The Causes of the Yugoslav Breakup

This paper will provide 10 specific (but overlapping) reasons as to the breakup of the Yugoslav federation. However, it will conclude by saying that it was western intervention into the affairs of the secessionist republics that led to the breakup becoming violent.The late 1980s and the 1990s saw the gradual breakup of the Yugoslav Federation, a multi-national, semi-socialist state taking in the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Muslims, Macedonians, and having substantial populations of Germans, Romanians, Hungarians and Gypsies. It was a creation of the struggles of the post World War I world, where it was thought that a large south Slav state could control the predatory moves of Italy, Bulgaria and Hungary between 1918 and 1921. From then on, Yugoslavia was an unstable alliance even in the best of times, and without stable leadership at the center, Yugoslavia was a tinderbox of ethnic and economic grievances.This paper will deal with the basic issues and causes that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. This brief paper will make use of a sample of diverse contemporary works on this complex and emotional set of issues. Ultimately, this paper will conclude that there were 10 distinct and definable causes that led to the breakup and subsequent civil war in the Yugoslav federation.As an introduction, the basic structure of the breakup can be summarized this way: In mid 1990, the more prosperous republics of Slovenia and Croatia engaged in separate elections (that is, independent of the Yugoslav authorities) for president, clearly designed as a prelude to separation. What was unreported by the press at the time was that the American law 101-513 was passed that said any republic of Yugoslavia that has separate elections would receive further American aid. Those who did not, would be cut off (Mahairas, 2002). Clearly, the west set the stage. In both cases, the separatist parties won. After this, both states began building local militia forces, and the Germans were smuggling arms into Slovenia covertly (Mahairas, 2002, Benson, 2001). The reaction of Serbia under Milosevic was to create an alliance with the Yugoslav Federal Army as a means of solidifying a power base in Serbia. In so doing, Milosevic was elected president of Serbia with roughly two-thirds of the popular vote (Benson, 2001).It was clear that the stage was set for rebellion and war, as the arms race among the slowly drifting republics was clearly increasing with definite and unmistakable western sources. MIlosevic was further alarmed by the fact that the Bosnian Muslim president, Izetbegovic, had declared an Islamic republic and the coming expulsion of Serbs, leading to an understandable reaction on the part of the separated Serbs living in Bosnia, roughly half the population (Mahairas, 2002). Both Bosnia and Croatia under their new separatist leadership made substantial threats to their minority Serbs, causing such Serbs to look to Belgrade for protection. Milosevic’s popularity in many ways in Serbia was fashioned by his role as the Serbs’ protector throughout the doomed federation. Macedonia and Albania, both with substantial Serbian minorities, voted for independence soon after.Hence, Milosevic’s position as president of Serbia was several fold: first, to defend the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, and second, to protect Serbian minorities throughout the other republics from their newly nationalist and separatist leadership. In fact there was no republic in Yugoslavia that did not have Serbian minorities of some import, and hence, Milosevic, with a tottering economy and republics now armed to the teeth, was facing an impossible task. On the other hand, the newly independent states of Yugoslavia had several tasks as well: first, to garner western support for their actions, second, integrate themselves into international institutions for protection, and, third, convince western populations that their cause was just, and that Serbs were “oppressors or worse.” Milosevic failed, his opponents succeeded. The causes of all this will now be detailed:1. Ethnicity and Religion. This is the easiest and simplest cause to understand. The ethnic and religious groups of the Yugoslav federation have been historical enemies. They have few parts of their histories where they cooperate, many where they fight. Croatia views itself as part of the Occident, a western, Roman Catholic power heir to the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Serbia views itself as part of the Orthodox and eastern civilization, led by Russia. On the other hand, under the occupation by the Turkish Empire that lasted over 200 years, many Slavs converted to Islam so as to avoid the institutional; discrimination and high taxes placed in the raya, the Turkish term for “cattle,” or the slaves of the Islamic and Turkish masters. The descendants of these people live in Bosnia and Kosovo, and without straining the mind, they are unpopular among the Christians who see them, with some justification, as traitors and foreigners. In other words, the people’s of Yugoslavia could not have been a worse mix. Historic enemies on all counts cannot be viewed as ingredients for peaceful coexistence, and only strong central leadership has historically been able to keep these people at peace.2. The economic collapse of the federation. This was a consequence of the fall of the Tito regime at his death n 1980, and his gradual retirement before that. By the beginning of the wars of the 1990s, the Yugoslavian economic was in a tail spin. Inflation in 1991 was a mind-boggling 350 billion percent a year. Unemployment took in over 1 million Yugoslavs, and western aid was cut off to much of the federation. At the same time, the post-Tito government had to borrow heavily from the IMF and other western institutions, leaving Yugoslavia heavily in debt. The gradual development of the Yugoslav economy up until the mid 1980s, respectable by all standards, came crashing down after this period. The lack of central leadership, the localization of the communist party apparatus, a lack of a unifying investment strategy all played their part in the collapse of the post-Tito world, and will be dealt with in more detail below.What made matters worse insofar as the breakup was concerned was that the southern part of the country, that is, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia was not nearly as productive as the northern part, northern Croatia and Slovenia. These two regions made up a disproportionate part of the Yugoslav economy, yet it was being redistributed regularly to the poorer republics. Clearly, the idea of keeping Slovene productivity in Slovenia played a large part in the break up of the country (Spencer, 1997)3. The lack of talented successors to Tito. Marshall Tito was the partisan, or semi-communist leader of the anti-Nazi forces during World War II. He became dictator of Yugoslavia in 1946, and led the country until his death in 1980. Tito was no aligned with the Soviet Union or China, and sought a balanced foreign policy that included accepting aid and investment from the west. He was a popular and charismatic figure who did not engage in the wholesale massacres and show trials of the Moscow bloc. He was a genuinely popular leader. His “Marxism” was really a form of nation syndicalism, and did not follow the Soviet model of central planning. In fact, his economic policy was decentralized, but guided in some form by the party. He sought the gradual elimination of the party from economics and sought a form of economic democracy called “self-management” that is certainly worth a paper in itself (Singleton, 1976). Unfortunately, there were people of his caliber to succeed him. There was no one with his abilities, wartime heroics, idealism or popularity in the League of Communists fo Yugoslavia. Regardless of the good intentions of Milosevic, he was a party bureaucrat and a wooden speaker. Tito, further, had groomed no successor and planned a “rotating presidency” after his death (Singleton, 1976).4. The lure of EU membership for Slovenia and Croatia. The west, as mentioned, was an important cause of the breakup of Yugoslavia. This is one of those ways. Since Yugoslavia wa gradually being isolated by the elite-led “international community,” the EU provided a possibility for economic growth of the more industrially-minded states of the north. In many ways, these states were rebelling against a very poor handling of the economy by the League of Communists and the motley group of post-Tito bureaucrats who had no economic plan.5. Western intervention in general. The west did several things to hasten the breakup of Yugoslavia, and justify it afterwards. Several have already been mentioned, the banning of aid to any state that did not secede, arming the insurgents and dangling the prospect of EU membership with German sponsorship. But the west intervened in other ways. The giant Soros complex of NGOs financed the anti-Milosevic organization in Serbia. Both the Vatican and Germany recognized the independence of the insurgent states immediately upon their votes for secession. Though not of western background, the Islamic states of Iran and Saudi Arabia, normally opponents, helped arm and train the Islamic militants of Kosovo and Bosnia (Johnson, 2007). At the same time, the western media presented, without exception, a one sided, biased account of the “evil” Serbs and the Islamic “victims” that had very little relationship to the facts. And the more obvious western intervention on the side of the Croats and Muslims can also be added here. (Cf. Ramsey Clark, et al, 2002 for details on the all-important western influence on events). It is hard to imagine the later events of the civil war without western promises, weapons and diplomatic/media support to the insurgents.6. The fall of communist states in eastern Europe. This rather banal cause cannot be denied. Marxism in its Soviet variety was a failure as a protector of human rights and as an engine for economic opportunity and equality. The fall of these regimes in a peaceful fashion (except Romania) gave further confidence to the secessionists (Metta, 1997). In addition, the US assault on Iraq may have prodded a certain form of Islamic nationalism to the large Islamic population of the Balkans as well.7. The growth of local power bases. This is a more complex cause, but one often ignored in the literature. The lack of central leadership led to the creation of semi-political power blocs in the regions and localities. Tito was always concerned about the idea that the party will become like the Soviet of Cuban party, a self-seeking and economically predatory class. This is what in fact occurred as Tito started his drawn out retirement in the mid 1970s. Party bosses without any real guiding principles built power bases at all levers of society, controlling local resources, self-management agencies and military power. This must also be considered a major reason as to why the economy began to fail as Tito did. Without his central presence, the power of localism and he predatory party model began to develop. They monopolized resources and police power without reference to any over arching plan or rational form of investment.8. No overriding ideology or national identification. This was important. Tito created a new form f social ideology already mentioned as national syndicalism or, for short, Titoism. This was not Marxism, but was about creating autonomous, and elected worker’s collectives from the ground up. By 1980, many had lost faith in this system, itself coming under the control of local bosses who saw Tito’s demise as a green light to pursue their own semi-legal interests. But this factor was a result, not a cause, of the demise of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was never referred to as an ethnic group by any large percentage of th population, through it grew in popularity in the 1970s (Sekulic, 1994). Hence by the late 1980s, there was no identifiable national identity (there never was), there was no political identity or overarching ideology of “Yugoslavism.” Titoism died with Tito. There was nothing to replace it but ethnic nationalism and local party centers. While this is a more abstract cause, it is a powerful one and can never be left out of any analysis of Yugoslavia.9. Lack of trust. All the above led to a severe lessening of political trust or contact among the different ethnic groups or party factions. Factionalism was set at bay under Tito and came to the fore in the late 1980s. The creation of local power bases was both a cause and an affect of this lack of trust, but Tito’s gradual retirement from the political scene in the late 1970s made this possible (Sekulic, 1994).10. Finally, the development of a “genocide” ideology. This is mentioned only in the Danich (1994) article. She holds that talk of the Croatian World War II genocide of Serbs was banned under the Tito regime in the interests of ethnic peace. In fact, Tito did much to harm ethnic nationalism, including that of the Serbs. Serbian populations were relocated throughout the federation, Serbian industry was dismantled and sent to other places (the Serbian retort to Slovenian arguments), and territorial boundaries were drawn and redrawn without reference to ethnic boundaries (Singleton, 1976).This plan backfired. By the 1980s, talk of genocide by the Serbs reached a high pitch. Older Serbs still remembered the massacres and death camps, and these people became a catalyst for nationalist mobilization (Danich, 1994). Even further, memories of the Turkish occupati9on and genocide of the Serbian people were also revived in the increasingly Islamicized and violent Kosovo region, where Serbs were systematically driven from their homes. Milosevic’s late 1980s intervention into this region to protect Serbs created for him a popular base and a certain popularity. The fact is that wherever Serbs were threatened, such as in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, these people demanded Serbian government intervention and the Socialist party won big (Johnson, 2007). This cause is almost always rejected, but it should be included in any comprehensive list of causes for the breakup of the Yugoslav federation.In conclusion, this paper holds that this above list, while only a thumbnail in terms of description, is comprehensive in general. These 10 causes each overlap one another, and act as a cause and effect for the other. None can really be placed ahead of the others, and each builds upon the others. While all the above are necessary causes, what are the sufficient causes? This writer is willing to conclude that the economic problems, coupled by western promises of assistance to the separatists were the sufficient causes. The western (and some Islamic) powers encouraged, paid, trained and recognized the separatists. It is hard to see how this could have happened as violent as it did had the United States not trained and armed the Croatian army against the Serbs (Mahairas, 2002). The Croats started the war by attacking the Gospic army base of the Yugoslav Army on March 5, 1991. They were given the green light to do so by the United States (Mahairas, 2002). It is unlikely they would have taken such a rash action without the support of this superpower. Hence, we conclude with the idea that had the west kept out, Yugoslavia may have saved itself, or may even have peacefully ejected Croatia, Kosovo and Slovenia, thus creating a New Yugoslavia of fewer members.