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History and Decadence: Spengler's Cultural Pessimism Today (part 1/2)

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) exerted considerable influence on European conservatism before the Second World War. Although his popularity waned somewhat after the war, his analyses, in the light of the disturbing conditions in the modern polity, again seem to be gaining in popularity. Recent literature dealing with gloomy post¬modernist themes suggests that Spengler's prophecies of decadence may now be finding supporters on both sides of the political spectrum. The alienating nature of modern technology and the social and moral decay of large cities today lend new credence to Spengler's vision of the impending collapse of the West. In America and Europe an increasing number of authors perceive in the liberal permissive state a harbinger of "soft" totalitarianism that may lead decisively to social entropy and conclude in the advent of "hard" totalitarianism.1 Spengler wrote his major work The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes) against the background of the anticipated German victory in World War I. When the war ended disastrously for the Germans, his predictions that Germany, together with the rest of Europe, was bent for irreversible decline gained a renewed sense of urgency for scores of cultural pessimists. World War I must have deeply shaken the quasi-religious optimism of those who had earlier prophesied that technological inventions and international economic linkages would pave the way for peace and prosperity. Moreover, the war proved that technological inventions could turn out to be a perfect tool for man's alienation and, eventually, his physical an¬nihilation. Inadvertently, while attempting to interpret the cycles of world history, Spengler probably best succeeded in spreading the spirit of cultural despair to his own as well as future generations. Like Gianbattista Vico, who two centuries earlier developed his thesis about the rise and decline of cultures, Spengler tried to project a pattern of cultural growth and cultural decay in a certain scientific form: "the morphology of history"- as he himself and others dub his work - although the term "biology" seems more appropriate considering Spengler's inclination to view cultures as living organic entities, alternately afflicted with disease and plague or showing signs of vigorous life.2 Undoubtedly, the organic conception of history was, to a great extent, inspired by the popularity of scientific and pseudo¬scientific literature, which, in the early twentieth century, began to focus attention on racial and genetic paradigms in order to explain the patterns of social decay. Spengler, however, prudently avoids racial determinism in his description of decadence, although his exaltation of historical determinism often brings him close to Marx¬ - albeit in a reversed and hopelessly pessimistic direction. In contrast to many egalitarian thinkers, Spengler's elitism and organicism con¬ceived of human species as of different and opposing peoples, each experiencing its own growth and death, and each struggling for survival. "Mankind," writes Spengler, should be viewed as either a "zoological concept or an empty word." If ever this phantom of "mankind" vanishes from the circulation of historical forms, "we shall then notice an astounding affluence of genuine forms." Appar¬ently, by form ("Gestalt") Spengler means the resurrection of the classical notion of the nation-state, which, in the early twentieth century, came under fire from the advocates of the globalist and universalist polity. Spengler must be credited, however, with pointing out that the frequently-used concept "world history," in reality encompasses an impressive array of diverse and opposing cultures without common denominator; each culture displays its own forms, pursues its own passions, and grapples with its own life or death. "There are blossoming and aging cultures," writes Spengler, "peo¬ples, languages, truths, gods, and landscapes, just as there are young and old oak trees, pines, flowers, boughs and petals - but there is no aging `mankind.’"3 For Spengler, cultures seem to be growing in sublime futility, with some approaching terminal illness, and others still displaying vigorous signs of life. Before culture emerged, man was an ahistorical creature; but he becomes again ahistorical and, one might add, even hostile to history: "as soon as some civilization has developed its full and final form, thus putting a stop to the living development of culture" (2:58; 2:48). Similarly, each culture undergoes various cycles or different his¬torical "seasons": first appears the period of cultural blossoming or the spring-time of culture, followed by the period of maturation, which Spengler alternately calls summer or fall, and finally comes the period of decadence, which in Spengler's view is synonymous with "civilization." This "seasonal" flow of history is a predicament of all nations, although the historical timing of their decline varies with the virility of each nation, geographical area, or epoch. In the field of politics and statecraft, the process of decadence is very much the same. Thus, the closing years of the First World War witnessed the passing of the feudal rule of the landed aristocracy and the emergence of budding forms of parliamentary plutocracy - soon to be followed by the rise of rootless mobocracy and the "dictatorship of money" (2:633; 2:506). Undoubtedly Spengler was inspired by the works of Vilfredo Pareto and Gustave le Bon, who had earlier attempted to outline similar patterns of the rise and fall of political elites. In Pareto's and Le Bon's scheme, decadence sets in when the power elite no longer follows the established rule of social selection, and fails to identify internal and external enemies.4 Once it becomes emasculated by economic affluence and debilitated by the belief in the boundless goodness of its political opponents, the elite has already signed its own obituary. In similar words, Spengler contends that the rise of Caesarism must be viewed as a natural fulfillment of the money-dictatorship as well as its dialectical removal:

"The sword wins over money; the master-will conquers again the booty-will". (2:634; 2:506)

Then a new cycle of history will begin, according to Spengler, although he remains silent about the main historical actors, their origins, and their goals. Spengler was convinced, however, that the dynamics of decadence could be fairly well predicted, provided that exact historical data were available. Just as the biology of human beings generates a well¬-defined life span, resulting ultimately in biological death, so does each culture possess its own aging "data," normally lasting no longer than a thousand years - a period, separating its spring from its eventual historical antithesis, the winter, or civilization. The estimate of a thousand years before the decline of culture sets in, corresponds to Spengler's certitude that, after that period, each society has to face self-destruction. For example, after the fall of Rome, the rebirth of European culture started anew in the ninth century with the Carolingian dynasty. After the painful process of growth, self-asser¬tiveness, and maturation, one thousand years later, in the twentieth century, cultural life in Europe is coming to its definite historical close. As Spengler and his contemporary successors see it, Western culture now has transformed itself into a decadent civilization fraught with an advanced form of social, moral, and political decay. The first signs of this decay appeared shortly after the Industrial Revolution, when the machine began to replace man, when feelings gave way to ratio. Ever since that ominous event, new forms of social and political conduct have been surfacing in the West - marked by a wide-spread obsession with endless economic growth and irreversible human betterment - fueled by the belief that the burden of history can finally be removed. The new plutocratic elites, that have now replaced organic aristocracy, have imposed material gain as the only principle worth pursuing, reducing the entire human interaction to an immense economic transaction. And since the masses can never be fully satisfied, argues Spengler, it is understandable that they will seek change in their existing polities even if change may spell the loss of liberty. One might add that this craving for economic affluence will be translated into an incessant decline of the sense of public responsibility and an emerging sense of uprootedness and social anomie, which will ultimately and inevitably lead to the advent of totalitarianism. It would appear, therefore, that the process of de¬cadence can be forestalled, ironically, only by resorting to salutary hard-line regimes. Using Spengler's apocalyptic predictions, one is tempted to draw a parallel with the modern Western polity, which likewise seems to be undergoing the period of decay and decadence. John Lukacs, who bears the unmistakable imprint of Spenglerian pessimism, views the permissive nature of modern liberal society, as embodied in America, as the first step toward social disintegration. Like Spengler, Lukacs asserts that excessive individualism and rampant materialism increas¬ingly paralyze and render obsolete the sense of civic responsibility. One should probably agree with Lukacs that neither the lifting of censorship, nor the increasing unpopularity of traditional values, nor the curtailing of state authority in contemporary liberal states, seems to have led to a more peaceful environment; instead, a growing sense of despair seems to have triggered a form of neo-barbarism and social vulgarity. "Already richness and poverty, elegance and slea¬ziness, sophistication and savagery live together more and more," writes Lukacs.5 Indeed, who could have predicted that a society capable of launching rockets to the moon or curing diseases that once ravaged the world could also become a civilization plagued by social atomization, crime, and addiction to escapism? With his apoc¬alyptic predictions, Lukacs, similar to Spengler, writes: "This most crowded of streets of the greatest civilization: this is now the hell¬hole of the world." Interestingly, neither Spengler nor Lukacs nor other cultural pes¬simists seems to pay much attention to the obsessive appetite for equality, which seems to play, as several contemporary authors point out, an important role in decadence and the resulting sense of cultural despair. One is inclined to think that the process of decadence in the contemporary West is the result of egalitarian doctrines which promise much but deliver little, creating thus an endless feeling of emptiness and frustration among the masses of economic-minded and rootless citizens. Moreover, elevated to the status of modern secular religions, egalitarianism and economism inevitably follow their own dynamics of growth, which is likely to conclude, as Claude Polin notes, in the "terror of all against all" and the ugly resurgence of democratic totalitarianism. Polin writes: "Undifferentiated man is par excellence a quantitative man; a man who accidentally differs from his neighbors by the quantity of economic goods in his pos¬session; a man subject to statistics; a man who spontaneously reacts in accordance to statistics".6 Conceivably, liberal society, if it ever gets gripped by economic duress and hit by vanishing opportunities, will have no option but to tame and harness the restless masses in a Spenglerian "muscled regime." Spengler and other cultural pessimists seem to be right in pointing out that democratic forms of polity, in their final stage, will be marred by moral and social convulsions, political scandals, and cor¬ruption on all social levels. On top of it, as Spengler predicts, the cult of money will reign supreme, because "through money democracy destroys itself, after money has destroyed the spirit" (2:582; 2:464). Judging by the modern development of capitalism, Spengler cannot be accused of far fetched assumptions. This economic civilization founders on a major contradiction: on the one hand its religion of human rights extends its beneficiary legal tenets to everyone, reas-suring every individual of the legitimacy of his earthly appetites; on the other, this same egalitarian civilization fosters a model of economic Darwinism, ruthlessly trampling under its feet those whose interests do not lie in the economic arena. The next step, as Spengler suggests, will be the transition from democracy to salutary Caesarism; substitution of the tyranny of the few for the tyranny of many. The neo-Hobbesian, neo-barbaric state is in the making:

Instead of the pyres emerges big silence. The dictatorship of party bosses is backed up by the dictatorship of the press. With money, an attempt is made to lure swarms of readers and entire peoples away from the enemy's attention and bring them under one's own thought control. There, they learn only what they must learn, and a higher will shapes their picture of the world. It is no longer needed-as the baroque princes did-to oblige their subordinates into the armed service. Their minds are whipped up through articles, telegrams, pictures, until they demand weapons and force their leaders to a battle to which these wanted to be forced. (2:463)

The fundamental issue, however, which Spengler and many other cultural pessimists do not seem to address, is whether Caesarism or totalitarianism represents the antithetical remedy to decadence or, rather, the most extreme form of decadence? Current literature on totalitarianism seems to focus on the unpleasant side-effects of the bloated state, the absence of human rights, and the pervasive control of the police. By contrast, if liberal democracy is indeed a highly desirable and the least repressive system of all hitherto known in the West - and if, in addition, this liberal democracy claims to be the best custodian of human dignity - one wonders why it relentlessly causes social uprootedness and cultural despair among an increasing number of people? As Claude Polin notes, chances are that, in the short run, democratic totalitarianism will gain the upper hand since the security it provides is more appealing to the masses than is the vague notion of liberty.7 One might add that the tempo of democratic process in the West leads eventually to chaotic impasse, which ne¬cessitates the imposition of a hard-line regime. Although Spengler does not provide a satisfying answer to the question of Caesarism vs. decadence, he admits that the decadence of, the West need not signify the collapse of all cultures. Rather, it appears that the terminal illness of the West may be a new lease on life for other cultures; the death of Europe may result in a stronger Africa or Asia. Like many other cultural pessimists, Spengler ac¬knowledges that the West has grown old, unwilling to fight, with its political and cultural inventory depleted; consequently, it is obliged to cede the reigns of history to those nations that are less exposed to debilitating pacifism and the self-flagellating guilt-feelings which, so to speak, have become new trademarks of the modern Western citizen. One could imagine a situation where these new virile and victorious nations will barely heed the democratic niceties of their guilt-ridden former masters, and may likely, at some time in the future, impose their own brand of terror which could eclipse the legacy of the European Auschwitz and the Gulag. In view of the ruthless civil and tribal wars all over the decolonized African and Asian continent, it seems unlikely that power politics and bellicosity will disappear with the "decline of the West." So far, no proof has been offered that non-European nations can govern more peacefully and generously than their former European masters. "Pacifism will remain an ideal," Spengler reminds us, "war a fact. If the white races are resolved never to wage a war again, the colored will act differently and be rulers of the world".8 In this statement, Spengler clearly indicts the self-hating "homo europeanus" who, having become a victim of his bad conscience, naively thinks that his truths and verities must remain irrefutably valid forever, forgetting that his eternal verities may one day be turned against him. Spengler strongly attacks this Western false sympathy with the deprived ones - a sympathy that Nietzsche once depicted as a twisted form of egoism and slave moral. "This is the reason," writes Spengler, why this "compassion moral," in the day-¬to-day sense, "evoked among us with respect, and sometimes strived for by the thinkers, sometimes longed for, has never been realized" (1:449; 1:350). This form of political masochism could be well studied particularly among those contemporary Western egalitarians who, with the decline of socialist temptations, substituted for the archetype of the European exploited worker, the iconography of the starving African. Nowhere does this change in political symbolics seem more apparent than in the current Western drive to export Western forms of civilization to the antipodes of the world. These Westerners, in the last spasm of a guilt-ridden shame, are probably convinced that their historical repentance might also secure their cultural and political longevity. Spengler was aware of these paralyzing attitudes among Europeans, and he remarks that, if a modern European recognizes his historical vulnerability, he must start thinking beyond his narrow perspective and develop different attitudes toward different political convictions and verities. What do Parsifal or Prometheus have to do with the average Japanese citizen, asks Spengler? "This is exactly what is lacking to the Western thinker," continues Spengler, "and which precisely should have never lacked to him; insight into historical relativity of his achievements, which themselves are the manifestation of one and unique, and of only one existence" (1:31;1:23). On a somewhat different level, one wonders to what extent the much vaunted dis¬semination of universal human rights can become a valuable principle for non-Western peoples if Western universalism often signifies blatant disrespect for all cultural particularities.


CLIO - A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History, Vol. 19, No 1, pp. 51-62, fall 1989

End of part one

  1. In the case of the European 'New Right', see Jean Cau, Discours de la décadence (Paris: Copernic, 1978), Julien Freund, La décadence: histoire sociologique et philosophique d’une expérience humaine (Paris: Sirey, 1984), and Pierre Chaunu Histoire et décadence (Paris: Perrin, 1981). In the case of authors of "leftist sensibility," see Jean Baud-rillard's virulent attack against simulacra and hyperreality in America: Amérique (Paris: Grasset, 1986)-in English, America, trans. Chris Turner (New York, London: Verso, 1988)-and Jean-François Huyghe, La soft-idéologie (Paris: Laffont, 1987). There is a certain Spenglerian whiff in Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Warner Books, 1979), and probably in Richard Lamm, Megatraumas: America at the Year 2000 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985). About European cultural conservatives see my Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (forthcoming). 

  2. See Spengler's critic and admirer Heinrich Scholz, Zum 'Untergang des Abendlandes' (Berlin: von Reuther and Reichard, 1920). Scholz conceives of history as polycentric occurrences concentrated in creative archetypes, noting: "History is a curriculum vitae of many cultures having nothing in common except the name; because each of them has its own destiny, own life, and own death" (11)-my translation. 

  3. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson, 2 vols. (1926; New York: Knopf, 1976), 1:21. My text, however, contains my own translations from Der Untergang des Abendlandes (München: Beck, 1923), 1:28-29. Citations hereafter are in the text, in parentheses, giving references to these two editions, respectively. 

  4. Vilfredo Pareto, 'Dangers of Socialism', in The Other Pareto, ed. Placido Bucolo, trans. Gillian and Placido Bucolo, pre. Ronald Fletcher (New York: St. Martin's, 1980). Pareto writes: "There are some people who imagine that they can disarm the 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" (125). In a similar vein, Gustave le Bon, Psychologie politique (1911; Paris: Les Amis de G. L. Bon, 1984), writes: "Wars among nations have, by the way, always been the source of the most important progress. Which pacifist people has ever played any role in history?" (79)-my translation. 

  5. John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age (New York: Harper, 1970), 10, 9. 

  6. Claude Polin, L'esprit totalitaire (Paris: Sirey, 1977), 111: my translation. 

  7. Claude Polin, Le totalitarisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires Françaises, 1982) argues that egalitarianism, universalism and economism are the three pivots of totalitarianism: "Totalitarian power is first and foremost the power of all against all; the tyranny of all against all. Totalitarian society is not constructed from the top down to the bottom, but from the bottom up to the top" (117) – my translation. 

  8. 'Is World Peace Possible?' in Selected Essay, trans. Donald O. White (1936: Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967), 207. 

History and Decadence: Spengler's Cultural Pessimism Today (part 2/2)

Even with their eulogy of universalism, as Serge Latouche has recently noted, Westerners have, nonetheless, secured the most com¬fortable positions for themselves. Although they have now retreated to the back stage of history, vicariously, through their humanism, they still play the role of the undisputable masters of the non-white¬-man show. "The death of the West for itself has not been the end of the West in itself," adds Latouche.1 One wonders whether such Western attitudes to universalism represent another form of racism, considering the havoc these attitudes have created in traditional Third World communities. Latouche appears correct in remarking that Eur¬opean decadence best manifests itself in its masochistic drive to deny and discard everything that it once stood for, while simultaneously sucking into its orbit of decadence other cultures as well. Yet, although suicidal in its character, the Western message contains mandatory admonishments for all non-European nations. He writes: The mission of the West is not to exploit the Third World, nor to christianize the pagans, nor to dominate by white presence; it is to liberate men (and even more so women) from oppression and misery. In order to counter this self-hatred of the anti-imperialist vision, which concludes in red totalitarianism, one is now compelled to dry the tears of white man, and thereby ensure the success of this westernization of the world. (41) The decadent West exhibits, as Spengler hints, a travestied culture living on its own past in a society of different nations that, having lost their historical consciousness, feel an urge to become blended into a promiscuous "global polity." One wonders what would he say today about the massive immigration of non-Europeans to Europe? This immigration has not improved understanding among races, but has caused more racial and ethnic strife that, very likely, signals a series of new conflicts in the future. But Spengler does not deplore the "devaluation of all values" nor the passing of cultures. In fact, to him decadence is a natural process of senility which concludes in civilization, because civilization is decadence. Spengler makes a typically German distinction between culture and civilization, two terms which are, unfortunately, used synonymously in English. For Spengler civilization is a product of intellect, of completely rationalized intellect; civilization means uproot¬edness and, as such, it develops its ultimate form in the modern megapolis which, at the end of its journey, "doomed, moves to its final self-destruction" (2:127; 2:107). The force of the people has been overshadowed by massification; creativity has given way to "kitsch" art; geniality has been subordinated to the terror of reason. He writes:

Culture and civilization. On the one hand the living corpse of a soul and, on the other, its mummy. This is how the West European existence differs from 1800 and after. The life in its richness and normalcy, whose form has grown up and matured from inside out in one mighty course stretching from the adolescent days of Gothics to Goethe and Napoleon - into that old artificial, deracinated life of our large cities, whose forms are created by intellect. Culture and civilization. The organism born in countryside, that ends up in petrified mechanism. (1:453; 1:353)

In yet another display of determinism, Spengler contends that one cannot escape historical destiny: "the first inescapable thing that confronts man as an unavoidable destiny, which no thought can grasp, and no will can change, is a place and time of one's birth: everybody is born into one people, one religion, one social status, one stretch of time and one culture."2 Man is so much constrained by his historical environment that all attempts at changing one's destiny are hopeless. And, therefore, all flowery postulates about the improvement of mankind, all liberal and socialist philosophizing about a glorious future regarding the duties of humanity and the essence of ethics, are of no avail. Spengler sees no other avenue of redemption except through declaring himself a fundamental and resolute pessimist:

Mankind appears to me as a zoological quantity. I see no progress, no goal, no avenue for humanity, except in the heads of the Western progress-Philistines. (...) I cannot see a single mind and even less a unity of endeavors, feelings, and understandings in these barren masses of people. (Selected Essays 73-74; 147)

The determinist nature of Spengler's pessimism has been criticized recently by Konrad Lorenz who, while sharing Spengler's culture of despair, refuses the predetermined linearity of decadence. In his capacity of ethologist and as one of the most articulate neo-Darwinists, Lorenz admits the possibility of an interruption of human phylo¬genesis - yet also contends that new vistas for cultural development always remain open. "Nothing is more foreign to the evolutionary epistemologist, as well, to the physician," writes Lorenz, "than the doctrine of fatalism."3 Still, Lorenz does not hesitate to criticize vehemently decadence in modern mass societies which, in his view, have already given birth to pacified and domesticated specimens unable to pursue cultural endeavors. Lorenz would certainly find positive resonance with Spengler himself in writing: "This explains why the pseudodemocratic doctrine that all men are equal, by which is believed that all humans are initially alike and pliable, could be made into a state religion by both the lobbyists for large industry and by the ideologues of communism" (179-80). Despite the criticism of historical determinism which has been leveled against him, Spengler often confuses his reader with Faustian exclamations reminiscent of someone prepared for battle rather than reconciled to a sublime demise. "No, I am not a pessimist," writes Spengler in "Pessimism," for "pessimism means seeing no more duties. I see so many unresolved duties that I fear that time and men will run out to solve them"(75). These words hardly cohere with the cultural despair which earlier he so passionately elaborated. Moreover, he often advocates force and the toughness of the warrior in order to stave off Europe's disaster. One is led to the conclusion that Spengler extols historical pessimism or "purposeful pessimism" ("Zweckpessimismus"), as long as it translates his conviction of the irreversible decadence of the European polity; however, once he perceives that cultural and political loopholes are available for moral and social regeneration, he quickly reverts to the eulogy of power politics. Similar characteristics are often to be found among many poets, novelists, and social thinkers whose legacy in spreading cultural pessimism played a significant part in shaping political behavior among European conservatives prior to World War II.4 One wonders why they all, like Spengler, bemoan the decadence of the West if this decadence has already been sealed, if the cosmic die has already been cast, and if all efforts of political and cultural rejuvenation appear hopeless? Moreover, in an effort to mend the unmendable, by advocating a Faustian mentality and will-to-power, these pessimists often seem to emulate the optimism of socialists rather than the ideas of those reconciled to impending social catastrophe. For Spengler and other cultural pessimists, the sense of decadence is inherently combined with a revulsion against modernity and an abhorrence of rampant economic greed. As recent history has shown, the political manifestation of such revulsion may lead to less savory results: the glorification of the will-to-power and the nostalgia of death. At that moment, literary finesse and artistic beauty may take on a very ominous turn. The recent history of Europe bears witness to how easily cultural pessimism can become a handy tool for modern political titans. Nonetheless, the upcoming disasters have something uplifting for the generations of cultural pessimists whose hypersensitive nature - and disdain for the materialist society - often lapses into political nihilism. This nihilistic streak was boldly stated by Spengler's contemporary Friedrich Sieburg, who reminds us that "the daily life of democracy with its sad problems is boring, but the impending catastrophes are highly interesting."5 One cannot help thinking that, for Spengler and his likes, in a wider historical context, war and power politics offer a regenerative hope against the pervasive feeling of cultural despair. Yet, regardless of the validity of Spengler's visions or nightmares, it does not take much imagination to observe in the decadence of the West the last twilight-dream of a democracy already grown weary of itself.

California State University, Fullerton, California


CLIO - A Journal of Literature, History and the Philosophy of History, Vol. 19, No 1, pp. 51-62, fall 1989

  1. Serge Latouche, L'occidentalisation du monde (Paris: La Découverte, 1989), 9; my translation. About Westerners' self-hate and self-denial, see Alain de Benoist, Europe, Tiers monde même combat (Paris: Laffont, 1986): "And whereas Christian universalism had once contributed to the justification of colonization, Christian pastoralism today inspires decolonization. This `mobilization of consciences' crystallizes itself around the notion of culpability." The colonized is no longer "a primitive" who ought to be "led to civilization." Rather, he is a living indictment, indeed, an example of an immaculate morality from whom the "civilized" has much to learn (62). See also Pascal Bruckner, Le sanglot de l'homme blanc. Tiers monde, culpabilité, haine de soi (Paris: Seuil, 1983), 13: for the bleeding-heart liberal Westerner "the birth of the Third world gave birth to this new category; expiatory militantism." My translations here. 

  2. Spengler, 'Pessimismus', Reden and Aufsätze (München: Beck, 1937), 70; in English, 'Pessimism?' in Selected Essays, 143. 

  3. Konrad Lorenz, The Waning of Humaneness (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), 58-59. 

  4. It would be impossible to enumerate all cultural pessimists who usually identify themselves as heroic pessimists, often as conservative revolutionaries, or aristocratic nihilists. Poets and novelists of great talent such as Gottfried Benn, Louis F. Céline, Ezra Pound, and others, were very much inspired by Oswald Spengler. See Gottfried Benn, "Pessimismus," in Essays und Aufsätze (Wiesbaden: Limes, 1959): "Man is not alone, thinking is alone. Thinking is self-bound and solitary" (357). See also the apocalyptic prose of Ernst Jünger, An der Zeitmauer (Werke) (Stuttgart: Klett, 1959): "It seems that cyclical system corresponds to our spirit. We make round-shaped watches, although there is no logical compulsion behind it. And even catastrophes are viewed as recurrent, as for example floods and drought, fire-age and ice-age" (460-61). My translations. 

  5. Friedrich Sieburg, Die Lust am Untergang (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1954), 54. My translation. 

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.

"De l'esprit communautaire et communiste à l'étatisme fragile: le drame de l'ex-post-Yougoslavie" (Catholica ~ Hiver 1997-1998, Nr. 93)

Lorsque l'on analyse un pays éclectique comme l'ex-Yougoslavie, on est tenté d'utiliser une méthode éclectique. En 1991, un concours de circonstances diverses et convergentes a provoqué l'éclatement du pays, prélude à la guerre entre les principaux acteurs : Serbes, Croates et Musulmans bosniaques. Lors de l'agression grande-serbe menée par l'armée yougoslave contre la Croatie, et plus tard, lors de la guerre interethnique en Bosnie-Herzégovine, et après les Accords de Dayton, dont l'architecte fut le gouvernement américain en 1995, une multitude d'analyses sur l'origine du conflit ont vu le jour. Les crimes perpétrés par les ex-belligérants ont été décrits et décriés par les médias aux quatre coins du monde. On débat toujours dans les chancelleries occidentales sur le futur scénario militaire et juridique qui s'imposera dans les Balkans, notamment dans le nouveau petit Etat multiethnique de Bosnie-Herzégovine.

Alors que de nombreux comptes rendus médiatiques existent sur les instigateurs du conflit et leur rôle pendant le drame de l'ex-Yougoslavie, peu de choses ont été dues de la perception que chaque groupe ethnique a de lui même et de l'Autre, ainsi que de sa propre conception de l'Etat-nation.1 De plus, dans les milieux diplomatiques et médiatiques, on a relativement peu analysé l'héritage du titisme et l'impact de l'esprit totalitaire qui ont considérablement prolongé la durée de la guerre, et qui subsistent toujours dans les structures mentales de la population post-yougoslave. Dans les nouveaux Etats établis sur les ruines de l'ex-Yougoslavie, les classes politiques aiment utiliser des slogans occidentaux, comme le « marché libre », la « démocratie parlementaire », « l'Etat de droit », etc., bien que, sous ce vernis rhétorique, aucune mutation profonde de la culture politique n'ait eu lieu. Les vieilles habitudes philo-communistes, communautaires, voire clientélistes, ont toujours le dessus.

Dans la perspective internationale, l'éclatement de la Yougoslavie communiste soulève maintenant des questions délicates quant au fonctionnement du multiculturalisme en Europe occidentale et de son moteur principal, l'Union européenne. Dans quelle mesure la convivialité passée entre Serbes et Croates fut-elle réelle ou fictive ? L'Union européenne était-elle, pendant la guerre en ex-Yougoslavie, «balkanisée» à un tel point qu'elle ne pouvait pas trouver une réponse rapide et consensuelle parmi ses Etats membres, et empêcher la guerre de prendre la tournure désastreuse que l'ex-Yougoslavie a subie ? Force est de constater que la guerre en ex-Yougoslavie se prête à des analyses différentes, surtout au départ de disciplines différentes : anthropologie, sociologie, psychologie et droit international. Et chaque discipline, bien entendu, conduit à des conclusions différentes. Suite à un cortège de violence jamais vu en Europe depuis 1945, les pays de la post-Yougoslavie risquent de mettre en cause l'idéologie du mondialisme et du multiculturalisme de l'Union européenne. Celle-ci serait-elle capable d'endiguer l'implosion intra-ethnique, si cette implosion a jamais lieu quelque part ailleurs en Europe ? Sans nul doute, une guerre entre le Danemark et l’Allemagne fédérale au sujet de la région frontalière du Schleswig-Holstein, ou une guerre entre l'Allemagne fédérale et la France au sujet de l'Alsace, relève du fantasme politique. Par contre, une guerre larvée et intercommunautaire entre bandes turques vivant en Allemagne et bandes de jeunes Allemands de souche, avec des retombées juridiques dans toute l'Europe, ne relève plus d'un scénario de science fiction.2

A propos de la guerre en ex-Yougoslavie, on peut d'ores et déjà conclure : des conflits similaires, quoique sous une autre forme juridique, risquent de se produire ailleurs en Europe, soit au niveau interethnique soit au niveau intra-ethnique.

L'héritage du titisme a joué un rôle important dans le conflit ex-yougoslave. Donc, une deuxième hypothèse de travail s'impose, à savoir que la guerre en ex-Yougoslavie n'était pas seulement menée par les anciennes élites communistes de Croatie, Slovénie, Serbie et Bosnie-Herzégovine, mais également par les citoyens yougoslaves « communisés », avec leurs liens tribaux et communautaires distincts, tellement typiques pour les pays des Balkans. Il demeure que les peuples, dans la péninsule balkanique, ont été historiquement marqués par un sens faible de l'ethnocentricité par rapport à l'Europe occidentale où le sens de l'étatisme reste assez fort. En fait, au sein de chaque groupe ethnique dans les Balkans, on aperçoit des liens communautaires clos, souvent antagonistes à l'égard d'une autre communauté voisine du même groupe ethnique. Le sens de l'Etat-nation, accepté comme normal par les citoyens dans les pays occidentaux, l'attachement au terroir délimité, et l'affiliation religieuse précèdent toute notion d'Etat-nation.3 Au cours du conflit précédent, il n'était pas insolite d'observer en Bosnie-Herzégovine des combats entre Croates catholiques et Serbes chrétiens-orthodoxes, les deux protagonistes utilisant leur religion respective non dans des intentions théologiques, mais avant tout comme vecteur politico-culturel mettant davantage en relief leurs différences réciproques et donnant une plus-value à la haine de l'Autre - bien qu'aux yeux des observateurs étrangers Serbes et Croates présentent de frappantes similarités anthropologiques et linguistiques.

Certes, au début du conflit, pour beaucoup de citoyens croates, surtout ceux qui vivent dans une Croatie plus ou moins ethniquement homogène, la guerre fut vécue comme une agression serbo-communiste. Mais comment expliquer le conflit en Bosnie-Herzégovine, où les clivages communautaires au sein des trois groupes ethniques sont tellement prononcés, au point d'aboutir souvent à d'étranges alliance supra et intra-communautaires avec d'autres communautés au sein d'autres groupes ethniques ? L'esprit de l'enracinement local, à savoir le « patriotisme local », précède souvent toute identité nationale en quête d'Etat. Ainsi, la guerre en Bosnie donna souvent naissance à des alliances bizarres, notamment quand les Serbes de la région croate occupée, connue sous le nom de « Krajina », avaient pris la partie des Musulmans rebelles du nord-ouest de la Bosnie limitrophe, qui s’opposait ouvertement au gouvernement plus « urbain » bosno-musulman de Sarajevo. Pendant les accrochages violents entre Croates et Musulmans au sud de la Bosnie, notamment dans la région limitrophe de l'Herzégovine, et aux alentours de la ville de Mostar, les Serbes « louaient » leurs services militaires aux Musulmans bosniaques assiégés par les Croates, tout en pilonnant en même temps la ville de Sarajevo, site du gouvernement bosniaque-musulman.4

Pour essayer de comprendre à fond le drame post-yougoslave, on ne saurait oublier l'héritage du titisme. Rappelons que le communisme dans toute l'Europe orientale fut imposé en 1945 par les chars russes. Seule la Yougoslavie titiste a engendré un phénomène communiste sui generis, imposé et façonné par les titistes vainqueurs reste faible. A l'exception des peuples slovènes et croates, qui font partie de l'hémisphère occidental, le reste de la population ex-yougoslave continue à vivre dans des structures sociales, où le bon voisinage, (« komsiluk ») de la deuxième guerre mondiale. Après la rupture avec Staline en 1948, et avant son propre éclatement en 1991, la Yougoslavie de Tito se targuait d'être le pays communiste le plus libéral au monde. Le maréchal Tito avait bien réussi à tenir les peuples disparates sous une férule unitaire non seulement par la poigne totalitaire, mais également en dressant les nationalistes de chaque groupe ethnique contre les autres groupes ethniques avoisinants, et en punissant tour à tour les dissidents de chaque république fédérée. Il est peu probable que son laboratoire multiculturel ait pu survivre sans son habile tactique de « diviser pour régner ».5 Par ailleurs, Tito jouissait du soutien real-politique des chancelleries occidentales qui avaient leurs propres intérêts géopolitiques dans la région, et qui ne voulaient nullement voir la Yougoslavie disparaître de la face du monde. En se fiant à sa propre langue de bois du « socialisme à visage humain », en ouvrant les frontières yougoslaves pour se débarrasser de dissidents potentiels, Tito devint rapidement objet dune véritable admiration dans les milieux intellectuels européens. On ne fit que peu mention, même après sa mort, de la répression en Yougoslavie communiste et post-titiste qui n'a pourtant pas eu de cesse. Dans les dernières années da sa vie surréelle, la Yougoslavie disposait d'un vaste réseau de police secrète (l'UDBA) à l'étranger, qui opérait par ses filières de journalistes et de diplomates dans les milieux d'émigrés yougoslaves, surtout parmi les Croates exilés. Même pendant la « perestroïka » gorbatchévienne, la Yougoslavie battait les records en prisonniers politiques, dont le nombre s'élevait à huit cents personnes, en majorité des Albanais et des Croates de Bosnie. Or la gloire médiatique acquise par le titisme grâce à son idée d'autogestion en économie, couplée, en outre, aux crédits des financiers occidentaux, et suivie par sept millions de ressortissants yougoslaves munis de passeports, faisait croire que la Yougoslavie était bel et bien un modèle socialiste valable dont les lendemains chanteraient.6

Afin de démythifier l'aberration géopolitique et la fiction juridique que fut l'ex-Yougoslavie, qui devait tôt ou tard mener à la guerre que l'on a connue, il convient de se pencher sur le profil du mental yougo-titiste. Quarante-cinq ans d'expérimentations sociales, allant de l'autogestion au non-alignement tous azimuts en politique étrangère, ont créé un manque d'initiative, un mental d'assisté et un effacement d'identité nationale chez de nombreux citoyens yougoslaves. Tito avait failli créer un climat de tolérance et acheminer les intellectuels croates et serbes vers un dialogue franc. En manipulant par ses hagiographes la mémoire historique des Serbes et des Croates, il n'a fait que renforcer les ressentiments de tous contre tous. Force est de constater que l'historiographie officielle de l'ex-Yougoslavie était fondée sur des chiffres douteux exagérant davantage la victimologie partisane-communiste, tout en démonisant chaque aspect de l'identité nationale des peuples constitutifs de la Yougoslavie. Ainsi les deux peuples pivots de l'ex-Yougoslavie, les Serbes et les Croates, avaient des raisons supplémentaires de se soupçonner du favoritisme titiste. De plus, la victimologie titiste officielle s'accommodait mal avec les récits nationalistes des Serbes et des Croates où chaque peuple s'estimait victime de l'Autre et où chacun voyait dans l'Autre l'incarnation du mal. Les Croates avaient tendance à voir les Serbes comme des " barbares " et des " tsiganes " larvés : en revanche, les Serbes, qui étaient représentés dans l'appareil administratif yougoslave dune manière disproportionnée, voyaient dans chaque manifestation croate le spectre de « l'oustachisme » et du « fascisme croate » appuyé par les papistes du Vatican. La spirale de la violence physique qui avait vu le jour après l'éclatement du pays en 1991, ne fut donc qu'une logique du pire qui avait connu ses premières manifestations dans les années titistes.7

La guerre s'est terminée en ex-Yougoslavie, mais le mental yougoslave de l'homo balcanicus est bel et bien vivant, ce qui rend encore plus difficile tout pronostic pour l'avenir des nouveaux pays de la région. Certes, en tant qu'idéologie est mort. Pourtant, on n'observe aucun changement dans les mœurs politiques et sociales, ni dans la nouvelle classe politique, ni chez les citoyens désabusés. A l'instar des autres pays postcommunistes, les nouvelles élites programmatrice, le communisme titiste politiques et leurs concitoyens souffrent d'un manque d'identité et dune grande peur face à l'avenir libéral. L'homo sovieticus est toujours là avec son homologue, l'homo balcanicus, et tous deux se portent bien, quoiqu'ayant recours, cette fois-ci, à une nouvelle langue de bois, en l'occurrence celle empruntée à l'idéologie du globalisme et du mondialisme ambiant. Bref, en dépit de la débâcle du communisme, l'héritage psychologique de la pensée unique communiste, bien que recouvert d'une piètre imitation du démocratisme occidental, règne en force dans toute Europe postcommuniste. Dans les pays post-yougoslaves, après la guerre dont les retombées juridiques et psychologiques commencent à se faire sentir, on témoigne aujourd'hui d'un esprit paléo-totalitaire, à savoir d'une résurgence de la « yougo-nostalgie » pour le bon vieux temps. Et pourquoi pas ? L'économie communiste planifiée garantissait paradoxalement une paresse facile et une sécurité psychologique, ce qui n’est pas aujourd'hui le cas avec le darwinisme économique du système libéral.8 Si l'on ajoute au mental titiste le vide idéologique qui règne dans toute l'Europe occidentale et qui s'accompagne de la mondialisation capitaliste, on ne saurait exclure des troubles sociaux autrement plus graves que ceux auxquels on a assisté jusqu'ici. Certes, le nouveau discours « politically correct », adopté par l'ancienne intelligentsia pro-yougoslave en Occident, a cessé d'emprunter aux slogans titistes et soixante-huitards ; c'est le sabir antiraciste, I'apologie d'une tolérance mondialiste qu'on prêche maintenant aux citoyens post-yougoslaves. En l'occurrence chaque faux pas d'une petite nation « post-versaillaise », comme la Croatie, se solde vite par une condamnation médiatique renvoyant au référent éternel du « fascisme oustachiste ».9 Alors que le système yougo-communiste a, paradoxalement, réussi à renforcer les liens communautaires dans les différentes couches sociales en ex-Yougoslavie, le globalisme est en train de les détruire plus démocratiquement, et sans laisser de traces de sang.

Toute démocratie parlementaire, comme les citoyens occidentaux le savent fort bien, exige la tolérance de l'Autre. Mais comment réconcilier les gens des ex-pays communistes, notamment de l'ex-Yougoslavie dont un grand nombre a collaboré avec le communisme, et dont un autre grand nombre a été persécuté pour ses idées nationalistes ou antiyougoslaves par ceux qui réalisent aujourd'hui leur recyclage politique et par ceux-là mêmes qui exercent aujourd'hui un pouvoir politique non négligeable ? Dans le cas de I'ex-Yougoslavie, comment juger les prétendus criminels de guerre ? Parmi ceux qui ont récemment commis des exactions contre les civils bosniaques, ou bien parmi ceux qui ont participé du côté des titistes en 1945 et en 1946, à de vastes nettoyages ethniques contre les Croates, les Hongrois et les Allemands?10 L'ironie de l'histoire veut que même au Tribunal international de La Haye, on rencontre quelques Serbes et Croates soupçonnés d'avoir commis des crimes de guerre dont les avocats de défense sont d'anciens procureurs et sympathisants titistes.

La guerre récente en ex-Yougoslavie avait fort préoccupé les citoyens dont le souci majeur était de survivre et de conserver leur niveau de vie plus ou moins élevé. On se souciait peu d'apprendre les vertus démocratiques occidentales et de réexaminer la mémoire officielle de la Seconde Guerre mondiale qui avait profondément divisé la population ex-yougoslave. Cela semble vrai pour tous les citoyens de l'Europe postcommuniste, et surtout pour ceux de la post-Yougoslavie dont beaucoup étaient impliqués dans le système totalitaire. Aujourd'hui, on voit se profiler dans les nouveaux Etats post-yougoslaves un mimétisme quasi pathologique par lequel la nouvelle classe politique veut prouver aux Occidentaux qu'elle connaît davantage la démocratie parlementaire que les Occidentaux eux-mêmes, et que son passé obscur peut être supplanté par une surenchère dans le discours démocratique. Or, l'oblitération de la pensée libre due au passé communiste, ne saurait être dissimulée derrière de belles paroles prêchant l'Etat de droit et le marché libre. On ne peut pas installer la démocratie dans les nouveaux pays de la région par un oukase de Bruxelles ou par un décret venu des Etats-Unis.

Pour saisir le drame postcommuniste en ex-post-Yougoslavie, on ne saurait utiliser les paradigmes sociologiques venus d'Occident.11 En raison de la sélection sociobiologique négative que le communisme avait créée en ex-Yougoslavie, une dévastation psychologique totale où le surréel l'a emporté sur le réel a eu lieu bloquant toute circulation des élites capables de gouverner. L'esprit de clan, l'enracinement dans son voisinage proche avait paradoxalement trouvé sa pleine expression dans le système titiste qui fonctionnait à l'époque comme seul vestige contre l'atomisation globaliste et capitaliste. D'où cet appétit aujourd'hui perceptible chez les citoyens post-yougoslaves pour l'homme fort, capable de guider, capable de mimer l'Occident, tout en sauvegardant l'esprit de la communauté originale. I1 serait donc incorrect de blâmer tel ou tel leader post-yougoslave pour telle ou telle dérive autoritaire, comme le font certains journalistes occidentaux. Face au nivellement du marché libre, face au passé communiste, la grande masse des citoyens désabusés ne sait plus à qui se référer, et à quelles idées se fier. Les citoyens de la post-Yougoslavie aiment traditionnellement l'homme fort, quelqu'un qui soit capable de prendre des responsabilités à leur place, et surtout dans un monde vidé de tout sacré. Faute de modèle à l'horizon politique, suite au grand flux dans le cadre de la nouvelle administration politique, on a recours à la vieille duplicité de l’homo sovieticus, tout en recherchant refuge dans ses liens communautaires de bon voisinage (« komsiluk »). De plus, l'impitoyable géographie des Balkans, dont les frontières restent toujours mouvantes en permanence, empêche les gens de s'identifier à toute idée d'un Etat solide. Force est de constater que c'est souvent au hasard et par défaut, qu'on devient Croate, Serbe - et demain, peut-être, un bon Européen...


  1. Joseph Krulic, « Les Croates, les Musulmans bosniaques, les Serbes et la question de l'Etat-nation, Nations et nationalismes, La Découverte, 1995, pp. 108-113. 

  2. "Zeitbomben in den Vorstädten" [Une bombe à retardement dans la banlieue], Der Spiegel, 14 avril 1997. 

  3. Michael W. Weithmann, Balkan-Chronïk. 2000 Jahre zwischen Orient and Okzident [Chronique sur les Balkans. 2000 ans entre Orient et Occident], Verlag F. Pustet, 1995. 

  4. Xavier Bougarel, Bosnïe ; Anatomie d'un conflit, La Découverte, 1996, p. 63. 

  5. Tomislav Sunic, Titoism and Dissidence; Studies in the History and Dissolution of Communist Yugoslavia, Peter Lang, 1995. 

  6. « Ein Spinnetz totaler Überwachung » [Un réseau de surveillance complet], Der Spiegel, 12 mars 1984. 

  7. Franjo Tudjman, Nationalism in Contemporary Europe, Columbia University Press, 1981, pp. 162-163. Sur l' "historicisme" et les divers mythes antifascistes a yougoslaves, voir Franjo Tudjman, Velike ideje i mali narodi, Matica Hrvatska, 1996, pp. 313-328. 

  8. Claude Polin, Le totalitarisme, PUF, 1982, p. 89. 

  9. A.M. Rosenthal, « Why Wink at Croatian Fascism? » The International Herald Tribune, 16 avril 1997, et ma réponse dans The International Herald Tribune (Letters to the Editor), "Croatia, Then and Now," 18 avril 1997. 

  10. Josef Beer, Weïssbuch der Deutschen aus Jugoslawien. Ortsberichte 1944-1948 [Livre blanc des Allemands de Yougoslavie], Universitas Verlag, 1992. 

  11. Alexander Sinowjew (Zinoviev), Die Diktatur der Logik [La dictature de la logique] Piper Verlag, 1985, p. 148. 

Der Balkankrieg – im Westen missverstanden (den 29 Januar 1994 ~ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)

Der endlose Krieg in Bosnien und Herzegowina sowie in Teilen des serbisch besetzen Kroatien sollte uns an Moltke erinnern, der am 14. Mai 1890, in der Reichstagssitzung, gesagt hat: „Wenn ein Krieg zum Ausbruch kommt, so ist seine Dauer und sein Ende nicht abzusehen... Es kann siebenjähriger, es kann auch ein dreißigjähriger Krieg werden.” Wer hätte es glauben können, dass die Logik des Krieges in Kroatien, und später auch in Bosnien und Herzegowina, trotz einer Menge internationaler „Sachverständiger“ und „Experten“, immer wieder ein neues Kapitel des Grauens öffnen würde? Die Maastricht-Politiker und die Diplomaten der Vereinten Nationen scheinen so mit komplexen Verhältnissen des mitteleuropäischen und südosteuropäischen Multikultur-Mosaiks überfordert zu sein, so dass das Schlagwort „Balkansyndrom“ oft als ein nettes Alibi für ihr eigenes Nichtstun benutzt wird.

Seltsamerweise gibt es drei Jahre nach dam Zerfall des hybriden Zwangsstaates keine klare Definition der Ursache dieses Krieges, der Motive des Aggressors beziehungsweise Lebensinteressen des Opfers und einer möglichen Losung des Konflikts. Paradoxerweise wandelt sich der Krieg, der 1991 als klassische Aggression Serbiens gegen Kroatien und Slowenien begann, zu einem „Missverständnis-Krieg“, nicht nur zwischen den Kriegsparteien in Bosnien, sondern auch inmitten der Vermittler der Europäischen Gemeinschaft und der Vereinten Nationen. Vielleicht wäre es notwendig, den rechten Staatsrechtler Carl Schmitt zu zitieren oder den linken Exguerrillero Régis Debray zu lesen, um zu verstehen, dass deren wohlmeinender juristischer Formalismus wenig zur raschen Beendigung des Krieges beigetragen hat. Die selbst verursachte Paralyse der Weltvermittler im dauernden Balkanchaos erzeugt natürlich das inoffizielle und weitverbreitete Klischee, dass „alle Seiten in Bosnien und Herzegowina die Verantwortung für den Krieg tagen“ – seinen es die einstigen Opfer, Kroaten und Muslime, seien es die einstigen Aggressoren, die Serben. Doch manche Einzelheiten bedürfen eines größeren methodologischen Kontextes, um diese endlose Tragödie im Herzen Europas zu verstehen, besonders heute, nach der neuesten Vereinbarung Serbiens und Kroatiens in Genf über eine mögliche zwischenstaatliche Anerkennung.

Auf der einen Seite drängten internationale Vermittler und manche westliche Meinungsmacher Kroatien und dessen Oberhaupt Dr. Franjo Tudjman zu endlosen Verhandlungen mit dem Serben Slobodan Milosevic. Auf der anderen Seite verdächtigen immer wieder manche Politiker und Meinungsmacher Tudjman wegen seiner angeblichen geheimen Vereinbarung mit Milosevic auf Kosten der bosnischen Muslime. Die Aufteilung Bosniens und der Herzegowina zwischen Kroatien und Serbien war nicht im geopolitischen Interesse Kroatiens. Wäre dies der Wunsch der kroatischen Regierung gewesen; hätte Kroatien nie als erstes Land der Welt die Souveränität Bosnien und der Herzegowina anerkannt. Hätte Kroatien die Herzegowina annektiert, wäre der serbische Eroberungsappetit in Bosnien und in den angrenzenden serbisch besetzten Gebieten Kroatiens such auf eine gewisse Weise legitimiert worden. Es sollte ein Anliegen der Vermittler der Europäischen Gemeinschaft sowie der Vereinten Nationen sein, das künftige Staatsgefüge Bosnien und Herzegowina zu präzisieren – so schnell wie möglich. Es ist eine Ironie, dass jede neue Resolution der Vereinten Nationen völkerrechtlich die vorhergehende Resolution aufzuheben scheint.

Auf dem Terrain der Tagespolitik suchen jetzt die einstigen Opfer des Krieges in Bosnien beziehungsweise die bosnischen Muslime einen Ersatz für ihre durch die Serben verursachten territorialen Verluste. Da die internationale Gemeinschaft vor zwei Jahren nicht imstande war, die serbischen Aggression einzudämmen und den Krieg zu stoppen, wenden sich jetzt die Muslimkämpfer gegen ihre einstigen kroatischen Helfer und Verbündeten. Zweifellos ist es für die Muslime viel leichter, relativ wenige bosnische Kroaten zu bekämpfen, als die zahlreichen und gut befestigten serbischen Stellungen in Bosnien zurückzuerobern. Die Kroatien in Bosnien und der Herzegowina haben 40 Prozent der Gebiete verloren, in denen sie seit hundert Jahren gewohnt haben. Seltsamerweise haben Massaker an kroatischen Zivilisten in den bosnischen Ortschaften Kiseljak, Maljine, Doljani, Uzdol, Krizancevo, und so weiter, die von muslimischen Militärverbänden verübt wurden, kein großes Echo in der Welt heraufbeschworen.

Um die surreale Situation in Bosnien zu verstehen, sollte man sich auch vor Augen halten, dass Kroatien heute mehr als 150 000 muslimische Flüchtlinge aus Bosnien versorgt und beherbergt, deren männliche Angehörige aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach gegen Kroaten in Bosnien kämpfen – ganz zu schweigen von der halben Million aus serbisch besetzten Gebieten vertriebenen Kroaten, für die gesorgt werden muss. Was sollte Kroatien eigentlich tun angesichts der Bosnien-Frage, Flüchtlingsfrage und nicht zuletzt der sogenannten Krajina-Frage? Seit drei Jahren wiederholt Präsident Tudjman, dass der Krieg ausschließlich mit friedlichen Mitteln und mit Hilfe der Vermittler der Vereinten Nationen und der Europäischen Gemeinschaft beendet werden soll. Für seinen guten Willen und seine Kooperationsbereitschaft erntete Kroatien Vorwürfe und Kriminalisierungen. Sollte es auf das falsche Pferd gesetzt haben, als es sein Anliegen der demokratischen Selbstbestimmung dem Westen anvertraute?

Professor Dr. Tomislav Sunic
Informationsabteilung des Außenministeriums, Zagreb, Kroatien

La logique du pire dans les Balkans ( 07.03.1994 ~ Tribune Libre Le Journal de Montréal )

L’interminable guerre en Bosnie-Herzégovine et dans les régions de Croatie occupées par les Serbes voit actuellement se multiplier des souffrances affreuses. En même temps, la situation devient de plus en plus confuse, voire totalement incompréhensible, pour les observateurs extérieurs. Trois ans après l’éclatement violent de l’état hybride yougoslave, les organisations internationales ne semblent être d’accord ni sure les causes du conflit, ni sur les motifs de l’agresseur, ni sur les intérêts des victimes. Le formalisme juridique de l’ONU et les volte-face des médiateurs ajoutent encore à cette obscurité. Finalement, l’idée se répand que « toutes les parties sont responsables » du conflit, qu’il s’agisse des victimes ou de leurs agresseurs. On serait tenté de citer le juriste allemand Carl Schmitt, ou les travaux de Régis Debray pour comprendre pourquoi l’indécision de la classe politique européenne n’a pas contribué à la résolution rapide du conflit. Cette interprétation pessimiste du conflit nécessite au moins de mettre quelques détails en perspective, surtout après la récente déclaration de Genève sur une éventuelle reconnaissance mutuelle entre la Serbie et la Croatie. D’un côté, maints médiateurs internationaux, ainsi que quelques journalistes mal informés, exigent que le président croate Franjo Tudjman se livre à d’interminables tête à tête avec son homologue serbe, Slobodan Milosevic. De l’autre, maints politiciens et journalistes soupçonnent en même temps Tudjman d’utiliser ses rencontres avec Milosevic pour « comploter » secrètement contre les musulmans bosniaques. Le partage de la Bosnie-Herzégovine entre la Serbie et la Croatie n’a jamais été dans les intérêts géopolitiques de la Croatie. Si la Croatie avait voulu le dépeçage de la Bosnie-Herzégovine, elle n’aurait jamais été le premier pays dans le monde à avoir reconnu la souveraineté de ce pays. De plus, l’annexion des régions de la Herzégovine peuplées par une majorité de Croates n’aurait pas manqué de légitimer du même coup les appétits serbes dans les régions occupées de Croatie. C’est donc à l’ONU et à la CEE de définir leur rôle et de préciser aussi vite que possible les structures étatiques de la Bosnie-Herzégovine future. Or, l’ironie macabre de ce conflit veut que jusqu'à présent, chaque nouvelle résolution prise par l’ONU du point de vue du droit international ait annulé la précédente. Sur le terrain, les premières victimes de la guerre en Bosnie-Herzégovine, à savoir les musulmans bosniaques, cherchent aujourd’hui un ersatz de territoire pour compenser celui qui a été conquis par les envahisseurs serbes. Vu que la communauté internationale à peu fait pour endiguer l’agression serbe, les musulmans se retournent donc logiquement contre leurs anciens alliés croates. Il leur est en effet beaucoup plus facile de combattre les faibles positions croates en Bosnie centrale, que de recapture leurs positions conquises par les Serbes. Ceux qui doivent en payer les frais sont encore une fois les Croates bosniaques qui ont déjà perdu au cours de la dernière année 40% de leur territoire au profit des milices musulmanes. Les massacres de civils croates qui furent perpétrés par les milices musulmanes dans les villages croates Doljani, Krizancevo, Maljine et Uzdol, échappent curieusement à l’œil des divers medias étrangers. Pour saisir le caractère surréel de la situation en Bosnie-Herzégovine, on pourrait faire remarquer que la Croatie se charge actuellement de plus de 150 000 réfugiés musulmans bosniaques, lointains cousins de ceux qui combattent les Croates bosniaques ! Faut-il par ailleurs rappeler que la Croatie doit également s’occuper d’un demi-million de réfugiés croates chassées de leur foyer par les agresseurs serbes ? Que peut donc faire la Croatie à elle seule ? Depuis trois ans, le président Franjo Tudjman ne cesse de répéter que la guerre en Croatie et en Bosnie-Herzégovine doit être résolue par les moyes pacifiques et avec l’aide de l’ONU et de la CEE. En raison de volonté de coopération, la Croatie n’a pas manqué d’être l’objet de critiques diverses. Stigmatisée autrefois comme pays « fascinant », elle risque aujourd’hui d’être cataloguée comme pais « antimusulmans ». A-t-elle donc misé sur le mauvais cheval quand elle a confié ses aspirations démocratiques à l’Occident ?

Tomislav Sunic
Ministère des Affaires étrangères
Département de la Culture
Zagreb, Croatie

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

For Yugoslavia, Breakup is the Best Answer (Saturday, 2 March 1991/ The New York Times)

To the Editor:

News reports reflecting the Bush Administration position may lead some to the conclusion that the unity of Yugoslavia needs to be preserved at all costs. Several arguments speak to the contrary. The issue of a federal Yugoslavia versus a confederal Yugoslavia, as put forward by Serbia and Croatia, respectively, is of an academic, but not a substantive nature. Had Serbia abided by the federal principles, many of today’s problems could have been avoided. Instead, federalism died in Yugoslavia in the early 1980’s when Serbia dismantled the autonomy of Kosovo province and declared martial law against ethnic Albanians. Nor did Serbia’s actions tame further ethnic passions; rather, they exacerbated nationalist demands in other parts of Yugoslavia. A parallel could be drawn with certain Soviet republics that, threatened by federal authority, automatically increased their claims for more autonomy. Given the already high proportion of Serbs in the diplomatic corps and the army, Serbian insistence on the preservation of a federal Yugoslavia will continue to be seen as a fig leaf for Serbian supremacy. Part of the problem lies in the decades of intransigence by the Yugoslav federal leadership to accommodate the initially modest demands of Croats, Albanians and Slovenes for a more equitable representation on the federal level. It would be unwarranted to assume that Croats or Slovenes have been bent on seceding from Yugoslavia all along. The often-heard argument among Western observers, including State Department officials, that independent Croatia or Slovenia would have no economic basis for survival as independent states misses the essential point. Rather than wondering whether Croatia and Slovenia can survive alone, one needs to ponder whether any Yugoslavia can continue to exist as a single state. A serious commitment on the part of all republics to restructuring Yugoslavia along confederal lines had, until recently, a chance of success. Today this option is no longer possible. Each confederation plan presupposes friendly relations among its ethnic constituents, not armed threats against one another. With all Yugoslav republics having voted Communism out of power – with the single exception of Communist Serbia – one wonders what is the point in keeping Yugoslavia together? The timely dissolution of Yugoslavia now appears the only solution to civil war. Those who placed high hopes in the Yugoslav experiment need to realize that the peaceful departure of its feuding peoples is far preferable to the violent imposition of military rule and the subjugation of one republic by another.

Tomislav Sunic, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Juniata College, Huntington, Pa., Feb. 10, 1991.

Link to the original article.

Naive Policy ( 22 October 1984 ~ The Sacramento Bee)

Your recent article “Soviets gain the upper hand in Yugoslav politics?” (Sept. 28) suggests naively that the crackdown on dissidents in Belgrade is due to the invisible hand of the Soviet Union, although no proofs of Soviet involvement were given by the article. American media portray Yugoslavia as “a liberal Communist country.” Although Amnesty International, based in London, has clearly established that in recent years the human rights violation in Yugoslavia is the worst in East Europe. The silent persecutions of intellectuals, ever since the Communist takeover in 1945, have been sponsored by the gullibility of American media and less direct Soviet involvement. The recent arrests made in Belgrade are just a side effect in view of the brutal pacification of Croatia in 1971, and the reign of terror against the Albanian minority in Kosovo Province. Since 1981 Kosovo Province has been under a state of siege, where no foreign journalists are allowed to travel. The massacre of Albanian students which left over 100 people dead passed completely unnoticed in the American media. The hypocrisy of the present administration is in the fact that it sees red only in the case of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Communist Yugoslavia is extolled as a “liberal country” opposing the Russian bear. Reagan should remember that Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Enver Hoxa’s Albania, and Tito’s Yugoslavia constitute a gang of “non-aligners,” yet all of them capable of legalizing Gulag practices in their own scenario. The massive American financial help to Communist Yugoslavia and the persistent eulogizing of Tito’s murderous practices clearly show that the administration’s primary concern is not anti-communism, but simply the sellout of Yugoslavia in the spirit of the Yalta agreement. By its awkward and cynical attitude toward the issue of Eastern Europe the present administration loses the respect and the hope of those having firsthand knowledge of Communism.

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.