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Interview: "Communism and Social Democracy in the Western Balkans: Continuity or Discontinuity"
Nov 07, 2018

Interview: "Communism and Social Democracy in the Western Balkans: Continuity or Discontinuity"

Nejra Lilić, a BA student at the Department, interviewed prof. dr. Věra Stojarová on the continuities and discontinuities between the Communist Party of Yugoslavia and the current social democratic parties that exist in the former Yugoslav republics, with an emphasis on the links between the two.

According to prof. Stojarová, although there are many continuities between the old League of Communist of Yugoslavia and the current social democratic parties in Yugoslavia's former republics, there continuities are not unique to them and are possessed by virtually all parties in the region, both left-wing or right-wing. The relative extreameness of those social democratic parties, which need to become more and more radically left in order to keep up with their right-wing counterparts, is the primary reason where there are not major communist parties in those countires. Thus, social democratic parties in the region have become successors of the League of Communist of Yugoslavia in name only. Lastly, prof. Stojarová posits that the democratic transition in Yugoslavia is not to fault for the wars that took place but rather a corruption of the communist model of governance established in the 1940s.


1. What are some of the major features that characterized the Yugoslav transition from a one-party, communist system to a multi-party system? Can, and should, the transition from communism to democracy in the Yugoslav case be analyzed separately from the state’s disintegration?

As for the first part of the question: social democratic parties in the region are one man shows where one leader leads the party until he/she dies. There is no internal democracy within the party. Usually the parties are very centralized, leaders cannot be challenged, so they hold the position until death and then a similar leader replaces him/her. There is no extreme left and you can see the reason why if you look at the ideologies of the parties: quite a lot of them embraced some kind of leftist ideology more extreme than the standard social democratic one found in many Western countries. Thus, they are the leftist parties and there is no space for other parties.

As for the second part of the question, they cannot, obviously cannot, be treated separately. If you have disintegration, you have new state and nation building. When a new state is being built, so is a new nation. It is also tied with nationalism. For example, in Croatia and Macedonia, two new states in which nationalism was embodied in their first 20 years of existence because they used that to build the state. They had to first build a new identity of the people, forgetting that they are Yugoslavs and promoting a kind of Greek, Alexander the Great origins. You have to build a new identity and promote that new identity so people believe it.

So, obviously, you see it somehow in party systems, where in Croatia the extreme right parties are quite weak because nationalism was promoted by mainstream parties and the same in the Macedonia, were nationalism was promoted by theVMRO-DPMNE so you do not have any extreme right parties in Macedonia. There is no space for them, in short.


2. The transition from communism to democracy in the former Yugoslavia was markedly different from the same transition in many other formerly communist countries, with the major difference being the presence and absence, respectively, of war. To what extent is the transition itself responsible for the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia and especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

There were many reasons of the outbreak of the war. It wouldn’t be fair to characterize the cause of the wars, or even a primary cause of the wars, as the transition from communism to non-communism. The transition, however, did provide an opportunity for some sinister, nationalist forces to occupy and then exploit the power vacuum left by the communists. I would go so far to venture that the transition from communism to non-communism was necessitated by the rise of those sinister, nationalism forces that first operated from within the communist apparatus and then emerged from it after the transition.



3. What are the legacies of the League of Communist of Yugoslavia on the contemporary social democratic parties in the former Yugoslav states? What similarities - ideological, organizational, base of support, etc. - are most evident between the League of Communist of Yugoslavia and its successor social democratic parties?

I think the legacy of the League of Communist of Yugoslavia is embodied in all of the party manifestos or almost all party manifestos of the all Balkan political parties, not only social democratic parties. The right wing, nationalist parties have also accepted some issues that are usually considered social democratic in nature. This is especially true in terms of pensions, education, the welfare state, etc. Social democratic parties are successors in terms of terminology, but we cannot for example tell that any of the social democratic parties in the former Yugoslav republics is the successor to the League of Communist of Yugoslavia.



4. To what extent, and in what way, do certain legacies inherited by contemporary social democratic parties from their communist ancestor, such as low levels of active political support and participation and high levels of deference among supporters of both communist and social democratic parties, affect the political performance of contemporary social democratic parties?

The legacy is just formal in a way. The ideology of communist was swept away by the ideology of nationalism and that included quite a lot of social democratic parties in 90s. But, yes, the modern social democratic parties are the legacies of the League of Communist of Yugoslavia, not just in name in tradition but in some policies, such as a social democratic welfare stated.

There are lot of reasons for the low levels of active political support and participation and high levels of deference among supporters, so we cannot focus on just one. We have to look at internal factors of parties: is the leader a successful one, how democratic is the party, how centralized or decentralized is the party leadership. We also need to consider various external factors, such as the whole party system, the voting system, are there parties from whole political spectrum, and are there strong left or right parties ones. Lastly, we need to consider international factors as well – whether the state or the party was humiliated by international actors, like Serbia was in 1999 by NATO. Then, there are socio-economic aspects: unemployment or economic crises, primarily. All of these factors shapes or contribute to the success or failure of the parties, It is a combination of all the factors within the whole political structures.

So, it’s not just the voters that acquired their habits during the communist system but a whole slew of other conditions; however, the voting bloc is also very important but is shared to a degree by these other, structural factors.


Citing the Interview: if you use any information from the interview above, which you are encouraged to do, please cite appropriately and avoid plaigerism - Stojarová, V. (2018, October 29). Personal Interview.


About Nejra Lilić: Nejra Lilić is currently working toward her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and European Studies from International Burch University. Her primary research interests include ethnicity and ethnic conflicts, both internal and international ones, as well as constructivism while her secondary research interests include international security.

About Věra Stojarová: Věra Stojarová holds a Ph.D. in political science from Masaryk University and a M.A. degree in European Studies from Palacky University. She currently lectures at the former. Her primary research focus is democracy in Europe, populism, and regional security in the Balkans. She is also an expert in conflict management and cross-cultural negotiation.