Central/Eastern European Impossibilities: The Yugoslav Case

Yugoslavia, a state that grew out of the ruins of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and collapsed twice – once at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the second time after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, each of those times accompanied by a class, religious and ethnic war – was a state of impossible connections and clashes between the cultures of Central Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East, argues Šuvaković. All the political models of the late 19th and the 20th century, including bourgeois national capitalism and liberal capitalist fascism, nationalism and revolutionary communism, Stalinism, real socialism, self-governing socialism, postsocialist patriotism, and transitional postsocialism, were present in this state, that was the home of “kindred, yet opposed ethnic and national communities” (1).

The establishment of this state, firstly named the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, that in 1929 changed its name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and that would in 1946, with the establishment of the communist government, become the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, and finally, in 1963, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was itself based on a certain (perhaps impossible) utopia: the harmonious existence of those kindred, yet opposed communities.

Impossibility, accompanied by heterogeneity leading to the rise of kindred, yet opposed utopian and dystopian sentiments, is also palpably present when it comes to the struggle for defining another (sometimes related) socio-geographical region that also doubles as a political concept – Central Europe.

Gaining its meaning as a political and cultural concept, but also as a tool for historical analysis that is embedded in the debate between “civilized” and “barbarian”, “Western” and “Eastern” Europe, the concept of Central Europe, although more recent than the concepts of Western and Eastern Europe, has been around for some time – the first author to speak about it was the Prussian Friedrich List in early 1840s. Tracing its history Alexei Miller argues that while in the inter-war years Central Europe as a political idea was one of the many concepts of the alliances of the countries between the Soviet Union and Germany, it became more influential and widespread after the Second World War and the rise of the idea of bloc competitions, eventually acquiring an obvious oppositional mark, and coming to signify in the 1970s and 1980s “less socialist” political attitudes (86-87).

According to Miller, the most useful concept of Central Europe as a historic phenomenon was presented by Hungarian thinker Jenő Szűcs in his essay “The Three Historical Regions of Europe”. For Szűcs, a common denominator in Central Europe is a lack of continuity and stability in development, due to the heterogeneity of the social and political fabric in the region (Miller 85). This seems to be the canonical approach when it comes to thinking about Central Europe – Timothy Garton Ash’s famous pieces such as “Mitteleuropa?” or “Does Central Europe Exist?” tend to also point out the persistence of the idea of Central Europe as a territory of unresolved conditions and unanswered questions. Similarly, the concept of Yugoslavia as a geographical, political, socio-cultural region depends closely on notions on heterogeneity, historical flux and political, cultural and ethnic indeterminacy.

Iva Dimovska

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