Daily Archives: 9 September 2007

Judt on New, Not Old, Fissions in Yugoslavia

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 670-671:

Kosovo had historic significance for Serb nationalists as the last holdout of medieval Serbia against the advance of the Turks and the site of a historic battlefield defeat in 1389. The local Albanian predominance was thus regarded by some Serb intellectuals and politicians as both demographically troubling and historically provocative—especially since it echoed the Serbs’ displacement by Muslims as the largest minority in the adjacent Bosnian republic. Serbs, it appeared, were losing out-to hitherto subservient minorities who had benefitted from Tito’s rigorous enforcement of federal equality. Kosovo was thus a potentially explosive issue, for reasons linked only tenuously to ‘age-old’ Balkan feuds….

Whereas Serb dislike of Albanians fed on proximity and insecurity, in the far north of Yugoslavia the growing distaste for feckless southerners was ethnically indiscriminate and based not on nationality but economics. As in Italy, so in Yugoslavia, the more prosperous north was increasingly resentful of impoverished southerners, sustained—as it seemed—by transfers and subsidies from their more productive fellow citizens. The contrast between wealth and poverty in Yugoslavia was becoming quite dramatic: and it correlated provocatively with geography.

Thus while Slovenia, Macedonia and Kosovo all had approximately the same share (8 percent) of the national population, in 1990 tiny Slovenia was responsible for 29 percent of Yugoslavia’s total exports while Macedonia generated just 4 percent and Kosovo 1 percent. As best one can glean from official Yugoslav data, per capita GDP in Slovenia was double that of Serbia proper, three times the size of per capita GDP in Bosnia and eight times that of Kosovo. In Alpine Slovenia the illiteracy rate in 1988 was less than 1 percent; in Macedonia and Serbia it was 11 percent. In Kosovo it stood at 18 percent. In Slovenia by the end of the 1980s the infant mortality rate was 11 deaths per 1,000 live births. In neighbouring Croatia the figure was 12 per 1,000; in Bosnia, 16 per 1,000. But in Serbia the figure was 22 per 1,000, in Macedonia, 45 per 1,000 and in Kosovo, 52 per 1,000.

What these figures suggest is that Slovenia and (to a lesser extent) Croatia already ranked alongside the less prosperous countries of the European Community, while Kosovo, Macedonia and rural Serbia more closely resembled parts of Asia or Latin America. If Slovenes and Croats were increasingly restive in their common Yugoslav home, then, this was not because of a resurfacing of deep-rooted religious or linguistic sentiments or from a resurgence of ethnic particularism. It was because they were coming to believe that they would be a lot better off if they could manage their own affairs without having to take into account the needs and interests of underachieving Yugoslavs to their south.

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Judt on Favored Czechs, Disfavored Slovaks

From Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt (Penguin, 2005), pp. 659-660:

Czechs and Slovaks, however indistinguishable they might appear to perplexed outsiders, had markedly different pasts. Bohemia and Moravia—the historical territories comprising the Czech lands—could boast not merely a remarkable medieval and Renaissance past at the heart of the Holy Roman Empire but also a pre-eminent share of the industrialization of central Europe. Within the Austrian half of the Habsburg Empire Czechs enjoyed growing autonomy and a marked prosperity. Their major city, Prague—one of the aesthetic glories of the continent—was by 1914 a significant center of modernism in the visual arts and literature.

Slovaks, by contrast, had little to boast about. Ruled for centuries from Budapest they lacked any distinctive national story—within the Hungarian half of the Empire they were regarded not as ‘Slovaks’ but as slav-language-speaking peasants of rural northern Hungary. The urban inhabitants of the Slovak region were predominantly Germans, Hungarians or Jews: it was not by chance that the largest town in the area, an unprepossessing conurbation on the Danube a few kilometres east of Vienna, was variously known as Pressburg (to German-speaking Austrians) or Pozsony (to Hungarians). Only with the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, and the Slovaks’ somewhat reluctant incorporation therein, did it become the second city of the new state under the name Bratislava.

The inter-war Republic of Czechoslovakia was democratic and liberal by prevailing regional standards, but its centralized institutions strongly favored the Czechs, who occupied almost all positions of power and influence. Slovakia was a mere province and a poor and rather disfavored one at that. The same impulse that led many of the country’s three million German-speaking citizens to listen to pro-Nazi separatists thus also drove a certain number of Czechoslovakia’s two and a half million Slovaks to look with sympathy upon Slovak populists demanding autonomy and even independence. In March 1939, when Hitler absorbed the Czech regions into the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’, an authoritarian, clericalist Slovak puppet state was established under Father Józef Tiso. The first ever independent state of Slovakia thus emerged at Hitler’s behest and over the corpse of the Czechoslovak Republic.

Just how popular Slovakia’s wartime ‘independence’ ever was is hard to know after the fact. In the post-war years it was discredited both by its own record (Slovakia deported to death camps virtually all of its 140,000 pre-war Jewish population) and by its intimate dependence upon its Nazi patron. After its liberation, Czechoslovakia was re-established as a single state and expressions of Slovak nationalism were frowned upon. Indeed in the early Stalinist years, ‘Slovak bourgeois nationalism’ was one of the accusations levied at putative defendants in the show trials then being prepared—Gustav Husák spent six years in prison on the charge.

Dumneazu‘s recent travel report on Slovak Diglossia offers a fairly optimistic assessment of Slovakia’s economy these days.

Today Slovakia boasts East Europe’s fastest growing economy. During the first ten post communist years the country stagnated under the government of communist-turned-nationalist Vladimir Meciar. When Meciar left office a new generation of Slovak leadership – educated in the west and up on the latest economic theories – took the reins. A combination of smart economists, flat taxes (in a small country) and generous benefits for foreign investors has suddenly trust Slovakia from the backwater of the post 1989 East European changes to the forefront. Unemployment is expected to disappear in three years, forcing the importation of labor. Towns that were once dusty backwaters, like my beloved Ruzemberok, are becoming smart regional investment centers, and tidying up their downtown areas.

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Filed under Bohemia, Europe, nationalism, Slovakia