.. than they can consume locally. (Though I can’t find a source, the epigram is always dated to 1912 and attributed to Saki, who lost his life a little later in one of the export waves.) (Update: commenter Jim below has run down the quotation – it was Saki, in 1911, but not on the Balkans.)
Montenegro has voted for independence from Serbia. The breakup of former Yugoslavia is now just about complete except for Kosovo.
Anybody who claims to understand the Balkans hasn’t been there. Experts, when pressed for a simple explanation of the collapse of Yugoslavia, stare gloomily into their slivovitz. I went on a dozen missions to Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and (a lovely contrast) Slovenia and organised a few projects in Albania, Serbia and Macedonia, so I’m neither a rank amateur nor a expert. Let me bore you with my tourist class Theory.
The “ancient ethnic hatreds” explanation doesn’t wash. The Balkans weren’t significantly more warlike and violent than the rest of Europe for centuries. The machismo is par for the Mediterranean (cf. Crete). Living under empires, with the peculiar exception of Montenegro, nurtured cultural as opposed to civic identity. But what experience have Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, or Romania had of democracy? Outside Yugoslavia, you see every shade of misrule after the collapse of Soviet hegemony, but not civil war.
More recent events generally have more explanatory power than remote ones. One big recent difference is the course of Hitler’s war. Over most of central and eastern Europe, this took the form of conventional warfare, conducted with great brutality and indifference to civilian suffering, but essentially by uniformed armies. Partisans in Russia were objects of deep suspicion to Stalin; survivors were expediently made heroes afterwards, but remained secondary in both fact and legend to the Red Army.
In Yugoslavia, partisan warfare dominated; and it was a civil as well as a liberation war. John Keegan, in his History of Warfare (pp 51-55), points out the uniquely destructive effects on society of the application of the theory of popular warfare by Tito, and the response by his Croat and Cetnik foes and the Wehrmacht. In popular war, there are no civilians. It is essential to make an occupied village commit to your side, by implicating villagers in executions and looting. An enemy village that has made the “wrong” commitment is punished, savagely. The French and the Czechs still remember Oradour and Lidice with horror – but these were the sole examples in each country. In Yugoslavia, hundreds of villages met similar fates, not all at German hands. Keegan gives the Yugoslav casualties of the partisan war at 1.2 million, one of the highest rates among the combatant nations. So postwar Yugoslavs inherited a huge pool of bitter memories, not just those of suffering and cruelty they shared with every survivor of occupied Europe, but of betrayal and enmity between neighbours on a unique scale.
Tito’s postwar policy to deal with this was repression in a Freudian as well as a political sense. The horrible episode was glorified in propaganda and education, and its methods inculcated to successive generations of army conscripts. Remember how the Serbs fooled the near-magical technology of the USAF in Kosovo. Arkan and Mladic were simply applying what they had been taught.
Tito’s “Yugoslavia” was a lie in a way that Stalin’s “Russia” or Mao’s “China” were not. When his iron hand in a velvet glove was removed, there wasn’t any alternative memory or vision of Yugoslavia to fall back on.