The South Slav Conflict..

The South Slav Conflict as Will and Notion

“War is first the hope of a better future,
later becomes an expectation of others’ destruction,
later becomes the satisfaction over others’ losses,
and finally turns into a surprise after realizing the damages caused to everyone.”

This essay does not set the aim to discuss in the greatest details this war (or series of wars) that is extremely diversified in causes and consequences. This thesis rather sets the aim to describe some ideas, typical tendencies, ethnic and religious conflicts and some further characteristics.

Since World War II (or the second period of the Great War, depending on the interpretation) the South Slav war the cruelest, the most pitiless against civilians, the richest conflict in genocides.

It seems to be inexplicable how anger broke loose and broke out a war among ‘brother’ nations who lived previously in one state. The Balkan Peninsula is the most diversified, mixed region of Europe from an ethnic point of view even nowadays. When looking merely at the Yugoslav successor states, we find that each state shows a fairly heterogeneous picture except for Slovenia that is the only one, ethnically homogeneous state. When looking at Bosnia-Hercegovina (known also as the mini Balkan) we find a very colourful population mapping the former Yugoslavia by merging Croatian, Serbian and Muslim population. The other state to highlight is Kosovo where the area’s affiliation had been decided by dominance of the Albanian.

To see a picture of the ethnic diversity of Yugoslavia after its reestablishment as a socialist federation on the 31st of January, 1946 (by a new constitution) let’s see some figures. Ethnographic descriptions usually differentiate 18 ethnic groups, 8 of these reached the size of one hundred thousand, however none of these was in absolute majority. The Serbs were a relative majority (42% in 1948; 36% by 1981), after them came the Croats (24% in1948; 20% by 1981), the Slovenians (9% and 8%), and the Bosnian Muslims (5% and 9%). The ratio of the Montenegrins (nearly 2%) did not change, while the Hungarians’ ratio decreased from 3% to 2%. It would also worth speaking about the issue how key figures of partisan movements of the World War become leaders of Yugoslavia and how they create a three level executive system after abandoning a centralistic state system inherited from the two World Wars era. The stability of the new three level executive system was of vital importance after breaking with the Soviet Union in 1948. Furthermore we also need to say something about Yugoslavia, whose leader – Josip Bros Tito – himself became a symbol of a whole era.

Those ethnic groups created the top of the executive system, whose ethnic existence were recognized and could form constituent republics, they were the Serbs, the Croats, the Slovenians, the Montenegrins, the Macedonians and (from 1971) the Bosnian Muslims. The second level was created by those ethnic groups, which were recognized as nationalities, i.e. the Albanians, the Bulgarians, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Italians, the Rumanians, the Ruthenians, the Slovaks and the Turks. These ethnic groups had different linguistic and cultural rights, moreover the Albanians in Kosovo and the Hungarians in Bácska lived in provinces endowed by territorial autonomy within the Republic of Serbia. The third group was created by smaller ethnic groups, i.e. the Greeks, the Poles, the Germans, the Russians, the Austrians, the Ukrainians, the Vlachs and the Jews. They were called ethnic groups or ethnicities that gained or suffered deprivation of linguistic or cultural rights depending on their territorial dispersion. Until Tito’s death (May 4th, 1980) Yugoslavia’s population could enjoy a relatively greater freedom and had a more prosperous economy, however the internal affairs of the state were not peaceful. The Albanian ethnicity shew the greatest disloyalty against the South Slav State, the basis of this attitude was the openly irredentist policy of the government of Tirana; the other source of the conflict of interests was hidden in the Serbian – Croatian linguistic and economic relationship. As a result of these conflicts the hope of creating a Yugoslavian national identity as an independent entity seemed to waver substantially. In figures merely 5 % of the population declared himself / herself to be Yugoslavian. Tito’s death cannot be considered as a turning point, while much more Slobodan Milosevic’s arrival as leader of the Communist Party by the middle of the decade. He aimed at creating a Serbian dominance and openly expressed the idea of Serbian chauvinism also in rhetoric. Changes of the Eastern region reached also Yugoslavia and it became more and more obvious how constituent republics imagine the future of the state.

Right before the outbreak of the war it is worth freezing the picture and investigating the balance of power and international relations of the parties. The Serbs were supported by the Montenegrin leadership (and initially also by the Macedonians), they aimed at creating an integrated, centralized state. This idea was opposed by Slovenia and later by Croatia the most vehemently. Bosnia-Hercegovina was much rather interested in preserving the Yugoslavian confederacy, because in this structure the Muslims were considered as equal party and they were not threatened by the danger that the two great neighbours (Serbia and Croatia) would divide them between each other. The weapons of the Yugoslavian National Army (JNA) were generally in Serbian hands, the other constituent republics were at a disadvantage in this respect, especially after the entry of the arms embargo. The USA did not intend to participate in the settlement processes, while the European Community tried to subserve the conclusion of peace by diplomatic efforts (without any result), and the Soviet Union did not intend to be involved the war, since that time the Union itself also suffered from an inner crisis. Later Russia openly supported the great Serbian ambition. It can be declared that none of the great powers was interested in preserving the unsustainable Yugoslavia, however they counted on a planned transition and not on an exemplary war.
The (civil) war broke out due to the Bolshevik “small Yugoslavia’s” later Serbia’s effort to hold together the multi-national and multi-religious state. An interesting comparison is to see Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995 and our homeland between 1918 and 1919. In the Hungarian Kingdom the state power prevented a civil war by avoiding violent actions to hold together the multi-ethnic state. In Yugoslavia it counted to be an eternal derby to see a football match between Crvena Zvezda or Partizan from Belgrad and one of the best Croatian football teams (Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split). In the 80’s there were some confrontations among hooligans, however ethnic motivation became dominant only around 1988. It could be said that the south Slav war seemed to break out in Zagreb on the 13th of May, 1990 at the Dinamo – Crvena Zvezda football match.

On the 23rd of December, 1990 and on the 19th of May, 1991 Slovenian and Croatian leadership held a referendum and an overwhelming majority of voters opted for entire independence. As a result on the 25th of June, 1991 both republics declared themselves independent, later (November 21st) Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina (May 1st, 1992) followed their example. Only Serbia and Montenegro decided to stay within the Bolshevik state. The troops of JNA attacked Slovenia on the 27th of June, 1991, the fight was short and almost bloodless but the war later spread to Croatia and Bosnia. The German government in December, 1991 (when the split-up of the Soviet Union became a fact) unilaterally declared its intention to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia. As Germany made this declaration without any agreement with member states of the European Community, Germany forced other member states to follow this example. These actions made the south Slav war a fight of three coequal, internationally recognized states (that came from the conflict of a no more existing state). This status strengthened the negotiating positions of Croatia and Slovenia. The Serbs managed to take advantage of their dominance and international passivity, so they won the right to control two-thirds of the Bosnian area and proclaimed independence of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, which republic joined Serbia thus creating the United Serbian Republic. This state existed until 1995, when the Dayton Agreement had been signed after a long process of negotiations.

Until the summer of 1995 – when NATO intervened by air strikes – the Serbs were in a better position, but by the autumn of 1995 they had been suppressed to a defensive position so the process of the situation’s arrangement speeded up. The Dayton Peace Agreement made Bosnia-Hercegovina a state of two entities (Bosniak-Croat Federation; Bosnian Serb Republic), its capital became Sarajevo, the state borders had been determined while the status of Kosovo had been neglected.

The South Slav war re-introduced the notion of ethnic cleansing to Europe that means to make an area ethnically homogenous (on basis of origin) by expelling one or more religious or ethnic groups. The tools extend from administrative methods to genocide. This is national socialism (and not fascism!). During the South Slav crisis each ethnicity used these methods (however to different extents). In addition to ethnic cleansing concentration camps, mass graves, millions of mines, three million people leaving their homes, approximately quarter of a million dead (half of them civilians) indicate the brutality of the war. There was no similar migration since World War II. The flow of refugees also influenced the ethnic composition of the European countries.

The Kosovo crisis as a next manifestation of Serbian aggressiveness could be the topic of another essay; this thesis does not set the aim to discuss both topics. However it can be stated that Serbian leadership made all possible effort to hold together first Yugoslavia and later Serbia, however this intention failed. These events only made a significant part of the Balkan Peninsula a shambles and strengthened the ethnicities’ hostility against each other without any benefit.

Péter Országh