A rather significant and complicated case that troubled European modern history during the 20th century was the rise and fall of the former coalition of the South Slavic peoples: Yugoslavia which remains a locus for political, social, religious and ethnic strife and violence. A product of the First World War with the aim of reordering Europe, Yugoslavia was of a geopolitical importance as it helped accomplish the disarmament of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, removing Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Vojvodina from Austrian and Hungarian control. Due to its core multi-ethnical conflicts, the bloc was central to both World Wars and the civil war that framed the nation’s collapse. Core conflicts included: Serbia and the Province of Kosovo and the emergence of various nationalist ideologies which led to the collapse of the one South Slavic nation after 50 years of survival under the communist rule.
The case of Yugoslavia included ‘ethnic cleansing‘ which aimed to create homogeneous states after the civil war with an intolerant and violent agenda. The case of Yugoslavia (the right for self-determination) demonstrated the ‘national question’ which embodies the relationship of a national/ethnic group with a state that includes more than one national identity. The Yugoslavian case was an attempt to demonstrate this ‘national question’ based on three aspects: the first is the right of self-determination of a particular nation, the second is the right of a homeland (whether a sovereign state or a republic within a federation) and the last is the right of the minority to resist the majority’s attempt for the formation of a new state either by uniting their own ethnic group or seeking cultural and political autonomy. Thus, Yugoslavia was not only a “mosaic for ethnical nations, but also a system that was developed to accommodate these differences. The survival and maintenance of Yugoslavia was based on the two largest national groups: Serbia and Croatia. Borders in the Kingdom were imaginary and Yugoslavs lived in each other’s territories, with the exception of Slovenia which had clear defined ethnic borders. Bosnia & Herzegovina, on the other hand, was a big challenge as both Croats and Serbs lived there in large numbers and because both had ‘historical pretensions to the republic’s territory’.
- Roots of Nationalism
Historical explanations of Nationalism in the case of Yugoslavia varied and some analysts argue that there are past irreconcilable differences among the South Slavs. For instance, religion has played a major role in dividing people of the same language with different faith, especially in the Serbo-Croatian case; Catholic Croats clashed with Orthodox Serbs, yet both opposed Muslims. Explanations suggested that such feelings date back to several centuries ago and historical events in the area allowed the emergence of nationalist ideologies and self-determination which were fed by a diet of propaganda, by the leaders, creating ideas and feelings of belonging to the nation state which they were not familiar with under the one rule of Yugoslavia (Andrews: 1998).
In Serbia, for instance, the media was state controlled and Slobodan Milosevic (President of the Serbian League of Communists) managed to adopt series of successful stereotypes against Albanians in Kosovo and Vojvodina, which enjoyed almost equal powers with Serbia, under Marshall Tito . According to the 1995 ‘The Ottawa Citizen’ ’s article, Milosevic managed to indoctrinate the memories of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, in which the Serbs were defeated by the Turks, in the mind of his citizens. His aim was to exemplify to the Serbs that they lost after fighting side to side with Albanians and Bosnians, introducing the idea of the ‘entrenchment of Nationalism’ meanwhile (Andrews: 1998). Both the media and education allowed him to create his own indoctrinated verse of history which soon turned to a historical consciousness among Serbs and greatly managed to inflame feelings of National pride (Andrew: 1998).
Besides Serbia, Franz Tudjman of Croatia created a similar atmosphere. In his ‘Wasteland: Historical Realities’, he argued that there were ‘only’ 35,000 casualties at Jasenovac (the Auschwitz of Ustasa) which do represent about 5% of the true total. Tudjman’s strategy aimed to spread the heroic consciousness to the streets of Croatia; he adopted Ustai symbolism, renamed streets after nationalist heroes and organised the publishing of Croatian dictionaries (Andrews: 1998). Nevertheless, it is fair to acknowledge that both leaders have not manufactured national identities, yet created a dormant nationalist consciousness. In ‘The Ottawa Citizen’, the author argues: “Serbs have been shaped by a difficult history; their pride and honor were kept intact during the long Twilight of Turkish rule by uprisings against the oppressor” (Andrews: 1998). Historians, in such, refer to the historical memory within Serbia as a significant factor in the revival of nationalism which was erupted by Serbian leaders.
Serbia’s Golden era, before its defeat in Kosovo, was governed by the Dynasty of Stefan Nemanja, who ruled in proximity to the church and in which Nemanja and his son were both canonised. The presence of the Turkish conquest and Islam in the land threatened the Orthodox Church who was accustomed to power in matters of the state. The aim to keep the Serbian Orthodox tradition was revived in order to keep both power and influence; the Church was active in terms of influencing people through educating them and teaching them literacy in order to understand and follow religious texts. In this concept, the used methods are not by means to deceive the population, but to keep the already existing religious ideology and power, meanwhile respond the nationalist discourse propagated by the elites which failed (Andrews :1998). It was not until four centuries later of Turkish existence in 1804, that the first Serbian insurrection took place. For example, Milos Obrenovic of the 1815 was successful and managed to achieve a partial autonomy for Serbia, yet he was overthrown by Serbs for being less tolerable than the Turkish rule. In ‘The Absence of Nationalism in Serbian Politics before 1840’, Stokes identifies how Serbian leaders, along with the Orthodox Church, exercised influence over the Serb population, peasants in particular. This particular era has been significant in terms of the rise of political figures who aimed to increase their authority by comparing them to the Nemanjic dynasty.