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In 1989, a democratic government in Czechoslovakia was established, and in 1990, the country was renamed the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. In July of that year, Slovakia declared sovereignty, and an agreement was quickly reached to dissolve the Czech and Slovak union. On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Yugoslavia, the result of 1989 was not the creation of progressive, Western-oriented reform regimes (except in Slovenia) but instead the revival of regimes (often led by former Communists) that were old-fashioned in the sense that they pursued traditional nationalist agendas, often at the cost of suppressing democratic practices and human rights.

Why then did the first case end up in an amicable (‘velvet’) divorce while the other resulted in ethnic warfare where millions were killed by ‘ethnic cleansing-what was the determining factor that made the two Soviet satellites find themselves at such different places? In my essay, I would like to argue that nationalism was the determining factor between the two. In the case of Czechoslovakia, nationalism was never a huge issue, as its minorities were cleansed at an earlier stage leaving both the Czechs and Slovaks in majority in their own territory. It was instead the memory of capitalism and liberal democracy still fresh in their minds, that caused the Czechs and Slovaks to work together in order to attain their freedom from their communist oppressors and once that goal was attained, an amicable separation seemed to be the obvious next course of action. In the example of Yugoslavia, nationalism goals took precedence to democratic ones and before any sort of liberal democracy could be consolidated, territories had to be defined and nation states had to be created. However such a task was not going to be so clear cut for Yugoslavia as the ethnic composition was not evenly dispersed, they had no memory of capitalism and in the 1960’s unlike the Czechoslovakians they did not protest for democracy, but rather for territorial/nation state autonomy.

History-Where did the Nationalistic Attitudes come from?

Originally, Czechoslovakia had a ethnic composition problem of its own with a quarter of its population being German. This minority group caused no end of problems for the Czechoslovakians as after WWI their representatives demanded a full separation from Czechoslovakia, however the Czechoslovakians were not prepared to make such huge concession after just been created (in an attempt to counterweigh the Germans). However after their occupation by eth Germans in the Second World War, Czechoslovakia not had an excuse to purge itself of the Germans and ‘drove the Germans out.’ (pg 283) This expulsion of Germans is very reminiscent of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ that occurred in Yugoslavia near the end of the 20th century, a point I will discuss further later in my essay.

Conversely, the ethnic composition of Yugoslavia is thought to be the primary reason for such nationalist beliefs and it is easy to see why this is the case. Unlike Czechoslovakia, which after World War was predominantly composed of Czechs and Slovaks, with a majority of each in their own region, most nationalities in Yugoslavia were not confined within the country’s republics, provinces or districts. In 1918 Yugoslavia came into existence under the name of “the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes”. Therefore not really an “artificial creation” but was made up out of the ruins of the Habsburg Empire. The Empire’s core was the kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, alongside Bosnia-Herzegovina (where the Serbian population lived alongside the Croats and Muslim Slavs). Also, Croatia, which when part of the Empire, was divided into Croatia proper, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Later however, in 1944 Tito changed the territorial boundaries and established six republics: Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. New internal borders were based on ethnic/historic divisions but often communities such as the Serbs found themselves on the wrong side of the divisions. In a 1981 census about 98 percent of all Yugoslavia's Slovenes lived in Slovenia and about 96 percent of its Macedonians lived in Macedonia; but only 60 percent of the Serbs lived in Serbia proper, and only 70 percent of the Montenegrins lived in Montenegro.

Such facts do not necessarily provide a case for the nationalist sentiment that the various nationalities held however as one could argue that such a mix could allow the groups to grow together and identify themselves as the greater arching nationality of Yugoslavian. What could have been a catalyst for nationalism in this region? I would like to argue that government policies and government controlled media propaganda helped stir up nationalistic tensions between the minorities.

A 1995 article in The Ottawa Citizen, for example, documented how Milosevic continues to preserve in the minds of Serbs the memory of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, in which the Turks defeated the Serbs and initiated 500 years of Turkish rule. Milosevic “had the bones of Prince Lazar, the Serb leader defeated at the battle of Kosovo in 1389, paraded around Serbia…” (Moseley, 1995). Moseley, Ray (1995). “Balkans: Unhappy history fans flames of Serb nationalism.” The Ottawa Citizen

September 17, 1995, Final Edition: A3. In short, what Milosevic has done, is to preserve and artificially enhance memory. In the Battle of Kosovo, the Serbs fought alongside Albanians and Bosnians (Dedijer et al., 1974) Dedijer, Vladimir et al. (1974). History of Yugoslavia. McGraw Hill Book Company: Montreal.), but this fact, and others similarly contradictory to Milosevic’s goal (the entrenchment of nationalism), were forgotten. Infiltrating media and education have allowed him to instill a historical consciousness among Serbs, and greatly inflame feelings of national pride. Like any effective propaganda, Milosevic’s methods were and are based on fear. In this case, it is a fear of losing a treasured Serbian identity, as it might manifest (ludicrous as it may seem) through Muslim conquest and Croatian cruelty. In Croatia, things were eerily similar under the leadership of Franz Tudjman. A historian himself, Tudjman published Wasteland: Historical Realities, in which he argued that there were ‘only’ 35,000 casualties at Jasenovac (the Auschwitz of Ustasa), which is probably five percent of the true total (Wilmer, 1997). Tudjman adopted Ustasi symbolism, renamed streets after nationalist heroes, and even organized the publishing of “Croatian” dictionaries (Ibid.).


One period that proved to be very influential in the outcomes of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia was the late 1960’s. It can be argued that this period defined what the futures of these two countries would be. In January 1968, In Czechoslovakia, in the spring of 1968-later referred to as the “Prague Spring”- Alexander Dubcek, a leading Slovak Communist Party Member, was made president of Czechoslovakia and begun a new approach to governing the republic. He called it “socialism with a face” and he enacted a wave of reforms that would include revising the constitution so that it would guarantee civil rights and most importantly it would lift the ban on censorship. These new reforms really affected the Czechoslovakians and on May 1 — a day the communist world traditionally celebrated with parades to party orthodoxy — Czechs turned out in throngs to endorse the new freedoms. Although just a few month later the Soviet’s Red Army was sent to the region to quash this democratic uprising, this year helped the Czechoslovakians solidify their common goal of democratic autonomy and brought the Czechs and the Slovaks together, working toward the same goal.

Conversely, at the same time in a region not so far away from Czechoslovakia, the split became more pronounced in Yugoslavia between the Serbs and the Croats as new party leaders in Croatia escalated their nationalistic rhetoric. Although the Communist party encouraged liberal reforms and economic mobilization they were not united with the Croatian intellectuals that called for separation of Croatia from Yugoslavia the reforms that they suggested would put the Serbian minority at a disadvantage. (course pack, the break up of Yugoslavia pg 151) It is key to note this division as it can be argued that the unity seen in the Czechoslovakian case was a key to their success as a mutual goal is easier to attain as both sides are working toward it’s occurrence.-

The Velvet Divorce vs. Ethnic Cleansing

In the case of Czechoslovakia, the split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia was peaceful and was initiated by the elite. Contrary to this, the Yugoslavian push for separate nation-states’ autonomy was ignited by the people and caused a war to break out in the region.

The June 1992 elections in Czechoslovakia, reflected the growing split between the two lands. The liberal Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by Slovak Vladнmir Meciar, and the conservative Civic Democratic Party, led by Czech Vбclav Klaus won the two largest representations in parliament; each leader became the prime minister of his own republic. Disagreements occurred between both sides as to how to federally run the country. Mesiac wanted more economic aid and political power for Slovakia and as means of a bargaining chip, he demanded that Slovakia be sovereign. To his surprise, Klaus conceded and put up no defense for Slovakia to do so. Unlike in Yugoslavia where the issue of nationalistic pride played a major factor, Slovakia was no more than a burden to the Czechs. Klaus had three main goals: of economic rationalization, entrenching privatization and wanted to begin to prepare way for entry of Czech people into the E.U. Without Slovakia these goals would be much easier to attain, and as the two had only be united in a marriage of convenience and had separate histories, greatly differing cultural and social traditions, the split was simple. Deemed the ‘velvet divorce’ for the smoothness that it occurred, in January 1993 Czechoslovakia was replaced by two independent states: Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

In the Yugoslav case, an unfortunate pairing of the death of their dictator Tito and a world economic recession became breeding ground for the rise of extremism. Serbia was the problematic region as almost all the other regions (besides for Croatia) were quite content to in staying inside the federation of Yugoslavia. But the quest for domination by the Serbian elite brought about fears of dominance by a greater Serbia and this in turn was the catalyst for the rest to seek independence. Serbia did not want to relinquish control of these regions and were determined to win power over them. These nationalistic ideals were a product of many year’s of Serbian propaganda and Serbian favouring government policies. After Tito died, Slobodan Milosevic came to power and in 1990 he orchestrated changes in the Serb constitution to reduce the autonomy of the two Serb provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. As a result an anti-Serb backlash erupted in the other Yugoslav republics, and in 1991 Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia all declared independence. When Muslims and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina also voted to secede, Milosevic supported Serb militias trying to unite Bosnia and Croatia with Serbia in a Greater Serbia. The ensuing fighting, which lasted three years, made "ethnic cleansing" an international household term and established Milosevic as a key power broker in the region. In 1998 he launched a program of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, precipitating a mass exodus of ethnic Albanians and a full-scale military confrontation with NATO and the United States. The ensuing 1999 Kosovo conflict ended in humiliation for the Serbs and marked the beginning of the slow unraveling of Milosevic's power.

The main conflict in Yugoslavia turned out to be among its different national groups, not between the communists and their opponents.” (course pack pg 153)

-the party split into national communist parties before the decision was made to hold fee elections

-the collapse of communist one-party rule in Yugoslavia was more a result than a cause of the disintegration of the country

-tito’s break with Stalin stressed the autonomy of eth national communist apparatus vis-а-vis Moscow while reinforcing the totalitarian features of the regime (274)

-in the immediate aftermath of 1989 in central Europe owes a great deal to the existence of organized democratic opposition movements that were lacking in Southeastern Europe, where all the free elections were won by eth ex-communist parties

-Ten years later, on the eve of his stepping down from a second term as president, Havel has changed his opinion on the break up of Czechoslovakia.

-"I cannot but feel that no matter how strangely it happened then, it is a good thing that it happened," he says.

"Czechs and Slovaks may be closer today than ever before ... There's no animosity, and they are united in their goals ... We live in an interconnected world and we - Czechs and Slovaks - walk hand in hand in it."


-relations between the two had been peaceful and successful

-not so in Czech case as there were no conflicts between the two protagonists over borders and minorities


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