Why I’m sceptical of multiculturalism
War in Slovenia didn’t last long. Talk of war was, on the other hand, something I remember from my most tender age. Not that when it finally came, I would be an adult. I was still in primary school, only 12 years old.
For those, who lose someone in a war, that is a terrible affair, even if it lasts only for some days, as Slovenian war for independence did. For me, it was just planes in the sky. And thick columns of smoke rising somewhere far in the west.
When Slovenia declared independence and forces of the Yugoslav national army decided to take control of the borders, fighting began. Army units with tanks, armoured personel carriers and trucks made their way from barracks in the second largest Slovenian city, Maribor, toward the Austrian border. From the house of my mother, located on a small hill, just next to a small church, there is a beautifull view toward the west. One can see Austrian Alps in the distance. The route the army took could not be seen, but results of their confronting of Slovenian baricades could be. Territorial defence, which was basically meant to serve as a helping hand for the army in case of an foreign invasion, had become Slovenian army. It was helped by Slovenian police. They both, at the begining of the conflict, put up barricades, to stop the movement of the army. Shooting would soon follow.
As the army advanced, they ran into obstacles and started to clear them. That were the origins of those collumns of smoke. Then the planes came, bombarding Slovenian positions and then sharply turning east, so not to trespass to deep into Austrian territory, flying just above our house. I don’t know anymore, how many they were, maybe five, or six.
Yugoslavia was a multiethnic country, made up of six republics and two autonomous areas. There were catholics, orthodox and muslims. Historicaly Serbs, Bosnians, Montenegrins, Albanians and Macedonians for a long time lived under the Ottoman rule. Croats and Slovenians lived under Austrian rule, later Slovenian being under the control of the German half, and Croats under the Hungarian half. There were always important cultural diffences. Languages were mostly similar, so similar, that someone could mistake them for dialects. Albanians spoke a totally different one.
Communists of course despised nationalism. For them, it was class strugle. All were part of the working class, descendants of the heroic resistance against occupying forces in world war two and all were meant to build a communist utopia. Partizans were the good guys, the Ustasha and Chetniks, Croat and Serb nationalist forces of the world war, the bad guys. Slovenians had Domobranci, who swore their allegiance to Hitler. Bad guys as well. Those nationalist forces were held under the boot of a unitary state, ruled by the party. The same was with religion, communists being of the belief, religion was backward, opium for the masses, anyway. Muslim women were forced to get rid of their headwear.
And yet, even with the lack of freedom, with opression, somehow nationalist forces would spring up again, when opportunity arose. It was the time of my childhood.
The communist leader Tito died in 1980. Yugoslavia was allredy begining to feel economic disturbances. The country took foreign loans and it had trouble repaying them. There were worker strikes. More and more of them. All this disturbance would cause Yugoslavia to turn to the IMF, who proposed a medicine in the shape of austerity, which only worsened the situation. Inflation, worker strikes, republics slowly drifting apart and more and more calls for reforms, economic and political. Civil society got stronger, challenging the rule of the communist party. They wanted freedom, democracy. Maybe the biggest problem was, that that came mostly on the republican level, meaning that new political forces were destined to be nationalistic.
I remember the strugle of Albanians in Kosovo in those years. Slovenians were symphatetic to them, maybe because they were too a small nation, while Serbia was strong. The stories, that went around, were eerily similar to the ones we can hear today accross the West. That they were a nationality, who had way more children than their neighbours and would in time supplant the Serbs. Albanians in Kosovo were mosty muslims, while Serbs were orthodox christians.
There was unrest in Kosovo, with army used to quell the protests. And one Serbian politician, who would become much more known latter, rose to power on fears of the Serbs in Kosovo. He was Slobodan Miloševič.
When I see Marine le Pen or Donald Trump, I see him. Not that I would see only bad in him, but he was a nationalist and a demagouge. He used peoples fears, to strenghten his own position in Yugoslavia, and when the country disintegrated more and more, in Serbia.
In a way, he was he worst of many nationalist leaders in Yugoslavia, who all wanted independence for their own nationality, even if borders between republics didn’t always match borders between nationalities. He was just the strongest of them all, because he had Serbia and Montenegro under him and the Yugoslav national army slowly retreated into those two republics, who still called themself Yugoslavia. They had nowhere else to go.
In an enviroment, when nationalistic movements and politicians all wanted independence or that all their people live in one country, war was inevitable. In Slovenia, where there was no larger ethnic minority, war was short, in Croatia, where Serbs lived in the east and around Knin, it would last for years, in Bosnia and Hercegovina, where divisions were deep, it would be the most terrible. Latter the war would visit Kosovo, with NATO intervening and in the end, even Macedonia would not be spared.
A multiethnich country of Yugoslavia exploded in an orgy of violence, with the worst nationalistic forces tearing people appart. Ustasha and Chetniki marched again. Communist failed to create a new society, where national and religious differences would be unimportant.
Allthough the direct experience of war for me was just some planes in the sky and collumns of smoke in the distance, the disintegration process had a deep effect on me. I consumed all those words of brotherhood and unity told by the state propaganda and educational system as a child, just to then see how savage neighbours could be to their neighbours, because one were Serbs and other Croats. I watched Croatian televison, as they reported, day in and day out, how many grenades fell on some city and how many people died. Then there was siege of Sarajevo. Snipers killing people in the streets. Ethnic cleansing. Massacres.
If people, who were taught for decades to be brothers, were able to so savagely murder eachother over ethnic and religious differences, then humanity had a lot of darkness inside, ready to explode into brutal violence, under the right circumstances. That was the lesson I learned. And no, Serbs, Croats, Albanians were not some kind of backward monsters from the Balkans, naturaly inclined to violence. They were people like me and my fellow Slovenians. They were like the French and German and Americans. Like everybody else. And still the war came.
Looking at the situation in the West, I can not but feel fear. Fear, that Yugoslav tragedy could be repated, this time on a much larger scale. Yes, the prophets of multiculturalism preach about unity, friendship, understanding between the most different of people. We are all brothers and sisters, all wanting to live peacefull lives in prosperity. But then, I heard such things before. And it didn’t turn out that way.
There are deep divisions in many western states. Large minorities exist, mostly in larger cities, living separate lives. Nationalism is lifting its head, people affraid because of terrorism and influx of refugees and migrants. On top of that, there is economic insecurity, a deep divide between elites and the ordinary people. Fear is then used by politicians, like Slobodan Miloševič was, to get into power. Sometimes, they are doing that, by telling the truth, their opponents will not. That there is something wrong in their countries and needs to change.
I wish all people could live peacefull lives side by side. But I am not naive. Differences are dangerous and humanity is, on the inside, as full of darkness, as it is of light. That is the reason, I am sceptical of multiculturalism. Not because, I would not wish to live in a diverse society, but because I fear the outcome.