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   45 3 Origins of the Yugoslav Conflict I would be Serb, Bosnian, anything—Uzbekistani. I’d make my eyes slanted if I could have money. —A Belgrade taxi driver, 1988 Before we discuss in detail the international politics of the Yugoslav conflict, we will assess its origins at the domestic level.This chapter accomplishes two goals. First, it debunks several myths about how the conflict started. Most assessments of the Yugoslav wars overemphasize the salience of Serb aggressiveness . Some variants of this explanation emphasize alleged aggressive, racist, and unscrupulous tendencies among Serbs in general; a surprising number stress the importance of a single individual—Slobodan Milošević.1 Aryeh Neier, for example, offers the following analysis: The Serb leader [Milošević] rose to power a dozen years before the Kosovo war by playing the card of nationalism and ethnic hatred against the Kosovar Albanians; he cemented his authority by unilaterally canceling their autonomy and the autonomy of another territory with a large population of non-Serbs, Vojvodina, precipitating the breakup of Yugoslavia; he launched wars in 1991 against Slovenia and Croatia; and he launched a particularly devastating war in Bosnia in 1992. The last of these alone resulted in some two million refugees and two hundred thousand deaths, the great majority at the hands of forces created by Milošević. Atrocities reached genocidal proportions. [emphases added]2 Thus, Milošević himself caused the breakup of Yugoslavia; the wars in Slovenia , Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina; and virtually all the death and human suffering that has resulted from these events. Similarly, Noel Malcolm begins his widely acclaimed study by stating without qualification: “Milošević first plunged the former Yugoslavia into war in 1991.”3 In the memoirs of Madeleine Albright, a chapter is entitled “ ‘Milošević Is the Problem.’”4 Richard Holbrooke states: “This man [Milošević] wrecked the Balkans.”5 And social 46   First Do No Harm theorist Slavoj Zižek claims that “Yugoslavia . . . was all over the moment Milošević took over Serbia.”6 What is noteworthy about the foregoing analyses is the extent to which they personalize social conflict and place all the blame on a single group— the Serbs—or even on a single person. It signifies a revival of the “great man” theory of history in a new guise. Such historical simplifications helped legitimate later interventions by NATO, which have been directed entirely against the Serbs. However, we will see that the Serbs were only one party to the breakup of Yugoslavia, and that other ethnic groups bear at least as much of the blame. Milošević was surely a villain, but he was not the only villain, nor was he the only cause of the breakup. Second, in this chapter I examine the way international financial conditions —specifically the international debt crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s—influenced Yugoslavia’s breakup. More specifically, I discuss the role of the International Monetary Fund, which imposed a series of structural adjustment programs on the federation. It becomes apparent that intervention by the IMF and the Western financial community was a major factor leading to a collapse in living standards and helping create the conditions under which nationalist demagogues—of which Milošević was only one example —were able to flourish.The long-term effects of structural adjustment were ethnic rivalry, national disintegration, and ultimately war. Historical Background to War Yugoslavia was created in 1918 as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, comprising independent Serbia as well as portions of the defunct Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. There can be no doubt that the union (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) provided disproportionate benefits to the Serb ethnic group, which was the largest of the constituent national groupings. Indeed, Serbs formed the largest group among the military officer corps, as well as in senior positions in the government and civil bureaucracy, throughout most of the interwar period. The perception of Serb domination of interwar Yugoslavia was a major factor that circumscribed the legitimacy of the multinational project.7 Despite these problems, the Yugoslav union provided at least some significant benefits for each of the principal nationalities . The uniting of ethnic units presented obvious military advantages; a multiethnic state could field a much larger army, to guard against the possibility of future aggression by the principal regional power, Germany. It was in fact the need to create a bulwark against German expansion in southeastern Europe that had led the victorious powers after World War I to support the...


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