The key terms of the question are the terms ‘primordial hatreds’ of the nationalities involved and also the time period that is set, the 1990s. The term primordial is an adjective defined as “existing at or from the beginning.”1 To address the question I will discuss the way in which the violent disintegration of the former Yugoslavia was due to this, and also to the extent that it was caused by other factors for example the economic collapse as each factor can only present part of the whole story with the latest conflict being an instalment in the saga.
Throughout history the Balkans has been a hotbed for conflict, from the two Balkan wars to one of the factors causing the Great War. However the disintegration was a war of recognised nations, involving ethnic Croats; they were in the main protesting the nationalistic policies of President Trudjman. Ethnic Serbs were opposing Slobodan Milosevic. The case of Bosnia is slightly more complex with both ethnic Serbs and ethnic Croats identifying themselves as Bosnians as opposed to those who saw themselves as Bosnian Serbs or Bosnian Croats.2 These nations were members of Yugoslavia, later to become the independent states of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia. The participants were all members of the Yugoslav state and gained recognition as states later, after it’s collapse. It is often described as a “clash of civilisations – between civilised and barbarian, Western and Balkan.”3
There are many theories as to the causes of war; International Relations theory claims multiple sources of conflict, as well as three casual factors. It is argued that the global system and the problems at the structural level have an impact. At the point of disintegration the global power configuration had a massive effect, with the Cold War helping to preserve Yugoslavia as a united state. It is seen that the USSR was “negative glue” and the Western ideas and policies of the USA was argued to be a “positive glue”. This is because the USSR was seen as a threat so therefore it was in everybody’s best interests to be part of a united Yugoslavia under one banner. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the security threat that it posed had diminished, undermining Yugoslavia’s one-party rule because economic reform was needed to adapt to the changing climate.
Another theory is that of the state and societal level. Yugoslavia is an interesting case because other states that had been socialist experienced a “refolutiuon”, why did Yugoslavia have a revolution? To answer this question one has to look at the state and social level of the former Yugoslavia.
It had an authoritarian government from 1945 led by Tito. From this Tito created a new constitution, which was legitimised by the Wilsonian principles of self-help, determination and independence. It was a constitution that was independently socialist, and accommodating which helped to stabilise Yugoslavia. However, it had a Serb preference that wanted the centralisation of power, whereas the Croats and Slovenes +
favoured a looser confederation. The post-war constitution increased the autonomy of the five republics that made up Yugoslavia.
This led to a society that was unequal, exasperated with the collapse of Communism. Therefore sectors of society were victimised or exploited, creating virulent, spiralling nationalism. The Tito and Wilsonian principles led to each nation having self-determination, wanting a Republic nation-state free from Yugoslavia. Throughout the Yugoslav society there was major disequilibria, i.e. “satisfied groups” Vs “dissatisfied groups”.
Not only did the constitution create social unrest, it also created huge problems in making common solutions to economic problems that they would face. After the 1960s Yugoslavia experienced an economic stagnation. The various reforms that Yugoslavia tried to make had failed. The foreign loans that Yugoslavia did receive it squandered away. As a result, for the general public the real income was halved. There were also two broad political groups that split Yugoslavia, with the reformists wanting a change in policy in Yugoslavia and the conservatives who were content with what was happening and not wanting vast change.
The disequilibria that was present throughout created ill feeling among the five Republics. The richer states felt that the poor, who felt that they were being underprovided for, were exploiting them. Serbia was also aggrieved at the net contributor status. The economic disintegration made the Republics more inward looking and autarkic. With the investments made being kept local. Its trade was also very Western orientated.
The nationalism experienced during this period was strong. Riving the names, symbols and uniforms of the nationalistic right-wing element throughout World War II, primarily the Chetnik monarchists and the Ustasha, using this image for the paramilitary forces involved in the Yugoslav break-up.
Fighting can also be argued to be a result of the individual. One case is that violence is inherent in human biology and genetic make-up. It has been proven that humans have a part of the brain called the limbic system which secrets three different hormones which create the capacity for violence although at this point in time it is not known which. The supporters of this argument broadly fall under the name of Naturists. An opposing group, called broadly termed the Nurturists, believe that the violent tendencies can arise from experience or nurture in a violent environment.
The latter argument can be definitely applied to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which has latent ethno-national contradictions. “The Balkans suffer from a reputation for blood feuds that has been passed down from generation to generation, punctuated by repeated acts of atrocity, that arguably began in the battle of Kosovo when the Turks advanced West towards Vienna in 1839, vanquished the Serbs and left their bodies to the crows. Since then this territory has lived by a code of revenge: an eye for an eye. The ethnic cleansing and brutal destruction forms a cult of violence that links the past to the present.”4
This suggests that there are now underlying “historical traumas” created by this pattern of revenge and violence. Most of the conflict falls into three different feuds. The Serbs and Croats, Muslims and Serbs, Serbs and Albanians. However it can be contested by the question whether, and to what extent, has the past now created a cult of violence, passed down from each generation like folk lore?
An example of this is the Kosovo conflict, a war between Serbs and Albanians, which stemmed from the KLA’s murders on 22 April 1996. The Albanian discontent did stem from the previous wars in Yugoslavia, with Rugova’s policies that kept Kosovo out of any previous war, however this policy did lead to Albanian discrimination.5 All of the groups involved see themselves as victims of history, with the atrocities, perhaps genocide, which all the nations have experienced. They were particularly strong during World War II, through the civil war also raging in the region. However afterwards these feeling were quashed in the name of unity, to protect all from the absorption of both the USA and Soviet Russia. “They did not disappear and were passed on, for example, by oral family traditions.”6
To conclude, the period of the Yugoslav stability was rarely seen and quite abnormal for it to have peaceful coexistence for so many decades. Therefore the main question is what kept it together for so long? The threat of Communism had a key role, the Cold War created an atmosphere of external and also internal discipline, which was needed throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The socialist economy failed due to the interference of the government and the policies taken by some, particularly to keep Slovenia out of the civil war. Throughout the economic decline, the stagnation and the halving of real income, more discontent created an agenda for change. The struggle for Yugoslavia was seen as one between the elite, in a quest for privilege, however in a climate of reformist pressure. A result was the Old Guard took control in Serbia and the reformists in Slovenia. The spiralling nationalism was also an outstanding feature of the discontent and a root of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. The primordial hatreds felt by the nations involved had in impact, but that was not the only reason for the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The conflict was one of national, territorial, political and economic struggle, however, fought under the guise of ethnic hatred.