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Blog posts by Tomislav Sunić

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the original article.

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

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

Tomislav Sunic
Foreign Media Adviser
Foreign Ministry
Zagreb, Croatia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huntingdon, Pa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yugoslavia’s Ethnic Troubles (The World and I ~ August 1987)

To the Editor:

I read rather belatedly the delightful article by the Yugoslav expatriate Mihajlov [September 1986,] in which he successfully exposes the myth of Titoist Yugoslavia as a form of political charade. He is right in observing that it is now Yugoslavia’s turn to face increasing economic chaos and the complete erosion of federal authority. I would like, however, to point to some details that Mihajlov did not fully elucidate, and that may lead some uninformed readers to the conclusion that problems in Yugoslavia are exclusively due to communist mismanagement of the country’s economy. Equally important causes of Yugoslav problems lie in the intricacies of the Yugoslav multiethnic system. The lack in international consensus is by and large the main factor in political and economic instability in communist Yugoslavia, the factor that was also decisive for the failure of prewar non-communist Yugoslavia. It would therefore be wrong to assume that some Western-imported quick fix of liberalism and democracy could bring the everlasting remedy to a country still searching for its national legitimacy. Even in a highly democratic Yugoslavia, such as Mihajlov and probably many other scholars envision, the ethnic tensions, particularly those between the Serbs and Croatians, would simply not go away. Interethnic resentment in Yugoslavia must be understood as a predictable outcome of circumstances surrounding the creation of the Yugoslav state, which to this date, for many Yugoslavs, remains an artificial geographic entity. Ever since its inception at Versailles in 1919, Yugoslavia has been more in line with the panslavist ideas of nineteenth-century politicians than with the hard-core reality of the nationalist twentieth century. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that the opponents of panslavism and its offshoot “Yugoslavianism” have traditionally been Slavs themselves! It is a sad but also instructive reality that Poles, Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Croatians often perceive their Slavic Russian, Czech and Serbian neighbors as a far greater threat than their non-Slavic neighbors. In many aspects Yugoslavia is the ideological and legal replica of the Soviet Union, with one major exception: Yugoslavia is eighty times smaller in size, and when ethnic ferment emerges within one constituent republic, its signals are rapidly sent to its neighbors. There is hardly any possibility of geographically accommodating one ethnic group in Yugoslavia without automatically raising the fears of others. This is particularly the case when unexpected demographic changes, such as those in the Serbian southern province of Kosovo, occur. Even before the Second World War, the ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia were in the majority. Today their tremendous growth has given them a complete numerical edge over the Serbian population in Kosovo, whose longstanding claims to an “historic” Kosovo of Serbian “ethnic purity” appear increasingly unrealistic. One could probably argue that demographically, for the traditionally oppressed ethnic Albanians, is the continuation of politics by other means. Despite the overwhelming majority of ethnic Albanians, the police in Kosovo, just like anywhere else in Yugoslavia, are staffed predominantly with Serbian nationals, especially at command levels – a fact that only fuels the already existing anti-Serbian resentment in Yugoslavia. But the Albanian question is only the tip of the Yugoslavian iceberg. Ironically, at the time when Belgrade party communiqués, along with the pronouncements of many prominent Serbian intellectuals, pathetically deplore the exodus of Serbs from Serbian Kosovo, the same party communiqués and pronouncements pass over in silence the decade-long Croatian exodus from Bosnia and Herzegovina – the region to which Croatians lay ethnic and historic claims. And while the Serbian exodus often ends up in the historic parts of Croatian Bosnia and Herzegovina, or at “worst” in central Serbia, the Croatian exodus ends up in emigration overseas. Hundreds of thousands of Croatians scattered from Seattle to Sydney could certainly write, whether right or wrong, a long litany of their “historic” grievances. To many Western observers, who are often unable to grasp the meaning of nationalism in Eastern Europe, the interethnic tension in Yugoslavia appears negligible, or on the wane. Such a Western attitude is excusable given the totalitarian nature of the Yugoslav system, which forces its citizens to self-surveillance and utmost caution in discussing national issues with foreigners. Everybody wants democracy in Yugoslavia, and I have no doubt Mihajlov and other scholars do too. But democracy is not a perishable commodity to be sold to Yugoslavs as a short term loan, or wrought by inducing the party potentates to a miraculous shift in their behavior. Democratization of Yugoslavia implies first and foremost a thorough assessment of the very concept of Yugoslavia. Is Yugoslavia a viable reality for the twenty-first century? How will this third “democratic” Yugoslavia match the aspirations of its constituent nations? Last but not least, what role will Yugoslavia play in a crisis situation, and will that role be beneficial to the NATO powers? As long as democratic forces in Yugoslavia are stigmatized by the government and media as foreign agents, CIA conspirators, and fascist counterrevolutionaries, there is little hope for change. The atmosphere of a political witch-hunt in Croatia, for which the party officials bear great responsibility, can disappear only if the central government grants Croatians the legal right to speak their own language and stops using the “Serbo-Croatian” hybrid that is now mandatory in all public institutions, including the army. A good step in that direction would include the gradual removal of the Serbian-staffed police in Croatia and their replacement with Croatian officials. Such a positive action could significantly defuse the often irrational fear and hatred between the Serbs and Croatians that has long prevailed and that has inflicted immense human suffering on both peoples. But are the Titoist inheritors really ready for a dialogue with their democratic opponents? De they wish to widen or to bridge the gap between the rival Yugoslav nations? Have they not proclaimed themselves “democratic” and their opponents “fascists”? A case in point is my father, 72-year-old retired judge Mirko Sunic. His numerous appeals to the party for respect for the legal aspirations of the Croatian people, as well as for other nations in Yugoslavia, have never been heeded by the authorities; instead, he was recently sentenced to four years in prison on a charge of “hostile propaganda.” Another illustration is the horrifying death of a Jewish Croatian, Ernest Brajder. He died under extreme police torture – for collecting signatures for a petition (the so-called Zagreb petition) against the mistreatment and for the release of political prisoners.

Tomislav Sunic
Goleta, California

Yugoslavia’s Gulag (The Sacramento Bee)

I read with interest your article on the arrested Yugoslav citizens (“28 Yugoslav Citizens Arrested,” The Bee, April 22). I would like to point out that these are not isolated cases of the police crackdown on dissidents. Far worse are the constant persecutions against Croats and ethnic Albanians at home and abroad (including the U.S.A.). During the last 20 years, more than 50 Yugoslav citizens, mostly Croats, were killed or abducted by the Yugoslav secret police, in the West and the U.S. (Libyan-style diplomacy). Yugoslavia is very often praised by the U.S. media as a “model country with the most liberal Communists.” It would be useful that your readers know that Yugoslavia’s political prison population far exceeds that of all other East European Communist countries. The Reagan administration may wrongly have reason to “contain communism” in Central America with the taxpayers’ money. The billions of dollars which Reagan has been pumping into Yugoslavia serve only to strengthen communism. Yugoslavia challenges the domination of the Soviet Union. It certainly never challenges the principles of scientific gulag communism.

by Tomislav Sunic (signing as “Croatian Dissident”)

THE JERUSALEM POST (October 15, 2009) Letters to the Editor

Offensive, intolerable... ...and incomplete Sir,

Whenever an article appears in the foreign media dealing with the role of Croatia during WWII, the reader must expect a deluge of unsubstantiated body counts. For their part, to prove their anti-fascist atonement, Croats worldwide must resort to apologetic disclaimers and self-accusatory mea culpas.

Your writer might as well have gone a step further and declared that present-day Croatia is a Xerox copy of the former fascist WWII Croatia - since, after all, this newly reborn state uses more or less the same insignia while officially rejecting the number of 700,000 victims allegedly killed by Croat fascists.

What in fact are the empirical sources that the author mines when he states that WWII Croatia was "the most murderous of the Axis-aligned countries?" Instead he discusses the marginal Croatian NGO, the Croatian Cultural Movement (HUP) and its desire to erect a monument to Ante Pavelic.

Is your writer fluent in Croatian and German? Has he ever visited the German Federal Archives in Koblenz in order to give free rein to Efraim Zuroff's admonition "to any person with any sense of moral integrity" regarding the crimes committed by Ustashi Croats? The whole piece smacks of the old-style Yugoslav communist "normative agitprop locution," or the Soviet-styled "double talk" - which a B-student would have a hard time swallowing.

Croatian history - and, for that matter, European history as a whole - is not black and white. Your writer could have mentioned that the head of WWII Croatia, Ante Pavelic, had a number of Muslim ministers in his government, and that a number of Croats of Jewish extraction served as high ranking officers in Ustashi military units.

Last but not least, he might have mentioned large-scale genocides, in the months after WWII, of hundreds of thousands of Croatian and German civilians by the Yugoslav communist strongmen Josip Broz Tito, whose handful of surviving butchers, although senile, are still vocal in Croatia. As usual their killing fields are consigned to historical oblivion.

Instead of wasting time on the trivial portraiture of would-be Pavelic fans, serious research should be done on communist crimes of the former Western darling, the ex-communist Yugoslavia.


The Washington Times Letters to the Editor ~ December 28, 2001 '' Croatia Back in Chaos? ''

I have read with interest Jeffrey T. Kuhner's Dec. 26 Op-Ed column on Croatia and its difficult road to democracy, "Not yet Bush of the Balkans." Mr. Kuhner is right in critically assessing the pervasive Balkanesque cronyism and corruption in Croatian politics. Yet he briefly and only sketchily mentions the large-scale massacres and removal of thousands of Croat civilians and competent professionals by the former Yugoslav communist security apparatus, which is still partially alive in Croatia. One's view of what happened in ex-communist Yugoslavia - and later in the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatia - depends on the observer's vested interests, his ethnic prejudices and his historical perspectives. One thing remains certain, though: Croatia lacks solid elements of civil society and ignores the Western rules of meritocracy. Similar to other post-communist countries in the region, modern Croatia is deeply infected by the legacy of communist mendacity and double-dealing and the spiral of silence and civic fear. Waffling empty Western-imported clichés about human rights and market democracy, the revamped Croatian diplomacy shows amazing signs of provincialism and incompetence. What a would-be democratic Croatia needs is a solid dose of re-education and decommunization. Undoubtedly, a staggering number of Mr. Tudjman's officials were recycled communists who briefly put on display a feigned Croat patriotism. Was not the current President Stipe Mesic also Mr. Tudjman's pal until their fateful split in 1994? These remarks may seem of minor importance, but what is worrisome is the present ungovernability of Croatia. Mr. Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan may have good intentions about the country's future. Yet, good intentions do not suffice to make a good politician or make a country safe for entry into the rich men's club of the European Union or NATO.

Furthermore, the coalition government - at bureaucratic loggerheads with Mr. Mesic - has an unsavory international reputation as a coalition of five swingers making poorly mimicked passes at the European Union. Apparently, this is because of a naive effort to extract a certificate of good democratic behavior or some putative charity from credulous EU and U.S. taxpayers. With mutual mudslinging within this motley crew of four diverse parties, a question remains: Is Croatia a governable entity? Mr. Tudjman did his best to bring Croat ex-communists and anti-communists together. His motto was "reconciliation." The present Croatian government is doing exactly the opposite; it is unstitching the country and driving a wedge between expatriate and homeland Croats, between the former communists and the right-wing opposition figures, and between the politically correct and politically incorrect. Outside of regurgitating - in broken English and in the old wooden communist lingo - slogans such as "free market" or "necessity for economic transition," the present political class in Croatia is a carbon copy of the late "homo sovieticus" universe - albeit with the mandatory and feigned liberal veneer. Forty-five years of communist and Titoist terror brought about negative selection and depleted the Croatian society of honest, law-abiding and professional Croatian politicians - irrespective of their ideological creed. Hence, the country is gripped by paralysis and slated for long-term instability. Slowly, but surely, Croatia is pushing its way back into a still unnamed and unknown chaos.

Novi Zagreb, Croatia.