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The Balkans: past and present.

At the time of the 1878 Berlin Conference on Russia, Turkey and the Balkans that brought fame to Disraeli and Bismarck, the latter made a remark that lingered on but was discarded at the time of Sarajevo 1914, damaging everyone for a generation and more. |The Balkans,' he said, 'are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier'. We are still struggling with it. The new feature of the Balkan situation is that no big power or super-power is there today to dominate the scene. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire 500 years ago Turkey was the dominating power. From its demise in 1918 until the disintegration of the Soviet Union it was Russia proper and in its Soviet disguise. The First World War started over the Austrian-German determination after the Sarajevo murder to establish firm control over the Balkans. They failed. It is often forgotten that the 1878 Berlin Congress gave control over Bosnia-Herzegovina to Austria as a compromise and that it took some seven years for the Austrian forces to put down the Bosnia Moslem guerillas.

In World War II the Germans and Italians never managed to gain proper control over Serbia, the Balkan heartland. Effective British support for the various guerilla groups, switching from one to the other, Chetnicks, the Serb Royalists, and Partisans, Tito's Communist teams and their allies stopped that. All during the war the Western Allies, led by the British, struggled and competed with the Soviets for control of the Balkans. Indeed, the fateful decision of the Attlee government to hand over the defence of Greece to the US, thus producing the |Truman Doctrine', shows what a source of conflict and competition the Balkans really are.

Until Tito was expelled from the Soviet Bloc in 1948, Russia dominated the Balkans, hardly restrained by Greece and Turkey. Russian-Soviet influence continued, however, after Khrushchev had made his peace with Tito. After his death Moscow's influence continued to prosper. The Kremlin came to favour Tito also because his Yugoslavia was the leading member, for crucial years, of the Unaligned Third World Movement. The Kremlin was determined to remain able to intervene directly in Yugoslavia if Tito or his successors were to move into the Western camp. This is why the Soviet army kept 40,000 troops in southwestern Hungary.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union there is no big power or superpower influence in the Balkans. Its ethnic units and nations in its heartlands can return to tribal warfare. One important psychological factor is that peoples with a troubled, unhappy history are far more aggressively conscious of their past than nations with a reasonably successful and happy record. Centuries of Turkish rule meant that borders really did not matter. The present borders, the source of warfare, are new, and therefore changeable. But the dominant political powers within these borders regard them as symbols of their power, and that applies to the former Soviet Union

as well as the Crimea, Moldova-Transdniester, the Caucasus and Central Asia show.

Yugoslavia was a new country. A new nation was to be created. Interestingly, and accurately, its first name in 1919 was Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Then King Alexander of Serbia, later to be assassinated in France, created Yugoslavia, Southern Slavia. The borders were newly drawn. In the last war a new nation' emerged, slowly growing as intermarriage between the various groups increased. The other source of the new nation, but diminishing, were the convinced supporters of Yugoslavia, old and new Communists, and, of course, quite legitimately, officials and the military. But their allegiance was vulnerable and was recognised to be so. Tito was always well aware of this and tried to hold his Yugoslavia together by rotating the Presidency among the various republics. One has to bear in mind here that after World War II new territories were added to the Yugoslavia of 1918. The most disputed territories are the Voivodina, the |Banat' of Hungary, Istria, the hinterland of Trieste, and, of course, Kosovo, the stronghold of the Albanians, the Province in which the fatal battle was lost to the Turks.

The Slav tribes moved into the Balkans around 500 pushing and absorbing the mysterious Illyrians who had produced Roman Emperors like Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. The seafaring Illyrians have disappeared but today's Albanians may be related to them. The Slavs pushed South trying to get to the Aegian Sea but the Byzantine Emperors stopped them thus saving Greece. Since then there has been a struggle for domination and independence between the Slavs and the non-slavs, Greeks, Albanians, Turks and others. The struggle for domination has been between the various Slav nations as well, as the Second Balkan War in 1912 showed savagely, when the Serbs turned against the Bulgarians only months after the two had fought side by side against the Turks.

The main Slav nations of Yugoslavia, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Montenegrans, Macedonians and Moslem Serbs all have uncertain pasts. The Slovenes in the north were linked for centuries to the Austrians and Germans. The Holy Roman Empire set up Slav border districts back in 955 and in 1232. Carniola, the heartland of present Slovenia, was created as part of Austria. It stayed there until 1918. In the 16th century the first books in Slovene were written. Present day Slovenia was part of Napoleon's Illyria, a French province, as was Dalmatia. Slovenes stuck to the Hapsburgs until almost the last moment, when their demand for a Slovene state within the Empire was turned down. The Slovenes, Roman Catholic and educated in Central European traditions, were the most industrialized of the Yugoslav republics with the highest living standard. They look down on the Serbs as having been too long under Turkish rule, and, of course, having a different religion and a ridiculous alphabet, the Cyrillic. The Serbs felt they were outsiders. The Belgrade government, as 1991 showed, gave up Slovenia, a small nation, after some brief fighting. I remember, when I visited Slovenia some years ago that one fairly well-placed chap said to me: |We want the Anschluss'. Right from the start of the break-up Austria, like Germany, strongly supported Slovenian independence. Significantly, back in 1978 the Slovene Republic of Yugoslavia, with the Croats, five Italian and five Austrian Provinces, four Hungarian Counties and Bavaria of Federal Germany, set up the Alpine-Adria Group to encourage co-operation in economic and cultural fields.

The Croats had their own kingdom for 140 years ending in 1089. Dalmatia and Bosnia were part of it. Without heirs the last king's widow, passed on the crown to her brother, Laszlo, King of Hungary. Dalmatia was soon lost to the Venetians and later Bosnia to the Turks. In 1526 what was left of Croatia became Turkish like large parts of Hungary. When the Hapsburgs reconquered some of it centuries of border warfare followed. Tens of thousands of Serbs from the south fled to escape the Turks. The Hapsburgs settled them all along the dangerous border, the so-called Military Frontier. From the age of 17 all men had to be armed and on the alert. Regiments were formed that became the elite units of the Hapsburg armies. In 1790, for example, 30,000 Serb families fled to the Military Frontier. The Croats were, with the Tyrolese, the most loyal subjects. But in 1881 Vienna transferred the area with the Serb minority to Hungary. Only in 1847, Croat had been recognized as an official language for the first time.

The outstanding loyalty of the Croats to the Hapsburg Empire was undermined when the Hungarians started to try and turn the Croats into Magyars. Even as late as 1917 and 1918 the Croats, like the Slovenes, proposed a Slavic state within the Monarchy.

From the start of the Yugoslav kingdom, Serb leaders demanded that Croatia must be absorbed by Serbia and in the country, divided into nine provinces, living together always proved a bitter experience. In World War II the setting up by the Germans of the Ustashi Croat Republic proved to be Yugoslavia's fatal cancer. The Ustashi massacred about 300,000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, sometimes burning them alive in villages they surrounded. The Serbs never forgot or forgave and after Tito's death -- he was a Croat -- it erupted slowly. This explains Serbia's action, its efforts also to retain the areas settled by the Serb frontier people 250 years ago.

Dalmatia and Istria were Austrian Provinces but not under Hungary like Croatia. They were given to Croatia in the inter-war period. The Serbs want the parts settled by Serbs, the Croats want to keep them. The Dalmats, as they call themselves privately, still have some shadowy ties with Italy while the new Italian Right Wing wants Istria to become Italian now that there is a break-up.

Bosnia is a recent creation linked with Herzegovina when Austria was asked to take over. Its links with Croatia just disappeared when Croatia was administered from Budapest. When the Turks conquered the Balkans the majority of landowners accepted the Turkish offer to become Moslem in exchange for being permitted to keep their lands and control of the workforce. The Moslem Serbs of Bosnia, after the Turks had gone, relied first on Hapsburg and then on Tito's protection as a resented group. Indeed, quite a number moved to the then Palestine not to be under Christian rule. As for the Macedonians, this is also a newly created entity whose inhabitants, mostly Slavs, are desperately seeking to establish their international identity.

The Serbs regard themselves as the elite Slav nation of the Balkans. They claim that their history has proved, in its tragic ups and downs, that they are entitled to rule the Balkans with the trusted Russian protector and ally in the background. But this ally seems to have switched to the Americans. The Serbs, after the collapse of Titoism, feel that they have to obtain, and retain, control of the areas where Serbs live, like Croatia's former Hapsburg Military Districts and, of course, the Serb areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As for the Moslems, they must be confined to districts where they cannot threaten the Serbs and the wholesale exchange of population between Greece and Turkey after World War I is remembered but hardly mentioned. The methods of fighting are seen as justified because of the Croat record in the last war. This is, or was, the basic ideology. In the background was the feeling that Serbia, aided by Greece because of Macedonia and Albania, can hold on to its gains since there is no Superpower to dominate the Balkans. It was significant that the Russian Foreign Minister, Kozyrev, got the cold shoulder on his Mediation Visit to Belgrade and that the Conservative-Communist opposition in Moscow condemned the Russian UN vote in favour of sanctions.

Events in the Balkans are clearly forcing, as in the troubled past, the new power groups to resume the policies of exerting pressure and influence in the Balkans. They are forcing these groups too, the EC, the WEU, the UN, to change their character, to become military albances, however restricted, and use economic power as a weapon.

To ensure peace, however, needs more, because the fighting around Serbia, with its mutual hatreds going back half a century, requires a presence of stabilizing forces. This brings us back to Bismarck's saying. Permanent unrest and local conflicts in the Balkans can be contained, Slovenia can be absorbed in Central Europe like Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech republic. But the hatred now rampant implies that in some future situation a Big Power will again establish its dominance in the Balkans. The existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina is by no means assured and this is the main trouble.

Editor's Note: Christopher Cviic's Remaking the Balkans (Pinter Publishers, E8.95) provides the best introduction to the history of the Balkan states. This short account is by a Croat scholar, long resident in Britain, who is the Editor of The World Today, the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The final chapter contains some sensible suggestions which might make the Balkans more stable. there. it was a regular occurrence for politicians to appear here at election times to incite the Hindus against the Muslims, who otherwise lived together in reasonable amity. The old differences would now be used on a nationwide scale, reinforced with the promise of Ram Rajya for the entire nation. A heady specific for a largely unsophisticated electorate.

Media interviewers -- no Sir Robin Day or Brian Walden among them -- on the country's economic failures and appalling poverty were skilfully side-tracked. Attention was channelled on the prime need to move the mosque (funds were offered for its re-erection elsewhere), and to rebuild the temple. The suggestion was that the latter was the foremost task before the country, and the inescapable first rung in the ladder for the climb back to Ram Rajya. The Muslims, justifiably, failed to see the logic. No matter, for it was the Hindu votes that would swing the election. No plausible evidence was ever produced to justify the claim to the holy birthplace, because none can exist.

As with all conspiracies, once the first imaginative leap had been made, the rest followed with intoxicating logic. The drums of orthodoxy and zealotry were loudly beaten to stir up rigorist enthusiasm, and whole contingents of the innumerable Hindu religious orders of the bizarre kind flocked to support the campaign. All aspects of it were reduced to sheer images, taking account of the preponderance of illiteracy of the voters. For the first time in Indian elections, graphic arts were made use of on a grand scale. These assumed a variety of repellant forms and offered rich opportunities to the coarser type of popular artist. Videos, posters and cartoons dispensed with the usual confines of decency. The endless repetition of slogans manipulated the poor Hindu voters and dehumanised the enemy, the Muslims of the region. They were presented as sinister enclaves of irrational backwardness and inferior culture. The leaders, when confronted by the media, denied responsibility for the excesses. But the campaign went on, and violence was never far away.

This campaign to establish a Hindu state of India acquired the name of Hindu fundamentalism, terms previously unknown in 3,000 years of Hinduism. There are no Hindu fundamentals' in it whatever. The concept is as non-hindu as can be, and this is how it is seen in the principal centres of study of Hinduism in India. This essay has not set out to establish that there are no undesirable features in the practice of Hinduism, because there are many which have achieved substance motivated by fear and self-interest. Not surprising when one considers the age of Hinduism and that there are 600 million Hindus. My aim is to refute the idea that Hindu fundamentalism has any authority in the Hindu philosophical code.

In the event, the fundamentalists did not win. What might have been the outcome had they won is fearful to contemplate in the context of a statement made by one of the leaders that India did not need democracy when it had a set of fundamental rules -- those set by the party, of course. Because of the influences of power, it is reasonable to assume that there would have been a real danger of secularism degenerating into disrespect for other faiths, notably Christianity and Islam, and individualism being
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Title Annotation:Balkan Peninsula
Author:Murray, Leo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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