The engagement of tanks and fighter aircraft in combat in Slovenia
marks the first major military conflict (with the exception of
the revolts in Eastern Europe in the fifties and the continuing
war in Ireland) in Europe since the Second World War. Within a
few weeks of the end of the Gulf War, the eruption of inter-communal
strife in Yugoslavia is another indication of the character of
the new world order emerging at the end of the Cold War. As the
response of the European Community indicates, trends towards the
break-up of Yugoslavia threaten not only pogroms throughout the
Balkans, but grave instability extending into the heart of Europe.
The conflict in the Balkans cannot be dismissed as a quarrel in
a distant country which has no consequence for Europe. The tanks
and troops on the streets of Ljubljana and Zagreb are only an
hour or so away from Austria or Italy. The fear that the conflict
could spill over the borders of Yugoslavia has sent EC ministers
scurrying from Brussels to Belgrade trying to engineer a peaceful
resolution to the crisis.
The origins of Yugoslaviaâs current difficulties lie in the competition
among the six republics and two provinces for access to economic
resources. Yugoslavia has a federal government, a common currency
and a national football team but economic and political autarchy
has long been the order of the day. Competition for resources
among the republics has been exacerbated by the extreme inequalities
between north and south.
Living standards in the northern republics of Slovenia and Croatia
and the province of Vojvodina are close to those of their Western
neighbours in Austria and Italy. Though Slovenia contains only
eight per cent of Yugoslaviaâs population, it accounts for 25
per cent of its gross national product and 30 per cent of its
hard currency exports to the West.
The affluent lifestyles of the Ferrari-driving elites of Slovenia
and Croatia are beyond the wildest dreams of the inhabitants of
the southern republics of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia and
the dusty province of Kosovo. Income per head is six times as
high in the north as in the south. In the province of Kosovo,
unemployment is more than double the national average of 20 per
cent and wages do not stand comparison with those in the north.
The republics of Slovenia and Croatia have long complained about
the burden of subsidies to their poorer southern neighbours. Quarrels
over the redistribution of resources among the republics have
been a longstanding source of conflict among the competing regional
bureaucracies. Local party and state officials in Slovenia and
Croatia have objected to the transfer of resources in the form
of development aid, budgetary supplements, federal projects and
natural disaster relief to the southern republics.
Accusing other republics of being backward and lazy, the Slovenians
and Croatians have pursued a host of protectionist measures to
keep revenues and investment at home. From time to time there
have been trade wars between the republics, especially since the
early eighties when the economy slumped and competition for resources
became more intense. The local bureaucracies organised Îbuy nationalâ
campaigns, urging their populations to boycott firms and goods
from outside their republics.
In recent years the conflict over resources has come to focus
on the question of the financing of the federal budget. There
have been disputes about whether the richer republics should continue
to provide monies for national defence, for development aid and
for agricultural investment to the poorer regions. The conflict
divided the republics between those who were resisting redistribution
and those who were demanding more.
Over the past 20 years, Slovenia and Croatia have sought greater
and greater autonomy so that they can hold on to their own Îearningsâ
and prevent them being redistributed elsewhere. They have increasingly
demanded that they should have sovereign control over their budgets,
legislation and territorial defence forces. By the mid-eighties,
Slovenia and Croatia were refusing to pay their share to the federal
budget, and by 1989 they were threatening to secede unless they
got a confederal constitution that gave them full sovereignty.
In the eighties, the competition for resources among the republics
acquired a nationalist form. The impetus for this development
came from within the Stalinist bureaucracy, which began to pursue
a survival strategy based on creating popular support by appealing
to nationalism. The shift towards economic reform and market solutions
within the bureaucracy encouraged this nationalistic strategy.
By the start of the eighties, Yugoslavia was in the throes of
a severe economic crisis. The federal state was liable for a debt
of $20 billion, productivity was plummeting, inflation was out
of control and confidence in the dinar had collapsed. The Yugoslav
bureaucracy turned to the market for salvation. There were few
disagreements about the reforms needed: an end to government subsidies,
a restructuring of enterprises, currency reform and efforts to
attract foreign investment. The debate was only about how the
reforms should be implemented.
Predictably, the Western republics wanted more economic and political
decentralisation, while the southern republics favoured more centralised
control. The leaderships of Slovenia and Croatia interpreted Serbiaâs
enthusiasm for the market as a devious plan to impose a strong
central government. They claimed this would lead to a redistribution
of the profits made by Slovenia and Croatia to the impoverished
and inefficient republics in the south.
To survive the shift to the market, the bureaucracy set out to
win popular support and consolidate a power base. Each regional
bureaucracy began to articulate its interests in the language
of nationalism. In Serbia, the fear of losing control led the
bureaucracy to fight for its survival by channelling economic
resentments in a nationalist direction. In Slovenia, the party
sought to secure its future by demanding greater control of economic
resources. For all sections of the bureaucracy, in Slovenia as
much as Serbia, nationalism was seen as a lifesaver.
The bureaucracy's survival strategy enjoyed some success at first.
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's campaign against the ethnic
Albanians of Kosovo, and his championing of the poor south against
the prosperous north, brought the Serbian party back to life.
Meanwhile, in Slovenia the party's demands for greater autonomy
produced a dramatic improvement in its popular standing.
The explosion of nationalism in Yugoslavia is the product of a
fight for survival among bureaucrats who are all as bad as one
another. But if any section of the bureaucracy is to be singled
out for special blame, it should be the Slovenian rather than
the Serbian party. Without exception, mainstream commentators
have placed the blame for the escalation of the conflict squarely
on the shoulders of Serbia's party boss Slobodan Milosevic. But
Slovenia's former party leader and current president, Milan Kucan,
was the first to up the stakes by wrapping himself in national
colours and pressing for more autonomy for his republic.
The impetus for the rise of nationalism in recent years began
in the more privileged republics of Slovenia and Croatia. It first
became the vocabulary of politicians in the northern and western
republics long before Slobodan Milosevic accomplished his putsch
in the Serbian party in 1987. It was the Slovenian and Croatian
party bureaucracies which first began to beat the nationalist
drum in the eighties, and forced the issue to a head by threatening
to secede unless they got their way.
Serbian nationalism has its roots in the economic backwardness
of the region and has played on popular resentment against the
richer northern republics. When Milosevic became leader he promised
workers a higher standard of living and economic security as Yugoslavia
moved towards the market. He put himself forward as a man who
understood the problems of ordinary people and who spoke their
language, in contrast to the colourless bureaucrats of old who
had always caved into the demands of the other republics.
The difference between Kucan and Milosevic is that the former
has survived because Slovenian nationalism has been seen to deliver
on its promise of economic prosperity, while the latter has lost
his power base because Serbian nationalism has been unable to
live up to its promises of economic improvements. This is not
a political conflict between the pluralism-loving peoples of the
north, and the centralism-disposed peoples of the south, as many
Western commentators suggest. The conflict was never about politics:
it was about power and how to hold onto it.
The current crisis in Yugoslavia cannot be understood as the result
of rival claims for national self-determination. There is nothing
progressive about the nationalist movements in Slovenia and Croatia.
They do not express a striving for democratic rights. Indeed they
do not even talk about democratic rights. They are simply concerned
with seeking more local power and autonomy for their own administrations
at the expense of the central authorities.
Even now, it is clear that Slovenia and Croatia do not want to
go all the way and break away from Yugoslavia. They would prefer
to negotiate some sort of confederal arrangement. They want the
best of both worlds: to remove the burdens of federation and yet
to maintain its benefits too. Their declarations of independence
were probably designed to strengthen their hand in the confederacy
negotiations rather than to force the issue to a conclusion.
The leaderships of Slovenia and Croatia neither express genuine
popular nationalist aspirations, nor are they capable of running
their republics as independent economic entities. The two republics
are more dependent on the Yugoslav market than some nationalists
admit. Their economies are so integrated with the Yugoslav economy
- 30 per cent of Slovenia's goods are exported to other parts
of the country - that secession would cause considerable damage
to the living standards of people in the two republics.
Secession would be a retrograde step from the point of view of
the peoples of Yugoslavia and the Balkans as a whole. If Slovenia
and Croatia secede from the federation they will unleash a process
of fragmentation which can only have divisive and dangerous consequences.
It will act as a spur to national conflict elsewhere in the country,
where the mix of ethnic groups is complex. It would antagonise
minorities such as the Serbs in Croatia and provoke ethnic tensions
throughout the region. It would also serve to confuse and obscure
the class struggle by pitting one national group against another.
The break-up of Yugoslavia would benefit nobody. The fragmentation
of the region along geographical and ethnic lines could lead to
inter-communal strife and bloodshed on a vast scale, as in the
past. Indeed, the spectre of Balkanisation is something that fills
the West with dread. If Slovenia today questions its borders within
Yugoslavian federation, tomorrow it may question its borders with
Austria, which contains a substantial Slovenian minority. Once
one of the borders drawn up at the First World War is questioned,
the whole framework of European nation states comes into question.
The situation in Yugoslavia is an extreme case of the social disintegration
which threatens all of Eastern Europe as economic catastrophe
generates frustration and ignites nationalist passions. This is
the downside of the triumphalism that greeted the collapse of
the Stalinist order in 1989.
Because of the negative consequences for the working class, in
Yugoslavia and in Europe as a whole, we are against the secession
of Slovenia and Croatia from the Yugoslav federation for the reasons
given above. We are also opposed to any form of Western intervention.
We favour an all-Balkans federation, as the best solution to Yugoslavia's
problems and the best way to focus attention on the real problem
in the region: the arrival of the market system and the transformation
of the Stalinist nomenklatura into a new capitalist class.
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