Losing the war in Yugoslavia

Branka Magas

One of the hardest things to comprehend about the war in Croatia is what it seems to tell us about the fragility of the whole Yugoslav project. Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Slovenia have all declared independence with popular plebiscites to back them up. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s parliament has proclaimed a sovereign republic. Serbia is attempting to extend its frontiers by force of arms. The collapse of the state system in this part of Europe has been as swift as it has been astonishing. Debate about whether Yugoslavia has always been an artificial state is thus inescapable, but one has to look beyond the seventy years of Yugoslavia’s existence in order to understand, on the one hand, the relationship between the Yugoslav nations and, on the other, their sense of individual identity and purpose. The second break-up of Yugoslavia is the result of Serbia’s decision after 1987 to challenge the post-war Federal order in favour of its own domination – or, failing that, the creation of a Greater Serbia. For that to happen, however, Serbia itself had to be recast in an anti-democratic mould – it had to become Milosevic’s Serbia. And for this to happen, it was necessary to impose upon the Serb nation a sense of being surrounded by racial enemies threatening its biological survival. Serbia’s return to the past was more than the simple repossession of an older national project: only by releasing the demons of racial enmity upon the Yugoslav house of nationalities could Milosevic be sure of its destruction.

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[*] The Hatt-i-Sherif was the Imperial Decree of 1829 which established Serbia’s autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.