Document Type


Publication Date

January 1993



First Page



Introduction. Journalistic and scholarly accounts of the breakup of Yugoslavia contain, taken together, a curious contradiction. On the one hand, it is said, Yugoslavia was never anything more than a "bad dream,"' a flawed attempt to unify "from above" peoples who have historically hated one another. The immediate causes of the conflict are therefore simply centuries-old ethnic hatreds. The veneer of Yugoslav federal unity was nothing more than a myth, a cosmetic surface stripped away in a trifling by deeper and darker enmities. There are old scores to settle whether dating from the Second World War or from the fourteenth century Battle of Kosovo. This essay aims to demonstrate that the Yugoslav war is partly the result of a contradiction between a state-sponsored system of-paradoxically-tolerance for historical ethnic divisions, and an effort to make the individual the proper juridical object of the state. Despite certain modernist appearances to the contrary, Yugoslavia had created a system of premodern ethnic power balancing as between national communities to maintain order. With the fall of communism and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the most serious external restraints on Yugoslav ethnic nationalism were removed, the internal contradiction asserted itself, and the consequences are only too apparent.