settlement.
Woodward's book shows how easy the passage is from identification with the centralized Yugoslav state and Army to support for Serbian nationalism. Criticism of republican autonomy vis-à-vis the Federal centre is a frequent theme, seamlessly extended to opposition to the overwhelmingly Albanian province of Kosova's autonomy vis-à-vis the republic of Serbia. Describing 'Milosevic's objective' as 'to restore the constitutional integrity of the republic [of Serbia] by ending the extensive autonomy granted Kosovo and Vojvodina by the 1974 Constitution' (p.94), she dismisses Albanian claims to self-determination on the grounds that 'their constitutional classification'- by that same 1974 constitution, presumably! - 'as a nationality rather than a constituent nation made them ineligible for such rights' (p.106). She subsequently criticizes the EC's call for the restoration of Kosova's autonomy in 1991, 'which was the very problem of the 1974 Constitution that Serbia had spent the 1980s attempting to reverse' (p. 182). This contrasts sharply with her treatment of the Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia and, by implication, Croatia's and Bosnia's own claims to 'constitutional integrity'. She writes, for instance, that in the summer of 1990 the 'Serbs in the krajina (border) region of Croatia and Bosnia were beginning to arm in self-defense' (p. 148). And again, referring without comment to the wholly bogus claim that Serbs owned 65% of landholdings in Bosnia, she writes that 'the Bosnian Serb army under General Mladic pushed instead to fill in the patchwork quilt of these landholdings to make contiguous, statelike territory', which was 'intended to ensure the survival of the Serbs as a nation in this area' (p.269). Woodward is particularly ready to defend the JNA, which in the course of 1991 had 'come to the defense, not only of the Yugoslav border, but also of civil order and of minorities during violent clashes between Croats and Serbs in Croatia in the spring' (p. 165), and which 'continuing into September 1991' had been attempting 'to
provide such a neutral buffer between Serbs and Croats, particularly in
eastern Croatia, so as to dampen the fighting and create cease-fires' (p.
257). She entirely neglects to mention that this 'neutral buffer' had
actually been arming Serb extremists within Croatia since the summer of
1990, since its true intention, as Yugoslavia's last Minister of Defence
General Kadijevic has publicly admitted, was to establish new borders for an expanded, Greater Serbia.
Woodward's apologies for the Serbian side contrast with her treatment of
Croatia and Slovenia. One of her favourite arguments is that Milosevic's
claim to be the 'protector of Serbs wherever they lived was the logical
equivalent' of the 'identification of Slovene sovereignty and the defense of
Slovene human rights' and was 'based on an equally legitimate but
alternative concept of a nation' (p.133). Indeed Radovan Karadzic's
political project simply involved 'transferring the Slovene precedent (of
the right of nations to form states within a state and, if they wish, to
secede) from the republics to the constituent nations of federal Yugoslavia. His aim was to legitimize the sovereignty of Bosnian Serbs within Bosnia' (p. 211). Elsewhere, Woodward claims that Slovenia 'was not a state' (p. 164), and that in recognizing the independence of Slovenia and Croatia the EC was 'not only creating new states but dissolving an old one - Yugoslavia' (p.250). Quite apart from whitewashing the Serbian aggressive campaign, such statements reveal an extraordinary ignorance on the part of this self-proclaimed expert on the nature of federations in general and the Yugoslav federation in particular. In fact, Yugoslavia, identified by Woodward solely with the central state and army based on Belgrade, was specifically a federation of six republics and two provinces; within it Slovenia and Croatia functioned as sovereign nation-states, with the right of veto over the central bodies' decisions.
Woodward not only defends Serb nationalism's aspirations in principle, but
repeats some of its most grotesque claims: 'The effect in Bosnia-Hercegovina of demographic changes and emigration in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, was to complete the process begun with the genocidal campaign in 1941-44 of reducing the Serb population from a majority to a minority' (p. 213); 'From the mid-1980s on, both Austria and the Vatican had pursued a strategy to increase their sphere of economic and spiritual influence in central and eastern Europe, respectively' (pp. 148-9). Indeed, Austrian and German support for the Republic of Croatia's independence was 'an extension of the German idea of citizenship through blood alone (jus sanguinis) and the impossibility of ethnically heterogeneous states - ideas that had been at the core of fascist ideology' (p. 206), as if Milosevic's 'alternative concept of a nation', Karadzic's quest for 'the sovereignty of Bosnian Serbs within Bosnia' and General Mladic's work on 'filling in the patchwork quilt' were not precisely driven by the ideology of blood and soil. By contrast, Russia's view on the Yugoslav issue had little to do with pro-Serbian bias, 'but grew instead from its understanding of the issues at stake as a result of its more similar experiences in the twentieth century and contemporaneously in dealing with the national question' (p. 205): presumably Woodward is referring here to Russia's 'similar experiences' with the Chechens and Crimean Tartars. Despite the enormous wealth of scholarly works cited and almost a hundred pages of notes, Woodward repeats Serb-nationalist falsehoods that no serious scholar would entertain for a moment. One prime example is her claim that the HDZ regime in Croatia 'adopted the historical symbols of Croatian statehood (coat of arms and flag) that had last been used by the fascist state in 1940-45' (p.120): as every student of Croatian history knows, the red-cornered chequerboard that adorns the Croatian flag today was used by the Socialist Republic of Croatia within Yugoslavia, but not by the Ustashe. Another is her allegation that Serbian attacks on hospitals were provoked by the Bosnians and Croatians themselves, in order to win international sympathy - a serious charge for which she neglects to provide any sources.
Susan Woodward has written a long, turgid and repetitive work whose
seemingly scholarly style and pretence of objectivity mask what amounts to support for Serbian war aims and a dislike of Germany, Austria and Croatia that borders on hatred. For another main dimension of Woodward's thesis concerns the way in which the Germans and Americans in turn supposedly sabotaged international attempts to resolve the conflict. This line of argument presents few surprises for anyone familiar with the similar themes emanating from British and French official sources throughout the wars of succession in former Yugoslavia. What makes this book unique, however, is its revelation of the degree of ideological sympathy for Serbian nationalist objectives that was prevalent in the highest echelons of the UN machine operating in the countries suffering the effects of Serbian aggression. No wonder that, during her time as adviser to Akashi, she was nicknamed 'Mrs Mladic' by members of the UNHCR working in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
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