"yugoslavia", identity politics & ethno-nationalism

Tue Aug 8 12:09:10 MDT 1995

I offer no suggestions for resolving FY problems, I can't even fix
the US.  Here, I only try to further problematize some ideas that
have been put up by others...

My understanding is that nobody in "Yugoslavia" ever considered
themselves "Yugoslavian" - it is not an ethnicity/culture - what is
it? or what was it?  Wasn't Yugoslavia invented in some way at the
end of WWII?  I don't know the exact history, but I know I have never
met a "yugoslavian".  Some "yugos" say that "Serbo-Croatian" was the
invented language.  When spoken there is little difference, as a
result of ancient relations, even an original unity, but now Eastern
Orthodox Serbs used cyrillic script, and Roman Catholic Croats used
roman letters.

Growing up in Zagreb, my friend Mladen was tortured like every school
child in "Yugo" by switching every week between studying every
subject in "Croatian", then everything in "Serbian", different
scripts and all.  I guess that was the "compromise" between the
principal powers of Croatia and Serbia, and the rest of the Yugos
were stuck with it.  Nobody liked it.

There are similar problems in the rest of EEurope, such as the fact
that there is no such thing as a Czechoslovakian.  Even when it was
"one country" every one knew one's own identity *primarily in terms
of ethnicity/language/ancestry*, not according to the latest
political boundaries.  Those are regarded as arbitrary, at best, and
usually externally/unfairly imposed, and too small or in the wrong
place, and potentially ephemeral.

Even with intermarriage, people often choose one ethnicity to
self-identify, especially when it is an issue of great local
conflict.  For instance, in cosmopolitan Prague it is no big deal to
be half Bulgarian, half Moravian, whatever (except Gypsy).  But in
Transylvania a man explained to me that although his last name was
ethno-Romanian, he was most assuredly an ethno-Hungarian.  "I am not
half Hungarian and half Romanian - I *am Hungarian*."  His parents
broke up when he was a baby, he was raised by mom's folks, and it was
obviously important that his ethnic affiliation be made clear and
one-sided.  No melting pot or multi-culturalism there, and no
reference to the fact that he is a Romanian (political/state)
citizen.  In life within present boundaries of "Romania", one's legal
citizenship has little relevance.

I was amazed to discover how mixed and yet ethnically segregated the
ethnic populations are, from Slovakia to Turkey.  This is one reason
why the idea of a "local plebecite" for secession is so very
problematic.  How big is an "area"?  Some areas in SE Bulgaria are
60% Turkish ethnic population, nearly all in tiny villages peppering
the countryside, interspersed with Bulgarian ethnic villages.  Any
one village is nearly mono-ethnic, but the cities, the money, the
government are all dominated by Bulgarian-ethnics, a legacy of that
country's version of "communism".

And of course WEurope wouldn't want that, partly because of issues of
international competition for resources/markets/money/power.  They
were happy to have Russia push Turkey back to Stanbul (the ethno-Bulg
are still especially grateful for that, since 1875) but quick to try
to prevent Russia from expanding to fill the gap itself.

So, who is going to agree on the boundaries of an "area" that is
going to vote for seccession?  I'm sure that many ethno-Turks would
love to be part of political-Turkey (a greater Turkey) again, and no
longer be subject to rule by ethno-Bulg.  The ethno-Turks that were
"encouraged to return to Turkey" during the last few decades (after
generations on the land in the same village) might like to return to
the Kurdjali region, and "cleanse" the fewer ethno-Bulg.  And
Hungarians in Transylvania would like to be part of a contiguous
greater Hungary, rather than subject to ethno/political-Romanian
rule, etc, etc.

The same problem applies to the suggestion of a local ethno-national
group having local autonomy - there is no easy mapping of ethnicity
onto geography.  Autonomy for an ethnicity?  Gerrymandering would
have to taken on deformed shapes and polka-dots that would make US
political subdivisions look like squares on a grid, even those
controversial southern congressional districts designed to give
Blacks a better shot at getting representation.


 People who had until that point been Jugoslavs were now supposed to
consider themselves citizens of an overtly ethnic/sectarian Croat
state. [snip]
The democratic solution to this would have been to have local
plebicites to determine which areas actually wished to seceed from

Chris B.: ... But a better solution from a marxist point of view
would be an agreement between Croatia and Serbia, that the area of
eastern Slavonia should be one in which the local Serb *nationality*
has local autonomy within the province of Croatia, and that this is
linked with a confederal plan for the reconstruction of the lands of
the former Yugoslavia.

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