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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Serbia’s Core - Kosovo: Part II: Towards a Unified Jugoslavija

Welcome back.  This post is in continuation of a multi-part series on understanding Serbia on the matter of Kosovo.  While Kosovo lies at the heart of Serbian nationalism, it is irrelevant to understanding the forces behind Serbia’s expansion in the first half of the 20th century or the drivers behind secession in its parent state – Yugoslavia.

In this part, we analyze the factors underlying the emergence of Yugoslavia as a unified state following WWI.  If you already anticipate you will like this post then you might want to first read Part I of the series.  Cliquez ici!

Yours, looking forward to weekend fun Analyst,


Part II: Towards a Unified Jugoslavija

1. On Borders
Certain borders are more natural than others.  Australia is marked by its geographical frontiers, the borders of Japan coincide with those of an ethno-linguistic and culturally homogenous group, the border between the two Koreas is the direct result of ideological competition between superpowers on a foreign land and the border between Malaysia and Indonesia in Borneo arose out of the split between the suzerainty of the British and Dutch empires over the island.  How about Yugoslavia [1]?

2. The Establishment of Jugoslavija

2.1. First, the Divisions
Serbia descends from Yugoslavia, a state proclaimed on Dec 1, 1918.  Yugoslavia did not have natural geographical frontiers [2].  It did not have a common religion [3].  Worse yet, it had a long history of rulers who reengineered suitable demographics through forced religious conversions, through governance that encouraged conversion for gain and through forced migration and resettlement of peoples based on their religious affiliations.  While Yugoslavs were mainly Slavic, they did not share a common history as different groups amongst them were dominated for several centuries by different and a shifting mix of foreign powers.  The cultural similarity amongst its principal groups was weakened by religious differences and the nature of foreign domination.

2.2. What Brought Jugoslavija Together?
Jugoslavija came into existence through the efforts of the Serb and Croat nationalists.  Let us see how.

In the Serbian language ‘jugo’ means ‘south’ and ‘slavija’ means the ‘land of the Slavs’.  The peoples of Jugoslavija shared a common ethnicity.  They spoke the same language.  In fact, the standardized versions of Serbian of Serbia, Croatian of Croatia and Bosnian of Bosnia and Herzegovina are mutually intelligible.

2.2.1. The Serbian Factor
Having spent four centuries under Ottoman domination, Serbia spent the better part of the 19th century fighting for full independence.  Its independence was finally recognized in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin as part of a larger plan by the German and British empires to deal a blow to the strengthening pan-Slavic movement in the Balkans and south central Europe through reorganization of the Balkans.

Serbian nationalists however did not see independence as a mission accomplished but as part of a living, breathing, organic phenomenon.  There were two main reasons for this view: first, many territories where ethnic Serbs constituted a significant portion of the population still remained under foreign rule.  Second, many influential Serb nationalists felt that not only those that were widely recognized as Serbs but all southern Slavs were one people that stood divided only because of centuries of foreign domination.  This thought provided the intellectual foundations for romantic nationalism based on a pan-Serbian identity.  The idea of Serbia thus extended far beyond the geographic boundaries decided at the Congress of Berlin.

2.2.2. The Croat Factor
Croatia spent eight centuries under foreign domination before gaining independence following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Oct 1918.  However the goal of the Croat nationalists was bigger - they wanted to gain control of territories that were once part of an independent Croatia (eight centuries back!).  More practical was however a fear of falling back into Austro-Hungarian dominance or alternatively, becoming a backyard within the sphere of Russian influence.  Serbian nationalists also feared that the revolving door of Balkan power play might reclaim whatever 'little' that the Congress of Berlin had yielded under Russian pressure.

United in their fears and the notion that the south Slavic people are ‘one’, nationalists in both countries (and Slovenia) reached a consensus that independence could only be sustained by amalgamating their territories into a single homeland for the southern Slavs.  Thus, Jugoslavija was born.  Those that sought the establishment of Greater Serbia or Greater Croatia drew comfort in the fact that the new entity internalized their search for their respective greater lands and thus, largely insulated that search from the undesirable influence of external powers [4].

2.2.3. The Foundation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
The notion of unity of the southern Slavs survived the organized mass killings of Serbs by the Ustaše Croatian regime at the Nazi-sanctioned Jasenovac concentration camp.  Following WWII, Yugoslavia was reestablished, though as a federation of six socialist republics (SRs) [5] instead of, as a Kingdom.

[1] full name, ‘Kingdom of Yugoslavia’
[2] Yugoslavia did not have natural geographic frontiers except with Romania to its north-west  where the Carpathian mountain ranges separated the two.
[3] The peoples of Yugoslavia were mainly adherents to the Orthodox Church of Serbia, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam (the Bektashi order or the Sunni order).
[4] Austria and Hungary were particularly hostile to the notions of Greater Serbia or Greater Croatia.  Only military defeats, declining power and Russian pressure guaranteed the Ottoman Empire’s acceptance of Serbia’s independence.  The British and German empires were against these notions as they viewed them as instruments for unchecked expansion of Russian influence in the Balkans.  Russia viewed romantic nationalism of Serbia or Croatia as narrow and thus, an impediment to its own goal of reviving the more inclusive, pan-Slavic nationalism in the Balkans and south central Europe.
[5] Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Serbia’s Core - Kosovo: Part I: The Games of Our Days

Welcome back and wish you all a happy and purposeful 2011.

We shall continue with the practice of starting off with what I think are interesting diversions before heading to the subject matter of the post.

Germany's growth and industrial power was supported over the (nearly) past two decades by the twin engines of American appetite for consumption and credit-led growth in parts of Europe where productivity growth did not match rise in real-income.  That granted Germany the domestic political space and gave it the financial muscles needed to continue to champion pan-EU institutions and, in large measure, finance EU's expansion while overlooking the the many unsustainable budgetary trends and destabilizing increase in private credit in many EU states.  The German appetite for continuing as the main financier of the EU will significantly decrease, both, as a result of internal politics and, as a result of the new global environment that will not be economically benign towards nations that have a heavy reliance on an export-led model.  Besides, the growing entente between Germany and Russia reduces the motive of Germany to make, what it perceives, are unilateral concessions towards the EU.  In the context of these trends, I have two questions for those at the helm of the affairs of Poland:

1. Will Poland accept the institutionalization within the EU of measures such as the recent ones taken with regards to Ireland that substantially reduced the latter's sovereign right of control over its own budgetary and taxation processes?

2. Nations, unlike other expressions of shared destiny, have to survive in the long-run which makes it imperative for them to plan for the worst case.  Historically speaking, periods of German and Russian entente have been tragic for Poland, just have been the years of animosty between the two.  If EU works out for Poland as Poland hopes has hoped then, Poland's participation in the EU would guarantee its strategic security.  What options is Poland creating for its strategic security during these times of extraordinary peace and economic growth in Poland even as it continues to deepen its commitment to the EU?

Yours, thinking about Serbia's difficult choices in the new decade analyst,



Vuk Jeremić has two clear tasks as the Foreign Minister of Serbia - put Serbia on the glide path to EU accession and delay the emergence of Kosovo as a sovereign state [1].  While Serbia’s proposals for granting substantial operational autonomy to Kosovo haven’t cut ice, Serbia is happy with the status quo.  However the US, Germany and the UK are not.  The window of military coercion closed as a result of the adoption of the UNSC Resolution 1244 [2], the subsequent removal of Slobodan Milošević and the emergence of elite consensus in Serbia on eschewing force in dealing with secessionist elements in Kosovo [3].

As nationalism tempered Serbia’s focus shifted to repairing relations with international institutions and rebuilding its economy; EU accession and access to international markets, multilateral loans and foreign aid became a priority.  This in turn created new levers for those wanting to backtrack from their obligation under resolution 1244 to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In addition to riding on Serbia’s wants, those countries sought to weaken its resolve by presenting a sovereign Kosovo as a fait accompli.  The thinking was that Serbia’s position would become increasingly untenable as more and more UN members recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty.  A significant number of member states however remain undecided or are against a Kosovo born through unilateral declaration of independence [4].  An alternative route is a vote at the much smaller though highly influential, UNSC [5].  While the vote will not pass China’s veto [6], it could expose Serbia to an additional parallel channel of pressure to acquiesce to Kosovo’s secession [7].

In the early 20th century the unification drive in the region was shaped by the interplay of the force that sought to establish ‘Greater Serbia’ and that driven by desire of the southern Slavic people to escape the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian or the Turkish empires or the growing influence of the Russian Empire.  Over time however changing geopolitical realities eliminated the fear of foreign domination, which in turn ended up highlighting the internal contradictions in the communist state of Yugoslavia and lead to increasing centrifugal tendencies since the 1960s (see Map 1), of which the Kosovo case may be viewed as the latest manifestation.

Map 1 [8]: Fragmentation of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: 1989 - SFRY, 2010 - Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia

In subsequent posts we will cover:

·       factors underlying the emergence of Yugoslavia as a unified state
·       emergent secessionist tendencies in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) of which Serbia is the successor state,
·       changes in the domestic and international status of Kosovo since 1974 and
·       the reason why despite agreeing to secession by five other members from its parent state, in spite of the current administrative realities in Kosovo [9] and the fact that an overwhelming majority of  Kosovars prefer independence, Serbia is against Kosovo’s independence.

[1] Had Serbia been guided by the consensus on choice instead of by a consensus on what is feasible, the second goal would have been to prevent, rather than delay, Kosovo’s emergence as a sovereign.
[2] UNSC - United Nations Security Council
[3] Unless a strong expression of Serbian nationalism appears to be associated with the onset of a new spiraling crisis in the Balkans, the military window will likely remain closed.
[4] As of December 31, 2010, 72 of the 192 UN member states have recognized Kosovo’s independence.
[5] Resolutions recommended by a majority of UNSC members carry significant political and moral weight as the Article 5 of the UN Charter requires all UN member states to “agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council”.
[6] China is firmly opposed to allowing legitimacy to the idea of unilateral declaration of independence for regions that do not meet the “salt-water colonization” criteria (see the UNGA Resolution 1541 (XV)).
[7] Kosovo’s last declared independence from Serbia on Feb 17, 2008.  This declaration received much wider international support than an earlier declaration on Sep 22, 1991.
[9] Serbia retains almost no control of Kosovo.  The territory is administered by international bodies such as the EULEX and the UNMIK, aided in local duties by Kosovar leaders.