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Vilfredo Pareto and Political Irrationality

Few political thinkers have stirred so much controversy as Franco-Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). In the beginning of the twentieth century, Pareto exerted a considerable influence on European conservative thinkers, although his popularity rapidly declined after the Second World War. The Italian Fascists who used and abused Pareto's intellectual legacy were probably the main cause of his subsequent fall into oblivion. Pareto's political sociology is in any case irreconcilable with the modern egalitarian outlook. In fact, Pareto was one to its most severe critics. Yet his focus extends beyond a mere attack on modernity; his work is a meticulous scrutiny of the energy and driving forces that underlie political ideas and beliefs. From his study, he concludes that irrespective of their apparent utility or validity, ideas and beliefs often dissimulate morbid behavior. Some of Pareto's students went to so far as to draw a parallel between him and Freud, noting that while Freud attempted to uncover pathological behavior among seemingly normal individuals, Pareto tried to unmask irrational social conduct that lay camouflaged in respectable ideologies and political beliefs.

In general, Pareto argues that governments try to preserve their institutional framework and internal harmony by a posteriori justification of the behavior of their ruling elite--a procedure that stands in sharp contrast to the original objectives of government. This means that governments must "sanitize" violent and sometimes criminal behavior by adopting such self-rationalizing labels as "democracy," "democratic necessity," and "struggle for peace," to name but a few. It would be wrong, however, to assume that improper behavior is exclusively the result of governmental conspiracy or of corrupted politicians bent on fooling the people. Politicians and even ordinary people tend to perceive a social phenomenon as if it were reflected in a convex mirror. They assess its value only after having first deformed its objective reality. Thus, some social phenomena, such as riots, coups, or terrorist acts, are viewed through the prism of personal convictions, and result in opinions based on the relative strength or weakness of these convictions. Pareto argues that it is a serious error to assume that because his subjects or constituents feel cheated or oppressed, a leader of an oppressive regime is necessarily a liar or a crook. More than likely, such a leader is a victim of self-delusions, the attributes of which he considers "scientifically" and accurately based, and which he benevolently wishes to share with his subjects. To illustrate the power of self-delusion, Pareto points to the example of socialist intellectuals. He observes that "many people are not socialists because they have been persuaded by reasoning. Quite to the contrary, these people acquiesce to such reasoning because they are (already) socialists."

Modern Ideologies and Neuroses

In his essay on Pareto, Guillaume Faye, one of the founders of the European "New Right," notes that liberals and socialists are scandalized by Pareto's comparison of modern ideologies to neuroses: to latent manifestation of unreal effects, though these ideologies--socialism and liberalism--claim to present rational and "scientific" findings. In Freud's theory, psychic complexes manifest themselves in obsessional ideas: namely, neuroses, and paranoias. In Pareto's theory, by contrast, psychic impulses--which are called residues--manifest themselves in ideological derivatives. Rhetoric about historical necessity, self-evident truths, or economic and historical determinism are the mere derivatives that express residual psychic drives and forces such as the persistence of groups once formed and the instinct for combination.

For Pareto, no belief system or ideology is fully immune to the power of residues, although in due time each belief system or ideology must undergo the process of demythologization. The ultimate result is the decline of a belief or an ideology as well as the decline of the elite that has put it into practice.

Like many European conservatives before the war, Pareto repudiated the modern liberal, socialist myth that history showed an inevitable progression leading to social peace and prosperity. Along with his German contemporary Oswald Spengler, Pareto believed that no matter how sophisticated the appearance of some belief or ideology, it would almost certainly decay, given time. Not surprisingly, Pareto's attempts to denounce the illusion of progress and to disclose the nature of socialism and liberalism prompted many contemporary theorists to distance themselves from his thought.

Pareto argues that political ideologies seldom attract because of their empirical or scientific character--although, of course, every ideology claims those qualities--but because of their enormous sentimental power over the populace. For example, an obscure religion from Galilee mobilized masses of people who were willing to die, willing to be tortured. In the Age of Reason, the prevailing "religion" was rationalism and the belief in boundless human progress. Then came Marx with scientific socialism, followed by modern liberals and their "self-evident religion of human rights and equality." According to Pareto, underlying residues are likely to materialize in different ideological forms or derivatives, depending on each historical epoch. Since people need to transcend reality and make frequent excursions into the spheres of the unreal and the imaginary, it is natural that they embrace religious and ideological justifications, however intellectually indefensible these devices may appear to a later generation. In analyzing this phenomenon, Pareto takes the example of Marxist "true believers" and notes: "This is a current mental framework of some educated and intelligent Marxists with regard to the theory of value. From the logical point of view they are wrong; from the practical point of view and utility to their cause, they are probably right." Unfortunately, continues Pareto, these true believers who clamor for social change know only what to destroy and how to destroy it; they are full of illusions as to what they have to replace it with: "And if they could imagine it, a large number among them would be struck with horror and amazement."

Ideology and History

The residues of each ideology are so powerful that they can completely obscure reason and the sense of reality; in addition, they are not likely to disappear even when they assume a different "cover" in a seemingly more respectable myth or ideology. For Pareto this is a disturbing historical process to which there is no end in sight:

"Essentially, social physiology and social pathology are still in their infancy. If we wish to compare them to human physiology and pathology, it is not to Hippocrates that we have to reach but far beyond him. Governments behave like ignorant physicians who randomly pick drugs in a pharmacy and administer them to patients."

So what remains out of this much vaunted modern belief in progress, asks Pareto? Almost nothing, given that history continues to be a perpetual and cosmic eternal return, with victims and victors, heroes and henchmen alternating their roles, bewailing and bemoaning their fate when they are in positions of weakness, abusing the weaker when they are in positions of strength. For Pareto, the only language people understand is that of force. And with his usual sarcasm, he adds: "There are some people who imagine that they can disarm their enemy by complacent flattery. They are wrong. The world has always belonged to the stronger and will belong to them for many years to come. Men only respect those who make themselves respected. Whoever becomes a lamb will find a wolf to eat him."

Nations, empires, and states never die from foreign conquest, says Pareto, but from suicide. When a nation, class, party, or state becomes averse to bitter struggle--which seems to be the case with modern liberal societies--then a more powerful counterpart surfaces and attracts the following of the people, irrespective of the utility or validity of the new political ideology or theology:

"A sign which almost always accompanies the decadence of an aristocracy is the invasion of humanitarian sentiments and delicate "sob-stuff" which renders it incapable of defending its position. We must not confuse violence and force. Violence usually accompanies weakness. We can observe individuals and classes, who, having lost the force to maintain themselves in power, become more and more odious by resorting to indiscriminate violence. A strong man strikes only when it is absolutely necessary--and then nothing stops him. Trajan was strong but not violent; Caligula was violent but not strong."

Armed with the dreams of justice, equality, and freedom, what weapons do liberal democracies have today at their disposal against the downtrodden populations of the world? The sense of morbid culpability, which paralyzed a number of conservative politicians with regard to those deprived and downtrodden, remains a scant solace against tomorrow's conquerors. For, had Africans and Asians had the Gatling gun, had they been at the same technological level as Europeans, what kind of a destiny would they have reserved for their victims? Indeed, this is something that Pareto likes speculating about. True, neither the Moors nor Turks thought of conquering Europe with the Koran alone; they understood well the importance of the sword:

"Each people which is horrified by blood to the point of not knowing how to defend itself, sooner or later will become a prey of some bellicose people. There is probably not a single foot of land on earth that has not been conquered by the sword, or where people occupying this land have not maintained themselves by force. If Negroes were stronger than Europeans, it would be Negroes dividing Europe and not Europeans Africa. The alleged "right" which the people have arrogated themselves with the titles "civilized"--in order to conquer other peoples whom they got accustomed to calling "non-civilized"--is absolutely ridiculous, or rather this right is nothing but force. As long as Europeans remain stronger than Chinese, they will impose upon them their will, but if Chinese became stronger than Europeans, those roles would be reversed."

Power Politics

For Pareto, might comes first, right a distant second; therefore all those who assume that their passionate pleas for justice and brotherhood will be heeded by those who were previously enslaved are gravely mistaken. In general, new victors teach their former masters that signs of weakness result in proportionally increased punishment. The lack of resolve in the hour of decision becomes the willingness to surrender oneself to the anticipated generosity of new victors. It is desirable for society to save itself from such degenerate citizens before it is sacrificed to their cowardice. Should, however, the old elite be ousted and a new "humanitarian" elite come to power, the cherished ideals of justice and equality will again appear as distant and unattainable goals. Possibly, argues Pareto, such a new elite will be worse and more oppressive than the former one, all the more so as the new "world improvers" will not hesitate to make use of ingenious rhetoric to justify their oppression. Peace may thus become a word for war, democracy for totalitarianism, and humanity for bestiality. The distorted "wooden language" of communist elites indicates how correct Pareto was in predicting the baffling stability of contemporary communist systems.

Unfortunately, from Pareto's perspective, it is hard to deal with such hypocrisy. What underlies it, after all, is not a faulty intellectual or moral judgment, but an inflexible psychic need. Even so, Pareto strongly challenged the quasi-religious postulates of egalitarian humanism and democracy--in which he saw not only utopias but also errors and lies of vested interest. Applied to the ideology of "human rights," Pareto's analysis of political beliefs can shed more light on which ideology is a "derivative," or justification of a residual pseudo-humanitarian complex. In addition, his analysis may also provide more insight into how to define human rights and the main architects behind these definitions.

It must be noted, however, that although Pareto discerns in every political belief an irrational source, he never disputes their importance as indispensable unifying and mobilizing factors in each society. For example, when he affirms the absurdity of a doctrine, he does not suggest that the doctrine or ideology is necessarily harmful to society; in fact, it may be beneficial. By contrast, when he speaks of a doctrine's utility he does not mean that it is necessarily a truthful reflection of human behavior. On the matters of value, however, Pareto remains silent; for him, reasoned arguments about good and evil are no longer tenable.

Pareto's methodology is often portrayed as belonging to the tradition of intellectual polytheism. With Hobbes, Machiavelli, Spengler, and Carl Schmitt, Pareto denies the reality of a unique and absolute truth. He sees the world containing many truths and a plurality of values, with each being truthful within the confines of a given historical epoch and a specific people. Furthermore, Pareto's relativism concerning the meaning of political truth is also relevant in reexamining those beliefs and political sentiments claiming to be nondoctrinal. It is worth nothing that Pareto denies the modern ideologies of socialism and liberalism any form of objectivity. Instead, he considers them both as having derived from psychic needs, which they both disguise.

The New Class

For his attempts to demystify modern political beliefs, it should not come as a surprise that Pareto's theory of nonlogical actions and pathological residues continues to embarrass many modern political theorists; consequently his books are not easily accessible. Certainly with regard to communist countries, this is more demonstrably the case, for Pareto was the first to predict the rise of the "new class"--a class much more oppressive than traditional ruling elites. But noncommunist intellectuals also have difficulties coming to grips with Pareto. Thus, in a recent edition of Pareto's essays, Ronald Fletcher writes that he was told by market researchers of British publishers that Pareto is "not on the reading list," and is "not taught" in current courses on sociological theory in the universities. Similar responses from publishers are quite predictable in view of the fact that Pareto's analyses smack of cynicism and amorality--an unforgivable blasphemy for many modern scholars.

Nevertheless, despite the probity of his analysis, Pareto's work demands caution. Historian Zev Sternhell, in his remarkable book La droite revolutionnaire, observes that political ideas, like political deeds, can never be innocent, and that sophisticated political ideas often justify a sophisticated political crime. In the late 1920s, during a period of great moral and economic stress that profoundly shook the European intelligentsia, Pareto's theories provided a rationale for fascist suppression of political opponents. It is understandable, then, why Pareto was welcomed by the disillusioned conservative intelligentsia, who were disgusted, on the one hand, by Bolshevik violence, and on the other, by liberal democratic materialism. During the subsequent war, profane application of Pareto's theories contributed to the intellectual chaos and violence whose results continue to be seen.

More broadly speaking, however, one must admit that on many counts Pareto was correct. From history, he knew that not a single nation had obtained legitimacy by solely preaching peace and love, that even the American Bill of Rights and the antipodean spread of modern democracy necessitated initial repression of the many--unknowns who were either not deemed ripe for democracy, or worse, who were not deemed people at all (those who, as Koestler once wrote, "perished with a shrug of eternity"). For Pareto the future remains in Pandora's box and violence will likely continue to be man's destiny.

The Vengeance of Democratic Sciences

Pareto's books still command respect sixty-five years after his death. If the Left had possessed such an intellectual giant, he never would have slipped so easily into oblivion. Yet Pareto's range of influence includes such names as Gustave Le Bon, Robert Michels, Joseph Schumpeter, and Rayond Aron. But unfortunately, as long as Pareto's name is shrouded in silence, his contribution to political science and sociology will not be properly acknowledged. Fletcher writes that the postwar scholarly resurgence of such schools of thought as "system analysis," "behavioralism," "reformulations," and "new paradigms," did not include Pareto's because it was considered undemocratic. The result, of course, is subtle intellectual annihilation of Pareto's staggering erudition--an erudition that spans from linguistics to economics, from the knowledge of Hellenic literature to modern sexology.

But Pareto's analyses of the power of residues are useful for examining the fickleness of such intellectual coteries. And his studies of intellectual mimicry illustrate the pathology of those who for a long time espoused "scientific" socialism only to awaken to the siren sound of "self-evident" neoconservativism--those who, as some French writer recently noted, descended with impunity from the "pinnacle of Mao into the Rotary Club." Given the dubious and often amoral history of the twentieth-century intelligentsia, Pareto's study of political pathology remains, as always, apt.

Tomislave Sunic, a Croatian political theorist, has contributed a long essay to Yugoslavia: The Failure of Democratic Communism (New York, 1988). [The World and I (New York), April, 1988]

Link to the original article.

The Fear of More Terrible Conflicts in the Balkans (21 September 1993 ~ The Guardian)

Some members of the international community, along with some foreign media representatives, have recently criticised Croatia for its alleged mistreatment of Bosnian Muslims. Several details need to be put into perspective in order to comprehend this never-ending Balkan drama: 1. Croatia was the first country in Europe to recognise the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Given the important geopolitical position of this neighbouring state, it is in the paramount interest of Croatia to respect the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In fact, it is Mr. Izetbegovic, not the Croats, who has just recently signed the de facto partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina in his agreement with the Serb side. On her part, Croatia has also strongly urged all Bosnian Croat military units to allow free safe passage to all United Nations humanitarian convoys. 2. On the one hand of the international community, along with some journalists, is constantly pushing Croatia’s President Franjo Tudjman to endlessly negotiate with Serbia’s leader Slobodan Milosevic: on the other, it accuses Tudjman of setting secret deals with Milosevic. The carve-up of Bosnia-Herzegovina into three distinct and separate states is not in the security interest of Croatia, given that the disappearance of Bosnia-Herzegovina would automatically legitimise Serbian territorial appetites and Serb illicit territorial acquisitions in neighbouring Croatia. 3. And in whose interest is it to keep this terrible conflict going on in neighbouring Bosnia? Contrary to many false assumptions, the Muslim side and its leader, President Alija Izetbegovic, are not so keen to see the conflict come to an end. The Muslim side must recompense its earlier territorial losses to the Serb aggressor by making now impossible demands to the much weaker Bosnian Croats. Ironically, instead of turning their anger on the real Serbian military threat, Bosnia’s Muslims prefer taking on Bosnia’s Croats, while at the same time portraying themselves as the only hapless victims in the Balkan conflict. As a grotesque irony of this conflict, neighbouring Croatia is currently housing more than 170,000 Muslim refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose number has recently increased by over 50,000 Croats fleeing the Muslim military advances in central Bosnia-Herzegovina. 4. Apparently, many well-meaning European Community observers, as well as many foreign journalists, do not face insurmountable difficulties visiting Muslim areas and prisoners under Croatian control in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the Croatian-held town of Mostar. Yet, they appear unable to make their way to over 150,000 Croats in central Bosnia, who have been encircled and shelled for several months by the Bosnian Muslim forces. 5. The Serb-held territories in Croatia are nominally under the UN jurisdiction. Yet the UN forces seldom attempt to stop the Serbian fighters from shelling nearby Croat towns and villages. Aside from dispensing much needed humanitarian aid, the UN forces in the Serb-occupied regions of Croatia should start finally implementing the numerous UN resolutions, and help the Croat government restore its full sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders. The Croatian government is doing its utmost to bring the bloody and complex Balkan conflict to an end. Yet, without strong and more forceful measures on the part of the UN and the EC, the conflict will only spread throughout the Balkans. To accuse the Croatian government of being equally responsible for this drama is an elegant to shrug off the UN and EC paralysis and failure to define the real aggressor. Instead of dealing with symptoms of the Balkan disease, the international community must first and foremost define the origin and cause of the disease, and treat the disease accordingly. Should they continue to fail, the stage will soon be set for more terrible conflicts to occur.

Tomislav Sunic
Foreign Media Advisor
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Croatia’s Role in Bosnia-Herzegovina (July 27, 1992 ~ The Christian Science Monitor)

Your editorial, "Croatia’s Sellout," July 10, seemed t o have been prompted more by your desire for evenhandedness than by the desire to objectively analyze the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unlike Serbia, Croatia recognized the sovereignty, independence, and inviolability of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In contrast to Serbian Army offensive actions in Bosnia, Croat troops are conducting defensive actions. The Bosnian government has repeatedly asked for international help. Consequently the republic of Croatia has lent support to refugees in Croatia. Does anybody expect Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina to preach pacifism – only to be routed and slaughtered, and later to be bewailed by vicarious United Nations world-improvers? Last year, when the Yugoslav Army attacked Croatia, Croats learned that the best way their new state can obtain recognition and deal with the aggressor is through military resistance. The decision by the Croats in Herzegovina to set up their own administrative region within Herzegovina must be put in perspective. This decision by no means suggests that Croats are carving up Bosnian territory. There has been no "secret" deal between Serbia and Croatia – as Serbian continuous shelling of Croat towns both in Herzegovina and Croatia demonstrates. By contrast, not a single town in Serbia has so far been attacked by Croat troops.

Tomislav Sunic, Ph.D. Huntingdon, Pa. Professor of Political Science Juniata College

The Joint Declaration (February 10, 1994 ~ The New York Times)

In the wake of the joint declaration in Geneva between President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, some foreign journalists have jumped to the conclusion that such an agreement amounts to the creation of some sort of alliance against the Bosnian Muslims. Nothing could be further from the truth. The joint declaration is a small but important step in the possible normalization of relations between Serbia and Croatia. This breakthrough paves the way, we hope, for mutual recognition of internationally recognized borders. It may seem ironic that Croatia, a victim of Serbian aggression, is the first country to begin normalizing relations with Serbia, or what is left of Yugoslavia. This decision was not solely Croatia’s choice, but also that of the international community. Croatia and President Tudjman are doing their utmost to help restore peace in this part of Europe. Nonetheless, Croatia’s decision to sign this declaration in no way means that Croatia will abandon efforts to bring about a lasting peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the contrary, Croatia has been more than forthcoming with the Bosnian Muslims on the future structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also bear in mind that Croatia is accommodating more than 150,000 Muslim Bosnian refugees, for whom most of the cost is covered by the Croatian government. Croatia and President Tudjman do not hold all the cards for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian Serbs still control 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, while it is the Bosnian Croats who have lost a considerable amount of territory to the Muslim forces since the breakup of their alliance.

Tomislav Sunic
Head of Department of Culture Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Zagreb, Croatia, Feb. 1, 1994.

Link to the original article.

The causes of the never-ending war in the Balkans could plausibly be attributed to [the] excessive legalism of international organizations, including the United Nations. Despite noble efforts to end the three-year-old conflict in the Balkans, the U.N., as well as other international actors, is still unable to speak with one voice. It is worth recalling that in 1991, when Yugoslavia began to fall apart, the republic of Croatia expected the European Community and the United Nations to accept its bid for independence, hoping that its recognition would stave off the looming Serbian military threat. In the absence of prompt international recognition, and due to its lack of firepower, Croatia could not put up credible deterrence against a Serbian land grab. Croatia had to wait six long months before it was finally recognized by all European Community members, and several more months before it finally joined the U.N. club. Meanwhile, it lost 27 percent of its territory to the invading “Yugoslav” Army and local Serb insurgents. Ironically, it was Serbia that, while trying to salvage Yugoslavia by force also destroyed it by force. While despairing whether or not the “premature” recognition of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, prompted by the Balkan bloodshed, one might also raise the question whether France, England, and America should have “prematurely” helped create, in 1919, the artificial Yugoslav state. The principles of “brotherhood and unity,” which were subsequently imposed by force on the Yugoslav constituent peoples in Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia could hardly mask profound cultural differences among diverse Yugoslav ethnic groups. In the former Yugoslavia, each ethnic group pretended to love another ethnic group, while secretly thinking of how to part company and go its own way. Had the international community been aware of this state of mind among the former Yugoslav constituent ethnic groups, much of the present chaos and inter-ethnic hatred could have been avoided. Over the past two years, the U.N. and other international actors have passed numerous resolutions calling on the Serbs to stop their aggression on neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, as the surreal Balkan drama becomes more and more unbearable to Western prime-time viewers, some foreign observers are calling for the creation of a war crimes tribunal for those Balkan warlords suspected of committing war crimes. Yet the idea of the international war crimes tribunal, noble as it sounds, cannot be taken seriously. While Serb leaders Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic are often being portrayed as “war criminals,” pressing them to attend multilateral talks with their Croat and Muslim counterparts, under the U.N. auspices, only provided legitimacy to the Serbian “ethnic cleansing.” The legal options of Croatia, the first victim of Serbian aggression, have been difficult since the day of Yugoslavia’s break-up. On the one hand, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman is expected to negotiate with his Serbian counterpart Slobodan Milosevic. On the other, he is suspected by some foreign observers of cutting secret deals with Mr. Milosevic. The war in the former Yugoslavia, which began in 1991 as a limited war of Serbian aggression against unarmed Croatia, has now turned into protracted no-war-no-peace stalemate, with ominous consequences for all of Europe. The well-meaning indecisiveness of the U.N., followed by the lack of consensus among world powers, may only be the first chapter in this bloody European drama.

Tomislav Sunic is an official in Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Zagreb.

The Terminal Illness of Yugoslavia ( June 9, 1990 ~ Chicago Tribune)

Amidst breathtaking changes in Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia appears as a cadaver that simply refuses to rot away. Not long ago the Yugoslav communists could claim to be the first initiators of their self-styled perestroika, and their maverick self-managing communism engendered considerable awe in many Western well-wishers. Today, however, Yugoslav institutions are turning into anachronisms, and Yugoslavia’s ill-conceived federalism has pushed its six constituent republics to the brink of civil war. With the recent electoral success of conservatives in Slovenia and Croatia, Yugoslavia is the only country in Eastern Europe where non-communist governments in the north cohabit with communist governments in the south. Constant ethnic provocations and chauvinist slurs from all six republics have made Yugoslavia an ungovernable and unlivable state whose break-up is threatening to turn the Balkans into European Lebanon. Bracing for the coming deluge, Slovenia and Croatia are already bidding farewell to the remainder of Yugoslavia and are eagerly courting the favors of their West European neighbors. Without Slovenia, or possibly without the southern province of Kosovo, where the Serbs still exercise their iron muscle, Yugoslavia could continue to hobble on, but its life would not last a minute with Croatia’s walkout. The second largest and richest republic and arch-rival of Serbia, Croatia is experiencing a nationalist revival whose aftershocks are putting the last nails in the coffin of fractured Yugoslavia. The secessionist drive among Croatian and Slovenian nationalists has been met with hostility and outright fear among influential Serbs and their power base in the army and diplomacy. Left to itself, and cut loose from affluent Slovenia and Croatia, the lone Serbia knows all too well that it is doomed to shrink fast into an obscure landlocked Balkan state. The terminal illness of Yugoslavia probably would never have occurred without the emergence several years ago of the wildly popular Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic – a man who rose from a provincial apparatchik to a chief torchbearer of Serbian nationalism. Milosevic’s fiery speeches galvanized Serbs, triggering in turn similar nationalist appetites among other scared republics. Today all four major ethnic groups are displaying an impressive litany of past injustices, angrily blaming each other for their real or perceived ethnic plights. No less ominous is the conduct of the Serbian intelligentsia. Once it could proudly claim to be the most progressive and reform-minded in Eastern Europe; today it has entered an alliance with the mob rule. However, its support of Milosevic’s heavy-handed policy in the southern province of Kosovo has yielded results different from those it originally anticipated. The continuing exodus of ethnic Serbs from this little enclave, which by now is 80 percent populated by the Moslem ethnic Albanians, will further legitimize neighboring Albanians’ claims to an ethnically pure and aggrandized Albania. The skyrocketing baby boom among Albanians is already changing the demographic picture of the entire Balkans. Among Yugoslav nationalisms there has never been a net loser or a net winner; the rendering of ethnic justice to one ethnic group is invariably perceived as injustice by another group. More than any other European state, the patchwork of Yugoslav nations, which were glued together by force rather than by consent, has earned Yugoslavia a sorry name of a levitating “seasonal state.” One wonders what will happen with superpowers’ security arrangements when Yugoslavia disappears from the map. Ironically, Yugoslavia’s survival so far is due to its shifting ethnic balance of power as well as to the lack of any organized pan-Yugoslav opposition. The very inter-ethnic anarchy of Yugoslavia accounts also for its morbid longevity. Undoubtedly, if the events of 1914 or 1941 were to be repeated today, Yugoslavia would immediately disintegrate, with Slovenia and Croatia flocking to the West, and Serbia shrinking farther under the watchful eyes of its inimical Hungarian and Bulgarian neighbors. Today, the remainder of the Yugoslav Communist League, with its power base in Serbia, has been caught unprepared. Ethnically fractured and ideologically discredited, the communists can no longer resort to the cliché of external “Soviet threat,” or point to internal “reactionary fascists” in order to keep themselves in power. Even hard-line communists must admit that there are simply no more scapegoats. Can Yugoslavia survive? Yes, but only as an authoritarian or a totalitarian state led by its largest ethnic group. A democratic Yugoslavia is a contradiction in terms. A democratic Yugoslavia can exist only if it breaks up first.

Tomislav Sunic teaches European politics at California State University, Fullerton. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right” (Peter Lang Publishing).

Link to the original article.

The True Culprits in the Balkans (28 September 1993 ~ Evening Standard)

The race for victim status in Bosnia-Herzegovina appears to be over. The Serbs, as the main aggressors and initial perpetrators of “ethnic cleansing” hardly qualify. The international press has obviously decided that the Croats do not qualify either, despite the fact that the Bosnian Croats have lost considerable territory to the Moslems since the break-up of their alliance. The Moslems seem to have realised, after months of hope, that the international community is unwilling to help them take on their real enemies, the Serbs. Consequently, they have turned on their former allies, the Croats. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the lines between the Croats and Moslems have moved exclusively in the Moslem’s favour, resulting in more than 100,000 Croatian refugees and displaced persons from Bosnia-Herzegovina. While the Press and international organisations have free access to Moslem fighters in Croat POW camps – thanks to the vigorous intervention of Croatia’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Mate Granic – the fate of thousands of Croats in similar Moslem camps remains unknown. The current goals of the Moslem side have been made clear by their spokesman, Chuck Sudetic, recently quoted in the New York Times: “The international community will recognise our right to the territories we win. The international community has said in no uncertain terms that it is ready to legitimise the acquisition of territory by force, and that’s the way it will be in the future.” He went on to state that while the Serbs were too strong to fight against, the Croats were weak. Unfortunately, it is this recent Moslem calculation which has precipitated Croat-Moslem fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina, no Croatian aggression. Fighting between Moslems and the Croats would never have erupted had the international community reacted promptly to early Serbian aggression against both of those communities. Maybe by the time this conflict spreads throughout the Balkans, Europe and the world will finally figure out who the real culprit is.

Tomislav Sunic
Foreign Media Adviser
Foreign Ministry
Zagreb, Croatia

The Yugoslav Mythology: A Multicultural Pathology (August 1993 ~ Chronicles)

One must agree with Georges Sorel that political myths have a long and durable life. For 74 years the Yugoslav state drew its legitimacy from the spirit of Versailles and Yalta, as well as from the Serb-inspired pan-Slavic mythology. By carefully manipulating the history of their constituent peoples while glorifying their own, Yugoslav leaders managed to convince the world that Yugoslavia was a “model multiethnic state.” Many global-minded pundits in the West followed suit and made a nice career preaching the virtues of the Yugoslav multi-ethnic pot. By tirelessly vaunting the Yugoslav model, scores of starry-eyed Western academics gave, both pedagogically and psychologically, additional legitimacy to artificial Yugoslavia. In 1991, faced with massive geopolitical tremors, stretching from Siberia to Spain, the Yugoslav mythology began cracking up, and with it, its multiethnic mystique. The sudden beginning of the democratization of Yugoslavia led, naturally, to the country’s demise, the bloody postscript to which is yet to unfold.

Nothing seemed easier for the European Community and the United Nations than to describe the 1991 Serbian aggression against Croatia as a Serbo-Croat tribal war. At the beginning of the conflict, France, America, and a gallery of faceless U.N. mediators shrugged off Serbian territorial appetites by calling them the result of an ancient Serbo-Croat balkanesque feud. After all, why would big powers have to intervene in an area of Europe that, according to their definition of international law, offered no precise definition of the aggressor vs. the victim? The paralysis of the United Nations and European Community was seen by the Serbs as a green light to salvage Yugoslavia by force – even if that meant destroying it by force. As self-declared victims of hard times and soft former allies, the Serbs are today angry at France and America. These two countries once offered them Yugoslavia – only to strip them of it today. In retrospect, the good guys appear to be those who define the international system, which in 1993, unlike in 1919 and 1945, does not well suit the Serbs. By detour, we could refer to Edward Carr’s dictum that before we study history we must first study the historian – if we are to decide who to side with in the Balkans. Historically, the “Greater Serbia” mythology has functioned only by wallowing in victimology – even as Serbs victimized the Other. In the latest spasm of this endless victimology, Serbs are today heaping their anger for the collapse of Yugoslavia on everybody: The Vatican, Muslims, the CIA, the Fourth Reich, and, of course, always available nearby Croats.

All the rest seems to be distance history now. In 1990, on the eve of Yugoslavia’s breakup, the majority of Catholic Slovenes and Croats favored the transformation of centralized Serb-dominated Yugoslavia into a confederal state. Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milosevic flatly refused the idea of a confederal Yugoslavia for fear that Serbia would lose its historic Yugoslav mandate, which it had received at Versailles in 1919 and inherited at Potsdam in 1945. When in 1991 Slovenes and Croats voted in defiance for a complete divorce from Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav Army launched a large-scale invasion against Slovenian and Croat “fascist separatists.” As the war began to rage, so did the inflated word fascism become an expedient metaphor for the Western Media. It was hurled by everybody at everybody – and it therefore hit nobody. The Serbs see themselves as fighting the just war against resurgent fascist papal Croatia and Islamic fundamentalism. The Western media, by contrast, is portraying Serb president Slobodan Milosevic as the fascist butcher of the Balkans, bent on ethnic cleansing. Yet, old dogs cannot learn new tricks. Milosevic is still a communist apparatchik, and the party he presides over is still euphemistically called the Socialist Party of Serbia. Unquestionably, the roots of the present conflict in what in the past tense used to be Yugoslavia are grounded in recent history, which by now has turned into self-serving mythology. During World War II Serbia suffered under fascism but like all European countries also experimented with fascism. Serbia experienced its own share of killing and suffering just like Croatia, or, for that matter, any other country in Europe. World War II and post-war sufferings of Muslims, Albanians, ethnic Germans, and Hungarians at the hands of the Yugoslav communists still appear to evade the contemporary media comparisons. Serbia’s less glorious World War II past was for year swept under the red carpet of oblivion, first by Yugoslav communist clerics and then by contemporary Serbian hagiographers. The welfare of Bosnia and Herzegovina has now ceased to be a war of Serb-Croat Muslim memories; it had turned into a surreal war for respective numbers of casualties and endlessly increasing national trigonometries. Since 1945, Yugoslavia’s politicians, the Serb Christian Orthodox Church, and a number of Serb intellectuals have steadily inflated Serbian World War II casualties, which portray Serbs as victims of inborn Croatian and German fascism. The president of Croatia, former partisan general and historian Franjo Tudjman, is intensely hated in Serbia because his World War II body counts fly in the face of Serbian victimology. Before becoming president of Croatia, Tudjman tried to demolish Serbian and communist historiography by deflating the number of Serbian World War II dead from the official 700,000 to a very modest 70,000. Predictably, his excursion into historicism regarding Serbian mythical martyrdom unleashed Serbia’s wrath. Faced with a sudden Croatian attack on her mythology, Serbia launched, in 1991, a military counterattack against separatist Croatia. Political reality may change, but mythical surreality must remain untainted by any profanity. Tudjman’s books and statements also led to an outcry among Western liberal opinion-makers, who were quick to dub him an anti-Semitic revisionist. The real problem with Tudjman is not so much his substance, but rather his awkward Centro-European schwerfällig style. Unlike the Serb Slobodan Milosevic, who is a slick Byzantine con man with an excellent knowledge of English and the ability to fool “prime-time” Westerners, the Croat Tudjman, just like all Central European politicians, stutters and mutters. Small wonder therefore that he could not quickly sell the Croat cause to the video-political world of Washington and Paris.

To grasp Serbian anger at Croatia and the West one should read the 19th-Century Serbian satirist Radoje Domanovic. Domanovic described the Royal house in Serbia as the sire of endless Byzantine persecution complexes coupled with pan-Slavic zeal to convert Catholicism and Muslim Slavs. Serbian Royal hallucinations, stretching from the House of Karadjordjevic all the way down to the House of Milosevic, are still visible in Belgrade today. Every Serb is made to believe tat a conspiratorial West, along with an Islamic East, is plotting to enslave the Serb people. Croats, by contrast, see Bosnia’s Muslims as stupid, neolith, stray-away Croats who need to be re-converted to Croatian national consciousness. In Croatian popular jokes, Bosnia’s Muslims are endlessly portrayed as species with bizarre lovemaking conduct and strange toilet habits.

The more secular European Community and United Nations also border on mythical melodrama. Their vicarious humanism manifests itself in occasional drops of culinary diplomacy, as well as in the presence of “peace-keeping-forces” in a country torn by violent war. U.N. Samaritans lecture against Serbian ethnic cleansing, forgetting that ethnic cleansing is only the post-modern spin-off of the cujus regio ejus religio of all countries in the making. Ethnic cleansing did not start with Milosevic and his likes; it began with communist Tito, who either killed or expelled a half-million ethnic Germans and Hungarians from early Yugoslavia. Tito only practiced in chorus the art of other East European communists, which resulted in the largest German Völkerwanderung in history: from the Balkans to the Baltics, from Königsberg to Karlovac. The Croatian exodus from Vukovar last year and the agony of Dubrovnik under Serbian bombs, followed today by death on the installment plan in Sarajevo, are only the continuation the funeral march that began at Bleiburg and Breslau in 1945…and that is finishing in Bosnia in 1993. Forty years after Tito’s ethnic cleansing, Milosevic miscalculated: he grotesquely followed in his predecessor’s suit, and he grotesquely failed. During its brief communist interregnum, Tito’s Yugoslavia offered the foreign visitor bizarre features, which only the morbid satirical painter, the 17th-Cetury Jacques Callot, could have captured. In one of the Callot’s pictures, showing the Thirty Years War in Europe, one sees a scene of boundless popular revelry near a tree decorated with dozens of hanged men. Similarly, Titoist Yugoslavia could for years boast of the largest number of nudist beaches in Europe, but also of the largest prison population per capita in Eastern Europe. Just like in permissive Amsterdam, one could freely light up a joint in the centre of Belgrade or Zagreb, but one could also easily end up, for a minor “political incorrectness,” in a real communist joint. Yugoslav conviviality allowed everybody everything – provided one did not touch the infallibility of the mythical Tito. For 40 years, Yugoslav communist vocabulary dubbed every Croat a “fascist” if he ventured to evoke his national ancestry. In Yugoslavia, as everywhere else in Eastern Europe, one could display national sentiments and unfurl his flag only behind closed family doors or in the open soccer field. A number of Serbians ended up in Tito’s prisons too. Cut into three parts, Voivodina in the north, Kosovo in the south, and Serbia proper in the middle, Greater Serbia was a myth that Tito was well able to keep under his control. In turn, however, Tito rewarded the Serbs with leverage in the two most important nerves of the Yugoslav government: high diplomacy and the Yugoslav army. The targets of Serb rage are not just the proverbial Croat Nazis and Muslims fundamentalists. All other neighboring nations, ethnic groups, and minorities are being put in the category of fascist world conspirators. Ironically, Croats and Serbs probably hate each other most because they resemble each other. Is it not true that racism is always directed at the Other, who physiologically and morphologically, always represents the travesty of the Same? One does not discriminate against beasts; one discriminates against his likes. Following the logic of the cursed Other, a great number of Serbs, both in Serbia and Bosnia, are deeply convinced that ethnic cleansing is the rightful way to pursue a noble struggle against Croatian fascism and Muslim fundamentalism, for which all military means and tools are morally justifiable. The destruction of Croatian Catholic churches and Muslim mosques, the killing of thousands of non-Serbs, bears witness to the never-ending logic of the worse. Tomorrow, times may change and political constellations may alter. Who will prevent tomorrow’s Albanians or nearby Hungarians from similar mythical aggrandizements and ethnic cleansing of Serbs? Permanent peace has never meant much in Europe; peace has always been seen by the Other as punitive. Alas, European laws of the tragic are timeless, and their meaning lies only in the bowels of wild geese, or in the rhymes of the Greek chorus… The Serbian government does not deserve all the blame for the carnage in the Balkans. Western governments, particularly the Unites States and France, preached for decades the “Unity and integrity” of Yugoslavia, as if Yugoslavia could be held together by some French decree or State Department ukase. The U.S. State Department (and especially its year-long chief apparatchik Lawrence Eagleburger), with its decades-long support of “Yugoslavia’s integrity,” gave a decent alibi to Serbia’s war of aggression. Hybrid Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, two virulently anti-German countries, fit geopolitically into the NATO doctrine of “double containment”: on the one hand, they contained the Red Bear in the East; on the other, they contained the mythical and unpredictable German in the West. Small wonder, therefore, that nobody in Washington or at Quai d’Orsay was ecstatic with the sudden unification of; nobody was too ecstatic with the sudden disintegration of Yugoslavia, either. In the supreme irony of history, this time around it is not the proverbial “ugly German” who is destroying the Versailles architecture. This time, the Versailles architecture is falling apart due to its surreal Potemkin Hollywood-like façade. Woodrow Wilson and his progeny have suffered a serious defeat in Europe. The whole holy story of the Balkans has just begun to unravel. The Serbian leadership in Belgrade shows great concern for Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia, but ignores the rights of the swelling tide of Albanians within its own house. Albanians in Serbia, like the Palestinians, have perfectly learned an ancient wisdom, which Christian Europe forgot long ago: demography is the continuation of politics by other, more enjoyable means. Any cohabitation in the Balkans, any brand of federalism or “power-sharing,” which Western pundits preach until their dying breath, is out of the question. Endless wars seem to be the only answer. At some point, some outsider from a distant galaxy may reassemble buts and pieces of scattered Berlin Wall and fence off different versions of the ethnic truth here. Multi-ethnic countries are like prisons, in which citizen-inmates communicate with the Other only after each is granted his own territorial imperative. Crammed into one promiscuous cell, all hell breaks loose. Short of a giant mine field separating Serbs and Croats today, or Poles and Russians tomorrow, Europe will be entering another chapter of the Hundred Years War. When different historical destinies clash, when different national mythologies collide, and when different geopolitical tectonic plates start rattling under Eurasia, then the myth of a united Europe will sound like a titanic joke. Today is the turn of ex-Yugoslavians to live the violent beauty of their congested multiethnic laboratory. Tomorrow it may be the turn of multiracial Marseilles, Frankfurt, or Brussels. The West is moving full-speed ahead into its own Yugoslav pathology. Last year’s events in sunny Los Angeles have shown that no paradigm, no academic model, no formula, and no single truth can supply an answer for our multicultural future. The multicultural daydream functions nicely in soft, sunny, “cool” consumer society; with the first heavy clouds it spells chaos of unbelievable proportions. Emile Cioran was right when he wrote that if we knew what the future holds for us, we would immediately strangle our children.

Yugo into History ( July 17th, 1991 ~ The Pittsburgh Post - Gazette)

In his interesting piece, “Misreading Yugoslavia” (July 8), Dejan Kovacevic, emphasizes the ethnic roots of the Yugoslav crisis but seems oblivious to huge ideological differences between the Yugoslav republics. Communist-dominated Serbia and Montenegro are the two republics that are least interested in large-scale market reforms for fear of losing control over the federal bureaucracy and army. Although the records of Slovenia and Croatia are far from perfect, these republics have made bold steps in the direction of market reforms and safeguarding the rights of their minorities. Kovacevic’s allegations that 700,000 ethnic Serbs were killed by Fascist Croats during World War II are reminiscent of the decades-old Yugoslav propaganda whose purpose was to discredit Croatia’s claims for an independent homeland. World War II in Yugoslavia was a messy affair, involving a dozen different factionsm each with an impressive record of butchery. Of course, with the dissolution of communism, some of these exaggerated war casualties are bound to come under close scrutiny. In the long run, neither side in Yugoslavia will benefit from manipulating their war dead. Kovacevic should have also looked at the record of 45 years of Communist Yugoslavia in which Serbs played a dominant role in the secret police, federal bureaucracy and the army. Although Serbs make up 37 percent of the Yugoslav population, 76 percent of Yugoslav army officers are of Serbian origin. In independent-minded Croatia, at least until last year, Serbs made up a staggering 67 percent of the police force. Lastly, it is unwarranted to blame Croatia or Slovenia for the breakup of Yugoslavia, as some recent news reports have suggested. Ironically, the most expedient destroyers of Yugoslavia have been the Serbian leadership, under Slobodan Milosevic, and the federal army – both of which have had a hard time adjusting to changes in Eastern Europe. As long as the threat of the federal army looms large on the Yugoslav horizon, any meaningful dialogue between the Yugoslav republics is doomed to fail.

Huntingdon, Pa.

Editor’s note: The writer is an assistant professor of political science at Juniata College. Tomislav Sunic, Yugoslavia, 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 Faculty of Humanities at the University of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. His book, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, was published in 1990.

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.