Yugoslavia: The Great Fall

Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia's Disintegration and Balkan Politics in Transition, second edition

by Lenard J. Cohen
Westview Press, 386 pp., $19.95 (paper)

The Yugoslav Drama

by Mihailo Crnobrnja
McGill-Queen's University Press, 281 pp., $42.95; $15.95 (paper)

Izmedju Slave i Anateme: Politicka Biografia Slobodana Milosevica (Between Glory and Anathema: A Political Biography of Slobodan Milosevic)

by Slavoljub Djukic
Belgrade: Filip Visnic, 288 pp., 10 Dinars

Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed

by Robert J. Donia and John V.A. Fine Jr., with maps by John C. Hamer
Columbia University Press, 318 pp., $24.95

Joegoslavische Kroniek: Juli 1991–Augustus 1992

by Henry Wijnaendts
Amsterdam: Rap, 206 pp., Dfl47.50 (paper)

Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West

by David Rieff
Simon and Schuster, 240 pp., $22.00

The Volatile Powder Keg: Balkan Security After the Cold War

edited by F. Stephen Larrabee
American University Press/A Rand Study, 320 pp., $61.00; $26.50 (paper)


On June 21, 1991, Secretary of State James Baker spent a busy day in Belgrade talking to the presidents of Yugo-slavia’s six constituent republics, the federal prime minister, Ante Markovic, and the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians. He told the assembled group of malcontents, thugs, and unfortunates that the United States was committed to the continued existence of a unified Yugoslav federation. In doing so, he echoed the position outlined by Jacques Delors, then president of the European Commission, and Jacques Santer, Delors’s eventual successor, when they had visited Belgrade a little earlier. Unfortunately, Baker and Delors failed to spot one central fact—the patient was about to die. On June 25, three days after Baker’s visit, the parliaments in Ljubljana and Zagreb promulgated the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. Within hours, the Slovene weasel, the Croat marten, and the Serbian jackal were scratching one another’s eyes out as they attempted to chew off the best bits of the carcass.

The federation had been sickly for a long time, visibly so since 1987, when, as leader of the Serbian League of Communists, Slobodan Milosevic broke two of Tito’s golden rules—he used a nationalist issue (the constitutional status of Kosovo within the Republic of Serbia) in order to win a political struggle within the Communist Party in Belgrade, and he aroused mass opinion to back him on the same nationalist issue in Serbia.

When parties calling for secession won the elections in Slovenia and Croatia in the early spring of 1990, the malady affecting Yugoslavia entered its final phase. Its violent death might conceivably have been avoided had major reforms been made before December 1990, when Slovenia and Croatia announced their intention of seceding six months hence. After that Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia all launched a frontal attack on federal institutions.

The first great mistake of European and American diplomacy in the Yugoslav crisis was a failure to diagnose what had gone wrong. Or worse, and I suspect nearer the truth, they realized the country was breaking apart but considered the squabbles of a rather unappealing group of Balkan politicians to be insignificant when measured against the drama of the Gulf War and the rapid erosion of the Soviet Union. (President Bush’s desire to prevent the latter was reflected in James Baker’s demand in Belgrade that Yugoslavia remain whole.)

The steady disintegration of Yugoslavia led to dramatic shifts in identity and consciousness among the peoples who lived there. This was one of the most terrible times in their history. As in a bad dream, they were being dragged into an inferno, aware of the fate awaiting them and unable to do anything about it.

Since the death of the federation was impending, it followed that a new constitutional order was required if an uncontrolled and bloody breakup of the country were to be avoided. This is indeed what the presidents of the six republics attempted to do in a series of meetings held during the spring and early summer of…

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