The Consequences of Nationalism

Human Wrongs Watch

By Fernando Ayala*

The Yugoslav civil war, 1991-2001: 150,000 dead in Europe

21 October 2019  (Wall Street International)*


A women crying before a coffin | Image from Wall Street International.

The future does not belong to globalists, but to patriots …. We are the most powerful power in the world, but I hope I will never have to use that power.

(Donald Trump, 2019)

The feeling of patriotism, is, in our times, unnatural, irrational and harmful, while the cause of a large part of the ills that humanity suffers, and that, therefore, this feeling should not be cultivated, as it happens currently, but on the contrary, to be suppressed and uprooted by all means available to rational men.

(Leon Tolstoy, 1894)

Current times have been loaded with uncertainties and fear of the future. To the resurgence of nationalism and patriotism, fueled by Heads of Governments and political leaders, as is the case of Presidents Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban or Erdogan, we have to add the threats of climate change, migratory crises due to wars and economic causes, together to the rapid population growth that will continue to feed these flows.

It is in Europe where some of these events have the strongest repercussion and where the consequences of patriotism and nationalism are best known, as have been the two world wars or the last one in the former Yugoslavia.

It is worth remembering then that Slobodan Milosevic, Prime Minister of Serbia; Franjo Tuđman, President of Croatia and Alijah Izetbegovic, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), were the main actors in this Balkan drama that ended with the disappearance of Yugoslavia and the creation of eight states, two of which have not been recognized by United Nations1.


Slobodan Milosevic | Image from Wall Street International.

The exaltation of nationalism and patriotism in their speeches created the conditions for this true tragedy which one hides or seeks to forget since it broke 46 years of peace on the continent, pulverized a country and gave rise to massacres, brutality, mass rapes, genocides and ethnic cleansing difficult to understand and whose scars are still far from disappearing.

These three men, who at some time in their lives used to be members of the communist party of Yugoslavia, caused a civil war that later became a conflict between independent states leaving around 150 thousand dead. It has been the biggest war in Europe after the end of World War II. In its final stage, it included the participation of NATO forces that bombed Belgrade, leaving around 5,000 victims.

The European Union was a passive accomplice of this by watching the development of the crisis, the beginning of the war, the atrocities committed for years and not having intervened when it should have, due to the interests of some of its powers that swiftly supported the independence of Slovenia first and then of Croatia, thus triggering war.

Each of these three leaders, in their own way, exacerbated patriotism and nationalism. Milosevic, a lawyer who made his career in the party, wanted to subject the other republics to the “Greater Serbia” because he controlled the Yugoslav army. He personally led the ethnic cleansing operations against Muslims and Croats. He had already warned in 1988 that war could not be excluded.

Tuđman, who had been a member of Tito’s partisan movement, in the resistance to German occupation during WWII, and who obtained the rank of general of the Yugoslav people’s army, became not only a Croatian ultranationalist, but also a denialist of the extermination of Jews, Serbs, communists, gypsies and patriots caused by the puppet republic imposed by the Nazis called “New Croatian State”, between 1941-1945.


Alija Izetbegovic | Image from Wall Street International.

Alija Izetbegovic belonged to the group of “Young Muslims” in Sarajevo and is the subject of a confusing story. While some say that he participated in the liberation war together with the partisans of Tito and that he entered the communist party, others argue that he supported the invading Nazi army.

The truth is that he spent almost 20 years imprisoned for Muslim nationalism and activities against the State, in 1946 and 1983, years in which he was convicted. Izetbegocic, already as president of B&H and according to the testimony of a German journalist from the weekly Stern, personally received Osama bin Laden at Sarajevo airport in 1994, who came to support the European Muslim republic.

The three characters are united by having exacerbated nationalist feelings, false patriotism and historicism, invoking religious feelings proclaiming a pure cultural identity, trying to differentiate the common language, in circumstances that the elements that united that country for more than 80 years were clearly older than those who differentiated them.

Everyone fought with everyone, and the lands of B&H, where the greatest ethnic dispersion is found, gave the most tragic scenario. It was the bad policy of the leaders who allowed this drama so that later, in 1995, the Dayton Accords were signed in the United States, and Milosevic, Tuđman and Izetbegovic shook hands and agreed to end the war in B&H.

However, it extended to Kosovo until 2001, leaving a final balance of about 150 thousand dead, hundreds of thousands injured, 4 million displaced and billions in material losses. Even more serious is the resentment that persists because of the horrors committed by all sides.

These three variants of nationalism are repeated throughout history: “I am better, “my people are the purest”, “my god is the only one to worship”, “my culture is older”, “my race is superior” or lately “my country first”.

While nationalism and racism are present everywhere, in its long history Europe has proven to be a leader in the field. Serbs, Croats and Bosnians are Slavs, as well as Arabs and Jews are Semites, but beyond that, Africans, Asians, Americans and Europeans all have the same African grandmother, Lucy, 3.2 million years old and who rests in the Addis Ababa museum in Ethiopia.


Snipers | Image from Wall Street International.

Observing today in countries such as the United States, Germany, Italy, Brazil and other places, the regrowth and growth of nationalism and patriotism, gives chills because historical examples are too close, and fiery speeches are heard louder and louder. All nationalists feel victims at the beginning and patriots who claim rights, equality, identity, traditions, history, religion, heroism, and on this they raise their discourse that finds fertile ground when institutions, the economy or democracy weaken in societies, due to political mistakes.

Both World Wars are products of great mistakes by the ruling elites. The assassination of the Austrian archduke in Sarajevo unleashed mobilizations and military alliances giving rise to a war that at the beginning was thought only as a lesson to Serbia and that would last very little. The militarists and politicians were wrong, as were those who imposed the conditions of surrender to Germany, which only managed to accumulate feelings of revenge fueled by German nationalism, patriotism and militarism.

On the Balkan peninsula, with an area of just over half a million square kilometers and 55 million inhabitants distributed today among the 8 countries of the former Yugoslavia, plus Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, surged the first World War, and also the last war that Europe has lived.

In the peninsula, hundreds of ethnic minorities live together with the main religious creeds; hundreds of languages and dialects are spoken. The end of the war has increased economic differences, since only Slovenia and Croatia are members of NATO and the EU, such as Bulgaria, Greece and Romania. The other countries, including Albania, are on the waiting list, making merit for their entry. The first requirement is the easiest – they have all approved becoming members of NATO and therefore strengthening military structure and spending.

I have had the opportunity to visit most of the former Yugoslav republics, and the feelings of their population are different. Slovenia was always the most westernized and most developed, there is no nostalgia for the Yugoslav past that is observed discreetly among some in Croatia. On the other hand, Serbia, B&H, Macedonia or Montenegro are “yugo-nostalgic” countries, where people do not hide their feelings and where even photographs of Tito are kept in the houses.

Kosovo is a failed State and the Republika Srpska, formed mainly by Serbs and with minorities of Croats and Bosnians, is an appendix of Serbia. As you walk through Sarajevo, the increase in the Muslim population becomes evident and when you talk with people, feelings and memories of suffering quickly emerge. Many keep weapons in their homes, and no one claims that clashes will not return. This is common in the other republics, especially where different ethnic groups meet.

The dead, the atrocities are remembered, and some claim to know who the perpetrators were. Upon leaving my hotel in Sarajevo by taxi to the airport, I asked the driver if he had memories of the war. “Of course,” he replied, “I played football with my 14-year-old older brother when a sniper blew his head with a bullet.”

1 Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Republic of North Macedonia, Srpska Republic and Kosovo, the latter two without United Nations recognition.

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