BY AGAR ADAMSON
One of the most important aspects of any political system is the protection of minorities and the education of the majority. On a recent visit to the former Yugoslavia, one comes face to face with this.
Yugoslavia is a failed state. To be fair, it was not the best example of “state building,” but rather of compromise and political indifference.
One of the issues facing the delegates at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was what to do with the remnants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yugoslavia was the answer: a state composed of three branches of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. On top of this was the existence of a substantial Islamic minority. Language was another problem, as both Serbian and Croatian existed, plus a number of smaller languages.
Croatia and Serbia, both hotbeds of nationalism, attempted to dominate the political scene. As all of Yugoslavia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, administered from Vienna, democracy was in its infancy during the 1920s. Factionalism was rampant until the invasion of the region by Italy at the outset of the Second World War. The rise of the Partisans, led by Joseph Broz, or, as he became known, Tito; held Yugoslavia together until his death in 1980.
Tito was a Communist dictator who broke with Moscow and became a member of the “non-aligned” movement with India and others who stood on the sidelines during the Cold War. Tito kept Croatia in Yugoslavia, crushing the 1971 independence movement.
Following his death, splits within the Yugoslavian fabric became quite apparent. Civil war erupted in 1991. Damage from this conflict is still found today though, in Dubrovnik, one of the more severely damaged cities, it has been repaired. Today, Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serb leader, is on trial in the Netherlands for war crimes.
Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia are members of the European Union. Montenegro and Serbia are not members, though they would like to be. Some commentators see this as a form of penalty for these two nations’ past behavior.
Why mention all of this history? Because the former Yugoslavia gives one an opportunity to examine why it became a failed state, and what the lessons are others can gain from the failure of electoral democracy and the lack of a sense of national unity in a rather difficult part of Europe.
Canada, as we are all aware, suffers from some of the same problems we continue to see in the Balkans. In a way, it is the Yugoslavian example that makes the election of Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim, as mayor of Calgary so significant, not only for that city, but for the country as a whole. Calgary, the home of the Reform Party and of Social Credit before that, as well as being a stronghold of Conservatism; is not the sort of place one might have expected such a breakthrough.
Canada, as we all know from the study of our history, has not always been an open society. One only has to look at the history of Chinese immigrants, the incararation of the Japanese Canadians during World War II and the turning away by the Government of Canada of Jews at the beginning of the Second World War. Our treatment of our indigenous citizens - that, in some communities continues today - is not something we can be proud of.
The Calgary municipal election results strengthen Canada as an open multicultural society. It is unfortunate such an openness did not exist in the former Yugoslavia or, for that matter, Ireland to name but one other example.
We are informed by scholars and government statements, because of our declining birth rates, our aging population and our longer life spans; in order to maintain our current standard of living, we must open wide our doors to immigrants from all over the world. Quebec, perhaps for other reasons, is one province that has taken this to heart and is openly promoting immigration from other French-speaking parts of the world. Nova Scotia has also attempted to entice immigrants, though, obviously, we must improve our economy to make this happen.
One of the reasons for the failure of the former Yugoslavia was a lack of national pride, a lack of education of the need for national unity and an understanding of the different aspects of society. On this last point, one wonders if we understand all of the different aspects of Canadian society? Could we, or should we, do a better job of protecting our minorities?