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Political Science


For many of its former citizens Yugoslavia was a peaceful and fairly prosperous modern European country. But economic hardshi and political instability in the 1980s led to another type of reality that recalled the brutal and fearsome experiences of World War II in the Balkans—an era most thought gone forever. The apparent similarities have led foreign observers, as well as local participants, to see the 1990s as just another bleak page of violence and destruction in the already grim story of the former Yugoslav state.

This article deals with different images of the former Yugoslavia. First, I present Samuel P. Hungtington’s understanding of global politics as an example of “orientalist” and “balkanist” discourses. I try to show how these discourses methodologically impeded the examination of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, and perpetuate imageries of the Balkans as uncivilized and barbours.

Secondly, I describe the process of creating the “other” within the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The imagery, themes and notions invoked by rhetorical strategists in the former Yugoslavia reflect the “classification struggle” of the European periphery for recognition by the more powerful “Western” players. These images were not chosen accidentally, but were predetermined by their implicit acceptance in the West as accurate descriptions of the Balkans. In this connection, I highlight the role of national intelligentsias in the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Finally, I present an alternative history of the Yugoslav idea which calls into question the widely assumed inevitability of Yugoslavia’s disintegration. I point to the existence of a respectable tradition among North American and Yugoslav scholars that runs counter to the prevailing balkanist discourse.


This article was originally published in Balkanistica, 12: 36-66. © 1999 University of Mississippi. Reproduced with permission.