The Myth of Ethnic War

The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s

V. P. GAGNON
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt3fgqpr
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Myth of Ethnic War
    Book Description:

    "The wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in neighboring Croatia and Kosovo grabbed the attention of the western world not only because of their ferocity and their geographic location, but also because of their timing. This violence erupted at the exact moment when the cold war confrontation was drawing to a close, when westerners were claiming their liberal values as triumphant, in a country that had only a few years earlier been seen as very well placed to join the west. In trying to account for this outburst, most western journalists, academics, and policymakers have resorted to the language of the premodern: tribalism, ethnic hatreds, cultural inadequacy, irrationality; in short, the Balkans as the antithesis of the modern west. Yet one of the most striking aspects of the wars in Yugoslavia is the extent to which the images purveyed in the western press and in much of the academic literature are so at odds with evidence from on the ground."-from The Myth of Ethnic War

    V. P. Gagnon Jr. believes that the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s were reactionary moves designed to thwart populations that were threatening the existing structures of political and economic power. He begins with facts at odds with the essentialist view of ethnic identity, such as high intermarriage rates and the very high percentage of draft-resisters. These statistics do not comport comfortably with the notion that these wars were the result of ancient blood hatreds or of nationalist leaders using ethnicity to mobilize people into conflict.

    Yugoslavia in the late 1980s was, in Gagnon's view, on the verge of large-scale sociopolitical and economic change. He shows that political and economic elites in Belgrade and Zagreb first created and then manipulated violent conflict along ethnic lines as a way to short-circuit the dynamics of political change. This strategy of violence was thus a means for these threatened elites to demobilize the population. Gagnon's noteworthy and rather controversial argument provides us with a substantially new way of understanding the politics of ethnicity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6888-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Chip Gagnon
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xxi)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  7. CHAPTER 1 THE PUZZLE OF THE YUGOSLAV WARS OF THE 1990s
    (pp. 1-30)

    The wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in neighboring Croatia and Kosovo grabbed the attention of the Western world not only because of their ferocity (over 200,000 people killed and more than 3 million displaced or expelled from their homes) and their geographic location (in the heart of Europe), but also because of their timing. Spanning the entire decade of the 1990s, this violence erupted at the exact moment when the confrontation of the Cold War was drawing to a close, when Westerners were claiming their liberal values as triumphant, in a country that had only a few years earlier been seen...

  8. CHAPTER 2 IMAGE VERSUS REALITY: WESTERN MISIDENTIFYING OF THE CAUSES OF VIOLENCE
    (pp. 31-51)

    Much of the literature on ethnic conflict and on the violence in the former Yugoslavia has focused on ethnicity and ethnic solidarity, seeing people’s emotional or affective attachments to ethnic identities and the ability of politicians to mobilize those identities as the main cause of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In this chapter I draw on Yugoslav sociological and political science surveys to show the state of Yugoslav society at the end of the 1980s: the main issues about which people in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia were concerned, and their attitudes toward issues related to ethnic identity and interethnic...

  9. CHAPTER 3 POLITICAL CONFLICT IN THE LEAGUE OF COMMUNISTS OF YUGOSLAVIA, 1960s–1989
    (pp. 52-86)

    Beginning in the 1960s and continuing up through the wars of the 1990s, the main axis of conflict in Yugoslavia was the future of the country’s socialist-self-management political and economic system. This chapter examines two periods—the first beginning in the 1960s and lasting until the early 1970s; the second, starting with Tito’s death in 1980 and continuing up through 1989–1990. In both periods, conservatives wanted to hew to an authoritarian, orthodox Marxist-Leninist line, keep a strong party hand on the economy, minimize reliance on market forces and material incentives, and maintain a centralized political system. Reformers, however, wanted...

  10. CHAPTER 4 SERBIA AND THE STRATEGY OF DEMOBILIZATION, 1990–2000
    (pp. 87-130)

    Between 1991 and 1995, the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were characterized in the Western media, and much of the scholarly work on the conflict, as the result of ethnic hatreds whose source was identified particularly with the Serbs. The focus has been on Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, seen as mobilizing Serbs into violent conflict against non-Serbs by appealing to their hatreds and resentments. Much of this coverage has also focused on historical symbols and events that tap into deep-rooted aspects of Serb identity. According to this story, the resulting mobilization allowed Milošević to stay in power at a time...

  11. CHAPTER 5 CROATIA AND THE STRATEGY OF DEMOBILIZATION, 1990–2000
    (pp. 131-177)

    The nationalist policies of the Croatian government between 1990 and 1999, the wars in Croatia in 1991 and 1995, and the 1993–94 war in the Croat inhabited parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina have been explained in terms of ethnic hatreds, either ancient or recently constructed and mobilized. The main focus has been on Croatia as a land awash in nationalism and ethnic resentments between Croats and Serbs. From this perspective, Croatia was supposedly waiting to explode into nationalist bloodshed, hence providing fertile ground for ethnic entrepreneurs who mobilized Croats and Serbs (and in Bosnia, Croats and Muslims) into bloody warfare.¹

    This...

  12. CONCLUSION YUGOSLAVIA AND THE MYTH OF ETHNIC WAR
    (pp. 178-194)

    When I began this project I knew that much of what was being written on the wars in Yugoslavia had the story wrong. There was virtually no evidence that the violence in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina was the result of ethnic hatreds, despite the tenacity with which Western journalists clung and continue to cling to that story. The other major explanation, seen in the academic literature on ethnic conflict, focused on elites who pursued strategies of ethnic outbidding by provoking violence along ethnic lines in order to mobilize their populations to support them. Yet what was actually happening in communities in...

  13. APPENDIX. A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
    (pp. 195-200)
  14. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-206)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 207-218)