Yugoslavia (Part 3)
tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Sat Aug 12 11:09:20 MDT 1995
I strongly suspect that these notes are getting progressively
less useful to other people as I go on, since I'm jamming them in
between other things I need to finish up. I should stress that
I'm relying almost entirely on memory in all of this, checking
dates from my _Compton's Encyclopedia_ (plain old paper kind,
thank whatever) and a copy of Jasminka Udovicki's "Yugoslavia's
Wars: Notes on Nationalism" (_Radical America_, Vol 24 #1). I
was involved rather heavily in anti-intervention activities two
years ago. Otherwise, I'm dredging up bits and pieces from a
lifetime of reading, my memories of conversations with Yugoslavs
of various persuasions, and my wife's recollections of her visit
to Yugoslavia in the mid 1980s.
After I post this, I'm turning off my computer and leaving town
for a week and a half, so if anyone has any bibliographical
questions, please e-mail them to me directly:
tomcondit at igc.apc.org. People have already posted to the list
Misha Glenny's books. An excellent source on Tito, believe it or
not, is the Ballantine biography, which is in either the
"Illustrated History of World War II" series or "The Violent
Century", I think the former. It's by a British general who was
liaison officer with the Partisans. Udovicki, cited above, wrote
a number of articles for _Radical America_ and the _Resist_
newsletter in 1992-93. (She is, or was at the time, pro-
intervention. Her articles are an invaluable source on the growth
of the Croat and Serb war propaganda machines.)
THE SOCIALIST FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA
As the world crisis intensified at the beginning of World War II,
the Yugoslav Communist Leader Josip Broz ("Tito") was summoned to
Moscow for consultation. Once there, he was sequestered for six
months and put to the task of preparing a Serbo-Croatian
translation of Joseph Stalin's _Short History of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik)_ while watched over for any
possible ideological deviations which might creep into the text.
The usefulness of Moscow to the Yugoslav struggle was indelibly
engraved in Tito's mind.
When the Italians and later the Germans invaded Yugoslavia, the
Yugoslav Communists waited in vain for arms and instructions from
the Communist International. Then they started fighting. From
one of about a dozen groups engaged in armed struggle against the
occupation and the puppet governments, the Communist-led
"Partisans" became a major army and the governing force in most
of Yugoslavia. In 1943, they drafted a constitution for a
Yugoslav federal republic and when the Germans were defeated in
1945 they started implementing it.
At the close of World War II, Stalin imposed a policy on the
world communist movement of attempting to continue the war policy
of "national unity" in each country. In Italy and France, the
Communists were instrumental in disarming the resistance
movements, and entered into coalition governments. In China,
they reluctantly offered a deal to Chiang Kai Shek, who refused
to accept it. In Yugoslavia, the Communists had taken power by
their own armed struggle and enjoyed overwhelming mass support.
When Stalin suggested that they form a "government of national
unity" with the Chetniks, they filed it in the appropriate place.
(Stalin's rough sketch of "spheres of influence" shown to
Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta included a 50-50 division of
"influence" over Yugoslavia between the U.S.S.R. and the Western
The new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of the
six republics of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia,
Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. (Montenegro was a part of
Serbia which had never been conquered by the Turks, remaining an
independent country until it was absorbed into Yugoslavia in
1918. The city of Dubrovnik, f.d.b.a. Ragusa, had also been
independent until 1918.) Two provinces of Serbia became
autonomous and were represented in the Chamber of Republics and
Provinces, the second house of the parliament. They were Kosovo
(majority Albanian) and Vojvodina (very mixed ethnically, with a
large Hungarian population). The stirring up of nationalist
hatreds was made a criminal offense.
I find in my computer some background statistics on the former
Population (1986 census): 23,289,000; 53.5% rural, 46.5% urban.
Serbs: 8.1 million (36%); Croats: 4.4 million (20%); Slovenes:
1.8 million; Macedonians: 1.3 million; Montenegrins: 0.6 million;
Muslim Slavs: 2 million; Albanians: 1.7 million; 400,000
Hungarians and smaller groups of Rumanians, Bulgarians, Slovaks,
Czechs, etc, live mostly in Vojvodina province.
It's important to realize that Serbs, Croats, Montenegrins,
Bosnians and Herzegovinans all speak the same Serbo-Croatian
language, which varies from area to area much less than English
does. It is written in the Latin alphabet by Croats, in the
Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet by Serbs, and in Arabic script by
many (but not all) Muslims.
The three official languages of former Yugoslavia were Serbo-
Croatian, Slovenian and Macedonian. The major religions were
Serbian Orthodoxy, Macedonian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and
Islam, but a large part of the population were "secular
The major cities are Beograd (Belgrade), with a million and a
half people, Zagreb (855,568), Skopje (504,932), Sarajevo
(448,519), Ljubljana (305,211).
Area: 98,766 sq mi. 600 miles long, 250 mi. wide at greatest
About 30% of the people were still engaged in agriculture as of
the 1986 census, and industry was very heavily concentrated in
the north--Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia--where the Austrians had
initiated it. In Bosnia and Croatia, the Serbs were
disproportionately represented in agriculture and accordingly had
a greater tendency to be religious nuts than their neighbors
(which is of course, why they were still "Serbs", that is,
remained attached to the Orthodox religion rather than having
been converted to the world-religions of Catholicism or Islam
like their townsmen neighbors). (I totally made up that last bit
of parenthetical "analysis" off the top of my head just now, so
take it for what it's worth. You may gather than I'm not a big
fan of Serbs. I'll explain why later. I'm not a big fan of
Croats, either. I like most of the Yugoslavs I've met.) This
concentration in agriculture accounts for why the Serbs, who made
up 1/3 of the population of Bosnia, occupied over half the land.
Sheepherders take up more space than factory workers.
THE COLLAPSE OF YUGOSLAVIA
The Yugoslav economy started running into trouble in the 1970s,
just like all the rest of the national economies in the world.
Too much was borrowed from foreign banks, and a lot of heavy
industry projects failed. The national debt quadrupled from 1975
to the end of the 1980s. For our discussion, people should bear
in mind that the International Monetary Fund, although seldom
mentioned, has played a major role in the current devolution of
Yugoslavia. Between 1986 and 1989, thanks to the dear old
I.M.F., the Yugoslav dinar was devalued 200 times, from $22 to
11. It's not surprising that things came apart. Runaway
inflation led to huge jumps in the cost of essential goods. "In
the summer of 1991, the banks to admit to the public that their
private foreign currency savings were gone." (Udovicki)
[A side note here: Re an earlier thread on the list about the
role of bankers in a socialist economy, Slobo Milosvic was banker
before turning to politics (not that there's always a very clear
line there to begin with).]
But the Yugoslav governmental structure didn't help. The 1974
constitution gave republics and provinces a veto power over
decision-making that "turned Yugoslavia _de facto_ into a
confederation of quite independent states, without providing
mechanisms for proper functioning of the federal government under
these new conditions.
"The federal government found itself grid-locked whenever any one
of the six republics or two autonomous provinces felt that a
decision might in some way jeopardize its local interests. The
country was left without an authority to reconcile existing
particularistic interests and provide channels for working
through tensions." (Udovicki)
BOSNIA AND CPUSA
I'm running out of time and coherence here. I want to touch on
one last point.
At an earlier point on this list, there were a number of postings
with the heading above. The first one was a posting of some
quotes from Gus Hall which tended to indicate a tilt by the
Communist Party USA toward support for the Beograd government.
Then there was a post by Scott Marshall that it warn't so, but
not giving any clear explanation of what the CPUSA's position
*was*. The rest tended to wander away from any specific
reference to the CPUSA or even to Bosnia, reflecting I guess a
habit some people have of posting "replies" without rewriting
off-line (or maybe something I don't understand about on-line
"threads"). I want to return to the original topic very briefly.
I've let my subscription to the _People's Weekly World_ expire
because I'm too old to study Aesopian writing anymore, but all my
experience tends to make believe that the original post was
I was involved a couple of years ago in setting up an ad hoc
group called the Committee Against Intervention in the Balkans,
which held a demonstration of about 100 people in Oakland and one
public forum in Berkeley. Among those in the group were a U.S.
sympathiser of the British Revolutionary Communist Party
(publishers of _Living Marxism_) and a couple of members of the
CPUSA, which is very small in this area because almost all the
members left to join the Committees of Correspondence. The good
comrades thought we should broaden our group by including some
"Yugoslavs". I assumed they meant members of the network of
leftists and pacifists from Yugoslavia who were active in
combatting the ethnic degeneration of that country. As it turned
out, all their "Yugoslavs" were Serbian nationalists whose veneer
of leftism got steadily thinner as they encountered resistance to
blaming everything on the Bosnians and the Croats, worrying about
the Muslim menace to world civilization, etc., etc.
What I learned from these folks is that the Serbs are a very put-
upon people. Despite their inherent nobility, everybody keeps
dissing them. Croats are all Ustashi. Bosnians are all
fundamentalist Muslims out to form a union with Libya and Iran.
Those Albanians keep insisting on living in Serbia's historic
center of Kosovo just because they were there first. The comrade
from the (British) RCP trotted out many atrocity photos showing
Muslims with cut-off Serb heads, etc.
When we did get in touch with the Yugoslav anti-war activists, it
turned out they had been physically threatened by some of these
"leftist" Serbs. Throughout this, the CPers retained friendly
relations with the Serbs, apparently intent on recruiting them.
One last note. Many Yugoslavs believe that a large percentage of
the atrocity photos used to stir up nationalistic hatreds in the
period from 1991 on are "recycled"--that the same tv clips, for
instance, were used on Zagreb tv to show Serb atrocities against
Croats and on Beograd tv to show Croat atrocities against Serbs.
Sorry for the incoherent nature of this.
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