Yugoslavia Essay

Recently, there has been much fighting
in the former country of Yugoslavia, involving all ethnicities and religious
groups and without making a difference between military or civilians. Diplomats
have been hard at work to attempt to resolve the differences that led to
conflict and bloodshed, but it has proven to be a very difficult thing
to do with extremely limited success. To understand the situation, it has
to be realized that a big part of the problem lies in the geography of
the region and its demography. These factors have contributed to conflicts
in the past and do so now.

Yugoslavia covers mountainous territory.

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The backbone of the region is made up of the Balkans, a mountain range
that runs north-south. Continental plate movement from the south has created
an intricate landscape of plains, valleys and mountains. This led to intensive
compartmentalization of the region. As a result, there were few low-level
routes and those that existed became very important strategically. Most
notable are the Varda-Morava corridor, which connected the Aegean Sea and
the Danube, and the Iron Gates of the Danube, linking Central Europe and
the Black Sea, that controlled much of the trade between the Mediterranean
and Central Europe since ancient times. Most of the populations have lived
separated from each other geographically and culturally, developing very
strong national and tribal allegiances. This region is a frontier between
Eastern and Western European civilizations and has also been influnced
by Islam during the Turkish invasion.

The roots of the conflict in the Balkans
go back hundreds of years. Farther than recent events in the region indicate.

Dating back to Roman times, this area was part of the Roman Empire. It
was here that the divide between Eastern and Western Roman Empires was
made when it split under the Roman emperor Diocletian in A.D. 293. Along
with the split, the religions divided also into Roman Catholic and Eastern
Orthodox. This line still divides Catholic Croatians and Hungarians and
Orthodox Montengrins, Serbs, and Romanians. The Romans left behind them
excellent roads, cities that are still important political or economic
centers, like Belgrade, Cluj, or Ljubljana, and the Latin language, which
is preserved in Romanian.

The period of Turkish dominance during
the middle ages left a much diffferent imprint on the region. An alien
religion, Islam, was introduced, adding to already volatile mixture of
geography, politics, religion, and nationalism. The administration of the
Ottoman Empire was very different from that of the Romans. The Turks did
not encourage economic development of areas like Albania, Montenegro and
Romania that promised little in producing riches. They didn’t invest in
building roads or creating an infrastructure. Greeks controlled most of
the commerce and Sephadic Jews, expelled from Spain, had influence as well.

The diversity of Yugoslavia can best be
captured in this capsule recitation: “One state, two alphabets, three religions,
four official languages, five nations, six republics, seven hostile neighbors,
and eight separate countries.” This had more than a little truth. Yugoslavia
employed Latin and Cyrillic alphabets; it was home to Roman Catholics,
Eastern Orthodox, and Muslims; it’s Slavic groups spoke Serbian, Croatian,
Slovenian and Macedonian; they identified themselves as Serbs, Montenegrins,
Croats, Slovenes, and Macedonians; each had its own republic, with an additional
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina for a mixed population of Serbs, Croats,
and Serbo-Croatian-speaking Muslims; Yugoslavia was bordered by Italy,
Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, all of whom harbored
some grievances against it; and the “autonomous regions” of Hungarian Vojvodina
and Albanian Kosovo within Serbia functioned until 1990 in an independent
manner comparable to that of the six formal republics. This indeed was
a diverse state. Yugoslavia had been “a geographic impossibility, tied
together by railroads, highways, and a Serbian-dominated army.” (Poulsen,
118-9) This country is a patchwork of complicated, interconnected ethnic
and religious entities that intertwined so densely that it is probably
impossible to separate them and make everybody happy.

It was a witness to two bloody Balkan wars
that took place in 1912 and that contributed to the outbreak of World War
I. The conflict seems intrinsic to the region, with painful fragmentation
after the fall of the Hapsburg empire and further discord during and after
World War II. In fact, there was hardly any time when there was little
or no conflict.

The events that started the most recent
escalation of conflict took place in 1991. The first republic to express
anti-Serbian sentiments was Slovenia. They felt that although they and
Croats had prospered the most in Communist Yugoslavia, they were lagging
behind Austria, Italy, and even Hungary. They saw the transfer of their
profits to the southern republics as the reason behind it. During the 1980s
many started calling for separation from Yugoslavia. Serbia boycotted Slovenian
products in 1990 and this only intensified the hostilities. In 1991, Slovenians
declared their independence. The federal army attempted to suppress the
Slovenians, but was humiliated by Slovenian militia forces. From there,
it spread to Croatia, who resented the Serb domination in government and
the economy. All the previous conflicts, from Serbian-led atrocities committed
at the end of World War II that surfaced in the 1980s to Croatian support
of the former Ottoman lands in Yugoslavia that came to the fore in the
1970s, and others, greatly contributed to the Croatian resentment of the
Serbs and led to their declaration of independence in the summer of 1991
(Poulsen, 123).

But this was only beginning. Croatia had
a Serbian minority that made up 11% of its population. The strong feelings
of nationalism didn’t escape them either. An attempt was made in 1990 to
declare autonomy of the mostly Serbian regions in the southwestern parts
of Croatia. It was rejected by the Croatian government and as a result,
the Serbs ignited a rebellion. They were supported by the Yugoslavian army.

Bitter fighting ensued, with sieges and a massive flow of Serbian refugees
eastward. Like cancer, the conflict kept spreading and by 1992 nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina
was engulfed by it. It is no surprise because Bosnia-Herzegovina is a patchwork
of Christian and Muslim, Croat, Serb, and Bosnian, Orthodox and Catholic.

The only way for the government to preserve its territorial integrity with
so many groups pulling in different directions was to declare independence.

The Serb and Yugoslav army moved in to drive out the Croats and Muslim
and attempt annex Bosnia to Serbia. The Croat army moved in to protect
its Croats there. With all these different ethnic and religious groups
so tightly intertwined in Bosnia, it would be nearly impossible to negotiate
a treaty that would pacify all sides.

The grief and damages of Croatia, Serbia
and Bosnia-Herzegovina were not the only ones suffered in this volatile
region. Another province of former Yugoslavia was experiencing unrest.

In a southern part of Yugoslavia called Kosovo, that was bordering Albania,
irredentist movement was taking place. Kosovo is 90% ethnic Albanian and
following the suit of the other republics, Albanians started asserting
their rights in Kosovo. They wanted autonomy, independence and annexation
to Albania. Serbia was not willing to let Kosovo go and disagreements between
the opposing sides began escalating. A major reason Serbia was so unyielding
is the fact that Serbs view Kosovo as a core area for their culture and
its development. It is also a site of a tragic defeat by Muslim Turks in
the medieval times.

The other regions of former Yugoslavia
that are experiencing problems are the regions of Vojvodina and Macedonia.

Like other parts of Yugoslavia, Vojvodina had a lot of different ethnicities
living side by side. Serbs, Hungarians, Croats, Slovaks, and Romanians
all share thi region. As they were becoming polarized in other republics,
it spread to Vojvodina also. Macedonia is having problems with its Albanian
minority, who are sympathizing with their brethren in the nearby Kosovo
and for a time there was with the Greek government over the use of the
name ‘Macedonia’ and Macedonia’s flag, which were Greek in origin. That
was settled with an agreement that Macedonia will change its flag, but
not its name.

Given the geography and demography of Yugoslavia,
it is hard to imagine real, long-lasting peace coming to the region anytime
soon. It is virtually impossible to strike any deal that would please all
sides, since virtually everywhere there will be pockets of minorities with
long-running hostilities towards the majority that could not be cut out
of the territory and would have to be incorporated somehow, whether it
be Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo or Macedonia. These differences led to much
suffering and bloodshed over the last several hundred years and no solution
has been found yet. The nearby future does not seem to be any different.

The Dayton Accords, that were struck in 1995 in Ohio, were supposed to
have resolved some of the differences and stopped the fighting, but just
opening a newspaper today proves to be on the contrary. There have been
rather prolonged moments of peace, as when the country was united under
the rule of Josip Bronze Tito after World War II, so it is possible. One
keeps hoping that there will be more to come, no matter how hard they are
to achieve.

BASS, WARREN, “The Triage of Dayton”,
Foreign Affairs, vol.77, No.5, 1998, pp.95-108
CONNOR, MIKE, “Kosovo Rebels Gain
Ground Under NATO Threat”, The New York Times, December 4, 1998, vol.CXLVIII
No.51, 361
PERRY, DUNCAN, “Destiny on Hold:
Macedonia and the Dangers of Ethnic Discord”, Current History, March 1998,
vol.97 No.617 pp.119-126
POULSEN, T.M., Nations and States,
Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1995


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