A2 History (Unit 3) IR 1945-2004 (19) Collapse of Yugoslavia & growing eastern European nationalism

Source: U.S. State Dept. History archive

The Breakup of Yugoslavia, 1990–1992

Youtube documentary

BBC documentary – ‘The death of Yugoslavia’

BBC documentary – War in Mostar Bosnia’

Issued on October 18, 1990, National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 15–90 presented a dire warning to the U.S. policy community:

Yugoslavia will cease to function as a federal state within a year, and will probably dissolve within two. Economic reform will not stave off the breakup. […] A full-scale interrepublic war is unlikely, but serious intercommunal conflict will accompany the breakup and will continue afterward. The violence will be intractable and bitter. There is little the United States and its European allies can do to preserve Yugoslav unity.

1993 map of the former Yugoslavia. (Central Intelligence Agency)1993 map of the former Yugoslavia. (Central Intelligence Agency)

The October 1990 judgment of the U.S. intelligence community, as Thomas Shreeve noted in his 2003 study on NIE 15–90 for the National Defense University, “was analytically sound, prescient, and well written. It was also fundamentally inconsistent with what US policymakers wanted to happen in the former Yugoslavia, and it had almost no impact on US policy.” By January 1992, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ceased to exist, having dissolved into its constituent states.

Yugoslavia—the land of South (i.e. Yugo) Slavs—was created at the end of World War I when Croat, Slovenian, and Bosnian territories that had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire united with the Serbian Kingdom. The country broke up under Nazi occupation during World War II with the creation of a Nazi-allied independent Croat state, but was reunified at the end of the war when the communist-dominated partisan force of Josip Broz Tito liberated the country. Following the end of World War II, Yugoslavian unity was a top priority for the U.S. Government. While ostensibly a communist state, Yugoslavia broke away from the Soviet sphere of influence in 1948, became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, and adopted a more de-centralized and less repressive form of government as compared with other East European communist states during the Cold War.

The varied reasons for the country’s breakup ranged from the cultural and religious divisions between the ethnic groups making up the nation, to the memories of WWII atrocities committed by all sides, to centrifugal nationalist forces. However, a series of major political events served as the catalyst for exacerbating inherent tensions in the Yugoslav republic. Following the death of Tito in 1980, provisions of the 1974 constitution provided for the effective devolution of all real power away from the federal government to the republics and autonomous provinces in Serbia by establishing a collective presidency of the eight provincial representatives and a federal government with little control over economic, cultural, and political policy. External factors also had a significant impact. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, the unification of Germany one year later, and the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union all served to erode Yugoslavia’s political stability. As Eastern European states moved away from communist government and toward free elections and market economies, the West’s attention focused away from Yugoslavia and undermined the extensive economic and financial support necessary to preserve a Yugoslav economy already close to collapse. The absence of a Soviet threat to the integrity and unity of Yugoslavia and its constituent parts meant that a powerful incentive for unity and cooperation was removed.

Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s president from 1989, took advantage of the vacuum created by a progressively weakening central state and brutally deployed the use of Serbian ultra-nationalism to fan the flames of conflict in the other republics and gain legitimacy at home. Milosevic started as a banker in Belgrade and became involved in politics in the mid-1980s. He rose quickly through the ranks to become head of the Serbian Communist Party in 1986. While attending a party meeting in the Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo in May 1987, Serbians in the province rioted outside the meeting hall. Milosevic spoke with the rioters and listened to their complaints of mistreatment by the Albanian majority. His actions were extensively reported by Serbian-controlled Yugoslav mass media, beginning the process of transforming the former banker into the stalwart symbol of Serbian nationalism. Having found a new source of legitimacy, Milosevic quickly shored up his power in Serbia through control of the party apparatus and the press. He moved to strip the two autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina of their constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy within Serbia by using mass rallies to force the local leaderships to resign in favor of his own preferred candidates. By mid-1989 Kosovo and Vojvodina had been reintegrated into Serbia, and the Montenegro leadership was replaced by Milosevic allies.

The ongoing effects of democratization in Eastern Europe were felt throughout Yugoslavia. As Milosevic worked to consolidate power in Serbia, elections in Slovenia and Croatia in 1990 gave non-communist parties control of the state legislatures and governments. Slovenia was the first to declare “sovereignty” in 1990, issuing a parliamentary declaration that Slovenian law took precedence over Yugoslav law. Croatia followed in May, and in August, the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina also declared itself sovereign. Slovenia and Croatia began a concerted effort to transform Yugoslavia from a federal state to a confederation. With the administration of George H. W. Bush focused primarily on the Soviet Union, Germany, and the crisis in the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia had lost the geostrategic importance it enjoyed during the Cold War. While Washington attempted during the summer of 1990 to marshal some limited coordination with its Western allies in case the Yugoslav crisis turned bloody, Western European governments maintained a wait-and-see attitude. At the same time, inter-republic relations in Yugoslavia spiraled out of control. Slovenia overwhelmingly voted for independence in December 1990. A Croatian referendum in May 1991 also supported full independence. Secretary of State James Baker traveled to Belgrade to meet with Yugoslav leaders and urge a political solution to no avail. Slovenia and Croatia both declared formal independence on June 25, 1991.

The Yugoslav army (JNA) briefly intervened in Slovenia, but it withdrew after 10 days, effectively confirming Slovenia’s separation. The Serb minority in Croatia declared its own independence from the republic and its desire to join Serbia, sparking violence between armed militias. The JNA intervened in the conflict ostensibly to separate the combatants, but it became quickly apparent that it favored the Croatian-Serbs. The war that followed devastated Croatia, resulting in tens of thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a referendum on independence took place in March 1992, but was boycotted by the Serb minority. The republic declared its independence from Yugoslavia in May 1992, while the Serbs in Bosnia declared their own areas an independent republic. Macedonia itself also declared independence following a September 1991 referendum, and a U.S. peacekeeping and monitoring force was dispatched to the border with Serbia to monitor violence.

Croatia and Slovenia were internationally recognized in January 1992, with Bosnia’s independence recognized soon thereafter. The three countries joined the United Nations on May 22, 1992. Serbia and Montenegro formed a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a successor state to old Yugoslavia, but the international community did not recognize its successor claim. Over the next three years, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions from their homes, as Europe witnessed the most horrific fighting on its territory since the end of World War II. In 1998–1999, violence erupted again in Kosovo, with the province’s majority Albanian population calling for independence from Serbia. A NATO bombing campaign and economic sanctions forced the Milosevic regime to accept a NATO-led international peace keeping force. The province was placed under U.N. administrative mandate. With the economy crumbling, Milosevic lost his grip on power in 2001, was arrested, and turned over to the International Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. He died in prison in 2006, before his trial concluded. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence and was recognized by the United States and most European states, despite Russian objections.

source: BBC News archive

Timeline: Break-up of Yugoslavia
A brief history of the dramatic and violent changes that took place as the Yugoslav Federation disintegrated during the 1990s.



Yugoslavia was first formed as a kingdom in 1918 and then recreated as a Socialist state in 1945 after the Axis powers were defeated in World War II.

The constitution established six constituent republics in the federation: Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Serbia also had two autonomous provinces: Kosovo and Vojvodina.

By 1992 the Yugoslav Federation was falling apart. Nationalism had once again replaced communism as the dominant force in the Balkans.

Slovenia and then Croatia were the first to break away, but only at the cost of renewed conflict with Serbia.

The war in Croatia led to hundreds of thousands of refugees and reawakened memories of the brutality of the 1940s.

By 1992 a further conflict had broken out in Bosnia, which had also declared independence. The Serbs who lived there were determined to remain within Yugoslavia and to help build a greater Serbia.

They received strong backing from extremist groups in Belgrade. Muslims were driven from their homes in carefully planned operations that become known as “ethnic cleansing”.

By 1993 the Bosnian Muslim government was besieged in the capital Sarajevo, surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces who controlled around 70% of Bosnia.

In Central Bosnia, the mainly Muslim army was fighting a separate war against Bosnian Croats who wished to be part of a greater Croatia. The presence of UN peacekeepers to contain the situation proved ineffective.


American pressure to end the war eventually led to the Dayton agreement of November 1995 which created two self-governing entities within Bosnia – the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim(Bosnjak)-Croat Federation.

The settlement’s aims were to bring about the reintegration of Bosnia and to protect the human rights but the agreement has been criticised for not reversing the results of ethnic cleansing.

The Muslim-Croat and Serb entities have their own governments, parliaments and armies.

A Nato-led peacekeeping force is charged with implementing the military aspects of the peace agreement, primarily overseeing the separation of forces. But the force was also granted extensive additional powers, including the authority to arrest indicted war criminals when encountered in the normal course of its duties.

Croatia, meanwhile, took back most of the territory earlier captured by Serbs when it waged lightning military campaigns in 1995 which also resulted in the mass exodus of around 200,000 Serbs from Croatia.


In 1998, nine years after the abolition of Kosovo’s autonomy, the Kosovo Liberation Army – supported by the majority ethnic Albanians – came out in open rebellion against Serbian rule.

The international community, while supporting greater autonomy, opposed the Kosovar Albanians’ demand for independence. But international pressure grew on Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, to bring an end to the escalating violence in the province.

Threats of military action by the West over the crisis culminated in the launching of Nato air strikes against Yugoslavia in March 1999, the first attack on a sovereign European country in the alliance’s history.

The strikes focused primarily on military targets in Kosovo and Serbia, but extended to a wide range of other facilities, including bridges, oil refineries, power supplies and communications.

Within days of the strikes starting, tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees were pouring out of the province with accounts of killings, atrocities and forced expulsions at the hands of Serb forces.

Returning them to their homes, along with those who had fled in the months of fighting before the strikes, became a top priority for the Nato countries.

Meanwhile, relations between Serbia and the only other remaining Yugoslav republic, Montenegro, hit rock bottom, with Montenegrin leaders seeking to distance themselves from Slobodan Milosevic’s handling of Kosovo.


Yugoslavia has disappeared from the map of Europe, after 83 years of existence, to be replaced by a looser union called simply Serbia and Montenegro, after the two remaining republics.

The arrangement was reached under pressure from the European Union, which wanted to halt Montenegro’s progress towards full independence. However, Montenegrin politicians say they will hold a referendum on independence in 2006.

The death of Yugoslavia is only one of many momentous changes that have occurred since the end of the Kosovo conflict.

Slobodan Milosevic lost a presidential election in 2000. He refused to accept the result but was forced out of office by strikes and massive street protests, which culminated in the storming of parliament.

He was handed over to a UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, and put on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide.

Kosovo itself became a de facto UN protectorate, though some powers have begun to be handed back to elected local authorities. One of the main problems in the province is getting Serbs who fled as Yugoslav security forces withdrew in 1999, to return to their homes.

Conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanians threatened to erupt in late 2000 in the Presevo valley, on the Serbian side of the Kosovo border, but dialogue between Albanian guerrillas and the new democratic authorities in Belgrade allowed tensions to evaporate.

There was, however, a major outbreak of inter-ethnic violence in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 2001, again involving the Albanian minority. This was contained by Nato peacekeepers and ultimately resolved by political means.


Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his cell in The Hague on 11 March 2006.

His long-running trial had been hit by repeated delays – partly because of his poor health – and no verdict had been reached.

A Dutch investigation concluded that he had died of a heart attack, dismissing claims by his supporters that he had been poisoned.

He was buried in his Serbian home town, Pozarevac, but the Serbian government had refused to allow a state funeral.

Serbia meanwhile came under intense international pressure to find and hand over General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander topping the UN tribunal’s list of wanted war crimes suspects, alongside his fugitive wartime political ally Radovan Karadzic.

Belgrade’s failure to catch Gen Mladic set back its hopes for eventual EU membership, as the EU decided to suspend talks on forging closer ties.

In Kosovo reconciliation between the majority ethnic Albanians, most of them pro-independence, and the Serb minority remained elusive.

Several rounds of UN-mediated talks have been held, without any significant breakthrough. The UN wants to find a solution for Kosovo’s disputed status by the end of 2006.

The state union of Serbia and Montenegro is all that remains of the federation of six republics that made up former Yugoslavia – but in a referendum on 21 May, Montenegro narrowly voted for independence from Serbia.

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic led the campaign for independence, although the population was deeply divided as there are close cultural links between the two peoples.

Growth of Nationalism in E Europe – historiography

The resurgence of nationalist sentiment in Eastern Europe since 1990 and the effect of this resurgence on the European political landscape is addressed in a number of works.5 For many authors transformations on the geopolitical map of Europe at the end of the twentieth century brought on by the disintegration of the USSR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, have become a new stage of national liberation. Hroch states that in Eastern Europe we face “new national movements” whose goals “offer many analogies with those of the nineteenth century, as well as some significant differences.”6 Such a repetitive national issue is a linguistic and ethnic demand. In the 1990s, like in 1920s, linguistic and cultural appeals act as “substitutes for articulated political demands.”7 Remarkably, one of the driving ideas of the national revival in post-communist countries, according to Hroch, is “building” capitalism. “The leaders of nationalist movements aim for a very specific goal: to complete the social structure of the nation by creating a capitalist class corresponding to that of Western states.”8 This statement confirms his strong commitment to the idea of capitalist society as an ideal “framework” for national development. Furthermore, it implies that the socialist system is at variance with such a development.

  • 9 Winderl, Nationalism, Nation and State, 49.
  • 10 Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: Universi(…)
  • 11 Winderl, Nationalism, Nation and State, 48.
  • 12 Leslie Holmes, Post-Communism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997), 14–15.

4Thomas Winderl named this period “a third wave of nation-state building,”9thus paraphrasing Samuel Huntington’s concept of a “third wave of democratization.”10 Foremost this refers to the states that have arisen on the political map of Europe. “Never before in the course of history has so much states building gone on in such a short period of time.”11 At the same time, nationalism has replaced communism not only in the countries that aspired to redesign their boundaries, but also in the states that remained within their old political framework. Some scholars consider nationalism to be a part of the symbolic capital that has become the basis for the processes of society’s systemic transformation. Thus, Leslie Holmes defines post-communism as a product of the double-rejective revolutions, which consisted of the rejection of the external domination and of the totalitarian political regime.12 In this sense, nationalism had the appearance of liberation struggle triggered by the dependence on another state and was one of the driving forces of the anti-communist movement that facilitated the collapse of the old system.

  • 13 J. Hall, “After the Vacuum: Post-Communism the Light of Tocqueville,” inMarkets, States and Democ(…)
  • 14 Renata Salecl, “National Identity and Socialist Moral Majority,” in Becoming National, ed. G. Eley (…)
  • 15 Hroch, From National Movement to the Fully-Formed Nation, 96.

5A number of authors view the appeal of nationalism as a consequence of the ideological vacuum that has appeared with the destruction of the socialist system. Hall writes that nationalism provides a framework for new identities, which become needed with the loss of old references.13 Renata Salecl in her work devoted to the national identity in post-communist Slovenia writes that nationalism was claimed as a mechanism of alienation from the old ideological system of values. “The present outburst of nationalism in Eastern European socialist countries is a reaction to the fact that long years of (Communist) Party rule by destroying the traditional fabric of society, have dismantled most traditional points of social identification so that when people now attempt to distance themselves from the official ideological universe, the only positive reference point at their disposal is national identity.”14 Hroch writes about it in a similar fashion. In his opinion, nationalism enabled the peoples of Eastern Europe to manage the social disorientation that had arisen at the moment of the old system’s collapse. “The basic pre-condition of all national movements—yesterday and today—is a deep crisis of the old order, with the breakdown of its legitimacy, and of the values and sentiments that sustained it.”15 According to this perspective, nationalism has a certain therapeutic function and its outburst is connected to the demand for a new basis for shaping collective self-consciousness at the approach to a new democratic system. Such basis has led to a merger of democratization and nationalism in the perception of the transition processes in Eastern Europe.

  • 16 Greenfield, Nationalism. Five Roads to Modernity, 10.
  • 17 Frederick Hertz,Nationality in History and Politics. A Psychology and Sociology of National Senti(…)
  • 18 Ghia Nodia, “Natsionalism i demokratia,” Predely vlastino. 4 (1994),http://old.russ.ru/antolog/p(…)

6Another reason for this alliance has become the ideological unity of democracy and nationalism in the historical perspective. The modern national state, like democracy, is based on the idea of equality and sovereignty of all citizens irrespective of the social status. Greenfield sees such arrangement as something primordial: “Democracy was born with the sense of nationality. […] Nationalism was the form in which democracy appeared in the world. […] Originally, nationalism developed democracy.”16 Frederick Hertz also underlines the meaning of the idea of equality within the framework of the nation, which comprises the basis of the national ideology. “An important factor in nationality is also the striving for a certain level of equality within nation. Equality is indispensable for unity and liberty and is implied in these aims. There cannot be any real unity and solidarity between masters and slaves, a highly privileged class and downtrodden serfs.”17 As Ghia Nodia writes, “nationalism is a melting pot of democratic (meaning: self-determining) political communities.”18

  • 19 Winderl, Nationalism, Nation and State, 41.
  • 20 A. Smith, “State-Making and Nation-Building,” inStates in History, ed. J. Hall (Oxford and New Yo (…)

7Apart from the ideological bond, there is a functional connection between nationalism and democracy: a national state is the “locus” of democracy. Democratic politics were generally seen as an expression of inter play between forces operating within the nation-state.19 Smith emphasizes the importance of the available “national substrate” for democracy building, as “states, without ethnic cores will tend to resort to authoritarian regimes to mask the disunity consequent of the absence of ethnic identity and history.”20

  • 21 Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, 110.
  • 22 Alexander J. Motyl, “The Modernity of Nationalism,”Journal of International Affairs 45, no. 2 (Wi (…)
  • 23 Motyl, “The Modernity of Nationalism,” 315.

8Hobsbawm sees the link between nationalism and democracy in the reverse dependence: it is not nationalism that is necessary for democratic system, but, on the contrary, the democratic design of society has created the conditions for the nationalism to acquire mass character. “The major political changes which turned a potential receptivity to national appeals into actual reception were the democratization of politics in a growing numbers of states.”21 The essence of this dependence is that the “nation” is the most comfortable formation that provides legitimation of democratic regimes as “they derive their legitimacy from the people and from their activity on behalf of people.”22 That is why national equality is in the interests of democratic political systems. As Alexander J. Motyl writes, “it would appear highly likely, if not inevitable, that in its appeals to the people, a democratic regime will either emphasize the national characteristics of that people, if it is ethnically homogeneous, or it will attempt to create more or less homogeneous characteristics if the people are ethnically heterogeneous. Legitimacy requires that a strong connection be established between government and ‘the’ people.”23

  • 24 Alexander J. Motyl, “Totalitarian Collapse, Imperial Disintegration, and the Rise of the Soviet We (…)

9The general logic in this interrelation of democracy and nationalism lies in the fact that a common awareness of belonging to a national unit seems to be a prerequisite for democratization. Precisely in this sense nationalism had to be conducive to democratization in the former socialist countries. The national identity, national tradition, and national front are specific agents of democratization, to which Motyl heralded a successful democratic career in the former socialist countries and Soviet republics. “In as much as national identity is rooted in a sense of national community, it automatically provides for a certain amount of societal cohesion. By the same token, national traditions—be they religious, political or exclusively cultural—can underpin the institutions of emergent civil society. Finally, national fronts, which enjoy widespread legitimacy in all the republics, can endow the political arena with stability, as well as generate some of the institutions that must come to populate it.”24

  • 25 George Schöpflin, “Nationalism and Ethnicity in Europe, East and West” inNationalism and National (…)
  • 26 Anthony Smith, Myths and Memories of the Nation, 19.

10Some authors believe that not so much political functioning as the cultural-symbolical and the ethical potential is the reason for a new outburst of nationalism. George Schöpflin states that the appeal to the national ideology testifies to the fact that it fulfills certain functions that no other set of ideas, whether communism or democratic liberalism, is able to fulfill. In Schöpflin’s opinion, these functions are to be sought in the cultural origins of nationalism, rather than in its political expression. “Every community looks for its moral precepts—the definitions of right and wrong, pure and impure—in its storehouse of cultural values and seeks to defend these from challenges, whether real or perceived. […] Crucially, it is by the moral-cultural universe that communities define the bonds of loyalty and cohesiveness that hold it together. These bonds, in turn, create the bases of identity which are at the center of a community.”25 According to Schöpflin, nationalism essentially does not have so much a political nature, as a cultural one, and in such capacity it becomes the basis for social cohesion. Schöpflin’s stance is close to Smith, who believes that it is the “continuing power of myths, symbols and memories of ethnic chosenness, golden ages and historic homelands that has been largely responsible for the mass appeal of ethnic nationalism in the aftermath of the Cold war and the demise of the Soviet empire.”26

  • 27 Hertz, Nationality in History and Politics, 240.
  • 28 Schöpflin, “Nationalism and Ethnicity in Europe, East and West,” 53.
  • 29 Schöpflin, “Nationalism and Ethnicity in Europe, East and West,” 56.
  • 30 Charles A. Kupchan, “Introduction: Nationalism Resurgent,” in Nationalism and National i ties in t (…)

11From this point of view, the role of a mobilizing force of political liberation that nationalism has played in Eastern European countries is not an essential factor. As Frederick Hertz noted in 1951, “the demand for national self-determination is usually represented as one for liberty. Nevertheless national self-determination is by no means identical with political liberty. It does not necessarily imply a democratic regime, but merely freedom from foreign interference.”27 That is why, when political and national interests in Eastern and Central Europe begin to be perceived as mutually substituting we face a confusion of the social and the national orders. “Nationalism may be an excellent way of determining identity, but it has little or nothing to say about political participation. […] In this sense, the demands for autonomy expressed through nationalism—‘we should have the right to decide for ourselves because we are members of the Ruritanian nation’— […] an illustration of the confusion of codes to which Central and Eastern Europe is subject. Theoretically the demand for, say, freedom of the press or assembly cannot be derived from the ethnic aspect of nationhood, although in practice this may not be so clear.”28 In some cases elements of self-perception that claim a particular democratic virtue for the nation are inscribed into the content of national ideologies; however, these are rather conditional and are “in no way necessarily connected with the definition of nationhood.”29 Charles A. Kupchan writes about it in a similar fashion: “Nationalism itself says nothing about the distribution of political power among actors inside the nation-state. Thus, while nationalism can instill ideas that facilitate the functioning democracy, it can also serve as an ideological foundation for authoritarian regimes.”30

  • 31 Zdeněk Suda, “Liberalism in Central Europe after 1989,” in The Meaning of Liberalism: East and Wes (…)

12Zdeněk Suda concurs with Kupchan when he writes, “nationalism in East Central Europe, although it contributed significantly to the failure of both totalitarian attempts—fascist and communist—at securing regional domination, only unwittingly became an ally of democracy.”31 Moreover, referring to the historical experience of the East Central Europe Suda speaks about nationalism as a most dangerous rival of the liberal democratic current in the process of political modernization in this region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This can be explained by the specificity of the political tasks of peoples in that region.

  • 32 Suda, “Liberalism in Central Europe after 1989,” 204.

Central Europe for a better part of the nineteenth century was busy shaping and defining its various national identities, which, in the absence of visible geo-political frameworks, was a frustrating full-time job for all the ethnic groups involved. The emancipation of the individual—liberalism’s primary concern—was given a low priority. Proof of the prevalence of interest in collective problems in this region is the peculiar notion of national freedom, understood as the independence and sovereignty of the state and altogether unconnected with individual freedom. Following this notion, it is conceivable to view as free any nation living within the borders of a state that is sovereign in the terms of international law, regardless of the type of political regime—absolutist, authoritarian, even totalitarian—to which its members are subject.32

  • 33 He understands national unity as a constellation where “a vast majority of citizens in a democracy (…)
  • 34 Schöpflin, “Nationalism and Ethnicity in Europe,” 53.
  • 35 See arguments in Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O’Leary, Theories of the State: the Politics of Libe (…)

13It is worth mentioning here Dankwart Rustow’s view who wrote that national unity creates conditions for development of an authoritarian regime.33 As to the mobilizing force of nationalism in Eastern Europe, as George Schöpflin writes, the communist system not only did not destroy nationalist ideology, but, on the contrary, was largely conducive to its preservation. “By sweeping away all other competing ideas, programs and values, which allowed the communists to sustain their monopoly, they made it much easier for an undiluted nationalism referring solely to ethnicity to survive more or less intact, more or less in its original state.”34He proceeds from the premise that in Western societies nationalism had existed together with a variety of other identities (class, economic interests, gender, religion, status, etc.), which in time invariably led to relativization of nationalist demands. Meanwhile in Eastern Europe, as a result of the ideological space cleansing there appeared a tendency “to see all matters as involving ethnic nationhood, whether properly related to nationhood or not.”35

Mueller & Pickel – IR article

The televised role of popular movements in the last days of communism, the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, and the regained national sovereignty of the East European states brought nationalism back on the agenda. Nevertheless, much of the literature was written in a narrative style, followed backward looking approaches or tried to capture the surprising events in historicist phrases like the ‘revenge of the past’, the ‘triumph of nations’ or a ‘people’s spring’.2 Instructive as these historical accounts were, they had limited explanatory value, especially if it came to the transformative power of nationalism over the 1990s. On the other hand, nationalism was surely not central to ‘transitology’, the new branch of the social sciences which defined the research agenda on postcommunism during the 1990s. 1 Laqueur 1994, ch.8, here p.147, offers an excellent survey of failures of western and eastern scholars; on the politically distorted view of the ‚disintegrationist’ school see Xenakis 2002, p.35-36. Characteristically the broad retrospective evaluation of communist studies by Almond & Roselle 1993 hardly mentions any input from research on nationalities. On the other side, soviet sociology did its best to confirm the illusion that the soviet people constituted a ‘meta-ethnic community’ represented by a ‘supra-ethnic state’: “Under socialism, real de facto equality has been implemented for all nations and nationalities” (N.A. Aitov in Yanovitch ed. 1986, p. 263; cf. Szporluk 1989). 2 It is not our intention to comment on this literature or to go into the general role of nationalism in the disintegration of the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. It may suffice to mention that referring to the ‘explosive nature of nationalism’, the ‘popular passion of the people’ or the ‘restoration of national identities’ etc. (Carrère d’Encausee 1991, p. 233) is too diffuse to explain the course of events. First, ethnic riots escalated in the second half of the 1980s as clashes between local nationalities (e.g. Azeris vs. Armenians, Georgian vs. Abkhasians etc.) not as democratic movements against Soviet repression. Second, the strategy of national sovereignty was in many cases a political technique of well positioned regional elites to stay in power after the ethno-federal mechanisms of redistribution could not longer be fed by a stagnating economy (see Müller 1992, pp.128-131). Third, disintegrationist predictions expected secessionist movement primarily in Central Asia while the first national resistance against Moscow emerged in 1987 in the Baltic republics as protest against the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty. 1 Understanding the different types and metamorphoses of postcommunist nationalism, therefore, remained a major challenge for the social sciences since 1989. Whether ignoring, underestimating or exaggerating the power of national symbols in East European politics, conventional theories for the most part misinterpreted the significance of nationalism in the transformation process. This is due in part to the great diversity of nationalisms which are not easily captured in simple conceptions or typologies. Perhaps more important, the dominant transition strategies based on ideal types of Western democracy and market economy assumed the validity of universal models of political and economic order. Nationalism has played at best a subordinate role in what was generally conceived as a transition to democracy and a market economy. In this perspective nationalism was not expected to unfold a dynamic of its own. To correct these deficiencies, this paper will attempt to integrate the problem of nationalism into transformation theory. The reconceptualization of nationalism on which the following analysis is based rejects the conventional view of nationalism as merely an ideology, a view that even in the social sciences tends to be normatively anchored in an implicit understanding of good (civic, Western) nationalism and bad (ethnic, Eastern European) nationalism. While specific varieties of nationalism may indeed have positive or negative consequences, this is not the result of essential characteristics of a particular country’s national culture. National cultures change over time, and even more importantly are at all times embedded in larger political and economic contexts. In other words, national identifications are structuring and structured at the same time. On the one hand, they are structuring the institutional order of modern societies by giving legitimacy to specific forms of domination and distribution of resources and prestige, and by interpreting collectivities in terms of common histories, destinies, futures, solidarities and obligations. According Max Weber’s conception of communitarisation (‘Vergemeinschaftung’) a sense of national belonging rests in the sphere of value orientations and feelings about which rational discussion is hardly possible. On the other hand, these are not free floating constructions but related to the hard realities of state power, economic efficiency and international competition. The opportunities to stabilize national affiliations over time and against competing identifications is structured by these institutional realities – the reason why modern nationalist movements are seek to achieve and maintain control over territory, the means to exert power and the capacity to tax.3 Postcommunist transformations provide a particularly clear example of this contextual dependence. Many social scientists have opted to do without including nation, national culture, and nationalism in their work since political and economic contexts seem to be primary, and the recourse to culture, national or otherwise, fraught with conceptual and normative problems. However, nationalism more broadly understood as the role a national culture plays in the relegitimation of the state, the justification of transitional suffering and geopolitical reorientations makes it possible to incorporate this important dimension into a theory of postcommunist social change which sheds light on the variety 3 See Weber 1922, Ch. I, § 9 and Ch. VII § 5, were he makes clear that the irreducible tension between the (specifically irrational) belief in one’s nation, the thereby motivated behaviour and the institutional realities of one’s society account for a wide variety of ‘national sentiments’ and practices. 2 of reform outcomes. Thus re-conceptualized, nationalism’s functional as well as dysfunctional effects on the reconstruction of postcommunist societies come into view, helping us account for the routes by which Eastern European nationalisms are being transformed in the European integration process. How such “nationalizing processes”4 play out is in part a function of a state’s regional and global environment. East European states, historically the third wave of new sovereign states, emerged from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires during and after World War I. In barely more than a decade, the already precarious nationalizing processes in those newly independent states were derailed by Nazi conquest, World War II, Soviet occupation, and the establishment of the Communist Eastern bloc. The seriously compromised sovereignty of the new East European states from the 1930s to the 1980s (i.e. spanning almost the entire “short twentieth century”) was accompanied by a succession of powerful de-nationalizing processes during which external “cultural programs” were imposed on these societies. While nationalizing processes of various sorts did of course continue to different degrees in this period, giving rise to nationally-specific Soviet-type systems, de-nationalization was definitively reversed only with Gorbachev’s reform program and new foreign policy. The subsequent collapse of Communist regimes, itself in part due to nationalizing forces in each country, marked the start of an accelerated process of re-nationalization in the states of the region.5 Unsurprisingly, “ethnic nationalisms” played a major role in the redefinition of postcommunist cultural programs everywhere. But, as we will argue, it was not their “ethnic” character that explains the political outcomes of the early re-nationalization processes. Ethnic cleansing (Yugoslavia), the dissolution of federal states (Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia), discriminatory language and citizenship policies (Baltic States), and anti-Sovietism, anti-socialism and nationalist rhetoric (everywhere) were among the very different forms this re-nationalization process could take. We will argue that the European integration process, in many respects another de-nationalization program for the region, represents the second phase of postcommunist re-nationalization, as East European nationalisms are increasingly taking on the “normalized” and “banal” character of West European nationalisms. We begin by sketching the three phases through which the problem of postcommunist nationalism has evolved. Here we will further address the theoretical conceptions that have been obstacles to a proper understanding of the role of nationalism in the transformation process (section I). Section II will then present a number of crucial nationalizing mechanisms at work in postcommunist political and economic change processes. These general mechanisms have specific, and not necessarily the same, effects 4 We use the phrase “nationalizing mechanisms” to refer to the cultural dimensions of social processes that are composed of or related to the collective representations, discourse, and habitus of a nation as understood by the populations of existing states. This definition is neutral with respect to the particular content, historical evolution, and current contestation of a particular nation. See further on this Pickel 2006. 5 We think that “re-nationalization” captures the fundamental cultural dimension of the process more explicitly than Habermas’ ”nachholende Modernisierung” (“catching-up modernization”), which corresponds more closely to the universalistic, acultural conception typical for the democratization and marketization literature. 3 in different countries – nationalism after all is nationally specific, there are “multiple nationalisms.” I. Let us start by identifying the conventional views of nationalism in Eastern Europe. Born out of the euphoria surrounding the events of 1989, the liberal view saw democratic revolutions that would return Eastern Europe to the Western path to modernity. Implicit in this teleological view was that democratic capitalism would be the necessary outcome of postcommunist transformation. Economic liberals counted on spontaneous, selforganizing markets and a new entrepreneurial class from Prague to Vladivostok, while political scientists assumed that “liberal democracy is the only game in town” (Sartori 1991). This mood combined the Zeitgeist of the just announced era of economic globalization, which made nationally oriented attempts at catching up futile, with the chief lesson of recent European history: “In the postwar decades, western Europeans enmeshed themselves in a web of transnational institutions, culminating in the European Union (EU). After the fall of the Soviet empire, that transnational framework spread eastward to encompass most of the continent. Europeans entered a postnational era, which was not only a good thing in itself but also a model for other regions. Nationalism, in this view, had been a tragic detour on the road to a peaceful liberal democratic order” (Muller 2008, 18). Instead of the collectivist pathos of traditional social revolutions, peaceful regime change seemed to have produced a constitutional patriotism in the Western European tradition. This liberal political culture helped Eastern Europeans to transcend collectives of any kind in order to move towards an “intersubjectively dissolved, anonymous form of popular sovereignty” (Habermas 1990, 196). From this point of view, nationalism became a catch-all category for the various obstacles to and deviations from the path of democratization, a defensive reaction to insecurities of regime change or the last line of defense for ideologically flexible ex-communists. Ironically, the liberal thesis of the death of nationalism is quite similar to the view that socialist internationalism had eliminated nationalist chauvinism – a view Gorbachev held to the end of his reign. In the early 1990s a second, more pessimistic view emerged as many countries returned to the old national symbols from the interwar period (Weiss & Reinprecht 1998). To some grand theorists this seemed only normal: “Eastern Europe is not unique. On the contrary, it is typical of former imperial areas” (Chirot 1995, 60). The logic of the postcommunist situation now seemed to favour the resurgence of an aggressive nationalism for several reasons: the need for a new ideology after the collapse of old certainties, existential insecurity in the process of marketization, and fear of a sell-out to foreign capital as a result of regional and global economic reintegration. Indeed the reestablishment of postcommunist states was accompanied by a return to national myths, heroes, and conspiracy theories. The introduction of multi-party systems seemed to facilitate polarization along ethnic identities. There was growing concern that the “ethnification” of politics might have much greater mobilizing power than any appeal to civil society. Guaranteed civil rights were seen to be competing with discrimination, violence, forced assimilation, and even “ethnic cleansing” (Offe 1996, 61; Ignatieff 1994). 4 In several countries “founding elections” were in fact instrumentalized for ethnic mobilization. Democratic elections in the republics of Yugoslavia degenerated into the legitimation of minority deportations. The region as a whole was viewed as suffering from numerous minority problems, border conflicts, and historical animosities for which no diplomatic or political mechanisms were in place after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Nationalism therefore also seemed to be a threat to relations among postcommunist states that might pose serious security problems for the West (Nelson 1991). In this view, the collapse of the communist order meant the resurrection of the traditional problem of Eastern European nationalism. “The explosive issues of 1988-92 were those created in 1918-21” (Hobsbawm 1992, 164). We know now that neither the liberal optimism nor its pessimistic counterpart captured the complex reality of postcommunism. Transition crises were more severe and longerlasting than anticipated, and in a number of cases the consolidation of democracy remained precarious. On the other hand, nationalist excesses were confined to the former Yugoslavia and several post-Soviet crisis regions, especially in the Caucasus. Czechs and Slovaks separated peacefully and violent border changes have not occurred. While nationalist parties have formed governments, as in Slovakia, they have not shaped the political regime. Anti-state terrorism by national minorities as in France, Spain, or Northern Ireland has not occurred. Where authoritarian regimes emerged, they were not created by nationalist masses but by former communists. Citizenship laws and minority protection have raised complex problems, but their treatment largely follows the standards of the European Council. While problems with radical right-wing movements and the status of non-citizens cannot be denied, they are very similar to those found in Western Europe. Moreover, the postcommunist states’ willingness to give up some of their newly gained national sovereignty to the supranational institutions of the EU would not seem to be a typical characteristic of nationalist regimes. Clearly, post-communist nationalism requires a more differentiated approach that can account for its prehistory, multifunctional role, and variability.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s