Yugoslavia: The end of an anachronism
The name "Yugoslavia" may not be much longer for this world. Its disappearance is long overdue.
"Vesti" reported on 8 February that, whatever new political arrangement Serbia and Montenegro work out between themselves, any new association is unlikely to be called Yugoslavia. Belgrade reportedly favors calling it the Federation of Serbia and Montenegro, while the term Union of Serbia and Montenegro is apparently preferred in Podgorica. Whichever term takes root, it will replace one that has long ceased to have any real meaning.
The idea of Yugoslavism -- the unity of all South Slavs -- is a Croatian concept dating from the 19th century. Most nationalist movements in Europe -- including Serbia -- at that time aspired to create a state of a single nation. But some Croatian thinkers felt that close cooperation with ethnically related neighbors on an equal footing was the best hope for their people, who were divided between the Austrian and Hungarian halves of the Habsburg monarchy and subject to pressures from Hungarian and Italian nationalist movements. In short, Yugoslavism was a concept born out of the weakness of a people that had not had truly independent statehood for centuries and little hope of attaining it in the foreseeable future.
The Yugoslav state that was born at the end of World War I owes its existence to the wartime efforts of Allied politicians to force Serbian leaders to work with Croatian and other political exiles from the Habsburg monarchy. Serbia had hoped to create a Greater Serbia without any large number of Roman Catholic Slavs, but after the Kingdom of Serbia's defeat by the Central Powers during the war, its exiled leaders had little choice but to do as the Allies wished.
The new state was first called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (SHS), which in itself speaks volumes about the ethnically based pecking order, particularly where Macedonians, Albanians, Muslims, Hungarians, Montenegrins, and others were concerned. After nearly a decade of political instability, King Aleksandar I Karadjordjevic proclaimed a unitary Kingdom of Yugoslavia on 6 January 1929. Despite one very belated attempt at reform to placate the Croats, this Serbian-dominated state remained in place until the Axis invasion in the spring of 1941.
The communist Yugoslav state that emerged from World War II was founded on the basis of national equality, at least in theory. Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, and Montenegrins were full-fledged "peoples of the state." The Slavic Muslims were granted that same status more than two decades later. The non-Slavic Hungarians and Albanians had an official status of "nationality" in the country whose name meant Land of the South Slavs.
In reality, the country was the Land of the League of Communists, whose leadership included officials from all of the main ethnic groups. When Slobodan Milosevic found at the close of the 1980s that he could not hijack the Yugoslav state for his own purposes -- thanks primarily to the objections of Croatia and Slovenia -- he proceeded to destroy it.
The state he was ultimately left with was a Greater Serbia, including Kosova and Montenegro. His policies then led in 1999 to the loss of Kosova, whose ethnic Albanian majority wants full independence. For its part, Montenegro's current leadership is also bent on independence. What is left of the old Yugoslavia is in the final stages of disintegration.
Whether Montenegro remains in some sort of political arrangement with Serbia or not, a state that is a Land of the South Slavs has long ceased to exist. That project probably ended in 1991 with the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, and certainly with the subsequent independence of Macedonia and Bosnia. Milosevic kept the Yugoslav name in hopes of keeping the old state's property and international prestige. Those hopes are now history -- as is Yugoslavia.
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