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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


Ethnic Cleavages and Conflict
Gojko Vuckovic

(Aldershot: Ashagte, 1997)
170pp. Bibl. hb.: ISBN 1-85972-640-2 35.00.


Ethnic conflict in Yugosvlavia is examined within an ambitious and intricate theoretical framework. It begins with a review of the scholarship on ethnic conflict, with an emphasis on theories like modernisation, nation-building, international order, democratization, and ethnic conflict management. In a separate chapter, a model for the comparative study of ethnic conflict is devised that includes domestic, perceptual, systemic and international variables. The author believes that the model can be used to identify and analyse conditions most likely to give rise to ethnic violence and national disintegration.

Chapters four and five explore the origins of the Yugoslav idea, theories of Serb, Croatian and Muslim identity, and that state formation and regulation of ethnic conflict between the two world wars. Chapter 6 analyses conflict management and ethnic policies in the second Yugoslavia during the communist era of Marshal Tito. Dr Vuckovic depicts Yugoslavia in both eras as a big laboratory for social, political and administrative engineering. He argues that 'the Yugoslav experiment contradicted dominant western scholarship and practice on nation-states and international order'.

Despite devoting so much space to the genesis of the Yugoslav idea, Vuckovic thinks Yugoslavia was never a viable project. Hostile international cuircumstances, the emergence of fascism and later the fall of communism, exposed its fragility and the preference of the South Slavs for their own ethno-nationalist solutions. The communist system, based on a flawed economic self-management model, worship of Tito as the embodiment of Yugoslavism, and later extreme decentralization, failed to act as an integrative force. Instead the dispersal power to the regions within an authoritarian context led to conflict over status and resources and the disintegration of the 1990s.

The period after 1980 is handled with much less rigour and detail than the previous century. Efforts to preserve a single Yugoslavia with a democratizing Eastern Europe are brushed aside as is the degree of support which a pluralist Yugoslavia enjoyed within an electorate denied the chance of voting in an all-Yugoslav election. The international community is slammed for lack of consistency in asserting policies and principles on which world order and the recognition of new states were to be established.

The author ignores the Kosovo question which was a crucial factor in the unravelling of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s while, in the reviewer's mind, gives excessive attention to the rise of so-called Muslim nationalism in Bosnia during the same period. If there had been more emphasis on the role of Slobodan Milosevic and the anti-reform party-state bureauracy in Serbia, then Dr Vuckovic might have had to temper his argument that the demise of Yugoslavia 'may be considered as the death of an impossible project of scholarship and social experimentation...' (p. 152) More firmly-based states have foundered as a result of unbalanced or morally defective individuals seizing the helm. The sophisticated theoretical framework devised here provides valuable insights into why the Yugoslav experiment came unstuck. But the author refuses to see that it is one that had great staying-power and the verdict of history may well be that the south Slavs were simply unlucky in their efforts to co-exist, not that the experiment was doomed in advance.

Renewed efforts to draw together the peoples of south-east Europe in forms of political and economic co-operation that have worked so well in western Europe after 1945 may well expose the dangers of such deterministic thinking, however impressive the theorising that lies behind it.


Tom Gallagher, University of Bradford



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