Nationalism vs Yugoslavism

For the second time this century, a problem involving the South Slavs threatens to provoke a general European war. Unlike the crisis of July 1914, however, today's conflict in the former Yugoslavia is a purely fratricidal affair. To the outside observer there seems little to distinguished Serb from Croat, or either side from their mutual victims, the Bosnian Muslims. All three parties to the dispute speak the same language, in some areas even the same dialect or sub-dialect. Why, then, is the fighting so bitter, the intolerance so deep-rooted and absolute?

Conflict between the Slav peoples of south-eastern Europe is nothing new, in fact it might even be said to be the rule. Bulgar fought Serb in the Middle Ages; one Serb principality the other; Croats, under Hungarian suzerainty, fought Serbs. The Ottoman conquest in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries gave most South Slavs a common enemy; but even here religion created a new fault line. The conversion of both Serbs and Croats to Islam, in Bosnia and the Hercegovina, meant that henceforward a Muslim-Christian split existed alongside the Catholic-Orthodox one. And within living memory there have been the atrocities perpetrated against the Orthodox population by the Nazis' puppet regime in 'independent' Croatia during the Second World War, not to mention the reprisals carried out by Tito's Partisans.

Despite the misery inflicted on Bosnian Muslims in 1992, the current dispute remains essentially between Serbs and Croats. in this long-running antagonism, Bosnia-Hercegovina has been the inevitable bone of contention, since the republic is an archetypal case of ethnic intermixture. Any breakdown of the Yugoslav federation, such as took place last year, was bound to provoke some form of territorial carve up. Both Serbs and Croats are acting out nationalist aspirations which go back generations.

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