Tackling the virus of nationalism

Slavenka Drakulić in Eurozine:

Writer Slavenka Drakulić has spent much of her career reflecting on what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s – and how difficult it is to combat the ‘nationalist virus’ – in books like ‘Balkan Express’ (1993), ‘As If I Am Not There’ (1999) and ‘They Would Not Hurt a Fly’ (2004). In the light of developments in Spain, she spoke to Spanish online newspaper ‘El Confidencial’ about the potential dangers in the Catalan crisis.

Ángel Villarino (interviewer for El Confidencial): In 1984, Yugoslavia seemed to be one of the best countries to live in Eastern Europe. Living standards were similar or even better than in Spain. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics and, at least from the outside, it looked like the country was doing relatively well. Serbs, Croats, Slovenes lived together and ‘ethnic tension’ was something that only happened in soccer stadiums. Nobody predicted then what was to happen just a few years later. The combination of economic crisis and nationalism has a destructive power that can take effect very fast. How was this made possible? Did anyone see it coming in Yugoslavia?

Slavenka Drakulić: Nobody saw it, nobody believed it possible.

But the truth is that it did not happen very fast. Conflicts and wars do not, as a rule, happen overnight, even if it looks like that from the outside. It is enough, for example, to see how it happened in Germany, for example by reading Viktor Klemperer’s book I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941. There he describes a series of small steps in the discrimination against Jews, in turning them into Others. It took years and years, and it began by forbidding them to use public transport, buy flowers or visit a barber, then forcing them to wear a yellow star, then… the Holocaust.

In ex-Yugoslavia it took at least five years to whip up nationalist propaganda, homogenize people into national groups and prepare for violent conflict. It actually started with Slobodan Milošević climbing to power in Serbia and with apartheid in Kosovo in the eighties. In that sense, one could say that the rise of Croatian nationalism was a response to its Serbian counterpart, especially after the Serbian minority in Croatia proclaimed its autonomy. After that, Milošević, with the Yugoslav People’s Army, felt he could attack Croatia.

More here. [Thanks to Wolf Böwig.]