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Causes of the Breakup of the Former Yugoslavia Essay


The breakup of the former Yugoslavia has been discussed at length by leading historians, political analysts and other theorists. A number of perspectives have been fronted in an attempt to offer explanations as to why the Yugoslavia federation disintegrated. Through a critical evaluation of the primordial argument and the Constructivist perspective, this paper aims to outline some of the root causes that triggered the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

It is important to note at this stage that the primordials argue that ethnic groupings and nationalities are held together by traditions of belief, values and mores towards prehistoric objects such as biological characteristics, language, and territorial location (Basta, 2010). Constructivism, on the other part, heavily relies on socially constructed identities done through a process of sustained internalization to describe or perceive occurrences and events (Basta, 2010).

In the Yugoslavia context, primordials hold that deep ethnic, social and religious divisions played a significant role in the processes that led to the breakup of the country, while the constructivists hold that ethnic conflict witnessed in the former Yugoslavia is a by-product of underlying economic and political rivalry.

Yugoslavia originally came into being in 1918 after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought together allies of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes to form a single country (Basta, 2010). Later, Yugoslavia became “a federation comprising six Federal Republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia” (Thornett, 2006 para. 4).

The deep-seated social, economic and political conflicts that many scholars attribute to the eventual collapse of the former Yugoslavia can be traced back to the 19th century, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire undertook industrial and commercial development in Croatia and Slovenia before it was ultimately driven out of power by the Serbs (Basta, 2010).

After the formation of Yugoslavia, the Croats and Slovenes continued to bask in the riches left behind by the Empire while the rest of the country remained relatively underdeveloped. The Serbs dominated Belgrade, the political center, and are cited by many scholars as having played a significant role in the breakup of a country they so much helped to create.

While controlling the political destiny of the country with the elevation of the Serb nationalism, the Serbs also came up with autarchic rules and policies aimed to restrict Croatian and Slovenian trading and commercial possibilities (Basta, 2010). These policies heightened ethnic conflicts, which eventually led to the breakup of the federation. From a constructivist perspective, it can be argued that racial conflict in the former Yugoslavia contributed to the breakup of the federation though it was a by-product of intense economic and political rivalry between the republics

The internal social, political, and economic conflicts between the republics making up Yugoslavia bred deep-seated suspicions (Thornett, 2006). It should be recalled that Slobodan Milosevic’s obsession with Serbian nationalism as a plan for guaranteeing Serbian power immediately after the collapse of communism made other republics to mount active and passive resistance, with a good number initiating processes to recede from the federation (Mazower, 1997).

The strategy by Slobodan only served to entrench the ethnic divisions. Alamariu (2006) is of the opinion that the power struggles between the ruling elite factions fueled deep ethnic-oriented hatred, which played an overriding role in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. From a constructivist perspective, therefore, it can be argued that ethnic conflict that was so much displayed in the conflict that leads to the disintegration of former Yugoslavia was initiated by the underlying economic and political rivalry between the republics.

Deep social divisions were exhibited in the Serb’s disinterest to develop other parts of the country. From a Primordialist perspective, it can be argued that profound social upheavals brought about by poverty, high illiteracy rates, lack of infrastructure, high mortality rates, and the ineffectiveness of the government to provide preventive and curative health services in some parts of the country contributed substantially to the eventual disintegration of former Yugoslavia.

Alamariu (2006) acknowledges that social divisions in the former Yugoslavia were further entrenched by ethnic mobilization in the pursuit of Bosnia nationalism and high corruption cases. These factors, according to the author, contributed immensely to the breakup of former Yugoslavia, hence give impetus to the primordialist view that deep social conflicts played a substantial role in the breakup of the former federation.

The 1995 intense shelling of Srebrenica by Serb troops under the direct command of Ratko Mladic demonstrates that deep religious tensions also had a role to play in the breakup of former Yugoslavia (Peace Pledge Union, n.d.). After encountering and decimating Muslim soldiers in the countryside villages, Mladic’s troops now targeted Srebrenica to equally decimate the thousands of Muslims residing in the area.

Indeed, the deep-seated religious divisions between the republics led to the massacre of an estimated 7,500 Muslim men in Srebrenica alone (Peace Pledge Union, n.d.). From a primordial view, therefore, it can be argued that deep social and religious divisions played a significant role in the disintegration of the Former Yugoslavia.

Ethnic cleansing was part of the plan Slobodan Milosevic employed during the 1990s Balkan war. Indeed, Mazower (1997) acknowledges that “the most obvious feature of the war in the former Yugoslavia, and perhaps its prime cause, is ethnicity” (para. 2). Many military and political analysts covering the war observed that a sharp consciousness of ethnic differences was triggering the populace to take up arms against each other.

It should be recalled that Bosnia is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in Eastern Europe (Mazower, 1997). This particular author observes that ethnicity issues in the Balkans were clearly fueled by religious differences to initiate an enabling environment for the war, which led to the eventual disintegration of the former Yugoslavia to take place.

From a primordial perspective, it can be argued that the predominant rivalry between the various ethnic groups in the Balkans also played a strong role in the eventual disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.

Reference List

Alamariu, D. A. 2006. “Local Elite Competition and Causes of Civil War in Bosnia and Angola.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, Town & Country Resort and Convention Center, San Diego, California, USA. Web.

Basta, K. 2010. “Non-ethnic origins of ethnofederal institutions: The case of Yugoslavia.” Nationalism & Ethnic Politics 16, no. 1, 92-100.

Mazower, M. 1997. “Ethnicity and War in the Balkans.” The National Humanities Center. Web.

Peace Pledge Union. “Bosnia 1995: The Genocide.” Web.

Thornett, A. 2006. “.” International Viewpoint, no. 380. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Causes of the Breakup of the Former Yugoslavia." November 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/causes-of-the-breakup-of-the-former-yugoslavia/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Causes of the Breakup of the Former Yugoslavia'. 11 November.

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