Nationalist Resentment and Ethnic Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia

1,416 views

Published on

Published in: News & Politics
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
1,416
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
4
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
18
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Nationalist Resentment and Ethnic Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia

  1. 1. 1 Meghan Cochran Dr. Lawoti PSCI4500 Final Term Paper 11 April 2006 NATIONALIST RESENTMENT AND ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA Although nationalist fervor and sentiment had been building up in Yugoslavia throughout the 1980s, in 1989 it reached heights unseen during Tito’s Communist regime. In 1989, Slobodan Milosevic revoked the autonomous status of the Kosovo and Vojvodina regions in Serbia, effectively putting them under the social, political, and economic thumb of the Republika Srpska (the Serbian-majority section of Bosnia). The collapse of the Soviet Union, of which Yugoslavia was a part, inspired a swift succession of independence movements throughout the Balkans. What was once the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia became Slovenia (1991), Croatia (1991), Macedonia (1992), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992), Serbia and Montenegro (1992, who still operated under the term ‘Yugoslavia’ until formal separation in 2003) . The overarching theme of ‘unity and brotherhood’ in Yugoslavia as proclaimed by Tito throughout his life collapsed within five years as ethnic and religious differences caused former neighbors to enact brutality and viciousness upon each other, unseen in Europe since World War II. As the international community failed to reasonably and equally assess legitimacy and sovereignty claims from these breaking states, Croatia and Serbia began to mobilize and militarily/economically support shared kin groups across the region.[1] The level of bloodshed associated with independence from Yugoslavia largely depended on the ethnic makeup of the country itself. Slovenia, for instance, was ethnically homogenous and only suffered a ten-day war, (the War in Slovenia or the Ten Days War). Similarly, Macedonia seceded without major incident. Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, on the other hand, were very heterogenous societies with longstanding historical grudges and feelings of mistrust that eventually exploded into one of the worst human rights crises of the 20th century. Difficulties between Serbs, Croats, and others stem largely from the shared similarity of all groups involved. Peoples have been coexisting in the Balkans for nearly a millenium and this manifests itself in similar dress, language, food, and physical characteristics. However, historical and geopolitical differences leave room for misunderstanding and stereotyping – Croatia, for example, was ruled by Vienna and Budapest, making it the easternmost corner of the Hapsburg and Austro-Hungarian empires.[2] Croats are Latinized, Catholic, and are disinclined to associate with the Orthodox and Muslim citizens farther east, who are assumed to be ‘backwards.’ Similarly, the Serbs speak a similar language as do Croatians, but spell words with Cyrillic letters. They tend to look east, to Russia, and most are Orthodox Christians. Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia are less industrialized and politically developed then are Croatia or especially Slovenia. As stated before, the people of the former Yugoslavia are relatively similar in many ways. This is negated, however, by the shadows of history, especially in the Battle of the Kosovo Polje (1389) and World War II (regarding fights between the Serbian Chetniks and the Croatian Ustaše that entailed hundreds of thousands of death camp casualties); that has bred a fierce paranoia among Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats regarding each other and their collective ability to maintain social/ethnic relevance as well as land and culture.[3] This is explained by Joane Nagel as follows: "Culture and history are the substance of ethnicity. They are also the basic materials used to construct ethnic meaning. Culture and history are often intertwined in cultural construction."[4] Thus, the atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav
  2. 2. Succession throughout the 1990s can be partially attributed to internalized interethnic conflicts based on shared history and glorification of violent conflict.[5] This sense of ethnic identity is a sense of being tied to the land of one’s fathers in an unbreakable chain of ownership and stewardship. According to Veljko, a young Yugoslav, "I can trace my family heritage back to the eleventh century in Montenegro, with only a fifty-year break. We are the true Serbs."[6] This is a widespread phenomenon in which placement and history are unbreakable and manifested in everything from community organization to pop music. An inability to come to terms with this shared land and language resulted in, from 1991-1995 in huge, traumatic ethnic wars. These wars included forced migrations, internment, brutalization, rape, murder, mass execution, and official military campaigns. For instance, an estimated 60,000 Bosnian Muslim women were raped throughout the course of the conflict.[7] Croatian feminist journalist Slavenka Drakulic wrote that Serbian men were “generally encouraged to do so because it is an efficient way to frighten and intimidate people, which certainly was the aim of the Republika Srpska forces in Bosnia.”[8] Indeed, Bosnia has seen some of the worst crimes against humanity and egregious wartime atrocities throughout the course of the conflict. In Srebrenica, 1992, 8,500 Muslim men (aged 11-65) were executed by Serbian paramilitary firing squads over six days.[9] Srebrenica was by no means the singular massacre during the course of the Yugoslav Wars; rather, there were several highly predicible modes of operation on the part of the Serbian paramilitary units (Jugoslav National Army, or JNA). First, the units would blockade and surround a town, preventing all access to food, supplies, and other imports. This was followed by an immense and indiscriminate shelling siege and, ultimately, the killing of civilians. Women, children, and the elderly were usually permitted to leave (generally suffering various degrees of harrassment, torture, or expulsion to concentration camps in the process), while men and older boys were murdered. It is estimated that of the 18,000 people deemed missing after the course of the wars, over 92% of those people were military-age males.[10] The Serbs were not the lone perpetrators of such hatred and violence. In the Krajina region of Croatia, Croatian president Franjo Tudjman “cleansed” the area of Serbs in 1995: “In a matter of days, the entire population – known as the bset armed, most militant, and proud-to-the-point-of-paranoia group of Serbs in the world – were subjected to… caravans of tractors pulling flat-bed wagons packed high with abject refugees and their paltry belongings, moving iinto exile.”[11] Since 1999, over 200,000 Serbs have been evacuated and 3,000 killed from Kosovo.[12] Most of the approximately 12,500 Serbs who attempted to return to their homes in Kosovo (a disputed autonomous Serbian province) found that their homes had been either destroyed, damaged, or occupied by Kosovar Albanian families.[13] This shows that the horrors of the 1990s are not over, and that the proverbial ethnic tables can turn in nearly any situation across the Balkans. I would like to propose that these ethnic disagreements, which ultimately exploded into terrible carnage, are the product of an internalized sense of shared culture and history, not always pleasant, that simultaneously recognizes the similarity of the “other.” As Frankie Wilmer said, “Threats to the destruction of self-other boundaries may, alternately, evoke the most primal insecurities, since it is not only the boundaries but the self (itself) that is at risk of being annihilated or assimilated into the other.”[14] Ethnic conflict served not only to maintain the status quo of ethnic superiority in political institutions, but also served as a cohesion in the chaos of a post-Communist world. Without the overblown and wholly unrecognized ideal of the ‘new Yugoslav man’, ethnic anger as well as state borders fermented. Although the horror of the Yugoslavian Wars were largely over by 2000 in a military sense, the ethnic disagreements and widespread hostility still lie latant in the Balkans. Serbia has been unhelpful in the return of war criminals such as Radovan Karadžic and Ratko Mladic (who supposedly knowingly committed the genocidal campaign at Srebrenica) to the UN under the International Criminal Tribunal for the War in Yugoslavia, in spite of the fact that this will help negotiate their ascension into the European Union.[15] Although people displaced by the conflicts are encouraged to come back to their homes, the vast majority of refugees
  3. 3. (especially Bosnians) have not returned. Also in Bosnia, there is a high level of distrust between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, that ‘the stronger central Muslim-dominated institutions become, the weaker Republika Srpska will become.’[16] Partially out of fear and partially out of the fact that many areas of the Balkans were ‘cleansed’, towns no longer have the ethnic heterogenieity of the past, with separate enclaves segregating groups. As suggested by Paula M. Pickering , …although the Dayton constitution supports interethnic cooperation, for example, by encouraging the return of refugees to their homes, it also reinforces divisions among Bosnia's three constituent nations. It institutionalizes ethnonational cleavages, Bosniak, Serb, and Croat, in a tri-ethnic collective presidency, ethnic- based federalism (the Bosniak-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska), mutual veto, and ethnic keys in the bureaucracy and state-owned companies. [17] I believe, however, that there is sufficient background and a Balkan sense of community building (known as komšiluk) throughout the Communist period in order to forge social ties. It was a longstanding tradition in cities such as Belgrade, Zagreb, and Sarajevo for neighbors of differing ethnic background to gather for coffee or drinks, sporting events, civic activities and social clubs, and political opposition.[18] It is the hope that, eventually, the Dayton Accord will ultimately succeed and the new Balkan states can enter the European Union to enjoy political, social, and economic prosperity in multiethnic and multireligious societies. [1] Pickering, Paula M. “Generating Social Capital for Bridging Ethnic Divisions in the Balkans: Case Studies of Two Bosniak Cities.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 29: 1 (January 2006), 79-103. [2] King, Charles. Beyond Bosnia. Fix this later. [3] Wilmer, Franke. “Identity, Culture, and Historicity.” [4] Wilmer, Franke. “Identity, Culture, and Historicity: The Social Construction of Ethnicity in the Balkans.” World Affairs 160:1 (Summer 1997), 3-16. [5] Wilmer, Franke. “Identity, Culture, and Historicity.” [6] Goltz, Thomas. “An Anti-Ethnic Diatribe.” Washington Quarterly 22:4 (Autumn 1999), 113-25. [7] Drakulic, Slavenka. They Would Never Hurt a Fly : War Criminals on Trial in the Hague. New York : Viking Press, 2004. [8] Drakulic, Slavenka. They Would Never Hurt a Fly. [9] Carpenter, Charli R. “Women and Children First: Gender, Norms, and Humanitarian Evacuation in the Balkans 1991-95.” International Organization 57:4, 661-694. [10] Carpenter, Charli R. “Women and Children First.” [11] Goltz, Thomas. “An Anti-Ethnic Diatribe.” Washington Quarterly 22:4 (Autumn 1999), 113-25. [12] Steorts, Jason Lee. “Ethnic Cleansing, Continued.” National Review 57: 16 (September 2005), 30-31. [13] Steorts, Jason Lee. “Ethnic Cleansing, Continued.” [14] Wilmer, Franke. “Identity, Culture, and Historicity.” [15] Joseph, Edward. “Back to the Balkans.” Foreign Affairs 84:1 (Jan/Feb 2005), 111. [16] Joseph, Edward. “Back to the Balkans.” [17] Pickering, Paula M. “Generating Social Capital.” [18] Pickering, Paula M. “Generating Social Capital.”

×