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Could Yugoslavia have been saved? Possibly Yes, Here's How

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Post 09 Nov 2021, 22:19
This dialogue was split off from Cafe Mir's "What are you reading" thread, where I asked EdvardK about a book on the fall of Yugoslavia. His response included a detailed, source-filled explanation which I figured might be useful to both long-time users here for reference and those who may find this thread accidentally through a search engine:


EdvardK wrote:
I'm reading "JNA i raspad SFR Jugoslavije" ... gan-Vuksic
"YNA and the break-up of SFR Yugoslavia" (YNA=Yugoslav National Army, SFR=Socialist Federal Republic)

Excellent analysis of the events that led to the break-up of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The author succinctly and to-the-point discusses various scenarios that could've played out in the 80s prior to the dissolution, dissecting memoirs of major key players, such as army general Veljko Kadijević, fleet admiral Branko Mamula, Serbian member of the SFRY Presidency Borisav Jović and many others.

The book is a treasure trove of clear arguments why certain things happened they way they did.
After not only reading the memoirs of the above mentioned key players but other books on this subject as well, I can atest that this is by far the best book on the subject of the dissolution of SFRY that I have read so far.

It was printed 1x only in 500 copies. Only in Serbo-Croatian language. It's a shame as this should be mandatory reading material for anyone who's serious in analysing/understanding the reasons behind why certain things did and why certain other things did not happen.


soviet78 wrote:
Edvard, it's a real shame that the book you mentioned isn't available in English/Russian. I've been looking for a balanced, cohesive account of the breakup of Yugoslavia for what feels like forever. The inclusion of various 'what-if' scenarios also sounds great. Do they include circumstances under which the country could have stayed together? Are the options limited to domestic factors? Or do they account for international factors as well? I mean I can't imagine how they couldn't, since it was USSR's collapse that allowed NATO to run amok in the region.


EdvardK wrote:
"JNA i raspad SFR Jugoslavije - od čuvara do grobara svoje države"
"YNA and the break-up of SFR Yugoslavia - from the guardian to the gravedigger of its own country"

It was written by a YNA (Yugoslav National Army) colonel Dragan Vukšić who spent most of his military career in posts dealing with foreign relations and international military cooperation, e.g. he was the Yugoslav member in OSCE, military attache in West Germany etc.

He was also a member of the cabinet of the last Minister of Defence in SFRY, army general Veljko Kadijević and he also personally knew and worked with the second-to-last Minister of Defence in SFRY, fleet admiral Branko Mamula (who died this October 2021 at the age of 100). What I'm saying is that the author is not a simpleton soldier with experience limited to trenches or military drills but is/was a military analyst and close enough to the top echelons to understand the happenings in the background or behind the curtain, if you know what I mean. In his self-presentation at the beginning of the book, he writes about himself as a pro-Yugoslav oriented, much like what Kadijević and Mamula were, but he also explained that he very much differed from them in understanding what pro-Yugoslav means.

I have only recently acquired the memoirs of Branko Mamula "Slučaj Jugoslavija" or "Case Yugoslavia" (only available in Serbo-Croatian ... LAVIJA-pdf) but decided to read Vukšić's book first, especially because I felt it would be better to read YNA-related view of the break-up from an "unknown" source (or a source that does not have any hidden agenda to make himself look good in memoirs, as Vukšić was not a prominent figure at all). I did read both of Kadijević's memoirs already (he wrote "Moje viđenje raspada" or "My View of the Break-Up" in 1993 ... kadijevic/ and then "Protiv-udar" or "Counter strike" in 2010 ... kadijevic/ as a response to Mamula's memoir).

Before I write about his analysis, I want you to know that not only I've been thinking about the break-up of Yugoslavia for a long time and it has been on my mind every single day (sic!) for many many years, going through all sorts of scenarios, the why's, the what-if's, going through events, trying to understand certain things which had happened, finding culprits etc. It's been at least 3 or 4 years now that I have been fully convinced how marshal Tito bore a shared responsibility for what happened to SFRY after his departure (death) in May, 1980. I was convinced that the absolutely best time for him to step down from leading the country would be in early-to-mid 1960s (when GDP and economic growth was going through the roof) and that absolutely last time to step down would've been around 1975 (five years prior his death), but should actually have happened before the new constitution of 1974 was adopted and which made him a lifelong president (which he did not want but was coerced/made to accept). My reasoning was that he could have remained as "éminence grise" (grey eminence) and ensured "training" to the new generation of leaders and steer the presidency in a way to strengthen and solidify the federation.

I know this may be too much information right here, but just know that the constitution of 1974 brought many novelties in the federation, increasing the power of individual republics, even giving them the right to secede (which Slovenes and Croats [ab]used in late 1980s), allowing for republican armies to form etc. As I read in other books, the comments from that time when the constitution was adopted (1974) were that the Slovenes will abuse its paragraphs within two decades, which actually happened.

As I've read other books, among them this one ("Specialni rat protiv SFRJ - savetovanje u Kumrovcu" or "Special Warfare Against SFRY - symposium in Kumrovec") ... pa-autora- which I bought in Jajce, Bosnia and Hercegovina, (this is the place were socialist Yugoslavia was formed on Nov 29th, 1943), back in 2008, I was surprised how accurately military analysts in 1983 predicted the future events (of 1986 and onwards until the break-up). There's this colonel Dušan Vilić who's report/thesis in that collection/book made me think that he was a clairvoyant of some sort. He was writing about the external enemy (other countries such as Western Germany, USA, and unfriendly foreign emigration which is the leftover of the collaborators and traitors from WW2) and internal enemy (opposition to anything socialist which is being nurtured by the external enemy) working in unison to destroy SFRY - he was very specific in naming how things would play out in various aspects of social life, in economy, in politics, how the external enemy would use our weak points to multiply the negative effects on the society, at which point the internal enemy would get even more energized etc...An example of external agents applying low intensity warfare would be the USA pressuring the IMF (or World Bank, pick your choice) not to reprogram a country's debt to exacerbate economic hardship (which they regularly did not only with SFRY but many other countries as well). Anyway, an interesting read because things actually did play out the way he predicted. Ever since I read that collection of reports/thesis a decade or more ago I could not stop thinking about what should've been done to avoid the pitfalls which were known in the army for almost half a decade before shit started to hit the fan.

I got convinced that the coup d'etat would've been the best choice, given the information i gathered for myself in all this time. A captain of the most elite parachutists in Yugoslavia, Hasan Omerović (who was by-the-way a legend back in SFRY already when his parachute did not open and he fell from 2km height to the ground in mid 1980s, but fully recovered and got back to service) confirmed that his elite troops were sent to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina in mid 1991 (just before the actual secession) to wait on the signal to decapitate those republics' political leadership, capture radio and TV stations, etc., but they never got a go-ahead signal to actually do it. Funny enough (not funny, really), the troops were not sent to Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro. Now, in reading this book, the author discusses coup d'etat as well, but I'll get to that later.

All in all, prior to reading this book by Dragan Vukšić, I was convinced that there was a special warfare against our country - but that low intensity special warfare was just a footnote (so to speak) in the much larger warfare against the USSR and their Warsaw Pact and we were sort of collateral damage because we were a socialist country, too, albeit not aligned with USSR by far.
The 1991 Foreign Appropriations Act (USA) ... -bill/5114 made such severe statements that it was clear to me that the USA was pouring fresh oil over the burning fire - when we were in economic hardship requiring assistance, this US law prohibited any help to SFRY (but the individual republics who would hold "democratic" elections) and exacerbated its agony because it favoured individual republics. That put the last nails in our coffin (when the US was actually "fighting" the Soviet "menace", even though Gorbachev was in power). Just search for Yugoslavia in that document and you'll see one paragraph which describes what I wrote above.

The author made an impression on me for being a military expert, especially one with an international career in the West. He made it very clear at the beginning of the book that he was pro-Yugoslav but knew that the socialist system, the way it was designed and implemented (socialist self-management and the Non-Aligned stance), would not work in the long run and that solely marshal Tito's personality held everything together, for he was the president of the country (lifelong), president of the party in power (League of Communists of Yugoslavia, lifelong) and the commander-in-chief of the army (that came with him being the president of SFRY). The author talks about "trinity" in Tito's case. Once he died and the collective presidency took over, YNA lost that trinity in one person. The "trinity" split into the collective presidency which was a political body that represented the country, but there were other people in presidency of the League of Communists (as political ideology) and there were yet different people in different successive governments (Federal Prime Minister, Federal Minister of Defence).

YNA also had a communist party within it and the army became schizophrenic (that's my word, the author does not use that term) because instructions were coming from different bodies (the collective presidency, then from the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, and from the Minister of Defence). The author blames Tito for allowing that it could've come to this, that he should've depoliticized the army during his lifetime. And that's true! As marshal Tito found the "Third way", which was the Non-Aligned movement, he could play the East and the West to get the most out of each. And that worked well but Tito was obviously not aware that this kind of stance can work well only until there actually are two blocks - when it all began to crumble, the collective presidency (the political leadership) as well as the military leadership (Chiefs of Staff, Minister of Defence) did not want to accept that things are changing elsewhere and that they'd have to change as well. They were demagogically entrenched in the belief that there will continue to be a bi-polar world, even after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, which is ludicrous. The author took part in the OSCE conferences in which ex-Warsaw Pact members embraced changes and wanted to follow through with reforms to get their countries back on their feet, but not Yugoslavia - the author got clear instructions to disagree with any proposals (as he was SFRY's member to that institution and had to follow the official line), so SFRY started to significantly lag behind the developments. As Minister of Defence, not knowing who to listen to as they were all misaligned, thought that Milošević was pro-Yugoslav, however, Milošević's pro-Yugoslav stance was a front as he was a Serb nationalist. Kadijević only realized that when it was too late.

The author claims (as I've read elsewhere, too) that plans for coup d'etat started in late 1986 by fleet admiral Branko Mamula (then Minister of Defence) who - unfortunately - had to resign due to a corruption scandal (which was real, not a fabrication), so he got succeeded by Veljko Kadijević (who actually helped in laying out the plan for a potential coup). YNA, however, was incapable of carrying it out as it was too demagogic (and politicized with the communist party which was breaking up) and would want to keep the status quo. Veljko Kadijević as the Minister of Defence did not have the balls to follow through what was agreed earlier.

All in all, it was Tito's fault (to a much more severe degree than I have thought up to now!) to steer the country in a direction which had no way forward. The author says that the communist party was to blame for inefficiencies (which I sort of knew already and actually agreed with it already, too) and it broke apart a good year and a half before the dissolution of the country (that literally happened in January 1990 at the 14th Congress). ... Yugoslavia

He said that if there were wiser people in the political leadership (and YNA), the country would reform and keep together - that we could have transformed in a democracy but that Tito set up things in a way that this was utterly impossible. The author dismisses the claims about special warfare (the things I wrote about above regarding the special low intensity warfare) as pure paranoia and calls those in favour of that concept morons (my word again, not his, but he strongly disagrees with the special warfare scenario to which I used to subscribe as well).

Kadijević even went to USSR in March 1991 (during a heated debate at the collective presidency when he suggested some strict measures to keep the country together) to talk with Dmitry Yazov who was USSR's Minister of Defence to ask for his support in a coup. It was general knowledge that Yazov and Gorbachev did not mix well and that there was always an imminent threat that the Soviet army would take over. Yazov replied he's got too many things on his plate in USSR to offer any kind of help in that alleged/planned YNA coup, so Kadijević decided not to follow through. By the time the Soviets "managed" to execute the coup (which wasn't even done by the Soviet Army leadership but by Kryuchkov ie KGB), it was already too late for us as we've already broken up.

The author trashes both last Ministers of Defence of being demagogic and incapable of grasping the historic changes which were sweeping through the continent. The what-if scenarios that he lays out are thoroughly analyzed in the book, and he puts down very solid arguments how neither of the options that presented to the leadership (political and military) would not bear fruit. The main reasons will be hard to grasp for those unfamiliar with people from the Balkans, but nationalist sentiment after marshal's death was in full swing (which should've been immediately curtailed and rooted out, but that never happened), there were always disagreements either political (Presidency of SFRY) or executive (the Federal [executive] Government) or ideological (The League of Communists of Yugoslavia vs. The League of Communists of Slovenia vs. The League of Communists of Serbia...). I still maintain that at many a point in the past, a coup would've been constructive, benefical and would bring about the necessary sobering up of the secessionist/nationalist/counter-revolutionary forces, if you will.
One can never plan just about everything in order to execute a specific thing. There's always a random abberation which one could not have counted on. So, the last Minister of Defence is to blame for not having the balls to take over - I do understand that it was a tough call as YNA was a multinational army and YNA would suppress specific nations. But the thing is - they should've arrested all the republic leaderships, not just Slovenian and Croatian. Milošević was breaking SFRY up just like Tudjman, only from a different perspective.

When discussing the international factors, they're not primary reasons, but instrumental in providing help. The West German BND helped Croats in procuring weapons from Hungary in late 1990. YNA's counter-intelligence service knew about it but did not take action to stop those shipments, arrest the culprits and put them on trial - that's the height of incompetence! ... gelj_Tapes I was serving YNA at the time and even back then (i was just a kid, compared to now) could not comprehend the non-action of the federal justice system.

The book itself does not religiously follow the chronology of the disaster, so I advise against reading it as a first book on the subject. It really does deal with the YNA's perspective of things and it literally did blow my mind and shattered many illusions I had about the era I lived in.

In essence, the author says that the only way for the federation to survive would be to accept the changes which were happening in the region, adapt to the political changes, depoliticize the army (there should be no political parties in it), adopt the market economy and ensure better living conditions for the entire country. That's his pro-Yugoslav stance which is in contrast with Mamula's and Kadijević's pro-Yugoslav stance which was keeping the socialist system untouched, play the two sides (NATO, Warsaw Pact) to get most out of each, and carry on pretending we're above these divisons between the West and the East.

I maintain that the coup should've been executed the moment both sides (Slovenes, Croats on one and Serbs on the other) started showing prevailing nationalism. YNA should've arrested all republic leaderships, abolish the constitution and declare martial law for 6-12 months, while in between that time economists should work hard on getting things back on track (to improve the standard of living), and then - and only then - start allowing formation of political parties, however, not on nationalist basis (such as Croatian Peasant Party, or Serb Radical Party) but on ideas basis (social democrats, christian stupid democrats etc.).

Beside the books already referenced above, I suggest the following (unfortunately, all in Serbo-Croatian):

Momčilo Bulatović - Pravila ćutanja (Rules of Keeping Quiet) ... bulatovic/
Konrad Kolšek - 1991: Prvi pucnji u SFRJ (1991: First Shots Fired in SFRY) ... RAD-KOLSEK
Borisav Jović - Poslednji dani SFRJ (The Last Days of SFRY) ... isav-Jovic
Nikola Čubra - Vojska i razbijanje Jugoslavije (The Army and the break up of Yugoslavia) ... dopredmeti
Milorad Pavlović - Sececija u režiji velikih sila (Secession Directed by Superpowers) ... LIKIH-SILA
Pavle Jakšić - Pohod na Jugoslaviju (March on Yugoslavia) ... vle-Jaksic
Ilija Radaković - Besmislena YU ratovanja (Senseless YU wars) ... -1991-1995
Milisav Sekulić - Jugoslaviju niko nije branio, a Vrhovna komanda je izdala (No One Defended Yugoslavia, Supreme Command Betrayed Her) ... _id-28341#
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