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Nationalities Papers

The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity

ISSN: 0090-5992 (Print) 1465-3923 (Online) Journal homepage:

Nationalism, Myth, and the State in Russia and

Serbia. Antecedents of the Dissolution of the
Soviet Union and Yugoslavia

Jelena Đureinović

To cite this article: Jelena Đureinović (2018): Nationalism, Myth, and the State in Russia and
Serbia. Antecedents of the Dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Nationalities Papers,
DOI: 10.1080/00905992.2018.1456731

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Published online: 11 May 2018.

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Nationalities Papers, 2018


Nationalism, Myth, and the State in Russia and Serbia. Antecedents of the Dissolution
of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, by Veljko Vujačić, Cambridge, Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 2015, $103 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1107074088/$34.95 (paperback), ISBN 978-

The beginning of the 1990s was marked by the simultaneous collapse of Soviet and Yugo-
slav state socialism. Both multinational federations, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia,
shared numerous similarities. However, as opposed to the relatively peaceful disintegration
of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of Yugoslavia was followed by the strikingly violent
and complex set of armed conflicts. The breakup of these states has drawn significant scho-
larly attention and has generated an enormous amount of publications, however, not com-
paratively engaging with both cases. Examining the long-term factors with a multicausal
approach and focusing on Russia and Serbia as dominant nations in the two multinational
states, respectively, the recent book by Veljko Vujačić aims at solving the puzzle of the
different modes of state dissolution in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
The book is comprised of five chapters. After the explanation of grounds for compari-
son and the book’s contribution in the first chapter, the second chapter outlines the theor-
etical approach rooted in the Weberian understanding of states, nations, and nationalism.
The third chapter focuses on the pre-Communist period and is followed by the chapter
on the revolutionary period and nationalities policies in state socialism. The different
status of Russia and Serbia within the socialist states and the significance of Serbs from
Bosnia and Croatia as “one of the pillars of the regime” (233), because of their overrepre-
sentation in the Partisan movement and victimhood during the Second World War, are con-
sidered particularly relevant for the later developments and the difference in outcomes. The
fifth chapter examines memory downplayed at the official level but revived in literary
works. Finally, the book is enriched by a postscript which discusses the 2014 annexation
of Crimea representing as a reflection on its conclusions.
In particular, Vujačić is interested in different reactions of Russian and Serbian elites to
the prospect of state disintegration. While the borders of the republics were accepted as state
borders in the Russian case, the Serbian elites did not peacefully comply with it but
responded by striving for keeping Yugoslavia together at any cost and challenging its
internal borders. What is most fascinating is the wide popular support for these diametri-
cally opposite decisions. Another aspect of the puzzle is the much stronger mobilization
power of Serbian nationalism as opposed to its Russian counterpart. Vujačić’s aim is to
identify “the long-term causal factors that can explain this empirical puzzle” (2), focusing
on the history of the two nations in a comparative perspective. The longue durée dimension
combined with the Weberian approach to historical causation should help pinpoint the mul-
tiple causes for the different impacts of historical legacies of state- and nation-building in
Russia and Serbia, as well as their transformations in the Communist period.
The central argument which aims to explain the elite’s different reactions to the poten-
tial state dissolution is related to the “collective representations of the role of the state in
national life” deeply rooted in historical experiences which influenced different collective
2 Book Review

memories and nationalist narratives (2–3). In other words, as the book clearly shows, the
identification of cultural elites with the state is negative in the case of Russia and positive
in Serbia, becoming a very significant factor as the states were going towards their dissol-
ution. The positive identification with the state in the Serbian case transposed onto the
Yugoslav state, leading to the disappointment of Serbian elites with the fragmentation of
Yugoslavia along the lines of socialist republics and autonomous provinces within
Serbia and its increasing decentralization, as well as the striving of cultural elites of
other nations for independent statehood. On the other hand, Russian compliance with
state dissolution was linked to the equal victimization of all Soviet people during the Sta-
linist period and the perception of the state as coercive and repressive, which also has roots
in imperial times.
If one is to point a weakness of the book, it is the narrative of the repression of collective
memory during Communism and “the return of the repressed” prior to the state disinte-
gration. The study is based on Weber’s concept of the nation as “a community of shared
memories and common political destiny” (71). The notion of collective memory is referred
to throughout the book and is understood as an important factor, in particular during the
crisis leading up to the fall of state socialism. It is, however, rather disappointing that the
author talks about collective memory in a very broad and non-analytical manner, similarly
to the idea of shared memories in Weber’s definition of the nation. Although the book
revolves around the narrative of the revival of collective memories suppressed by the Com-
munist regimes as crucial in the 1980s, it focuses rather on the top-down mobilization of
historical memory for political purposes without referring to those mobilized. Myths,
their transmission and transformations, are examined from above, too, although they are
understood as inscribed in collective memory. It is regrettable that the author does not
differentiate between collective memory and official politics of memory, which is the
more precise terminology for the sphere where certain historical narratives are promoted
or suppressed. Even though the author clearly states that the approach is elite-oriented,
limited conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of the most prominent and numerous
times analyzed dissident literary works of the 1980s and their influence, discussed in the
fifth chapter, without taking their wider reception into consideration.
Although not representing a common approach to the breakup of multinational socialist
states usually focused on institutional frameworks, leadership or political processes,
Nationalism, Myth, and the State in Russia and Serbia by Veljko Vujačić is nevertheless
predominantly a top-down study. Still, the book fills a void in the literature by illuminating
the fall of state socialism in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in a comparative perspective.
Moreover, it is an insightful diachronic account of the experiences of the Russian and
Serbian nation respectively in imperial, nation-, and multinational states. Finally, its
focus on dominant nations in multinational states represents an original contribution to
the field of nationalism studies.

Jelena Đureinović
Justus Liebig University Giessen
© 2018, Jelena Đureinović