Yugoslavia began to disintegrate at a moment of profound disturbance in European politics. Disorientated by the sudden and unanticipated ending of the Cold War, the major European states were unprepared either institutionally or politically to provide firm direction to a demanding and complex state at its periphery. Yugoslavia’s dissolution was just a part of the difficult process of transition from communism experienced by all the states of eastern Europe in the early 1990s. However, Yugoslavia was exceptional. Of all the east European states created after the First World War, it was the most ethnically convoluted and intermingled. It carried the bitterest of legacies of multifaceted ethnic violence which the Second World War generated among European peoples. Its experiment with communism was also exceptional, as was its transition not least because it was controlled and directed from outside. Yugoslavia in 1990 was a multi-ethnic sovereign state without a functioning centre of power. While its constituent parts recognised the need for internal reorganisation, none had the power to coerce the remainder into co-operation and the international ‘community’ did not attempt to supply the necessary power until the process of dissolution was already beyond the point of return.1 Although reform rather than dissolution remained a possibility up to the secessionist crisis of 1991, the centrifugal forces generated by rising nationalist sentiment in the absence of effective leadership or the will to mediate inter-republican disputes, placed any course other than dissolution ultimately beyond reach.
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