The bloody wars of secession in former Yugoslavia have been one of the greatest tragedies in the post-Cold War-period. In the cruel wars from huge numbers of people were killed, ethnic cleansing was quite common. But what were the causes of the drama? Why did neighbours suddenly turn against neighbours? The Yugoslavia-wars have been subject to numerous studies that have tried to analyse the reasons for the drama. The concept of nationalism is frequently referred to in this context.
This essay analyses the connection between nationalism and the wars in Yugoslavia by taking into account the complexity of this specific case. First, it provides a definition of nationalism and explains three nationalism-theories, followed by a brief outline of the nature of the Yugoslav state in section two. Sections three and four examine the different theories and the role of nationalism in light of the various factors and developments that led to war. The essay concludes by providing an answer to the question of whether nationalism was the main cause of the wars of secession in former Yugoslavia.
The relation between nationalism and ethnicity has been subject to different theories of that focus on the origin of nations. The three main theories in this context are primordialism, modernism and ethnicism. Primordialists draw on the link between nationalism and ethnicity and hold that nations were primordial entities, embedded in human nature and history, striving for political autonomy and identifiable through distinct features such as territory, culture, blood, language, religion and physical characteristics.
Modernists  , regarding nations as modern phenomenon, claim that the rise of nationalism has occurred only in the last two centuries, mainly with the great revolutions of modern time.
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The ethnicist theory could be regarded as a synthesis of primordialism and modernism. Ethnicists such as Smith  or Armstrong show sympathy for ethnic nationalism and contextualize the emergence of nations, which endows its members with identity and purpose, within the larger phenomenon of ethnicity that shaped them. However, they emphasize that the modern and pre-existing forms of nations differ significantly in terms of conceptions of human identity, democratic character of societies and intensity of interactions.
Some 18 diverse ethnic groups with different languages and religions  lived scattered in the republics and autonomous regions. The following sections will now analyse the impact of nationalism on the various processes that led to the wars in Yugoslavia. It will be examined whether two theories of nationalism- primordialism and modernism- can provide a profound explanation for these developments. Primordialists explain the wars in Yugoslavia with the notion of ancient hatreds. They regard the conflicts as the natural outcome of a deeply felt ethnocentrism, manifested by cultural and religious differences as well as profound ethnic hatred, which has deep roots in the past and constitutes a pattern of historical repetition.
These hatreds, fuelled by fear and uncertainty, turned neighbour against neighbour. To examine whether Primordialists do have reason to apply the ancient hatreds-argument to Yugoslavia, it becomes necessary to discuss the historic relations of the South Slavs. Yugoslavia was originally created as independent state after the First World War by the unification of the two kingdoms Serbia and Montenegro, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire, with the South Slav provinces of the Austrian-Hungarian empire Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia.
Yet, the empires forced these people to fight against each other. Serbia and Montenegro gained full independence in  but Croatia and Slovenia, under the dominant auspices of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were unsuccessful. All this led to the development of strong national sentiments, especially in Croatia and Serbia, which were reinforced by the imprints the empires left on their provinces. It also has to be kept in mind that the unification of the South Slavs was possible only because the Austro-Hungarian Empire was defeated in the First World War.
With the split of the empire, Western Europe claimed its strategic frontiers. This put the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs of the old empire under pressure to merge without too much negotiation with Serbia and Montenegro. However, the creation of the Yugoslav state generally enjoyed widespread support among the nations. Nevertheless, nationalist sentiments were strongly provoked during World War II and the Civil War from , which were characterised by brutal ethnic violence. Historic evidence suggests that, apart from the period of massacres, the South Slavs lived together cooperatively and interethnic tolerance and peace rather than hate characterised Yugoslavia.
It can be noted that no evidence for ancient hatreds could be found, due to the following arguments:.
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First, Yugoslav-relations were largely characterised by mutual cooperation and tolerance. Second, different national sentiments among the various ethnic groups existed but this kind of nationalism was, at least most of the time, of a peaceful kind and is probably better described as awareness of diversity. However, the war-brutality proved to be an exception and has to be seen in light of the horrifying circumstances i.
Finally, any form of nationalism was not based on deep-rooted ethnic hatred or religion. Denitch, for example, states that Muslims often identified themselves as Croats or Serbs. Roe for example explains the wars in Yugoslavia with the concept of the security dilemma. However, the focus of this paper will mainly be on the nationalism-concept. Heywood demonstrates that nationalism can mean freedom and democracy on the one hand but also oppression, intolerance and conflict on the other.
Culturally, a nation is a group of people bound together by a common language, religion, history and traditions. Politically, a nation is a group of people who regard themselves as a natural political community. Psychologically, a nation is a group of people distinguished by a shared loyalty or affection in the form of patriotism.
Heywood, Consequently, the doctrine of nationalism is the belief that all nations are entitled to independent statehood. Political nationalism also encompasses liberal nationalism focus on self-determination as well as expansionist and anticolonial nationalism. Members of the ethnic group are seen as derived from common ancestors and form a cultural identity that operates at a deep and emotional level.
These scholars focus on the psychological dimension of identity.
War in the Balkans
However, for reasons of space this approach is not discussed in more detail. That was the situation in Croatia and Serbia. But in Slovenia —. We had a kind of peaceful slow transition. The transition in Slovenia already started in the early s and continued into the s. That was a very specific situation. An additional factor that one has to take into account in Slovenia was that the Communists were not just the opponents but also part of transformation. In reality, Slovenia was just about the only society among the former Communist countries that had such a situation.
In all the other environments, the Communists only gave way when forced to. In Slovenia, they were part of the process. They were not at the forefront. Rather they were used as a kind of buffer zone between the Belgrade regime and the opposition movements. And the new social movements in Slovenia emerged from within the Union of Socialist Youth. Did they have plans?
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- 1. Definition and theories of nationalism?
They might have had different ideas, among them most likely a contingency plan not only for Slovenia but for other republics as they saw the situation deteriorated. Was this what the documents were all about?
I think, however, that the military was caught by surprise by the rapidity of the events. But that was as far as they would go.
I spoke to some who actually switched sides and helped Slovenia, and they were also not aware of such practical plans existing. There was a general idea of a contingency plan, but not an executable plan that they would know about. But we felt at the time that there must have been something.
You might even remember that some even left Slovenia when everything started and waited just across the border. My personal experience was interesting.
Related The Construction of Fear as the Primary Cause of War in the Former Yugoslavia.
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