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[The Political Analysis of Postcommunism. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1995, pp. 321-332.]

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The Realties and the Logic of Myth in Inter-Slavic Relations


The present condition of the postcommunist societies occupying the vast expanse from the Kuril Islands to Dubrovnik offers rich material for new ethnosociological study. It is generally known that interethnic contacts were among the dominant topics in Soviet ethnology, and that from the outset everything was programmed to help strengthen the "unbreakable" Union. But there was also real deep seated antagonism to the unity imposed by the dominant tribe. This phenomenon was not noticed in the scholarly realm, but it was obvious in sphere of enforcing the system. Communist ideology was enforced in an area with ancient historical traditions having deeply archaic roots. These traditions refused to yield to ideological leveling; they fled from the pressure of propaganda and totalitarian repressions. With the fall of the regime supporting the system and, of course, its ideology the sense of tribal unity broke loose from its centuries-old (and sometimes even older) fetters, charging the national organism with fresh energy, directing it toward actions whose psychosocial roots extend back to pre-Christian times when instinct prevailed over the civilized dictates of Christianity. The communist system, opposed to this society by a number of cults and various other explications, demonstrated inherently pagan morals. Evidence of this is found in one vivid example today's interethnic hostilities. /322/

1. Tribal Wars

Symptomatically, the reflex of interethnic enmity embraced the entire postcommunist archipelago, all the way from the Kuril Islands to Dubrovnik, manifesting itself in a comparatively equal measure among ethnic groups differing in geographical location and cultural-historical tradition. The reason probably lies in the anthropological roots common to all humanity, namely, the herd instinct, and in its common catalyst, the ideology instilled in all these ethnic formations. If we keep this in mind, the similarity of interethnic confrontations from the Balkans to the Caucasus becomes understandable. At the same time, one cannot but notice the marked brutality of interethnic confrontations registered in regions inhabited by ethnic groups with archaic traditions and the territories mentioned, although separated by thousands of miles, are precisely such regions. To a researcher versed in ethnogenesis it becomes immediately clear that the geography of these localities is marked by age-old traces of various ethnic migrations. The territories of this archipelago are also rich in archaic signs indicating the deep roots of pagan culture. For us it is important that Ukraine is situated between these archaic zones, and so the question becomes to what extent are the atavistic reflexes peculiar to man living in our space? Ours is a society whose cultural tradition bears extremely old information encoded in well-known historical landmarks from the pre-historic Trypillian culture on down.

Communist ideology took deep root in territories with archaic traditions. This was no accident. The new-born communist ideas were interrelated with socio-utopian views; in fact, they served to lend Utopia its Marxist form and there arc numerous such variations in the history of Utopias. These ideas were best nourished in lands with archaic traditions and developed folk precepts. Hence the constant reference of communist ideologues to the "masses" with their positive response to Utopianism, the latter being reminiscent of folk tales, so very much alive in the con-/323/sciousness of this category of society. And, remarkably, this tendency persists, even after the obvious fiasco of the ideology, discredited by purges, pervasive corruption, "the betrayal of its ideals," etc. It is also obvious that this ideology could take deep root in the Eastern Hemisphere, and not in the West, the former having a predominantly rural culture. There the proletariat, in whom communist theoreticians placed such hope, was made up of urbanized masses of pauperized former peasants who had been uprooted from the village but remained natural carriers of the folk mentality. Torn from their traditional settings, they formed the cultural medium for folklorism, preserving the "traditional" (in the sense Werner Sombart used the term) structure of cognition. This also explains the number of exponents of former communist ideologies in the city. Following the ruin of the ideological apparatus (Party structure), only the supervisory-punitive correlates of collective concepts disappeared, since the city, whose progress was affected by a series of mass "invasions" of peasants, shaped individuals with urban culture against a solidly rural background. The result was total deformation of the social structure; the village lost a legitimate component of its culture, its patriarchal ways and logic of myths, bequeathing them to the city. In the communist scale of moral values "nonurban" ways of thinking ranked high, and almost all public figures, Party functionaries, Kulturtragers, and the like made a special point of their worker-peasant background. The collapse of formal ideological structures left practically intact communalistic instincts. Hence, the postcommunist nomenklatura's quest for an institutional basis for such instincts, for new adherents; hence, too, the response of the masses. However, consolidating open Communist Party adherents, even using rather inconspicuous techniques, is not a widespread phenomenon, because ncocommunism is no longer capable of effectively attracting the masses, exhausted by decades of unrelenting brainwashing. Here much greater influence can be exerted by public groupings. These do not propagandize solidarity with a particular ideological structure (communist or openly fascist), but bring forth the /324/ tribal reflex in calling for unity and for resisting the common "ethnic enemy."

This reflex is reproduced by the ethnosocium, which combines certain ethnic instincts multiplied by societal (in this case communist) tradition. Homo soveticus is a typical product of such reproduction. This ethnosocium is charged with the inertia of programs borrowed for the arsenal of communist propaganda (e.g., for restoration of the USSR and the Communist Party, against capitalism, etc.). But all this acquires special importance only in the presence of yet another confrontation, the ethnic one. And thus the old communist arsenal fits with new "national aspirations" perfectly. Remarkably, it is in homo soveticus that the inherent antagonism toward the neighboring ethnic other is especially manifest, even though this neighbor is more often than not very close to him in historical and territorial traditions. Here a certain common thread is always present: the closer the ethnic bodies are to one another, the stronger their antagonism (given the breakdown of their "bonds of internationalism") develops, the Slavic example being the most vivid.

2. The Myth of Slavic Unity

The Slavs, especially their southeastern branch, archaic by origin, were subjected to the strongest influence of communist ideology in its Eastern Orthodox variant. Later it was extended to the Catholic South Slavs who were habitually less susceptible to Bolshevism. The latter was most deeply rooted in areas dominated by the archaic principle of tribal fraternity where those with the strongest state structures were the "big brothers." This combination of archaic instinct and new communist ideology begot a "fraternity" based on coercion, violence, and fratricidal wars, planned and unleashed according to the Cain-and-Abel recipe. Given the USSR-socialist camp version of "proletarian internationalism" or Yugoslav "brotherhood and unity," these relationships were actually a continuation and a stronger variant of the early medieval supremacy of one ethnic group over all /325/ the others and its self-assertion by means of violence directed against those others. This can be traced in all the binary oppositions of the Slavic "fraternity," especially in the Russian-Ukrainian. Such relationships inevitably give rise to social neuroses, and history knows their various forms, ranging from mythical utopias, stories about a tsardom of powerful and equal Slavs, to the cult of revenge, an urge to get even with the cruel "big brother."

The myth of Slavic unity permeates all Slavic history, arising in different forms at different times, in the medieval period, with the earliest notions of Slavic-Rus' unity laid down by the forerunner of Slavistics, the Kyivan monk Nestor; the Renaissance, ranging from Dubrovnik-Dalmatian verse overlain with Slavic patriotism to the historiosophic phantasmagoria The Kingdom of Slavs, written in Latin in 1601 by Dubrovnik historian Maurus Orbini. The treatise was addressed to the Holy See, which blacklisted it, thus showing its attitude toward the idea of Panslavism. Later, Peter the Great ordered its publication in Russia. In fact, it was an overture to Russian political exploitation of Slavic patriotism. What Orbini actually did was to create the prologue of baroque Slavism in which Utopian expectations relied on an appeal to the "sacral carrier of the Panslavic idea," the Muscovite Tsar. These expectation reached their apex in the activities of Croatian encyclopedist Jurij Krizanic. At the political level they were manifested in the Ukrainian utopia of the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav.

The idea of Slavism is mostly preserved in the folk and political memories of Slavs forced to confront ethnically alien neighbors, in Slavic lands bordering on non-Slavic territories. There the old Slavic antithesis "we and they" is lent the sharpest acuity. It was usually most evident in nations lacking statehood but possessing advanced literacy like Renaissance Croatia and baroque Ukraine. Here a political solution to the problem is traditionally inseparable from the "good liberator," a strong Slavic tsar. To the Croatians of the Renaissance, this was the Polish king and later the Muscovite tsar. One searches in vain for a single example throughout the history of Slavism, when the idea of Slavic /326/ unity as a political means of solving the problem of stateless peoples came to a positive end. All such attempts by various nations to assert the idea of Slavism proved abortive, at times with very tragic consequences for them. The time came when Maurus Orbini's book was entered into the Orthodox Index Liborum Prohibitorum; when Jurij Krizanic exiled for fifteen years to Siberia on orders from Alexis I Mikhailovich, the "Most Serene" Tsar of Muscovy; when numerous purges were levied on the Ukrainian champions of unity based on equality; when the Serbian colonies in Ukraine disappeared in the eighteenth century, because the country was colonized by the Russian Empire. And now the Yugoslav variant of inter-Slavic slaughter.

Essentially, the idea of Slavic unity is an ethnocentric utopia, with no chance of coming true, because mutual territorial claims have rather dangerous implications and because the Slavs are divided by traditions they had long ago acquired from the Greek and Latin variants of Christianity. Even religiously homogenous Slavs are under inner strain, which is by no means less fraught with danger, because the Orthodox Church, already politicized in the Middle Ages, was and remains a form of ideological surveillance; in its own way this Church reflected and still does the encounters of political trends. And currently the phenomenon of confrontational repoliticization of the Church is reemerging. Evidence of this is the discord in Ukrainian-RussianSerbian-Macedonian-Montenegrin church relations.

3. On Modern Panslavism

The "Slavic idea" lives on in the form of politicized myth. It is mostly used by smart political operators and talkative TV prophets to save the Empire, already in its last throes. At present, Slavism time and again surfaces as an attempt to restore the lost former "unity," in spite of the latter's complete and self-evident disgrace. It is presented in the form of all kinds of "demonstrations of unity." And history proves that the stronger the forced unity and the efforts to preserve it, the heavier the price paid when it falls apart. /327/ Characteristically, signs of efforts being made to restore that "unity," nostalgia, and mourning its collapse are registered precisely in the former "imperial" centers. Hence the outbursts of Belgrade-Moscow "fraternity."

At the same time, horror stories about "Satanic Serbs" began to spread in Ukraine, written by people who seemed determined in every way to prove their Ukrainian patriotism, but who, on the other hand, remained captives of a public image and political choice made on the crest of the perestroika wave.

Sometimes political myths on the Balkan theme appear in print, adorned with pretentious "scientific grounding," mostly echoing the variegated Balkan folklorist repertoire. Here one finds numerous hints at a "conspiracy" against Orthodoxy, resistance against Ustashism, bulwark against Islam, etc. Some authors build a smart combination of dates to back their mythology, but it obscures one important thing: it was only after the complete destruction of the Croatian town of Vukovar (incidentally, home to the largest Ukrainian community in former Yugoslavia) and the barbaric bombing of Dubrovnik, that gem of Mediterranean civilization, that Europe had to finally recognize Slovenia and Croatia.23 This procrastination only served to implement the idea of ethnically "clean" territories, cherished by the ideologues of Greater Serbia.

The Balkan experience demonstrates that to simplify the ideological justification of military actions, one needs to provoke direct interethnic conflicts among the populace. The rest is a just matter of propaganda techniques. The troops of the Yugoslavian People's Army started active operations in Slovenia and Croatia precisely under the motto of "defense of the state frontiers and preservation of the territorial integrity, which, given the level of concepts and norms of the period and fully conformed to international standards..." These "standards" also perfectly suited the obedient students of the Balkan war, all those who would follow the Belgrade scenario and destroy Grozny. After all, the Chechen campaign became possible only after the successful Yugoslav experiment in international law and the international commu-/328/nity's vague response to the atrocities in Bosnia. (For the record, among the victims of bomb raids at Grozny and Vukovar were Serbs, Russians, and Ukrainians).

After the republics of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia realized they were not strong enough to face the armada led by the General Staff of Belgrade and in which hopes were placed for restoring the Yugoslavian "fraternity," they had no choice but turn to the stronger traditional allies. Trying to prevent Yugoslavia's breakup meant waiting for the tanks of the Yugoslavian army to crash Zagreb and Ljubljana. Bloodshed could be easily stopped in Yugoslavia if, following those same international standards, the right of the republics to separate, within the postwar frontiers, were recognized. However, to this Belgrade gave a resolute no.

4. From the History of the "Balkan Knot"

The breakup of Yugoslavia was inevitable, and the reasons run deep. The Yugoslav (or rather, post-Yugoslav) situation provides a graphic example of a tight knot of archaic patriarchal traditions combined with modern political maneuvering. Here old and new myths merged in people's mentality so completely that it would be next to impossible to determine the origin of each. That is why it is anything but easy to reveal all the reasons of the current war, to present it only as a manifestation of either interethnic, religious, or political enmity. The turn of events there (and there is no end in sight) can be divided into several stages, and the historical vertical allows us to single out certain domestic mechanisms which triggered the current slaughter.

To begin with, it is a fatal conglomerate of mutual historical settling of old scores based on old antagonisms. Yugoslavia (literally, "South Slavia") was an artificial association of peoples, each with centuries-old problems. A number of indicators relating to the ethnogenesis of these Slavs point to a typological affinity to Iranian-speaking archaic ethnic groups which came in waves to the northern Pontic steppe and whose traditions were absorbed by Slavs inhabit-/329/ing the Dnipro-Carpathian region. As a result of several such waves of migration, the South Slavs (e.g., Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and Macedonians) found themselves on the lands from the Alpine foothills and deep into the Balkan Mountains. Beginning in the early Middle Ages, they gradually lost their common political identity. Slovenia was German-ruled. Croatia, retaining only islands of independence (like the city-state of Dubrovnik/Ragusa) changed its territorial configuration constantly as the Ottoman invasion which extended a wedge into historically Croatian territory. Serbia gradually lost its medieval might, turning into a province of the Ottoman Empire, beginning in the fifteenth century, where Slavs from the Bosnia-Herzegovina lands also merged and dissolved. The only exception was Montenegro, a hereditary bishopric where power passed from uncle to nephew, religiously akin to the Serbs, impregnable and unattractive to the Ottoman Turks because of its mountainous terrain.

The cultural and historical development, of the South Slavs was determined by their Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic affiliations. The Catholic Slavs gave the world such famous attainments as the Dubrovnik-Dalmatian Renaissance and Croatian baroque, which placed quite some distance between them and the Orthodox Serbs and Macedonians in the Middle Ages. Therefore, the South Slavs had every right to regard themselves as ethnically related but historically distinct ethnic entities with different traditions and cultures.

A palpable role was played here by the religious factor. Meanwhile, Croatian men of letters, discovering for themselves Ukraine's intellectual treasure trove and its horrible history, strongly cautioned against Russophilism. Simultaneously, Croatian romantics actively propagated the idea of South Slavism. In fact, they conceived the country's name, Yugoslavia, and did their best to help establish it. The Illyrians as they called themselves volunteered to choose a dialect which was the closest to Serbian when the time came to form a literary language. This was a gesture of unity with an ethnically related people. It was thus that two ethnic groups with different names found themselves /330/ united by a linguistic umbilical cord in the course of spreading romantic Slavism. With time this caused historical grievances which are still very much alive.

The formation in 1918 of the "Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes," renamed Yugoslavia in 1923, did not bring the non-Serbs the liberation they had expected. Instead, it signified a new stage of dependence, accompanied by a various of acts of terrorism, starting with the 1914 assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Francis Ferdinand which set off World War I (the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, had been a member of the underground Serbian Black Hand, and the victim was alleged to be the initiator of the idea of creating a "triple" Habsburg Monarchy in which would include Croatia as an equal member alongside Austria and Hungary), an attempt on Radic, leader of the Croatian opposition (murdered in Belgrade in 1928), and the 1934 assassination in Marseilles by the Croatian Ustasha of Alexander Karadjorjevic, Macedonian-backed pretender to the Yugoslav throne. The result of this mutual animosity was the appearance of extremist organizations, the Serbian Cetniks (named for wartime anti-Tito Serb partisans) and the Croatian Ustashi. The latter saw a solution to the national question in an alliance with Mussolini's Italy and gained independence as a German satellite state during World War II. This fact was and still is widely used by postwar communist propaganda to build the Croats a negative "national image" among Serbs, despite the fact that Tito, himself of Croatian parentage, was at the head of an anti-Nazi (national liberation) resistance movement in which an important role was played by Croatian brigades.

Despite the official split with Stalinism (the Corninform decision of 1948), the outwardly liberal Yugoslavian regime was in actuality a microcosm of the Soviet Empire. The "Bare Islands" Adriatic concentration camp for Yugoslav Stalinists were little different, if not even worse, than its Siberian counterparts housing "Titoists." The Yugoslav League of Communists (YLC) made a special point of demonstrating its adherence to Marxist dogma and tried to be holier than the "Holy See" in Moscow. The secret police /331/ did its work thoroughly, though sometimes verging on the absurd, resorting to extravagant means like bugging Tito's and his wife's bed chambers. Nationality policy was based a the Yugoslav version of Soviet "friendship of peoples," in the form of numerous propaganda rituals and building the majestic "Brotherhood and Unity" Highway linking the capitals of the "fraternal nations" (and later used in the tank offensive on Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Sarajevo). Tito's baby, the Yugoslav People's Army, was one of the strongest in Europe, bracing itself against Soviet invasion (after Hungary and Czechoslovakia), but it was not destined to carry out the historic mission as defender of Tito's self-governing communism. Instead, in the early 1990s it was completely transformed into a punitive police body.

* * *

The war in Yugoslavia was from the outset the result of the agony of the communist regime, and putting an end to it is only a matter of time, or so it would have seemed. The Serbian democratic intelligentsia, raised in the years of resistance against Stalinist and Soviet totalitarianism, rallied round writer Vuko Draskovic in resisting Serbian Bolshevism. Their influence on society grew rapidly, but at the crucial time when Serbian youth were erecting barricades on Belgrade streets and the regime was shaking at its foundation, Milosevic (former Secretary of the YLC city organization) led the campaign to storm the Croatian city of Vukovar. Thus, collective instincts were contained, absorbing the social explosion's blast energy. The regime's collapse was slowed down, and it was evidence of the flexibility and foresight of the Serbian Bolsheviks in their attempt to reinforce their bastion of national communism in the Balkans.

Some one million Serbs inhabiting the Croatian Republic found themselves the captives of political strategists. A process of creating internal ethnic solidarity and confrontation with the other began, on the age-old "us-them" standard.

The "our" (as in "our troops") tribal identity makes the socium even more aggressive than ideology. Here the no-/332/tion "them" has a purely negative meaning. It implies someone or something threatening the ethnos, a danger that must be eliminated. Usually, it starts with a verbal offensive. This rather archaic form of communication habitually includes open contempt for the Other. Expressions and actions, which under different circumstances would look utterly uncivilized, come to appear totally appropriate. In a primitive society mocking and tongue-lashing are a twisted form of relationships of dependence and exploitation between unequal social groups. It is precisely this archaic type of verbal gestures, which currently dominates mass ethnic consciousness in the Balkans.

23. See, for example, P. Rudyakov, "Dismembering Yugoslavia a New Partition of Europe," Political Thought, No. 3, 1994, pp. 219-223. (Editors' note: this article was reprinted, unfortunately under a different heading and without editors' knowledge and consent, by the newspaper Holos Ukrainy).

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