Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [4]

Chapter 5: Tsar Lazar's Choice

The new Yugoslave Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, believed that liberal economic reforms were the key to stabilizing, indeed saving, federal Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, by the time he took power, the Federal institutions were too weak to force the Republics into compliance, and the three most powerful republics--Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia--were against him.

In the meantime, Milosevic fully embraced Serb nationalism as a political tool by leading and speaking at the huge commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje. The unprecedented public display of the bones of Prince Lazar, and the move to transport those bones to Serb Orthodox monasteries around Yugoslavia was a provocative move to symbolically lay claim to "Serb lands." Milosevic, as President of Serbia, was flexing his political muscle in full view of his rivals.

Slovenia saw the writing on the wall, and moved to take action to protect itself from the moves towards centralization under Serb domination. Proposed constitutional changes (some of which was premised on selectively chosen economic grievances) would have made Slovenia virtually a sovereign nation, although the Slovenes answered Serb complaints by pointing out that Serbia, too, had altered its Constitution without input from the other republics. The Slovenes understood that Milosevic had figured out how to use the structure of the Federal government against itself, and felt they had no choice in order to protect Slovenian interests.

The Slovenes were able to go ahead with their plans when the constitutional court argued that it could not rule on proposed changes; and then again when the JNA surprised everybody by refusing to take action against Slovenia, which disappointed Milosevic.

Serbia responded by attempting to stage a Serb rally in Ljubljana, and then by pushing for a Serb boycott of doing business with Slovenia. The break was nearly complete.

This all culminated in the Fourteenth (and final) Extraordinary Party Congress, during which every single amendment proposed by Slovenian delegates--no matter what the content--was voted down by solid majorities from Serbia and Montenegro. It became clear to the Slovenes that they were not only to be humiliated but completely emasculated; eventually, they chose to walk out of the Congress to the cheers of Serb and Montenegrin delegates. Milosevic's attempt to carry on without them was foiled, however, because the Croatian delegation also walked out, a contigency Milosevic had not counted on. Without a quorum, the Congress was suspended, never to be reassembled. Yugoslavia as a functioning state was nearly finished.

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