Monsters to Destroy

Eerie similarities


These days, the United State reminds me more and more of Yugoslavia.

Yes, that ill-fated Balkan federation that collapsed in rivers of blood in the early 1990s, and whose successor states are still wracked by ethnic hatred and mired in poverty and violence (as states are prone to being, and then some). Hardly a place one thinks of when coming up with comparisons to the United State, but the resemblance is spooky enough.

Prior to its disintegration, Yugoslavia was a socialist country selling weapons and ammunition to the Third World and living large on money from IMF loans. Then it came time to pay up, and suddenly all that ammunition found its way to militias and militaries shooting yesterday's neighbors to bits. Statism stayed; it just changed stripes — from internationalist communism to sectarian national socialism.

The old Yugoslavia had multiculturalism: it was called "brotherhood and unity." It had political correctness, too: people actually got arrested for "speech crimes." The atheistic state was completely separated from religion. And the official Yugoslav notion of "human rights" closely approximated what ours is now becoming: the "right" to public employment, public health care, public housing, public education, and on and on. Owning a business or other property was considered a necessary evil, and those few who worked for themselves were soaked for money by the ever-greedy state. States, actually.

Yugoslavia was divided by the Communists into six "republics," one of which was further sub-partitioned with two "autonomous provinces." It was done as a way to secure Communist rule and manipulate ethnic politics, for Yugoslavia was actually a mishmash of South Slavs who had had vastly different and often hostile historical experiences.

Created as a misguided experiment by a Serbian king in the aftermath of World War One, Yugoslavia was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941. Over the next four years, Catholic Croats and their Slavic Muslim allies slaughtered nearly a million Orthodox Serbs and Jews. Serb guerrillas took vengeance on Croat and Muslim villagers, while the Communists gathered strength and sniped at the occupying Germans, preparing to seize power. They did so, with some Soviet help, in 1945, and immediately began executing thousands of "class enemies."

Serbs made up half of Yugoslavia's population at the time, even after the genocide. They were also the only people with a modern nation of their own before 1918, with a strong national tradition based on land, faith, and history. Obviously, they were seen as the paramount threat to Communist rule. Over the next 45 years, the Communists would labor to destroy the links between territory, history, and religion that defined the Serbs as a people. That is not to say other groups did not suffer under communism — everyone suffers under communism in the sense that his life, liberty, and property are subordinate to the whims of the state. But in the cynical game of ethnic politics that characterized Yugoslavia after 1945, many non-Serbs came out ahead, relatively speaking.

Mechanisms of political control ranged from seizure of church property to political partition of the country along lines resembling those of the Nazi occupation. Some 2 million Serbs, survivors of the 1941-45 genocide, became minorities in the "republics" of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Two "autonomous provinces" were carved out of Serbia: Vojvodina ("Duchy," a Serb-inhabited area north of the Danube) and Kosovo (the historical heartland of Serbian civilization). The provinces were given virtual statehood by the 1974 Constitution. Montenegro, a pre-1914 kingdom whose inhabitants considered themselves ethnic Serbs, was established as another "republic," while a campaign began to craft a separate Montenegrin ethnic identity. In Bosnia, Slavic converts to Islam were declared a separate Muslim "nation" in the 1960s. Along with Slovenia and Macedonia, those six "republics" and the two Serbian "provinces" made up the federation, which was actually ruled by Marshal Josip Broz — "Tito" — and his gaggle of cronies.

Tito kept control by manipulating ethnic tensions within and among the "republics," promoting their rivalries but always making sure they did not get out of hand. When they did get out of hand, he acted with a combination of brutality and appeasement. Tito was so successful a dictator that when he died no one was strong enough to replace him. Rudderless, his system collapsed within a decade.

One particular aspect of ethnic manipulation occurred in Kosovo. Once the heart of the medieval Serbian kingdom, it was in Kosovo in 1389 that the Ottoman Turks defeated a ramshackle but brave coalition of Serb nobles and their fellow Orthodox allies from Bosnia and today's Albania. Serbs remembered the battle as a Christian sacrifice, elevated their fallen ruler to sainthood, and kept the memory alive through 500 years of Turkish occupation. Many Albanians and Bosnians did not, turning to Islam instead. Kosovo is at the very heart of the Serb identity — historically, culturally, and religiously. But as it was occupied by the Turks for so long, it was emptied of Serbs over the centuries. Many were killed, and more fled to exile in an only marginally more hospitable Catholic Austria. In their place, the Turks settled the loyal Muslim Albanians, who made up about half of Kosovo's population by the 20th century.

After 1918, some Serbs attempted to return to their ancestral villages in Kosovo. But in 1941, Albanians joined the Nazis and expelled the Serbs again. Tito's regime forbade their return. In addition, it opened the borders to unrestricted immigration from Albania, intent on de-Serbifying Kosovo and thus destroying the Serbs' connection to their historical identity. Then the Serbs could be molded into New Socialist Persons, as predicted by the Marxist dialectic.

Between forcible expulsions of Serbs, Albanian immigration, and skyrocketing birth rates promoted by the welfare state (12 children per family were not unheard of), Communist Kosovo became a venue for "passive genocide": physical replacement of a group by another by means of a superior birth rate. What the U.S. government called "genocide" during the 1999 NATO attack on Serbia was in fact a mass deportation of illegal immigrants.

So how does any of that remind me of the United State nowadays? Increasing socialism, political correctness run rampant, rabid attacks on culture and tradition as "hate," and the constant promotion of hyphenated people over "ordinary" Americans ring a few bells. So do racial politics, in evidence from the urban ghettos to the Southwest. So do the official efforts to cozy up to millions of illegal immigrants through an amnesty. [*] And let's not even go into the language debate!

The parallels extend only so far, of course, and there are plenty of differences. But they only underscore how eerie the similarities are. Group conflicts — ethnic, racial, religious — are more akin to nuclear reactions than to fire; they are not something to be played with. Those who think they can "manage" them end up unleashing disastrous explosions that destroy everything in their path. Just ask the inhabitants of Yugoslavia's charred ruins. And hope we can avoid their fate.

January 30, 2004

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* Whatever libertarians think of state borders and border control, immigration policy and its changes are a legitimate subject of analysis, offering clues to the overall strategy of the managerial class.

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