Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [3]

Chapter 3: "No Way Back."

Subtitled "The Slovene Spring, 1988", this chapter begins with the sentence: "As Milosevic consolidated power, the authorities in Slovenia were relaxing their hold." This parallel development is crucial to understanding the dynamics of what happened next, but it is also important to look closely at the political dynamics in Slovenia in the final years of Yugoslavia in order to understand, as so many revisionists do not, how neither the Slovene leadership nor the Slovene nationalist opposition were not the drivers of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The liberalization of political and civil society in Slovenia did not necessarily lead inexorably towards the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

While the Slovenian leadership were dealing with the push towards democratization and economic liberalization, the one Federal institution with real power--the Army--took offense at some actions taken by the influential opposition magazine Mladina, including leaking of confidential documents as well as harsh criticism of the military leadership.

The resulting crackdown--which was clumsy and overbearing, and mostly revealed how out of touch the army leadership had become--united the Slovene opposition and rallied the normally conservative Slovene public behind them. It also put Kucan and the rest of the republics Party leadership under pressure to pick a side; ultimately, they would side with the public against the Army and the Federal institutions.

The situation was not yet critical and the damage was not yet irreparable; it would take the calculated and cynical manipulation of the situation by Milosevic to make sure that there was truly "No Way Back."

Chapter 4: Comrade Slobodan: Think Hard"

Slobodan Milosevic was a calculating petty tyrant who was capable of appearing to believe whatever ideology was convenient at the moment. He was also a master manipulator of the complex Federal and republican bureaucracies in the former Yugoslavia; and he was the first politician in that country to understand the power of populism as a force and of the mob as a political weapon.

This chapter details the systematic way Milosevic used these abilities to stymie attempts by the leadership of other republics and even the Federal government to halt his destructive path to gaining power over first Serbia, then Kosovo, then Vojvodina, and finally Montenegro. It lays bare how cyncially and proactively popular sentiment was finessed, channeled, and harnessed by Milosevic and his cronies in order to intimidate and defeat rivals within his growing sphere of political power; claims by revisionists and apologists that the wars in Yugoslavia were the regrettable but unavoidable consequence of the loosening of Federal authority are exposed as patronizing falsehoods.

One sentence in particular is worth quoting: "With this move, Milosevic made clear his strategy towards the Yugoslav federation: when it was opportune he invoked the supremacy of the federal institutions over the republics; but when it was in his interest, he claimed that Serbia would not obey the dictates of the federation." Two things are noteworthy about this statement. One; it is no exaggeration. Many times, Milosevic explicitly declares that the Serb people will not allow any Yugoslav institution stand in their way (such statements were often made in the context of carefully planned and stage-managed mass rallies, complete with the threat of violence), and at other times he is a stickler for the letter of the law; he was a master at using the complex rules of the Yugoslav constitution to his own benefit, even as he sought to destroy it. Two; this statement must be remembered whenever revisionists and apologists for the Greater Serbia project utilize arguments based on the technicalities of Yugoslav law. Milosevic only played by the rules of the system when it was in his tactical interest to do so, even though his larger strategic aim was to destroy the system. He openly flouted his contempt for the rule of law time and time again; something which his pathetic minions of admirers consistently fail to acknowledge.

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