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The story of Yugoslavia
When Nations fall Ill
Written 2003

Which is more intimately precious: fame or life? Which is more valuable: life or treasure? Which gives the most trouble: gain or loss? One naturally seeks the things one most prizes. For that reason we should be careful to prize the right things, because grasping and hoarding invite waste and loss both to property and life. A contented person is never dishonoured. One who knows how to stop with enough is free from danger - he will therefore endure.  - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, around 500-200 BCE.

Here we shall examine the workings of national identity and multi-ethnic fears in a country which is now no more. Our purpose here is to identify points and trends where hurts that killed the state of Yugoslavia were originally laid down in national memory.

Yugoslavia was a federal state founded after the First World War, filling a gap left by the fall of the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, both of which had previously controlled parts of what became Yugoslavia. Difficulties prevailed in the inter-war years, and the region suffered greatly during World War Two. After World War Two the country was reconstructed by the Croatian Josip Broz Tito, a left-wing resistance leader in the war against the Nazis. Tito cemented a multi-ethnic state in a socialist-internationalist spirit, seeking to resolve the residual nationalist feelings arising from centuries of foreign domination and misfortune. After a long stint, Tito died in 1980, aged 88. The nation moseyed along until the Soviet withdrawal from central Europe in 1989: the global Cold War geometry suddenly dissolved, leaving Yugoslavia disoriented.

Then trouble began. The field was wide open for someone to fill it. Slobodan Milosevic, a former state apparatchik, played up Serbian nationalism, seeking to capture a dormant Serb patriotic electoral groundswell. He sought to build a Greater Serbia. Serious national insecurity and power issues lay behind this: Serbs were worried about domination by Croatians and the fate of Serb minorities in other regions. Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian nationalist president, portrayed Serbia as a threat. Slovenia, Croatia and, later, Macedonia withdrew from the Yugoslav federation. Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro, small states not naturally viable for independence, quaked in indecision.

Yugoslavia had been relatively prosperous by comparison with its Soviet bloc neighbours. It was free of Soviet restrictions during the post-war period, thanks to Tito's skilful non-aligned diplomacy. The lure of capitalism and democracy was therefore weaker in Yugoslavia than in neighbouring Hungary, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. Decades of federalism had brought about intermixing, intermarrying and the melting of distinct ethnic identities amongst many Yugoslavs. Politicians sought to break up the federation but many Yugoslavs were not too concerned about this - if anything, they wanted more opportunity and prosperity.

Serbia had been a dominant partner in the federation. Initially it sought to preserve its hegemony and the federation. Other states had their own ideas. Breaking up Yugoslavia was initially not on the agenda, but the prospect suddenly came up as a result of growing nervousness over the federation. Milosevic proposed a Greater Serbia, wanting to absorb Kosovo, Montenegro and Serb parts of Bosnia into it. Kosovo had been the Serb heartland a millennium earlier, though most Serbs had later moved northwards to today's Serbia. Over the centuries Kosovo had been repopulated by Albanian and Macedonian Muslims who, by 1989, formed 90% of its population. But the Serbs saw Kosovo as their historic birthright.

The early life of the Serb nation

The Serbs had originated in what is now Belarus (western Russia), the original heartland of the Slavic peoples. Stirred up by barbarian invasions and population growth, many Slavs migrated south. The Serb tribal confederacy occupied Kosovo and eastern Bosnia in the 600s, sheltering from marauding Asian Avar tribes who were rampaging around central Europe. During medieval times Serbia enlarged itself, spreading into under-populated marginal territories in Hungary, Bulgaria and Byzantium.

The Serbian state was formally founded in the 1000s by Michael of Zeta, who aligned with the Papal sphere to counteract Byzantine expansionism. But the Serb people were by now divided between Catholic, Orthodox and pagan traditions. Serbia disintegrated into tribal subgroups on Michael's death, having been thrashed by Byzantium in 1123. Byzantine influence declined around 1180 and Serbia was re-forged as Rascia under Stefan Nemanja and his successor Stefan II. Rascia was recognised as a country by Pope Honorius III in 1217.

Medieval Yugoslavia

Across Europe, medieval states and power-structures were being hammered out of tribal areas by monarchs and their supporting nobilities. Monarchs awarded nobles court positions and estates to reward their loyalty and support in this process. The fortunes of these medieval states were dictated by the ambitions of kings, nobles, bishops and henchmen, and many tribally-based homelands were taken over. This took place over the heads of most people, for whom the benefits of statehood were mixed: such states meant tax levies, impositions of nobles' wishes, loss of local autonomy and breakdown of the common wealth, in exchange for protection by nobles from marauders, other nobles and foreign armies. This represented a significant disenfranchisement, a source of great social pain and loss of lands, rights, sons, daughters and traditional social structures. Peasants became serfs, losing their landholding and common rights. In Serbia this growth of class distinctions, accompanied by an internalised sense of social betrayal, became a vital ingredient in the nation's formative psychological development.

A battle of interests was growing in Serbia between western-oriented (Catholic) and eastern-oriented (Orthodox) nobles, magnates and priests. Most ordinary people were still pagan - pagan meant 'the religion of the villages' in distinction to the cosmopolitan Christian religions of the towns and courts. Alignment to either the Catholic or the Orthodox orbit endowed a state with official blessing, degrees of security and an imported highbrow culture - literacy, law, legal recourse, trade and institutions. The Catholic-Orthodox schism in Europe was a forerunner of later East-West divisions such as the Iron Curtain, and Serbia sat between these spheres.

The Serbian Orthodox church was established in 1219 by St Sava. This marked a reaction against the papal recognition of Stefan II's rule of Serbia in 1217. Popular adoption of Orthodoxy was in part a protest by ordinary people against the ruling nobles. Religious allegiances thereafter became a touchy political issue. The 1200s saw a critical period in the weaving of Serbia's future: surrounded by powerful neighbours, Serbia developed a strategy of avoiding being drawn into their spheres of influence. This gave rise to Serb defensiveness toward foreign powers combined with a self-assertive nationalism which was to characterise Serbia in later centuries. It brought with it identity-issues: nation-states often define themselves in terms of what they are not in comparison to neighbours. Medieval state-building involved the importation of foreign influences, which further threatened old tribal allegiances. Nobles, frequently born, bred or educated elsewhere, cared little for their fiefs as long as those fiefs did what was required - and if they didn't, troops went in. This brought up very mixed feelings and a great sense of popular loss of self-determination.

Towns and a money economy developed, with the immigration of German and Jewish traders and artisans, common in central Europe at the time. Trade and prosperity drew Serbian people north towards the Danube. Belgrade, a former Roman town, had started as a riverine border settlement and eventually became the capital. Serb influence expanded south into Montenegro, Macedonia and northern Greece. Serbs struggled to demonstrate their power and worth in an evolving jigsaw of European states. This initiated a tendency which was to re-surface in the 1990s: jitteriness amongst Greeks, Macedonians and Albanians over Serb expansionism arose from their having seen it all centuries before.

In a humiliating interlude in the 1290s, the Mongols swung through the Balkans and Stefan Urosh I, the king at the time, was obliged to become a vassal to the Great Khan, who was far away in Karakorum, Mongolia. The Mongol incursion was short-lived and Serbian power revived, but lasting damage had been done. By 1330, Serbia became the dominant Balkan power again, and Stefan Dushan was crowned Tsar of the Serbs and Greeks in Skopje, now capital of Macedonia. Dushan codified the laws and built up Serb culture, emulating Byzantium and even having designs on taking Byzantium. But Serbia overstepped its true potential: the dynasty fell apart around 1360 and the self-respect of the nation collapsed. Serbia had failed at its moment of greatness. This strengthened a growing national inferiority complex.

The field was now open to the Ottoman Turks, the new boys on the block. Advancing into the Balkans from Anatolia, they aspired to inherit opulent Constantinople and the now antiquated Byzantine empire, which had bridged Europe and the Near East. In 1389 came the decisive battle of Kosovo Polje (Field of the Blackbirds), where the Serb and Balkan nobility was crushed by the Turks. This was a major blow: the Serbs had overstretched themselves, then they had collapsed, and then they were overrun by Muslims. The Ottomans finally took Constantinople in 1453, ending a thousand years of Byzantine civilisation. Russia adopted the Orthodox mantle and Serbia and Russia grew culturally closer to each other.

But Serbia was now an Ottoman vassal state. Its national impetus was lost and its self-esteem deflated. An heroic Christian crusade by forces led by the Hungarian hero Janos Hunyadi brought hope, but it was soon dashed after the battle of Varna in 1444. By 1459 Serbia was fully absorbed into the Ottoman sphere. The Ottomans looked set to take more of Europe. Habsburg Austria grew up to block this. The eventual Ottoman siege of Vienna, the Habsburg capital, in 1529 was beaten off, marking the end of Ottoman expansion. Much later on, ironically, the Habsburg and Ottoman empires collapsed simultaneously in the First World War.

There was a considerable conversion to Islam in Kosovo and Bosnia. Ottoman civilisation had its vibrant, interesting and profitable side, and conversion made sense to many people. The Ottomans did not force conversion, honouring their subjects' traditions. Imperial absorption weakened the distinctions between peoples, subjecting them to common laws and economic integration. But in Serbia this cultural dilution fermented a dogged Serb nationalism, and Orthodox Serb culture continued as an underground cultural resistance movement.

Bosnia and Croatia

While the Serbs resisted Ottoman dominance, the Bosnians took a more integrationist approach. Bosnia had always been an ethnically-mixed, in-between region with a quietly eccentric streak. In prehistoric times it had been the heartland of the matrifocal Old European culture, up to around 3000 BCE - one of the first areas of agriculture and copper-forging in Europe. It acted as a refuge for tribes sheltering from incursions up the Danube by the Kurgans from Ukraine. Life went on here unremarkably. The Romans invaded Bosnia around 168 BCE, making it into the province of Illyria. After Rome's fall around 410 CE it became a backwater with a localised, marginal and hazy history until the Middle Ages, when we first encounter the Bogomils.

The Bogomils were dissident Christians, spiritual cousins to the French Cathars. They took refuge in Bosnia after being chased out of Bulgaria by the Byzantines. They adhered to a synthesis of Christian, Manichaean and ancient teachings expounded by the Byzantine priest Bogomilus. They rejected wealth, elaborate ecclesiastical structures and sacraments, the doctrine of redemption (that Jesus died to redeem our sins) and the imposition of Greek and Latin languages and rites. Adopting a communal life of simplicity, they built semi-monastic estates and settlements in Bosnia. The Bosnians at first regarded Bogomils as protectors and as a lesser evil than the available alternatives, and the Bogomils appreciated settling in a safe, sheltered area. They welcomed heretics and misfits to their fold and generally respected the locals.

For the Bogomils, spiritual experience involved a direct conversation with God, by-passing priests, patriarchs and popes. This same philosophy brought the cruel extermination of the French Cathars in 1209-29. The Bogomils survived by dematerialising into the hills and keeping their heads down. Their zenith came in the late 1300s, by which time Bosnia had developed a unique multicultural atmosphere. Uniquely, Jewish settlers integrated with the population, never to form separate ghettos and subculture.

When the Ottomans arrived in the mid-1400s, they quickly overran Bosnia. Bosnians were relieved by then to be free of the rather eccentric Bogomils, who had regular frictions with the ecclesiastical authorities and the Serbs. Bosnians guardedly welcomed the Ottomans, many of them converting to Islam, which then was seen as a relatively open, liberal religion, more modern and logical than Christianity. Serbs came to regard the Bosnians therefore as cultural traitors, 'turned Turk'. Jews served as business intermediaries between the conquerors and conquered - in medieval times Jews assisted economic growth by serving as money-lenders, traders and doctors, this being the only work they were permitted to do. The Jews bridged the cultural gulf between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs and, more locally, between Hungarians and Serbs. Bosnia thrived in the Ottoman economic orbit.

Croatia, meanwhile, had aligned with the Catholic sphere around 1054. It had been occupied by Pannonians during the Roman period, later joined by Slavic Croats from the Carpathians in the 600s, who had been squeezed out by the Magyars (who became the ruling elite of Hungary). For 800 years Croatia was an autonomous Catholic kingdom under the Hungarian crown. Overrun by the Ottomans in 1524, it returned to Hungary by 1699 which, by then, had become part of the Habsburg orbit. Croatia stayed within the Habsburg sphere until the First World War. Unlike Serbia and Bosnia, Croatia's history was, over time, more consistent and less pressurised.

The histories of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia were thus very different, even though they were neighbours. The Ottomans, meanwhile, achieved their zenith under Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1500s, then to enter a long, slow, crumbling decline lasting three centuries. During that time, what was to become Yugoslavia frequently became a pawn in other people's chess-games: Catholic Austria sought to drive back the Ottomans, Orthodox Russia sought to curb Austrian expansionism and the Turks sought inroads into Europe. The region was a minefield of instability, with Yugoslavia and Hungary as regular battlegrounds and Belgrade stuck in between. German and Hungarian migrants moved to Croatia in the 1700s to strengthen the southern marches of Austria-Hungary. Serb dislike for Hungarians and Croats grew stronger: Hungarian (Magyar) nobles held influence in Vienna, controlled the prosperous Danube basin and turned Austria against the Serbs. Many Turkic peoples settled in Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia, and these European Muslims became prominent in the Ottoman bureaucracy and armies.

The rise of Yugoslavia

The whole area was caught in a vice between three empires. During the 1800s, in response to this, the Balkans became a nationalist hotbed. By 1900 Serbia was a focus for pan-Slavonic agitation. Then came the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, in which the Slavic peoples fought to retake the Balkan territories vacated by the subsiding Ottoman empire. They divided into roughly the independent Balkan states of today. This worked well enough, but the Slavs fell out amongst themselves. The Habsburgs attempted and failed to take Belgrade. Matters came to a head with the 1914 assassination, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, of the imperial heir Archduke Ferdinand and his wife. This was a Serb nationalist response to the occupation of Bosnia by Austria in 1909. Europe was primed for war, but this defining moment sparked it. The assassination was a local political statement, but Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia were overrun by Austria and Germany, who dashed in to block a Russian takeover. To cap this, typhus soon killed one million Balkan people.

Though Yugoslavia was not a major theatre of the First World War, the people suffered great hardships. In the political shuffling after the war, Hungary and Czechoslovakia gained independence, the Habsburgs fell, Austria shrivelled drastically, the Ottomans fell too and Turkey withdrew to its borders of today. Britain passed its imperial zenith, Germany was humbled and Russia underwent the Bolshevik revolution and five years of civil war. Montenegro united with Serbia. Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia were grouped into a new entity, the Serbo-Croat-Slovene kingdom. The locals had little choice in all this - it was decided by major European powers. The monarch and premier of the new state were both Serbs.

In the inter-war years the Yugoslavs had to make the best of a bad situation. The new Soviet Union looked like a workers' paradise (which, under Stalin, it was not, but few knew it at the time), while workers elsewhere in Europe suffered hard times - a massive flu epidemic, unemployment and economic and political instability. Internal dissension in Serbia simmered testily. The Croatians were restive too, unprotected by the Habsburgs and wary of the Serbs. In 1929 the federal constitution was overridden by the Serb king Alexander I, who made himself a dictator, renaming the state Yugoslavia. The Depression was rife throughout Europe, affecting Yugoslavia. Then came the 1930s Nazi ascendancy, northwards in Germany.

When the Second World War started the Balkans were quickly occupied by the Nazis in a rapid motorised advance. They co-opted support in Croatia, setting Croats against Serbs. A Nazi puppet state, Greater Croatia, was founded. Croats proceeded to kill half a million Serbs and 55,000 Jews, setting up an ethnically-pure Croatian state to dominate the area. The Serbs never forgave the Croats for this: up to the 1990s they identified all Croats with Nazism. The divided anti-Nazi resistance - Serb Chetniks, nationalists led by Mihailovic, and Yugoslav Communists led by Tito - fought each other as well as fighting the Germans. Terrible atrocities took place. Allied support switched from Mihailovic to Tito midway through the war - this was later to be another sore point around 1990. The generation dominating Yugoslavia in the 1990s was born in this World War Two shadow.

Then followed the Russian advance into central Europe, as the Nazis fell. Tito, now victorious, and standing in the strange position of being a Communist supported by the capitalist West, played a tactical game by aligning Yugoslavia with the Soviets to avoid a Soviet invasion. Staging a risky showdown with Stalin in 1948, Tito established effective independence, building a semi-Stalinist political system with some openness to capitalist principles. He continued Yugoslavia's non-alignment for the rest of his lifetime. But this neutrality rested on one man, Tito, and his death in 1980 led to an enormous power-vacuum.

Yugoslavia's breakdown

Bosnia had no specific political orientation or allegiances: this was to prove its undoing. Tito had suppressed nationalism across Yugoslavia but, in so doing, he left ethnic wounds and unfinished business festering quietly. He sincerely believed nationalism was old-fashioned and that his legacy would hold. Then came the 1980s and the end of the Cold War. It was fine for most Soviet bloc countries, but it left Yugoslavia directionless. The Serbs and Croats then went to war over disputed territory in 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared independence and Macedonia loosened its Serb ties. Bosnia wanted neither subservience to Serbia nor independence and, with its mixed population, little readiness to face the situation and a part-Muslim heritage, it had few supporters in Europe. It buckled under invasions by the Serbs and Croats, who divided it up. This brought to the world's attention the importance of multi-ethnic states - but too late for Bosnia. Lebanon had suffered similarly, itself occupied by Syria and Israel.

During the early 1990s Bosnia was ripped apart, victimised and isolated. It was supported only by rather hollow international sympathies. Practical support came from Iranian and other mujahedin fundamentalists and later, in response to this, from American covert operations. Europe wrung its hands while Yugoslavs bled each other dry. The Serbs had inherited much of the Yugoslav army's matériel so, to create a more level military playing field, the Americans forged a federation between the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia. NATO started bombing Serb positions in 1995 after the Serbs, in a defining moment, had killed sixty people in a Sarajevo marketplace. This equalised military strength and created conditions for truce. A new Bosnian federation was formalised in 1995 in the US-led Dayton Accords.

Little had actually changed except for devastation, population loss, pain and ethnic cleansing. Bosnia had seen sheer tragedy. The lasting outcome was the ethnic separation of the formerly inter-cultural Yugoslavia and the founding of several small states - a triumph only for separatism and violence. Timely intervention could have stopped the Bosnian war, before Yugoslav society had fractured too far, but diplomatic efforts had been low-key, uncertain and lacking in clout. Europe had simply hoped nothing serious would happen, but it did. After the Cold War's end, the world had hoped for better times, talking of a 'peace dividend' - such indifference permitted nightmarish horrors such as ethnic cleansing, torture and massacre to emerge. These outrages were duly censured in the UN and the world media, but the UN, to Serbs and Bosnians, was simply a puppet of distant powers, yet another alien, big-power device. Bosnia caught the brunt of the Yugoslav problem, and Yugoslavia had caught the brunt of a latent European virus, inter-ethnic bad feeling.

Serb nationalism

When Milosevic had 'played the nationalist card' in the late 1980s his ideas had fallen on receptive Serbian ears. Apathy amongst the moderate majority, who preferred prosperity to politics, had allowed extremism to take hold. Serb nationalism gave voice to a malignant morass of historic hurts that Serbs had accumulated over many centuries. Some of this pain had been self-inflicted. Unremembered guilt and regret had arisen from defining moments such as the fall of Serbia to the Ottomans in the mid-1300s. Medieval Serbia, with its pretensions to greatness, might have stopped the Ottomans in their tracks, yet it had been founded during times of loss and division, its original confederal tribal system had already experienced exile from its Belarussian homeland long before, and it was not confident enough to hold its own. So there was a compounded national shadow, onto which were grafted the humiliations and sufferings of many centuries up to the present day.

Serb nationalist feeling focused on an aversion to foreign aggressors and to Muslims, yet the deepest pain was internal, arising from the failure of Serb fortunes back in medieval times. The degeneration of Serb unity invited outside incursion, and incursion further undermined mutual solidarity and permitted the nation to become the stamping-ground of strongmen. When those strongmen fell, little was left to guard Serbia. Intrinsic regret over such national self-betrayal is not consciously experienced - it lurks in layers of bitter, hardened sentiments, unidentified for what they are. Events of the 1990s latched on to these feelings, distorting people's perceptions and causing all sorts of trouble. National self-betrayal is hard to acknowledge, so it is projected onto other nations and peoples. Every nation suffers such projection in some way. Some nations lay it to rest or express it more constructively. In other nations the memory smarts and the bruises don't fully disappear.

Had the Serbs possessed greater national self-esteem, they might have had the strength to withstand Ottoman and Habsburg pressures. They might have developed a more prosperous and independent society. The moral and social strength of a nation creates an energy-field and consensus which guards it psychologically, whether or not it retains independence. Times of resolution, breakthrough or achievement can bring healing, but attitude, not circumstance, determines this. A people's own choice to stick together, to care for each other and keep their spirits up helps a nation's social and psycho-spiritual immune system. Invaded or not, a society with such immunity profits from its history, however that history unfolds. Here we must distinguish between national solidarity, a sign of strength, and nationalism, a symptom of an agitated immune system.

A nation which feels itself to be long-oppressed tends either to become grudgingly submissive or to enter into expansionist or troublemaking strategies. The passionate nationalism of Serbs and Croats in the early 1990s was rooted in a conflicting mixture of both tendencies. Serb nationalism was not baseless, but the tortures Serbs exacted on their neighbours far exceeded all sense or proportion. Serbian bombardments of Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Tusla, Bihac and Srebrenica, and the extensive use of snipers, landmines and concentration camps, well overstretched the accepted rules of war and politics. In the 1990s, the Europeans felt insufficient sympathy for Orthodox Serbs or for Bosnian Muslims - reflecting old religious schisms that caused Europeans to seem partial toward Croats. In the eyes of the Serbs, this associated the EU with the Nazis. The responsibility for this hell-on-earth civil war was widely spread and as yet has not been fully acknowledged by all parties.

More strife followed in Kosovo around 1998 when Kosovans sought autonomy from Serbia. This time the international community was quicker to intervene. But NATO's intervention, with large-scale aerial bombing, concealed anti-Serb partiality and various other insidious hidden issues (such as the financing of the Kosovo Liberation Army through the drugs trade, and the clearing of Kosovan Serbs from Kosovo) left a newly-made shadow on Kosovo. While Kosovo has returned to stability, with the establishment of UN-supervised democracy, its economy is weak and unhealthily dependent on subsidy. Reconciliation of ethnic and cultural differences will have to happen deeper down, reaching to a place in people's hearts and daily lives which permits different groupings not only to live together but also to appreciate each other. This will take time.

Healing the scars of strife

Larger factors must be addressed too. The Yugoslav wars embodied an acting-out of old rivalries between the Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim spheres. This rivalry, like a recurring emotional virus, found a weak zone in Yugoslavia, where divisiveness easily gained a grip. Yugoslavia was unready to reaffirm its multi-ethnicity and retain its federal structure. The Yugoslav problem broke out shortly after the Lebanese civil war had ended in 1989-90, demonstrating how the virus of civil war and inter-ethnic strife can jump from one host population to another, even if they are not related. This suggests that such viruses must be addressed at their roots. How?

Something can be learned here from the principles of homoeopathy and acupuncture. In homoeopathy, the application of minuscule dilutions of poison stimulates immunity by provoking resistance to a disease before acute illness breaks out. In acupuncture, by jiggling acupuncture points energy is released along the connective meridians, allowing localised ailments to be freed up by an overall rise of energy-connectivity in the body. In both cases a healing crisis can occur - things can temporarily get worse before they get better - but the therapy makes this crisis different from an ordinary outbreak of illness.

Political strife occurs when conflicting parties feel that their individual progress is blocked and there is no way forward. So the remedy for such blockage is to give a country a sense of accelerating progress through timely, holistic foreign involvement. That's the theory. Such approaches were suggested in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but they remain largely untried. Conflicting parties frequently refuse therapeutic intervention, and vested interests on both sides often seek showdown, perpetuating the causes of national illness. Then there is the question of the 'doctors' and the purity of their motivation. Healing interventions work only when the patient seeks that assistance and trusts that the healer will bring benefit, and it depends on the healer applying the right therapy at the right time.

One contributing factor in any conflict situation is the neutrality or apathy of moderate majorities, whose minds are usually on other things than polarisation and conflict. In Yugoslavia around 1990, many people were disinclined to think in ethnically divisive or political terms - they were concerned about cars, supermarkets and jobs. The damped-down social dialogue under Tito's system, when uncorked in the late 1980s, allowed the fizzing up of old feelings and memories belonging to earlier generations. Loud nationalist incantations out-shouted all moderate influences. Yugoslavia split along deep emotional fissures, tipping into over-reactive panic. Everyone leapt to defend their patch, looking askance at their formerly-friendly neighbours. The contents of the national unconscious spilled over, vomiting up hero-worship and glory-seeking, rape, slaughter, horror and revenge, fuelled by booze, drugs and jilted beliefs. A nightmare resulted, augmented by armaments left over from Cold War times.

It took two men, Milosevic of Serbia and Tudjman of Croatia, plus their followers, to activate the virus of nationalism in Yugoslavia. Once the virus had taken hold, the fever had to be ridden out. Diplomatic medicine was too late and the doctors - UN, NATO, EU and Russia - were unwilling to operate surgically. They wanted no blood on their own hands. Those hands were bloodied anyway by what happened. Yugoslavia fought locally over a global problem: inter-ethnic relationships. That global problem is yet to be resolved.

From the book Healing the Hurts of Nations, by Palden Jenkins, 2003.

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