The Post-Communism and New State Formation characterized the ethnic war in Yugoslavia, while the separation in Czechoslovakia was comparatively peaceful?
The 20th century experienced the rise and fall of communism. It was an ambitious enterprise undertaken to create an alternative social order. Among these communists state, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia formally consitiuted to form a federation. The dissolution of the communists from of government in eastern Europe began in 1988 and ended with the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991.
After more than half a century, the eastern European countries cease to follow the communist form of government. There are many factors that resulted into fall of communism. However, this triggered a number of changes in eastern Europe. The most significant of which is the demographic reconstruction of the existing states and formation of new sovergin nation state. The transformation produced as the result of growing nationalists sentiments among its citizens. However, the process of dissolution and creation new nation-state didn’t occour in a uniform manner. For some states the seperation was peaceful while, in some it ended in a bloodied conflict.
The dissolution of the state of Czechoslovakia was comparatively more peaceful occurrence in 1993, while the division of Yugoslavia was drenched in the violence of ethic conflict. The study of two European states each sheltering people belonging to different ethnic communities, both experiencing the rise and fall of communism around the same period yet, each differ in the manner the nation-state responded to the post-communist and the process of new state formation. I believe that the analysis of differences and similarities shared by these two nations will provide a much better understanding of the reasons that motivated the manner in which each state responded to the process of new state formation.
For Geertz an interpretive analysis was useful because states that were very similar offered commentary on each other based on their differences. He observers that,‘(states) at once alike and very different, they form a commentary on one another’s character’ (Geertz 1968. 4).
The process of dissolution of the eastern European state Czechoslovakia was the most peaceful among other nations. The state was divided in 1993 to form two sovereign nation states, Slovakia and Czech Republic. The state of Czechoslovakia was formed after the end of WWI from the dissolution of Austro-Hungarian Empire. Apart from the short period of time under the Nazi rule when the separate nation for Slovakia was created, the two federating units remained together under a communist regime during the cold war period (Pehe 2004).
Czechoslovakia in the post WWII period emerged as one of the most sucessful economy in eastern Europe. The reason for the peaceful dissolution of the federal political structure was the consequence of different social, economic and political features that helped in the gradual development of the nationalism among the two ethic groups. The federation of Czechoslovakia was then divided to form two republics; the nation of Czech Republic where the Czechs enjoyed numerically dominant while, Slovakia has a substantial presence of Slovaks.
Each of this ethic group reacted differently to the communists from of political system. The Czechs were a politically dominant group within the nation.The communist era helped in forming a political system within the country that was based on regional-ethnic clevages and the kind of democartic system that later emerged to replace the federation further helped perpetuate the divide bewteen the two ethnic groups (Cuff 2014). Soon, diverging political beliefs espoused by the different ethnic group emerged.
This difference of opinions were reflected during the election of 1992. The Czechs who had manage to embrace the communism identified with the center-right political parties caliming for a more centralized political system; the Slovaks insisted on a more nationalist democatic political economic system and supported the leftist and nationalist parties (Pehe 2004). However, the difference between the two federating units wasn’t just restricted to their reaction to the communist form of government. There were also some major difference between the economic policies and reforms followed by the two federating units.
These differences further influenced and shaped their separate national identities. The success of Czechoslovakia however lies in the nations ability to bring about a peaceful division of the nation into two spearate republics thereby fulfilling the aspirations of the different ethic group. The dissolution of the federation of Czechoslovakia was the most sucessful attempt at dividing a nation. The split of another eastern European federation Yugoslavia however, potrays another bloody nightmare.
The dissolution of the federation of Yugoslavia depicts a saga of a bloodied nightmare where the entire region suffered from the horrors of ethic conflict which enveloped the entire region. The federation was dissolved around the same period as the former federation of Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia did but the ripples it produced resulted into an ethnic conflict that lasted for more than a decade.
The federation of Yugoslavia was created at the end of World War I by uniting the Croat, Slovenian and Bosnian territories that had been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the Serbian Kingdom. The federation thus created included people belonging to different community and ethnic groups. It was further divided into six federation units including- Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovania, Montenegro, and Slovenia. There were also another two provinces associated with Serbia, Vojvodina and Kosovo (Lowe 2013. 212). The federation disintegrated over a decade long conflict. The present Republic of Yugoslavia consitutes only two of its earlier 6 federating units, Serbia and Montenegro. The other regions have maintained their sovergin existence.
Except during the Nazi regime when the federation was divided to form a separate state of Croatia the federation has maintained its unity. After the Second world war, the country was reconstituted under the communist regime of Josip Broz Tito. The memories of the autocracies commited on Serbs by other ethnic groups were repressed under the nationalist identity propounded by Tito.
Later, in 1948 though clamming to be a communist region of Yugoslavia broke away from the Soviet sphere of influence and became a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement. The federation also adopted a more de-centralized form of government and potrayed itself as a impartial actor in the cold war. However, in 1991 with the federating units like Croatia and Slovenia declared their Independence and this heralds the beginning of the eventual dissolution of the federation and the beginning of ethinic conflict.
Diverse reasons can be attributed to the disintegration of nation. The constitution of 1974 provided for the transfer of powers into the federating units creating a federal government with had limited authority over the functions of its various federating units. Thus, this helped in creating a federal stuctures where its units were stronger than the centre and thus creating stronger regional identities. The political system seem to suffer from instability since the mid-1980’s. There was also sever economic crisis and the rate of inflation was high.
The memories of atrocities committed by different ethinic group during the WWII refurfaced over a period of time and this helped sharpened the ethnic divide bewteen different groups as well as it influenced in creation of a specific ethnic identity. Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s president from 1989 also helped in strenghtening the Serbian nationalists feeling. He framed and consolidated his political rethorics around the feeling of nationalsim (Lowe 2013. 213).
However, there were also some external factors that acted as the catalysts further dissolution of the nation. The collapse of communism in eastern Europe proved to be act as an important trigger that resulted into fall of communist government in the region and further the unification of Germany at a later point of time further increased political instability in the region. These events influenced in the dissolution and fall of manny other eastern European states thus creating instabilty within the region and eroding the cohensive sense of national unity. The federation was thus dissolved with the federal units of Slovenia and Croatia both declaring their independence on June 25, 1991 against the wishes of the Sebian government.
The reason that casused a rise in conflict between the different federating units of Yugoslavia was because the different ethnic groups in the federation did not resided in relative isolation from one another. In state like Croatia its significant Serb minority opined to join Serbia. This resulted into violent clash between the Yugoslav Army and the newly formed Croatian army. The same situation occoured in the newly independent region of Slovenia. However, since the region didn’t have a significant Serb monority the Yugoslav Army retreated. However, the growing conflict in Crotia between soon resulted into a civil war. That resulted into significant loss for Crotia. But, the international community soon extended the recognition of a sovergin nation to Croatia and Slovenia in 1992. These three were also granted the membership of United Nations in the same year.
Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence soon after under a Muslim Leader. This soon resulted into an ethnic clash between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs who received help and support from Serbia. This conflict was further intensified with the involment of Croatians in the region. Ever ethnic group has equal share in the atrocities commited during the ethnic class but nothing quite surpasses the cruelty and barbarianism exibited by Serbs against the Bosnian Muslims. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ carried out by the Bosnian Serbs is at times equated with the Holocaust and the horrors that the Jews underwent the Nazis (Lowe 2013. 214). However, around 1995 a ceasefire was signed between the different ethnic groups which untimately signalled an end to the conflict.
In the region of Kosovo, the conflict began between the Albanians and the Serbs under the leadership of Milosevic. The ethnic war soon transformed into the campiang of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that resulted in number of cruelties inflicted on the Albanians. The inetervention by international actors in the form of UN peacekeeping forces proved to be a significant deterrent to the Serbs. 1998–1999 violence agaisn erupted in Kosovo; even after 2003 Kosovo still suffers form political instability, poverty etc.
The ethnic conflict that began in 1991 formally ended with the fall and arrest of Milosevic in 2001. Milosevic left the country into severe economic dispair produced by the federation diverting most of its resources in the support of the ethnic conflict and various sanctions imposed on the government by the international world order. During this period the federating units of Serbia and Montenegro both merged together to form a independant Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
However, the ethnic war that continued to eloped the region further claimed countless of lives and the atrocities commited during this period has being compared to the period of Holocost. The post cold war world has been charcterised by lack of inter-war between different region; the intra-war that occoured between different ethnic groups proved more horrific in its scope and the number of lives lost.
The collapse of various communists states in the eastern Europe was thus accompanied by the dissolution of various state systems in the region. However, the examples of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia potrays to extreme manners in which the disintegration of different federating units were carried out. While, both nations posses different ethnic groups and the legacy of being under a communits regime more than half a century the manner in which both the nations responded to the changes that characterised the post-cold war world differed to a great extend.
While, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia was characterized by peace; the same cant be said about the bloodied war that still characterized Yugoslavia.
One can argue that the comparitive isolation between the two ethnic group in Czechoslovakia might have helped in reducing the intensity of the occourance of the conflcit. Also, Czechoslovakia did not suffer from the kind of atrocities that Serbs in Yugoslavia did during the WWII. Also, the political leadership also played a significant role. There arent however any concrete conslusion drawn about what measure can be implemented in Yugoslavia to bring about a more peaceful transfer of power. One can only learn to be wary of the nationalists tendencies and work towards preventing its rise.
Geertz, C. and Observed, I., 1968. New Haven and London.
Lowe, N., 2013. Mastering modern world history. Palgrave Macmillan.
Cuff, Matthew.,2014.When Velvet Turns Red: The Peaceful Breakup of Czechoslovakia and the Violent Split of Serbia and Kosovo – Why the Difference?. CFP: Nazioni e Regioni No. 4 (2014), https://nationalismstudies.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/when-velvet-turns-red-the-peaceful-breakup-of-czechoslovakia-and-the-violent-split-of-serbia-and-kosovo-why-the-difference/
Office of the Historian, ‘The Breakup of Yugoslavia, 1990- 1992’, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1989-1992/breakup-yugoslavia
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