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  • Two Decades of Academic Debate:Western Scholarship and the Collapse of Yugoslavia
  • Branislav Radeljić, Associate Lecturer in International Politics

1. Introduction

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) ceased to exist on 15 January 19921 but has been present in the international political discourse ever since thus opening space for discussion and analysis. While some of Yugoslavia's peoples and nations understood the Yugoslav federation as an artificial and non-permanent entity, others believed in its structure as it stood, without questioning its future; to quote William Hitchcock, Yugoslavia was "a rare bird in Europe: Communist, yet moderately tolerant, open to trade with the West, and politically independent of both Cold War blocs."2 When Yugoslavia started facing economic, political and social problems, academics turned their attention to the area trying to establish the causes and possible outcome of these problems. The crisis of the late 1980s raised tensions and encouraged hatred among nationalist factions, resulting in brutal and humiliating wars. The wars in the former Yugoslavia "shocked the civilized West"3 and encouraged an endless debate about the Balkans:

Today, the very word "Balkans" conjures up images of intrigue, war, and human suffering on a scale abhorrent to Western society. To some people, the Balkan countries lack a clear Western orientation and carry far too much cultural baggage to belong in the European club. Western leaders refer to the region as the back door to Europe, the Balkan powder keg, or Europe's doorstep. What these euphemisms [End Page 219] hide is, perhaps, the wish that the Balkans were located anywhere other than in Europe.4

More importantly, I argue that the Yugoslav wars sparked debate over credibility and capability not only with regard to the international community as such, but also of individual states and actors who were assigned important roles in the handling of the devastating situation.

What Western scholarship immediately did was to point the blame at one or more actors, most commonly at specific individuals, while at the same time sparing a number of crucial contributing factors from serious criticism. In his analysis, Robert Hayden comments that academic writings about the Yugoslav conflict "are as polarized as those surrounding the creation of Israel or the partitioning of Cyprus," and accordingly, "[w]hen one side in such a conflict wins politically, it usually also wins academically."5 Hayden's statement is a warning as to how to approach the investigations in the field. Today, when the SFRY does not exist anymore and some of the actions perpetrated have become well-known, Western scholarship continuously extends its interest with the purpose of re-examining the contributing factors and what could have been done to prevent the four Yugoslav wars6 and what remains to be done in order to ensure that a similar disaster is never repeated, at least in Europe.

In this article, I examine the existing scholarship in the West closely related to the disintegration of Yugoslavia. I argue that the collapse of Yugoslavia was stimulated by numerous causes, where most of them were interlinked and jointly contributed to the actual state disintegration. Indeed, such complexity encouraged diametrically opposing points of view among academics, politicians, and the media. Accordingly, various academic and non-academic writings have emerged, often raising as many questions as they answer, and more importantly, inviting new contributions to the field. First, I will reflect upon the existing arguments—broadly divided into two main categories (internal and external)—and second, point out which aspects worthy of consideration in regard to the Yugoslav crisis have not been approached yet. [End Page 220]

2. Internal Factors

Internal factors are worthy of consideration for two reasons: first, due to their undeniable presence in any debate regarding the collapse and, second, because they are linked to external factors on a mutually inclusive and influential basis. Accordingly, the internal factors presented here relate to both individuals (Milošević and/or Tuðman) and republics (Slovenia, Croatia and/or Serbia). Less than the first two, but still remarkably present in Western academic research, additional arguments include nationalism, ancient hatreds and cultural diversities. I reject their relevance and direct contribution to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but rather understand...


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pp. 219-238
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