Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [10]



The first two pages of this section present us with the first cohesive and sustained piece of reasonable, fact-based analysis in the entire book. For those of you keeping score at home, I'm talking about pages 129-130. Better late than never.

The subject of these two pages--the "bureaucratic decentralism" of the subtitle--is a brief synopsis of the development of Yugoslavia's unique brand of decentralized state socialism under Tito. I actually think she mostly gets it right here; with two qualifications.

First, she harps on the 'artificial' nature of Macedonian nationalism. Considering that she believes nationality to be immutable and absolute, this is not surprising.

Secondly, she repeats the easily refutable fiction that the republic borders were entirely modern, administrative boundaries.

These two factors--the belief that nationality is somehow intrinsic and organic, something that can be passed unwittingly and which can even override a people's own professed identity; and the illegitimacy of the republics as constituent geopolitical entities--are crucial beliefs underlying Johnstone's thesis in this book. For all hectoring about naive and/or ignorant Westerners, it is clear from this otherwise-not-insane section that Johnstone may very well have acquired her distorted view of Yugoslav history from a misreading of the Tito years. She is correct to note the shortcomings of the ideology of decentralism when the country was divided into increasingly autonomous republics, each with it's own self-contained hierarchy of economic and political power. And she is correct to note that Tito defused desires for greater freedom and democratization by further empowering the republics.

However, we should not give her too much credit. Her understanding of nationalism--this cannot be said too often--is simply ridiculous. For an academic such as herself to embrace such a pre-modernist conception of group identity, where national identity is practically encoded in DNA, immune to changing circumstances even in the culture of the group itself is simply absurd. And even a cursory study of Balkan history would reveal that the borders of Bosnia, for example, have substantial historic basis.

Yet, even so, Johnstone does not go completely off-course just yet. She is correct to note that Tito's system, for all it's clumsy attempts at checks and balances as well as at decentralism, was fatally flawed simply because Tito always kept the reins of power firmly in hand, and failed miserably to establish an effective governmental structure to replace him. On this, Johnstone and I agree--the multi-member rotating presidency he created to replace him was clumsy and doomed to failure.

In the next post, we will examine where she gets it wrong.

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