Washington Post: peddling garbage on European Union and former Yugoslavia

The Washington Post article “Yugoslavia’s lessons for Europe’s Disunion” written by Charles Lane was recently characterised by the Croatian journalist Denis Kuljis as an article written by someone who had just sculled a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

Reading the article one can easily conclude that Charles Lane might have collected or invented some garbage regarding the former Yugoslavia, wrapped it up in reputable Washington Post sheets, slipped it into the European Union economic turmoil milieu and conveyed a prediction of doom founded on inaccurate facts about Yugoslavia.

Motives for such an outlook on the prediction of EU demise completely elude my intellect.

Lane writes about a completely different Yugoslavia to the one that fell apart in the early 1990’s. Lane’s Yugoslavia seems to have evolved as an imaginary paradise that thrived with all possible and fabulous opportunities designed to achieve a true union of different cultures and people. Indeed, if Yugoslavia was as Lane claims then one is befuddled by its bloody breakup.

I wonder if Lane leans towards the Yugo-nostalgic clan that still cruises within the new democracies among individual former Yugoslav states, peddling false realities that Yugoslavia never had?

Lane writes that Yugoslavia was a “confederation” that “promised an eternal end to the wars that had historically bedevilled its component peoples. It built goodwill and interdependence through a common currency and free movement of labor and capital. Espousing peace, equality and human rights, the confederation offered a “third way” between the callousness of American-style capitalism and the inefficiency of central planning. It also offered an alternative power center to countries not content to choose their allies from among the United States, China and Russia…

But Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991, after more than a decade of steadily escalating strife. And its downfall was accompanied by renewed ethnic warfare even bloodier than the World War II-era fighting the postwar confederation was supposed to abolish”.

Lane draws an analogy between Yugoslavia and today’s troubled European Union and “predicts” that what happened in former Yugoslavia could happen to European Union. He holds that when it comes to EU troubles it’s not just a financial or economic crisis afoot but also a looming doom that arises when a multitude of individual national interests collide. “The deeper question is how — or whether — any multinational confederation can survive in the land mass between the Urals and the Atlantic, long after the world war that originally justified it and the Cold War that helped perpetuate it. How is the E.U. to escape the fate of every previous empire and confederation in European history,” Lane asks.

His answer seems to lie in his claim that a firm hand is needed to control EU; surrender of more national sovereignty to Brussels would be his trick that might save EU from collapse or disintegration.

There are serious problems with Lane’s article and these lead one to brand it as journalistic garbage and/or a blustering political analysis propped up by illusions.

Firstly, Yugoslavia was never a confederation but a federation. Perhaps Lane does not know the difference between the two? Yugoslavia was a federation with a strong centralised political power wielded from Belgrade (Serbia) on all fronts. Such centralised political power limited the freedoms of individual constituent states to the point of suffocation and oppression. Lane could have easily found evidence of this in many instances, e.g. the Croatian Spring revolt of early 1970’s (when Croatian people attempted to secure more freedom within the centralised federation).

Lane is totally wrong in his claim that there should be more power concentrated into Brussels – if EU is to avoid its own collapse.

Secondly, the creation of Yugoslavia never promised to “end all wars” as Lane claims. Indeed, Yugoslavia was not willingly created by the people of its constituent states but imposed with the aid and pressure of Allied politics. Suffice to say such politics included the undercurrent of Greater Serbia ideals amidst the sea of different nationalities.

Thirdly there was no “free movement of labor and capital” in Yugoslavia in the true sense of the word. Labour movement was as free as the Communist party allowed – meagre. The Communist Party was organised in all companies and most influential employees were likely to be members of the party, so the managers were mostly appointed only with the consent of the party. One needed to be a member of the communist party (or have the protection and reference of a member) if one was going to succeed in securing a “good” job, or a job of note.

Freedom of movement of capital in former Yugoslavia is highly arguable if one looks at such freedom in “dictionary” definition terms. The economy of “workers’ self-government” was a state capitalism of a peculiar kind, controlled by politically suitable managerial cliques and a system of ruthless exploitation of workers under the domineering managerial clique.

In the mid-1960’s economic control by central planners was removed and the system largely followed market forces, stimulating merger waves which resulted in vast regional inequalities. In mid-1970’s a revision of economic management allowed for integrated planning by organisations of associated labour within enterprises (mainly state owned and controlled). Only in 1980’s outright privatisation was allowed but worker-management continued and this stifled true capitalism and true freedom of movement of capital within industrial networks as well as across state borders.

Capital moved between states in relative freedom, yes, but under strict guidelines, rules and notorious five-year plans for the development of certain areas and branches of economy. Each state was allocated a percentage of federal revenue, which in turn was made up of each states earnings. Inequality and discrimination in this area of movement of capital evidences the fact that freedom was indeed controlled and by no means flexible.

Fourthly, Lane is completely wrong in claiming that constituent peoples of Yugoslavia had historically been engaged in wars against each other, leaving the reader with the impression that these peoples have been at each other’s throats for centuries. The truth is that all these nations lived side by side for centuries and apart from conflicts on segregated and smaller scales on grounds of various political scenarios, they had not been at war against each other on national levels prior to 1991. In the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia the truth is that it was an inevitable consequence of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and particularly so since Yugoslav federation stifled self-determination and democratic processes within its constituent states. Hence, while World War II saw the first conflicts between Serbs and Croats (on the one hand many Serbs wanted the return of Serb-dominated kingdom while many Croatians wanted an independent Croatia and, on the other hand many Serbs and Croats wanted a multi-ethnic socialist Yugoslavia) it was the 1990’s conflict that can truly be called Serb against Croat. The Serbs did not want Croatia to break away from Yugoslavia, where Serbs held an upper hand in many important and key positions of power.

Indeed, using Yugoslavia as an example of historical conflicts between peoples that leads to disintegration of a “union” is unconvincing and wicked. There are many historical conflicts between different peoples (other than from Yugoslavia) of EU that Lane could have used in his analysis; one suspects, though, that he didn’t use these because they’re not as “fresh” as the ones from former Yugoslavia. A shallow approach, indeed.

While within Yugoslav federation constituent states did gain substantial powers over certain sectors of life (police, judiciary, media, education …) the centralised power seated in Belgrade for the maintenance of the Yugoslav union remained the non-negotiable and unforgiving force. It is the latter, coupled with the death of communism in Eastern Europe that caused and justified the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The only terms of peace, equality and human rights espoused by Yugoslav federation were actually those that easily dispensed with peace, equality and human rights when the federation was threatened. There is no better piece of evidence of this than the Yugoslav Peoples Army’s aggression against the states wanting to secede from the federation in early 1990’s. Central control (surrender of national sovereignties) did not prevent disintegration of Yugoslavia and neither would it do for European Union as Lane suggests it might. European Union has nothing to learn from the Yugoslav federation Lane fantasises about, but lots to gain from Croatia’s resolve to secede from a centralised, multi-ethnic federation that was riddled with discrimination. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Comments

  1. Very well said. Something Yugo-nostalgics don’t like mentioning is Yugoslavia’s severe economic problems, having had to be propped up by Western loans to avoid total collapse. This is why why current talk about a ‘Yugosphere’ is such drivel. Apart from Croatia in reality doing most of its business with the EU and not ex-yu, Yugoslav economic ties cannot be re-forged because they did not work in the first place.

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  2. Paul Neumann says:

    The Economist.com has been pushing the Yugosphere in almost unnatural ways, pushing for more cooperation between former states of Yugoslavia and yet characterising the former Yugoslav area as hopeless economically, morally …So I asky why the heck is Economist trying to push the former Yu states to work with each other more if they have nothing to learn from each other in order to progress in life. Definitely, the Economist is pushing the leftist lines, Yugonostalgia even if it said in its articles that Yugosphere was not Yugonostalgia.

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  3. Matt S. says:

    Yugoslavia is finished and the nostalgics should accept that it was truly not a viable union – in any shape or form. The Yugosphere word was invented by those who love putting labels on things or issues, especially if those labels serve the purpose of keeping a failed idea alive, in the hope of resurrecting it. While Yugoslavia was economically better than any Western country could ever have been for the various corrupt politicians (politicians meaning members of the communist party) it was a disaster to the ordinary man and for the ethos of national accountability. Everything that happened in Yugoslavia happened to keep Yugoslavia alive. But inevitably Yugoslavia started to breathe hard – it’s false economy and false economic freedoms lead the inflation to cross the 1000% mark by late 1980’s…1970’s and much of 1980’s was time when properly set-up economies, properly free movement of labour and capital actually made state economies truck-loads of money…living standards ran relatively high…so if Yugoslavia was so great and developed why is it that its former states have had to learn to walk in the free and developed world. Washington Post article is really an offense.

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    • Brankec says:

      A good friend of mine recently described (so very accurately and vividly) the former Yugoslavia as a big pile of painted rust. I think that not much more needs to be said.

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  4. Michael Silovic says:

    (Quote) His answer seems to lie in his claim that a firm hand is needed to control EU; surrender of more national sovereignty to Brussels would be his trick that might save EU from collapse or disintegration.

    While he is clearly wrong there are many who want this to happen. The reality of it is that the expansion of the EU was created for one purpose and it was not based upon just peace and prosperity. It was a dream by the rich and powerful that one day all of the EU would be controlled by a president of the EU calling all of the shots. There are those who want the EU to be like the United States and all countries would be delegated to nothing more then individual states. Do not think for a moment that this will not happen in some future time. I wish nothing more then the total collapse of the Eu and the euro so that countries can be themselves and stand alone as friends and allies so that each country can form it’s own nationality and democracy according to its peoples wishes.Th EU is not the savior of all of Europeans problems but is in fact a serious problem for countries that are part of the union. Greece, Spain is just a small part of the larger problem. When other countries join in they too will have serious problems with monies that will reek havoc on its populous. Once the EU is completed the fiscal crises will be shared amongst all countries whether they received a fair share of the monies. Why do you think Britain wants no part of the EU? It is not only the monetary crises that the EU will face but also the loss of identity and sovereignty of nations.

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    • Indeed, the ordinary citizens of member countries will have little say – it all gets directed from Brussels – how successful this multicultural “conglomerate” called EU will be in the end is anyone’s guess. It looks as if it’s shaping up to forge the chair of President,certainly. Certainly the moves to make all member states fit into certain standards, to allocate productivity of each…to try and keep some sort of balance while individual members suffer looks set to create havoc and disenchantments. The tall poppy syndrome is already visible – e.g. competition of German, French, UK leaders to have upper hand – visibly trying not to cue each other out even if that’s on their mind (?). Too many cooks spoil the broth say our great grandfathers, and it’s still true. The British are in EU but not in the Eurozone, and even in EU they want certain special treatment and exceptions. The British know how to take care of and preserve that which is very dear to them (and should be dear to all nations): national identity and self-preservation.

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  5. J.B. Books says:

    Yeah, ol’ Chuckie was starting to make a career out of hiring blind fact-checkers at TNR – till one of them got caught doing some “creative writing” and they went out the door together. Guess law school didn’t work either. He really had his heart set on his, er, stringers in Belgrade and Berlin. Ol’ Martin never checked the travel/expense report close enough. Maybe it’ll be different at the Post. He never was an ‘expert’ on ex-YU or the Balkans…Oh, well, at least he got out of Yale…

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  6. Michael Silovic says:

    http://www.croatiantimes.com/news/Business/2012-06-22/27883/Clem_Chambers_-_four_trillion_needed_to_fix_Euro_crisis__
    Very interesting article. notice this quote?
    It also brings the European Central Bank (ECB) one step closer to a Federal – like institution, clearly another step towards the likely Federal unification of Europe – the ‘United States of Europe’ that is often talked about.

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