Open Borders, Nonalignment, and the Political Evolution of Yugoslavia

Open Borders, Nonalignment, and the Political Evolution of Yugoslavia

by William Zimmerman

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Zimmerman asks. 'What difference does it make for Yugoslavia's political evolution that it exists in an international environment as well as a domestic one?" Presenting a lucid analysis of the mutual influence of external and internal factors in Yugoslav politics, he pays special attention to the political significance of the one million Yugoslavs who have crossed

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Zimmerman asks. 'What difference does it make for Yugoslavia's political evolution that it exists in an international environment as well as a domestic one?" Presenting a lucid analysis of the mutual influence of external and internal factors in Yugoslav politics, he pays special attention to the political significance of the one million Yugoslavs who have crossed the country's borders to work in capitalist Western Europe.

Originally published in 1987.

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Open Borders, Nonalignment, and the Political Evolution of Yugoslavia

By William Zimmerman


Copyright © 1987 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-07730-7



In the mid-1980s, the era in which the World War II Partisan generation ruled the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was coming rapidly to an end. (Yugoslavia consists of six republics, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia; and, within the Republic of Serbia, two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo.) Not only did Josip Broz (Tito) finally die (in 1980) after some thirty-five years as the "first real Yugoslav national leader" [Shoup, 1968], but so too did Edvard Kardelj and Vladimir Balearic, the two other most prominent Partisan leaders who remained part of the central political leadership throughout the course of the post-World War II period. Other members of the elderly Yugoslav political elite are almost certain to pass from the political scene in the near future, and Yugoslavia will be governed in the relatively near future by a new political generation made up, not of Partisans, much less prvoborci (the first fighters in World War II), but rather of persons raised and socialized almost entirely in the Tito era.

Whatever else that older generation and Tito in particular accomplished over thirty-five years, they and "New" Yugoslavia survived. For any modern state that is no mean feat. As philatelists have long known, and students of comparative politics have more recently discovered, states come and go with some regularity. T. Robert Gurr [1974] has shown that the average duration of a polity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been thirty-two years.

Yugoslavia's continuing political independence is all the more impressive when one contemplates the challenges that Yugoslavia, in particular, has faced. The Yugoslavs have withstood vigorous efforts by Stalin to bring down the Tito regime — and in the process to impose satellite status on Yugoslavia. Under Tito's leadership, Yugoslavia managed (through varying admixtures of accommodation and repression) to maintain some degree of national cohesion despite the forces, external and internal, which have rendered this task difficult. For example, Yugoslavia is one of the few countries in the contemporary world about which it may be properly said that there exist persons outside the country who are actively dedicated to tearing it asunder by violent means. The most obvious are the Croatian nationalist groups, many of them related in some way to the pre-1945 Ustasa, a separatist-terrorist movement that ruled Croatia under German aegis during World War II. Yugoslavia is also a state whose territorial integrity has been challenged throughout the postwar period. Not until 1975, when the boundaries between Italy and Yugoslavia became permanently fixed, were formal disputes with foreign states over the extent of Yugoslav domains resolved. Even in the mid-1980s Bulgaria seems to the Yugoslavs to behave as though it has not abandoned its desire to reclaim territories now incorporated into Yugoslavia as the Republic of Macedonia.

Furthermore, Yugoslavia has seemed an exception — it turns out there are many — to the old generalization that modernization increases symbolic attachment to the nation state at the expense of both more universal and more parochial institutions. As John de Lamater has demonstrated [1969], increasing development has produced in Yugoslavia, both within and between republics, increasing symbolic attachment to the republic rather than to the Federation. This situation has been exacerbated by the enormous and continuing economic gap between the wealthiest and poorest republics and autonomous provinces. As we shall see, the gross social product per capita of the Republic of Slovenia, for example, roughly approximates that of central Italy, while the gross social product per capita of the autonomous province of Kosovo is comparable to that of Congo (Brazzaville), Ghana, or Liberia.

The survival of independent Yugoslavia is equally remarkable when one considers the divergent attitudes about Yugoslav independence to be found among Yugoslav elites and potential counterelites. Without putting too fine a point on the matter, it can be said that by no means all Yugoslavs have agreed with Leo Mates, former Yugoslav Ambassador to the United States, "that the desire to preserve independence is the prime consideration in formulating foreign policy" [1972, p. 111]. For a sizable number of Yugoslav citizens, a major consideration has been not preserving the independence and sovereignty of Yugoslavia, but rather securing independence of a component part of the country from Yugoslavia.

The 1981 riots in Kosovo, which is heavily Albanian ethnically, are only the most recent manifestation of that proclivity. In the late 1960s, some influential Slovenes voiced feelings that the Republic of Slovenia would be better off outside Yugoslavia. A nationalist upsurge in Croatia in 1971, culminating in a strike at Zagreb University, likewise provided the occasion for dramatic calls for republican autonomy, the effects of which would have been the virtual dismantling of the Yugoslav Federation.

In the mid-1980s, moreover, Yugoslavia faces many of the same issues it confronted throughout the Tito era and some additional ones as well. As any reader of the New York Times is aware, Yugoslavia has an external debt in excess of $20,000,000,000; enormous unemployment; shortages in electricity, detergents, coffee, cooking oil, and raw materials; and double-digit inflation. All these problems, coupled with the departure of the Partisan generation from the Yugoslav political stage, make this an especially apt occasion for a kind of stock-taking of important trends in Yugoslav political development, for an effort to sort out the elements of continuity and change in the evolution of Yugoslav elite strategies for maintaining independence and reinforcing legitimacy, and to attempt to discover how these in turn influence the evolution of Yugoslav political institutions, processes, and major policy orientations.

That is the task of this monograph, which I hope will be of interest both to policymakers and to analysts of communist systems. On its intrinsic merits, it should be.

For the policymaker, Yugoslavia has been and very likely will continue to be of interest politically. Certainly, Yugoslavia has been politically significant as an example in the past. Alvin Rubinstein [1970] found the Yugoslav pattern influential in Nasser's Egypt. Central Yugoslav themes have found responsive chords in Eastern Europe as well. There was a direct link between the Soviet-Yugoslav rapprochement in 1955 — which seemed to portend the legitimacy of national communism in Eastern Europe — and the 1956 Hungarian and Polish events. Many of the features of Yugoslav communism that have lent credence to Yugoslav claims of distinctiveness have at various times found an echo among change-oriented elites in Eastern Europe: workers' self-management, market socialism, Yugoslavia's concomitant commitment to economic links with the global economy. The Hungarian New Economic Mechanism has clear intellectual roots in Yugoslav market socialism as do the aspirations of moderate Polish reformers to institutionalize authentic workers' self-management as a vehicle for closing the gap between the Polish regime and society.

The extent to which Yugoslavia, a country beset with precisely the ills — unemployment, high inflation — that would acutely distress East Europeans socialized in a world of underemployment and putatively inflation-free planned prices, will continue to be of direct political relevance is an area about which persons may reasonably disagree [Korbonski in Vucinich, ed., 1982]. Policymakers should, however, realize that Yugoslavia will continue to be of relevance, indirectly, to those East European elites who couple in their minds the notions of independence and domestic political experimentation.

Likewise, Yugoslavia would still be of interest to policymakers for its international political role even if one accepted the false premise that politically Yugoslavia is indistinguishable from Soviet-type communist systems; or, which is a possibility, if the Yugoslav political system were to become much closer than it is currently to its Soviet counterpart. There are alternative Yugoslavias which one can imagine that would be far less disposed to challenge the Soviet Union's direct or indirect efforts to harness the nonaligned movement to its interests, just as there are Yugoslavias one can envisage that would be more pro-Western and more oriented toward Europe.

Nevertheless, for the policymaker, the central significance of Yugoslavia is strategic. It is difficult to imagine any likely scenarios in which that importance would diminish over the intermediate haul. While strategically Yugoslavia does not constitute a threat to the Soviet Union, it does represent a considerable opportunity for Soviet global force projection. The Slovenian Alps are an obvious natural obstacle to any Soviet incursion into Italy. Yugoslav airspace facilitates direct Soviet aid to states in the Middle East. Increased access to Yugoslav ports would greatly enhance Soviet naval power projection in the Mediterranean — especially since the U.S.S.R. is to some degree constrained by the terms of the Montreux Convention relating to access between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles [Ra'anan, 1977]. Finally, Yugoslavia serves as a buffer between the Warsaw Treaty Organization states and Albania. For the policymaker, Yugoslavia's strategic significance almost renders irrelevant the issue of its continuing political significance, either as exemplar for Eastern Europe or as a force among small, primarily nonaligned states of the world.

To the scholar in the academy, by contrast, the remarkable pattern of Yugoslavia's political evolution remains the major reason why Yugoslavia continues to entrance. The study of communist systems is, in the technical sense that Thomas S. Kuhn [1962] uses to depict an unstable science, in a crisis. The common assumptions required of a normal science are no longer tenable as a starting point for the analysis of the entire class of communist systems, while the dimensions of a new paradigm are not yet clear. Much of the reason why this is so pertains to Yugoslavia and the ways Yugoslav reality has often failed to mesh with our assumptions about communist political systems.

Those assumptions have been governed, in turn, by our images of the Soviet Union and of the Soviet Union's relationship with its East European allies. Out of our attention to assessments of the nature of the Soviet political system and of the distinguishing characteristics of Soviet-East European relations emerged the two closely related paradigms that defined the general consensus of communist studies for the better part of the 1950s and 1960s: the Soviet and satellite "models."

The Soviet and satellite models depicted systems with similar patterns of regime-societal relations, intra-elite attributes, and public policy features. Each model described a political system characterized by low trust in the citizenry on the part of the leaders in the respective states. In such states, the sorts and sources of influence to which the citizenry were exposed were controlled through the regime's virtual monopoly over the socialization process and the political system's extensive penetration of the society. In neither case was there a substantial role for autonomous actors within the system. In both images, similarly, the regime was insulated from society; the behaviorally relevant inputs originated in the political system itself and not in society. The highly politicized society was juxtaposed to intra-elite relations where the high unity of command connoted a polity almost devoid of high politics, except when succession was at issue. Finally, there were several public policy features that were an integral, though not often articulated, dimension of both models: planners', rather than consumers', sovereignty prevailed. Nationalization was widespread. Capitalism, the capital market, and capitalists — foreign and domestic — were eliminated. Comparatively egalitarian wage policies were introduced and full employment approximated through the guise, primarily, of "political" factories and massive underemployment.

The Soviet and satellite models diverged in the assumptions each made about the relationship of the state and society to the international environment. While the image of the Soviet-style system shared little in common with traditional approaches to comparative politics, it did presume, as did such major overall approaches as David Easton's [1953] and Gabriel Almond's [I960], that sources external to the nation state were not of major consequence in explaining the state's political development. Rather, in its relationship to the international environment, the Soviet-type system was thought of as an essentially closed system. In that respect, the Soviet model was similar to the billiard-ball model of the traditional states-as-actors approach to international politics. Great attention was attached to ensuring the impermeability of the nation state's boundaries, and nonnational actors played no part in the internal policy process. Ideas and influences originating from outside the system were systematically prevented from entering the country, and the outflow of the state's citizenry was rigidly regulated. Consistent further with the closed system imagery, Soviet-type political systems were economically autarkic.

In the satellite imagery, by contrast, the nation state is highly penetrated and national-international linkage is the key to explaining internal political development. The penetration, however, originates from only a single source; other sources of influence, even those emanating from other satellites, are excluded. Each satellite was connected, in Karl Deutsch's terms [in Farrell, ed., 1966, p. 7], to a "decision center outside the state, from which decisions inside the state ... [can] be predicted." Taken to its logical conclusion, the satellite imagery is one in which the putative nation state is merely yet another instance of a traditional political institution having been transformed by Moscow into a transmission belt, i.e., a mechanism for the downward communication of commands. And, indeed, in the most cohesive years of the Soviet bloc, Bulgaria actually voted against the Soviet Union fewer times in the United Nations General Assembly than did the Ukrainian SSR [Hovet, I960]. In short, there really was a time when Zbigniew Brzezinski and Mikhail Suslov had little quarrel in describing the distinguishing features of communist systems and when the boundaries that set off Soviet-type systems from other political systems were pronounced.

Events, however, have a way of outpacing models. In the 1950s, who was a communist, or what was a communist system was scarcely at issue. By the end of the 1960s, no single statement pertaining to the nature of the party or the relationship of the party to society or the political system could embrace the highly dissimilar variations among those professing to be communists. In the 1950s, it had been plausible to extrapolate from Soviet-East European relations to an overall depiction of relations among communist states — even though the 1948 Soviet-Yugoslav conflict provided an early indication of the limits of such an approach. By the end of the 1960s, the Sino-Soviet split and the independent positions of Albania, Cuba, North Korea, and North Vietnam precluded such a possibility.

With regard to Eastern Europe, similarly, the satellite and Soviet paradigms also failed to provide a highly accurate fit with the reality of the majority of communist states. Ataminimum, "domesticism" (in Brzezinski's term) — with its implication that the focus of the decisional center is within the state — characterized the erstwhile satellites. Romania, the state in Eastern Europe that most approximated the traditional Soviet model internally, became the one whose relations with the U.S.S.R. were most at variance with traditional notions of Soviet-East European relations. By the onset of the 1970s, all the states of Eastern Europe had lost the isolation from the noncommunist world that typified the 1950s. They had in many instances substantially increased their ties with external sources other than the U.S.S.R. and reduced correspondingly the extent of penetration by the Soviet Union. Equally important, in some East European systems the societies have been depoliticized to an appreciable degree; the demand for affirmation has been replaced by regime tolerance of mere compliance on the part of the citizenry: in Hungary, most notably, Stalin's "He who is not with us, is against us" has been replaced by Janos Kadar's "He who is not against us, is with us."


Excerpted from Open Borders, Nonalignment, and the Political Evolution of Yugoslavia by William Zimmerman. Copyright © 1987 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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