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New Left Review I/171, September-October 1988


New Left Review

Introduction to Kovač Interview

When, in August 1988, the League of Communists of Serbia refused to accept the authority of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (which had instructed it to halt nationalist street demonstrations), it drew a line under a whole historical period that had started in 1945. In this multinational and traditionally polycentric state, the Yugoslav party had provided the fundamental bond of society precisely because it had posed as a transnational force. It offered a vision of socialism not tied to any particular national ideology, but which proclaimed national equality within and a Yugoslav sovereignty without the state’s boundaries. It was already clear by the late 1950s that the continued health of the socialist project was intimately bound up with the democratization of internal political life. By the end of the 1960s, however, this option had been decisively rejected in favour of the continued monopoly of a party that was increasingly coming to represent a minority interest within society. It was in the first half of the 1980s that the party largely lost its traditional underpinning, with workers leaving the party in ever increasing numbers and instead forming strike committees—Yugoslavia today is a country gripped by continuous and permanent working-class unrest. It is above all this divergence between party and class that is putting a question-mark over Yugoslavia’s very existence as a unified state. This is because the emerging political vacuum is being filled by the politics of national chauvinism, especially in Serbia and Macedonia, often systematically fanned by incumbent party and state functionaries.

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