Yugoslavia: The End of Communism, The Return of Nationalism (20 April 1991 ~ America National Catholic weekly)

The end of communism in Yugoslavia has brought the return of nationalism and a host of new problems steeped in ethnic roots, said Tomislav Sunic, a Croatian who now teaches in Juniata College.

As a result, he believes, “representative democracy…as attractive and functional a model as it may be in the relatively homogeneous societies of the West, has, in the fractured Yugoslavian state, little chance of success.” The issues of uneven territorial, linguistic, and demographic distribution will continue to hinder the chances of implementing such a democracy. “The only democracy that can possibly function in Yugoslavia is one that first takes root within the ethnic confines of each of its constituent peoples,” Sunic stated. He also believes that “liberalism and a free market system in Yugoslavia will intensify ethnic resentments and lead to more instability. “The independent-minded Slovenes, Croats, and Albanians reminds us that political theologies come and go, but ethnic identities have an extraordinary long life,” he observed. Moreover, he feels Yugoslavia’s multi-ethnic turmoil, pitting Catholic Slovenes and Croats against Christian Orthodox Serbs, could once again sweep Europe into another cycle of dangerous uncertainty. “If there is something that binds the Yugoslav people together, it is the bonding of mutual hate,” he said. He recalled that the first cracks in the Yugoslav structure appeared last year when, in free elections Croats and Slovenes ousted the local communist governments from power and replaced them with central-rightist parties. In contrast, Serbia voted overwhelmingly last December for communism and a hard-line leader, Slobodan Milosevic. The result, he said, was that “Yugoslavia effectively ceased to exist and in its place, ‘Serboslavia’ was born. As to the future, Sunic stated that Serbian actions, meant initially as an attempt to preserve Yugoslavia at all, are ironically speeding up the disintegration of the country. He said: “The survival of Yugoslavia no longer depends on how to bring Slovenia and Croatia back to the Yugoslavian fold but on how to change Serbia’s own mindless policy of ethnic exclusion that may soon result in war of all against all.” Already, he believes, the simmering anti-trust between the Serbs and Croats reached its culminating point. The tensions may foretell of civil war. Sunic said Yugoslavia is no longer just ethnically fragmented beyond repair, but is also ideologically and religiously polarized to the breaking point.

Will Yugoslavia collapse? Will it survive? No one is sure, but some feel it is possible that a confederate state with only a semblance of central government may emerge. Sunic’s assessment is that “a break-up is already looming on the horizon.” He adds, “This may, after all, be not such a bad idea, for unlike in previous epochs, the Balkans have ceased to be an athletic field for foreign powers bent on pitting one ethnic group against another.” Western illusion that peace and stability will come to a hybrid state such as Yugoslavia “have floundered again on the reality of irreconcilable ethnic aspirations,” he observed. In short, while communism has receded, ethnic issues have surfaced in its place. Before democracy can arrive, the ethnic issues need to be resolved.

Tomislav Sunic, Croatia, is an assistant professor of government who teaches European politics, the politics of the Soviet Union, and theories of international politics at Juniata College. He is a graduate of the School of Humanities at the University of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. His book, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, was published in 1990.