That’s not a serious title; History is not speaking here. But if you’ve read much of the preceding story, you should be ready to agree with virtually all the authors of books about the end of Yugoslavia: blaming what happened on “ancient hatreds” is a mistake. Freud’s dictum that aggression begets aggression is a more reliable guide to understanding what actually happened.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Milošević and Tudjman each came out of a strong nationalist tradition that (however sincerely he may have believed in it) he used ruthlessly for his own political advantage, heedless of the evil he might be stirring up. Neither showed any hesitation or regret at the resultant horrors.

Ostensibly, these two leaders supported conflicting definitions of nationhood: Tudjman maintained that a nation was defined by established borders, Milošević that it was defined by ethnicity. But for both men the real definition depended on whose ox was gored.

Slobodan Milošević stirring the Serbs
Milošević insisted that the Krajina Serbs had the right, based on ethnicity, to secede from Croatia. But when the European Community peace negotiators offered a plan that recognized this right provided that it applied to all republics and autonomous provinces, Milošević turned it down. Why? Because it would give Albanians in Kosovo the same right that he demanded for Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia. And Milošević consistently ignored the many Serbs in Croatia who didn’t live in easy-to-define (and therefore easy-to-annex) locations; they were never part of his plan.

Franjo Tudjman inspiring the Croats
Tudjman claimed that everyone within the established borders of Croatia was Croatian, but at the same time he reduced the Serbs who made up 12% of the population to second-class citizens, and he showed no more reluctance than Milošević to carve up Bosnia and annex chunks of it to his own country. In fact, in March, 1991, before the outright wars began, the presidents of Serbia and Croatia held a secret meeting at Karadjordjevo in the Serbian Vojvodina, where they amicably discussed how they would share Bosnia between them. (Needless to say, the Muslims, Bosnia’s largest component community, had no representative present.)

Tudjman, of course, claimed that Bosnia had no legitimacy as a state, and Milošević took the same position on Kosovo, which Serbs have always considered part of their homeland. But such reservations are insufficient to disguise the hypocrisy. The Dayton Accords made both men appear, for a moment, to be statesmen. But neither would have hesitated to be a tyrant had he been allowed to get away with it.

It would be too much to hold the leaders solely responsible for every evil act carried out in the course of these wars. The atrocities, and there were many, were committed by individual human beings who cannot escape responsibility for what they did. But Milošević and Tudjman were in every way their enablers, at least those who acted in the name of Serbia or Croatia. The Muslim Bosniaks, though more often victims of atrocities, were also guilty of committing some of their own when circumstances permitted. All sides, of course, claimed that they were only reacting to the deeds of the others.

Milan Kučan sweating it out
Slovenia’s story was different; there were no atrocities, no ethnic cleansing, very little loss of life. Self-contained and ethnically homogeneous, that small country was able to achieve its goals without descending into a cesspit of horrors. This was, of course, Slovenia’s good fortune. But it’s pointless to say that, had circumstances differed, the Slovenes would have behaved as badly as anyone else. Even if this claim could be proven, it would merely convict them of being human.



Acknowledgement

In putting together the last part of these notes, dealing with the end of Yugoslavia and the wars that brought that event to a climax, I’ve relied mostly on three sources (occasionally supplemented by the dubious testimony of the Internet):

     Laura Silber and Allan Little, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. TV Books, 1996.

     Misha Glenny, Fall of Yugoslavia: the Third Balkan War, Third Revised Edition. Penguin Books (USA), 1996.

     Carole Rogel, The Breakup of Yugoslavia and Its Aftermath, Revised Edition. Greenwood Press, 2004.

The course of events during that time was complex: timelines are difficult to sort out, and no two books covered the subject in the same way. My effort at a summary doubtless contains errors and mixups, for all of which I accept responsibility.