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MakingSerbs - Danilo Mandic

MakingSerbs - Danilo Mandic

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A thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts Department of Sociology Princeton University 2007

Honor Pledge I pledge my honor I did not violate the Honor Code in writing my senior thesis. Danilo Mandić


Acknowledgments Research for this thesis was funded by the George and Obie Shultz Fund, the Fred Fox Class of 1939 Fund, the Class of 1991 Fund, and Princeton University’s Sociology Department.


Note on Transliteration For readers unfamiliar with Serbian spelling and pronunciation, the following guide may be useful for many names appearing below: c č ć dj dž j lj nj š ž ‘ts’ as in cats ’ch’ as in church ’tj’ as in fortune ’dg’ as in drudge ’j’ as in job ’y’ as in you ’lli’ as in million ’n’ as in canyon ’sh’ as in she ’zh’ as in pleasure


The enemies of the Serbs made Serbs Serbs. -- Dobrica Ćosić Politika, July 27, 1991.


Table of Contents Honor Pledge Acknowledgements Note on Transliteration Table of Contents INTRODUCTION Theoretical Approach and Definition Departing from the Literature on Yugoslavia’s Disintegration Beyond “Blame Scholarship” CHAPTER 1: Where Have All the Yugoslavs Gone? (1990-1992) Multiple Identities Values and Voting Military Mobilization and Resistance CHAPTER 2: Enemies and their Portrayal in the Media (1990-1992) The Power of the Media Slovenia Croatia Bosnia-Herzegovina A New World Order CHAPTER 3: United in Misery (1993-1995) Sanctions and the War A New Kind of Society, New Vested Interests Public Opinion and Values CHAPTER 4: Something Borrowed, Something New (1996-2000) Public Opinion in the Second Half of the 1990s “The Walks”: Novelties “The Walks”: Continuities and the Nationalist Reaction The NATO Bombing: A Temporary Upsurge in Nationalism The Bulldozer Revolution: Nationalism Defeated The Bulldozer Revolution: Nationalism Lives CONCLUSION Reactive After All Implications for Theory and Future Study Appendix #1 Bibliography 2 3 4 6 7 7 16 23 27 27 36 47 55 55 59 63 70 75 83 84 88 103 114 114 120 128 136 141 146 156 156 162 168 170


INTRODUCTION This thesis explores the ways nationalism interacts with external military, diplomatic and economic pressures or perceived nationalist challenges, and attempts to account for the formation and intensification of nationalist collective identity. Specifically, I investigate the ways Serbian collective identity in the 1990s was shaped and, in large parts, defined by the perceived challenges and pressures posed by Croatian, Bosnian Muslim, Albanian and Slovenian nationalisms, as well as by the US and Western European countries that were diplomatically, militarily or otherwise implicated in the Yugoslav civil wars. Through historical and sociological analysis, I intend to establish when and how the notion of “we, the Serbs” monopolized collective identity and when and how the principle of “all Serbs in one state” became a popular priority of the highest order. Following the lead of Susan Woodward’s history of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, I approach the period as a highly complex civil war in which outside interference was a crucial component and decisive force behind the formation of new nationalist identities, if not the dominant one. Theoretical Approach and Definition A recurring question about Serbian nationalism in the late XX century is: can we better understood it as a state-driven phenomenon, defined and perpetuated by considerations of governments and power elites, or as a phenomenon based on widespread popular senses of community and national identity among Serbs? To illustrate my general take on this question, I briefly outline two theoretical approaches to understanding nationalism: those of Benedict Anderson and Charles Tilly. By highlighting several crucial differences between the two, I hope to simplify a much broader and more sophisticated debate in the theoretical literature


over nationalism. Far from mutually exclusive, the two authors overlap on certain analyses of nationalism (especially given their shared Marxian inspiration). I therefore treat the two positions as Weberian ideal types, not strict opposites of an absolute dichotomy. This thesis, I should state immediately, will be friendlier to Tilly’s general perspective. Anderson’s influential Imagined Communities purports to salvage Marxism from its discrediting underestimation of nationalism. To account for nationalism’s capacity to “command such profound emotional legitimacy” (even in a world of nominally antinationalist Communist societies), Anderson reevaluates it as a cultural phenomenon. 1 Removing nationalism from the company of “isms” such as fascism, liberalism and other ideologies, Anderson associates it (along with nationality, nation-ness and the like) with kinship or religion – a sense of belonging to an imagined community that is perceived as destiny rather than rational choice and that, like religion, offers transcendental explanations of human sacrifice, agony and death. 2 Much more than simply a “false consciousness” or outdated irrationality, nationalism is portrayed as a potent source of self-awareness and identity that drives humans to think and behave according to their national membership. As several older sources of identity lost their credibility, nationalism gained the power to motivate and mobilize people (elites and semi-literate peasants alike) to act on its principles – often against competing institutions such as the family, the church, the government or the tribe. The imagined community of the nation arose out of “large cultural systems” (like the religious community and the dynastic realm), most often as a rebellion against them. These systems had held an “axiomatic grip on men’s minds,” Anderson argues, by promoting three

1 2

Anderson, 4. Ibid, 5-6.


crucial beliefs: that certain languages and scripts enable unique access to truth, that aristocratic and monarchic rule is divinely ordered and legitimated, and that time flows nonlinearly, cosmologically and without clear separations between past and present. The single greatest force in demolishing these beliefs was print capitalism – an abrupt proliferation of the activities of writers, scribes, printers, publishers, lexicographers, grammarians, and text merchants, who not only created a new readership by offering books in the vernacular as well as Latin, but also gave language a novel fixity. Since European nationalism of the late XVIII and early XIX centuries was largely language-based, this enabled populist unification around one or another “mother tongue.” 3 Print capitalism gave birth to widespread literacy, mass education, linear thinking, accurate maps, novels and a new conception of time. Importantly, Anderson’s ultimate agent of change is the individual. It is neither state, church, diplomatic elite or intellectual class that sparks nationalist beliefs, but a large group of individuals who – autonomously, we are led to presume – begin imagining themselves and others as members of a common political collectivity. Each person separately, anonymously and self-consciously consumes the exciting new products of print-capitalism (newspapers, novels, maps, etc.), while others simultaneously do the same, imagining each other’s existence and awareness. In fact, these by-and-large unaffiliated individuals are so formative of nationalist imagination that more coherent and organized non-individual agents are sometimes even forced to adapt to this imagination. For instance, Anderson argues that the European dynasties of the XIX century were practically left with no choice but to adopt elements of the vernacular as official state language. What is more, these previously nonnationalist elites were ultimately compelled to endorse “official nationalism,” a fusion of empire and nation. Hence the “Romanovs discovered they were Great Russians, Hanoverians

Anderson, 67-83.


that they were English, Hohenzollerns that they were Germans.” 4 Official nationalism later flourished, Anderson argues, in the XX century in Asia, Africa and Europe after World War I. This not only implies that individuals can, in sufficient numbers, be the true agents of historical change, but also that powerful institutional structures like the state often have to adapt to nationalism’s authority. At first glance, Charles Tilly’s work does not appear to analyze nationalism, let alone offer an exhaustive “theory of nationalism” as such. I would argue, nevertheless, that Tilly’s theses can be understood as an alternative explanation for the very phenomenon Anderson is purporting to explain. Tilly’s avoidance of the term is indicative of the most crucial difference between them: Tilly’s focus is the state, not the nation. He finds it unproductive to treat the “nation” – “one of the most puzzling and tendentious items in the political lexicon” 5 – as a proper unit of historical and sociological analysis. It is the modern state that deserves our attention because nationalism and nations depend on an elaborate inter-state system of power relations to even become meaningful. Like Michael Mann and others, Tilly argues that the state precedes and makes possible the rise of nationalism, not vice versa. Its “importance,” Tilly believes, is its “political principle [that] a nation should have its own independent state, and an independent state should have its own nation.” 6 The state is so integral to understanding nationalism that even Tilly’s informal definition of the phenomenon is fundamentally state-based:

4 5

Anderson, 85. Tilly 1995, 6. Cited in Smith 1998, 76. 6 Tilly 2003, 33.


The word [nationalism] refers to the mobilization of populations that do not have their own state around a claim to political independence; […] It also, regrettably, refers to the mobilization of the population of an existing state around a strong identification with that state. 7 Thus “nations” are understandable through the study of European inter-state diplomacy and warfare alone; analyses which fail to acknowledge the state’s role are, Tilly argues, grossly incomplete. The contrast with Anderson’s definition of an “imagined political community” is striking. This not only shifts our attention from the “cultural” and the “imaginative,” but affirms the centrality of war, violence, coercion, competing interests and rivalry in defining identities and communities. It is, after all, “war” that “makes states.” 8 Far from a romantic vision of the “national state” as a cultural product of popular will or general sentiment, Tilly is describing a brutally realpolitik institution with behavior and logic comparable to those of an organized crime network. The state’s activities – war making, state making, protection and extraction – are essentially self-justifying and self-perpetuating processes that, over time, produce various institutional and ideological by-products (“residue[s],” in Tilly’s words) to sustain themselves and maximize efficiency and the probability of success. To formulate the thesis another way: nationalism can be understood as one of these by-products – a mere “residue.” Given the need to placate the demands of various internal and external populations, nationalism emerged as a convenient tool for state-affiliated elites to remain in power, as well as a dominant mode of political communication for those seeking to challenge them.

7 8

Tilly 1993, 116. Ibid 1985, 170.


Moreover, Tilly puts great emphasis on the ways war – the state’s ultimate function and purpose – necessarily implicates states into complex networks of various constituencies, power structures, industry-specific elites and other states. “War as international relations” reflects Tilly’s dismissal of the idea of the state as geopolitically detached – the impact of the European inter-state system of coercion and competition is so fundamental that the very distinction between “internal” and “external,” “domestic” and “foreign” affairs is blurred.9 As states pursue their own interests, the interests of other states and the overall balance of power restrict and frame the behavior of all actors involved. It is only in this inter-connected and complex arena that nationalist ideologies can emerge, and are fated to be dependent on these state activities and inter-state relations. Three crucial points of contention between the two authors can be summarized. Firstly, they diverge on the nature of the causal relation between political reality and what we might call “popular perception.” For Anderson, a fundamental shift in a group’s perception of time, history, geography and itself produces new political realities based on nationalist ideology; for Tilly, it is the political realities – shaped overwhelmingly by states – which cause peoples affected by these realities to gain new perspectives, ideas, and so-called “worldviews.” For both authors, the nation is a construct; yet, it is a different kind of construct for each. Anderson argues it is constructed by the imagination of its members – a process precipitated by print-capitalism and the collapse of pre-nationalist dogmas like divine rule and cosmological senses of time. Tilly, on the other hand, argues it is constructed incidentally and derivatively by rivaling states pursuing their self-interests in a violent, competitive arena. Put crudely, Anderson believes popular perception constructs nationalist reality, while Tilly believes the state constructs both those things.

Tilly 1985, 184.


Secondly, there is a difference regarding the extent to which nationalism is a product of “top-down” processes as opposed to vice versa. Anderson suggests “bottom-up” processes are crucial for the development of nationalism and might even overpower “top-down” pressures from, say, imperial elites. He acknowledges the role of “high” institutions like monarchies and colonial administrations, but does not see them as central. In sharp contrast, Tilly treats “grassroots” forces as generally deferential to higher structural and institutional processes from “the top.” Another formulation of this difference is whether nationalism is understood as a somewhat spontaneous or state-dependent phenomenon. As mentioned, Tilly necessarily implicates nationalism into a complex system of interconnected and competing states; in this context, nationalism is inherently reactive and dependent on state-related affairs. For Anderson, nationalism is fairly spontaneous in this regard, potentially oblivious to structures like the state and primarily dependent on the private, autonomous thought processes and sentiments of individuals. At best, Anderson concedes that the state may regulate nationalism, but does not allow for the possibility that nationalism presupposes a political order based on state structures. Finally, while Anderson describes nationalism as a “cultural” phenomenon arising out of “large cultural systems,” Tilly subsumes nationalism into the realm of politics as a phenomenon arising out of considerations like protection from violence, coercion, violation of property rights and so on. Anderson’s national subjects, in contrast, are motivated by “emotional” considerations, senses of belonging, internal mental processes and reflections on “transcendental” matters of suffering and death.


Table 1.0. Anderson vs. Tilly on Nationalism Dissimilarity Primary (not exclusive) source of loyalty and allegiance to nation state Primary agents of historical change Proper unit of analysis Single most emphasized development that allowed nationalism to arise Context out of which nationalism arose The direction of the formation of nationalism Anderson Emotional and psychological legitimacy, built through the imagination of community. Individuals. The nation. Print-capitalism. Cultural: Religious community, dynastic realm and other “large cultural systems.” A “bottom-up” process – nationalism as somewhat spontaneous. Tilly Force, violence and coercion. States. The state. War. Political: European inter-state warfare, competition, rivalry, conflict, etc. A “top-down” process – nationalism as statedependent.

These differences are, of course, matters of emphasis, not fundamentally irreconcilable perceptions. Nevertheless, this thesis tackles nationalism in a sense closer to Tilly’s general approach: with an emphasis on the role of states, war, coercion and political conflicts on nationalism as opposed to more “Andersonian” concerns. Accordingly, I will define Serbian nationalism as that set of political demands and collective actions that called for the uniting of all Serbs into a single independent state ruled by Serbs. These will include not only the doctrine of Greater Serbianism, but also advocacy of those variants of Yugoslavism and socialism that emphasized unity with Croats, Slovenes or Muslims but under the condition (at least implicit) that Serbs enjoy superior status of one kind or another. To take an example from another time period: many advocates of the post1918 Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes would be treated as Serbian nationalists under this definition if their defense of south Slav unity was motivated not by utopian beliefs


in altruistic brotherhood and inter-ethnic teamwork, but by the hope that Serbian interests will be served to a greater extent than those of other groups.10 The Yugoslav civil war inspired social scientists to generate an array of imprecise concepts (“historico-ethnic,” “ethno-mythological,” “religio-national,” “ethno-fascist” and “nihilo-nationalist” are among the most impressive), most of which I intentionally avoid. “Nationalist collective identity” and “Serbian-ness” are used synonymously to describe the general sentiment that primary loyalty should be directed to being Serbian, not Yugoslav or Orthodox Christian or a citizen of Vojvodina or a resident of Belgrade. “Bosniaks” will refer to Bosnian Muslims; “Bosnians,” to citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Preceding the word “Serbs” or “Croats” with the epithet “ethnic” is a prevalent custom in much of the literature, though it has worn out its usefulness. It had originally served to distinguish between nationality and civic status (an “ethnic Serb” from Croatia as opposed to a “Croat” from Croatia), but has degenerated into an attempt to homogenize national belonging and to account for the discrepancy between state and national boundaries. To avoid wordiness, I avoid the prefix “ethnic” and refer to the entire nationality as “Serbs.” Citizens of Serbia will be “Serbians” as opposed to Serbs, citizens of Croatia “Croatians” as opposed to Croats, and so on. I avoid the careless distinguishing between “ultra-nationalists” and “nationalists,” preferring simply the latter. Finally, to dodge an extraordinarily difficult debate over what new categories of identity the Yugoslav civil wars have introduced in the fields of anthropology and sociology, I use “ethnicity” and “nationality” interchangeably.

For the most influential author arguing that the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was intended as an expression of Serbian hegemony, see: Banac 1984.



Departing from the Literature on Yugoslavia’s Disintegration The focus on Serbian nationalism specifically is not meant as a rejection of comparative approaches to understanding the Balkans or as a statement about the uniqueness of Serbia’s nationalist experience. To the contrary, I emphasize the inherently interactive and interconnected nature of Serbian nationalism to Croatian, Slovenian, Bosnian Muslim and even Western nationalisms. Although authors like Ivo Banac, Charles and Barbara Jelavich and Stevan K. Pavlowitch have carried out extensive comparative studies of Yugoslavia’s various nationalisms in the pre-World War I or pre-World War II era, 11 few have emphasized that Serbian nationalism in the last decade of the XX century can only be understood if contextualized in relation to its rivals. Instead, much of the literature on the 1990s breakup has perpetuated the notion of the uniqueness of Serbian nationalism – the idea that Serbian nationalism is, in one way or another, an anomaly and exception in its unusual aggressiveness, irrationality, intolerance, aversion to multiculturalism, propensity for violence, expansionist tendency or general “backwardness.” Branimir Anzulović’s Heavenly Serbia: From Myth to Genocide isolates the development of Serbian nationalist ideology from those of other South Slavic peoples to attribute a “genocidal” nature to it.12 Less extreme but somewhat similar approaches are visible in Michael Sells’ A Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Stephen Schwartz’s (and Christopher Hitchens') Kosovo: Background to a War, and even in the standard works of distinguished

Banac, 1984; Pavlowitch 1999; Jelavich and Jelavich 1987. In addition, comparative approaches have sought to evaluate the similarities between Serbian nationalist state policies and Israeli state violence (Ron 2003), between ethnic cleansing experiences in Yugoslavia and Rwanda (Mueller 2000) and even between the Armenian genocide, state-sponsored massacre in Niger and Serbian crimes in the Bosnian war (Melson 1996). In addition to some unwarranted generalizations and occasional overlooking of the specificities of Serbian nationalism, these approaches do not address the interrelations and interconnections of Balkan nationalisms or the ways their mutual relationships define them. To employ a metaphor from Michael Reynolds: it is one thing to study bacteria as a series of isolated case studies in separate petri dishes, and quite another to examine the ways they reproduce and interact with each other in the same environment (Reynolds 2003, 10). 12 Anzulović 1999.



journalist Tim Judah. 13 In large parts, it was this “uniqueness thesis” that gave rise to the dubious distinction between "ethnic nationalism" and "civic nationalism," the former being a destructive, anti-“liberal,” virulent plague infecting the world and the latter being a democratic, multi-cultural, diversity-friendly model exemplified by peace-loving democratic nation-states. 14 The distinction is largely normative and analytically unhelpful, though its political usefulness is clear. However – as Diana Johnstone, Kate Hudson and Aleksa Djilas have warned – branding the “dark side” of Serbian nationalism unique is not only historically unsound but might blind us to the uncomfortable commonalities it may have with its Western counterparts. I maintain that crucial features of Serbian nationalism are far from unique and that the formation of collective identity described and traced here is easily detectible in most, if not all other national groups. With a few exceptions, the approach to historical analysis of the 1990s Balkan wars is regularly a traditional, top-down approach that analyzes statesmen and formal institutional interactions – a "history of leaders," if you will, in which the principal agents and carriers of nationalism are presidents, military officials and high-level diplomats. A typical example is the obsessive focus on Slobodan Milošević’s 1989 speech at Kosovo Polje, at which fateful moment – we are led to believe – he gave birth to Serbian nationalism. This kind of approach not only tends to neglect the existence of opposition movements in the various Yugoslav republics, but treats public sentiment and grassroots nationalism as products of well-designed schemes of the republics' leaders, who are considered the true actors in the drama. Although it is certainly true that leaders of authoritarian currents (primarily in Serbia and Croatia) enjoyed overwhelming control over major events in the wars, they were also under

13 14

Schwarz 2001; Sells 1998; Judah 2000. For a clear example of the distinction, see: Roshwald 2001, 3-4, though the distinction is pervasive.


significant pressure from their republics' populations. Occasionally, this public pressure restricted policymaking, even though state elites rarely admitted so in public. For instance, the massive anti-Milošević protests in Belgrade in March of 1991 put noteworthy pressure on the regime and significantly complicated the supposedly homogenous nationalist mindset of Serbia. Similarly, the 1992 Sarajevo protests against ethnic division caught many nationalist leaders by surprise, as it turned out that popular antiwar sentiment opposed to exclusionary nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina made mobilization for war difficult. Yet, Little and Silber’s canonized book on the war – Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation – assumes that war mobilizes public opinion to the power centers of each republic, leaving the leaders with most, if not all the influence. 15 In a similar vain, Louis Sell tells the story of the destruction of Yugoslavia with no more than a biography of Milošević alone, as if the single leader’s decisions and political maneuvers account for all the developments of the period. 16 Doder and Branson likewise attribute all the major developments of the period to biographical explanations related to Milošević, with practically no acknowledgement of public opinion in its own right. 17 I argue, however, that the connections between public support for state authority, nationalism among elites, nationalism among the general population, and actual political events and outcomes during the period, were rarely straightforward. The views of Slobodan Milošević, Ratko Mladić, Vojislav Šešelj and other nationalist icons were often irrelevant to the levels of nationalism among Serbs at large. Mobilized masses, occasionally at least, had nationalist demands quite disparate from their leaders’, and were sometimes even infringements on leaders' power. Inspired in part by Padraic Kenney’s study of the Central
15 16

Silber & Little 1996. Sell 2002. 17 Doder and Branson 1999.


European revolutions that toppled Communism in 1989, 18 I explore the often neglected, “grassroots” influences on collective identity and state policy which arise “from below” and are sometimes impervious to official state policy or the pressure of leaders. Although political sociology has tackled the interaction between nationalism and military crisis in the Balkans, few studies have dealt with the role of external pressure vis-àvis the destructive rise of Serbian nationalism. Indeed, Misha Glenny’s Fall of Yugoslavia belongs to a marginal minority by emphasizing factors other than Serbian aggression as roots of the problem, and was ground-breaking at the time of its publication in questioning Western intentions in the Balkans. 19 By-and-large, however, non-Yugoslav influences on the civil war have not received reasonable attention. At one extreme, there is a conspiratorial, nationalistic and oddly paranoid account, which sees the machinations of the “international community” (usually defined as the Vatican, US, Britain and Germany) as the primary source of the excesses of Serbian nationalism, as it manifested itself in ethnic cleansing, territorial expansion and ethnic fanaticism. 20 At another extreme, there is a highly idealized vision of the “international community’s” benevolent and altruistic efforts in mitigating the irrational and barbaric practices of Balkan primordial nationalists. 21 In between are standard interpretations of the Yugoslav wars, which explain major events as caused primarily by Serbian aggression and secondarily by the various reactions to it within Yugoslavia, with the disinterested or humanitarian “international community” failing to intervene on time, or with insufficient force to impose stability. 22 One reflection of the last two of these approaches is the common reluctance among scholars to refer to the conflict as a "civil war” – a term that
Kenney 2003. Glenny 1993. Other useful analyses of external factors in the dissolution of Yugoslavia are Hudson 2003; Parenti 2001; Chomsky 1999. 20 Šešelj N.d.; Bataković N.d.; Mitrovich 1999; Hudson 2003; Parenti 2001. 21 Doder and Branson 1999; International Crisis Group 2001; Malcolm 1998. 22 Ignatieff 2000; Judah 2000; Mertus 1999; Vickers 1998.
19 18


appears to contradict an “original sin” thesis of Serbian nationalism as the primary instigator of the bloodshed, or that appears to assume that multi-ethnic Yugoslavia was a legitimate entity. Most of these accounts remain incomplete because they assume that Serbian nationalism arose somewhat spontaneously and in isolation, not as a reactive or interactive force shaped by other nationalisms of the Yugoslav crisis. I approach the conflict precisely as a civil war to draw attention to the interactive aspects of Serbian nationalism and away from its supposed exceptionality and isolation. While I avoid reductionist attempts at burdening only outside forces for the Yugoslav tragedy, 23 I do concentrate significantly on external factors and pressures in making Serbian collective identity what it was. Serbian nationalism (imagined as arising spontaneously and in isolation) is often said to explode when, for instance, an intellectual class or political leader comes along and ignites a mass nationalist awakening in some sort of political vacuum. Nationalists themselves especially promote the view, as they are mostly hesitant to describe their own nations as responses to other nations or outsiders (which might imply a status of inferiority), preferring instead to portray those other nations (or ideologies like Bolshevism, religions like Islam, etc.) as reacting derivatively to “us” and our natural instinctive desires (which implies “our” superiority). Such is the unswerving line of Matija Bećković, Vojislav Šešelj and other Serbian hardliners (some of whom see themselves as the sparks that ignite nationalist awakening), though similar approaches are visible in the works of Anzulović and others. Aside from the aforementioned Milošević speech at Kosovo Polje, many Western accounts point to the 1986 Memorandum of the Serbian Academy or the publication of books by Dobrica Ćosić or Vuk Drašković as the beginnings of the stirring of Serbian nationalism in the late 20th Century. As Ivo Banac has pointed out, this approach mistakenly assumes that

Examples of such reductionism are Parenti 2001, Hudson 2003, and a plethora of Serbian nationalist authors.


Titoist Communist Yugoslavia was a period of absolute peace and tolerance, devoid of national conflicts until the unfortunate rise to power of Slobodan Milošević. Departing from these approaches, I treat nationalisms in the Balkans as primarily reactive and interactive forces shaped by other nationalisms, perceived outside threats, external economic challengers, rival ethnicities, etc. As Aleksa Djilas has pointed out, Serbian nationalist fears and ambitions were by no means post-Communist novelties concocted by a clique of intellectuals or political elites. 24 In fact, the presence of Serbian nationalism in the 1990s is often independent of nationalist leaders, intellectuals or elites, which suggests caution about what is sometimes called a “constructivist” approach to the phenomenon. 25 Nevertheless, an approach that emphasizes almost everlasting, primordial, ancient hatreds which were merely delayed by the post-1945 Communist regime and erupted inevitably in the 1990s is equally unsatisfying. For all their transcendental differences, Serbian and Croatian nationalists in fact agree that the only way to understand nationalist rivalries in the 1990s is to trace them back to XIX century (if not earlier) national yearnings and to understand the “other” side’s malicious thirst to replay previous historical crimes. The most obvious battleground for such nationalist interpretations is the Second World War. Vladimir Dedijer’s Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican 26 and similar books reviewed Croatian extermination policies against Serbs in World War II in painful detail and encouraged viewing the Croatian separatist movement in the 1990s as continuities of the ustaša regime of the 1940s. In contrast, Croatian nationalists – such as Franjo Tudjman
24 Djilas 2005. This very question – how ancient or modern the nationalist rivalries and hatreds in question are – has been hotly debated by Djilas in his much-publicized review of Noel Malcolm’s Kosovo: a Short History (1998). The latter was criticized for downplaying the role of “ancient hatreds” in the conflicts between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, as Djilas argued that the impact of the divisions of the Second World War are quite deep and that BosniaHerzegovina in particular should not be idealized as a multi-ethnic paradise without national tensions. See Djilas 2005, 163175. 25 For an extensive presentation of the constructivist approach (albeit in the African context), see: Yeros, 1998. 26 Dedijer 1992.


himself in his Horrors of War and Genocide and Yugoslavia – exonerate the WWII Croatian state from responsibility for genocide and see in the ustaša experience a legitimate national aspiration of the Croatian people. 27 Both approaches overestimate the ancientness and underestimate the novelty of major aspects of the national divisions of the 1990s. Significant national differences existed in the Balkans, to be sure, but were historically more often determined by regional as opposed to national lines. Differences between two regions populated by the same national group were often greater than those between two different national groups populating the same area (this is, incidentally, true even of most of the early 1990s). 28 Furthermore, precise nationalist delineations from the ancient past are extremely difficult to acquire, given the closeness of the three principal languages of the region, the frequent conversions among religions, the “promiscuity” of cultural practices in the region, and the high levels of inter-ethnic and inter-religious marriages (especially in BosniaHerzegovina). Therefore, the opposite extreme of reducing the rise of nationalism in the 1990s to obvious ancient trajectories that were perfectly predictable and perhaps inevitable is very problematic. In conclusion, it remains extremely difficult to predict or explain behavior according to ethnicity, religion, and ideology in the Balkans. Accordingly, I will aim for a balancing act in regard to the difficulty of representing Yugoslavia's disintegration along nationalist lines. Some of the identity categories – ethnic and religious especially – are inevitably somewhat confusing, given how conflated they are. Most scholars have never fully reconciled the difficulty of treating Serbian-ness as parallel to Muslim-ness in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance. Or, when we look at the Yugoslav Army’s conduct during the wars, its state

27 28

Tudjman 1996a, 1996b. Djilas, 4-6.


socialist ideological character may not explain much of its decision-making. Therefore, when discussing interactions and reactions of Serbian nationalism with its rivals, it is not a matter of dealing with simple identity equations (Milošević-style Communism and Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism and "Greater Croatian" nationalism, Islam and Bosnian secessionism, etc.). Rather, nationalism, ethnicity, etc. will be seen as driving forces of violence only in so far as “Serbs,” “Croats,” and “Muslims” are taken as highly imperfect categories. Finally, certain aspects of the conflict are, as many scholars agree, reducible to purely realpolitik standpoints, unrelated to ethnic considerations or national loyalties. I will therefore remain cautious about misinterpreting elements of a straightforward war for territory through the lens of abstract national imagination, but will also remain sensitive to crucial nationalist differences. Beyond “Blame Scholarship” Sadly, most of the literature on Yugoslavia’s demise ranges from biased analyses to outright nationalist propaganda. By-and-large, Serbian nationalism is analyzed with deliberate implications for who is to blame for its detrimental impact and who is to be vindicated of responsibility for the grotesque levels of carnage. In Yugoslavia itself, scholars like Anzulović and Mitrovich seek to blame Serbian and Croatian nationalism, respectively, for instigating and escalating the bloodshed and rejecting peaceful solutions and diplomatic initiatives from the other side. 29 Much of our information about the Serbian-Croatian war comes from the likes of Former Yugoslav Defense Minister Veljko Kadijević, whose purpose is not necessarily to narrate truthfully, but simply to justify the behavior of the Yugoslav


Anzulović 1999; Mitrovich 1999.


Army. 30 Outside Yugoslavia, Western scholars seek to condemn or defend the actions of the “international community” according to ideological considerations or local political loyalties. Michael Ignatieff, Ivo Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon, for instance, criticize US/British interventions in the former Yugoslavia on the grounds of one or another party faction on the Anglo-American political scene. 31 Similarly, Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts was explicitly written with the hopes of influencing if not guiding Clinton administration policies. 32 Generally, the purpose of many travelogues or eyewitness accounts of the rise of Serbian nationalism was far from descriptive and empirical. The normative nature of most of the accounts is due to the fact that they come from journalists or involved state officials, not sociologists or political scientists. Often, journalists’ perspectives are mere reflections of where they were reporting from during the civil war. Authors such as David Rohde, Roy Gutman, David Rieff and others reported mostly from areas under siege by Serbian forces and, understandably, offer books that lament Western non-intervention. Peter Brock’s reporting from Serbian areas, conversely, accuses Western media coverage of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina of bias against Serbia. 33 Similarly, statesmen and military officials like Richard Holbrooke and Wesley Clark are precious sources of information, but write primarily to support their own involvements rather than to offer objective, descriptive accounts of historical events. 34 What is more, many works that have entered the canon are authored by journalists affiliated with politicized organizations or statesmen with obvious agendas. Milošević-biographer Louis Sell was a US

30 31

Kadijević 1993. Ignatieff 2000; Daalder and O’Hanlon 2001. 32 Kaplan 2005. 33 Brock 2005. 34 Holbrooke 1998; Clark 2001.


Foreign Service officer and a board member of the International Crisis Group, which predictably restricted his distribution of guilt for the Yugoslav wars. The shortcomings of such “blame scholarship” have been amply documented. Edward Herman and Philip Hammond’s collection of essays demonstrates the limitations and ideological pollution of media coverage of the Kosovo crisis of 1999 as well as the earlier phases of the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. 35 Aleksa Djilas has pointed out some of the limitations of Noel Malcolm’s exclusive focus on non-Serbian documentary sources and archives in his Bosnia: A Short History and Kosovo: A Short History, with broader implications for how to avoid partiality in similar historical accounts. 36 In addition, both Ed Vulliamy’s Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, and Gutman’s Witness to Genocide have been discredited for their exaggerated and even fabricated accounts of mass rape and “death camps” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, even though both went on to become bestsellers and award-winning works. 37 In sum, healthy skepticism and heavy scrutinizing of most secondary sources – especially given the normative stakes in evaluations of external pressures on Serbian nationalism – are in order. To address this problem of bias, I can do little more than acknowledge an obvious point: I will strive to separate, to the extent possible and to the satisfaction of common sense, my political judgments from my analysis. This thesis, as any work dealing with such a brutal historical episode, will present arguments which will unfailingly be shared by Serbian extremist nationalists, just as it will contain claims dear to the hearts of apologists for Western misconduct. It will mostly, however, present evidence in favor of an understanding

Hammond and Herman, 2000. Djilas, 2005. Tim Judah has also challenged some of Malcolm’s approaches. 37 Hammond and Herman, 2000; Ali 2000. For a credible account of death figures and other statistics about the war, see: Ewa and Bijak 2005 (a study by demographers commissioned by the Hague tribunal).



of nationalism that can help future handlings of it be more productive and humane. I cannot perfectly avoid being labeled biased in one direction or another, especially on political issues as contentious as the ones surrounding the Yugoslav conflicts. Unfortunately, uncompromising advocates of one nationalism/ideology or another will inevitably denounce analytic approaches, often regardless of what analysis may conclude. Against such thinking, I hope my views and interpretations – which I have strived to make as transparent as possible – will be judged on their merits.


CHAPTER 1: Where Have All the Yugoslavs Gone? (1990-1992) This chapter deals with the period that is often referred to as a climax of Serbian nationalism by exploring what some of its concrete features were. Contrary to many of the authors mentioned above, I argue that Serbian nationalism should not be overemphasized as a causal factor in this stage of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. I first outline the movement from a widespread self-understanding based on multiple identities (which assigned low importance to nationality) to a more nationalist one, based on ethnicity and a rejection of the more collectivist category of “Yugoslavs.” Secondly, despite a lack of satisfactory public opinion data, I investigate the extent to which values conducive to nationalism were reflected in public opinion and how these were “translated” into voting decisions in the fateful elections of this period. Finally, I review the military mobilization of 1991, the massive resistance to it, and the implications of both for understanding the limits of Serbian nationalism. Multiple Identities From 1960-1980, Yugoslavia had one of the world’s leading economic growth rates, one of Europe’s lowest infant mortality rates, a steady inflow of enormous foreign capital, an extensive system of free health care, a guaranteed right to an income, affordable transportation and housing, one of the highest levels of university-educated women in the world, and a life expectancy of seventy-two years. Without an official “national” to its “state,” Yugoslavia was a rarity in Europe and one of very few on the continent without an official national language. Though often ridiculed for their inefficiency and corruption, independent worker councils and student-run cafeterias maintained a level of grassroots


participation and self-management in local affairs that was unheard of in the rest of the state socialist world. The red Yugoslav passport could cross virtually every border in the world, and its bearer could afford the indulgence thanks to a guaranteed, subsidized one-month vacation. The so-called “Third World” placed its hopes on Yugoslavia’s economic development model, victims of Soviet terror in Eastern Europe cheered the country’s clash with Stalinism, while President Gerald Ford eagerly toasted to Yugoslavia’s honor by observing that “Americans have particularly admired Yugoslavia's independent spirit.” 38 In this cozy socialist environment of “brotherhood and unity,” it made little sense to emphasize ethnic and religious differences for any political posturing, let alone for territorial expansion. Students and workers of numerous backgrounds shared university classrooms and factory floors, often in blissful ignorance of what nationality some of their colleagues even were. Although sometimes dismissed as revisionist romanticization of an “artificial,” repressive communist state that was united only by coercion (the dreaded “Yugonostalgia”), the fact remains that even the very last years preceding Yugoslavia’s death were a period of considerable multi-nationality. To be sure, much of Yugoslav anti-nationalism was a coerced principle, dictated by state socialist ideology for often unflattering reasons. Yet Titoist dogma notwithstanding, the simple power of decades of multi-ethnic life and mixing throughout the entire state in discouraging nationalism was undeniable. “Despite the claims made by nationalist leaders,” Susan Woodward wrote, …the reality of multinational Yugoslavia still existed in the lives of individual citizens in 1990-91 – in their ethnically mixed neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities; in their mixed marriages, family ties across republic boundaries, and second homes in another republic; in their conceptions of

Gerald Ford, Toast at State Dinner in Belgrade, August 3rd, 1975. Available at stable URL: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=5146 (the American Presidency Project).



ethnic and national coexistence and the compatibility of multiple identities for each citizen. 39 Indeed, “multiple identities” were reflected in multiple loyalties and associations, most of which were localized and non-national (families, schools, sport teams, neighborhoods, villages, professional associations, etc.). A national “character” was particularly deficient among younger generations, especially those far enough from the inter-ethnic carnage of World War II to be uninterested. In a study of youth attitudes towards identity in Serbia proper (a highly homogenous environment, as we will see below), a predominance of “personalistic beliefs” was found – those based on the idea that people should be judged as persons rather than as members of nations. A majority of respondents rejected “national background” as something of importance: 61% regarded it as less important that one’s profession, friends, age, family, class position, gender, political orientation and region. In ninth place, nationality found itself above only the categories of “favorite sport” and “religion” on the scale of significance. 40 Though more moderate, a similar rejection of national identity as a priority was also recorded among the population at large, who likewise preferred localized, smaller categories. 41 It was from this cocktail of identity that a vulgarized, jingoistic and narcissistic national identity emerged among Serbs, drawing loyalty and allegiance to Serbia above all other collectivities and claimed the most brutal atrocities in Europe since the Second World War in its name. To trace this rise, I begin with a look at data relating to the curious concept of “Yugoslav-ness.” A powerful indicator of “multiple identities” and the absence of nationalism is the number of citizens in post-World War II census data declaring themselves

39 40

Ali 2000, 205. Pantić 1994, 149. 41 Ibid 1991.


“Yugoslav” – an ethnically, culturally and religiously undefined category, which was competing against six constitutionally-defined national or religious categories, six “national minorities” and over ten other recognized ethnic groups. As a rough indicator of what political collectivity citizens directed their allegiance to, this census data is potentially a valuable way to “trace” Serbian nationalism and its rivals. [See Appendix #1 for a visual representation of this data.]
Table 1.1. Self-declared “Yugoslavs” in Republics and Regions: Numbers 42 Republic or Region Bosnia-Herzegovina Montenegro Croatia Macedonia Slovenia Serbia (total) Central Serbia Vojvodina Kosovo & Metohija SFR of Yugoslavia 1961 275,883 1,559 15,559 1,260 2,784 20,079 11,699 3,174 5,206 317,124 1971 43,796 10,943 84,118 3,652 6,744 123,824 75,976 46,928 920 273,077 1981 326,316 31,243 379,057 14,225 26,263 441,941 272,050 167,215 2,676 1,219,045 1991 239,845 25,854 104,728 n/a 12,237 317,739 145,810 168,859 3,070 n/a [1,018,142 w/o Macedonians]

Table 1.2. Self-declared “Yugoslavs” in Republic and Regions: Percentages Republic or Region Bosnia-Herzegovina Montenegro Croatia Macedonia Slovenia Serbia (total) Central Serbia Vojvodina Kosovo & Metohija SFR of Yugoslavia Republic Bosnia-Herzegovina Percentage Share of “Yugoslavs” in Total Population 1961 8.4 3.3 0.4 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.5 1.7 1971 1.2 2.0 1.9 0.2 0.4 1.5 1.4 2.4 0.1 1.3 1981 7.9 5.3 8.2 0.7 1.4 4.7 4.8 8.2 0.2 5.4 1991 5.5 4.2 2.2 n/a 0.6 3.2 2.5 8.4 0.2 n/a

Percentage distribution of “Yugoslavs” 1961 87.0 1971 16.0 1981 26.8 1991 23.56

42 Both tables are drawn from 1961, 1971, 1981 and 1991 censuses. The rapid decline in the number of persons declaring themselves Yugoslavs from the 1961 to 1971 is due to the fact that “Muslim” was offered as a novel category in the 1971 census for the first time. This explains why Bosnia-Herzegovina, with its sizable Muslim population, saw the most abrupt drop in Yugoslavs in this period. Additional summaries of the census data in the discussion below are drawn from Spasovski et al. 1995.


Montenegro Croatia Macedonia Slovenia Serbia SFR of Yugoslavia

0.5 4.9 0.4 0.9 6.3 100.0

4.0 30.8 1.3 2.5 45.4 100.0

2.6 31.1 1.2 2.1 36.2 100.0

2.54 10.29 n/a 1.20 62.42 ~ 98.5 (100.0 w/o Macedonia)

Firstly, it is interesting that the most rapid increase in Yugoslavs occurred in the Republic of Serbia itself. Over 420,000 citizens of the republic abandoned their previous identity categories (mostly “Serb”) in just twenty years (1961-1981). Despite a significant drop of the percentage share of Yugoslavs in the total population in Kosovo and the vastly superior natural growth rate of Muslims in all the republics, this percentage share rose in the Republic of Serbia from 0.3% in 1961 to 3.2% in 1991. This is largely due to the astounding increase in Vojvodina, Serbia’s northern region: the share of Yugoslavs rapidly rose from 0.2% to 8.4% in forty years. In 1961, only 3,174 Yugoslavs in Vojvodina called themselves that; by 1981, the number had climbed to over 167,000, a 53-fold increase. Ignoring for the moment natural growth rates and migration patterns (relatively stable anyway), this means 22 newly-declared Yugoslavs on average were being “made” every day for twenty years. What is more, Vojvodina saw the continuation of this growth in Yugoslavs into the 1991 census, unlike the Republic of Serbia as a whole, which saw a slight decline from 1981. This suggests that, whatever complex set of forces it was that discouraged nationalist selfidentification and advanced the more collectivist “Yugoslavism,” it appeared to be significantly more effective in Serbia than in the other republics, if not most effective. Secondly, of all those who declared themselves Yugoslavs in 1971, 45.4% lived in Serbia, 30.8% in Croatia, and 16.0% in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The latter two percentages are, furthermore, in large parts reflecting the Serbian minorities in those republics. In BosniaHerzegovina, for instance, 43,796 Yugoslavs in 1971 grew to 326,316 in 1981 (from 1.2% to


7.9% of the total population), but this was correlated to an equally sharp decline of declared Serbs in the republic, suggesting that even Serbs outside Serbia tended to “become” Yugoslavs disproportionately to other nationalities. By 1991, a remarkable 62.42% of all Yugoslavs were accounted for in Serbia alone (up from 36.2% since 1981, and an almost tenfold increase since 1961). In the total increase of 949,947 persons that declared themselves Yugoslavs in the entire communist state from 1971-1981, it is estimated that 890,730 or 93.8% were individuals who changed categories between the two censuses; out of these “converts,” as many as 60.3% came from the Serbian population. Dušan Biladžić illustrated the difference as follows: "If you wake an average Serb from Croatia up in the middle of the night and ask him what his national state is, he will say `Yugoslavia.' If you wake a Croat up and ask him the same, he will say `Croatia.'" 43 The reasons for going from Serb to Yugoslav were apparently varied, and certainly anything but straightforward. In the case of Croatia, some analysts have suggested that the increase in Yugoslavs from 84,118 to 379,057 (from 1.9% of Croatian citizens in 1971 to 8.2% in 1981) consisted largely of Serbs “induced by the nationalist movement of the Croats in the 1970s to temporarily deny their ethnic identity by declaring themselves as Yugoslavs.” 44 A perceived nationalist competitor, in other words, apparently led Serbs to opt for a sort of assimilation – a declaration of allegiance to the most general collectivity to alleviate differences within it. This suggests that minority nationalities within a republic will tend to “hide” their minority status by identifying with a social group that transcends both nationalities and these republics. Furthermore, the data suggests a flipside to that coin: clear national majorities are less likely to call themselves “Yugoslavs” and more likely to affirm a

43 44

Biladžić 1993, 119. Spasovski et al. 1995.


nationalist category. In the 1981-1991 period, declines in Yugoslavs within the Republic of Serbia were recorded in homogenous Central Serbia, but not in the diverse and heterogeneous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina; in the latter two cases, non-Serbs tended to declare themselves “Yugoslavs” more than Serbs did. Members of the minority Albanian and Hungarian communities were more likely to be “Yugoslavs,” while Serbs constituting decisive majorities were less so. Why “hide” behind the Yugoslav category if you’ve got noone to hide from? If one’s national identity is in the majority, one might as well affirm it. Notwithstanding this reasoning, other apparent motives for adopting a Yugoslav identity seem to contradict such explanations. Namely, the general drop in Yugoslavs in all the republics from 1981-1991 (excluding Macedonia, for which data is unavailable) is widely believed to be a direct result of heightened ethnic and religious tensions, for majorities and minorities alike. Primarily in Croatia and Slovenia, but also in Serbia, people who had been “Yugoslavs” retracted to their “original” identities in response to perceived conflicts with the rivals of such identities. Far from assimilating, minorities (Serbs in Croatia, Albanians in Kosovo, and every nationality in Bosnia-Herzegovina) seem to affirm their nationality in response to rising tensions with hostile majorities in their republics. The striking differences in growth rates of “Yugoslavs” between the decade of 1971-1981 and 1981-1991 is, to be sure, largely a result simply of Tito’s death, the symbolic discrediting of the Yugoslav idea, a loosening of single-party directives for suppression of nationalism and the like. A national minority feeling outnumbered and threatened by another nationality could no longer express loyalty to a broader collective called “Yugoslavia,” for such a collective was looking increasingly politically unstable, economically weak, and militarily incapable of protecting minorities if hell were to break loose. Nevertheless, it remains remarkable that tens of


thousands of Serbs apparently changed their identities twice in twenty years for incoherent reasons. Large numbers of Serbs from Dalmatia and Slavonija, for instance, seem to have passionately turned “Yugoslav” in 1981 in response to increasingly bitter relations with their Croatian co-citizens and yet, come 1991, seem to have metamorphosed back into proud “Serbs” in response to even greater tensions with Croatian nationalism in the area. A more localized picture of the distribution of nationalities can perhaps explain this paradox. Usefully, Appendix #1 shows subtleties according to ethnic settlements within republics and provinces, which the census data above ignores. The existence of peaceful multinational coexistence – as reflected in numbers of mixed marriages, multi-ethnic schools, heterogeneous workplaces and the like – are not evenly distributed within provinces or republics. These maps show that, almost without exception, the rise of nationalist identity is negatively correlated with peaceful ethnic mixing in a given territory. In other words, the more tense ethnic relations were in a given territory in a given decade, the less likely citizens are to affirm their Yugoslav-ness. Hence the maps show that self-proclaimed “Yugoslav” Serbs in the Republic of Serbia were mostly on the frontier areas of south-eastern Serbia towards Bulgaria, parts of Vojvodina with homogenous Hungarian communities, and other areas of contact with populations with whom Serbs have had historically high levels of ethnic tolerance. While Bulgarian and Hungarian nationalisms were practically nonexistent in the decades leading up to 1981, the Albanian nationalist movement was in full swing and had already generated Serbian-Albanian violence in Kosovo in the early 1970s. Accordingly, the number of Yugoslavs in the Serb-Albanian contact zones was miniscule, as it was in areas of the Republic of Serbia with Muslim constituencies. Historical contextualization is therefore essential, along with sensitivity to localized differences – i.e. an acknowledgment of the


variance among Serbs within the same province or republic, let alone between those from differing ones. A provisional but noteworthy conclusion can be drawn about Serbian national identity from these data. Throughout the latter half of the XX century, Serbs appear to have an especially strong investment in Yugoslav identity – they adopt it more in relative and absolute terms from other nationalities, tend to adopt it in areas of mixed nationalities more than comparable populations in such areas, and are less likely to abandon it in return to “original” identity in the face of perceived threats from rival nationalities.45 Insofar as numbers of declared Yugoslavs indicate the presence of multiple identities and the absence of nationalism, a striking segment not only of Serbs but Yugoslav citizens in general remained nominally anti-nationalist by 1991. To take the example of a republic that was said to have the highest rate of inter-ethnic marriage in all of Europe: even as nationalism began looming in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as many as 326,000 citizens refused to declare themselves as one or another nationality or religion, remaining simply Yugoslavs in 1981. A decade later, when nationalism had turned into outright violence and massacre along ethnic lines, the number still remained as high as 239,845. Nevertheless, these census responses alone tell very little about the development of nationalist or, in fact, any political belief; declaring one’s nationality can be a personal, cultural and perhaps even arbitrary choice, irrelevant of political views or perceptions of differences between nationalities. Appendix #1 shows that declared Yugoslavs in general were mostly concentrated in urban areas, perhaps suggesting that they have above-average

This strong Serbian attachment to Yugoslav-ness was also reflected in a separate public opinion poll that reported that (at the height of conflict in 1992-1993) slightly more Serbs favored a united Yugoslavia than a purely Serbian state: 34% reportedly favored the old Yugoslav arrangement with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia in a single state while about 31 percent favored a “Union of Serbian lands.” Needless to say, not a single other nationality even came close to favoring the preservation of Yugoslavia. Cited in footnote #7 of Simić 1997.


educational levels and social statuses, leaving them unrepresentative of the core mass constituencies of the nationalist movements that tore Yugoslavia apart. Even more importantly, the data leave us speculating about the potential nationalist interpretations and meanings attached to Yugoslav identity. Large numbers of Serbs may have sworn their loyalty to Yugoslavia under the assumption of “Serbian hegemony” within it, not as a benevolent expression of multi-ethnic tolerance. Indeed, as nationalists of all sides have argued, “Yugoslavism” might be a façade for nationalist dominance of one group over another. To approach these issues, we must look to another set of indicators of Serbian nationalism that identify specific values and political beliefs. Values and Voting Investigating what was in the heads of ordinary Serbs in the early 1990s is no easy task. State propaganda dominated media outlets, making content analysis of television and most newspapers highly unrepresentative. Even after the introduction of multi-party elections in 1990, the legacy of the Titoist single-party system was enormous, with the state silencing a vast majority of the population and allowing public visibility or voice only to a faithful minority that met the criterion of “moral-political aptitude.” 46 Prior to the establishment of Belgrade’s Strategic Marketing agency in the mid-1990s, no private agencies measuring nationalism or national issues in public opinion methodically even existed, and the notion of impartial political surveys was largely unheard of. What I rely on here, therefore, is one of the few available windows into the role of nationalism in Serbian public opinion in 19901992: the archives of the Center for Political Studies and Public Opinion Research (Centar za
Moralno-Politička podobnost was the prerequisite not only for all those associated with the Union of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), but for everyone from janitors to university professors. A rigorous filtering process left all those deemed “morally-politically inept” completely outside the public arena at best and imprisoned for counter-revolutionary activity at worst.


politikološka istraživanja i javno mnjenje, CPIJM), an association of the Belgrade-based Social Science Institute (Institut društvenih nauka). It conducted two national public opinion surveys in 1990 and 1992, one regional public opinion survey for Serbia in 1992, and two pre-electoral regional public surveys in 1990-1991 and in 1992 (with three survey “waves” each). In addition, CPIJM published a volume on the “Cross Cultural Analysis of Values and Political Economy Issues, 1990-1993” in which several chapters deal with Yugoslavia and Serbia specifically. 47 Finally, I rely on second-hand analysis of CPIJM data conducted by two scholars investigating components of Serbian “political culture” and its relation to support for political parties. This work not only reproduces otherwise unavailable CPIJM findings, but also produces its own valuable statistics drawing on supplementary sources on electoral preferences and independent surveys. 48 Like Churchill’s democracy, this indirect approach to measuring nationalism is the worst possible aside from all its alternatives. Most generally, a “value crisis” appears to have swept Yugoslav society by 1990 – in the words of political scientist Ljiljana Baćević, “a moral vacuum, anomy and conflict of values” that “left deep scars on the consciousness of [Yugoslavia’s] citizens.” 49 The “crisis’s” central feature was widespread abandonment of purported Communist values and those associated with state socialist ideology. From 1981 to 1991, the number of people expressing favorable views of self-management – the prided model of Yugoslavia’s independent socialist experiment – dropped by more than half. Over 90% of the population had favored the policy of nonalignment; barely 25% did so in 1991. The popularity of social ownership over other types of property distribution, which had stood at an indoctrinated 65%, plummeted to less than 10%, with more than half the population in favor of a market
47 48

Voich and Stepina 1994, 119-197. Pantić and Pavlović 2006, 120. 49 Voich and Stepina 1994, 120.


economy. 50 Aside from a merely ideological or philosophical disturbance, this value crisis had colossal implications for identity. An entire system of indications and reasons for who “we” are, who “we” can be, why “we” belong to one collectivity as opposed to another, how “they” can be our “brothers” despite differing dialects, religions, etc., simply collapsed. Like all abrupt disappearances of an identity and its accompanying values, this one needed replacement. In a comment highly applicable to the discussion of census data above, Baćević wrote that: These trends [of abandonment of professed communist/state socialist ideals and towards a value crisis] are reflected in phenomena such as the retreat into privacy, a return to religion, ethnocentrism, cynicism, and an external loss of control. In the general breakdown of value systems and the resulting confusion, identification with traditional social groups and institutions is a logical reaction. This takes the form of a socalled [sic] ‘return’ to national concerns and religion, which are depicted and regarded as a refuge and salvation from the social and individual crisis. How likely this “return” is varies, we saw earlier, with the levels of perceived insecurity and potential for violence along national lines in the environment of the constituency in question. Few things can generate the kind of “confusion,” “loss of control” and “crisis” that intensified ethnic violence can, and few settings are better for a transformation of values than a community under (real or imagined) threat. But what are the values in question? An extensive survey of value priorities was carried out in May-June 1990 on a representative sample of 18+ year-olds in all republics and provinces. Although the research was designed to create an index of so-called “materialist” vs. “post-materialist” values, certain elements of the survey can be selected for our purposes here. From data for the


Voich and Stepina 1994, 121.


broader Yugoslav public, the following can be extrapolated for Serbs according to provinces and republics:
Table 1.3. Value Priorities of Serbs in 1990 Goals Serbia Bosnia Croatia Kosovo Vojvodina Others TOTAL Economic growth 46 51 67 16 47 29 47 Strong state 34 33 15 59 42 40 34 More respect for 12 12 10 16 7 16 11 will of the people Make cities, 4 2 1 3 2 13 3 countryside cleaner and more beautiful Maintaining order 49 61 60 29 55 53 52 Give people more 15 12 15 22 10 16 14 say in government Fight rising prices 22 18 15 22 24 18 21 Protect free speech 10 3 1 19 8 11 8 Note: Within each of the two sets of four goals, respondents were asked to make two ranked choices. Figures shown represent the percentage choosing the given goal as first in importance. “Undecided” and “don’t know” were omitted. Source: Vasović 1994.

The Kosovo Serbs immediately leap to our attention, with a record 59% prioritizing a “strong state.” With high levels of perceived insecurity – from actual Albanian pressure or otherwise – and significant emigration rates into Serbia proper, Kosovo Serbs apparently embraced the prospects of a firm government hand to protect them against the separatist majority. It is also safe to assume that the heightened emphasis on giving people “more say in government” did not refer to the Albanians. These southern Serbs also stressed “freedom of speech,” reflecting widespread sentiment that Serbs in Kosovo were not being heard or paid any mind from their supposed protectors in Belgrade (a state of affairs Slobodan Milošević was to remedy to fantastic political advantage). Interestingly, the other two major areas where Serbs are a minority – Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia – prioritized a “strong state” far less frequently than their co-nationals in Kosovo. Granted, the minority status of Serbs in BosniaHerzegovina and Croatia was far less extreme, but the escalation of violence had already become enormous in these areas at the time of the survey (Serbs in Croatia were already


calling for autonomy and refusing to recognize the newly-elected nationalists). Instead of opting for a “strong state,” these Serb minorities favored “maintaining order” at roughly 60% each. The discrepancy is perhaps understandable because, intense as violent incidents could get in Kosovo, the prospects of outright military confrontation with Albanians were not immediate. Serbian forces effectively suppressed rioting and, more often than not, managed to reinstall general public order. The exodus of Serbs from Kosovo was, technically speaking, voluntary or “unforced” migration, induced by intimidation and violence, but involving a significant space for choice. 51 In contrast, the fleeing of Serbs from eastern Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina at the time was, quite literally, “forced” migration, sometimes chosen at gunpoint for lack of alternatives. Thus, Serbs faced with the prospects of immediate civil war (perceived rightly or wrongly) tended to prioritize “maintaining order” instead of “a strong state,” perhaps associating the latter with their hostile home republics as opposed to the state of Yugoslavia or even Serbia. The insecurity associated with being a minority in general, however, did highly correlate with the perceived need for order or a strong state as opposed to luxuries like “free speech” (only 1% and 3% in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, respectively) or advancing the “beauty” of cities (ranging from 1-3%). Economic issues, furthermore, are mostly on the minds of Serbs in peaceful areas and where they are comfortable majorities. Serbia proper and Vojvodina have the highest rates of Serbs concerned about rising prices. Like Kosovo, these areas were suffering the economic crunch of the 1980s most severely and significantly more than Croatian and Bosnian citizens, as is reflected in Table 1.3. Croatia is peculiar, however, in having the greatest share of Serbs voting overwhelmingly for a “strong economy” as the top priority (67%) – unlike Bosnian

For an interesting discussion of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the term “forced” in the rubric of “forced migrations,” albeit in a different context, see Brubaker 2001.



Serbs, they even prioritize this over “maintaining order,” despite comparable ethnic tensions. In this regard, Croatian Serbs are in agreement with Croatian citizens in general. In Kosovo, and Macedonia, Slovenia and elsewhere (“Others”), however, the Serbian minority gives little attention to economic issues. Although “economic growth” is a strong second priority in Vojvodina, for Serbs in Serbia and for all Serbs in general, a “strong state” remains perceived as more urgent. For our purposes, it may be useful to categorize the goals of Table 1.3 into two approximate poles: those value priorities conducive to Serbian nationalism and those unfavorable to Serbian nationalism, as defined here. In the first category, we may include those goals that seem to meet the desire for unity, stability, strength and protection against perceived threats (“strong state” and “maintaining order”). In the second category, we may include those goals pertaining to a higher living standard, political liberties, civic rights, economic issues and development (“economic growth,” “cleaner and more beautiful countryside, cities,” “fight rising prices,” “free speech,”). [Due to the ambiguous interpretations of “more respect for will of the people” and “more say in government” – especially in Kosovo – I exclude this goal from either category.] This opposition is not only sketched in accordance with the particularly authoritarian and statist dimensions of Serbian nationalism, but also reflects the basic dichotomy represented in parliamentary elections by two general party “blocks.” The dichotomy can give us at least a rough estimate of the extent of those values that were most compatible with (or vulnerable to appropriation by) nationalist mobilization along lines of Serbian-ness. Values conducive to nationalism were strong, but not absolutely dominant. Recall that respondents were asked to name the favorite value priority within each cluster of four


choices. Values conducive to nationalism indeed received either most or second-most preferences in both clusters; however, Serbs in general (“total”) and those from Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Vojvodina specifically all voted for a value unfavorable to nationalism (i.e. economic growth) in the first cluster. In other words, only most Serbs from Kosovo and “other” places prioritized a value conducive to nationalism, and even these populations opted for “non-nationalist” priorities as a strong second-place preference. In the second cluster, most chose a “nationalist value,” with 52% of all Serbs calling for “order” – more than those calling for all the other options combined. However, the range of alternatives in this category should be scrutinized. Particularly, “fighting rising prices” is far narrower than the more general “economic growth” in the first category that attracted so much interest. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and especially “others” (which includes prosperous Slovenia) were settings where Serbs were not particularly scarred by rising prices (like those hitting Kosovo, for instance), but were surely concerned with wages, unemployment, pensions and other aspects of “economic growth.” Therefore, the lack of a more general priority covering these concerns probably boosted the nationalist-friendly “maintaining order” value. The first category suggests that, if a worthy “non-nationalist” value was offered in the second cluster, the “nationalist” value that more than half of all Serbs prioritized might have seen a relative drop. In conclusion, value priorities conducive to nationalism were strong (though not absolute) and their dominance was conditional on the absence of a viable alternative, particularly one relating to economic growth and stability. 52 The real question, of course, is how these values “translate” into collective action and mobilization. Electoral preferences are the most immediate and testable reflections of this

This connects to a more general thesis that has argued that nationalist mobilization was not exclusively or even primarily based on appeals to ethnicity. See: Ganon 1994.



translation. Serbia held its second multi-party elections since World War II in December of 1992, with roughly 5 million voters (or 70% of the electorate) conveying their values to the ballot. The tension detected above – between economic issues, political liberties and concerns about standards of living on the one hand, and a strong state, protection from violence, and order on the other – was confirmed in a CPIJM survey of values of supporters of the major political parties in 1992. The general split of the party scene into two blocks (the so-called democratic oppositional one and the ruling communist-nationalist one) largely reflected this tension.
Table 1.4. Values of Serbs According to Support for Political Parties in 1992 Value

Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS)

Serbian Radical Party (SRS)

Democratic Party (DS)

Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)*

Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO)*

NationalistCommunist Block (Average)

Democratic Opposition Block (Average)

Modernism Liberalism Tolerance Xenophobia Mandates

13 17 3 85 101

9 32 7 92 73

67 78 30 59 6

73 71 58 54

53 70 35 59 50

11 24.5 5 88.5

64.3 73 41 57.3

% of Votes 28.8 22.6 4.2 16.9 Note: Non-bold figures show percentages of respondents endorsing the given value. * Part of opposition grouping Serbian Democratic Movement (DEPOS), along with another small party; number of mandates won is the total for DEPOS. Source: CPIJM

As two analysts of these and similar data have pointed out, the crucial divide is between SPS and SRS on one side and the other three parties on another.54 Followers of the SPS-SRS expressed highest levels of xenophobia and lowest levels of tolerance, clear indicators of “vulnerability” to nationalist mobilization and aversions to pro-Western, reformist and liberal party platforms. DS and DSS followers were in the majority committed to modernism as opposed to traditionalism and liberalism as opposed to conservatism or communism. SPO,

An elaboration of the index of the value categories is available in the CPIJM study itself, though elaboration here is not necessary, as the categories are defined rather commonsensically. Detailed analysis of this table can be found in Pantić and Pavlović 2006. 54 Ibid, 53-56.



though markedly more nationalistic in its platform, has followers with values closer to DS/DSS than the ruling parties. The high levels of xenophobia in the opposition parties is somewhat surprising, but longer-term trend studies have shown that this is a “non-intensive, reactive and fleeting phenomenon” which is largely due to the pressures of the ongoing war in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the time. 55 Though the levels of tolerance for the DS and SPO are not as admirable as they might be, they are in fact above-average compared to the population at large: CPIJM found an average of only 22% of adult Serbs endorsing tolerance, with 53% displaying intolerance in 1992. The single-digit tolerance levels of the victorious parties suggest, therefore, that those who voted for the ruling parties are very unrepresentative of the entire population on the question of tolerance. Furthermore, those voting for the democratic opposition are above-averagely tolerant, especially DSS supporters. In general, the democratic opposition is significantly less attractive to voters with nationalist values than the ruling parties are, but considerable nationalist potential remains in the high levels of xenophobia (over half of all the supporters of the opposition). Simultaneously, however, the democratic block endorsed the anti-nationalist values of modernism and liberalism, conducive to democratic and reformist goals. On average, 57.3% of supporters of the democratic opposition expressed xenophobia, but 73% and 64.3% of them also expressed values of modernism and liberalism. The supporters of the ruling parties have, we may say, a more coherent value system, susceptible to authoritarianism and nationalist perspectives of non-Serbs. This incoherence of values among voters of the democratic opposition immediately suggests that the latter failed to present a coherent political message that would attract the primary concerns of the public. As we saw above, economic and nationalist issues can each

Pantić and Pavlović 2006, 53-56.


become a priority over the other depending on what exact alternatives are offered and how they are balanced. To compare the success of each block in doing so, we may look at the expectations of voters in the presidential election of the same year as compared to perceived priorities. A fascinating aspect of the 1992 presidential elections is the triumph of nationalist parties despite the Serbian electorate’s relatively low concern for nationalist priorities. Studies have found that the two political parties that again won the most votes (SPS and SRS) emphasized the “Serbian national question” notably more than all their rivals through media campaigns, rallies and other activities preceding the elections. 56 Yet, a CPIJM survey conducted before the election found that this question was, for most voters, at the bottom of the list of perceived major challenges facing Serbian society (with an end to the ongoing war and the republic’s economic crises being on the top). A study of the causal relationship between Serbian media and parliamentary election results found that all parties had essentially dedicated equal attention to economic questions in their media messages, with the Democratic Party (DS) even dedicating slightly more than the rest. What is more, the ability of the democratic opposition to meet all of Serbia’s major problems was perceived as greater than that of the ruling communists, with only one exception: the nationalist problem.
Table 1.5. Perceived Competence of Two Candidates to Meet Challenges facing Serbia in 1992 Perceived Major Challenge Facing Perceived “competence” of Perceived “competence” of Serbian Society (in descending Milan Panić Slobodan Milošević order of priority) For Entire (leader of democratic (communist leader) to meet the Electorate opposition) to meet the challenge challenge Economic crisis 53% 26% Economic sanctions 53% 27% Ending the war 40% 30% Developing democracy 43% 31% Serbian national question 26% 51% Votes 32.11% 53.24% Votes from entire electorate 22.38% 37.12% Source: CPIJM.

Milivojević 1994. Milivojević i Matić 1993.


The enormous trust in Milan Panić notwithstanding, Slobodan Milošević and his SPS won a decisive victory. Serbs voted, therefore, against a candidate that they believed was most competent to deal with all the issues they prioritized as most important; and they elected a candidate that they deemed incompetent to deal with all the important issues except the lowranked “Serbian national question.” How could nationalism – a fifth-rated concern – trump the otherwise oppositional sentiment and bring Milošević to power? The unavoidable explanation is the war that was raging. The nationalist-communist parties were alone in offering a coherent, forceful message against the persecution of non-Serbian Serbs and in credibly promising them protection and military victory. The violent conflict, Baćević explains, was “politicized and ideologized by SRS and SPS as the Serbian national and state question and presented to voters in that meaning as the key element of [these parties’] electoral agenda.” 57 In other words, the war and its accompanying economic pressures were successfully represented in the framework of Serbian nationalism – a task that the losing oppositional parties never attempted. It seems unlikely, however, that nationalism itself (as defined above) motivated voters; rather, a basic fear of the war’s effects on Serbia itself seems to have been primary. The opposition’s failure, it would seem, was to deal with the incoherence of its supporters’ values (and Serbs at large) – it failed to integrate the issues that the public cares about most into a system of values that promises authority and protection in a time of war. The party and candidate who did precisely this, on the other hand, happen to be nationalist ones. In other words, perhaps the nationalist parliamentary victory is not as representative of popular Serbian nationalism as many have taken it to be; it may simply be the result of a frightened, economically pressured and war-stricken population turning to the only political option offering unity and strength, nationalist or otherwise.

Baćević 1996, 67.


In conclusion, the relation of values and voting among Serbs was complicated in the early 1990s. Large parts of the Serbian population held apparently contradictory values, with a majority of them holding values conducive to nationalist mobilization but prioritizing economic questions, the pressures of the war and even democratic development over “the Serbian nationalist question.” It appears that the triumph of nationalist forces in the ballots was partially a result of the failure of the opposition to take advantage of the superior confidence in its competence that it enjoyed. The pressures of war, not nationalism itself, seem to account for Serbs’ turning to Milošević’s nationalist party despite their relative distrust of its competence. Furthermore, as Table 1.5 shows, the tendency of pro-nationalist Serbs to vote is greater than the tendency of opposition supporters to do so (many of whom abstained, giving Milošević an advantage over Panić that is unrepresentative of Serbs as a whole). Finally, there is somewhat of a gap between average Serbian values and the values of supporters of the regime (tolerance levels, for instance). This may also be reflected in the way nationalist priorities appear to “hijack” electoral preferences, even as other prioritizes are given more weight and greater trust is given to non-nationalists. Before we turn to the historical events that facilitated this seemingly irrational turn to nationalism, I will consider one more indicator of whether or not values conducive to nationalism translate into collective action. Although voting is an important reflection of values, ultimately the only interesting indicator of nationalism is the act of participation in organized violence. Military Mobilization and Resistance The prided Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) was a particularly noteworthy institutional symbol of “brotherhood and unity.” Military service was mandatory for young men, who were (as a custom) almost never assigned to their own republics for their terms,


making service formative experience in multi-ethnic cooperation and bonding. The army’s composition roughly reflected the overall ethnic distribution: even as late as the summer of 1991, the entire army (recruits, officers and civilians) was 32.9% Serb, 17.5% Croat, 13.4% Muslim, 10.4% Albanian, 9.7% Yugoslav, 6.9% Macedonian, 5.4% Slovenian, 1.3% Hungarian, etc. 58 The ten most important positions in the Ministry of Defense, the military district commands, the Air Force and the Navy were held by one Yugoslav (Veljko Kadijević, famously a son of a Serb father and Croatian mother), three Serbs, two Croats, two Slovenes, and two Macedonians. 38% of the High Command consisted of Croats, 33% of Serbs and 8.3% of Slovenes. Heroically defending the country against potential Cold War threats and still glowing from its World War II victories, the JNA enjoyed substantial respect and popularity. With the collapse of the one-party system, however, the institution was left without a system to defend; what is worse, with the collapse of the Soviet empire, it was left without an enemy to defend the system from. As anti-federalist forces arose in most of the republics, the army sought a new source of legitimacy. “One obvious course of legitimation,” Lenard J. Cohen noted, “was to focus the military’s attention upon perceived internal threats to state unity.” 59 Not unlike the identity crisis of ordinary Yugoslavs, the JNA was forced to reinterpret itself vis-à-vis the national separatist movements that are abandoning traditional rationales for unity. By the early 1990s, a new raison d’être for the military establishment took shape: to crush subversive elements within the federation and to protect a unified, cohesive Yugoslavia. In the wake of elections, the JNA disarmed the territorial defense forces of Slovenia and Croatia. By November of 1990, it effectively became an extension of

58 59

Stojanović 1997, 105. Cohen 1995, 183. Emphasis in original.


Milošević’s power through the formation of a new League of Communists – the Movement for Yugoslavia (Savez Komunista – Pokret za Jugoslaviju, SKPJ). On May 9th 1991, the federal presidency gave the newly-named Yugoslav Army (YA) the order to halt “ethnic violence” within Yugoslavia’s borders. 60 Just as Serbs seemed to have a special fondness for the “Yugoslav” category, they had several reasons to be similarly invested in the JNA more than other nationalities. Firstly, when it came to officers, they were dominant at 54.3% with an additional 9.6% of Yugoslavs who were “originally” Serbs. Secondly, the formal constitutional order was on the side of the Republic of Serbia: secession was illegal, armed resistance to the federation within its borders constituted terrorism, and the constitution obligated the JNA to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. Thirdly, while Croatian and Slovenian militias (as well as Albanian separatists) were receiving arms and funding from abroad, the Serbian minorities and their defensive militias would have had nothing without support from the JNA. And finally, lest it be forgotten, it was the Serbs who had sacrificed most and died in the greatest numbers in the People’s Liberation Struggle that established Yugoslavia and its armed forces. An epic tradition of military excellence and courage – as well as the weighty fact that “the renown of the warrior is greater among Serbs” 61 than it is among the other south Slavs – made it only logical that they uphold the honorable organization. The relatively high commitment to the army was duly reflected in a study of public attitudes toward financing the JNA in mid-1990, which showed that Serbia and Montenegro had the lowest numbers of people believing the JNA should be receiving “less financial support than

What had previously been an exercise in multi-ethnic cooperation soon became an ethnically “pure” system of military service: at the time of secession in 1991, 93% of Slovene and 77% of Croat recruits were doing their military service on the territories of Slovenia and Croatia, respectively. Stojanović 1997, 105. 61 Ibid, 106.



now” and had the highest numbers of those believing it should be receiving “more than now.” 62 Though officially defending “socialism” against internal subversive threats, it became clear to all the republics as well as to the Serbian leadership itself that the actual line was drawn between the JNA on one side and all the other national military groupings on the other. Serbian and Croatian militias jointly declared violations of the truce ceasefire on August 23rd, 1991 and called for general mobilizations. On October 5th, the Serbian government called for a full mobilization. Milošević is reported to have said that his only fear was that there would not be enough uniforms for all the soldiers eagerly waiting to defend their country. Here was a perfect opportunity for that vast Serbian public that voted overwhelmingly for parties with nationalist causes to actually fight for them. At the time of mobilization, 64% of Serbs expressed support for Serbia’s fighting for Krajina and Slavonija, two Serb-majority areas in Croatia. A solid 24% believed that Serbia should be militarily redefined to include any territory where ethnic Serbs live. 63 Between one fifth and one forth of them supported parties calling for “Greater Serbia,” an entity stretching across BosniaHerzegovina and into Croatia. Over half of Serbian electorate voted for leaders in favor of preventing secession by force. Were these widely expressed values translated into organized violence when the opportunity came? To the authorities’ great shock, nothing could have been further from the outcome. “The regime had a stubborn, mass resistance” to its war policy, Milan Milošević noted – far “more overwhelming than the marginalized pacifist groupings” that were thought to be the

62 63

Cohen 1995, 185. Ron 2003, 32; 211.


only ones remaining opposed. 64 In September, only 10-25% of the anticipated response rate was recorded; in December, not even one-fifth of the 100,000 activated reservists were responsive. In Belgrade, where gross numbers of activated men are highest in the republic, municipalities recorded responsiveness of 8%. 65 In Kragujevac, a site of famous World War II massacres and a major center of Serbian national pride, over 6000 men had better things to do than combat a return of Croatian fascism. 66 A military unit in eastern Slavonija (Croatia) was expecting an additional five brigades from the mobilization; it received one and a half. On the strategically-crucial area around Banija and Kordun (where mixed Serbian and Croatian residents were about to be unmixed), an anticipated four military brigades turned into only one. In a recent testimony in front of the International Court of Justice, lawyer Radoslav Stojanović revealed that a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council of Yugoslavia on September 28th 1991 proclaimed that over 100,000 reservists called up by the mobilization had not reported for duty. Another 50,000 had left the ranks of the army and another 40,000 soldiers had defied orders to fight in Croatia. Some 200,000 reservists, in other words, refused the mobilization order. The ethnic breakdown of the people who had refused to fight reflected that of Serbia itself: 70% were Serbs and the rest were national minorities. 67 On top of this, another 150,000 men emigrated to avoid being drafted, while those who could not afford such a move “opted for internal emigration” and hid with relatives or friends throughout the country instead. 68 For an army that numbered roughly 150,000 men in all (including tens of thousands of officers), these figures were devastating and encouraged fear that the Croatian army might outnumber the JNA within months.
64 65

Milošević 1996, 11. Radović N.d., 42. 66 Žunec 1998; Glenny 1993, 141. 67 Cited in Radoslav Stojanović’s testimony before the International Court of Justice on Friday, March 10, 2006. 68 Sikavica 2000, 142.


Frequent and massive rebellions also shook the army’s plans. Three revolts were marked in three days in Belgrade in the month of September, including one in the Air Force and one at the Military-Medical Academy. Forty honorable members of the Guard Brigade in Belgrade publicly demanded the resignation of Yugoslavia’s Minister of Defense, expressing fury over the battle in Vukovar, the status of soldiers on the frontlines, invalids, combatants’ families, etc. One soldier from the Vukovar front drove an armored vehicle all the way back to Belgrade to park it in front of the federal parliament building in protest.69 On July 2nd, a few hundred mothers of recruits stormed the same building and occupied it for two days, demanding a retreat from Slovenia. Similar protests of restless relatives would occur again in Belgrade and Skopje as the war progressed. As upheavals swept Kragujevac, Valjevo, Arandjelovac, Ada and Senta, the Belgrade newspaper Vreme announced that the situation had reached the level of “total military disintegration.” 70 In all, it is estimated that over forty thousand conscripts actively participated in the 1991 rebellions. Since the regime’s resolute policy was that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia was officially at war in the first place, general mobilization was difficult to manage. Military police units would discretely pick up young men early in the morning at their apartments or sneak up on unsuspecting guests at cafes and clubs late in the night. This miserably failed recruitment policy was the primary impetus for the reliance on volunteers and para-military formations, which turned out to be the most brutal and shocking actors of the entire civil war. Mercenary armies such as the Četniks organized by SRS’s Vojislav Šešelj, the Serbian Guard organized by SPO’s Vuk Drašković, and the Tigers led by drug dealer and international criminal Željko Ražnatović “Arkan” were operative both in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

69 70

Žunec 1998. Sikavica 2000, 151.


Though these units’ proud sponsors insist that love of motherland and national loyalty attracted the bulk of their volunteers, studies have shown otherwise. Like their Croatian and Bosnian counterparts, these young men were overwhelmingly “recruited from the underclass” and primarily attracted to the prospects of robbery and pillage with impunity.71 Many did not even care to participate full-time, preferring to enter war areas only on weekends for a brief looting drive followed by an immediate return to Serbia and Montenegro – the so-called “weekend volunteers.” From utter poverty, these young men often came to acquire enormous wealth in the wars, “filling their trucks with the entire furnishings of homes and apartments and selling their booty on a flourishing black market.” 72 Those from outside Serbia, and especially residents of rural areas, were often involuntary volunteers, caught in the middle of the fighting and given no choice but to join at the threat of death or harm to their families. Far from taking the recruits' nationalist credentials for granted, the unit commanders had to actively instill the proper values: “It was common for the men of this group,” Stipe Sikavica found, “to be forced to prove their loyalty by murdering a neighbor of a different national origin.” 73 Although actively involved in major phases of the war and although constantly rotating, these paramilitaries often numbered less than 50, commonly were a few hundred strong and rarely ever consisted of more than 1000 volunteers. For all these reasons, these bands do not meaningfully reflect nationalist sentiment, let alone represent it for the Serbs at large. In conclusion, when it comes to translating values into actions of organized violence, Serbian nationalism in this early period did not seem to “walk the walk,” if you will. Presidents and parliamentary representatives with nationalist credentials were elected,
71 72

Sikavica 2000, 141. Ibid. 73 Ibid, 142.


surveys showed support for state violence against separatism, and xenophobic values were endorsed by a majority, but Serbs were not enthusiastic about risking their lives to themselves act on these convictions. Military mobilization was a decisively “top-down” phenomenon, driven by a desperate state encountering both passive and active resistance from its subjects. Coercion and “forced volunteering” were the primary means of conscription, not abstract appeals to ethnic identity. Even when interest in active war-making was shown “from below,” it was more often motivated by profit or personal advantage than by nationalist conviction. It seems fighting for the glory of the Serbian nation had more to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time than with a passionate attachment to Serbian-ness.


CHAPTER 2. Enemies and their Portrayal in the Media (1990-1992) In this chapter, I introduce the media as the primary extension of state power that contributed to the success of nationalist dogma. I then briefly summarize the major perceived threats and outside forces fueling Serbian nationalism: those from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and the US and Europe. For lack of space, I exclude a discussion of the monumental impact of the Kosovo Albanian challenge, which has been emphasized extensively. 74 The Power of the Media Nationalist intellectuals and political elites have (rightly) been credited as the indispensable promoters of nationalist fear and chauvinism in Yugoslavia. Yet the primary contributor to the mass hysteria and hatred that fed the civil war – without which elites could not have exerted their agendas over such a large public – was the media. Serbian radio, television and the press played an essential role in the formation of values and beliefs in the early 1990s, surely setting a landmark in the history of modern propaganda. As Mark Thompson and others have amply documented, the Serbian media conducted a spectacular campaign of manipulation and nationalist mobilization of public opinion. 75 “Unprofessional” would be an outlandish compliment to give the Yugoslav media in the early 1990s. Detailed content analysis by a team of Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak scholars has recorded that the “mobilizing” approach to reporting and journalism mostly overshadowed “informational” and “explanatory” approaches; that “subjective semantics” strongly overcame impartial and “objective” ones in reporting; that conflicts were excessively portrayed as being between national groups or nations as opposed to republics or governments; that antiwar voices and

74 75

See: Vickers 1998; Bataković N.d.; Jevtić 1995; Krstić 2004. Thompson 1994; Milošević 2000. Skopljanac Brunner et al. 1999. Nikolić 2002, 36-37.


critics of state policy were routinely excluded; that news was intentionally directed at a nationally-homogenized audience; that government sources were uncritically accepted as factual news without serious questioning; that “the war” had no real competitors (“the economy,” “ordinary life,” etc.) as the primary and most extensive theme of the press and television in all the republics involved; that crimes were selectively reported and interpreted along nationalist lines; and, above all, that an unwavering construction of “the other” national group was promoted to mobilize for the war effort. Serbian and Croatian media outlets had especially low regards for truth or objectivity. 76 Every major branch of the Serbian media was, for all intents and purposes, under complete state censorship and run by officials with unambiguous commitment to the Serbian nationalist cause. Not only was media control highly concentrated, but it represented the dominant source of information for most Serbs of all political orientations, and the level of consumption of state media has been positively correlated with support for nationalist political parties. 77 Unsurprisingly, content reflected control. A coding of “culprits for the outbreak of the war” and “interpretations of the reasons for the war” in all the editions of Serbia’s major daily Politika for an entire year found the following distribution: over half of all articles burdened “the Croatian side” with the blame for the war (mostly categories of political/state organs, along with generalizations about Croats as a people or Croatia as a nation); the Croatian and Slovenian sides combined accounted for over 2/3 of all the blame assigned by Politika; institutions and officials at the federal level came in third, and the international community and its main figures accounted for the rest of the blame. Less than 0.07% of all the articles placed any blame on one of the following: “the Serbian leadership,” “[Serbian-

76 77

Hodžić 1999; Skopljanac Brunner 1999. Lutovac 2006.


dominated] JNA generals,” “Serbia,” “Serbs demanding autonomy in Krajina” and “Serbs.” In addition, a solid 13.6% accounted for the war with so-called “anthropological reasons,” which included specific psychological characteristics of some national groups as well as the “genocidalness” of others. 78 Other media outlets were no more humble. A report from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia summarized it well: All types of public discourse came to bear the stamp of primary signs, such as violence, passion, hate, wrath, intolerance, vengefulness, primitivism and madness. […] It was almost impossible to utter a single public word if it was not in collusion with raw nationalism. [It was the media’s] nationalchauvinistic discourse of ‘origin and earth’, which prepared the alibi, provided the pretext and laid the ground for the collective practice of ethnic cleansing. It aggressively infiltrated the whole state administration (statist nationalism), all the power mechanisms and all the modalities of power. It foisted itself dangerously on a society out of tune with its time and, under its onslaught, this society went headlong into the abyss. 79 A poignant illustration of the astonishing achievements of such propaganda is the Serbian public’s ignorance of Serbian crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As Serb forces conducted intensive bombardment of Sarajevo through May and June 1992, inflicting numerous civilian casualties through indiscriminate targeting, state-run television found a creative way to integrate its standard line of Bosnian and Croatian aggression and Serbian victimhood into reporting on the story. Namely, the event was described in the passive tense and “using mainly impersonal sentence constructions, such as: ‘Sarajevo was bombarded again today’, ‘The town was bombarded by this many or that many bombs’” and the like. In July 1992, a public opinion poll asked a representative sample of Serbs to answer the question “Who bombarded Sarajevo from the neighboring hills with artillery through May and June?” No less than 38.4% answered that it was Muslim and Croat forces that did it;
78 79

Skopljanac Brunner 1999, 207. Nikolić 2002, 36-37.


25.5% answered “nobody knows for sure” and a mere 25% answered “Serb forces.” 80 More generally, several studies have found not only correlation but causality between intensity of media indoctrination and the collapse of the approval ratings of anti-nationalist Ante Marković and the political option he represented. 81 The role of “the other,” to repeat, was the very basis of media propaganda. Nationalism was not promoted with academic discussions of Serbian language, literature or medieval poetry, nor were reports on events internal to Serbia compelling for the cause. Indeed, events within Serbia were sometimes devastating to the very agenda that the media cheerled: the massive March 1991 protests against Milošević brought a 150,000-strong crowd into the streets, demanding the resignation of the state TV director and denouncing government control over the media. Even as tanks rolled into Belgrade’s center to pacify the crowds (killing an eighteen-year-old antiwar protestor), the Serbian media found events outside Serbia more newsworthy. To understand what it was that propelled Serbian nationalism, therefore, an analysis of forces from the outside is unavoidable. Content analysis found that reporting on recent war events and developments constituted most of media coverage, and that virtually all of the nationalist propaganda relied on “foreign” and non-Serb constituencies for its crusade. Therefore, to condense the crucial historical context, I scanned the summaries of all official daily news reports (Dnevnik) of Radio Televizija Srbija, the national television network, for the three years of 1990-1992. In addition, I rely on the aforementioned secondhand content analysis of Politika editions during the same period. Finally, I conducted my own thematic content analysis of the Vreme weekly newspaper. Vreme was a privately owned

80 81

Poll by the Medium agency and the Political Science Institute. Cited in Branković 1999. Skopljanac 1999.


and independent source with an explicitly antiwar, anti-nationalist orientation. Though weak within the country, it was a popular source of reliable news for foreign journalists and analysts; its News Digest Agency (NDA) consisted of international bulletins with articles specially edited for foreign readers. The NDA archive includes useful raw data, forecasts, maps, graphs, etc., and opinionated journalism from the period. I have gone through each weekly NDA edition from October 1990 (from its founding) to December 1992, in order to highlight the perceived threats that defined this period. I supplement the results with contemporary historical research when appropriate, and mention post-1992 events if helpful for a more complete picture. The main forces eliciting Serbian nationalism can be summarized in four categories: Slovenian nationalism, Croatian nationalism, Bosnian Muslim nationalism, and the interventionist forces from the US and Europe. 82 All the details referenced below (including the block quotes from nationalist leaders) were widelypublicized facts that dominated public discourse; any consumer of Serbian media in the 1990s would have found it very difficult to remain unacquainted with them. Slovenia On December 23rd 1991, 86% of Slovenes demanded secession from Yugoslavia. It was the end of a series of struggles to distance Slovenia from participation in federal state structures and to have its way by threatening to unilaterally withdraw. The coastal Alpine republic was under the strong influence of Roman Catholicism and its people maintained strong cultural ties to the former Austro-Hungarian areas. The Slovenes were the only Yugoslav people to mostly live within a single, clearly-defined ethnic territory. While only


I do not discuss Macedonia’s 1992 secession because its peaceful declaration of independence was largely drowned in the controversies of the secessions of the other republics. Its influence on Serbian nationalism was, in other words, largely marginal and secondary.


extreme nationalists denied the identicalness of Serbian and Croatian as a unified SerboCroatian, Slovenes spoke and carefully protected an altogether different language, incomprehensible to most Yugoslavs. Slovenia had not participated significantly in the antifascist resistance and Slovenes were not especially represented or distinguished in the JNA. It was the most European-oriented part of the region, with extensive economic connections to the Western private sector. In her massive study of the socialist economy of Yugoslavia since 1945, Susan Woodward argues that – instead of the overemphasized Serbian-Croatian rivalry – it was the relationship between Serbia and Slovenia that determined crucial aspects of Yugoslavia’s political stability, and acted as a check on autonomist pressures from Croatia (which had been successfully overcome in 1967-1971, for instance). “The absence of confrontation between Slovenia and Serbia,” she writes, “was far more crucial than the presence of conflict between Serbia and Croatia.” 83 By the 1980s, however, Slovenian literature, media and civic movements began demanding liberalization and increasing political freedoms, mocking the Communist party system and its figureheads. The youth activism surrounding the Mladina journal became so influential in urban centers that the JNA saw it fit to arrest three Slovene journalists and subject them to an unreasonable trial in a purported counterinsurgency campaign. The conviction of the three men sparked massive protests throughout the republic, solidifying Slovenes’ rejection of the Yugoslav political order in all its forms. 84 Desperate to prevent the first crack in the floodgate of secession, authorities in Belgrade only increased their repressive policies, and Slovenian aversion to political obligations to federal institutions only intensified.

83 84

Woodward 1995, 63. Kenney 2002.


But even more crucial to Slovenian secessionism were economic considerations. Slovenia had long been more integrated with Western economies than its peer south Slav republics, and the price of remaining in Yugoslavia steadily began rising. As foreign debt rose in the 1980s and rigorous IMF packages damaged Yugoslavia’s economy, redistributing wealth from the more affluent republics to underdeveloped areas where disorder was getting out of hand (like Kosovo) became an urgent priority. As citizens of the most advanced republic, Slovenes were thus the primary opponents of centralized economic planning in Yugoslavia, much of which was directed towards developing the country’s backward southern areas through the Fund for Underdeveloped Regions. The 1974 constitutional decentralization ironically enhanced economic rivalry between Serbia and Slovenia instead of – as the intention was – lightening it. Economic conditions in Serbia steadily deteriorated: the number of jobless climbed to 1.3 million in 1989 and over 700,000 workers went on strike to demand back-pay in April of 1991, crippling an already failing economy. Given Slovenia’s superior industry and massive production of exports, it made little sense to Slovenes to pick up Yugoslavia’s tab by subsidizing unprofitable factories in southern Serbia or Macedonia, though that is precisely what Serbia had in mind. Slovenian profits should be invested, Slovenes increasingly felt, closer to home. By 1989, the Slovene leadership integrated these demands for economic reform into a framework of “human rights,” appealing to Western ideals as opposed to socialist policies of egalitarian, distributed development. “The disagreement over economic reform was,” David Chandler wrote, “represented as a struggle between state sovereignty and human rights” and “greater autonomy for [this] republic.” 85 Nevertheless, economic growth remained the bottom line: even after independence was won and sanctions were imposed on Yugoslavia during the wars that

Hammond and Herman 2000, 21.


followed, Slovene firms circumvented the UN embargo by redirecting trade routes to Serbia through neighboring countries like Hungary, so as not to diminish trade. 86 To Serbs, Slovenia appeared to be leaving the hot potato with Yugoslavia. The 19891990 institution of “shock therapy” measures was hitting Serbia harder than other republics, especially Slovenia. In the peak of economic prosperity and industrial growth in the 1970s, Slovenian separatism was restricted to marginal intellectual circles. By the late 1980s, however, it exploded onto the public scene and became an unavoidable political current in Serbia itself. 87 Accompanying Slovenian secessionism was the staggering growth of Yugoslavia’s foreign debt: in 1970, it had been $2 billion; by 1980, it exceeded $20 billion in a tenfold increase which made Yugoslavia’s foreign debt constitute one fourth of its total GDP. Instead of rescuing their ill-fated “brothers” as the economy deteriorated, Slovenia’s government increasingly opted to loosen the confederative arrangement. In 1989, Slovenia closed its borders and forbade public demonstrations against secession. 88 Slovenian police forces had been fighting, along with their Serbian and Croatian counterparts, in Kosovo against Albanian demonstrators and rioters; in February 1990, they withdrew from the province and renounced any responsibility regarding it. “The Slovenes,” Chandler noted, began “play[ing] on the Kosovo issue as a way of legitimizing their own position and weakening federal constraints.” 89 Finally, as if its own secession was not devastating enough, Slovenia was actively supporting Croatian and Bosnian separatists as well. By the fall of 1991, Slovenia was illegally selling weapons to the Bosnian National Defense Council. 90

Ali 2000, 249. Analogously to the notorious 1986 Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, a “Slovenian national program” appeared in January of 1988 in the monthly Nova Revija (New Review). The “national program” offered a scathing critique of the Slovenian communist leadership and promoted abandonment of Yugoslavia. 88 Woodward 1995, 111-112. 89 Hammond and Herman 2000, 21. 90 Woodward 1995, 279.



Eliciting support for Slovenia from countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria often went hand-in-hand with promoting support for anti-Yugoslav elements in Macedonia, Croatia and even Bosnia-Herzegovina. In all, the Slovenian nationalist challenge rejected the burdens of being in a federation, set the precedent for others to do so as well, and transferred previously shared political and economic responsibilities to Belgrade alone. Nevertheless, Slovenian secession was only a mitigated disaster for Serbia. The tenday war for their independence was short and, by comparison to the ones that were to follow, quite bloodless. Only 2.4% of the republic was Serb, and even they were not particularly oppressed: in 1992, Slovenia and Macedonia were the only former Yugoslav republics found to have satisfied standards of respect for minority rights set by the European Commission. A far more aggressive and formative challenge to Serbian nationalists came from another front. Croatia Barely a decade after surveys were pressed to find any noteworthy traces of nationalism among young Croats and Serbs, not much effort was required to notice it at the May 1990 gathering of rival football fans from Zagreb and Belgrade. Violent skirmishes cancelled the “friendly” game, leaving over 100 people injured, but also producing memorable chants that traveled to television screens in all the six republics: while the hosts sang “If you’re happy slam the Serb to the floor, if you’re happy butcher him with a knife, if you’re happy and you know it shout ‘Croatia, independent state,’” their visitors from Belgrade reminded them that “This is Serbia,” called for “Serbia to Zagreb,” and employed colorful metaphors to associate “your mothers” to nationalist leader Franjo Tudjman. Of all the separatist threats, the rise of Croatian nationalism was perhaps the most painful attack on “Serbian-ness.” Serbs and Croats were decisive majorities in Serbia, Croatia


and Bosnia-Herzegovina and together constituted more than all the other nationalities combined in the entire Yugoslavia. The rivalry of Serbian and Croatian nationalism, therefore, dominated not only the political and cultural agendas of Serbs and Croats, but those of Yugoslavia in general. As historian Aleksa Djilas pointed out, although the two nationalisms were each other’s primary foes, “both ideologies [agreed on] an unfriendly attitude towards other groups in Yugoslavia” and viewed every kind of pluralism as threatening. 91 Those pushing for independent Croatia, therefore, were a uniquely serious and credible obstacle to Serbian nationalism. Although Slovenia and Macedonia posed their own nationalist challenges, advocates of all-Serbs-in-one-state hardly felt threatened; Croatian separatism, on the other hand, was fully incompatible with such a vision. Under Tito, Croatia as well the other republics endured a Communist-imposed silence on issues deemed divisive or counter-revolutionary, with a primary one being the Croatianled genocide of World War II. Everything from literature and art to politics and academia were strictly stripped of discussions of the inter-ethnic conflicts of the past. The Croatian fascist ustaša regime had killed at least 300,000 Serbs, Jews and Roma in concentration camps or villages – many of these victims’ nuclear or extended families were still alive in 1990, as were tens of thousands of Serbian survivors of Croatian death camps. 92 These constituencies alone could be decisively valuable – if mobilized – to the electoral success and popularity of leaders calling for “Greater Serbia.” The rise of the Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (HDZ) to power in the 1990 elections, along with some secondary extremist nationalist parties, aided precisely this purpose and embittered Serbian-Croatian relations throughout Yugoslavia.

91 92

Djilas 2005, 10. Translation mine. Hayden 1992.


Led by Milošević’s future partner-in-crime, Franjo Tudjman, the HDZ flirted with the ideology of ustašluk, glorified Croatia’s role in the Axis powers, and resurrected many symbols of the Independent State of Croatia (ISC) of the Second World War (including its flag). All street names related to World War II crimes or Serbs were quickly given new themes; the central “Square of the Victims of Fascism” in Zagreb turned into “the Square of Croatian Great Ones.” The Yugoslav Dinar was replaced with the ISC-era currency, the Kuna. When formal fighting began, areas captured by Croatian forces commonly had “U” for ustaša painted on walls. Tudjman publicly urged ustaša exiles and their descendents to return from abroad to Croatia, and several original ustaša leaders who did so came to occupy high positions in Tudjman’s government. 93 As one review of nationalism in the Croatian media noted, the construction of “a new national identity” was the foremost project; to Serbs, it was signified best by Tudjman’s careless remarks, such as one that he is “doubly happy” that his wife is neither a Jew nor a Serb, 94 or the even more famous one referring to the ISC as “a historical aspiration of the Croatian people.” 95 Similar statements were incessantly carried over TV and radio discussions of the need for national unity among Serbs, with one local Serbian TV station even integrating such statements into promotional jingles. Milošević’s mobilization of Serbs in general, and those from Croatia especially, was based largely on discontent and fear of a repetition of genocidal World War II policies by “the vampire ustaše,” as the Serbian Orthodox Church entitled them. The Croatian government, like their Serbian counterpart, had little patience for democratic processes or minority rights, with both believing that repressive measures are necessary to fight fire with fire. “Croatia for Croats” was the electoral platform – Croatia was
93 94

Nikolić, 41. Hodžić 1999. 95 Ilić 1995, 330.


redefined as a state of Croats, excluding other nationals. One of the earliest moves of Croatia’s new parliament was a revocation of legislative protection of minorities, including the 39th constitutional amendment which forbade changes to laws concerning minorities without at least two-thirds majority in parliament. Most administrative positions were stripped of Serbs, including the media and police department. Employment was ethnicallydiscriminating and many Serbs were driven to “voluntary arrests.” 96 A special tax burden was imposed on Serbs designed to confiscate their property and encourage them to emigrate. A program of “language purification” was announced to cleanse what used to be known as Serbo-Croatian of its “Serbisms” so that Croatian may become the official language. 97 Like in Serbia, media control was under a tight nationalist rope, championing war-mongering and inter-ethnic hatred. Tudjman’s government issued regular state directives imposing strict restrictions on reporting (e.g. when Serbs were mentioned, the term “Serbian terrorists” was mandatory; when the JNA was mentioned, the term “Serbian-communist occupying army” was necessarily to replace it, etc.). 98 Serbs in Croatia, therefore, were exposed to considerable provocation and persecution. The painfulness of this “betrayal” had, among other things, a peculiar ideological character. Serbs regarded themselves as the pioneers of antifascism in the region. Epic stories of Serbian Partisan resistance fighters were ubiquitous in theater, literature, poetry, music and film. Without difficulty, one could find passionate historical explanations of how Hitler’s downfall is due to his unpredicted, prolonged stay in the Balkans, where underestimated Serbian fighters struggled courageously to delay his advancement into Russia. Of all the Balkan peoples, Serbs had sacrificed most lives during this war for a nominally left-wing,
96 97

Djilas 2005, 14. Bennett 1996, 141. 98 Parenti 2001, 46.


egalitarian movement that promised the “brotherhood and unity” that Croats were now ridiculing. On March 27 1991, tens of thousands gathered in Belgrade's Republic Square to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the overthrow of the pro-Nazi government. Following the massive and violent anti-government protests just weeks earlier (during which Milošević brought tanks onto the streets of Belgrade), this commemoration took a highly oppositional tone: it denounced the Communist authorities and the state’s monopoly over media. However, the event also frantically cried out against the return of “fascism” in Croatia and demanded that Serbia take a more active role in defending its nationals in the recentlydeclared Serbian Autonomous District (SAO). Much of the fear of a return of fascism and genocide was concentrated on Tudjman himself. Jailed repeatedly for nationalist dissidence, he established himself as a prominent spokesmen and revisionist academic for the Croatian irredentist cause. His Wastelands of Historical Reality claimed as late as 1989 that no more than 59,639 people of all backgrounds could possibly have been killed in World War II concentration camps. Serbs were, of course, fed the figure of well over one million deaths in Jasenovac alone, making Tudjman appear an outright fascist in the Serbian public sphere. Well into the conclusion of the war, Tudjman continued to insist that the Jasenovac memorial be turned into a memorial for ustaša themselves as well as their victims. 99 His books lacked the strategic moderateness of some of his dissident colleagues, and his Wastelands of Historical Reality pulled no punches: Genocide is a natural phenomenon, in harmony with the societal and mythologically divine nature. Genocide is not only permitted, it is also recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty, whenever it is useful for the survival or the restoration

Štitkovac 2000, 170.


of the kingdom of the chosen nation, or for the preservation and spreading of its one and only correct faith. 100 The “chosen nation” in question stretched at least across most areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and at most into southern and northern Serbia (with almost half of Vojvodina) and parts of Montenegro. In either case, Serbs were obvious candidates for being swept by the “natural phenomenon” that was being promised to achieve such a state. The military balance of forces, of course, made the possibility very unlikely, but the Serbian public (in Croatia especially) was exposed to media that understandably led it to think otherwise. A separate dimension, though related, is Croatian Catholicism. Croatian national mythology painted Croatia as a “bastion of Christianity” resisting Turkish Ottoman takeover of Europe. Accordingly, Bosnia-Herzegovina in its entirety had been eyed as naturally Croatian, and large parts of Serbia and Montenegro were interpreted as having “originally” been populated by Croatian Catholics who were later converted. An opportunity to re-assert Croatian control over these areas arose in the Second World War, during which German and Italian occupiers gave control over all these areas to Ante Pavelić’s regime. The Croatian Catholic Church and the Vatican had actively supported the ustaše and the ISC. Not a single contemporary Serbian textbook fails to cite the famous remark of an ISC minister, who described the ways his state will kill a third of Serbs, displace another third and “the rest of them we shall convert to Catholicism and thus assimilate into Croats.” 101 Fifty-five years later, an ISC Minister of Internal Affairs facing trial in Zagreb in 1986 defended himself by stating that everything he and his ustaše did was in accord with the Catholic Church, leaving his conscience clear. This statement, and similar ones throughout the years, was given enormous attention by authorities as lessons for secular Communism, though Serbian
100 101

Tudjman 1990. Nedeljković 1991, xiii.


nationalists chose to learn different lessons. After coming to power, the HDZ-led government made use of the Latin alphabet mandatory in all official documents and proceedings – a move to curb the use of Serbo-Croatian in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, which was disliked for its close association to the Serbian Orthodox Church and its history. With no Orthodox Christian allies to turn to except Russia, and with Catholic Slovenia already independent with the decisive backing of the Vatican and Austria, the Serbian Orthodox Church perceived an existential threat to Serbian Christians everywhere. 102 In such a climate, minor, confusing incidents became perfectly legitimate causes for war. Immediately after the HDZ swept the elections in 1990 (signaling a return to 1941 for Serbs, who began packing their bags in Knin preparing to flee 103 ), an attack on a twentythree-year-old Serb activist from Benkovac was trumpeted as an “ustaša atrocity” throughout the media, precipitating the declaration of independence of Knin and leading to a Serbian boycott of Croatia’s new parliament. The newly-formed, all-Croatian army could not have won the confidence of Serbs or Muslims, even if it had not become involved in violent incidents since its origins. Dozens upon dozens of violent incidents marked the three years’ press content, mostly examples of defenseless Serbian victims violated at the hands of Croatian military formations. Around 500,000 Serbs were eventually expelled from Croatia by 1995 (out of the total 800,000 from the civil war), leaving the newly-independent country over 90% Croatian and Catholic; for many Serbs, this achievement represented nothing more than a successful continuation of the 1941 final solution of the “Serbian question.” Even cursorily consuming Serbian media coverage of the situation could lead to only one conclusion: only military force could prevent another genocide.

102 103

Tomanić 2001. Bennett 1996, 129.


Just as Serbia’s leadership exhibited significantly more nationalist fervor than many of the people it purported to represent, the Croatian leadership was not fully representative of Croats. A disproportionate and undemocratic electoral procedure 104 assigned HDZ control over two-thirds of the Croatian parliament in the 1991 elections, even though it won only 41.5% of popular vote. Nevertheless, this threat was arguably the most formative enemy of Serbian nationalism, receiving by far the most attention in both state propaganda media and independent oppositional outlets. Serbian state policies were immune to criticism so long as they could appeal to the gravest of menaces, the return of Croatian aggression. Even as Milošević publicly denounced Tudjman’s nationalism and separatism, “he privately welcomed it because it allowed him to disguise his expansionistic ambitions as mere aid to his persecuted brothers in Croatia.” 105 The bloody clash of Serbian and Croat nationalisms, however, was to take its greatest death toll neither in Serbia nor in Croatia. Bosnia-Herzegovina Of all the Yugoslav republics, Bosnia-Herzegovina was not only the most diverse but also enjoyed the least percentage of nationally homogenous (“ethnically clean”) territory. This was, in a sense, its curse: its path to statehood was the most complicated and the most brutal. 43% of Bosnians were Muslim, 31% Serb and 17% Croat – percentages that were largely, in the 1991 elections, simply translated into votes for parties representing the respective national groups. “Greater Serbia,” “Greater Croatia” and an independent Bosnian state under Bosniak rule quickly became the three viable options as far as parliamentary forces were concerned. The largest, Bosnia Muslim presence in parliament began assigning

In a delightful historical irony, the Croatian reform communists had set up the inequitable “winner-take-all” electoral system to maintain themselves in power, but ended up consolidating the dominance of the fanatically anti-communist HDZ. A law designed to ensure a significant presence for recycled communist parties was the reason the parliamentary representation of HDZ was 1/3 larger than it earned in the ballots. 105 Djilas 2005, 14.


important positions to Muslims, including in the media, government and cultural organizations. Bosnian president Alija Izetbegović not only excluded all Serbs and Croats from state positions, but marginalized Muslim leaders who failed to renounce secularism and multi-ethnicity. Like Tudjman, Izetbegović enjoyed credibility as a former victim of Communist persecution, but his dissidence left much to be desired: in 1983, he was tried for membership in a Muslim youth organization that had recruited for the Waffen SS. 106 His movement was part of a more general “rebirth of Islam” 107 in Yugoslavia in the 1970s, during which a new generation of Muslims asserted Islam more forcefully (sometimes violently) against communist rule. 108 Yearly, hundreds of Bosniaks traveled abroad for Islamic educations in Iran and elsewhere, a spurt of militant Muslim youth organizations was registered in urban centers like Sarajevo, and widespread construction of new mosques took place throughout the 1980s. Though still a minority in the 1990s, fundamentalist Islam gained enough momentum to pose a lethal challenge to multi-ethnicity in BosniaHerzegovina. Some of the same World War II concerns regarding Croatia applied to BosniaHerzegovina as well. The latter had also been under fascist Croatia during the war, relying somewhat on Muslim assistance in its campaign to eliminate Serbs from the area. It was the site of the fiercest slaughter during the war, with the Serbs decisively in the lead with casualty numbers: they accounted for 72% of the total number of World War II deaths in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Over 290,000 Serbs (1/10 of the entire population) lost their lives, while Croats and Muslims lost “only” 79,000 and 75,000 souls, respectively. Another

106 107

Malić 2003. Guskova 2003 (vol.1), 306. 108 As mentioned in Chapter 1, it was in 1971 that “Muslim” was recognized as a separate ethnic category in the Yugoslav census.


200,000 Serbs had fled from fascism in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Serbia and Montenegro. 109 Historical revisionism similar to that of the Tudjman camp, though less extreme, could be heard from leaders of Bosnian Muslim parties, who sought to minimize the extent of the Nazi Muslim SS division or other Muslim collaborators in the early 1940s. 110 By 1991, it became clear that, given Croatia’s push for territory from the west, the Bosnian Muslim leadership was closer historically and ideologically to Croatian than to Serbian nationalism. Not only was a revival of genocidal ustašluk lurking from Croatia, in other words, but a potential Islamic fundamentalist ally to it was seemingly rising as a buffer between the Serbian and Croatian areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Also analogous to Croatian nationalists were certain Muslim intellectuals and politicians fueling Serbian anxiety with provocative ideological attitudes. Though less aggressive than Tudjman, Izetbegović had equally exclusionary and sinister ideas about those who were not his co-nationals. An Islamic Bosnia as part of a broader “Islamic Order” was his priority, with no alternatives for followers of other religions except expulsion or “Islamization.” Western society (and even secular states with Muslim majorities) suffered from spiritual and political corruption, in his view, and only a Pan-Islamic global power could redeem Bosnia-Herzegovina. “The Muslim,” Izetbegović’s Islamic Declaration reaffirmed in a republished 1990 edition, …does not exist at all as an independent individual. […] It is not in fact possible for there to be any peace or coexistence between 'the Islamic Religion' and non-Islamic social and political institutions. 111

109 110

Guskova 2003 (vol.1), 303. Djilas 2005, 16. 111 Izetbegović 1990, 22.


In these and other publications, as well as in speeches, the idea of a hierarchy of religious/national castes – reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire – was evoked, striking a familiar note to Serbian national mythology. Local calls for militants to support the Bosniak cause often took on jihad overtones, and young recruits from the Middle East frequently traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina at the behest of the Muslim authorities to fight Serbian aggression. As diplomat Warren Zimmerman recounted, Izetbegović’s rejection of the Lisbon arrangement had partly been motivated by the belief that a better deal (i.e. a Muslimdominated, independent Bosnia-Herzegovina) would nevertheless come about if he refused the offer. 112 While Slovene and Croat leaders promoted their causes in Germany and Austria, Izetbegović’s government focused on Islamic regimes in the Middle East and Asia, signaling sympathy for Salafism and Wahhabism. As a member of the Islamic Fida’iyan e Islam and a visitor to Tehran, Izetbegović especially elicited financial and diplomatic support from Iran. 113 Countries like Libya and Turkey also provided loans in the tens of millions of dollars. In June of 1991, before the nationalities question in Bosnia-Herzegovina was anywhere near settlement, Izetbegović’s government pushed for Bosnia-Herzegovina to acquire observer status at the Organization of Islamic Conference to better promote the faith globally. 114 This ideology and its supporters portrayed Serbs as members of a degenerate, secular European order that had unjustly suppressed Islamic expression under Titoism (mixed marriages, for example, were denounced as a corrupting and immoral influence on Bosnian society). Overall, Serbs reluctant to integrate Bosnia-Herzegovina into an Islamic global order had reasons to renounce their ties to the republic and affiliate with the one to the

112 113

See Zimmerman 1994. Guskova 2003 (vol.1), 306. 114 Ibid, 309.


east of it, which “truly” belonged to them. As discussed in Chapter 1, many of them did precisely that between 1981 and 1991. A fitting illustration of the kind of perceived threats Serbs were exposed to from Bosnian nationalism is a September 1991 issue of Vox, a popular Muslim youth publication – one of many articles that received massive attention in Serbia itself when picked up by Politika. In an article forecasting the fate of Serbs in the future Islamic state of BosniaHerzegovina, Vox described the ways Serbs would work twelve hours a day for salaries that are only 70% of those of believers and that are, moreover, conditional on their loyalty to the Muslim authorities. Administrative buildings and outdoor public areas would, the article continued, be off limits for Serbs without issued passes. Purchasing goods would be allowed only at restricted, designated places, while forming new political parties or participation in politics would be forbidden. “A good Serb,” the piece concluded, “is alive and obedient, while a disobedient one is dead.” 115 Deluged by similar predictions in media from several republics, many Serbs genuinely began fearing for their lives and opting for Serbian autonomy within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although Bosniak nationalism was the most “benign” of the bunch – without serious ambitions for territorial expansion and with comparatively little military might – it did exhibit significant intolerance and discrimination. Yet again, a significant gulf existed between leadership and popular will. In polls in May and June 1990 and in November 1991, majorities ranging from 70% to 90% expressed support for remaining within Yugoslavia and opposition to ethnic partition. 116 Nevertheless, a radical minority of Islamic fundamentalists

115 116

Andrić 1991, 8. Translation mine. Hammond and Herman 2000, 24.


monopolized the Bosnian public sphere and government, strongly inducing rival nationalisms to toughen their own positions. A New World Order Yugoslavia’s post-World War II stability was largely a result of Cold War geopolitics. The US shared with the USSR an interest in maintaining an integrated and neutral Yugoslavia as a buffer on the European frontline for superpower expansion. Although “Titoism” symbolized principled hostility to the Soviet block throughout the Marshal’s life, Yugoslavia enjoyed intimate contacts with the USSR from the moment Khrushchev came to power and reconciled Belgrade and Moscow. On the other side of the iron curtain, a (recently declassified) National Security Directive approved in 1984 stated that Yugoslavia is an important obstacle to Soviet expansionism and hegemony in southern Europe. Yugoslavia also serves as a useful reminder to countries in Eastern Europe of the advantages of independence from Moscow and of the benefits of friendly relations to the West. Although its socialism was not looked on favorably (US planners hoped for a more “efficient, market-oriented Yugoslav economic structure” friendlier to Western capital), Yugoslavia was a valuable asset not only as a political ally, but as a symbol of socialist dissent from the Soviet communist model. To sustain this “independent and viable force on the Warsaw Pact’s southern plank,” the US pledged unwavering diplomatic and even military support (through arms and technology sales) for the maintenance of the “territorial integrity and national unity of Yugoslavia.” 117 Nationalist quibbles within the country were perceived as destabilizing at best and susceptible to Soviet takeover at worst.


Reagan Administration’s National Security Decision Directive 133, “US Policy Toward Yugoslavia,” March 14, 1984.


The fall of the USSR complicated matters in numerous ways, including militarily. Yugoslav authorities (misguidedly, as it turned out) were genuinely distressed over the possibility of a Soviet invasion or other military expedition against Yugoslavia. In the months surrounding Tito’s death in 1980, the JNA was ordered to be in a state of alert for fear of potential invasion from the Warsaw Pact. “In reality,” Christopher Bennett wrote, “Yugoslavia’s new leaders exaggerated the Soviet threat in an effort to bring the country together.” 118 Dreadful as it was, this menace from the East was highly functional: the Yugoslav state could compellingly inhibit internal quarrels when such a grave external menace loomed over the entire country. Who has time for ethnic or republican differentiation when a rampant superpower is about to occupy “us” all? As the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe began collapsing along with the USSR itself, Yugoslavia was left a lonely outpost of state socialism in the region – a state without partners, but also without certain enemies. Although initially against any division of Yugoslavia in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the USSR, the Cold War strategy outlined above turned 180 degrees by 1991. Just as it had been pressured by the US for independent and constructive non-alignment a decade earlier, the US-led international community designated itself the champion of separatist “selfdetermination” in Yugoslavia. By the end of 1991, the Bush administration successfully pushed for Congressional approval of military and other foreign aid to Yugoslavia’s republics against its federal government. Slovenia and Croatia received massive arms shipments and military advisors primarily from the US, Britain, Germany and Austria. The last of these was especially invested in Slovenian independence because of apparent hopes to rebuild a kind of “Habsburg” sphere in Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary by “striving to


Bennett 1996, 77.


assimilate the Slovene minority in the Klagenfurt Basin and the Croats in Burgenland.” 119 Similarly, the Hungarian government funded and sold arms to Slovenia and especially Croatia partly due to ambitions over Serbia’s Vojvodina province (with its Hungarian minority). In July 1991, the Hungarian Prime Minister went as far as to publicly question the legitimacy of Hungary’s southern borders with Serbia: "We gave Vojvodina to Yugoslavia. If there is no more Yugoslavia,” he explained, “then we should get it back." 120 On all sides, it seemed, Serbia was being challenged, isolated and steadily stripped of its sovereignty by all the foreign players involved in the Yugoslav crisis. By 1992, the American press assigned Milošević the notorious label of “the butcher of the Balkans,” and the US-led international community began treating him as such. In September of the same year, Yugoslavia became the first and only country in history to be expelled from the United Nations. As far as Serbian public opinion was concerned, however, “self-determination” was a hypocritical facade that did not apply to Serbs. When the Serbian Autonomous District (SAO) was declared in what was to become the Republic of Serb Krajina in Croatia in 1991, it likewise appealed to “self-determination” to remain a part of Yugoslavia. If Croatia secedes from Yugoslavia, SAO leaders promised, Krajina will seceded from Croatia. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, similarly, Serbs voted overwhelmingly for remaining in Yugoslavia. The West, however, defined “self-determination” as applicable only to republics, not to peoples. Before the status of Serb minorities could be settled, the European Commission’s Badinster Commission – appointed to settle the secession question with a group of international jurists – ruled that the republic’s borders were inviolable. The difficulty was that these dated borders were largely arbitrary, drawn for administrative purposes unrelated

119 120

Zametica 1992, 50. (Cited in footnote #9 in Gowan 1999). Gowan 1999.


to ethnic demographics. If anything, they were designed to prevent the possibility of national homogeny within republics; the republic’s borders, in other words, divided whatever ethnic contiguity “naturally” existed in the region and created diversified, heterogeneous sub-state units. Since Serbs were the primary population of concern, the Serbian population was scattered the most across the republics, especially with Bosnia’s indiscriminate eastern border. Almost a third of Serbs were left outside “their” republic. 121 Treating such borders as inviolable entailed, nationalists argued, a double standard to the Serbs’ disadvantage; both in raw numbers as well as in percentages in relation to total population, Serbs would be the most displaced people in the region if republican boundaries were to become sovereign. Such considerations were easily presented as proof of a biased international scheme against the Serbs, warranting distrust and contempt of most foreign mediation. Perhaps the single greatest decision from the NATO powers kindling Serbian nationalism was the unconditional recognition of Croatia and Slovenia as independent national states. Germany and the Vatican recognized both republics immediately following their declarations of independence in 1991. Initially, virtually all the other EU members, the US, and several other relevant actors took the opposite view on the question of recognition, anxious about potential instability in the region. International mediators involved in peace negotiations like Lord Carrington and Cyrus Vance, the UN Secretary General, as well as Alija Izetbegović himself, who (rightly) feared the cost that Bosnian Muslims would pay because of premature recognition. However, largely due to issues unrelated to Yugoslavia (including a crucial recent step towards European integration – the Maastricht Agreement – with provisions on unified foreign policy), the other EU member states did not challenge Germany on its threat to unconditionally recognize the new states alone if necessary. By

Croats were the second-most scattered population, with 20% of Croats left outside Croatia.


January 1992, they all recognized Croatia and Slovenia. Thereafter, the US, NATO and other Western European armies invested their own military resources to ensure that the newlyrecognized borders are made permanent. In March 1994, for instance, the US inspired and sponsored a Muslim-Croat federation within Bosnia-Herzegovina, involving a joint Muslim and Croat army allied against Republika Srpska and Belgrade. The policy consistently escalated until the 1995 Dayton agreement and continued after it through peacekeeping missions. Unsurprisingly, the complexities of the Maastricht Agreement were not offered to the Serbian public as the true reasons for recognition; Western imperialism, the superior strength of Croatian public relations campaigns, 122 and the desire to complete the failed genocide of decades ago, were. To make matters worse, recognition came in the face of Croatia’s public refusal to grant its sizable Serbian minority the rights assigned to it by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE’s predecessor). That the US and Europe were rewarding Croatia’s violation of international law and its denial of Croatian Serbs’ rights soon became notorious information fueling nationalist sentiment. It corresponded nicely to extreme nationalists fantasies concerning Serbia’s “traditional enemies” and their historical anti-Serb hatred, fueled (for instance) by Catholic resentment. In August of 1991, in the middle of ongoing clashes between Serbian and Croatian militias, Serbian media diligently conveyed Pope John Paul II’s then-recent statement from a mass in Pecs, Hungary, that Croats have “legitimate aspirations” in their struggle to secede. Analogous “insults” were registered (and widely publicized) from both religious and ideological perspectives. In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Communism, the British Conservative Party extended an invitation to Tudjman to London in May of 1991, where he delivered a lecture to an elite

Pavkovic 2000, 170.


parliamentary audience and met with Margaret Thatcher, who told the media she believed he was “one of us.” When asked why British officials are backing such a problematic figure, the Prime Minister responded “that she would always defend a democrat (meaning Tudjman) against a communist (meaning Milošević).” 123 The irony was renewed when, at a London dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the allied victory over fascism, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd refused to invite a Serbian representative from Yugoslavia but seated Tudjman on his right for the occasion. Even as repression of Croatian Serbs continued to escalate in 1991 and a report from a European commission working with the Yugoslav Peace Conference warned of Croatia’s low human rights standards, German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel praised Croatia’s democratic reforms and its respect for minority rights in particular. 124 Given Tudjman’s signals at ustaša values and connections, the level of Western support he enjoyed was, for the frightened and indoctrinated Serbian population, undisputable evidence of Western malevolence. Finally, an unmistakable theme that arises from content analysis is that of the Western-imposed sanctions as nationalist unifiers. The call for self-determination for nations and not republics owed its popularity largely to the suffering and humiliation that Serbians themselves were enduring. As will be discussed in detail in Chapter 3, the UN managed a strict economic embargo on Yugoslavia beginning in 1992 to sever alleged connections to the Bosnian Serb forces in the conflict. In 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was created by the United Nations to bring Serbs behind atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina to justice. Tightening the noose around Serbia was necessary, the US

123 124

Beloff 1997, 65. Cited in Djilas 2005, 21.


argued, because “Bosnian Serbs must be made to pay a ‘higher price' for their aggression.”125 In 1992, the German foreign minister famously insisted that “Serbia must be brought to its knees.” 126 Serbian officials, however, incessantly repeated that the JNA never formally supported the Bosnian Serbs in the first place. Many in Serbia believed them. The assumption of a connection between Serbs in Bosnia and Serbians was, in effect, an imported idea taken up as justification for Serbian unity – supporting Serbs across republican boundaries became a necessary act of self-defense, provoked by a Serb-hunt “we” did not ask for. Western leaders partly viewed the Bosnian Serbs “not as independent actors with goals and minds of their own but as puppets of a Belgrade-sponsored aggression.” 127 The flipside of this, however, was the legitimization of such a relation on the part of Serbs in Serbia. Since “we” are suffering the penalties for supporting Bosnian Serbs, the argument went, there better be a compelling reason. The words of one secessionist are emblematic of what was perceived to be the West’s mentality: “we will attack Serbs wherever they are.” The implication unavoidably became that “Serbia [must be] where Serbs live” and nothing short of that. 128 As an active obstacle to this project, the Anglo-American world was increasingly denounced by previously moderate segments of the population; even Orthodox Christian bishops began directing unflattering messages to the outside world: “Damned be the hand that is putting up walls between us and our brothers in distress.” Demanding that Serbia stand shoulder-to-shoulder with “our crucified brethren,” 129 the Church voiced the growing demand for national unity in response to Western plots to undermine it.

125 126

Jeffries 1996, 571. Klaus Kinkel made the statement on May 24th, 1992 in the presence of German journalists. 127 Woodward 1995, 290. 128 The statement by a Kosovo Albanian militant was carried by The Scotsman on April 3, 2000. 129 Thomas 1999, 206.


To most Serbs, the sanctions appeared selective in the context of the broader civil war. By no means did Serbs believe to have the monopoly on violence and terror in the area. From October 1992, Bosnian Croats and Muslims began years-long fighting independent of the Serb and Croat front lines that had been set between UN buffer zones. A year later – in October 1993 – Muslim forces loyal to Izetbegović and Muslim forces loyal to local leader Fikret Abdić (who had proclaimed an independent Autonomous Republic of West Bosnia, appealing to the recently failed Owen-Stoltenberg peace plan) began slaughtering each other at the expense of innocent lives in the Bihać enclave. The intense fighting between these conationals went on for a year, with tens of thousands of Muslim refugees fleeing the area into Serbian-held territory in Croatia. In this chaotic campaign of Croats killing Muslims who are killing Muslims who are allying with Croats protecting other Muslims, and in this seemingly free-for-all carnage for territory, singling out Serbia appeared to Serbs to be prejudiced and unfair. In fact, UN resolution 757 (which instigated the sanctions) was phrased in a balanced and diplomatic way, assigning the guilt for armed conflict on all three sides and even singling Croatia out for its failure to withdraw troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina. This was irrelevant, Serbian nationalists skillfully argued, because only Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro) was penalized. Playing on the perception of unjust foreign intervention, the Belgrade regime offered the dream of a single state for all Serbs as the only remaining option, anything short of which will lead to catastrophe.


CHAPTER 3: United in Misery, 1993-1995 Thus far, we have surveyed the early 1990s, during which Serbs were a divided population with complex and sometimes incoherent values. This chapter covers the subsequent period when Serbian nationalism became more unified, where public opinion became homogenous and where variations in nationalism across socio-economic and geographic differences declined. Above all, Serbian nationalism in this period is unmistakably “reactive” in its goals and purposes, as its bearers take on an isolated, conspiratorial and often paranoid worldview in response to outside pressures. The “value crisis” discussed in Chapter 1 gave way to a hegemonic nationalist value system, and the differences among sub-groups of Serbs gave way to considerable unanimity. Nationalism had “filled” the identity vacuum. While Chapter 2 focused mostly on political forces fueling nationalism, this chapter emphasizes the centrality of socio-economic influences. I argue that the 1,584 days of UN sanctions had a decisive impact on this intensified nationalist sentiment, and that they interacted with the simultaneous wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in formative ways for Serbian collective identity. I first summarize some of the basic economic and social effects of the sanctions; I then offer a description of four “new” constituencies that grew from them and explain how and why each was conducive to the spread of nationalism. Finally, I explore this newer stage of Serbian nationalism in more detail through surveys and polling data.


Sanctions and the War Beginning in 1992, Serbia experienced what the New York Times called “the most sweeping sanctions in history,” with a total blockade on the import and export of all goods to and from Serbia and Montenegro. Everything from retail beer shipments to private postal packages was forbidden to leave the country; everything from the national airline to the local football team was banned from visiting the outside world. Faced with a raging war over territory in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (and still shaken by the popular discontent expressed in 1991), the state responded to the economic isolation by aggravating it through what economist Mladjan Dinkić called an “economy of destruction.” 130 Devastating as it was, this harsh fiscal policy managed (intentionally or otherwise) to increase the dependence of the Serbian electorate on state services, to make oppositional activity virtually impossible, and to unite and mobilize the population around a nationalist cause. Continuing the unsound policies of their predecessors, the authorities responded to reserve shortages by imposing severe restrictions on access to hard currency savings in state banks. With a worldwide freeze on all Yugoslav financial assets and a complete embargo on all land, water and air commerce, these savings continued to decline steeply. A widespread collapse of social (and especially health) institutions plagued the country. In all, the UNDP estimates that the shortlived sanctions caused a GDP loss of $58 billion. 131 The period marks one of the most spectacular instances of economic decline ever recorded. Yugoslavia continues to hold the record for worst episode of hyperinflation in all of history, having superseded inter-war Germany’s experience by a landslide. Between

130 131

Dinkić 1997. The estimate comes from the 1996 Human Development Report for Yugoslavia.


October 1st 1993 and January 24th 1995, prices in Yugoslavia increased by five quadrillion percent. In many of the months of this period, the average daily rate of inflation was over 100%. Thus the average wage of roughly six dollars – if one was fortunate enough to receive it – could become worth three dollars overnight. 132 In just one month’s time (NovemberDecember 1993), prices rose 1,790 times; the value of agricultural foodstuffs grew 3,586 times. Compared to 1992, prices in 1993 rose by a factor of over 1.165 billion. 133 With the disappearance of raw materials, foreign investments and markets to which manufacturers could sell, thousands of firms and enterprises formally shut down and thousands more did so in practice, though not officially. Within a year of the sanctions, the estimated cost to the state was ten billion dollars; within three years, it reached $45.1 billion, decisively sinking a former symbol of stability and economic growth in Europe into the so-called Third World. 134 Sanctions were most visibly impacting health standards (including psychological) and mortality rates. Since as much as 90-95% of hospitals and other medical institutions in Serbia and Montenegro depended on imports of medicaments, the entire health system fell into a state of disarray. The embargo not only blocked medical assistance and equipment, but the importation of raw materials required for domestic production of medications as well. Already in 1992 – in the immediate aftermath of the introduction of sanctions – 50% of equipment required for first aid was unavailable. Infant mortality rate, as well as the rate of death of patients with curable illnesses, began increasing dramatically, while the birth rate
132 133

Vreme News Digest Agency No 89 (June 7, 1993). Guskova 2003 (vol. 2), 366. 134 The outrage at the symbolic isolation caused by the sanctions was interesting in its own right. Given the dire economic and social situation, a surprising number of “letters to the editor” and newspaper articles during this period addressed issues that are seemingly trivial compared to questions of survival, but are nevertheless discussed with enormous passion and indignation. The fact that the sanctions banned, for instance, all Yugoslav national sports teams from participating in any international competitions (including the Olympics) was a frequent subject. Some were outraged at a widely-publicized cancellation of a concert by the Belgrade string orchestra that had been scheduled in London. And still others found the fact that Hungary had forbidden the import of scenery for a play in a Serbian national theater more upsetting that this or that fiscal punishment. The fact that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia remained unrecognized by most of the world while Croatia had been recognized for years was, judging by amounts of column space, more alarming than the refugee question.


began declining – both at speeds unprecedented for Serbia since the Second World War. Compared to 1991, the number of births decreased by twenty-four thousand and the number of deaths increased by over ten thousand by the embargo’s second anniversary. In a little over one year, the average age for lethal cardiac arrests moved from 56 to 46 years. In 1992 alone, the mortality rate of diabetics doubled, while that of the elderly increased sixfold. 135 The number of deaths due to infectious diseases increased by 37.5%, while the average scope of epidemics grew by a rate of 2.5 from 1991 to 1992. Since many citizens could not afford to turn to the black market for essential drugs and doctors’ services, curable diseases became common causes of death. Ambulances became largely useless, as they often arrived too late even in the rare periods when enough petrol was available for them to function regularly at all. Pairs of hospitalized patients typically shared single beds, while many suffering from “minor” illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis and cancer were denied hospitalization altogether for lack of space. 136 Pharmaceutical stores were enormously scant, and even the occasionally available supplies were frequently stolen in robberies and resold in the black market. In November 1994, a shortage of food, heat, medicine and electricity led to the death of 87 patients in a large psychiatric hospital. Two years prior, the Kovina psychiatric hospital recorded 200 deaths – a two-fold increase since 1991. 137 Predictably, living standards in general were not far behind in their decline. By 1994, 36% of Serbia (some 2.1 million people) was below the poverty line, though the figure probably underestimates. The consumption of all staple goods (except flour) began declining from early 1992 for the first time in Yugoslavia’s post-1945 history. In a sharp departure


Extensive documentation is available in: Dve Godine Posle: Pravni, Humanitarni I ekonomski odraz sankcija Saveta bezbednosti UN protiv SR Jugoslavije, a 1994 report by the Ministry for Human Rights and the Rights of Minorities. 136 Milošević 2006. 137 Guskova 370.


from distributions of poverty in the preceding years, most of the poor now lived in urban areas. Social inequality also increased sharply: according to the Gini index, Serbia in 1993 had an index of 0.45 (a rise from 0.28 in 1990). 138 As the public transportation authorities declared it impossible to transport students, elementary and high schools as well as major universities frequently shut down indefinitely throughout the republic. Virtually all state enterprises experienced strikes at one point or another, many of them closing down completely. Heating became a luxury, as did electricity: high-risk surgeries at Serbia’s most prestigious hospital, the Military-Medical Academy, were conducted by doctors in winter coats. 139 To the delight of elementary school students, the 1993 school winter break was prolonged for more than a month throughout the country because of the intolerable coldness in classrooms. Weekly schedules were regularly announced over state media letting citizens know when electrical outages could be expected, though constant shortages made these timetables unreliable. Expensive gas stoves, flashlights, candles and a willingness to climb stairs when elevators cease running became indispensable for cooking, nightlife and day-to-day movement in what was dubbed “Serbia unplugged.” In December 1994, as winter made electricity especially scarce, a Belgrade daily noted that Serbia was “the most romantic country in the world – we all live by candlelight.” 140 Crime rates skyrocketed, as vandalism, robbery, and violence became commonplaces in urban centers. From 1990 to 1993, the yearly murder rate in Belgrade more than tripled. 141 In a country with formerly one of the

138 Djurić-Kuzmanović and Žarkov 1999, 4. The Gini index is a measure of inequality of a distribution. It is defined as a ratio with values between 0 and 1, with 0 corresponding to perfect income equality (i.e. everyone in a given population has the same income) and 1 corresponding to perfect income inequality (i.e. one person has all the income, while everyone in the same population has zero income). 139 Milošević 2006. 140 Gordy 1999,190. 141 Vreme News Digest Agency No 143 (June 20, 1994).


lowest suicide rates in the world, one suicide began occurring on average every two days in Belgrade throughout 1992 and early 1993 (by way of comparison, when the worst drought in Australia’s history threatened the livelihood of its farmers, one committed suicide on average every four days). 142 Generally, a state of enormous despair, insecurity, confusion and anomie defined this period. As many authors have pointed out, these and other effects of the sanctions were in a seemingly hopeless symbiosis with the ongoing war; every deterioration of the economic situation further intensified the bloodshed, and vice versa. This symbiosis of the war and economic ruin was also reflected in diplomatic developments: Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić, according to journalists Silber and Little, conditioned acceptance of a June 1994 peace plan drawn up by the Contact Group on the lifting of sanctions off of Belgrade. “Sanctions first, then peace” became the “new Serb chorus,” partly reflecting the fear of Karadžić and others from Milošević’s retribution. This order, however, was the exact reverse of what the international community was demanding: a guarantee of peace from Serbia first, followed by a loosened embargo scheme as the carrot. 143 Predictably, this Catch-22 led to further war, a gradual tightening of the sanctions, and an expansion of “safe areas” in BosniaHerzegovina. Numerous other diplomatic initiatives followed a similar pattern. A New Kind of Society, New Vested Interests To understand how these economic and social pressures boosted nationalism, it is helpful to sketch the emergence of a new social composition of Serbian society. Four distinct constituencies may be though of as products of the sanctions period and the intensification of the civil war. With all due respect to overlap and internal complexity, I offer these four
142 143

Guskova 2003 (vol. 2), 368. Silber and Little 1996, 337.


groupings as idealized types to later illustrate how their general interactions perpetuated nationalism. 144 The Helpless First and foremost, there was a majority of Serbian citizens that was, when it came to economic stability and security, practically powerless – those without any formal source of income or even prospect for it. The unemployed, who had previously not been such a sizable segment of the population and who had enjoyed at least minimal socialist protection, now represented a massive group of people barely surviving. Difficult as it was, the period of 1990-1993 did see an increase in the number of citizens receiving benefits from 11,000 to 35,000. By 1994, however, no more than 10,000 people in all were receiving any unemployment benefits. 145 Unemployment oscillated around half the population, and often reached as high as 70%. In January 1994, 760-800 thousand unemployed adults were reported by the regime, though this figure is misleading. Beginning in 1993, when a wave of bankruptcies of enterprises and closings of key industries swept the economy, an additional (and partially unreported) source of unemployment became the “forced vacation”: a status of de facto unemployment without entitlements for social benefits and without the right to reemployment. Some 900,000 such workers were left jobless and wageless in the 1992-1994 period, driving the actual number of unemployed well above the official figure.146 Manual workers were especially represented in this category, as were most farmers and residents of rural areas. Since exporting agricultural products became illegal, farmers sustained an estimated loss of 600 million dollars. Since shortages needed attention most urgently in urban

144 145

I rely loosely on Djurić-Kuzmanović and Žarkov 1999, where the emergence of a new social composition is hinted at. UNDP estimates. See p.20 of their August 2000 report entitled Suspended Transition (1990-2000) [“Suspended Transition” in subsequent footnotes]. 146 Guskova 2003 (vol. 2), 366. See also UNDP’s 1996 Human Development Report on Yugoslavia.


centers, farmers were mostly denied the opportunity to purchase gasoline for tractors, trucks, etc. Transporting goods to cities for sale became impossible in many areas, leading to a sharp separation of the village from the town throughout Serbia. 147 From 1990-1994, the average poverty rate in rural areas went from 7.1% to 11%; in urban areas, it went from 8% to 30%. Children, of course, were virtually all in this category, but so were many of their guardians. Not only was “[p]overty particularly prevalent among urban families,” but “urban families with children” disproportionately suffered the pressure. 148 An average 50% of all children in Belgrade were malnourished in 1993-1994, and every second schoolchild was anemic. 149 Maternity leaves were revoked in most state firms, thousands of mothers were left widowed by the war, and orphanages and child-support centers closed down throughout the country. In addition, we must include here arguably the most vital of all categories: refugees. Those who failed to find relatives, friends or host families to stay with resorted to public collective housing arrangements, in which sanitary conditions were often unsatisfactory, and heating and shelter from rain and snow were by no means assumed. By the end of 1991, “only” 170 thousand refugees reportedly entered Serbia; for the period of 1991-1993, however, over 800,000 registered refugees fled into Yugoslavia (excluding Kosovo), with numerous others unregistered. After a peak period in late 1992, the number of registered migrants 150 gradually began to decline and stabilized to around 395,000 in Serbia and another 50 thousand in Montenegro.


This development was an important precedent for the city-village divide that characterized the post-Dayton period within Serbia; as we will see in the final chapter, it set the groundwork for a more general divide between nationalists and their opponents. 148 1996 UNDP Human Development Report on Yugoslavia [“1996 HDP” in subsequent footnotes]. 149 Guskova 2003 (vol.2), 368; 369. 150 Including the category “displaced persons” which was established in a 1992 Serbian law on the treatment of IDP and refugees.


Table 3.1. Numbers of Refugees in 1994 From Into Serbia Into Montenegro

Number % Number % Bosnia-Herzegovina 180,000 46.6 42,256 89.6 Croatia 175,000 44.3 4,865 10,4 Macedonia 3,700 9,3 n/a n/a Slovenia 3,000 0.8 n/a n/a Note: Percentages refer to percentages of refugees from the given republic out of all those going into Serbia or Montenegro alone (not Yugoslavia as a whole). Source: “Izbeglice iz bivše SFRJ Jugoslavije” in Jugoslovenski Pregled (Belgrade, Serbia: 1994), 107-124.

These figures included roughly 100,000 schoolchildren (7-18 years of age), 1,200 children without parents, 10,000 children born into refugee families, 50,000 old-age persons, 350 persons in need of dialysis, 6,000 diabetics and 25,000 suffering from chronic illnesses requiring treatment. 151 Given their uncertain legal status, their homelessness and their lack of social capital, this population was especially vulnerable and incapable of pursuing sources of income from any formal institutions. Like the unemployed, children, single mothers, those on “forced vacation,” etc., refugees received no meaningful state support whatsoever. These groups were by far the most vulnerable to nationalist mobilization. As we saw in Chapter 1, the bulk of para-military group membership consisted of destitute young men (often children) without any better prospects for making a living. Children of war victims were all the more inclined for political/ideological reasons, as well as for the popular economic ones. In addition to the obvious “spoils of war” available by looting and pillaging, certain militias attracted recruits with promises of private health insurance and veterans’ benefits for a relatively short period of military service (sometimes as short as two months). More often, however, the jobless – young and old – were likely to look to organized crime for opportunities. Numerous youth gangs in Belgrade and elsewhere were organized to manage the growing weapons, cigarette, gasoline, prostitution and drug trades. Many laid-off


Guskova 2003 (vol.2), 373.


workers turned their apartments or vehicles into storage facilities for smuggling rings in return for kickbacks. If not for employment, this entire constituency certainly depended on the black market and its leaders for food, gasoline and other staple items. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, there had always been a clearly disproportionate affinity to nationalist values among Serbs living as minorities in Croatia, BosniaHerzegovina, Kosovo and elsewhere. As the Serbs who experienced the most violence and insecurity, these constituencies were more likely to reject multi-nationality, were most in favor of a “strong state” and the maintenance of “order,” were much more likely to vote for nationalist candidates and expressed the most xenophobia and intolerance. What the massive influx of refugees into Serbia in this period meant, in effect, was the diffusion of these values among Serbs who had previously been isolated from the experiences of these groups. Twothirds of refugees from the former Yugoslav territories found residence with local Serbian families – a fact that is reflected in the nationalist radicalization (remaining to this day) of areas such as Vojvodina, where refugees settled in the largest numbers. For thousands of host families now sharing their lives with their exiled co-nationals, horror stories of “ustaša atrocities” became more than TV reports; the importance of military aid for Bosnian Serb militias became personal; and the bond between Serbs everywhere based on a common threat became obvious. To be sure, even at the peak period of refugee inflows, this constituency never represented more than about 6% of the Serbian population and never more than about 50% in any single Serbian town; nevertheless, their presence should be understood as a powerful instigator of nationalist values well beyond this constituency alone. Even at just 10% of the population of Belgrade, these 200,000 refugees asserted enormous power over the capital’s public discourse. Politika editions through 1993 and 1994 overflowed with refugee


testimonials, and RTS’s daily Dnevnik regularly interviewed displaced persons for propaganda purposes. A comprehensive study of 2,076 families (half refugee) throughout Serbia and Montenegro noted an interesting fact: 20% of Serbian families that hosted refugees and even more of the refugee families themselves had personally gone through experiences of displacement or forced exile during World War II. 152 In much more than a symbolic sense, therefore, the integration of these refugees into the Republic of Serbia encouraged a new understanding of national identity: one based on a shared victimhood at the hands of the international community, Croats, Muslims, etc., and a knowledge about what “they” would do to “us” as Serbs. By the time of the Dayton agreement – following the Croatian offensive Storm, which suddenly brought another two-three hundred thousand into Serbia – Yugoslavia claimed the world’s greatest per capita refugee population. The more it appeared that Serbs were being (mis)treated as a unified, single nation, the more it made sense to be one. The line between Serbians and Serbs, if you will, became blurred. The Dependent Secondly, there are those dependent on the state for at least limited income or direct aid – these include pensioners, workers in government enterprises, social security recipients, unemployment beneficiaries, etc. The state sector employed more than four times as many workers as the private one, though the latter almost equaled the state in its ability to give what it owes to its dependents. In practice, therefore, “the dependent” are a significantly smaller category than the previous one; most people nominally entitled to state support in effect never received it. Those employed in industries with particularly low wages (e.g. textile, construction, automobile manufacturing) were, for all intents and purposes, in the


The study was a UNHCR-financed project executed by the Institute for Social Policy in Belgrade, led by Dr. Miloslav Milosavljević.


“helpless” category, even though they were receiving meager state support. As mentioned above, only 10,000 jobless Serbs were actually receiving unemployment benefits, and only an additional few hundred thousand employees were placed on paid leave of absence. 153 Skilled workers were more likely to belong to this category, though most of them joined their unskilled colleagues in having no formal income. Some depended, nevertheless, on goods administered directly by the state. In 1993, for instance, the government took on the task of distributing all flour, potatoes, meat and other staples through state enterprises (and their workers’ unions), who in turn distributed these goods to their workers. 154 A very limited number of refugees, in addition, applied for legal residence status with guaranteed benefits. Finally, we may also include here those returning from the frontlines in Croatia and BosniaHerzegovina. In addition to a dozen (sometimes up to a hundred) mildly-to-heavily injured soldiers returning to Belgrade hospitals every month, cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were rampant and contributing to alarming levels of homicides and suicides. Despite receiving salaries and occasional benefits, not even this group was guaranteed the essentials, including food. Not only did the incessant hyperinflation risk evaporating a salary before it reached the store, but the stores themselves were as empty for this constituency as they were for “the helpless.” In October 1993, for instance, Belgrade bakeries simply ceased production, leaving the entire city without bread for a week. Old age pensioners and social security recipients cued in endless lines at post offices to receive money that was not there. “They waited in line,” as economist Thayer Watkins wrote, “knowing that the value of their pension payment was decreasing with each minute they had

153 154

1996 HDP. Djurić-Kuzmanović and Žarkov 1999, 5.


to wait.” 155 The highest possible pension from the 1993-1994 period (enjoyed by roughly 300 citizens) was enough to buy one soap. The average salary was the equivalent of the price of six ink pens. An electrical plug box was worth two average salaries, while no less than 97 average wages could purchase a baby’s carriage. Even though army members – and especially JNA soldiers, prisoners of war and veterans – were guaranteed privileges in treatment and allocation of goods, the already-meager resources of public hospitals and clinics were stretched far too thin. 156 Just like the previous category, therefore, the “dependent” relied extensively on the black market and illegal sources of income and goods, which – as we will see shortly – largely implied collaboration with the nationalist cause. Finally, it should be remembered that most dependents supported relatives and friends (who were in turn often “helpless”) in addition to themselves. This enhanced what Woodward called a “fortress mentality”: a retreat from the cash economy and a “resort to familial systems of support and resources of rural households” that not only intensify distrust of the outside world, but which “entail the social obligations and patriarchal culture tied to defense of the land and nation.” 157 The greater the pressure to find alternatives to the “normal” economy, in other words, the more likely it is that social arrangements conducive to nationalism will develop. War Profiteers Thirdly, there are the black marketers, war profiteers, smugglers, racketeers, and other criminal interest groups that arose in the 1990s – what one author called the “new criminal class” of Serbia. 158 To meet the many demands of the period, criminal
155 156

Watkins N.d. In 1995, a former army volunteer activated a hand grenade under his body in a Belgrade psychiatric clinic after the staff failed to immediately respond to his plea for help. He was apparently suffering from PTSD. See Perić Zimonjić 2000. 157 Woodward 1995, 386. 158 Gordy 1999, 195.


entrepreneurship flourished in the fields of narcotics, tobacco, medical equipment, arms and pirated CDs. By a conservative estimate the “hidden market” constituted 40% of the economy in 1995, and 54% in 1993. 159 In many ways, organized crime networks were the first to introduce a true market economy to these areas. “Organized crime [in Serbia in the mid-1990s],” as a UNDP report put it, “can perhaps best be understood as an economy in itself, a more or less self-sufficient world of income-generation and consumption control.” 160 As such, it managed to monopolize the sale and distribution of goods indispensable for the state’s tireless war efforts. Most importantly, with government gasoline stations shut down, gasoline smugglers and currency dealers developed one of the richest criminal markets on the continent. Businesses gradually abandoned the unstable Serbian Dinar in favor of the German Deutsche Mark – the de facto, if unofficial, currency of the time. 161 Accordingly, the so-called dizelaši, smugglers and dealers situated on the side of most roads with overpriced plastic bottles of (often impure) gas, became the only available sources of both petrol and reliable money. Most car owners abandoned the privilege of driving, only to face a collapsed public transit system in Belgrade and elsewhere. Delivery trucks, public service vehicles, garbage trucks, fire brigades and ambulances all lacked enough fuel to function. Railroad and public transportation workers quickly became desperate strikers, further complicating movement within the country as well as the war effort. 162 Aside from keeping transportation alive, arms flows to Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina could never have continued without the circumvention of the UN-imposed arms embargo. A criminal network covering all the former

159 160

1996 HDP. “Suspended transition,” 37. 161 In January 1994, the government simply could no longer resist declaring the DM an official currency of Yugoslavia. Soon thereafter, a new “new Dinar” was announced at the rate of 1 DM = 6,000 new “new Dinars” (it had been roughly 6 trillion Dinars previously). By January 11, the exchange rate had reached a level of 1 DM = 80,000 new new Dinars. On January 13th the rate was 1 DM = 700,000 new new Dinars and six days later it was 1 DM = 10 million new new Dinars. 162 Lyon 1996.


Yugoslav republics (especially Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia) controlled the production of tanks and other military equipment, and continued to operate (even to export outside the Balkans) throughout the civil war. 163 The petrol and arms smugglers, therefore, had the power to paralyze the Serbian nationalist crusade in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and were indispensable in perpetuating it for their own interests. As Woodward wrote, In place of a system of law and order that would counteract the insecurity, distrust, and resort to arms that had made war possible, entire networks of criminals, sanctions-busters, war profiteers, gun runners, gangs, and local paramilitaries arose. Even as populations tired of war, more and more people had a vested interest in its continuation. 164 Crucially, this criminal constituency was by no means hidden from official government structures; far from being “underground,” it was very much integrated into state organs like the police forces, the JNA, the Ministry of Finance and, of course, the presidency. “The dimensions of smuggling certain high-demand items” across borders, Eric Gordy noted, “required the knowledge and cooperation of both the customs service and the police” who, needless to say, profited from the smuggling themselves. 165 Recent investigative reporting has reconstructed a multi-billion dollar, inter-continental tobacco smuggling route controlled by organized crime groups and members of the Milošević family (including the president’s son, Marko) throughout the mid-1990s, partly in an effort to raise funds for the war. 166 Loyalty to state institutions was therefore indispensable in keeping the trade alive and maintaining the necessary network of large and small government enterprises, Ministries, state banks for laundering money, etc. Nationalism, in this context, was a prudent ideology to adopt for the likes of Dragan “Captain” Vasiljković, who notoriously made a fortune as a
Woodward 1995, 428. Ibid, 335. 165 Gordy 1999, 195. 166 Recent investigative reporting through television B92’s Insajder program (especially in its 2007 series) has exposed these and other criminal schemes after over a decade of public ignorance about them. Transcripts are available at www.b92.net.
164 163


smuggler by becoming a regime favorite because of his outspoken commitment to the Serbian national cause. In addition, pioneers of criminal activities within Serbia itself sought to win the affection of the authorities by adopting the rhetoric, if not ideology, of the Serbian state elite. The so-called Zemun Clan (Zemunski Klan), for instance, grew to become one of the most successful organized crime networks in Europe by skillfully camouflaging its activities under a nationalist banner to win tacit government approval. 167 Similarly, Belgrade-based corruption and extortion rackets were operated largely with the state’s blessing. Despite the fact that racketeering was rarely ever investigated in the press, every respectable bank, grocery store, café and restaurant was forced to choose between paying for unwelcome protection and being blown up by one crime group or another. In a rarely publicized case, Vreme reported in June 1994 that an owner of a fitness club turned himself in to the police for paying extortion money to a police officer; the police officer was released, but the club owner preferred to remain in prison for safety reasons. 168 The story illustrates the system at large: criminal activity sanctioned by the state transcended the law. Even those crime networks relatively independent of direct state involvement depended on at least implicit protection from prosecution. Although the exact extent of organized crime with the state “looking the other way” cannot be reconstructed, consider the fact that (according to official figures), the bulk of “economic” crimes in 1994 supposedly consisted of minor tax evasions by small enterprises. For example, of the total of 4,272 criminal convictions in 1994, 1635 were “accounting offences,” “meaning false bookkeeping to avoid the payment of taxes, mostly by street stalls and small private shops that

167 168

Vasić 2005. Vreme News Digest Agency No 143 (June 20, 1994).


had to survive on the very brink of the economy.” 169 In a sea overflowing with blood-thirsty sharks, in other words, the government was focusing on a few little fish struggling to get by. In return, these sharks became the most forceful advocates of Serbian nationalism the state could have wished for. State Elites Finally, there is the centralized constituency of the political, diplomatic and military elite that controlled the state apparatus, the army, all social services, most banks and the media. Having freed itself of the bureaucratic pressures and complications of the old Yugoslavia (e.g. the rotating presidency), this new minority revolved around Milošević and a small clique of loyal party chiefs who seized the comprehensive sanctions as an opportunity to consolidate power and maximize citizens’ dependence on state services. To this end, a worsening of the economic situation and a further deterioration of social conditions was seen as a small price to pay. 170 Government-operated stores, in which citizens were promised essential goods at artificially low prices, were overwhelmed with scarcity and corruption. As hyperinflation increased, so did the reasonableness of closing down stores and businesses for inventory instead of obeying government-mandated prices. So fanatical was the state’s economic policy that, when farmers refused to sell food at government-fixed prices, the Ministry of Agriculture decided to purchase it from abroad with hard currency. State attempts at maximizing citizens’ dependence were made easier by the fact that international humanitarian groups often had their hands tied in providing relief and aid. In addition to explicit bans, many NGOs were reluctant to intervene even if it were legal for political reasons. When it came to refugee relief funds, for instance, all foreign humanitarian

169 170

“Suspended transition,” 37. Dinkić 1997.


organizations provided no more than 30% of the total financial input in the spring of 1993 (which was near the climax of economic collapse), while 10-15% was closer to the general average for the entire period. This meant that an overwhelming majority of refugee aid funds, goods and services were administered and distributed by the Serbian state. All this lent credibility to conspiratorial notions of how all “our” misery is due to the indifference or outright cruelty of the outside world, with the patriotic Serbian government being a lonely light in the darkness. Nevertheless, the state’s primary goals during the period were not internal, but directed to the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia – a fact that inevitably led the government to cooperate with the constituency of war profiteers. It was stressful enough that sanctions were strangling military supplies, but the failed mobilization of 1991 still had repercussions on troop morale and made it clear that nationalism alone was not going to suffice for victory in the war. The necessary economic supplement could only come from the black market: even as Dubrovnik was bombarded repeatedly and Vukovar was being reduced to rubble, Yugoslavia continued instating that it was officially uninvolved in the armed conflicts. This encouraged extensive employment of military irregulars for operations in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; training and equipment for Croatian Serb and Bosnian Serb paramilitaries was the dominant kind of interference in the war on the part of Belgrade. At most, the JNA or Serbian Secret Service would coordinate air strikes or military intelligence sharing with formations like Arkan’s tigers or Šešelj’s Četniks, but involvement was mostly indirect. War profiteers were employed to circumvent the sanctions and direct arms flows and financial support to Serbian enclaves and militias outside Serbia. The helpful aspect of this approach was that plausible denial could be offered to the outraged international


community when the question of massive ethnic cleansing by Serbian forces came up – how could Serbia be responsible for a war it was not involved in? A negative aspect, however, was the emergence of uncontrollable elements among paramilitary formations – most notably, Radovan Karadžić and the Bosnian Serb politicians who became increasingly unresponsive to Milošević’s commands and began steering a different brand of Serbian nationalism. 171 In either case, however, nationalist doctrine prevailed. The state elite and war profiteer constituencies were mutually dependent, each heavily invested in perpetuating nationalist goals for their own purposes.
Chart 3.1. Interactions of Four New Constituencies (in need fulfiller of need)

Protection, “looking the other way,” institutional backing, etc.




Circumventing sanctions, financing war efforts, smuggling weapons, etc.

Staple items, jobs in para-militaries and gangs, drugs, gasoline, kickbacks, etc.

Salaries, pensions, medical care, unemployment benefits, protection from crime, etc.

↑ ↑

↑ ↑ →→→→→→
Supporting relatives, hosting refugees, etc.


In addition, this new social composition of Serbian society allowed nationalism to become so hegemonic because of another crucial development: the disappearance of much of the anti-nationalist constituency of the country. As sanctions and the war intensified, Europe saw the greatest flow of refugees and asylum seekers since the Second World War coming out of Yugoslav territories. According to UNHCR estimates, 819,815 refugees from


For a comprehensive account of the clashes between Milošević and Bosnian Serb leaders, see Cohen 2001.


Yugoslavia were reported in the summer of 1993 – an increase of over 200,000 since December of 1992. Fleeing primarily to Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, many of the refugees became involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities in their countries of destination, producing enormous concern among European officials about the instability of this migration wave. 172 Other parts of this migration wave were comprised not of asocial criminal types, but of the intelligentsia and members of the highly-skilled work force – not a surprising fact, given the high financial costs of emigrating. From 1992-1994, 370,000 educated and specialized experts left Serbia; 40% of them were under 40 years of age, and 40% of them held PhDs or MAs. 173 In 1990, Serbia produced 1,569 articles in prestigious scientific and academic journals; five years later, it produced 460. 174 This brain drain not only further devastated the economy but, more interestingly for our topic, stripped any conceivable anti-nationalist movement of a sizable chunk of its base. Rather than assimilate into any of the four constituencies sketched above, the sectors of Serbian society that could have resisted the homogenization and radicalization of Serbian national identity simply chose escape instead. 175 The Dayton Agreement of November 1995 ended the armed conflict, followed by a partial suspension of the sanctions regime one month later. 176 We now return to measurements of public opinion to investigate the impact this new social composition (as well as the sanctions/war pressures) had on nationalism among the population before the war ended.

172 173

Woodward 1995, 368-369. Guskova 2003 (vol.2), 366. 174 1996 HDR. 175 “Exit,” in Albert Hirschman’s influential vocabulary. Hirschman 1970. 176 According to Sarajevo’s Center for Research and Documentation, Bosnia-Herzegovina saw over 100,000 casualties from 1992-1995, a large proportion of whom died at the hands of Serbian forces.


Public Opinion and Values In harmony with processes from the earlier period, the trend of abandoning “Yugoslav-ness” continued in 1993-1995 (and does so to this day). The number of those expressing allegiance to Serbia and Serbian-ness was growing at an unparalleled rate in this period. By 1996, roughly one third of Serbs prioritized “belonging to Serbia” as the most important kind of belonging, followed by “place of residence.” In third place, only 24% of Serbs chose “belonging to Yugoslavia” as the most important kind. 177 Even these 24%, furthermore, could be understood as indicators of nationalism; the new, post-Dayton boundaries in the Balkans made it perfectly clear to all sides that Yugoslavia now represented a Serb-dominated state. In addition, some of the post-Cold War confusion and disillusionment covered in Chapter 1 was still visible. In 1993, enormous lament for the Soviet Union was recorded (over 66% disagreed with the idea that its collapse was a good thing for Yugoslavia), and even greater anxiety (>75%) could be seen about the perception that “the US has too much influence over our country.” Overall, however, nationalism in this new period is a significant departure from the preceding periods. In contrast to the earlier confusion and contradiction discussed above, a radical “homogenization” of public opinion occurred between 1992-1995, characterized by “authoritarianism, etatism, traditionalism and nationalism.” 178 Data from Chapter 1 noted that authoritarianism and “love of a strong state” was largely the priority of Serbs from Kosovo and other areas where they feel like threatened minorities, while Serbs in Serbia and other comfortable majorities cared about economic issues instead. This no longer applied in 1993, even though it was precisely this year that marked the peak of economic crisis. The

177 178

“Suspended development,” 33. Djurić-Kuzmanović and Žarkov 1999, 5.


most popular solution and response to the devastating war and sanctions was thought to be a strong state, strong leadership and strong authority. Although authoritarianism had been a recurring finding among not only Serbs but all Yugoslavs 179 – not in small part due to the decades-long cult of Tito that had dominated the educational, media and political systems – it reached new, unprecedented heights in 19931995. In a representative sample of 1,550 Serbs, moderate or strong authoritarianism appeared in 71% of the answers. 75% of the sample believed that “the state should act more firmly in order to introduce order in the country,” an interesting comparison to the significantly lower value assigned to similar “strong-state” considerations in Table 1.3 dealing with values in 1990. As much as 60% of the sample confirmed the statement "A person without a leader is like a person without a head," while a solid 40% agreed with the sweeping declaration that “every society should have an authority that should be followed without any comments.” The surge in authoritarianism quickly becomes understandable when we consider how this value is distributed across social stratifications: “very strong authoritarianism is present predominantly in the lower-lower (79%) and lower-middle (67%) social strata” while “moderate anti-authoritarianism is a characteristic of the middle-lower (22%) and middle-higher strata (50%).” 180 Generational differences had become much less pronounced, as had the previously sharp divide between highly-educated and uneducated sectors of the society. A survey conducted among law students at an elite Serbian university revealed that even these highly-educated young people believed that “laws are less important than a leader whom the people can trust”; that 60% of them believed that state security forces should be at liberty to search homes without a warrant; that 51% recommended giving the

179 180

Baćević et al. 2003, 126. Djurić-Kuzmanović and Žarkov 1999, 6.


police the right to freely open private letters; and that 41% of them believed that Serbs should have “greater constitutional rights” than other nationalities “because they live in their own state.” 181 Generally, therefore, the variance in authoritarian and nationalist values across socio-economic groups was greatly narrowed. The period in question was characterized by a “lower-classization” of Serbian society as a whole, as the most general detrimental effects of economic isolation affected a broad range of people equally. As the middle class dissipated, it seems, moderate nationalism and authoritarianism gave way to harder, more extreme forms of both. Accordingly, these values were reflected in voting and support for nationalist political figures. Nationalist-communist parties swept the 1993 elections, with Milošević’s SPS in the lead. Two years later, citizens asked to rate their trust in Milošević were divided as follows: 27.8% had “very favorable” views of him and 24.6% had “mostly favorable”; barely one third of Serbs expressed “very” or “mostly unfavorable” attitudes towards the leader. 182 When choosing from a list of all major political figures, Serbs overwhelmingly selected Milošević as their favorite; in fact, the percentage of Serbs identifying him as their most trusted politician was greater than the sum of all the other percentages distributed for all the other options. Ratko Mladić – the Bosnian Serb general behind the Srebrenica massacre – also enjoyed a “very” or “mostly” favorable view from more than half of the population, with only 26.55% of Serbs holding unfavorable views of the figure. Warlords like Vojislav Šešelj, the most fanatical proponent of Greater Serbia, saw significant increases in popularity. In addition, opposition leaders who were perceived as generally trustworthy in the 1993-1995 period were mostly representatives of nationalist political options. Vuk Drašković, perhaps

181 182

Cohen 2001, 180. Unless otherwise noted, figures from hereon rely on CPIJM data.


the most notable opposition leader, was an unwavering supporter of the Bosnian Serb cause, while Vojislav Koštunica (later to become Serbia’s first democratic president) and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) surged in popularity in the polls from late 1994 to 1995 by criticizing Milosević for not being assertive enough in the war. In both government and opposition, therefore, overwhelming militarism and nationalism were promoting leaders who had previously enjoyed only factional (and, in the case of Šešelj, negligible) popular support. Recalling how divided and partially accidental the nationalist triumph in the Panić-Milošević run-off in 1992 was, it becomes clear that the sanctions period marked a qualitative change for the role of nationalism in the political order. In the hopes of testing the war and sanctions as independent variables causing nationalism, it may be helpful to compare nationalist attitudes before and after them. If we compare Serbian perceptions of other nationals in 1993 (the absolute peak of sanctions and a period of brutally intense warfare) to ones in 1996 (when the war had been over for almost a year and most sanctions have been lifted), we may record changes in the level of nationalism in popular attitudes. Indeed, the war/sanctions experiences seem to have been so instrumental in sustaining nationalist perceptions that the latter declined considerably as soon as a degree of socio-economic normalcy and stability was restored in 1996.
Table 3.2. Ethnocentrism and Opinions about other Nationals, before and after Dayton and the lifting of sanctions. Change in “Distance” 1993 1996 Serb Opinions from 1993 – 1996 About (unfav - fav in 1996) Favorable Unfavorable Favorable Unfavorable (unfav - fav in 1993) Themselves 92 6 78 9 +17 (Serbs) Macedonians 34 57 34 21 -36 Slovenes 19 71 16 44 -24 Hungarians 20 69 17 36 -30 Muslims 10 84 7 67 -14 Croats 12 82 7 70 -7 Albanians 6 88 7 63 -26


Note: Numbers refer to percentages expressing favorable/unfavorable views of the national groups in question. “Distance” is the percentage of “unfavorable” attitudes after “favorable” ones are subtracted (for instance, “-14” means that the overall percentage of “unfavorable” minus “favorable” attitudes decreased by 14 percent). Unfortunately, the 1996 survey included – besides “favorable,” “unfavorable,” and “I have no specific opinion” – the category of “I am neutral,” which explains the lower percentages in 1996. Source: UNDP’s “Suspended transition” report, 30-31.

Most generally, negative attitudes towards other nationals and very positive attitudes towards one’s own were characteristic of the height of the sanctions. An impressive 92% of Serbs saw themselves favorably and overwhelmingly disapproved of not only their war rivals, but Hungarians and Macedonians as well. By 1996, however, nationalist perceptions (though far from disappearing) clearly plummeted. As an indicator of nationalism’s decline, I defined “distance” in Table 3.2 as the overall, sum difference in favorable/unfavorable views of the national groups in question. Not only were distances reduced for all categories, but Serbs’ “distance” from Serbs themselves increased by 17%; nationalist self-perception, in other words, was not as easy to sustain without an ongoing economic and military war. Clear differences exist between perceptions of nationals with whom war was waged and those of nationals with whom it was not. In fact, the change in “distance” is directly correlated with how intense, prolonged and costly war with the nation in question was. Attitudes towards Macedonians and Hungarians were the fastest to improve because relations with these groups were entirely peaceful. “Distance” from Croats, in contrast, underwent by far the lowest decrease (only 7%) because the war with Croatian armies was the central preoccupation of Serbian military campaigns. Muslims (presumably evoking the meaning of Bosnian Muslims to most respondents) had the second lowest decrease in “distance” and, not surprisingly, were the second-greatest military and political adversary prior to 1995. It should be noted that “distance” from Albanians is a constant phenomenon in surveys like these, reflected throughout decades among Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians (who have the most


contact with Albanians); Albanians in turn reflect the strongest “distance” from all national groups, and especially from these three. In general, however, it appears clear that the lifting of the sanctions and the war contributed to a lifting of nationalist perceptions of actors involved in it; furthermore, this decline in nationalism was varied across national groups in precisely the manner one would expect if the war and sanctions were the crucial factors. Yet, aside from perceptions of neighboring and regional nationalities, Serbian nationalism in this period was marked by another critical development in its outlook at others. Chapter 2 had discussed the specificity of rival nationalisms and their unique histories in interacting and promoting their Serbian counterpart – in this context, we saw that Croatian nationalism, its ustašluk and its right-wing/Catholic/Germanic supporters were portrayed as significantly distinct from, say, Slovenian secessionism and its Austro-Hungarian backers. Though all threatening, the various secessionist movements were condemned in differing degrees, with the “international community” also perceived as diverse and complex. The “distance” between Serbs and other groups, in other words, varied very much according to differences among these groups. The Serbian nationalism that began evolving under sanctions and intensified war in late 1992, and that progressed steadily to 1995, undermined the importance of these differences. The “distance” Serbs began perceiving increasingly became equal for all non-Serbs. Table 3.3 hints at the novelty with two interesting indicators:
Table 3.3. “Distance” from other nationalities in 1995 according to two indicators “With members of which nationality “With members of which nationality from the former Yugoslavia would you from the former Yugoslavia would most willingly live as a neighbor?” you most “willingly drink coffee?” With Macedonians 16.4 15.8 With Slovenes 6.7 5.6 With Croats 0.3 1.1 With Muslims 0.8 0.9 With none of them 25 23 Any one of them 48.6 50.9 Don’t know 2.1 2.7 Source: Originally appears in “Susedi,” Vreme, no.223 (January 30, 1995), p.30. Cited in Gordy 1999, 3.


The importance in this survey does not lie in the fact that Serbs seemed to think that Slovenes are better neighbors than coffee guests, or that drinking coffee with a Croat is about three times as “popular” as living next to one, or even that Macedonians are the easiest to tolerate of all the former Yugoslav peoples. As Eric D. Gordy noted, the crucial fact is that most Serbs responded to these trivial questions generally – “none of them” or “any of them” – without making specific ethnic choices. More respondents made seemingly tolerant choices (“any of them”), but the near-quarter of Serbs who find it equally repulsive to live or share coffee with any of the choices equally are the nationalist core. This reflects a new, increasingly isolated, conspiratorial and cruder brand of nationalism – one in which subtleties in “distance” according to group differences or specificity are reduced to a minimal dichotomy, best phrased by para-military head Branislav Pelević: “either you’re a Serb, or you ain’t.” The trend is especially visible in polling data investigating Serbs’ perception of who bears the responsibility (or blame) for Serb suffering and of the reasons for territorial losses.
Table 3.4. Perceived Responsibility for Serb Suffering (1995) Q: “Who, in your opinion, is the most responsible for everything that Serbs from the Republic of Serbian Krajina and from the Republic of Srpska had suffered and still suffer?” International Community (UN) 8.2 Western Countries and organizations (EU, NATO, USA, Germany, 34.85 etc.) Russian Government 0.4 Tudjman and Izetbegović 6.8 Leaderships of RSK and RS 9.95 Slobodan Milošević 15.90 Serbs from RSK and RS themselves 7.5 Other 16.4 Note: numbers refer to percentages of respondents assigning responsibility to only the category in question when offered the full list. “Don’t know” answers excluded.


Table 3.5. Perceived Reasons for Loss of Serbian Territory (1995) Q: “What of the following, in your opinion, is the main reason for the loss of Serbian territories in Western Slavonija, the Republic of Serbian Krajina and North-West Bosnia-Herzegovina and the exodus of the Serbian population?” Military Defeat which is to blame on military leaderships from Knin and Pale 9.85 NATO air strikes on Serbian targets in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the open siding of the USA with 25.45 Croats and Muslims Missing support of Russia to Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia 2.5 Agreement between Milošević and Tudjman 11.4 Pressure from Western powers on Slobodan Milošević that territories be divided in accordance to 14 the plan of the Contact Group Wrong Politics of Karadžić and Pale leadership 12.75 FRY blockade over Drina border and its passivity towards Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and 5.55 Croatia Other 2.15 Note: numbers refer to percentages of respondents selecting the category in question when offered the full list. “Don’t know” answers excluded.

Recall that these polls were taken at a time when clear and present dangers to Serbian communities in eastern Croatia and throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina were being posed by military and political actors unambiguously identifying themselves with Tudjman and Izetbegović. Notwithstanding this, only 6.8% of this representative sample identified them as the primary culprits behind Serbian suffering in Krajina and Republika Srpska (RS). Not only is the generic “international community” (8.2%) ahead of these two nationalist heads, but many more Serbs even point to their own nationals (7.5%) and leaders (9.95%) as bearing more responsibility for the mess. Of course, this assignment of blame to the Serbs and Serbian leaders in RSK and RS is probably not a self-critical, reflective analysis; on the contrary, it surely reflects a disillusionment with local community leaders in RS and elite ones such as Radovan Karadžić who were perceived – at worst – as betraying the nation by negotiating for peace or – at best – as being militarily squeamish. This is all the more true for those 15.9% of Serbs who pointed to Milošević as the most responsible for Serb suffering – his ties with the Bosnian Serbs and the JNA’s incursions into Bosnia-Herzegovina were not seen as fanatical or nationalist enough. Well beyond these categories, however, Table 3.4 shows that most of the blame is assigned to the broad coalition of “Western Countries and


organizations” such as the EU, NATO, the US, Germany and so on. Notwithstanding the enormous differences these organizations and countries had had in approaching the civil war (especially diplomatically), 34.85% of Serbs saw this vast amalgam of external forces as the primary bearer of responsibility for all the suffering. Strikingly, even if “the Muslim people” or “the Croatian people” were perhaps on the minds of those 16.4% who opted for “other,” the role of external forces and pressures from outside of Serbia’s immediate neighborhood are perceived as more dominant and formative. Moving to the equally revealing Table 3.5, we see the same notion confirmed by over one quarter of respondents who blame NATO bombings and US support for Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for Serbian territorial losses, as well as by another 14% who affirm the (practically identical) “pressure from Western powers.” As a final illustration, consider another astounding finding in an earlier survey, conducted in 1993. After having been asked whether it is likely that Yugoslavia be significantly threatened in the next year or so (>60% believed this to be the case), subjects were offered a comprehensive 13-item list of states, peoples and institutions to choose the most likely source of this danger. Were the seemingly obvious choices – BosniaHerzegovina, Croatia and Albania – the actual ones? In fact, they received a meager 0.45%, 2.32% and 2.89%, respectively. The “real” threats were thought to be elsewhere: 10.13% believed Germany was the most likely menace, 21.73% were most concerned about the United States, while an incredible 34.69% believed the UN was Yugoslavia’s gravest threat. To restate it another way: the threat from the US was almost ten times more likely to be deemed a threat than Croatia was. Incorporating the remaining categories, more than 93% of Serbs believed that the most likely threat to their state was from outside the region. In fact,


more Serbs believed the threat from the “Western European Union” was the most important one than all those who believed this to be true of all the Balkan categories (including BosniaHerzegovina, Croatia and Hungary) combined. These novelties might be summarized in three general points. Firstly, this new brand of nationalism adopted a rather conspiratorial, if not paranoid, streak. When asked to evaluate the claim that “foreign conspiracies are responsible for most of our countries problems,” 33.45% of Serbs agreed strongly and another 31% somewhat agreed. Croatian and Muslim politicians are largely, in the two preceding tables, stripped of agency for major developments in the civil war. Even as Serbian armies were clashing with Bosniak and Croatian militias, less than three-hundredths of the Serb population viewed these two constituencies as the true decision-makers. Instead, a vast anti-Serb alliance was perceived – consisting of everyone from the Vatican to the EU-appointed Contact Group – to be orchestrating the conduct of the war and “pulling the strings” in the background. “Never forget,” Serbian warlord Željko Ražnatovic “Arkan” urged a crowd in 1993, “The Serbian people are now fighting against fascist Germany. […] The ustaša [the Croats] are small, pathetic and miserable and we could eat them for breakfast. But behind them is the Third Reich. […] Understand that, we will – if necessary – go all the way to Berlin and liberate that people from the new fascism.” 183 Secondly, both Serbian collective identity and that of non-Serbs seemed to have congealed and homogenized dramatically. Previously, not only was “us” complicated (Serbs from Croatia vs. Serbs from Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Serbs in Serbia) but so was “them” (ustaša vs. Catholics, Bosnians vs. Bosniaks, the EU vs. the UN, etc.). By 1995, Serbs saw little difference between, say, Croats and Muslims when selecting neighbors or sharing coffee was

“Arkan Marches on Berlin” – subtitled video footage of the speech is available in the archives of the Croatian Information Center (Hrvatski Informativni Centar).


at issue; and they saw even less difference between this or that branch of the international order that had imposed such draconian economic measures on them. The sanctions had selectively isolated “us” from the outside world, making that world appear increasingly uniform and hostile. Finally, this nationalism is characterized by a level of xenophobia and chauvinism that was certainly not as prominent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. With the equation of the misery and humiliation of the sanctions with the monolithic “international community,” everything foreign became, virtually by definition, suspect. In the 1993 and 1995 surveys, a notable 52% of Serbs agreed with the sweeping claim that “one should always be cautious and reserved towards other nations [and nationals], even when they are friends.” 184 Overwhelming majorities rejected the belief that American and other investments should even exist in the country. More than 69% of those who had an opinion on the question “when, if ever, should Yugoslavia become a member of NATO?” answered “never.” In 1993, 79.78% distrusted the entire “European community” and 75.78% distrusted the UN. More than half of Serbs agreed strongly or somewhat that “foreign influences are a threat to our culture” in 1995. In sum, by 1995, there was only one “us” – the Serbs – and only one “them” – the entire world, and a cruel one at that.


Mikloš et al 2002.


CHAPTER 4: Something Borrowed, Something New (1996-2000) This chapter deals with the post-Dayton period in Yugoslavia, focusing especially on two episodes of anti-establishment activity among the Serbs: the massive student protests in 1996/1997 and the October 5th 2000 revolution which belatedly unseated Milošević’s nationalist coalition from power (I also briefly discuss the effects of NATO’s 1999 bombing on nationalism in between the two). The extent of nationalist sentiment during these two waves of oppositional activity remains a politicized issue. Many contemporary pro-EU parliamentary forces in Serbia insist that these events were revolutionary in the truest sense of the word: abrupt discontinuities from the nationalist hysteria of the preceding war period and signs of a decisive popular abandonment of Serbian nationalism. In contrast, other proWestern forces (in curious agreement with sympathizers of the extreme right-wing Serbian Radical Party) insist that these two events marked no substantive difference in popular sentiment; they were merely, the claim goes, nationalist challenges to Milošević’s particular brand of nationalism. By sketching a more nuanced trend, this chapter argues that, while both claims are simplistic and misleading, there is something to each. Serbian nationalism did indeed experience an unprecedented challenge by an anti-nationalist, democratic movement based on civic rather than national/ethnic values; nevertheless, denying certain continuities of the Serbian nationalism of the first half of the 1990s would be highly disingenuous. Public Opinion in the Second Half of the 1990s Before examining the two moments (the 1996/1997 protests and the October 5th uprising) in more detail, I first explore some general features of Serbian public opinion for the 1996-2000 period to better contextualize the significance of these two specific events.


Since these two historical episodes were largely defined by massive collective actions, it is important to roughly discuss who participated in them (e.g. educated vs. uneducated sectors of the population), why they did so (e.g. anger and helplessness vs. hope and optimism), and how they did so (e.g. through party politics vs. through street protesting). We can better understand the motivations of those who challenged and finally overthrew the nationalist order only by attempting to understand how this challenge and overthrow were understood in public opinion and what people’s expectations actually were. A concise summary of the general “moods and aspirations” of the Serbian population is available from none other than Miloš Nikolić, “one of the great old men of Yugoslav Communism.” 185 Based on opinion polls conducted by the Institute of Social Sciences, the Center for Policy Studies, the Association for the Advance of Empirical Research and the United Branch Trade Unions Nezavisnost (“Independence”), 186 Nikolić’s findings are relevant here in three regards. Firstly, though both are similar popular reactions to a pair of attempts at electoral fraud, these two popular uprisings had radically different constituencies behind them. In particular, we may say the 1996/1997 protests were significantly less “popular” than the October 5th revolt – the former was led by students, intellectuals and other educated sectors of Serbian society, primarily centered around urban areas and probably remaining unrepresentative of the entire society in many of their demands. In contrast, October 5th involved farmers, unskilled workers, old-age pensioners and those without much formal education as well as their urban, intellectual, young and educated counterparts. Related to this are the differences in what motivated the participants of each of these events, as well as what their expectations were.
185 186

Becker 2005, 2. The first was conducted May 7-21, 1996; another in July 1999 and again on Sept 9-12 of the same year; another in July 2000; one during August 25-31 2000; and a final one in December 9-11, 2000.


Table 4.1. Moods and Emotions Among Serbs in 1996 and 2000 Perception May 1996 September 2000

Indifference 12 13 Rage 9 39 Powerlessness, Helplessness 15 31 Anxiety, Fear 27 42 Note: Figures represent percentages. Neither set of percentages adds up to 100% because only categories common to both polls were included.

Presumably, the “moods” or “emotions” of rage, powerlessness, helplessness, anxiety, and fear can be considered conducive to mobilization against the nationalist leadership because of its failure to satisfy basic needs and its increasing illegitimacy in the eyes of most Serbs. The increase in these perceptions from May 1996 to September 2000 was determined, many have argued, by the transformation of Milošević’s rule into a highly repressive one (the movement from “soft oppression” into “hard oppression,” in the words of Miloš Nikolić). 187 Indeed, the dissatisfaction with the direction Serbia was headed skyrocketed in these four years: according to the May 1996 survey, only 43% considered that Serbia functioned well while 29% considered it functioned poorly; by September 2000, as many as 83% of Serbs said they were dissatisfied with the entire situation in their country. Simultaneously, hope and optimism were much more prevalent among Serbs in general in 2000 than they were four years prior. In 1996, only about one in every ten respondents believed that the protests of 1996/1997 would lead to the formation of a provisional “technocratic” government and only one in seven that free and fair elections would eventually be honored. Only one-tenth of Serbs expected that Milošević would be forced to resign, which roughly corresponds to the number of active participants in the protests. In September 2000, however, indicators of “hope” were at an all-time-high of 42%, while a majority 52% shared the belief that a “better state” would result from the electoral process. In sum, therefore, although neither the


Nikolić 2002, 135.


constituency behind the 1996/1997 protests or the one that generated October 5th was homogenous, the former was less representative of Serbs at large than the latter. 1996/1997 protestors were less hopeful, optimistic, enraged and anxious, while October 5th participants (like Serbs at large in 2000) were considerably more enraged, fearful and expecting imminent change to the nationalist order. Secondly, the two constituencies involved in the two waves of oppositional uprising also had quite different methods. More Serbs overall expressed readiness and willingness to act within the communist-nationalist system and its institutions (courts, parliament, parties, etc.) in 1996 than in 2000; as rage and helplessness rose, so did the willingness to engage in direct actions (such as civil disobedience) as opposed to going through parliamentary or party channels. By the time the NATO bombing ended, almost nine out of ten uneducated respondents, three-quarters of those with elementary schooling, two-thirds of those with vocational training and secondary education, and three-fifths of the highly-educated expressed complete refusal to engage in any kind of party activities. Interestingly, people with secondary and higher education were becoming less willing to participate actively in, for instance, street protests (a drop from 29% to 26% in the first group and from 39% to 23% in the second), whereas the interest in organizing such actions expressed by both groups simultaneously increased (from 12% to 26% and 11% to 30%, respectively). It would appear, therefore, that the core participants in the 1996/1997 protests later preferred to relinquish their leadership roles in direct involvement to the less educated (and more numerous) sectors of Serbian society. This partially explains the aforementioned difference between the 1996/1997 protests and the October 5th revolt in social composition: the latter was much more mass-based and inclusive of uneducated sectors of society and those from rural areas.


In summary, the later oppositional wave was characterized by an increased willingness to work outside the system of the nationalist state, as well as a broader and more representative participation of Serbs in oppositional activities. Finally, most relevant to our topic is the self-identification of Serbs according to various identities at three moments in this period.
Table 4.2. Attachments and Social Self-Identification Attachment/Identification May 1996 August-September 1999 November-December 2000 n/a 30 12 n/a 14 29 n/a

Family 82 n/a Nation 52 37 Religion 41 33 Class 22 n/a Profession 20 36 Generation 17 42 Political n/a 20 Note: Figures represent percentages. Source: Compiled from Nikolić 2002, and Baćević et al. 2003, 116.

These figures indicate that nationalist belonging and ethnic self-identification were losing their strength and priority; the more time passed from the civil war and the sanctions, the more so. In 1993, as we saw earlier, nationalist self-identification prevailed (with negligible variance) across all socio-economic categories for a decisive majority of the population. Less than one year after Dayton, only a slim majority (52%) prioritized belonging to the nation of Serbia. By 1999, this had dropped to 37%; by 2000, after Milošević’s overthrow, it fell even further to 30%. In addition, identification and attachment to the Serbian Orthodox Christianity – one of Serbian nationalism’s most active partners – declined even more dramatically from 41% in 1996 to 12% in 2000. Ironically enough, the collapse of a nominally atheist, Communist regime was accompanied by an apparent collapse of religiosity among Serbs – an indication of how symbiotic religious and nationalist self-identification


were. 188 The fluctuation of the priority assigned to “generation” (from 17% to 42% to 29% in 1996, 1999 and 2000, respectively) is a direct reflection of the 1996/1997 protests. As we will see below, the generational chasm between (roughly speaking) nationalist forces and their opponents became strikingly visible and politicized during this oppositional wave, leading to more than a doubling in its priority by 1999. Fittingly, the more age diverse moment of October 5th was followed by a sharp decline in the importance assigned to generational belonging. The general trend before the fall of the regime, in other words, was one of increased emphasis on (primarily) generational identity and attachment and (secondarily) profession and other localized categories. In the immediate aftermath of October 5th, the extent of nationalist and especially religious self-identification continued to decline at an increased rate. The overall trend was that, as time passed from the period of sanctions and war, citizens perceived themselves less as Orthodox Christian Serbs and more as old or young, workers or farmers, etc. It should be noted, however, that Table 4.2 is misleading insofar as it ignores the impact of a highly formative three-month event that had just ended before the AugustSeptember 1999 data was gathered: the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. As we will see below, the war interrupted the gradual trend towards abandonment of nationalism with a sudden, war-driven unification of Serbs around their state for protection and survival. The conspiring of literally all of Western Europe and the US against Serbia in a seemingly ruthless, indiscriminate campaign of terror appeared only to vindicate what Serbian nationalism had held all along: that outsiders cannot be trusted, that the “international community” is a subversive and destructive force intent on destroying Serbia, and that


For more on the role of Serbian Orthodox Christianity and, more specifically, the Orthodox Church in propagating Serbian nationalism, see: Tomanić 2001.


internal divisions within Yugoslavia are unaffordable luxuries so long as “national questions” remain in places like Kosovo. The severe socio-economic pressures, pervasive violence and general insecurity that the air campaign produced led even the most oppositional, antinationalist segments of the population into temporary support for the regime, though not necessarily of its nationalist policies. After the war (Serbia’s fifth in the past decade) ended, after the bombs stopped falling and after economic normalcy was restored, nationalist selfidentification largely resumed its steady pre-war decline, while anti-regime sentiments and activities (which had been disastrously hindered by the intervention) eventually continued to rise. Hence the NATO war and the violent skirmishes in Kosovo that preceded it can be thought of as a relatively fleeting suspension of longer-standing trends – a severe but temporary postponement of the general decline in nationalism among the public. Table 4.2 does, therefore, illustrate the partial retreat of nationalism appropriately. It is in this general context – of decreasing feelings of Orthodox Christianity and Serbian-ness and of increasing rage, helplessness, disillusionment with the nationalist leadership and willingness to engage in direct political actions outside formal institutions – that the two major episodes of Serbian opposition unfolded. “The Walks”: Novelties In November 1996, parliamentary and local elections were held throughout Yugoslavia. In the former, Milošević’s SPS (in coalition with his wife’s Yugoslav United Left and New Democracy) won 42.41% of the vote, the opposition coalition Zajedno (“Together”) won 22.25% and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won 17.88%. The outcome appeared at first glance to be a clear affirmation of the nationalism of the preceding periods. Nationalist-communist parties attracted by far more votes than in the 1992 and 1993 federal


elections and opposition parties lost almost 300,000 supporters since that time. Local election results appeared even direr: SPS won 1,227 seats, the Yugoslav Left (JUL) won 111, SPS and JUL won 32, SRS won 16 and New Democracy won 6; against all these nationalist seats, the Zajedno coalition together won only 313. However, the second round of elections that followed in November was an enormous surprise for both the ruling parties (who expected certain victory) and the opposition (who did not expect to do particularly well, given their poor results in the federal elections). Against expectations, Zajedno won municipal power in all the major cities in Serbia – some 39% of the population was now living in municipalities controlled by opposition leaders. The ruling nationalist-communist parties reacted with an attempt at major electoral fraud, as Milošević’s narrow circle of Party leaders falsified minutes of electoral commissions in favor of SPS and directed hundreds of fraudulent objections concerning the electoral process to courts asking that the elections be annulled (a request that many courts indulged). These and other blatantly undemocratic measures provoked the largest and most sustained mass demonstrations in Serbia’s history: “the Walks” (šetnje), as they were known, stretched incessantly from November 18th, 1996 to mid-March, 1997. This outburst of mass collective action turned what first appeared to be another electoral victory for the nationalist order into the most effective and enduring popular challenge to the state that Serbia had seen since the XIX century. In these 79-100 days (and often nights), 189 citizens and students organized mass protests and marches in more than 30 cities in Serbia; on every single day of this period, between 100,000 and 300,000 citizens and 30,000-40,000 students demonstrated in Belgrade

If one includes the smaller student-only actions that continued even after the Zajedno coalition abandoned the protests, the Walks in fact stretched continuously for 119 days. See Antić 2006, 41.



alone. 190 This far-from-modest crowd was willing and able to produce widespread public disturbance, chronic disruption of traffic, paralysis of major state institutions (especially educational) and, to be sure, unrelenting noise. Thousands of students from outside Belgrade often marched to it across long highways and regional boundaries to protest, and later walked back only to return again the following day. A memorable photograph of one of the many walks that gave the entire period its popular name featured a young lady from Novi Sad strolling on her way to Belgrade with a banner reading “we feel bad if we do not walk at least 120km a day.” 191 Trumpets, plastic whistles, and pots/pans serving as drums became trademark items of the era. Even those remaining inside due to old age or the severe cold engaged in the political noise pollution at their windows, as every day’s state television news broadcast was greeted with thousands of pottery-banging sessions in virtually every urban neighborhood. On Serbian New Year’s eve, between 400 and 500 thousand illegally gathered in the capital’s main square in what one of its organizers referred to as the largest concert in history, “bigger than Woodstock.” 192 On one occasion, when a police cordon blocked a major street in Belgrade’s center, some 400 students stood continuously in front of it for eight days and nights in shifts of six hours until the police barricade was forced to pull out. Such confrontational actions were met with fierce police repression, as truncheons, tear gas and water cannons were generously employed. 193 Having just recently recovered from external conflicts, Serbia was now engaged in fierce internal ones that persisted for months, with both opposition and regime spokesmen warning of a potential civil war. On February

190 191

Nikolić 2002, 82. Antić 2006, 204. 192 “Woodstock” remark made on B92’s Poligraf show (February 1st, 2007). Transcript available online: www.b92.net/info/emisije/poligraf.php. 193 Nikolić 2002, 83.


4th, 1997, Milošević conceded victory to the opposition leaders in the local elections and, by the end of March, the Walks were officially over. For all its diversity and complexity, this movement represented something new in being the first major anti-nationalist force to be reckoned with in the latest Yugoslavia. What had previously been default political ideology – the righteous crusade to unite all Serbs into a single Serb-run state, by force if need be – was suddenly being renounced not by marginal sectors of the population but by a critical mass credibly threatening state stability. March 1991 did mark massive anti-regime processions leading to violent clashes, but the event took less than two days and a few tanks in the streets of Belgrade to pacify completely. The Serbian Orthodox church did unite with opposition forces in 1992 and 1993 to mobilize people against state power, but its demands were largely nationalist (as symbolized by opposition leader Vuk Drašković) and at best ambiguous about whether Milošević was being faulted for too much or too little nationalist fervor. During the sanctions/war period, even these anti-establishment forces largely evaporated; active resistance was limited to the feminist/pacifist organization Women in Black (Žene u Crnom) and other groups so tiny that their public gatherings were virtually meaningless. “It was only in 1996,” historian Čedomir Antić noted, “that Milošević’s regime lost majority support from the citizens of Serbia.” 194 An opinion poll in early December 1996 (as the Walks were only heating up) showed an unprecedented low in Milošević’s approval ratings (16.5%) and a five-fold increase in the popularity of previously-distrusted antinationalist opposition leader Zoran Djindjić. 195 For nationalist politicians, this was the beginning of the end. It was the first occasion on which most of the antagonism to the regime

194 195

Antić 2006, 9. Cited in Ramet 2006, 506.


did not come from supporters of alternative nationalist forces. Šešelj’s SRS (to name the one that was most formative in the preceding periods) bitterly condemned the 1996/1997 protests and dissociated itself from all subsequent incarnations of this movement, including what it called the coup d’état of October 5th. Unlike many of the anti-regime gatherings of the early 1990s (such as the commemoration of fifty years since the overthrow of the Nazi puppet government in Belgrade, which was cited in Chapter 2), the Walks condemned Milošević’s nationalist critics and supposed “opponents” as equally if not more contemptible than the autocratic ruler himself. 196 Instead of endorsements from former leaders of the Serbian war effort or Serbian nationalist parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Zajedno coalition and its “walkers” brandished the support they enjoyed from the Montenegrin opposition coalition and the Albanian human rights activist and nationalist-labeled “anti-Serb” Adem Demaqi. More generally, in a radical break with precedent anti-regime activities, the Walks articulated demands largely unrelated to Serbian nationalism.
Table 4.3 Demands and Expectations of 1996/1997 Protest Participants Feel greater dignity and freedom Be sure of the future of my children and myself Increase in the overall social standard Serbian nation to win the right to live in a single state Advancement in professional career or a new job Source: Nikolić 2002. 52% 32.1% 19.9% 8.3% 7.5%

Less than 10% of the protestors, we notice in Table 4.3, prioritized Serbian nationalism (offered in this questionnaire precisely in the form of the definition this thesis uses). On several indicators which had revealed overwhelming nationalism among all Serbs in 1993, nationalism was declining in 1996 – largely a reflection of the rejection of nationalism among the active minority of protestors and “walkers.” In 1993, 54.4% of Serbs agreed with

A joke surrounding the period was that Milošević kept Šešelj around intentionally as a reminder of how much worse the alternative might be if he himself is overthrown.


the claim that the most important thing for Serbs is “to find an energetic and just leader whom everybody will respect and obey”; in 1996, this percentage dropped to 43.5%. 52.2% of the population endorsed the claim that “one should not trust foreigners too much” in 1993; three years later, only 44.1% agreed. 197 Though not a majority, therefore, this anti-nationalist section of the population nevertheless reached a record scale, apparently even large enough to shift Serbian public opinion as a whole. As ethnologist Ivan Čolović compellingly argues, the most significant aspect of these protests was not these particular distributions of opinion, nor the exact number of supporters, nor even the concrete political victories that emerged from the entire affair. 198 Rather, the most essential development was their “symbolic communication” – the novel political demands articulated through “slogans, catch-phrases on placards or badges and lines of verse, or [through] a gesture, a performance, a caricature, a puppet, a sculpture or a mask” and the countless other forms the carnivalesque manifestations offered. 199 Focusing on the speeches of opposition party leaders or academics at rallies is not nearly as instructive as studying the “unfolding street burlesque” 200 and its various creative forms. Reviewing an extensive archive of slogans and visual representations that appeared during this period, 201 one is struck most by the absence of nationalist themes and the prevalence of concrete civic demands – freedom of the press (particularly independent radio B92), the right to free and fair elections, and transparency at universities being foremost among them. Allusions to any of the recent conflicts in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were all vastly

197 198

Lazić 1999, 73. Most notably, Zoran Djindjić became Mayor of Belgrade and dozens of other pro-Western social democrats unseated nationalist officials in cities throughout Serbia for the first time in twenty years. 199 Čolović 2002, 295. 200 Torov 2000, 262. 201 I am fortunate to have a comprehensive archive of slogans and pictures from the era, complied by two prominent organizers of the Walks at the time. It includes hundreds of signs, banners, cartoons and slogans.


outnumbered by the number of items referring to the corruption of the rector of Belgrade University alone. References to folklore tradition – an indispensable tool for nationalist

rhetoric – were present exclusively in satirical contexts. 202 Many slogans even violated the most sacred of tenants of Serbian nationalism, that of Serb unity; instead of the primeval mantra “Only Unity Saves the Serb” (Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava) that had dominated state institutions for centuries, the 1996/1997 protests suggested instead that “Only Strolling Saves the Serbs,” and advised their fellow-citizens to “Stop Being Cattle, Resist!” One ill-mannered protestor responded to the popular nationalist appeal to “Fate of Our Children” with a banner reading “We Love You, Children. – Belgrade Pedophiles.” Other items resurrected themes of the 1960s, including the celebration of free love, pacifism and humanism across class and certainly national boundaries. Far from avoiding elements of what nationalists held to be the decadent and imperialist West, the protestors proudly displayed foreign flags, logos of car manufacturers and other brands unavailable in Serbia, quotes from European literature, icons of Western role models, and quips from animated American TV shows. Indeed, Serbian and Yugoslav flags and emblems were virtually never carried or displayed. 203 Against the nationalist obsession with pride in the Serbian language and alphabet, many placards and badges of the time were written in foreign languages. The most renowned slogan – “Belgrade is the world” (Beograd je Svet) – reflected not only a contempt for the isolation Milošević was held responsible for bringing onto Yugoslavia, but an affirmation of a basically cosmopolitan understandings of who Serbs (or at least Belgraders) were. In a culture dominated by nationalist indoctrination at all levels of society, the novelty of these symbolic messages should not be underestimated.

Serbian epic poetry and nationalist slogans from the 1970s and 1980s, as well as nationalist party campaign slogans from the 1990s, were the most frequent targets of satirical protest texts. Čolović 2002, 299. 203 Djilas 2005, 117.


Finally, also in contrast to similar activities of the past, these anti-establishment protests were mirrored in several former Yugoslav republics. Student protestors demanding education reform and European standards engaged in numerous strikes and massive demonstrations throughout Macedonia in 1997. In November 1996, the anti-HDZ opposition in Croatia staged the largest protest in the newly formed country’s history in Zagreb, demanding a reversal of the shutdown of Croatia’s only remaining independent radio station. 204 Not only were these protesting Serbs acutely observing and communicating with their counterparts in the region, but much of the demonstrating was directed primarily at them and other audiences abroad. The importance to the demonstrators of being heard and seen by the outside was visible “in their disappointment that it took more than ten days for the foreign media and politicians to take an interest in the events.” 205 Indeed, comparing the anti-nationalist and antiwar movements in Serbia and Croatia, a curious similarity emerges in the fact that a failure to penetrate beyond republican boundaries to capture the attention of “the outside” was common to both, and probably contributed to the triumph of state nationalist forces in both. 206 For a movement contesting stolen elections and governmental corruption inside Serbia, the 1996/1997 protestors dedicated a remarkable portion of their messages to international audiences: “F*** you, deaf Europe,” charged one banner, while another celebrated “The Student Protest: The Joy of Europe.” Allusions to anti-communist movements in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Poland were pervasive; “It’s Spring,” a popular adage of the period read, “but I live in Serbia.” On one occasion, a massive crowd in Belgrade even honored a minute’s silence for a teacher of Albanian nationality who had
204 205

Sremac 1999, 204. Čolović 2002, 300. 206 For a review of the Serbian opposition’s counterpart in Croatia, see: Balas 2000.


been beaten to death in a police station in Kosovo – no small feat for any large crowd, let alone one that had absorbed a decade of nationalist indoctrination about the wickedness of Albanians. Overall, just as Serbian nationalism in the early 1990s was a force constantly observing, reacting and interacting with external pressures, its first significant challenger likewise looked beyond Serbia’s borders for guidance, reinforcement and hope. Many of the testimonials of the 1996/1997 protest leadership themselves place enormous stress on the role of contact and mutual recognition with forces abroad; commonly, the former organizers seek place blame for Milošević’s continued rule after 1997 on insufficient help from Western democracies. 207 “The Walks”: Continuities and the Nationalist Reaction All of the above notwithstanding, it would be incorrect to treat this period as a straightforward sign of nationalism’s retreat in general. Indeed, it would not even be warranted to describe the Walks as exclusively anti-nationalist themselves. Summarizing his review of the mottos and visual messages of the era, Čolović also observed the remarkable way those “two great political themes – the Kosovo problem and Serbia’s responsibility for the recent war – were largely ignored during the protest.” 208 As many as 36% of the students involved expressed support for the idea that Kosovo be stripped of its status of autonomy – a quintessentially nationalist stance.209 To take a more formal, institutional example of nationalist currents within the Walks: the very same 63rd Parachute Brigade which had been called upon to crush anti-regime protests in March of 1991 was, in December 1996, publicly

207 208

Antić 2006. Čolović 2002, 302. 209 Nikolić 2002, 83.


refusing to employ army weapons “against the people of Serbia.” 210 Though certainly a blow to the regime’s expectations and strategies, this was hardly a blow to Serbian nationalism. On the contrary, the army’s gradual abandonment of Milošević’s nationalist agenda was motivated by an even more aggressive one. In this regard, features of Serbian nationalism of the earlier periods found their way into (at least) some aspects of the student protests. More importantly, “walkers” were a highly unrepresentative sample of the country as a whole. Numerous indicators of nationalism existed among the Serbs at large which were virtually absent within the sub-constituency of protesting Serbs. Throughout 1996, Milošević’s SPS remained the single most popular political party in Serbia, with 20.98% of Serbs’ reported support. 34.4% of all Serbs continued to support the idea that “the army should rule the country.” For all their sympathy towards Western Europe and America, the protestors were a world away from their nationals at large, 71.5% of whom had little or no trust whatsoever in the European Union. 52.81% of Serbs believed “we should be careful and restrained in dealing with people of other nationalities even if they are our friends.”
Table 4.4. Attachments and Social Self-Identification during the Walks How important is your national Protest Participants (1996/1997) Serb Population at Large (1996) affiliation to you? Very Important 54.25 27 Fairly Important 35.68 31 Fairly Unimportant 7.21 11 Unimportant 2.85 11 Note: Figures represent percentages. The survey of protest participants included a category of “somewhat important” in addition to the four listed, which the general population questionnaire did not offer. Source: Lazić 1999, 143 + CPIJM.

A majority of Serbs, in fact, believed that “children and youth” (i.e. the protestors) should simply “not be allowed to express disobedience” (67.78%). 55.85% of Serbs believed that “citizens should be denied the right to strikes and demonstrations if these disturb public order


Ramet 2006, 506.


and peace.” In the end, to make no mistake about it, 88.51% of Serbs agreed with the statement that “the interests of the nation as a whole must be above all particular interests.” 211 As Table 4.4 proves, although unprecedented assaults on Serbian nationalism were widespread, one did not have to look far for it in the general Serb population. Continuities from the early 1990s (such as authoritarianism, xenophobia, etc.) were undeniably present. As mentioned, educated and urban populations were overrepresented in these protests. In a country where less than 10% of the population held university degrees, 45.8% of the protest participants were university graduates; an astonishing 98.3% held secondary/high school or university/higher academic degrees. 212 In a predominantly rural, agricultural country, only 4% of the protestors were farmers and only 1% of them came from villages outside Belgrade; 49% of the participants were specialized experts or students and only 6% were workers. 213 In addition, the urban/rural divide was largely nonexistent in the “walking” community but ubiquitous in Serbia at large. As we saw in Chapter 3, “Milošević’s rule opened a chasm between city and countryside.” 214 Although the former was now aggressively resisting the communist-nationalist order, the countryside remained a substantial nationalist base for Milošević’s rule in 1996. Citizens of villages and other small rural communities were culturally and politically distant from urban Serbs, their utter isolation from anything but state propaganda as a source of information being one of their most unique characteristics. 215 Support for Milošević-style nationalism was, furthermore, most represented among the elderly (those over 45 years of age) and those with lower
211 212

Emphasis mine. Lazić 1999, 36. 213 Ibid, 36-40. 214 Ramet 2006, 495. 215 Ibid 1996.


degrees of formal education. The previously-described migration of over half-a-million young university-educated Serbs left this rural, uneducated and nationalist sector of the population a majority. An intense mutual distrust characterized the two spheres, as each scapegoated the other for all of Serbia’s major woes: the anti-nationalist “walkers” wondered endlessly at the “idiocy of the countryside,” while rural communities dismissed protest participants as hooligans, terrorists, spies and national traitors. 216 Finally – and most interestingly – this popular uprising induced not just a novel wave of anti-nationalist sentiment, but it also provoked Serbian nationalism to take on new, domestic enemies. The targets of Serbian nationalism had previously been straightforwardly “distant” from who Serbs purportedly were ethnically (Croats, Albanians, etc.) and ideologically (fascists, imperialists, etc.). Suddenly, Serbian nationalism was being not only rejected by large numbers of Serbs themselves, but it was being re-appropriated by groups that threaten state stability in the name of Serbia. The “good of the Serbian people” and the “Serbian national interest” became contentious political values open to interpretation. How could Serbian nationalist identity, with the state as its champion, survive these inconsistencies and divisions? In a fascinating maneuver, the regime’s official stance became that, in fact, there was nothing “internal” about these disorderly protestors at all. They were, the party line asserted, strani plaćenici. This term – by far the single most pervasive description attached to opposition activity in state press and TV reports during the Walks – meant “ones who are on foreign payrolls,” or foreign payees. Embedded in a more general conspiratorial theme of grand power games and extensive international spy networks, foreign payees were thought of as malicious infiltrators from abroad – pervasive and treacherous undercover agents and

Ramet 1996.


traitors controlled by powerful interests in the US, Western Europe, the Vatican or elsewhere. Legally, the state treated these criminals not so much as national citizens as invaders. Smear campaigns were directed at student and opposition party leaders almost daily in Politika, accusing them of receiving funds from the CIA, organizing subversive activities in orphanages and schools, plotting terrorist schemes against unsuspecting Serbian refugees, and visiting American embassies in the region to report to their imperial bosses. One study of a typical week on state TV RTS found that even the four (out of a total of one hundred and three of electoral political programming) dedicated to presentation of oppositional leaders and policies was dominated by descriptions of the “vandalism” and “treachery” of the foreign payees. 217 Serbian Assembly Speaker Dragan Tomić was only one of many regime officials to routinely refer to the students and other nonviolent protestors as “fascists” funded and trained by Germany, Austria, the US and all those who had failed to destroy Yugoslavia before 1995 and are now returning to complete the mission. All the major student unions and organizations running the Walks’ daily activities were dismissed as treasonous if not terrorist cliques committed to serving anti-Serb interests at the behest of foreigners. In a typical recollection of the time, a former student activist engaged in protest security recalled the way his peers primarily worried not about his being injured or arrested, but advised him instead to make sure “to appear at rallies only insofar as your colleagues do not begin to suspect you are a traitor.” 218 The Soroš Foundation – due to its “subversive” support for antiwar groups, independent media outlets, refugee support programs and medical centers – earned the position of symbolic popinjay for the persistent nationalist paranoia. It “was always officially considered the principal ‘anti-Yugoslav’ [i.e.

217 218

Cited in Djilas 2005, 116. Antić 2006, 43.


anti-Serb] organization to be avoided by patriots.” 219 Everyone from the vulnerable young minds of Serbian elementary schools to the elderly patients in medical institutions was portrayed as a potential target of Soroš “infiltration.” This all contributed to a curious nuance in Serbian nationalism in this period: the anti-regime demonstrators were not “real” Serbs; for all intents and purposes, they were foreign soldiers on an anti-Serb crusade who just happen to be located inside “our” brave, beleaguered republic. Serbs could now be “antiSerb” at the behest of non-Serbs, in which case they are no better than the familiar enemies of yesteryear. Thus the dilemma of an unprecedented internal division in the ranks of the Serbian nation itself was alleviated: just as the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was only sustained by CIA funds and arms shipments, so did the students and other protestors exist only because power centers from abroad continued to bolster them. Out of panic and fear as much as out of rational statesmanship, the regime thus removed all reservations about applying the same treatment to foreign payees as to the standard foreign enemies dealt with in the early 1990s. Not only was retaliation against the Serbian hazards to Serbia conducted through institutional purges (some two hundred professors were fired from their university posts), 220 but for the first time in Serbia’s modern history was state violence employed on such a large scale internally in the name of Serbian nationalism. In a parody of Milošević’s famous pledge to Kosovo Serbs, poet Djordje Balašević wrote of the 1996/1997 struggle between the nationalist regime and its challengers: “No one is allowed to beat you….except me.”

219 220

Udovički and Štitkovac 2000, 260. Antić 2006, 15.


Shifting its repressive energy from Croats, Muslims, NATO and even Albanians, Serbian forces were now directed at the very constituency they were allegedly protecting from outside threats. On a particularly bloody occasion, 58 demonstrators were taken to hospital on December 25th, one of whom eventually succumbing to the wounds. Three days later, 18 were hospitalized with severe injuries and overnight of February 2nd-3rd, several hundred were beaten and over one hundred arrested. In the most infamous clash of what some call “the two Serbias,” 221 Milošević organized a counter-protest on the eve of Catholic Christmas 1996 by bussing in thousands of loyal supporters from rural areas in Central Serbia to respond to his student opponents with a nationalist rally of his own. The purpose was, as one protest organizer recalls, “to ‘cleanse’ from the streets of Belgrade the ‘handful’ of foreign payees and restore peace in the streets.” 222 Naturally, the patriotic turnout was pitiably small in the face of a record number of anti-regime protestors that day, many of whom had joined only then, after feeling provoked. An eyewitness recalls the way the indoctrinated nationalist crowd, after many hours of traveling to Belgrade, appeared uncharacteristically humbled and crestfallen: The prevailing impression these people left was one of being worried. They believed what television had told them – that the city was being terrorized by a rebellious minority. They expected the real Belgrade to greet them with bread and salt, as brothers and liberators. Instead, they found themselves trapped [by the outnumbering mass of student protestors], like inside a barrel. From all sides, one could hear the threatening hollers of the masses from surrounding streets. As they walked from their [subsidized] buses to [the pro-regime meeting place], they had fierce insults and objects thrown at them from all sides. Their faces said so much. They mostly stood silently, their hands in their pockets, awaiting further developments. Hardly anyone expressed signs of zeal.” 223
221 222

Batić 2007. Antić 2006, 106. 223 Ibid, 56. Emphasis mine.


The testimony aptly illustrates both the above-described novelties and continuities of the period. Less than five years earlier, tanks on their way to the Bosnian and Croatian fronts were greeted with euphoric nationalist folk music and flowers in the very same Belgrade center. That Serbs were now intimidating other Serbs into restraining their nationalist “zeal” was truly an unparalleled development. 67.14% of Serbs in 1996 strongly or completely disagreed with the idea that the use of violence could be justified to achieve a “unitary state” and “national unity,” 224 a figure that was unheard of in studies of public opinion during the sanctions. As far as die-hard nationalists were concerned, however, these segments of Serbia were not “real,” just as the Belgrade that greeted them was not “real,” nor were the Serbs that insulted them “real” Serbs. It is this aspect of Serbian nationalism alone that clearly indicates continuity with its earlier forms in the 1990s. The crude, conspiratorial and paranoid streaks of Serbian nationalism that had developed under conditions of extreme isolation did not disappear in 1996; rather, they targeted a new, internal constituency to replace the perceived enemies of the war and sanctions period. Furthermore, this curious defensive reaction of the nationalist propaganda machine – to strip disobedient Serbs of their Serbian-ness on the grounds that they are being financed and controlled by the outside – demonstrates just how fundamentally reactive and sensitive to perceived outside threats Serbian nationalism is. Even conflicts within the boundaries of the Serbian nation are unavoidably reinterpreted as necessary struggles against external enemies; alternative justifications for Serbian nationalism simply could not compete.


CPIJM, 1996.


The NATO Bombing: A Temporary Upsurge in Nationalism Before proceeding to the second great episode of oppositional activity, I will briefly review the straightforward effects of the 1999 NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia – a conflict over an unfailing source of Serbian nationalism: the disputed province of Kosovo. In sum, the intensive three-month war can best be understood as an interruption of the gradual decline of popular nationalism since 1995; it temporarily restored nationalist fervor, revitalized suspicion and contempt for the outside world, and returned Serbs to conditions similar to those of the sanctions period, thus uniting them again “in misery.” A brief contextualization of the Kosovo conflict may be in order. The early 1990s directed most Serbian state resources to the raging wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, but the conflict with Albanians over the southern province remained a painful question. From the lens of Western observers, Serbian claims to Kosovo appeared – of all attachments to disputed territories of the former Yugoslavia – the most irrational. Not only was the province demographically impossible to maintain as a Serbian territory, but much of the rhetoric behind attempting to do so appealed to irrelevant primordial claims to Serbian uprisings against the Ottoman Turks centuries ago. The medieval rhetoric aside, however, an ongoing campaign of violence did menace the Kosovo Serbs for decades. The origins of the term “ethnic cleansing” are usually identified in the 1990s; in the Serbian media, however, the phrase is traceable to Albanian expulsion of Serbian families from Kosovo twenty years prior. Serbian migration from the area was a powerful instigator of nationalist paranoia. Censuses show that, in the two decades of 1971-1991, the number of Serbs in Kosovo dropped by over 33,000 despite a natural growth rate of the Serbian population that was


higher than that of other parts of Serbia and Yugoslavia as a whole. 225 From 1961 to 1991, the percentage of Serbs in Kosovo relative to total population in the region fell more than double (from 23.5% to 10%), reflecting a high Kosovo Albanian birth rate as well as increased Serbian fleeing from the province into Serbia proper or the other republics. In efforts to maintain good relations with communist Albania, Tito had prohibited reporting on anti-Serb incidents from Kosovo – a policy of censorship that Milošević’s propaganda outlets opportunistically reversed full circle. 226 Fearing the loss of the province due to such a “biological” disadvantage, the Serbian government repeatedly increased its military presence in Kosovo and offered economic aid to Slavs seeking to resettle in Kosovo. Following the constitutional amendments of 1989 that sought to weaken the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina, Serbia ended the Kosovo parliament in July of 1990. On September 28, a new Serbian constitution was adopted signifying the end of autonomy for both provinces. The occasional rioting and the deaths accompanying it vastly intensified, with over 100,000 Kosovo Albanians going on strike in early September. In March of 1991, Serbia decided to cut educational funding to Kosovo because local schools refused to honor new Serbian restrictions on the teaching of Albanian history and literature. When similar “soft measures” failed, the regime engaged in harsh police repression – including beatings, political arrests and killings – that gradually escalated throughout the 1990s. Anger over the Serbian exodus from the region helped maintain steady support for the crackdown. Despite such efforts, Kosovo’s overwhelming Albanian majority (ranging from 80-90% of the area since 1991) simply could not be brought under Serbian control by force. Uniquely in Europe, a “parallel society” was built within the province, with

225 226

Growth indices and Serbian population numbers in Yugoslavia, Population Censuses in 1971 and 1991. Beloff 1997, 56.


a wholly separate structure of government, ranging from “President” Ibrahim Rugova to the most local administration and management. Albanian was used in schools and universities, Serbia’s authority in local municipalities and elections was disrespected, and de facto sovereignty slowly began to be transferred to local Albanian leaders with closer ties to Tirana than to Belgrade. The Kosovo Albanians – in a movement led by Rugova – initially pursued nonviolent methods directed merely at restoring autonomy to the province. However, given Milošević’s refusal to give even the slightest concessions or recognition to moderate Kosovo Albanian representatives, and given the intensifying police presence, more extreme and militant factions soon acquired considerable public influence, with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) forming in 1993 and mounting guerrilla operations against Serbian police stations by the mid-1990s. In a pattern similar to the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts, the KLA enjoyed financial and diplomatic support from the US, Germany and other countries in addition to its extensive ties to Albania. Particularly upsetting to Serbs was Western support for KLA leader Agim Cheku, a warlord wanted by Interpol, responsible for mass murder in places such as Meduk and Knin and, as a Croatian officer, a commander of one of the most massive ethnic cleansing campaigns in the entire Yugoslav breakup: Operation Oluja (“Storm”) in the summer of 1995. Just as the West intervened to tear Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia away from Yugoslavia, the perception was, it is attempting to do the same with Serbia’s medieval heartland. By 1999, the Albanian-Serbian violence escalated to a degree that drew the attention of the international community, ultimately leading to a 78-day bombing campaign by NATO


forces. The exact causes of the intervention are beyond the scope of this thesis, 227 but it is important to emphasize that, although the formal purpose was merely to unseat the regime, most of the war’s destructive effects were directed at the population itself. As Michael Ignatieff pointed out, “[t]here is no guarantee that war directed at the nervous system [the people] of a society will be any less savage than war directed only at its troops.” 228 Not only was NATO’s war the most devastating defeat Serbia suffered in the decade but, more importantly, it was the first conflict to directly jeopardize the civilian population in Serbia proper. NATO’s war cost between two and three thousand lives, 229 employed cluster bombs and depleted uranium, destroyed or damaged 53 hospitals and clinics (by the end of May, Serbia’s Republic Minister of Health reported that 50,000 patients are endangered due to lack of electricity and water shortages), left roughly half-a-million unemployed, and exposed a previously isolated and protected population to direct violence and trauma. After four years of slow but significant recovery from the sanctions period, the Serbs were again subjected to what appeared to them an international assault on their livelihoods; this time, with direct military as well as economic pressure. The belief was widespread among NATO war planners that the pressures of the war would drive Serbs into rebellion against the regime. 230 Instead, the Serbian public response overwhelmingly denounced this American intervention as criminal – a humiliating act of aggression designed, if not in utter contempt of Serbian casualties, at least in utter
227 228

Ali 2000 is a diverse collection of essays addressing the question thoroughly from a variety of angles. Ignatieff 2000, 170. 229 Overwhelmingly civilian: more than the total number of Serb and Albanian casualties prior to US intervention combined. 230 One NATO planner explained the targeting of civilian infrastructure as follows: “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?' And at some point, you make the transition from applauding Serb machismo against the world to thinking what your country is going to look like if this continues.” See “Air Supremacy," Daily Telegraph (London), May 25, 1999.


carelessness and arrogance. The regime tapped into the public outrage with a deluge of nationalist propaganda. The daily Politika routinely ran titles such as “The Perverted Saxophone Player and His Armada of Death“ and “1941 and Today: The Nazi Bombs Return.” The government immediately shut down free radio B92 and a draconic press law was passed to stifle dissent in media discourse. The murder of Slavko Ćuruvija in April sent a loud message about how criticism was dealt with. Anti-nationalist opposition leaders such as Zoran Djindjić fled the country for fear of their lives, while young Otpor activists (carriers of the anti-nationalist legacy of the Walks) suffered increasing blacklistings, jailings and beatings. A disappointed Serbian diaspora (consisting, we recall, largely of young, educated non-nationalists who had fled the country) seemed to have the nationalist fears of its most hated regime confirmed: the Serbs were indeed facing the entire world. The nationalism, predictably, worked to the fantastic benefit of the government’s popularity, as essential services necessary for survival could now be provided exclusively by the state: Serbs were brought together by the raids, and despite the many hardships they faced, including wage shortages, no one complained about the regime. […]. Many Serbs came to despise the Miloševićs’ regime, but NATO’s raids served to redirect their mounting intolerance of the regime toward America, Great Britain, and France, traditional allies from whom democrats in Serbia expected assistance, not bombardment. Nationalism had been on the decline, but “when Serbia was attacked by nations whose flags they had admiringly carried during months of protest [the Walks],” nationalist identity resurged as the most sensible one. 231 Reviewing the political messages of all the collective actions (i.e. protests, concerts, rallies, etc.) during the NATO war, a study found that support for Milošević was constant throughout the period (regardless of socio-economic hardship or regime repression levels), and that “national mythology” (a crucial component of Serbian

Djukić 2001, 133; 135.


nationalism, characterized by perceived historical victimhood and mythologized narratives of Serbian identity) was pervasive, apparently increasing in intensity with the severity of the NATO campaign. 232 In search of protection and unity in a time of a war without an end in sight, the previous divisions of the 1996/1997 period gave way to the familiar outrage at the international community, conspiratorial explanations of American and Albanian intentions, and a rhetoric of primeval Serbian identity based on archaic ancestral ties to Kosovo. Above all, given the strictly sealed borders of Yugoslavia during the three months in question, and given how thorough the NATO campaign was across the entire territory, the Serbs as a whole were subjected to roughly the same pressures without much variance across groups. Virtually no Serb, in other words, was exempt from the most basic, widespread effects of the bombing – a forceful reason to understand one’s national group as unified and coherent, its members literally tied together by a common set of challenges for survival. 233 The Bulldozer Revolution: Nationalism Defeated In the 2000 presidential elections, opposition candidate Vojislav Koštunica won 54.6% of the vote against Milošević’s 35.01%, signifying no need for a run-off election under Yugoslav electoral rules. Despite the clear first-round victory, the regime maneuvered to arrange run-off elections in an apparent attempt by Milošević to rig them when all else has failed. Beginning on September 25th, crowds ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands began occupying Belgrade squares to demand recognition of the electoral results and to refuse the staging of another round of voting. On October 2nd, the opposition announced a

232 233

Mandić 2007. The bombing ended in June 1999 with a withdrawal of all Serbian forces from Kosovo. Following the bombing, the UNHCR estimated that 210,000 Serbs and Roma fled Kosovo by the year 2000 – a further source of nationalist aggravation.


general strike until its victory was honored; railroads, mines, factories, universities and schools all shut down, as even Milošević’s reliable comrade Vladimir Putin recognized Koštunica’s victory. 234 Regime officials – including top-ranking members of Milošević’s ruling SPS – began resigning and state institutions began turning against their decade-old commander-in-chief. On October 5th, over one million are estimated to have stormed central Belgrade, occupying a burning parliament building and the headquarters of RTS television (“TV Bastille,” as critics dubbed it), the heart and symbol of the regime’s propaganda machine. Like the “refolutions” 235 in neighboring ex-communist countries, this popular uprising shed no blood and marked the end of state socialist rule. Faced with the most populous public gathering in Serbia’s history, Milošević conceded victory and accepted all the opposition’s demands on October 6th. In the initial euphoria, the peaceful uprising was described as nothing less than a reversal of national ideology – an overthrow of nationalist leaders and goals through a radiant eruption of democracy. “The hour is near,” then-US president Bill Clinton told a Princeton audience on October 5th, “when [the Serbs’] voices can be heard and we can welcome them to democracy, to Europe [and] to the world's community.” 236 More generally, foreign news services unanimously adopted the phrase “Serbian democratic revolution” – a label that some today argue is problematic in all but its first word. The foremost difference between this revolution and the Walks – arguably the one that determined its success – was its greater socio-economic diversity. In addition to the intellectuals, students, urban residents and young people who had led the anti-nationalist struggle earlier, October 5th mobilized farmers, rural residents, uneducated workers and
234 235

Ramet 2006, 521. Garton Ash 1993. 236 Speech available at http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/10/05/yugo.clinton.reax.


contentious Serbs of all ages. Opposition leaders from smaller cities in Serbia and rural areas mobilized convoys of cars, vans, trucks, bulldozers and tractors into Belgrade’s center, tearing down police barricades throughout the country and vastly outnumbering police forces in the capital. The very symbol of this revolution – far from the juvenile, urban-trained university student displaying cultured quotes on protest banners – was national hero “Joe the Bulldozer Operator” (Džo Bagerista), an enraged middle-aged farmer who drove his trusty bulldozer over a hundred kilometers in order to ram it into the federal parliament. With his disgruntled, lowbrow attitude and working class ethic, Joe became a cultural and political icon of a sort that the Walks could not have offered four years earlier. If the 1996/1997 manifestations were student protests, October 5th and the events immediately leading to it were workers’ protests; it was factory laborers, miners and other state industry employees who played the decisive role by immediately heeding the call for a general strike and quickly paralyzing the economy. The roughly 18,000 underpaid workers at the Kolubara coal mine and power station (a pillar of nationalist support for the regime throughout the decade) not only refused an offer to have their salaries doubled in return for an end to the strike, but mobilized communities from nearby towns to resist a police crackdown, eventually leading to a withdrawal of police units. 237 Other industries – often through unions and other workers’ associations – organized a massive presence in front of the parliament building in Belgrade. Joining them were old-age pensioners, retired army veterans, football fan clubs, Church representatives and farmers, all facing a great deal of tear gas and sporadic beatings. The actors behind the Bulldozer Revolution, therefore, were not only a more representative sample than the “walkers” in virtue of their greater number, but geographically, economically, professionally and by their generational composition as well.

Nikolić 2002, 148.


Clearly, an unprecedented public exercise in democracy took place in which many civic values unrelated to nationalism were affirmed. A detailed “before and after” comparative study of survey results in March 1998 and December 2000 (just months after the euphoria of the popular uprising) shows an overwhelming rejection of the communistnationalist leadership. The general approval rating of the Milošević regime fell from 58% in 1998 to 22% in 2000 and the general disapproval rating jumped from 34% to 66% in the same period. The general approval for a “system of governing with free elections and many parties” went from 31% of Serbs to about 61% in those two years, while the disapproval rating of such a system fell by more than 66%. 238 Similarly, polls showed that preferences for “strong leadership,” military rule over the country, “Communism” and dictatorship had decreased dramatically. Recalling that an intense three-month war had unified and popularized the authorities in between these two years, one is especially amazed at how dramatic these indicators of state unpopularity nevertheless were. Whether they necessarily imply a rejection of nationalism itself is unclear, but a slight reduction in nationalist selfidentification did in fact accompany this affirmation of democratic/civic values:
Table 4.5. Self-Identification before and after the Bulldozer Revolution With Which of the Following Do 1998 You Most Closely Identify Yourself? Europe 10 Country/Nation 42 Region 4 Local Community, city where I 25 live Other (family, etc.) 9 And which would be your second choice? Europe 10 Country/Nation 29 Region 14 Local Community, city where I 27 live

2000 16 38 7 29 6 14 24 17 26

Lazarsfeld Society 2001, 14-16.


Other (family, etc.) 5 7 Combined Identities European 20 29 Nationalist 36 31 Localized Nationalist 22 16 Localized, Regionalist 11 16 Other 2 4 Note: Figures represent percentages. Survey data from Serbia excluding Montenegro. “Don’t Know” responses excluded. For Combined identities: “European” is respondent who names Europe as first or second identity; “Nationalist” names country/nation as first identity; “Localized Nationalist” names country/nation as second identity and region, locality or other as first identity; “Localized, Regionalist” names only region or locality among the first and second identities; “Other” names other among first and second identity or can’t name any. Source: Lazarsfeld Society 2001, 23.

Firstly, a fair increase (9%) in the number of Serbs identifying themselves with Europe can be seen in these two years – a figure that would surely have been even greater if the NATO bombing had not interceded in between the two dates. Serbian nationalism had always emphasized cultural and political ties to the Russian-led East (and even ideological ones to China) in favor of those to Western Europe and the US-led West, which were perceived as hostile to Serbian-ness and largely responsible for its sorry state in the past decade. Thus it is perfectly warranted to treat this increase in European self-identification among Serbs as a clear sign of nationalism on the retreat, if only modestly. Secondly, the number of citizens declining to prioritize the nation/country as their most important category of identity was on the rise: a more localized and regionalized set of loyalties and allegiances seems to have taken precedent over nationalist ones, as the “nationalist” cluster of respondents dropped by 5% and the “localized nationalist” by 6%, while the “localized/regionalist” increased by 5%. Although all the recorded change is only in single-digit percentages, it is a significant indicator of an anti-nationalist trend, given how short this two-year time period is, and given the fact that the influence of the NATO war (and a de facto loss of territorial control over Kosovo in the meantime) is unaccounted for.


However, when compared with the continuities of nationalism within the October 5th revolt, this indicator might unfortunately appear trivial. The Bulldozer Revolution: Nationalism Lives Though certainly democratic, this revolution was anything but spontaneous. In the spirit of Tillyian analysis of state power, one must understood October 5th as a revolution whose success depended crucially on the refusal of state apparatuses to continue upholding Milošević; specifically, the state institutions of violence. Yugoslav Army heads, police officers, para-military leaders, etc., were all interacting with opposition leaders in ways that sometimes undermined their incentives to sustain the regime, and secured the willingness of the opposition to return favors once it seizes power. When Milošević recognized how tight the noose around his neck was becoming, he issued orders that hypothetically might have led to massive violence, numerous casualties and a failure of the opposition. Numerous contingencies shaped the actual direction of events. The arrest and/or liquidation of fifty major opposition leaders was ordered; the army and police refused to obey. Milošević commanded that tanks be sent to the city center to protect the besieged parliament and state TV buildings by shooting dead the protestors storming them; the army Chief-of-Staff refused to act. The state then ordered “helicopters to spray protestors with tear gas and other chemical agents”; officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs defied the orders. 239 Some of this defiance was authentic solidarity with “the people” or at least fear of mob retribution; much of it, however, was a gesture of allegiance to those who were presumed to become the next government shortly. Unlike in their previous campaigns, the 2000 oppositional leadership had secured the support of over one thousand military veterans,

Ramet 2006, 522.


several special anti-terrorist units, paramilitaries and numerous defecting police officers, all extensively armed and evoking predictions of a “Romanian scenario” for the ruling family. Many of the convoys of Serbs descending on Belgrade from all directions were armed with more than pitchforks. While most protestors were busy occupying the parliament and television headquarters, a small group of mostly opposition officials meanwhile surrounded a Belgrade police station to negotiate the policemen’s turning over to the side of the revolutionaries. Needless to say, such support often came at a price. In each of these instances, opposition leaders negotiated and compromised with state organs or institutions affiliated with the regime in order to secure their cooperation. It was in these compromises that nationalist doctrines and leaders often “survived” the uprising, as sacrifices made by the opposition in the interests of ensuring Milošević’s defeat. One particularly striking example is the outcome of negotiations between opposition leaders and the Unit for Special Operations (JSO) – a criminal para-military group that not only made fortunes through state privileges under the sanctions, but committed atrocities against non-Serbs during the civil war and in Kosovo. As was revealed years after the October 5th uprising, the nationalist JSO joined the protestors in a spectacular public appearance not spontaneously but as a quid pro quo for guarantees against persecution given to them from several opposition representatives. 240 In the years following, this unit played a formative role on the Serbian political scene (including assassinating Serbia’s first democratic Prime Minister) and represented arguably the best-organized, most influential nationalist institution in the country. Other unknown negotiations were probably conducted with other elements of the former regime that determined the specific outcome of October 5th. Similar deals that were

Vasić 2005.


struck with state and quasi-state institutions at the time ensured protection for many former regime officials and created political shelters for nationalist interest groups to continue functioning in the new, democratic Serbia. In this regard, the interactions and negotiations of elite actors from the opposition and the state resulted in nationalist continuities, regardless of any potential anti-nationalist trend among the general populace. Furthermore, even the sentiment of the general populace, as reflected in the electoral result, could be interpreted as ambiguous vis-à-vis nationalism. Not only did Milošević’s platform gain a solid 37.15% (over 1.8 million votes) and his two nationalist runner-ups roughly an additional 8% together, but the 50.24% in Koštunica’s favor were not all antinationalist votes by any means. This revolution presented what Lenard J. Cohen called “the Koštunica phenomenon”: the ascendance of a previously unknown and marginal figure with an even more obscure political party to a sweeping presidential election victory in the matter of a few months, all in virtue of his nationalist reputation. 241 The decision of the opposition to unite behind Koštunica was counterintuitive insofar as two other potential candidates – Zoran Djindjić and Vuk Drašković – had been far better known and more outspoken. The decision by the 18-party coalition DOS to favor Koštunica instead was partly a result of the poor ratings these two candidates had but, more importantly, it was a result of his “record as an uncorrupted, democratically oriented nationalist,” with an emphasis on the last descriptor. 242 Only a nationalist, in other words, was thought to be able to defeat another nationalist. Koštunica’s utter anonymity and lack of charisma were thus compensated by

other credentials. In 1974, he had famously been fired as a university instructor for opposing the Titoist constitutional assignment of autonomy to the provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo

241 242

Cigar 2001. Cohen 2006, 430.


– a courageous attempt, in the nationalist view, to prevent all the secessionist ills that befell Yugoslavia since. During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Koštunica was a critic of Milošević; namely, a harder-line nationalist one. He and his DSS faulted the leadership in Serbia not for its treatment of civilians, or for its apparently expansionistic policies, or for its internal repression, but rather for its failure to more aggressively support Serbian interests outside the republic. Though never a proponent of violent expansionism, Koštunica’s stated ideal had always been a closely-associated federation of all Serbian communities in the Balkans under a unified state. During the Walks, Koštunica’s DSS boycotted the entire anti-regime movement, maintaining a distance from all the other democratic parties and refusing to endorse what it viewed as unpatriotic protesting. As for the question of “the most expensive Serbian word” (Kosovo), Koštunica was as clear then as he is today as prime minister: the province is an integral part of Serbia that was occupied by an illegal foreign intervention. 243 In a rhetorical style not dissimilar from the nationalist he was seeking to unseat, Koštunica promised on September 18th, 2000 “an uprising against the Dahis,” the robber baron families that had exploited Serbs alongside Ottoman rule in the early 19th century. 244 Perhaps most appealing to Milošević’s former nationalist base was the fact that Koštunica unequivocally condemned the UN sanctions against Yugoslavia, foreign intervention in the civil war, the NATO bombing campaign, as well as the International War Crimes Tribunal that had been set up in the Hague to try Serbs accused of the highest crimes. His interviews with Western media in the immediate run-up to the Bulldozer Revolution were overflowing with condemnations of US foreign policy, especially its democracy-exporting campaigns and its

Koštunica’s slogan in the 2007 parliamentary election campaign – borrowed from nationalist icon Matija Bećković – was “every Serb knows that ‘Kosovo’ is the most expensive Serbian word.” 244 Cohen 2001, 429.


interference in other states’ internal affairs. 245 As all these facts were well publicized and purposefully displayed in the electoral campaign to thwart “foreign payee” accusations, it is safe to assume that many of Koštunica’s supporters in 2000 were casting their votes for one brand of Serbian nationalism against another. Finally, to return to more concrete indicators, polling data shows Serbian nationalism – especially its paranoid/conspiratorial streak, covered in the preceding chapter – as still clearly in attendance in 2000. When compared to the anti-nationalist trend described above, the persistence of indicators of Serbian nationalism makes the former seem rather weak by comparison. In 1998, 38% of the population preferred that Serbia and Montenegro develop “according to our national traditions and values” instead of developing “like Western European countries.” How much did the October 5th revolution decrease this percentage? A meager 2%. 246 In Chapter 3, we saw that 41% of students in 1993 believed that Serbs should have “greater constitutional rights” than other nationalities “because they live in their own state.” 247 Seven years later, 55.3% of all Serbs believed that “Serbs need to have more rights in their own state than other nations.” Insofar as the comparison is appropriate, this suggests an increase in nationalist sentiment on this question. When offered the blanket nationalist statement “All our major state problems would be solved if Serbia would be cleansed from other nations,” a not insignificant 27.7% of respondents confirm the statement, while 71.6% continued to believe in 2000 that “one should always be careful with other nations, even when they are our friends.” 248 A comparison of ethnic “distance,” as measured by

245 246

Cohen 2001, 431. Lazarsfeld Society 2001, 25. 247 Cohen 2001, 180. 248 Biro et al. 2002, 42-43.


willingness to accept one’s child’s marriage to a member of other national groups, for the years 1997 and 2000 shows a dramatic increase in nationalist “distance.”
Chart 4.6. Nationalist Distance, 1997 & 2000

"Distance" for Blood Relationships, 1997 & 2000
100 80 % of Respondents not accepting as a son/daughter-in-law 60 40 20 0 Albanian Muslim Croat Hungarian Roma 68 88 58 45 26 82

72 58 46

79 1997 2000

Source: Biro et al. 2002, 44.

Amazingly, this particular increase in “distance” seems to be a general, across-theboard enhancement of nationalist xenophobia (perhaps a result of the recent NATO war). Even though direct and massive violent conflict was conducted with Albanians between 1997 and 2000 while absolutely none was with Hungarians, the increase in “distance” from Hungarians is 32% while the increase in “distance” from Albanians is only 20%. Similarly, there is a 27% increase in “distance” from the Croats (even though no conflict with them took place in the meantime) but a slightly smaller increase of 24% in “distance” from Muslims (with whom conflicts in Kosovo were raging, leading eventually to a costly war and loss of territory). Rather than being proportional with intensity of actual hostilities, therefore, this nationalist “distance” seems to be generalized in application in a way suggestive of the conspiratorial/paranoid outlook of “Serbs against the entire world” that was discussed in Chapter 3. Aside from increased “distance,” the only apparent change between 1997 and 2000 is that nationalist aversion to nationalities is more equally distributed – Serbs increasingly disliked the idea of entering into blood relationships with non-Serbs per se, not


necessarily with one non-Serb nationality as opposed to another. In any event, this is hardly the grand defeat of nationalism that October 5th purported to symbolize. More generally, a prevalent sense of fear and distrust based on perceived outside threats and foreigners continued to dominate public opinion. A series of extensive studies of “threat perception” among Serbs in 2000 by Strategic Marketing 249 found that 64% of the population, even after the introduction of the democratic regime, perceived Serbia as being “highly” or “extremely” endangered. On a ranked scale of specific threats, Serbs are strikingly afraid of exclusively outside threats, rarely potential “internal” threats such as instability, corruption, domestic crime, their own government, etc. As noted earlier, the numerous polls and surveys analyzed were employed as (at best) indirect indicators of what the source of nationalism actually was; literal questions about the source of respondents’ nationalist beliefs and identifications were never included. In 2000, Strategic Marketing’s study tackled this question directly, with a revealing inquiry into the actual source of perceived threats:
Chart 4.7. Sources of Threat to National Pride
Lost Wars, 5.29% Former Regime, 6.89%

International Politics, 29.37%

Kosovo Crises, 27.67%

Crime, Lawlessness, Corruption within Serbia, 2.10% Terrorism, 5.39% Instability of Internal Political Situation, 23.28% Source: Strategic Marketing 2000, 40. Note: Percentages represent portion of respondents identifying the given source as the primary threat to

Serbia’s national pride.

Strategic Marketing 2000. Further references from same study.


Chart 4.8. Source of Threat to Political Independence
Instability of Internal Political Situation, 29.07%

Terrorism, 3.60% Crime, Lawlessness, Corruption within Serbia, 1.30% Kosovo Crises, 3.90%

International Politics, 62.14%

Source: Strategic Marketing 2000, 42. Note: Percentages represent portion of respondents identifying the given source as the primary threat to Serbia’s political independence.

When asked to identify the single most important source of threat to “national pride,” therefore, most Serbs point to, firstly, the international community (29.37%) and, secondly, the crises surrounding Kosovo (27.67%), which are in turn largely controlled by international forces (the poll was taken after more than a year of UN administration of Kosovo). Thus well over half of all Serbs point to perceived external threats, with the realm of internal affairs (instability) in third place (23.28%) as a threat worth identifying as primary. Perhaps the most surprising aspects of Chart 4.7 are the single-digit percentages associated with the former regime and the “lost wars.” The latter probably attracted few respondents because the notion that Serbs “lost” any of the wars cannot be reconciled with Serbian nationalist ideology, lest these wars for a Serbian homeland become meaningless wastes of life. Indeed, even the NATO air campaign – the most blatantly “lost” Serbian war by every reasonable measure – was declared a victory by the regime and trumpeted exclusively as such through state media. Despite the democratic revolution, therefore, a seeming victory of nationalist propaganda seems to be at work when most Serbs adopted an essentially nationalist narrative


of their recent history: defeat cannot be a source of humiliation or wounded pride if it never happened. The absence of assigned blame on the former regime (at a meager 6.89%) is at first glance at odds with the overwhelming aversion to the regime in 2000 described earlier; in fact, the tension disappears when the motives of most anti-Milošević voters are understood to be unrelated to Milošević’s destructive nationalist policies. He was punished in the ballot for the economic deterioration of Serbia, the lawlessness and the attempted electoral fraud, but not for his nationalism. In Chart 4.8, the essential “reactive-ness” of Serbian nationalism is illustrated even more sharply. Out of over a dozen items, the one that best encompasses the broad amalgam of foreign nationalities and institutions that are believed to be conspiring against Serbia – “international politics” – is prioritized by no less than 62.14% of the population as the utmost danger to the nation’s political independence. Internal political instability is a distant second, with not even half the priority assigned to it as to international factors. Albanians, the only remaining separatist force within Yugoslavia’s borders, were perceived as the threat of the highest order, 250 with more than half the population predicting “high” or “extreme” probabilities of violent clashes with them; following in second and third place were Croats and Bosniaks, respectively. In a comparative analysis of Serbia and other Balkan states, Strategic Marketing found that Serbs feel more threatened by Western nations than other populations in the region do. Predictably, Americans, Germans and the British – the most active interveners in Yugoslav affairs in the past decade – were perceived as the most serious Western threats.


As they are in Macedonia and Montenegro as well, incidentally – the phenomenon is apparently regional.


Chart 4.2. Nations Perceived as Highly Threatening to Serbia





41.20% 35.10%




Am ericans

Germ ans


Source: Strategic Marketing 2000. Note: Percentages reflect numbers of respondents selecting given national group as primary threat.

Likewise, Serbs are irregularly hostile to and afraid of international institutions when compared to other groups in the Balkans; NATO and the Hague war crimes tribunal were perceived as the most threatening, with the UN Security Council and the OSCE lagging closely behind. As with the early 1990s, Serbian nationalism seems to rest greatly on the perceived interference of foreign forces – the greater the interference, the greater the aversion and perceived threat believed to be coming from that group or state. In conclusion, like the 1996/1997 protests, October 5th was a mixed historical moment for Serbian nationalism. The Otpor slogan that won the day was “He’s finished” (Gotov je). Although certainly true of Milošević and (most) of his immediate regime partners, it is only partially true of Serbian nationalism in general. To argue that nationalism disappeared completely with the ouster of Milošević from office would be as inaccurate as to argue that October 5th was a mere continuation of the nationalist past without any novelties.


CONCLUSION Reactive After All In a characteristic summary of Yugoslavia’s civil war, Christian V. Balis drew on the canonized works of Tim Judah, Noel Malcolm, James Gow and others to describe modern Serbian nationalism as a Trojan horse – a deceitful ideology that the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts had given birth to, and that was later offered to the Serbs by a reckless and ambitious Party opportunist in his own interest. Unprovoked, unthreatened and without any apparent rhyme or reason (Balis wrote), “the [Serbian] people,” …in their blind, spontaneous devotion – a loyalty that defies conventional logic – welcomed and willingly dragged the horse past their defensive mental fortifications. […] The question of how almost an entire nation came to support the dangerous propaganda of such a mediocre demagogue cannot bear an easy answer. 251 It cannot even, Balis might have added, bear a single answer at all, even if complex. At best, this thesis has suggested a direction for research that has been neglected, in the hopes of discouraging misguided understandings of nationalism in the future. With this narrow goal in mind, the results of this work may be significant in their contradiction of the standard interpretation that Balis represents: although certainly “dangerous” and perhaps “blind” by the standards of educated observers, the embrace of Serbian nationalism appears in this study to be fairly understandable, graspable by “conventional logic,” and most certainly anything but “spontaneous.” In fact, the rise of nationalism among Serbs was shown to be itself a “defensive mental fortification” – a reaction to perceived threats to Serbian-ness. Serbs did not, to paraphrase Dobrica Ćosić, make themselves Serbs; nationalist identity was


Balis 2000, 181. Emphasis mine.


manufactured only through interactions with and reactions against external forces and perceived enemies. 252 The overall trend of Serbian nationalism from 1990 to 2000 does confirm the notion of “outside” forces being the independent variable. The greater the (perceived) external threats to Serbs, the greater the nationalism in the given period. During the Cold War, we saw, Serbian collective identity (along with almost all other former Yugoslav ones) was steadily declining since Serbia’s comfortable position within the federation warranted absolutely no fear from any of its sister republics, let alone from abroad. 253 On the contrary, Serbs (with the due exception of those in Kosovo) enjoyed unparalleled security and stability on the geopolitical border of two superpowers as well as the non-alignment movement, all of whom were invested in Yugoslavia’s well-being and unity. Despite sore World War II memories, “Yugoslavs” continued to increase and “Serbs” continued to disappear well into 1981, including in ethnically mixed areas. It was only when Yugoslavia’s strategic friendship with both East and West began slowly transforming into hostility in the 1980s that nationalist collective identity began decisively rising. Furthermore, it was only after sustained episodes of violent clashes along ethnic lines that areas with non-Serbs began registering an increase in nationalist collective identity – clearly a reactive, not spontaneous, phenomenon. As soon as the sources of the (perceived) threats described in Chapter 2 – Slovenian secessionism, Croatian nationalism, the Islamic challenge in Bosnia-Herzegovina, US and European military and economic statecraft – waned after 1995’s Dayton peace accord, Serbian nationalism began its gradual retreat.

I remind the reader of Baćević’s quote from Chapter 1 on the “value crisis” that resulted in nationalist takeover: “In the general breakdown of value systems and the resulting confusion, identification with traditional social groups and institutions is a logical reaction.” 253 Here I do not refer to the exaggerated fears of a Soviet invasion held by Yugoslav military planners mentioned earlier, but to the attitudes of the general public.


The homogenization and rigidifying of nationalism was most visible precisely when economic and other pressures imposed by the international community were at their highest: from 1993-1995. When the consequences of external interference were most tangible and ominous, Serbian nationalism overcame previous boundaries, like those between the city and the village, to “unite Serbs in misery.” When sanctions were lifted and relative order restored, diversification again increased and nationalism ceased to hold a straightforward hegemony over Serbian public opinion, including Serbian perceptions of other nationalities. The first major anti-nationalist challenge only became possible in 1996, after the pressure of sanctions and war had dropped off sufficiently. The Bulldozer Revolution, though partly nationalist itself, represented the hardest blow to Serbian nationalism to date, with a replacement of the entire institutional order on which nationalist rule rested for over one decade. Even many of the residues of nationalism in the post-Dayton period covered in Chapter 4 are largely attributable to the 1999 NATO intervention and the new set of “enemy perceptions” it introduced. Generally, then, Serbian nationalism does not appear to be any sort of impulsive popular combustion that emerges independently of international context and the actions of competing political forces and ideologies; rather, it is inseparable from them. Secondly, this research has shown an enormous discord between popular nationalism, as reflected in public opinion and surveys of representative samples of all Serbs, and elite nationalism, as reflected in state propaganda, nationalist intellectual works and the manifestos of non-state nationalist leaders (including oppositional ones). More specifically, this thesis contradicts the suggestion that the level of nationalist extremism among Serbs in general was the same as that among state and other elites in this crucial decade; to the


contrary, the two were rarely ever congruent. State nationalist posturing was arguably most intense in 1991-1992, yet Serbian nationalism among the populace was to reach its apparent climax only in the following few years; inversely, when elite nationalism relaxed most in the months leading to October 5th 2000 (with the proliferation of independent media, the gradual disillusionment with nationalism in military and government ranks, and the gaining momentum of the oppositional parties), indicators of nationalism among the general public showed no dramatic regression. Furthermore, Serbian public opinion was enormously divided along geographic and socio-economic differences in the early period of 1990-1992 and, even in the period when nationalist consensus and homogeneity was recorded as strongest (1993-1995), the population remained significantly divided along urban/rural boundaries, and according to the newly-formed social composition of the sanctions period. Striking differences also existed between masses and elites when it came to the impact of the US-led international community on Serbs throughout the first Yugoslavia. Chapters 1 and 2 revealed enormous variation between Serbs in different regions, which partially reflected differences in their material, socio-economic conditions (Serbs from underdeveloped, impoverished Kosovo vs. Serbs from Slovenia, etc.). As Chapter 3 emphasized, the majority that carried the brunt of sanctions was never absolute: a small class of active organized crime participants, war profiteers, state and military elites and nouveau riche opportunists emerged in this period with the capacity to avoid the pauperization of most of their countrymen. As was suggested, this new class was nationalist only to the extent that this aided their elite status: weapons smugglers paid lip service to the glory of the Serbian fatherland and paramilitary generals trumpeted World War


II slogans, but they were primarily concerned with their own wealth, influence and status. JNA commanders stood behind Milošević’s nationalist program but, when the tide of October 5th came, acted to make sure they are on the winning political side, the Kosovo Polje battle probably not troubling them as much as the prospects of a Hague jail cell. In contrast to this kind of nationalism, most of the population seems to have embraced nationalism out of more “authentic” reasons: despair, fear, anxiety, helplessness, xenophobia, “distance” from other ethnic groups and so on. Although this thesis focused on those forces actively opposing nationalism (loosely referred to as “anti-nationalist” above) only partially and insofar as they impacted nationalist public opinion, much of the data presented suggests that even the most alarming periods of nationalist fervor should not be exaggerated. Reviewing numerous surveys before and immediately after the cessation of armed conflict, Leonard J. Cohen argues that “the ‘reactive ethnocentrism’ and intolerance expressed in a kind of hyper-nationalism…depends a good deal on citizen perceptions of the changing situation faced by Serbia”254 – a conclusion this thesis wholeheartedly corroborates. In this sense, Serbian nationalism was conditional and, hence, not inevitable. A question that may rightly have occurred to readers is: to what extent were these formative external forces and perceived threats genuine and to what extent were they fabricated by state dogma? Propaganda at times appeared to hold such a dramatic monopoly over discussions of reality that one wonders whether the very basis of Serbian nationalism is fact or fiction. The answer, naturally, is that it is both: external force was enormously influential in shaping both the behavior of formal state institutions and the lives of ordinary Serbs, but most of its targets were grossly misinformed about the exact nature and extent of

Cohen 2001, 423.


this force. As Chapter 2 described, significant numbers of Croatian Serbs certainly faced violence and expulsion under a government that resurrected ustaša features, but many Serbs were deluded about the existence of a global, Anglo-American, Catholic and fascist genocidal conspiracy that is nearing World War II standards in its enmity to Serbs. As Chapter 3 illustrated, the economic sanctions did impose widespread misery, but most of Serbia’s population remained ignorant of the regime’s role in exacerbating it for its own purposes. As Chapter 4 mentioned, Serbian threat perception was outlandishly unrealistic in identifying the major threats to Serbia, but was nevertheless loosely basing its attitudes towards Americans, Germans, the British and Albanians on actual military threats from these national groups regarding the Kosovo conflict. In sum, to return to the Tillyian perspective developed at the onset, nationalism is here best understood as a political, largely state-driven phenomenon that develops in a context of inter-state rivalry, competition and conflict. Nationalist construction of enemies becomes easiest and most likely, as is obviously the case with Serbia, through war. State dogma, therefore, can only determine concrete aspects of nationalism (who Serbs are most “distant” from, whether Croats or Slovenes are fascists, who’s side the Vatican is on, etc.) loosely within the framework of what threats actually exist. The reality of the external pressures, in other words, is only partially relevant for the livelihood of Serbian nationalism. On the other hand, successful nationalist mobilization must be based to some extent on the ability to credibly identify real, genuine threats; compelling reasons for nationalist self-identification cannot be based on thin air. Hence, instead of treating Serbian nationalism as an utterly irrational, unprompted torrent out of a clear blue sky, which initiated the chain of reactions that led to Yugoslavia’s


downfall, this thesis suggests that it should be understood as a fundamentally reactive and interactive force, considerably shaped by perceived threats. This understanding obviously does not (and should not) imply vindication, but may be a constructive step towards attributing causes to collective behavior more truthfully. The most obvious political and ethical weight of this argument is the question of remedy. How does one overcome the “poisonous nationalism” that has dominated Serbian society during the brutal decade and that continues, the authors of the recent term add, 255 to dominate it today? No magic key exists, needless to say, but the evidence presented suggests that increasing outside pressure and sustaining the sources of popular perception of threats is the surest way to fail in this remedy. Implications for Theory and Future Study One theoretical interpretation of Serbian nationalism in particular may deserve rethinking in light of this research: the so-called “ancient hatreds” explanation of the Balkan wars. Anthony Smith has (unfairly) been designated the champion of this often-caricatured thesis – the academic leader of the “primordialist” school, “the straw man of ethnic studies.” 256 The general claim is that nationalist mobilization is based on longstanding ethnosymbolic and highly instinctive senses of national belonging, around which political demands are designed and acted on. Wars like the Yugoslav ones, in this view, are eruptions of ancient hatreds between age-old national identities that had only been temporarily constrained by various factors (e.g. Titoism, many have argued). This research showed reasons to believe that, to the contrary, Serbian nationalist mobilization seemed to have numerous distinctly modern causes – the various external pressures and internal regime handlings of them led to second-order effects that would have promoted nationalism with or without its “primordial”
255 256

Washington Post, Monday, July 24, 2006 (p.A18). Horowitz 2004, 72-73.


foundation. Some of these second-order effects were structural (the mass migration of Serb refugees into Serbia, the exit of hundreds of thousands of young, educated, would-be antinationalists out of the region, the disappearance of the middle class under the sanctions, etc.); some were voluntary actions of individuals in a “market” where the most “rational” choices were conducive to nationalism (the thousands who enlisted in para-military units or the JNA for economic self-interest, the turn of many members of the “helpless” and “dependent” constituencies to organized crime and the black market, the mostly rural citizens who traveled to resist the student demonstrators at Milošević’s 1996 counter-protest in Belgrade, etc.); some were purely regime actions (e.g. the vicious media propaganda campaigns, the “economy of destruction” during the sanctions, the crackdown on “foreign payees,” etc.); and, to be fair, some were induced by successful challenges to the nationalist authorities (the reliance on para-militaries because of the popular draft resistance, the repression resulting from the Walks, the “Koštunica phenomenon” of the October 5th revolution, etc.). One does not have to understand the history of Serbian victimhood under the Ottomans, nor the role of the Catholic Church in thwarting Serbian independence, nor the genocidal suffering of Serbs during the Second World War to evaluate the impact of factors such as these. Related to this is a refutation of the idea that, given the supposed ancientness of the collective identities involved, the conflicts among them were inevitable. Indeed, as the census data from Chapter 1 illustrated, Serbian nationalism was on the decline in many areas of the former Yugoslavia in the decades preceding war, in what was (arguably) a successful experiment in building a new national consciousness that defies all ancient hatreds and “primordial” identities. The idea that this experiment was predestined to collapse (as it did) is by no means clear; enormous contingencies were involved in the rise of Serbian nationalism,


and still others in fact suppressed equally “primordial” hatreds in the region (anti-Semitic World War II legacies were largely not resurrected, for instance). To be sure, the Serbian regime certainly propagated a “primordialist” perspective of Serbian nationhood and identity (as Chapter 3 discussed), but its success in promoting it is quite understandable as a result of its near-perfect control over organs of state power (the media especially). The regime’s monopoly over truth was itself, of course, neither natural nor inescapable; had the March 1991 anti-regime demonstrations succeeded and pre-empted the period of the most fanatical nationalist indoctrination, for example, it is conceivable that Serbian nationalism would have had a less fruitful future. Therefore, insofar as the hackneyed dichotomy is useful, this thesis falls on the side of the so-called “constructivists” as opposed to the “primordialists.” The former – perhaps more accurately known as “instrumentalists” – study nationalism as a dependent variable shaped and controlled by other circumstances, and mostly developing according to its functionality or value for achieving goals unrelated to national sentiment per se (be they industrialization, territorial expansion, or the maintenance of an elite in power). Against the precious convictions of nationalists themselves, Serbian nationalism was not shown to be akin to “tidal waves,” “winds,” “fires” and other spontaneous natural disasters, 257 but instead to be a human-crafted set of attitudes and actions – one that can be deconstructed and unmade, if understood properly. As a modest recommendation for future research, this thesis demonstrates the superiority of measuring nationalism empirically (if only indirectly and incompletely) to


These metaphors are widespread. See, for instance, Ramet 2002, 561, where “a tidal wave of Serbian nationalism” is being deplored because it mysteriously arose on its own – without good cause or reason – and disturbed an otherwise dormant Croatian nationalism, ultimately leading to Tudjman’s election (which would not have occurred, the argument is explicitly made, had the unprovoked “tidal wave” not come along.


evaluating its supposed “lifespan” through impressions and speculations. Although the words “rise of” and “fall of” regularly precede “Serbian nationalism” in academic studies to delineate supposed epochs or stages of its progression, very few authors offer verifiable indicators of just what it is that is being measured. The definition employed here – Serbian nationalism as those actions promoting an arrangement of all Serbs under one Serb-run state – allowed us to trace its exact progression with extremely similar polling and survey data indicators over time. Methodologically, this is a refreshing reminder of how complex and contradictory nationalist sentiments are. Even at the height of what I have argued to be the climax of Serbian nationalism – the hyperinflation period – 66% of Serbs told polls that different nations can live together, while a surprisingly low 30% considered that it was better for a country to be comprised of members of only one nation (November 1993). 258 Without concrete empirical yardsticks for studying the phenomenon, such paradoxical features of the phenomenon will be regrettably lost. To illustrate the potential pitfalls involved in avoiding empirical measurements, consider the example of the 1990-1992 period covered by Chapters 1 and 2. Virtually without exception, analysts point to this period as the beginning, if not pinnacle of Serbian nationalism – an observation usually justified by the fact that serious armed conflict began precisely at that time. Yet, as was argued, it is not immediately clear whether we can generalize at all about nationalism in this period. Firstly, enormous inter- and intraregional/republican differences existed among Serbs in Vojvodina, Kosovo, Croatia, BosniaHerzegovina and Serbia itself on a range of indicators: some prioritized economic issues over “the national question” while others did the opposite; some exhibited xenophobia, intolerance and authoritarianism significantly more than others; some continued to defy nationalist self258

“Suspended transition,” 6.


identification while others dropped “Yugoslav-ness” like a bad shoe; and finally, a sharp divide was present between supporters of the national-communist party and the democratic opposition blocks – a rift that varied enormously across regional boundaries. Far from a unified, homogenous nationalist ideology, Serbs in this period exhibited at best an incoherent value system that is ambiguous with regard to support for “all-Serbs-in-one-state.” At worst, they showed such a disunited set of beliefs and such large variance that generalizations are impossible. Secondly, it cannot be ignored that a majority of Serbs explicitly prioritized economic and democratic development, along with an end to the war, over “the Serbian national question” around the 1992 elections. Indeed, a strong majority of the Serbian voting public believed the nationalist candidate was incompetent at dealing with the top four major challenges they believed were facing Serbian society; his stubbornly anti-nationalist opponent, on the other hand, was thought most capable by absolute majorities to deal with the same issues. An October 1992 poll even recorded that more than 60% of Serbs supported the prosecution of Serbian nationalists seeking to evict Croats from their homes in Vojvodina. Thirdly, the remarkable failure of the military mobilization in this period encourages a skeptical inquiry into what nationalism means: even if young people were raving nationalists at government rallies and football matches, how can we account for the fact that most of them risked imprisonment in order to avoid fighting for their fatherland? We saw that, to the regime’s great surprise, and in contradiction to some opinion polls, roughly 200,000 reservists defied the draft, outnumbering the JNA as whole. With such a contradiction between stated values and collective actions, to say that the zenith of Serbian nationalism was at this time can be quite misleading. The beginning of the war in this period


should not be confused with a milestone birth of Serbian nationalism; the outbreak of violence and the triumph of Milošević’s aggressive nationalist clique were primarily results of other factors, such as a failure of the opposition to mobilize around the superior confidence it enjoyed and the independent, completely unaccountable behavior of Yugoslav military forces outside Serbia. As in this example, constant verification of preconceived notions of nationalism is indispensable to avoid both over-simplification and overgeneralization.


Appendix #1. 259


Reproduced from Milena Spasovski, Saša Kicošev and Dragica Živković. 1995. “The Serbs in the Former SFR of Yugoslavia” in The Serbian Questions in The Balkans. Belgrade, Serbia: University of Belgrade Faculty of Geography.



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