– The National Question

The Crisis within Yugoslavia persisted with the Croatian separatist policy seeking independence and a devolution of power, influencing other groups such as Muslims in Bosnia, Slovenians, Albanians and Macedonians and the Serbian centralist policy aiming for the preservation of Yugoslavia under its dominance (Pesic: 1996). In this concept, both identities rushed the failure to construct a united and liberal modern Yugoslavia. It has been, thus, argued that the first Yugoslavian state (1918- 1941) failed to resolve internal ethnical differences and its collapse in the second world war buried all possible solutions to resolve the national question (Pesic: 1996). The only official body that played a significant role in bringing Yugoslav people together was ‘The League of Communists of Yugoslavia’ which was seen as a mediator, promising an ideological resolution of the ‘National Question’ through a social revolution which will include classes of the different group within a socialist framework under the class soviet slogan ‘National in form, Socialist in content’ (Pesic: 1996). Nevertheless, Yugoslavia suffered weak communism which was eventually leading to a crisis within the federation. “The tenuous and disappearance of socialism’s ideological sovereignty raised perforce fundamental and profound questions about Yugoslavia’s existence as a state, as happened in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union”, argued Pesic (1996). The central regime tried, by institutionalising national aspirations within the territorial and political boundaries, to control such aspirations, yet nationhood could not be confined. “Conferring the sense of statehood upon Yugoslavia’s major ethnic groups had far greater consequences in strengthening their territorial integration” added Pesic (1996).

Serbia had a strong nationalist reaction and its dissatisfaction with the internal policies of the Yugoslav government, especially concerning the Constructional provisions which undermined the territorial integrity of Serbia. In this concept, the 1974 institutional system dictated the ‘Nativisation’ of all the peoples of Yugoslavia within their republican, territorial and ethnical framework which angered the Serbs (Pesic: 2009). According to that constitution, “Serbia was not a ‘sovereign’ negotiating party like the other republics because of the ‘sovereignty’ of its two autonomous provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina” (Pesic: 2009). Serbia ,in what it calls ‘Serbian Tragedy’, claims that ethnic Albanians managed to gain control in Kosovo through the 1974 constitution and the full domination of Serbia over the territory is the only solution to stop ‘Ethnic Cleansing in in the region. Serbia’s radicals organised a putsch in the 1987 Communist Party, bringing in the most conservative leadership into the party’s positions (Pesic: 2009). A national revolution was encouraged in the 1988- 1989 period by Serbian Intelligentsia and the Communist Party topped by Slobodan Milosevic by stressing on the political, economic and social (especially the nationalist ideology that leaders managed to spread that of Serbs being threatened and hated by other nations) discontent within the kingdom. This movement has also mobilised Croatian Serbs who also demanded an ethical and political autonomy; nevertheless, this paved the ground for the growth of the Croatian Nationalism on the other hand, illustrated in ‘the Croatian Democratic Movement’ (Pesic: 2009).

The 1990’s elections, following the breakdown of the communist rule, have been an inevitable outcome of the internal atmosphere within Yugoslavia following the death of Tito; the Yugoslav state was even weaker with the widespread wave of Democratization in the 1990s. “A situation of anarchy bore an unsettling resemblance to the collapse of the empire that used to rule the Balkans; the breakdown of Yugoslavia gave new meaning to the old notion of Balkanization” argued Pesic (2009). The emerging republics, with the exception of Serbia, had to face two critical issues: the first is resolving the ‘national question’ and the second is abolishing the communist rule. Yet, elites failed not only in reuniting Yugoslavia but also in peacefully breaking up the federation into independent democratic states (Guzina: 2005). Consequently, the breakup of Yugoslavia synchronized with the emergence of an armed conflict that plugged the federation in a bloody civil war across the newly independent nation states.

– why was the case of Yugoslavia a violent one?

Since its creation after World War One, Yugoslavia has functioned as a one nation state when it comes to preserving the ‘national question’ and this was concluded by peaceful compromise and settlements to all multifaceted and conflicting issues listed in some constitutive parts (Soso: 2004). In such a multinational atmosphere, Yugoslavia could not solve any occurring issue in favour of any nation and managed to develop a system to accommodate these differences. According to Joseph Rothchild, “Yugoslavia was the most complicated of the new states of interwar East-Central Europe, being composed of the largest and most varied number of pre-1918 units” (Krasniqi: 2009). Yugoslavia has never been a people based state, like modern states are naturally formed, where a certain group is dominant. Serbs for instance, did only constitute %40 of the entire Yugoslav population (Pesic: 2009). However, the agenda was designated to give interdependence to the two largest ethnic groups: Serbia and Croatia in order to ensure the maintenance of Yugoslavia. A successful Yugoslavia was based on a Serbo-Croatian compromise in which these two groups were seen as the fundamental base of the Slavic dream, especially that borders did not have a meaning in the federation, with the exception of Slovenia (Pesic: 2009).

The complexity of the Yugoslav crisis has been given different interpretations in terms of its origins. One was related to nationalism as being a power game through which ideology played a significant role in further fuelling a false consciousness of an aggressive nationalism by the Elites, military officials, and powerful businessmen who aimed to preserve their positions (Pesic: 2009). Due to them being concentrated in Serbia, this nation was the first to witness the construction of a united Serbian identity, most likely aggressive in the face of any democratic wind of change (Pesic: 2009). Following the ‘nationalism as a power game’ understanding, leaders in the other Yugoslav republics adopted the same strategies and measures in order to preserve their rule. By so doing, they managed to encounter two dangers with playing one nationalist card: the first being the growing Serbian Nationalism and the second is the ability to preserve their positions in power (Pesic: 2009). Nationalism, including the national question, has been effectively used and was, indeed, a convenient strategy through which they could constrain public opinion by manipulating all sources of information.


Another explanation has been given to the fact that the Balkan region, based on its historical timeline, was characterised by people desiring separation and self-determination as a consequence of modernity and the idea of a contemporary society, with no or little influence from policy makers (Perica: 2002). In such, the idea of a multinational state is favoured for the national question, than that of multi-ethnic state, giving that a multinational state is composed of different autonomous nations “to ensure the full and free development of their cultures and the best interests of their people. At the extreme, nations may wish to secede, if they think their self-determination is impossible within the larger state” (Pesic: 1996). Yugoslavia, was thus seen, an institutionalised national state according to three elements: the first is the existence of a nation which demands its right for self-determination, the second is the existence of a national homeland to which these nationals belong through a system of federation or independence with clear defined borders and the last being the existence of a discriminated minority suffering from a majoritarian rule aiming to form a new state either looking for cultural and political autonomy or an independent national homeland (Pesic: 1996). These latter aspects, according to Pesic (1996), have existed in all Yugoslav states and were formed along with the process of Yugoslavia’s disintegration (secession, irredentism, or the expulsion of minorities). Since these elements were formulated, war or a demand for self-determination was more or less expected (Pesic: 1996).

Such extreme form of nationalism, according to Pesic (1996), can be understood from three different dimensions. The first is the complex constitution of the Yugoslavian federation as a state; although it functioned as a solution for the various national identities within its borders, it failed to construct the basic institutional framework to introduce a democratic rule that would further contain the Yugoslavian diversity. The second is the Serbian resentment which opposed the entire idea of Yugoslavia being a federation; either all Yugoslavs accept Serbia’s superiority or it will achieve its independent state by force. The third is related to the collapse of the authoritarian rule of Tito after his death in 1980 and was further accelerated by the wave of democratization during which the Soviet Union collapsed and new Eastern European nations were born after 1989. The collapse of Tito’s regime resulted in two major outcomes: the breakdown of the ‘socialism internationalism’ and the dissolution of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia which held the kingdom together for fifty years .