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Nationalist Mobilization and Imperial Collapse: Serbian and Russian Nationalism Compared, 1987-1991


Beginning in the late 1980s, communist regimes in both Yugoslavia and the USSR faced a crisis of legitimacy, causing a demand for competitive regional elections and widespread demands for autonomy and independence in these republics, which in turn threatened to reduce the status of the Russian and Serbian minorities there.

Despite the notable similarities in their respective political environments, Serbs mobilized in support of an extreme nationalist ideology while Russians did not. This paper compares the contrasting experiences of Russians and Serbs from 1987-1991 in order to determine whether, when, and against whom a given nation mobilizes behind an extreme nationalist ideology.

This paper examines theories of nationalism and nationalist ideologies and discusses the concept of an extreme nationalist ideology. Following is an examination of the fundamental differences between the Serbian and Russian nationalist discourses. Next, the author presents the two independent variables that determined the relevant differences in the Serbian and Russian nationalist discourses: the extent to which the nation had an established nation-state during the social mobilization period; and the extent to which the nation historically lived under a singular and strong state with other nations inhabiting the territory of the current state. A third independent variable in this analysis, the capacity of the current state, did not affect the character of a given nation’s nationalist discourse; however, it determined precisely when the nation mobilized behind an extreme nationalist ideology.

From these three independent variables, the author derives three underlying factors responsible for the mobilization of a given nation behind an extreme nationalist ideology: the relative absence of an established nation-state during the social mobilization period, the historical absence of a singular and strong state, and the disintegration of the current state. The author argues that each of these three factors was essential in the transformation of the Serbian nationalist discourse in 1987-1991 into a mass-based, extreme nationalist ideology.

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