Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Destruction of Yugoslavia" by Branka Magas--Part One

Part One: The Kosovo Watershed and its Aftermath (1981-87)

In the short introduction to this section, Magas notes that, with the imposition of martial law on Kosovo in April 1981, "it was clear that the country as a whole had reached a watershed." A member of the Yugoslav Federation was being treated as a hostile, occupied territory, and security forces were firing on demonstrators, the majority of whom were teenagers. She also notes that there was virtually no public protest from the Yugoslav public, even from the editors of the highly-regarded journal, Praxis. Her shame drove her to investigate the situation; her ignorance of Albanian history drove her to research.

Her initial reporting in Kosovo recognized that socio-economic factors, not inherent fascist tendencies as so many Left-revisionists have maintained, were the driving factors behind the rise of Albanian nationalism in Kosovo. She also recognized that Kosovar Albanians, and the left-wing Yugoslav students who for a time supported their cause, were fighting not to destroy Yugoslavia but to establish Republic status for Kosovo.

When she had completed her research on Albanian history, the result was the lengthy 1983 article "Kosovo between Yugoslavia and Albania." This article artfully summarizes the situation for readers unaware of the historical background, Yugoslav constitutional and political structures, and then-current demographic realities, much of which would be very familiar to readers of this blog. However, Magas comes from a Leftist tradition, and she examines events and institutions through that framework.

She notes that Albanians found it necessary to subjugate all other national considerations in the interests of unity in the early days of national development, in light of expansionist pressures from Serbia and Montenegro. Therefore, Albanian nationalism developed a high degree of unity, but at the cost of delaying all other social developments. The 'internal class struggle' was stunted at this early stage of national development.

Also, while most Western observers recognize that the rebirth of Yugoslavia as a federal republic of nations was the creation of Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (later renamed the League of Communists), it is rarely explained that each individual nation was specifically vested in the new socialist federation by virtue of participation in the revolution and the resistance.

Furthermore, she argues that the failure of the Balkan Socialist Federation, which would have united Yugoslavia with Albania and possibly Bulgaria, was a crucial development in creating the later crisis, by delaying a proper resolution of the status of Kosovo and Yugoslavia's Albanian minority for several years, and finally allowing the province to be subsumed into Serbia, and for the Albanian nationality to acquire what seems to have been second-class status among the nations of Yugoslavia. Other minorities, of course, had a similar status, but the fact that half of the Albanian population was in Yugoslavia made this situation rather different than that of, say, the tiny Bulgarian minority in far eastern Serbia. In short, Tito and the Party leadership kept waiting for the creation of the Balkan Socialist Federation to resolve a number of national and demographic issues, so that no deliberate strategy was instated at the outset of the new political order.

Finally, Magas recognized even then that the "nationalism" which was already infecting Yugoslavia's politics was in large part a creation of decentralization--the bureaucratic elites of the individual republics found that appeals to their respective national majorities were effective tools to mobilize support and deflect criticism. Yet, the future would show that centralization was a devil's bargain, since any attempt to revive the Federal center would in practice strengthen the Serb republic government, which under Milosevic would use "centralization" as a cover for Greater Serb expansionism.

Her fears that the Yugoslav Left opposition were not going to side with the cause of Kosovo turned out, of course, to be well-founded, but while she was perceptive to recognize the danger that the Kosovo situation posed for the future democratization and even survival of the country, it would take some time for the failure of the Left in Yugoslavia to overcome, or even recognize, the dangers of nationalism and centralism to become obvious.

Ultimately, of course, many of the prominent editors of the once-proud Praxis would ultimately disgrace themselves by signing on to an anti-Albanian petition in 1986, as part of the same campaign which produced the infamous "memorandum" from Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences of that same year. In the final article, "Nationalism Captures the Serbian Intelligentsia", she reproduces the anti-Albanian petition mentioned above, and then follows with her September 1986 article "The End of an Era" in which she decries the signing of that petition by three former editors of Praxis, and explains in plain language why the claims of this petition are ridiculous and its demands outrageous and dangerous.

Those three--Zaga Golubovic, Mihailo Markovic, and Ljubomir Tadic--responded directly to her article in a letter to the "Editorial Collective" of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, which had published her article. Their response was lengthy and maintains a tone of exasperated faux-'reasonableness' which would be familiar to readers of Diana Johnstone. And Magas then includes her reply, which is factual, systematic, comprehensive, and devastating. Considering that no small fraction of this blog has been devoted to similar work, I can only admire the completeness and clarity of her deconstruction of such dissembling.

Her concluding paragraph is worth quoting:

"Thus what above all moved me to write 'The End of an Era' was a real concern that, if such well-known socialists as Zaga Golubovic, Mihailo Markovic, and Ljubomir Tadic were to join the nationalist cause, all hope of seeing the emergence of a genuinely democratic alternative to the present quagmire of bureaucratic and nationalist discord would be set back."

We can only wish, too late, that more on the Left had been listening at the time.


Owen said...

Interesting to learn how the people who should have been raising the alarm were co-opted internally as well as externally.

lpcyusa said...
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