(IS NATIONALISM AN ASSET OR HINDRANCE IN TODAY’S GLOBALIZED WORLD?)
Following the end of World War II, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed and declared. It consisted of six autonomous republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro). The glue that held these republics together was the Communist Party, the leadership of Josip Broz Tito and the notion that all the different nationalities that made up the demographic were brought under one umbrella called the Yugoslav supra-ethnic nation.
However, even during the golden age of Yugoslavia, ethnic and national identities sought after validation in forms of protest, rallies and even direct political engagement. Tito’s regime handled those nationalistic convictions by banning their public promotion. The problem seemed fixed, at least on the surface. Underneath the surface, traditional ethnic identities were still very active in keeping alive the notion of their “real” national affiliation, which culminated in the Yugoslav wars in the 1990’s.
Yugoslavia was no more. The former autonomous republics became independent states and the national and ethnic identifiers Serb, Croat, Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin and Slovenian were restored once again. However, to this day, many people living in these former Yugoslavian countries still refer to themselves as being just Yugoslavs. Even young people, born after Yugoslavia stopped existing as a country, have this notion. To them, nationalism is the cause for the bloodshed during the nineties, as well as the political mechanism that keeps corrupt politicians in all former republics in office.
Ethnic fear mongering is the corner stone of almost every political party currently occupying seats in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of all six countries. It is the single most regressive apparatus left behind after the war, which serves to keep the status quo alive and well.
I’m from Bosnia-Herzegovina where we have a saying: Dobro je, samo da se ne puca, which roughly translated means: It’s all good as long as there is no shooting. This saying is devastatingly precise in summing up the state of mind many of my fellow citizens live in. We’re living in a constant fear that the others are out to get us; and that the only way to defend ourselves is ethnic unity. Many progressive parties have tried their best to make us overcome this fear of breaking the status quo – however, the memories of war-torn cities, genocide, lost family members, fear, terror and devastation are still too strong to simply be erased or even overlooked.
People are aching for change, but cling to nationalism for it is the only thing that seemingly grants them the “luxury” of not being shot at by the other side. The thing that once was the catalyst of the war is now the one thing preventing it. At least that’s what people have been led to believe.
I’ve been talking to a great number of outsiders who suggest that this kind of “tribal” thinking has to be left behind, as if to say that the people in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and the other countries were politically naïve for electing the same politicians over and over again; for falling for the same rhetoric in the last twenty-five years. From an outside perspective, I can see where they’re coming from. It must seem like the easiest thing in the world. After all, we live in a democracy, which means we have the freedom to choose who we elect. Except, we really don’t.
The ones that took power in the war are still in power to this day. Some have even been succeeded by their children, making it really hard for us not to think of our democracy as a monarchy in disguise. Yes, we have the freedom to choose, but we cannot choose the ones we want to choose from. The ones in power, stay in power, and any kind of uprising of the people to protest this systemic corruption is so reminiscence of the war (the possibility of which is constantly dangling over our heads) that it has become futile even thinking about it.
Nationalism is an anchor keeping us save and protected from war, but, at the same time, hindering us to move forward. We’re uncomfortably stuck in place.
Yugoslavia suppressed nationalism denying thereby people the possibility to honor their traditions, cultures and heritages in a fashion they were used to. The ones defying those bans were sent off to labor camps or were simply locked away. Nationalism was seen as an outcry from those prosecuted and repressed by the regime, or, as Malcolm X put it, truth is on the side of the oppressed.
After Tito’s death in 1980, the nationalists finally saw their chance for freeing themselves from the shackles of his regime. Their popularity rose, which those who succeeded Tito didn’t like at all. The central government under the control of the Communist Party grew weak, which resulted in the Yugoslavian constituent republics gaining more power and giving the government a more federal structure. However, since the Communist league of Yugoslavia was located in Belgrade, Serbia, the decentralization meant that the demographic of the individual republics started to be reflected in the ethnical structure in the league itself, meaning that nationalist Serbs had the chance to fill the now not-so-sought-after seats in the Communist league of Yugoslavia.
The other ethnicities, noticing the disproportional rise of Serbs in high-ranking official positions, were dissatisfied, which in 1990 led to the effective dissolution of the Communist League of Yugoslavia. Nationalists finally saw the opportunity to resurface and lead their respective republics away from the regime that was oppressing them all those years. Official Belgrade still considered itself as being the leading authority of antinationalism in Yugoslavia (although they themselves adopted Serbian nationalist ideologies), condemning the notions of the other republics to become independent as treason.
The referendums the former republics used to emancipate themselves from the now former country of Yugoslavia was seen as a coup d'état, which the Serbian led Communist league of Yugoslavia didn’t approve. War broke out; first in Croatia, then in Bosnia-Herzegovina. By the year 2006, all six of Yugoslavia’s former constituent republics regained their statehoods and became sovereign states.
However, due to the several decades long cohabitation of different ethnicities in what is now known as the Yugosphere, a homogeneous nation for every newly formed (restored) state, as imagined by the nationalists, was simply not possible. This was especially true in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in which the three major ethnicities Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats have been living for centuries together.
Regardless, the paradigm shift was clear after the war: nationalism is the only way to prevent a new conflict. For Bosnia, this meant dividing the people up into three major ethnic groups called constituent peoples, with each having a guaranteed share of power. For the politicians of the day (and to this day) this meant furthering the idea of tribal thinking and using aforementioned fear mongering as a means to stay in power.
Nationalism, a once oppressed notion of cultural and ethnic belonging in Yugoslavia, has become the oppressor in modern day Bosnia-Herzegovina, holding progressive thought hostage and reassuring the ones in power that they’re going to stay in power for as long as the people’s dread of war stays intact.
Name: Ernad Osmić
School: IV Elementary School Brcko district Bosnia-Herzegovina
Status: Bosnian language and literature teacher