Daniele Conversi
German-Bashing and the Breakup of Yugoslavia
Seattle: University of Washington/ Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies (ëThe Donald W. Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European and Central Asian Studiesí, nº 16, March 1998)
(ISSN 1078-5639, 82 pp.. price: $6.45)


Since the inception of the Yugoslav crisis, the major Western powers have been unable to provide adequate or united responses to the maelstrom of calamitous events. The EC decision to recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia on 16 December 1991, can be identified as the first coordinated attempt to find a way out of the impasse. According to its critics, this step was premature and precipitated the ensuing dramatic developments. According to its apologists, if anything, it came too late, only after the invasion of the JNA (Serbo-Croatian acronym for Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija, Yugoslav People's Army, also known as YPA) of nearly one third of Croatia and a ten-day war with Slovenia.
This monograph aims to consider and analyze both viewpoints. In doing so, it will try to answer the two main questions underpinning each position: Why did Germany exert particular pressure to recognize Slovenia and Croatia? Why did the notion of Germany's responsibility for these events gain widespread acceptance? The sources will be both primary, such as statements by political leaders and diplomats, and secondary, such as academic literature touching upon the topic. The latter is still at an embryonic stage and critical research discussing the topic is still relatively limited.
As is known, several countries had been pressing for recognition since the start of the war on 27 June 1991. However, it was only as a result of Germany's political and economic weight that the European Union found the will to move towards that end. This step was Germany's first bold foreign policy initiative since the end of World War II. Moreover, it occurred in the wake of another dramatic development, German reunification. The latter, although not openly contested by other Western powers, created a chilly sense of threat among some European countries, reviving far-reaching memories of a renewed German expansionism. Nowhere within the EC did this fear find such fertile ground as in the British popular press and in talk shows, where 'anti-Hun' rhetoric about the purported re-emergence of a Fourth Reich sprang up in popular political culture.
This monograph argues that such a political atmosphere deeply influenced and inhibited the debate over new developments in the Balkans, and in Eastern Europe in general, in the aftermath of the Cold War. Focusing on Germany's foreign initiative (often associated with Germany's Foreign Minister at the time of the crisis, Hans D. Genscher, who led the diplomatic initiative among his European partners) provided a convenient all-encompassing rationale to make sense of an international event --the war in Bosnia-- which defied most received wisdom and accepted explanations.
Effective analysis has also been inhibited by another factor: a split between international relations in practice on the one hand, and socio-political analysis on the other. There has been a tendency, if not a will, to play down the internal socio-political factors within Yugoslavia in favor of grandiose international explanations about a new carve-up of the Balkans. This shortcoming is particularly evident in works by international diplomats, who, rather than focusing on the internal events leading to the war, give an exaggerated importance to external factors, in which seems often a desperate apology of their profession's mistakes. Sociological and political interpretations of the war's domestic origins are often ignored. The result is that journalistic reports and other insider accounts have often conveyed the issue more reliably than analyses by International Relations scholars or practitioners. In the last two years, however, studies by a younger generation of scholars, not from International Relations, have started to analyze in depth the internal causes of the war, while providing a balanced consideration of external factors.
A brief chronological outline on recognition and its opponents will establish that the former came long after Yugoslavia had begun its slide towards disintegration, and many months after the war started. The role of Lord Carrington's initiative will be given a particular weight. The ensuing section will attempt to answer the question of why Germany apparently exerted more pressure for recognition than other European countries. Western responses to the German initiative are put in the context of a widening rift among -- and within -- the main European powers on how to deal with the crisis. A full section is dedicated to "German- bashing" as a resurgent Western -- particularly British -- malaise.