Accessibility links

Breaking News

South Slavic: August 26, 2004

26 August 2004, Volume 6, Number 29


Part I

A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg and Andrea Feldman from Zagreb and Slobodan Markovic from Belgrade. Feldman is executive director of the Open Society Institute of Croatia, and Markovic is a research fellow at the Institute for European Studies in Belgrade.

RFE/RL: The demography of the territory of former Yugoslavia changed significantly during and after the recent conflicts, bearing in mind that it used to be predominantly multiethnic. The number of the Serbs in Croatia fell from 600,000 to 200,000, greatly reducing their importance there. Bosnia is effectively divided into Serbian, [Muslim], and Croatian parts, while there are fewer than100,000 Serbs left in Kosovo. The number of Hungarians in Vojvodina has decreased, while many Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia have arrived there. There is a tendency in Macedonia to consolidate some territories inhabited mostly by Macedonians, and others mostly by Albanians. Is this process now over?

Andrea Feldman: We can only hope that this way of resolving political conflicts is behind us. However, both migrations and ethnic cleansing represent an important and durable characteristic of Europe's past, and they have always been a crucial factor in forming and developing [national] identities....

Slobodan Markovic: I do not think we can be so sure the process is finished. There is no doubt it is still going on.

You mentioned Vojvodina as an obvious example. According to the last [Yugoslav] census, 65 percent of its population consisted of Serbs, while in 1948 the figure was 50 percent. At the same time, the number of Hungarians in Vojvodina dropped from 428,000 in 1948 to 290,000, while the Croatian population figure decreased more than two-fold, from 134,000 to 56,000. It means that there really is a trend of ethic homogenization, even in those parts of the region that were not directly involved in the war.

However, the region of former Yugoslavia is not the only example of this. There are other, even more extreme cases in our neighborhood. In 1913, the population of Aegean [Greek] Macedonia was between 30 and 50 percent Greek, while today the figure is over 90 percent, meaning that the trend exists in other Balkan states as well.

At the same time, an opposite process is underway in the European Union: the relative size of the traditional majority populations is decreasing because an increasing number of migrants are being granted citizenship.

RFE/RL: Has it ever happened before in the history of this region that the ethnic structure changed to such an extent as it did during the past decade?

Feldman: I think that the process was in motion throughout the 19th century. Greece is a good example, as Mr. Markovic has already mentioned. It culminated in the war between Greece and Turkey [starting in 1912], followed by the famous Lausanne peace accords in 1922. The population was forced to move according to a very problematic set of criteria: Orthodox inhabitants of Turkish cities were forced to move to Aegean Macedonia, while the Muslims from Crete and some other places were forced to move to Turkey. That became a permanent source of internal conflicts in Greece....

As you can see, there were similar cases in the past too, but the thing that we find particularly painful is that we experienced the trauma of it ourselves, in our own times.

Markovic: Let me just give you a few more examples from the past. Let us remember the fate of the Germans after the Communists' victory in 1944-45 in Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc. The German population -- which lived there for centuries -- was forced to leave or flee, since many expected retaliation. Some were deported to the Soviet Union, where many of them simply disappeared.

In 1921, there were 320,000 Germans living in the regions of Banat, Backa, and Baranja, while in 1948 the number dropped to 31,000, and, according to the latest census, there are only 3,000 Germans in Vojvodina. Therefore, the number of the Germans in Vojvodina has been reduced 100-fold.

That used to be called human relocation [or population transfers], but today we have another way of seeing things. What was acceptable during the Turkish-Greek conflict in 1922, we would call ethnic cleansing today.

Feldman: We should also mention the fate of the Jewish community in Croatia, Serbia, and finally all the parts of former Yugoslavia. Many Jews who survived the war and holocaust moved to Israel after the founding of that state, albeit for a variety of reasons. The legacy of violence was nonetheless one of them....

RFE/RL: As far as I understand, ethnic cleansing is a new term; it has never been used before.

Markovic: You are right. As far as we are concerned, the term appeared during the 1990s, first in French and then in Anglo-Saxon literature.

Feldman: For me, migrations and ethnic cleansings, especially during the 19th century, were triggered by the national ideologies of the new states. The understanding of nationalism was not the same in the 19th century as it is today. In the 19th century, it was a modern and democratic idea, inspiring national, political, and religious elites. It was quite typical of both big and small nations, especially for those in the region of former Habsburg monarchy, but also for those under the Ottoman Empire.

The birth of national ideologies in the 19th century led to ambitions for the national homogenization of areas [supposedly] sharing the same past, language, or religion. One way or another, one might consider migrations a crucial element in Balkan history. A need to modify [the results of] that very complex past was often used for political and ideological purposes, often bringing about catastrophic consequences. One simply cannot [bring about such change] without violence and extreme cruelty.

RFE/RL: So, Mrs. Feldman, do you think that what happened in the 1990s involved deliberately formulated policies designed to bring about massive demographic changes? We know about the Tudjman-Milosevic deal made in Karadjordjevo [in 1991 regarding the partition of Bosnia and other areas], as well as [various other] plans for human relocations.... The maps were drawn.

Feldman: From a historian's point of view, it is very hard to determine. One thing is certain, however: political elites in this region were not ready to accept the possibility of the peaceful dissolution of former Yugoslavia. Why was Yugoslavia not able to remain a serious liberal democratic country? That is the key question that the future generation of historians will try to answer.