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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

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