AN EXPERT'S OVERVIEW How Tito Handled Outbursts of Nationalism

The judges of the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague called on Professor Paul Garde to give an historic overview of the Balkans region and Garde then fielded questions from the judges. Garde's testimony was given June 27-28, 1996. He is a professor of Slav literature and languages and has written many lingustics books. Since 1991 Garde's research and writing have focused on the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Q. How did Tito handle the different ethnic groups and the occasional outbursts of nationalism under his regime?

A. Tito would allow certain expressions of nationalism but within narrow limits and once he thought that his authority was at stake, he did not hesitate to stop it.

Tito, the (communist) partisan General during World War Two, during the resistance, based his regime on tolerance for all of the nationalities. In contrast, the Chetniks were strictly Serbian and treated the other nationalities as enemies. The partisans, for their part, welcomed everyone, all the nationalities, and that is why the Serbs who escaped from the Ustashe massacres could join in, and also those fleeing the massacres on the Chetnik side could join in, and Croats who were unhappy with the Ustasha regime could join the partisans as well. So everyone was welcome. That was the underlying idea which was in line with communist internationalism, that is, that there was a brotherhood and unity, that is to say, all peoples have equal rights and all peoples have the same place within the Federation.

So the various nationalities' nationalisms were condemned, but at the same time the regime did exploit nationalism. For instance, one of the main dangers Tito saw was that there would be Serb predomination, as had been the case under the monarchy, because the Serbs were the most numerous. They accounted for 36 per cent of the population. So Tito at first encouraged the consciousness of the smaller countries, Macedonia, others, where it previously had been regarded as Serbian or Croation in some cases. So he wanted to increase the number of partners.

After that, he was careful to see to it that the role played by Serbia in the Federation was not too major, but at the same time he used the Serbs in other instances or in other areas, for example, in Croatia where the Serbs accounted only for 12 per cent of the population, but they played an important role in the partisan area.

Under the Tito, the Serbs of Croatia within the Croatian administration had the most important positions in the administration in the Party, in the police. So, in Croatia the regime at certain times played off the Serbian minority against the Croatian majority. In Kosovo, the regime favored the autonomy of the Albanians which upset the Serbs, but at the same time they did not give the Albanians what they were demanding, that is to say, to achieve Republic status for Kosovo, so the Albanians were unhappy.

In other areas, it was the same thing, for example, Bosnia. Sometimes the Bosnians were favored, sometimes the Serbians were given a leg up. It is all very complicated. The basic rule of the game is that the regime was very careful to come up with a very subtle blend in what it did for each of the nationalities and would tend to play them off one against the other, and these national antagonisms that, in theory, it said had to be done away with, in some instances in certain places on certain occasions it exploited them.

But at the same time when there were threats to its authority, it would take repressive measures, for example, demonstrations towards the Croat spring time, for instance. In 1971, there was a movement in Croatia that got off the ground. It was basically unanimous. It was supported and it was mainly student demonstrations that expressed it. Then also the local Parties gave their endorsement to it. There was this unanimity in Croatia to ask for more autonomy, more respect for Croatian particularities. This movement after a certain time was, of course, cracked down on and the leaders of that movement, its leaders, some of whom were leaders in the communist party in Croatia at the time, were dismissed from their office -- in 1991, some of them would turn up again as leaders in Croatian parties -- but other exponents of this movement were jailed. The army took action and there were 100, not to say thousands, of arrests. This was in 1971.

This is one of the main cases where there was a crackdown on a nationalist movement by the regime. It is also worth mentioning the Albanian movement that took place in 1968 in Kosovo. There again there was repression.

Q. What is the importance of the 1974 constitution in Yugoslavia?

A. This constitution was very decentralizing, but at the same time it was decentralizing at the level of the republics. It gave a lot of authority to the republics. It also granted a lot of authority to the two autonomous provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina. In actual fact, the constitution gave Yugoslavia an almost confederal regime in which most of the decisions were made, not only at the federal level, but also at the level of each single Republic and each of the autonomous provinces, so at the level of the eight different entities that made up the federation at the time.

The autonomous provinces had a status that was almost the same as that of the republics; the only two differences were that they had a lesser number of representatives in the federal institutions and, essentially, these two provinces did not have the right of secession.

Then later on after Tito's death (in 1980), or even when he was still alive, there was a collective presidency in which you had one representative from each of the eight members of the federation, so each of the six republics and each of the two autonomous provinces. When Tito was alive, Tito was President for life, but of course after his death, the presidency operated without such a President, but with a sort of turning presidency. Every single year you would have one of the eight members of the Presidency, one of the eight representatives of the eight federal entities, who would then take up the Federal Presidency.


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