Communism O Nationalism!

Yugoslavia shows how ancient tensions can suddenly boil over

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Serbia. Kosovo. The names rise up like wraiths from the mists of European history, evoking episodes that dispatched the tumbrels of war throughout the Old Continent 74 summers ago, or paved the way a half-millennium earlier for the Turkish domination of the Balkans. It was at Sarajevo in June 1914 that a Serbian-trained assassin shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, igniting World War I. And it was at Kosovo Field in 1389 that the Ottomans snuffed out Serbian independence.

Those same names echoed throughout Europe last week as Yugoslavia confronted its most serious crisis since Marshal Tito's death in 1980. After years of weak central leadership, Yugoslavia's loose federation of six republics and two autonomous provinces seemed about to fall prey to a new plague of nationalism fomented by the numerically dominant Serbs and compounded by anger at disastrous economic management.

Yet the Serbs are not the only group in the Communist world that are undergoing a revival of nationalism. In the Soviet Union tensions are smoldering in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian enclave in the republic of Azerbaijan. Vigorous popular fronts have sprung up in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Though sanctioned by the local Communist Parties, the movements boldly tested the very limits of glasnost.

Gorbachev probably didn't reckon with this, and nor did Karl Marx. From its first days, Marxism-Leninism has been peculiarly blind to the potentiality of nationalism to trample like an enraged warthog through the neat corn rows of class theory and inevitable revolution. "National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily vanishing," wrote Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto of 1848, "((and)) the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster." But the same year was the apogee of European nationalist uprisings in the 19th century.

Lenin was no more prescient. In 1916 he declared one of the goals of the Bolsheviks to be "the elimination of the fragmentation of humanity in petty states and the individualism of nations." He thought the workers of Germany would side with Russia after the Revolution of 1917, even though the two countries were still at war. The successors of Lenin and then Stalin seemed surprised when frustration with the Communist system merged with anti-Russian sentiment to help trigger such traumatic events as the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Polish Solidarity movement of 1980.

In Eastern Europe, nationalism has not yet posed a threat to the viability of the regimes themselves. But the winds of the Gorbachev revolution have shaken Czechoslovakia and Poland. In Prague last week, Communist Party Leader Milos Jakes fired Lubomir Strougal, the country's Prime Minister for 18 years, and his entire 22-member Cabinet. Strougal's problem: sympathy for perestroika.

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