Table of Contents

ETHNOCULTURE  (Vol.1, 2007 pp. 59-71)



Vesna V. Godina

University of Ljubljana

[email protected]

What is supra-ethnic identity? A basic theoretical model

With supra-ethnic identity I refer to a very specific non-ethnic identity, which can be found especially in multiethnic societies. This identity is not based on a concrete ethnic group, but is, on the contrary, shared by different ethnic groups which are usually part of one multiethnic state. That means that supra-ethnic identity is not based on concrete ethnic language, concrete ethnic history or on other determinants or dimensions of concrete ethnic groups. Supra-ethnic identity connects different ethnic groups with different ethnic languages, different ethnic histories, different religions and other different ethnic characteristics into one supra-ethnic group. Two examples of supra-ethnic identities are, in my view, Yugoslav identity (1) and American identity.

Supra-ethnic identity is in principle a characteristic of multiethnic states and societies. In those states and societies multiethnic identity connects different ethnic groups into a political and social whole, which is a social and political basis for those multiethnic states and societies. That means that multiethnic identity plays a fundamental role in the political and social integration of multiethnic states and societies.

In order to explain precisely what has been said so far, it is necessary to dwell shortly upon what seems appropriate to be called the “identification matrix”. These are hierarchical modes of identification, as presented in the following figure.

A: level of supra-ethnic identification, which is the same for different ethnic groups

B1, B2: level of ethnic identifications, which are different between different ethnic groups

C1, C2, D1, D2 etc: other levels of identification (local, group, etc.)

Figure 1: Identification matrix

Supra-ethnic identity can play different roles in the identification matrix and in concrete multiethnic states and societies. First and perhaps most importantly, supra-ethnic identity can integrate different ethnic groups into one supra-ethnic group. This integration is in principle always working when different ethnic groups share the same supra-ethnic identity through supra-ethnic identification. Such a sharing in principle produces non-conflict relationships between different ethnic groups, also in situations where conflict relationships between specific ethnic groups are present:

A: supra-ethnic identity and identification

B1, B2: ethnic identities and identifications

C1, C2, D1, D2 etc.: other identities and identifications (i.e. local, etc.)

NCR: integrative non-conflict relationship between different ethnic groups

CR: disintegrative conflict relationship between different ethnic groups

Figure 2: Supra-ethnic identity produces non-conflict relationships between different ethnic groups

As long as supra-ethnic identity is successfully shared between different ethnic groups which are part of the same society and/or state, it integrates different ethnic groups into this state and/or society despite latent and/or manifest conflicts between them. If the supra-ethnic identification collapses, the integration of different ethnic groups into one society and/or state will become problematic because non-conflict relationships between the different ethnic groups will not be reproduced automatically any more. Such a situation can result in the disintegration of a society and/or state, especially when the relations between ethnic groups are conflict relations. The result of the described change in the hierarchy of identifications is therefore a transition from latent conflicts between ethnic grops to manifest conflicts between them.

O: empty place of supra-ethnic identity and identification and absence of integrative non-conflict relationship

B1, B2: level of ethnic identity

CR: disintegrative conflict relationship between ethnic groups

C1, C2, D1, D2 etc.: other identities (i.e. local, etc.)

Figure 3: Empty place of supra-ethnic identity and the outburst of conflict relations between ethnic groups

The outburst of conflict between various ethnic groups can be accompanied by all forms of nationalism (also militant).

Ethnic identities and supra-ethnic identity in former Yugoslavia

The Yugoslav socialist state was a very specific one. On the one hand, it incorporated the historical heritage of the pre-war, non-socialist Yugoslav state, and, on the other, it attempted to integrate different ethnic groups into one multiethnic state. These two characteristics of socialist Yugoslavia are of basic importance for understanding the post-war non conflictual period, as well as for the analysis of the outburst of nationalism and integration of Yugoslav multi-ethnic state and society.

Constitutionally, socialist Yugoslavia was a state composed of six socialist republics and two socialist autonomous provinces. (2) Each of these units had its own specific historical, political, religious, and/or linguistic tradition. Into these traditions were also incorporated past conflicts with other parts of Yugoslavia.

Let’s take the “Serbo-Croat case”, which is a very instructive one. Both republics had their own quite different, and in some ways totally opposite, historical, political and religious traditions. Serbia and Croatia had (before their integration into pre-war Yugoslavia) very different historical traditions (being respectively part of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empire); also, their religious traditions were distinctive (Catholic in Croatia and Orthodox in Serbia); and their historical heritage, especially the political one from pre-war Yugoslavia, was one of conflict. Most of the historical analysis of pre-war Yugoslavia (the so called “old” Yugoslavia) have explicitly discussed this Serbo-Croatian political conflict as one of the most - if not the most - important disintegrative characteristics of pre-war “old” Yugoslavia.

So called “old Yugoslavia” was formally named “the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes”. As such it was intended to be a multinational state. However, problematic relations between nations were always present. One of the most important and also the most enduring problem was the relationship between the Serbs and Croats. Because formal equality strategies for both nations were not established, there were constant drives for domination by both sides in this formally multinational state. The Serbs were more successful in this game and the result was Serb domination, “Serb hegemony”, in “old Yugoslavia” on the one hand, and conflicts between nations, especially between the Serbs and Croats (as well as between Serbs and Slovenes) on the other hand. These conflicts were also among the main reasons for the collapse of “old Yugoslavia” just after the beginning of World War II. (3) To all these one must add the conflicts developed during World War II (also armed - especially between the guerilla fighter groups of Serb cetniki and Croat ustaše). From the point of view of such historical heritage what is surprising is not the outburst of nationalism after 1980, but the past, and quite long non-nationalistic period.

The other important dimension of relations between the republics incorporated into the socialist “new” Yugoslavia, was the question of bases on which the symbolic boundaries between nations had been made. We shall not discuss here the question of geographic boundaries between the socialist republics and the socialist autonomous provinces. The problem we are interested in is not the question of territory but the question of identity. Who was, for example, a Croat in comparison to a Serb, or a Slovene? Which are the main, basic differences that make someone a Serb, another one a Croat, or a Montenegrin? This question is, therefore, a question of differences between inhabitants of different socialist republics of former Yugoslavia, and not a question of similarities. The question of Yugoslav supra-national identity, instead, is a question of similarities.

Let us begin again with the Serbo-Croatian example. The symbolic boundary between the two nations was firstly a religious one and, secondly, a historical one. What is interesting is that neither political (“old Yugoslavian”), nor linguistic criteria were in use. Such a selection was obviously made from an ideological point of view. It has already been mentioned that the political criterion, which was of such importance in “old Yugoslavia”, was, because of its “bourgeois dimension”, not in use in socialist Yugoslavia. Regarding the linguistic criterion, it must be mentioned that in socialist Yugoslavia the language of Serbs and the language of Croats was treated as one language: as Serbo-Croat. This language was the language of the majority of the inhabitants of Yugoslavia. In Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia this language was the language of schooling, political life, cultural life, etc. In Kosovo, Macedonia, and Slovenia other languages were used. (4) In Kosovo, Macedonia, and Slovenia the pupils were taught (just for a few years) also Serbo-Croat.

The Slovene-Croatia case is, on the other hand, quite different. Both of these republics were Catholic and both were in the past part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In such a situation a linguistic criterion was of great importance; to be a Slovene, for example, meant to speak Slovene, not Serbo-Croat.

In the other cases (Serbia-Montenegro; Serbia-Kosovo; Serbia-Macedonia, etc.) a combination of different specific criteria was used (cf. Cegorovic, 1993). What is of importance here for further discussion is the fact that in socialist Yugoslavia there did not exist a single criterion for establishing symbolic boundaries between the nations and ethnic groups incorporated into the Yugoslav state. This fact means at least two things. Firstly, such a “confused situation” included simultaneously some conflictual and non-conflictual dimensions in the relations between the nations and ethnic groups incorporated into the Yugoslav state in all the post-war history of socialist Yugoslavia (i.e. there were no periods of sole conflict, or sole non-conflict relations, although there were periods in which one of these kinds of relations dominated). (5) Secondly, such a situation, on the other hand, was the basis for Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity.

This was the identity of “Yugoslavhood”. It did not have the status of ethnic identity, but that of a supra-ethnic identity. This has several meanings. First of all, the identity of Yugoslavhood did not at all exclude the existence of national identities. On the contrary, they co-existed and the supra-ethnic identity represented the “channel of synthesis” of all the national ones. Secondly, Yugoslavhood as an identity was not correlated to a national community but to a state formation. In a sense it was, therefore, a “state identity”. (6) This, of course further means that each nation also had another ethnic identity, which throughout the history of the existence of Yugoslavia continued to exist together with the Yugoslav identity. Thirdly, each individual thereby developed parallel sorts of identity: a national one (which suited the membership of one’s nation and which geographically covered in principle parts of the Yugoslav territory) and the “Yugoslav” one (which suited the state frame as well as fitting in it geographically). (7)

Ideological backgrounds of Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity

During the period of apparent no conflict in the multinational state of Yugoslavia extraordinary attention was devoted to the maintenance and preservation of Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity. This fact has been defined in several ways and I shall now discus some of them.

First of all I shall mention the fact that, in the sphere of (political) ideology, harmonious relations between the nations and ethnic groups received explicitly devoted attention from World War II till President Tito’s death in the year 1980. The political slogan representing the ideal of harmonious relations between nations and ethnic groups was that of “brotherhood and unity”. This slogan marked and propagated two important dimensions of the relations between nations and ethnic groups. With “brotherhood” it appealed to the common link of most of Yugoslav nations and ethnic groups (many times pointing to their Slavonic origin, as well as to different variants of pan-Slavonic ideas) (8), and with “unity”, it emphasized the connection into a unitary state as the realisation of long-held historical desires and interests of the Yugoslav nations it embodied.

The explicit demand for the preservation of brotherhood and unity between the Yugoslav nations and ethnic groups, which was established during World War II, functioned not merely as a political slogan but also presented one of the key norms in the standard of relations in this multinational state. Having the highest possible value, it received constant political attention. This was well illustrated by the fact that in Tito’s speeches (from World War II till his death) the explicit demand for the preservation of “brotherhood and unity” was constantly present. Thus, for example, in 1942 Tito spoke about an “armed brotherhood and unity” (Kremenšek, Trojan, 1984: 91); in 1945 he said that “the power of our new Yugoslavia is based on brotherhood and unity” (Štraubringer, 1980: 81); again, in 1969, he spoke about brotherhood and unity as being a “great acquisition” (ibid.: 185); in 1971 he said: “Nowadays it is of the utmost importance to preserve what we have been fighting for in our country; that is brotherhood and the unity of our nations. We need it more than anything else, and we shall be needing it for a long time. Brotherhood and unity is not something short-lived, it must be a moral need and we have to strengthen it constantly” (ibid.: 185); in 1974 he again defined brotherhood and unity as being “the thing of the most importance between the nations” (ibid.: 189).

The centrality of the slogan of “brotherhood and unity” was connected with the fact that this slogan was the ideological background of supra-ethnic Yugoslav identification and had just the same position as the Yugoslav supra-ethnic identification itself. Being a Serb or a Croat respectively was, through this perspective, a “secondary” identity; both the Serbs and the Croats were above all and first of all Yugoslavs; through the “Yugoslav” supra-ethnic “optics” they were, in spite of differences, members of the same community - therefore, “brothers”. Through this aspect the repetition of the myth of brotherhood is more than a mere coincidence.

Also, “brotherhood and unity” became a constitutional value. In the “Introduction” of the Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1976) we can read for example that nations and nationalities are “aware that further consolidation of their brotherhood and unity is in the common interest” (p. 53), and that one of the basic aims is also to try to realise and ensure in the Socialistic Federal Republic of Yugoslavia “the brotherhood and unity of the nations and nationalities” (p. 54).

These short illustrations already show that “brotherhood and unity” was given an extremely high position in the hierarchy of values of the Yugoslav state; there were only a few other values which had the same status. Probably there were only two that had a similarly strong position in the ideological scheme of socialist Yugoslavia. They were “socialism” in the sphere of political values, and “social ownership of the means of production” in the sphere of economic ones (9).

In accordance with the described meaning of brotherhood and unity there was, of course, appropriate attention devoted to it also in the educational system. Brotherhood and unity were taught and learned; brotherhood and unity were systematically incorporated throughout the educational system. This especially applied to the academic subjects dedicated to certain forms of civic education (10); brotherhood and unity were not only inculcated as one of the key and highest values within the framework of those subjects, but the destruction of brotherhood and unity was also described as one of the two greatest dangers for socialist Yugoslavia. In a textbook on the subject of “Defence and Protection” it can be read that the “destruction of brotherhood, unity and equality of nations and nationalities” (Radojic et al., 1983: 123) directly followed in importance the “prevention and restraining of the development of the socialistic self-management system” (ibid.), thus occupying second place.

The principle of “brotherhood and unity” (although less explicitly) marked also other academic subjects not directly belonging to the frame of so-called civic education. Thus, for instance, the whole recent history of the Yugoslav nation was used to exemplify the ultimate establishment of “brotherhood and unity” (cf. e.g. Kremenšek, Trojan, 1984); throughout the whole educational process and everyday educational activity “the spirit of brotherhood and unity” was urgently demanded (The Eighth Communist Party Congress, 1964: 40).

It would be incorrect to think that all these political and educational activities remained without practical results. The principle of brotherhood and unity became not only nationally popular (11), but it also essentially influenced the formation of identification patterns. Consequently, people formed an identity pattern which “embodied” the principle of “brotherhood and unity”. This was the supra-ethnic Yugoslav identity.

Multiethnic identity and the element of fear

As already mentioned, during the four decades of the existence of socialist Yugoslavia the content of the above-mentioned slogan of “brotherhood and unity” was adjusted in accordance with the changes of social and political circumstances. During the war “brotherhood and unity” had a distinctive militant content (it was a slogan calling for armed combat) and in accordance with that an “armed brotherhood and unity” was spoken about. After the war it lost this militant note, and it became a “brotherhood and unity” that called only for relations being distinctively non-conflictual (cf. Štaubringer, 1980). But this transition did not change the importance of the slogan “brotherhood and unity”. Neither did unarmed “brotherhood and unity” bring with it the loss of the reason for solidarity. Namely, the problem of mutual defence retained its basic importance throughout the post-war period.

The reasons for this are evident. Firstly, in socialist Yugoslavia there did continue to exist the problem of mutual defence of the homeland from the external enemy (or enemies). The example of pressures from Stalin is a classic example (12). Another one was that created by capitalist influences and forces (“capitalist enemy”). The homeland, the result of socialist revolution and development, was never safe enough; it never became safe to such a degree that mutual defence could become of less importance. (13)

Secondly, the enemies were not just outside socialist Yugoslavia. They were also in it; they were permanently among us. These were the people with a strong capitalist heritage from “old Yugoslavia”; the Stalinists; the people who were against self-management; the liberals; etc., etc. (cf. Radojic et al., 1983).

One of the most important ideologists of the League of Yugoslav Communists, Edvard Kardelj, made the idea and the importance of the so called “inner enemy” extremely clear in his political analyses of 1977. The “inner enemy” was the category into which all positions were included which differed (more or less) from the position of the League of Communists. These positions were divided into “left” and “right” (cf. Kardelj, 1977: 73, ff.). Into the “left” the intellectuals, the so called “ultra left-oriented intellectuals”, were included; this position was linked to “anarchistic criticism” and “spontanism” (cf. ibid.: 71, 74), which was obviously the position linked to Trotsky and his vision of socialism (cf. ibid.: 71), and which was “an expression of a hostile relationship to the League of Yugoslav Communists” (ibid.: 71). Into the “right” the petty bourgeoisie and Stalinism were included; this was linked to all the positions which were against self-management, that is, which were for the re-establishment of a multi-party system on the one hand and for the re-establishment of the Stalinistic type of socialism on the other hand (cf. ibid.: 63, 75). The result was not just the fact that more or less all the positions and all the individuals not in line with the League of Communists were declared as the “inner enemy”, but also a redefinition of “what is right and what is left” (ibid.: 73) took place; “the left” was the League of Communists (14) and its vision of socialism, “the right” was everything else, all the “inner enemies”. Since the main result of the activities of the “inner enemy” was the demolition of self-management from inside, this internal enemy (enemies) was even more dangerous than the external one. And it was of crucial importance to defend socialist Yugoslavia from it (or them). This had to be done permanently and in the common interest.

Such imaginary enemies had, with no doubt, a very basic importance in the reproduction of unity in the Yugoslav multinational state. They stimulated very strong solidarity, in comparison with which the differences and particular interests of the republics or nations and ethnic groups were less important, even marginal. The slogan of “brotherhood and unity” was of central importance for such solidarity. It was not important if it was “armed” or “unarmed brotherhood and unity”; what was crucial was the transcendence of particular national interests, which in the whole post-war socialist period were treated (implicitly or even explicitly) as dangerous and disintegrative.

It is very obvious that in such an ideological context nationalism (and the nationalists) was treated as an enemy in itself. Even more: in the whole post-war period (from World War II till the end of the formal existence of socialist Yugoslavia) nationalism was one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous internal enemy. (15) And as such it did, paradoxically, have a basic importance in the reproduction of solidarity in the Yugoslav multi-national state.

What I am arguing is that the Yugoslav multi-national state needed nationalism and nationalists to maintain its own integration. It needed them as a reason for common struggle and common interest. It needed them as a reason for solidarity. It needed them as The Enemy. And it had them.

The collapse of Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity

In the whole post-war history of socialist Yugoslavia the Yugoslav multiethnic identity succeeded in integrating different ethnic groups into one multiethnic state and society despite ethnic nationalisms and despite latent and sometimes also manifest conflicts between ethnic groups. Through the whole post-war period the Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity was successfully combined with concrete ethnic identities. As a rule those identities - supra-ethnic and ethnic - were never in conflict, as far as the majority of the population was concerned. However, if a conflict between the two did appear, it would automatically be resolved by ascribing supremacy to the “Yugoslav identity” at the cost of the ethnic identity. This effect should be ascribed to the position which each of the identities occupied within the framework of the so called identification matrix, as shown in Figure 4:

YU: Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity

B1, B2: ethnic identities

C1, C2, etc.: other identities
(i.e. local , etc.)

NCR: integrative non-conflict relationship

CR: disintegrative conflict relationship

Figure 4: Identification matrix before the outburst of nationalism in Yugoslavia

As already mentioned, in the year 1991, after more than four decades, the supra-ethnic identification experienced a collapse. Different reasons for the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia were discussed, immediately after the disintegration of the Yugoslav state, from different points of view by several authors (cf. Allcock 1992; Allcock, Horton, Milivojevic 1992; Bowman 1993; Bowman 1994; Canak 1993; Goddard, Llobera, Shore 1994; Hammel 1993; Hammel 1993a; Heuvel, Siccama 1992; Shoup 1992). However, it must be understood that what become “the Yugoslav labyrinth” (Hammel, 1993) after Tito’s death was not the result of the creation of a new nationalism or new nationalisms. Different nationalisms already existed during the whole post-war Yugoslav period. What happened in the 1980s was the change of status of Yugoslav nationalisms and Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity. The Yugoslav identification principle ceased to function, and the place held by supra-ethnic identification became vacant. Consequently, national identifications took over the highest position in the hierarchy of individual national identification matrices which were, as already mentioned, permanently in mutual conflict relations.

O: empty place of supra-ethnic Yugoslav identity

B1, B2: level of ethnic identity

CR: disintegrative conflict relationship

C1, C2, etc.: other identities (i.e. local, etc.)

Figure 5: Identification matrix concomitant with the outburst of nationalism in Yugoslavia

The result of the described change in the hierarchy of identifications is therefore a transition from latent conflicts between nations and ethnic groups to manifest conflicts between them (16). Those conflicts ended in the Yugoslav war and in the disintegration of socialist Yugoslavia in the year 1991.

However, we still haven’t discussed the reasons for the collapse of supra-ethnic Yugoslav identity. Why did and how did Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity collapse? Which were the reasons for that collapse? Of course, the reasons were several. The first and probably the most obvious one was the death of president Tito. Tito died on May 4th 1980, in Ljubljana. His death was a turning point in the history of socialist Yugoslavia.

Tito was, among other things, the personification of the principle of “brotherhood and unity”. It was Tito himself who was called the “apostle of unity and brotherhood” (Štaubringer, 1980: 180). Also, Tito declared himself as Yugoslav and not as a member of one single Yugoslav nation: “For almost 20 years I have been living in Belgrade and among the Serbs, I feel as a Serb, whereas in Croatia, I feel as a Croat. I am a Yugoslav and it cannot be otherwise.” (Štaubringer, 1980: 184). And: “I am against any pressure, when the matter of question is a national decision, meaning, people should themselves declare as to whether they belong to one nation or the another. This is not necessary. There are many who are disturbed by this. It is good that people decide, because this is unavoidable. I was myself born in Croatia, as my ancestors, in Zagorje. This is well known. But I am a Yugoslav, according to my professional function, according to everything” (ibid.: 185-186). (17)

This kind of self-declaration, together with his already mentioned permanent explicit demands for the preservation of “brotherhood and unity”, made Tito a symbolic representative of the above-mentioned principle. It must also be pointed out that Tito in all kinds of conflicts (also ethnic) always emphasized Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity and Yugoslav supra-ethnic interest rather than concrete ethnic identities and their interest. His policy was the policy of Yugoslav identity, and he with all his political acts and activities created Yugoslav supra-ethnic policy. He was, it can be said, a main catalyst of Yugoslav supra-ethnic policy. After his death there was no replacement for him.

However, Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity did not collapse immediately after Tito’s death. Tito died in 1980, Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity collapsed in 1991, that is, eleven years after Tito’s death. There were several processes taking place in those eleven years which were of crucial importance for the collapse of Yugoslav identity. The most important were processes connected with the political elites in the socialist republics and autonomous provinces.

Because of the decentralisation of the socialist Yugoslav state, and because of the decentralisation of the Yugoslav League of Communists (18), in all socialist republics and all autonomous provinces separate political elites were established well before the 1980s. That means that in socialist Yugoslavia, before Tito’s death, there already existed at least eight different and separate political elites (19), which led and controlled politics in specific republics and autonomous provinces. Each of those elites had its own leader, too (20).

The power of those political elites was based on concrete political and ethnic interests of concrete ethnic group or groups which lived in concrete socialist republic and/or autonomous provinces, as well as on the concrete ethnic identity or identities characteristic of each concrete republic and province.

For political elites therefore ethnic identity - and not the Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity - was of basic importance. That is also why the identification matrix of the political elites was somehow different from the Yugoslav identification matrix; the highest position in the identification matrix was occupied by concrete ethnic identity and not by Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity.

For concrete political elites in socialist republics and autonomous provinces ethnic interests were more important than Yugoslav interests. Because in their identification matrix the highest position was occupied by ethnic identity, conflict relations between ethnic groups were of dominant importance. Since Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity was subordinated to ethnic and national identities, also non-conflict relations connected with this identity were subordinated to conflict relations between nations and ethnic groups. That means that concrete political elites from socialist republics and autonomous provinces were in at least latent political conflict even before Tito’s death.

YU: Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity

B1, B2: ethnic identities

C1, C2, D1, D2 etc.: other identities
(i.e. local , etc.)

NCR: integrative non-conflict relationship
CR: disintegrative conflict relationship

Figure 6: Identification matrix of political elites in socialist republics and autonomous provinces before the outburst of nationalism in Yugoslavia

This fact become of crucial importance after Tito’s death. After his death the political elites from different socialist republics and autonomous provinces started to fight for power in Yugoslavia. They based their own interest for domination on specific ethnic interests and ethnic identities. In the name of the concrete ethnic identity which they represented they activated ethnic allegiance feelings as well as ethnic conflicts between specific ethnic groups. The war was just the final result of such politics.

However, there existed a basis for such politics. That basis was the private identification matrix of the Yugoslav people. This identification matrix was not in principle the same as the identification matrix Tito spoke about when he described his own Yugoslav identity. Namely, for most Yugoslav people their own ethnic identity was superior to the Yugoslav one. They were, of course, also Yugoslavs. But first of all they were Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Albanians etc. Just a minority of Yugoslav people would describe themselves as Tito did, i.e. as first of all and dominant Yugoslavs. That means that their private individual identification matrix differed from the formal Yugoslav one:

YU: Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity

B1, B2: ethnic identities

C1, C2, D1, D2 etc.: other identities
(i.e. local, etc.)

NCR: integrative non-conflict relationship

CR: disintegrative conflict relationship

Figure 7: Private identification matrix of the majority of Yugoslav people

It can be seen that in the private identification matrix of the majority of Yugoslav people their ethnic identity was superior to Yugoslav identity, which was subordinated to concrete ethnic identification. And it can be seen too that the private identification matrix of the majority of Yugoslavs was the same as the identification matrix of political elites from different socialist republics and autonomous provinces. This congruity was the very source of power of the concrete political elites in republics and provinces. And exactly this congruity determined the past and future of socialist Yugoslavia, as well as leading to the collapse of Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity.


1. Yugoslav identity was not, as sometimes was and still is understood outside of Yugoslavia, ethnic identity, but it was a typical supra-ethnic identity which connected different ethnic groups with different ethnic identities into one supra-ethnic group. The basis for this supra-ethnic group was not common ethnic language, common religion or any other concrete common ethnic characteristic. That means that Yugoslav supra-ethnic identity did not have “ethnic” basis. On the contrary, it was based mostly on a common historical experience during World War II, on the socialist revolution, and on a common post-war socialist state.

2. The Socialist Republics were: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. The Socialist Autonomous Provinces were: Kosovo, and Vojvodina. Those provinces were established later than the socialist republics, only in the year 1974 (cf. Adric, Arsenijevic, Matic 2004:17). Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia were in principle mono-ethnic republics where the majority of the population was from one ethnic group. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojvodina and Kosovo, however, were multiethnic territories where the population was ethnically mixed.

3. It has been presupposed that these conflicts are not of great importance for the “new” socialist Yugoslavia because of its “class-dimension”; the Serbo-Croatian “old Yugoslav” conflict has been namely understood as a conflict characteristic of the Serbian and Croatian pre-war bourgeoises; with the “death of the bourgeois” in socialist Yugoslavia also this nationalistic conflict should have died.

4. For example, as a Slovene I spoke the Slovene language (which is my first, mother tongue), but I could also understand, speak and write in Serbo-Croat. My schooling was in Slovene; the language of politics, culture and all every day life in Slovenia was Slovene. I used to speak Serbo-Croat just in contacts with the inhabitants of the other republics, who did not understand the Slovene language. For me as a Slovene Serbo-Croat was a special kind of lingua franca - as English is when I am communicating with someone outside Yugoslavia.

5. It is necessary to realize that nationalist conflicts, though less explicit and less spectacular, accompanied the whole post-war history of Yugoslavia. This problem was discussed for the first time in public in 1964 (during the Seventh Communist Party Congress), and after that time the problem of nationalisms was more or less a permanent subject of political discussions. This was especially true during the period after the year 1973, for the beginning of the 1970s (1971-1973) was marked with a heavy outburst of nationalism (especially in Croatia and Serbia but partly also in Slovenia and Macedonia). It would be wrong to think that nationalist movements from the period of socialist Yugoslavia were not directed towards a division of the unitary state territory into several smaller states (which should, as a rule, suit the territory of republics). Exactly the opposite was true - the idea of the independence of national states was present and blowing throughout the nationalist movements of these times.

6. The only manifestation of this “state identity” in the private life of Yugoslav was the Yugoslav passport.

7. For example, I myself have always been Slovene and Yugoslav at the same time. Slovene identity was my private ethnic and national identity, Yugoslav identity was my supra-ethnic and state identity.

8. In the Yugoslav socialist state the myth of a common origin (“common blood”) also had distinctive integrative functions: the common historical interest for a unitary Yugoslav state was, among other things, based on “common origin”.

9. There was also one other value which had a very high position in the ideological scheme of the socialist Yugoslavia: namely, “self-management”. On the other hand, this value did not have such a long tradition as that of “brotherhood and unity”. Namely, “brotherhood and unity” also had been one of the basic values during the National Liberation War and in World War II; hence “self-management” is younger, being established as one of the basic values only in 1950.

10. In the educational system of socialist Yugoslavia there were at least two subjects that fit directly into this frame: first the subject of “Self-management on the Foundations of Marxism”, which acquainted the pupils with the basic characteristics of the Yugoslav socialist political system as well as with its ideology; and secondly the subject of “Defence and Protection”, which as a paramilitary subject acquainted the students with the basics of fighting skills, as well as with the ideological issues related to the defence of the socialistic organisation of Yugoslavia.

11. This is interestingly shown e.g., not only in the fact that this value was unquestionable for the majority of citizens of socialist Yugoslavia, but also in the fact that the refrain “Keep brotherhood and unity” can be found in the popular musical heritage of some Yugoslav nations (for example Serbs, Montenegrins, etc.).

12. The dispute with Stalin, which occurred in the year 1947, was of basic importance for the whole post-war Yugoslav history, as well as for Yugoslav identity. In Yugoslav history that period was known as “Tito’s ‘No!’ to Stalin” (cf. Adric. Arsenijevic, Matic 2004: 28). One of its results was the anti-Stalinistic and anti-Russian Yugoslav orientation. Russian type of socialism was understood as a totalitarian type of socialism which was not accepted in Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia developed its own special way of socialism, in which the means of production were in the hands of the workers (rather than the state). This so called self-management was the basis for the Yugoslav type of socialism,. Russia, and all East European countries which adopted the Russian type of socialism, were seen as some of the most important Yugoslav enemies. Anti-Russian orientation and anti-Russian sentiments (extremely strong in the non-Orthodox part of Yugoslavia) were at the core of Yugoslav politics as well as of Yugoslav identity.

13. The realistic dimension (or dimensions) of such enemies were not, of course, of any importance (or were of very small importance). What was really important was the common and mutual feeling of insecurity on the one hand, and, on the other, the basic importance for the socialist ideology of a phantomatic external enemy (or set of enemies).

14. The change of the name of the Communist Party into the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, which took place in 1952, clearly reflected the aversion to Stalin and Russia and the incorporation of the Stalinists into “enemies”. This distinction was not just a rethorical one, and it was of basic importance from 1948 to the very end of socialist Yugoslavia; for Yugoslav communists the Stalinistic variant of socialism was as much unacceptable as a multi-party system. To insist on the name League of Communists was then a question of extreme importance, for it reflected a negative evaluation of the Stalinistic version of socialism and its rejection.

15. Thus, for example, in 1971 Tito defined nationalism as a terrible disease, which like cancer treacherously carves the body, not only of the individual, but of the whole organisation and also of the environment (cf. Štaubringer, 1980: 186). Among the myths of the enemy, the metaphor of disease attacking an otherwise healthy organism was in the ideology of socialism one of the key means of strengthening the integrative ties in the multinational Yugoslav state.

16. It seems that this statement is not only true for the Yugoslav case but also for all the post-socialistic countries composed of several nations (e.g. former Soviet Union/Russia, etc.). The decay of ideologically founded supra-ethnic identification led formerly latent conflicts among the nations of these countries to manifest themselves.

17. Also Tito's personal history, together with his parents and family, were multiethnic; so, for example, his mother was Slovene and his father was Croat.

18. The decentralisation of the Yugoslav state was embodied in its organization through six socialist republics and two autonomious provincies. The republics and provincies guided their own politics in education, mass media, and most other aspects of every day life; the exceptions being the army and foreign politics. The decentralization of the Yugoslav League of Communists was embodied in the fact that every socialist republic and autonomous province had its own League of Communists; a specific person was a member of the League of Communists for that specific republic or province and only through that membership she or he was also a member of the Yugoslav League of Communists. It was not possible to be a direct member of the Yugoslav League of Communists.

19. The official political elites were: the Slovene political elite (in Slovenia), the Croat political elite (in Croatia), the Serbian political elite (in Serbia, without the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo), the Bosnian political elite (in Bosnia and Herzegovina), the Macedonian political elite (in Macedonia), the Montenegrian political elite (in Montenegro), the Albanian political elite (in Kosovo) and the political elite of Vojvodina. However, there were some more political elites; concrete ethnic groups in multiethnic republics (for example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina) had their own, sometimes unofficial political elites, which become of great importance later, especially during the war.

20. For example, in that period the leader of the Serbian political elite had already been Slobodan Milošević (later president of Serbia), as well as the leader of Slovene political elite had already been Milan Kučan (later president of Slovenia).


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