Monday, August 30, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [5]

Chapter 6: "A Croatian Rifle on a Croatian Shoulder"

While Serbian nationalism had been unleashed and harnessed by Milosevic, in Croatia the two-decades long crackdown on expressions of Croatian nationalism still held sway; it took time for nationalist dissidents like Franjo Tudjman to test the waters and see how far they could push the envelope. The growth of the HDZ was greatly helped by Tudjman's relative freedom of movement--his Partisan past allowed him better treatment in prison after the crackdown, but also he was allowed a passport, which enabled to him to travel and network with the widely-dispersed Croatian emigre population, who would provide key support in the HDZs rise to power.

Tudjman was (unlike Milosevic) a genuine nationalist, and once he and the other members of the HDZ leadership found that they would be able to meet and campaign openly, he quickly became adept at using mass rallies and ostentatious displays of populist support. When the elections in Croatia were held, this support (combined with the British-style election rules) resulted in an electoral victory which gave the HDZ uncontested status as the ruling party (it's winning margin over the reformed Communists was not all that great, but the system was set up to reward the first-place party disproportionately).

This was all being watched by the Slovenes--who had a head start on multiparty elections and were working towards them carefully; ultimately, Kucan would win the Presidency and immediately quit his membership in the (renamed) former Communist Party--and the Serbs. In Serbia, the Milosevic regime played to very real fears among Croatias' Serbian minority that the Ustashe regime was being resurrected. Tudjman and his party did little to assuage such fears, and sometimes even exacerbated them.

The Army was also watching; the threats to take action to defend the integrity of Socialist Yugoslavia were repeated, and Kucan and Tudjman needed to consider how genuine the threat from General Kadijevic and others really were.


And so Part One, "Laying the Charge", comes to an end. One theme which has been contstant through all six chapters is this--the breakdown of Yugoslavia happened along genuine, pre-existing fault lines of nationalism, national grievances, economic disparities, social unrest, and political dysfunction. All of this is true. But Yugoslavia did not fall apart 'naturally' or without further stress; it was not preordained to break apart violently once the ghost of Tito's iron fist had finally faded away. It took deliberate actions by political and cultural elites to align Yugoslavia's weakened fissures against the hard edges of intolerance, fear, insecurity, and paranoia. These actions were taken by real individuals, and their actions and words have been recorded and witnessed. The tragedy which is about to follow was not organic, it was not the inevitable product of deep-seated, almost animalistic impulses. Rational, powerful, calculating people made deliberate choices to exploit Yugoslavia's weaknesses for short-term political gain.

In Part Two, we will see many of these same actors apply the violent pressure to Yugoslavia, so that the breakup they placed into motion did, finally, become inevitable.


Katja R. said...

Really a good analysis of yet another book which was written by yet another person who does not get it.

It is so easy to go the route of saying people have atavistic urges, when in fact people are beingamipulated.

Kirk Johnson said...

Yakima, I'm confused--are you saying that Silber and Little "don't get it"? Because if that's the impression you are getting, then my review is really not doing the book justice so far.