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Rural-urban differences and the break-up of Yugoslavia

L’opposition ville-campagne et la dissolution de la Yougoslavie
John B. Allcock
p. 101-125

Résumé

There has been widespread debate over the possible causes of the break-up of the former Yugoslav federation : but relatively little attention has been paid to the importance of rural-urban differences in this process. The central claim of the article is that the economic, political and social exclusion which some specific segments of the Yugoslav rural population came to experience in relation to the urban-centred “system” can be regarded as having played an important contributory part in the genesis and course of the struggles surrounding the disintegration of Yugoslavia. This broad hypothesis is explored through brief discussions of two case-studies, the Serb krajina in Croatia, and “Herceg-Bosna”. While expressly rejecting single-factor explanations of change, the author argues that in looking for explanations of the phenomenon of secessionism in these cases we need to take into consideration the profound state of economic depression into which these areas had fallen.

Notes de l’auteur

An early version of this paper was read at the 31st. Annual Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, St. Louis, MO: 18-21 November 1999. A revised version was presented to the Centre for South-East European Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London, on 23 October 2001.1 am grateful to colleagues who were present on these occasions for their helpful critical comment, as I am also to the anonymous readers appointed by Balkanologie.

Texte intégral

Introduction

1There has been widespread debate over the possible causes of the breakup of the former Yugoslav federation, encompassing a broad choice of political, economic and cultural factors within the country, as well as aspects of its international setting, which might be considered to have undermined the integrity of the state. Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to the importance of rural-urban differences in the development of these social and political conflicts. I set it out in this paper to remind the reader of the importance of this dimension of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, although within the format of a brief article it is possible to do no more than illustrate a hypothesis which will certainly require more rigorous empirical examination.

2The central hypothesis of this paper is that the economic, political and social exclusion, which some specific segments of the Yugoslav rural population came to experience in relation to the urban-centred “system”, can be regarded as having played an important contributory part in the genesis and course of the struggles surrounding the break-up of the former federation. This broad hypothesis is explored here through the medium of two specific, regional case-studies—the ethnic Serb krajina within Croatia, and secessionist “Herceg-Bosna” within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before engaging with these particular cases, however, it will be useful to frame discussion in relation to some relevant general issues.

3The general differences between urban and rural cultures have been commented upon extensively by sociologists and anthropologists, and are sufficiently well-established not to require detailed elaboration in this context. They include typically, inter alia, the predominance of industrial and commercial occupations, a higher degree of secularisation, wider distribution of education, higher standards of living, smaller family size, reduced importance of kinship, greater exposure to mass communication, and greater involvement in organised political activity on the part of urban in comparison with rural populations.

  • 1 Xavier Bougarel has usefully drawn attention to the significance of this feature. Bougaiel (Xavier) (...)

4Whereas these differences are commonly associated with the urban-rural divide in all parts of the world, the creation of differentiated urban cultures in the Balkans has generally been intensified by the historical association of cities with ethnic difference. Under the great imperial powers (Habsburg, Ottoman and Venetian) the cities were identified with Austrian, Magyar or Ottoman ruling elites, and typically also with commercial and financial interests which were differentiated on ethnic grounds, such as Jews, Cincars, Greeks, Ragusans or Germans. In the former Ottoman regions urban-rural differences tended to be made more visible by the institution of millet.1 This overlay of ethnic difference intensified the perception of cities by the country-people as foreign and oppressive, and of the villages by the town dwellers as ignorant and backward.

  • 2 This area is handled from different points of view by Tomasevich (Jozo), Peasants, Politics and Eco (...)

5These historical divisions were in no way reduced during the life of the “First Yugoslavia”. Although politics was dominated by a configuration of parties which sought to found their legitimacy upon the base of the peasantry, the link was more typically one of a patronising, populist appeal directed by urban elites rather than an organic expression of rural perceptions and needs. The major legislative intervention made