The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2019 37 Eastern Europe people were shucking off Soviet-style Marxism- Leninism, what emerged from the wreckage of the Yugoslav experiment was nationalism. Some among the Belgrade foreign policy establishment wor- ried that events in Eastern Europe would deprive Yugoslavia of its distinctive, balancing role in Cold War politics. That concern turned out to be well founded, as the United States and Europe, preoccupied with developments elsewhere, failed to engage effectively as the country descended into war. The Center Gives Way Early in 1989, riding a wave of what we might now call nation- alist populism, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic had illegally and violently crushed the autonomy of the Albanian- majority province of Kosovo, which the rest of Yugoslavia took as a foretaste of what they might expect should Milosevic succeed in taking control of the country as a whole. In June I had watched Milosevic, in Kosovo for the 600th anniversary of the defeat of the medieval Serbian empire by the Ottoman Turks, tell a million visiting Serbs that violent conflict could be ahead, a prospect the crowd greeted with a roar of approval. In November, as the rest of the world was transfixed by the images of young Germans climbing triumphantly atop the crumbling Berlin Wall, Yugoslavia was preoccupied by Milosevic’s efforts—ultimately unsuccessful—to stage the kind of populist uprising in liberal Slovenia that he had successfully employed in three other Yugoslav federal entities, which had put him on the verge of capturing the collective federal presidency that controlled the country’s military and police. As Moscow’s power visibly crumbled, the fear that Soviet tanks might one day clank down the streets of Yugoslavia, as they had in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968, vanished. And with it went a powerful, if usually unspoken, force for unity among Yugoslavia’s fractious ethnic groups. In my first overseas Foreign Service post, Zagreb (1974-1976) resentment simmered just below the surface at Tito’s heavy-handed sup- pression of a 1972 national upheaval known as the Croatian Spring. But even friends who made no secret of their hope to one day see an independent Croatia conceded their gratitude for Tito’s successful defiance of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1948, the defining moment in the creation of Yugoslavia’s independent brand of communism. The decline of Soviet power also weakened the resolve of con- servative elements in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav military saw itself as the ultimate defender of Yugoslavia’s independence and its communist system in equal measure. It reacted to the collapse yugo slavia BERLINWALLPHOTOBYJAMESTALALAY