Is the idea of a unified EU jeopardized by negative historical experiences? The Austro-Hungarian Empire as a coalition of German and Slavic people collapsed, as did its successor Yugoslavia. How can the European Union (EU) reconcile differences and homogenize the continent by making it more compact? If Yugoslavia failed to accomplish this in the tumultuous period of communism in eastern Europe, will the EU be successful during dire economic crises?
If the EU is not considered an empire or federation but, rather, an association of national entities, co-association or post-state alliance, then the EU could overcome the present wave of disagreements in Brussels. On the other hand, if the EU is viewed only as a common market or monetary union, then the destiny of the EU will be bound to the fate of the euro and the eurozone. Therefore, if the euro is abandoned, then the EU will also slowly disintegrate.
One can ask, why did the EU give up on a unified Yugoslavia and, moreover, why did it speed up the process of Yugoslavia's disintegration by recognizing the independence of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia? Did the supporters of EU unity have in mind the possibility that they could be in the same situation as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) one day, or did they just, in the moment of their triumph, consider the complex structure of Yugoslavia as superfluous on the European scene? Either way, South Slavs with good memories certainly recognize similarities in the current crises of EU and the crises of the SFRY.
In order to compare the SFRY and the EU, it is necessary to consider several facts about the second Yugoslav state that lasted from 1945 to 1991. Yugoslavia, which was dissolved in 1991, was a complex country. It consisted of six states and two provinces. It comprised three old nationalities (Serbs, Croats and Slovenians), two new ethnic identities (Montenegrins and Macedonians) and one potential nationality built upon a religious foundation (Yugoslav Muslims or Bosnians). Yugoslavia also had a number of ethnic minorities with ambitions to become separate nations (Hungarians, Albanians, Romani people and Vlachs).
Also, in a rather small territory three religions coexisted: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Within the Christian sphere, three separate churches existed: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. While Yugoslavia was a communist nation, religious and ecclesiastical language was suppressed because the ruling ideology was atheistic. During the transition period from communism to capitalism, religious and ecclesiastical language reemerged and became politically charged.
Although Yugolsavia was united, the Yugoslav nation was never really recognized. Similar phenomenon was observed in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. In both instances, a Soviet nation or Czechoslovakian nation, respectively, never existed. Similarly, in the EU there are old nationalities and their respective nation states that failed to be recognized as a united nation. In that respect, the EU is very different from the US and more closely resembles the former Yugoslavia. In the US, new immigrants and long-established Americans are merged into a single group — the American people — and their individual national identities remained only in ethnic and folklore insignia. In the EU and other non-EU European countries, the American melting pot concept does not work. Members of old European nations are not forfeiting their national identity in order to become Europeans, and the citizens of Germany, France and Italy have not ceased being German, French or Italian since joining the EU. European nations cannot be fused into a supranational or transnational nation, as has happened in the US — nor can they become a unique, inter-ethnic formation, which proved to be impossible in both the Soviet Union and the SFRY. Although there are projects supporting the creation of a possible European nationality, for now there is no such thing as a European national identity.
The biggest European peninsula, the Balkan Peninsula, has historically been the scene of conflict. The word "Balkan" is a product of Turkish influence as the Turkish Empire conquered the peninsula in the fourteenth century and remained in the Balkan region until the early twentieth century. Western Europeans referred to the Turkish presence on the Balkan peninsula as European Turkey, while current American geopolitics calls this region the western part of the European Middle East.
The word Balkan inspired the term "balkanization." Balkanization connotes a state of inter-ethnic conflicts and fragmentation in which conciliation and agreement is impossible. Specifically, it describes the dynamic process through which conflicts and differences among the Balkan nations spilled across borders into neighboring areas. This caused a need for endangered countries to isolate themselves from the influence of balkanization because it created the possibility of national division.
In the present circumstances, almost all of the Balkan region is integrated into the EU with the exception of the Slavic areas of Serbia, Montenegro, the Serbian Republic and Macedonia. There are two different viewpoints concerning the Balkan's integration into the EU. One view is that the EU is incomplete without all the Balkan countries. However, some countries think that the remaining Balkan countries should not enter the EU because they either belong to the Russian sphere of interest or are part of the European Middle East area and within the future Turkish European Union.
Yugoslavia originated as a consequence of World War I. It temporarily wavered during World War II and finally disappeared with the collapse of communism. From the perspective of South Slavic people, three Yugoslav countries exemplified life in the social and state community that never existed before — nor exists today. The main force that constituted Yugoslavia was Serbia. It fought against both the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires. In the liberating conflicts that created the Yugoslav country, the Serbian demographic factor was permanently damaged because it lost nearly 80 percent of its population and has never been able to recover. According to demographic projections, the Serbian faction would today amount to around 30 million people instead of 10 million if it had not suffered such a great loss of its population.
In the process of creating Yugoslavia out of the ruins of Turkish and Austro-Hungarian territories, other large forces had their own interests. The major strategy of western allies was to limit the power of Germany. Yugoslavia consisted of Slovenian and Croatian nations which could not be independent due to their relative small populations and territory. At that point in time, Yugoslavia was required for these nations to exist. Over time, circumstances have changed and the second Yugoslavia began to disappear for asymmetrical reasons.
Destruction of the second Yugoslavia matched with the strategy of western countries to decompose Slavic communist federations. Disintegration of the Slavic federation was parallel to the integration of the future EU. With the dissolution of a bipolar system in Europe, there was no longer a need for a neutral Yugoslavia. In 1990, Germany was united and it quickly reasserted its influence in the Balkans. These external influences were joined by the internal elements of separatism and a desire for national self-determination that led to the secession of several republics. Four Yugoslav republics wanted to leave the federation — Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia — with Serbia and Montenegro remaining in the federation. Secessions of former Yugoslav republics did not happen peacefully. The biggest conflicts took place in the territories of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Soon after this, the last Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro fell apart.
The present situation in the southern Slavic territory, the Western Balkans, suggests a process of stabilization, normalization and harmonization. This process is supposed to provide a promising and prosperous future in the region. The biggest obstacle for achieving this vision is the present state of Kosovo, which, by virtue of its unresolved status, threatens to undermine peace and stability in the Balkan region. By creating a quasi-state on the territory of the southern Serbian provinces of Kosovo and Metohia a permanent source of distress was apparently created that affects not only the relations between Serbia and Albania but relations in the whole of the Balkan region.
Ivan Milosevic received his bachelor's degree in law from the University of Belgrade Faculty of Law in 2010. He was a trainee lawyer at the Milosević Law Offices in Belgrade, where he participated in several international arbitration cases. Milosević also had several legal internships at law firms in Belgrade during his legal studies. He is a recipient of a CILE tuition fellowship.
Suggested citation: Ivan Milosevic, Comparisons Between the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the EU, JURIST - Dateline, June 11, 2012, http://jurist.org/dateline/2012/06/ivan-milosevic-yugoslavia-eu.php.
This article was prepared for publication by Elizabeth Hand, an associate editor for JURIST's student commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to her at email@example.com