BY MATTHEW SEARY This article takes an in-depth look into the history of Serbia and how social and political tensions have kept the state in a limbo with the rest of the world. Serbia is an extraordinary case as the tumultuous history of its people has created rifts and bonds with its neighbours in a complex tapestry of politics. It will consider how Serb diaspora had led to a warped view of its own history and the effect this has on its modern status. It will also delve into and analyse how the Yugoslav wars have affected relationships with neighbours and goes on to assess the challenges that Serbia faces with integrating into the modern geopolitical climate. The latter part of this article will focus on how Serbia has made many steps forward and will equally discuss these, looking to the future prospects for a Serbia so ravaged by transition over the past century that it remains to the modern day in an odd limbo with both its neighbours and the European Union.
A STATE IN LIMBO: SERBIA AND THE POLITICS OF TRANSITION A mythical history When considering the state of affairs in the Balkans it is imperative to deliberate the nature of Serbia, a principal and authoritative state of the region. The history of Serbia is vast, but there has been ‘no continuous polity or territory with that name’ 1 which makes contemplating its history a significantly challenging goal. Instead it is necessary to consider Serbia’s history from its role in Yugoslavia since the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918 under a constitutional monarchy due to its status as ‘the only Balkan country to have a truly distinctive foreign policy stance’2. Though Yugoslavia was recognised in 1922 at the Conference of Ambassadors and subsequently renamed in 1929 as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the rise of communism does not become an aspect of Serbian affairs largely until the Second World War. Serbia in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia saw the state to ‘be theirs to rule’ and ‘dominated parliamentary life’ largely thanks to sustained support from the Slovene and Muslim parties as well as the Croatian boycott, which were abstaining from parliamentary life for a period as they wished for more autonomy 3. One of the reasons put forward for Serbia’s dominant stance in Yugoslavian matters was that, as well as having a Serbian entity within Yugoslavia, Serb diaspora is spread across the Balkans. In this sense, Yugoslavia acted as a border, a combined state, where the once divided Serbs could now ‘unite ethnically within one state’ for the first time in recent history4. The other states did not have such an incentive to unite under the Yugoslavian experiment and as such the relationship was often strained due to Serbia’s divisive quasi-leadership in the Balkans. Serbia’s supremacy in Yugoslavian affairs will be important when discussing its later transition and the historical developments, including the Yugoslav wars, as much of the tension had been built up prior to World War II. The Yugoslav experiment was doomed to fail as a result of the Serbs wanting greater federal control whilst the Croats rebelled the other way, pushing for greater autonomy and lacking in the collective sentiment of the Serbs. Yugoslav statesmen and revolutionary Tito went as far as to presumably include ‘American assurances into his plans to crush the liberal tendencies in Croatia, as many disgraced Croatian politicians have claimed’5. The greatest coalition Yugoslavia had seen since 1918 came in the form of a coup against the monarch Peter II as a result of the adherence to the Tripartite Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan. Pavlowitch describes this as ‘the last straw for the Serbian opposition’ that favoured allied support rather than an axis allegiance 6. Without an official declaration of war and under the codename ‘Punishment’, an offensive was launched to crush the rebellion; Belgrade and Yugoslavia unconditionally surrendered after eleven days of bombing and twenty days after the coup. Following the Nazi invasion, the fragmentation of Serbia and Yugoslavia remains key when looking at the history and state of affairs that exist as a result of the underlying tensions which dominated the politics of transition taking place towards the end of the century. Slovenia was split, Montenegro was taken by Italy, Albania acquired Kosovo and part of Macedonia, and Germany occupied most of Stevan K. Pavlowitch, Serbia: The History behind the Name (London: Hurst & Company, 2002), p.vii. David A. Dyker and Ivan Vejvoda, Yugoslavia and After (Addison Wesley Longman, 1996), p.1. 3 Pavlowitch, p.135. 4 Dyker and Vejvoda, p.10. 5 Batovic, Ante, The Balkans in Turmoil – Croatian Spring and the Yugoslav Position Between the Cold War Blocs 1965-1971 (LSE Cold War Studies Programme) <http://www.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/publications/Analysis-Archive/workingPapers/batovic.pdf> [accessed March 22 2016]. 6 Pavlowitch, p.138. 1
Kent Political Almanac
This is our Global Edition, the first instalment the KPA in 2016.