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Slobodan Milosevic and the Fire of Nationalism

Ronald Wintrobe
Authors registered in the RePEc Author Service: Mattias K Polborn ()

No 9911, UWO Department of Economics Working Papers from University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics

Abstract: This paper is an attempt to understand the Milosevic regime in Serbia. I focus on nationalism, ethnic cleansing and war, especially on the most recent war with NATO. I first look at how its behaviour has typically been understood in the popular press and in the light of the most prominent social science theories. I then suggest a different approach based on my model of dictatorship. The basic argument is simple: First, like any dictator, Milosevic needs support in order to survive in office. His provocative and warlike actions towards other groups are best understood, not as the latest round in a centuries-old tradition of ethnic fighting, but as the attempts of a competitive politician trying to survive in a situation where the old bases of power have collapsed. Second, in attempting to survive the wave of democratization that swept Eastern Europe after 1989, Milosevic played a wild card - the nationalist card. Nationalism can be wild because, under some circumstances, it is contagious. Especially when combined with the security dilemma, it can spread uncontrollably. Ethnic cleansing and war are seen in this light as neither deliberate, coldly planned strategies of brutal repression, nor the results of complete miscalculation, but the results of a process in which the leadership of the regime was reacting to events which it may have set in motion, but did not entirely control.

Date: 1999
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