After World War I, a country that covered much of the Balkans was formed. In 1929, it was renamed as Yugoslavia. After World War II, Josip Tito established a communist-friendly government in Yugoslavia and ruled it with an iron-fist until his death in 1980. Yugoslavia consisted of six republics — Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia. Within Serbia, there were two autonomous provinces — Kosovo and Vojvodina.
After Tito’s death, Yugoslavia self-destructed and in the early 90’s descended into a brutal, inhumane civil war fought along ethnic and tribal lines. The Serbs sought to destroy and then dominate much of what had previously existed as Yugoslavia, utilizing massacres, and ethnic cleansing to achieve its ends.
Yugoslavia is considered the poster child of countries drawn along unnatural lines, forcing different peoples into the same country. Frequently, different peoples who have spent years, decades, and centuries occasionally at war with each other. Hence, the term Balkanization, which Wikipedia defines as “a pejorative geopolitical term for the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states, which are often hostile or uncooperative with one another.”
There are plenty of other examples of Balkanization around the world. Countries in Africa like the Sudan, in the Middle East like Iraq, and others. Most of these countries exist artificially based on the drawing of lines left behind by the European colonial powers which once ruled these areas. Those lines don’t follow natural routes through tribes and clans and ethnicities, allowing for like people to be governed together. Instead all too frequently, the lines were drawn to set up countries with built in opportunities for tribal and ethnic conflict. Iraq, with its Shia south, Sunni center, and Kurdish north, is a perfect example of this.
What’s different about America is that our country’s lines were not forced on us by some outside power. It is not a geographical Balkanization that exists in America. No. Instead of that, what is happening in America today is our own bastardized form of Balkanization. We are doing it to ourselves. Splitting into a multi-layered version of the Balkans under Tito, of Iraq under Saddam.
There are the red states and the blue states, and even within those two tribes, there are splits. Between the progressives and moderates in the blue states and the Tea Partiers and the moderates in the red states.
There are the elites and the not-so-elites. The academics and scientists, media pundits and politicians, the “smart” people who live in their ivory towers and work in their comfortable offices while pontificating about how it should be, while ignoring how it really is. For the not-so-elites, the reality is about pain and worry.
There are the 1% and everybody else. The wealthy in their gated enclaves, counting their millions and billions, while the other 99% scratch and claw just to survive for another year. The former consider the latter to be unworthy and to be scorned and left to the wolves, while the latter look up at the 1% and wonder why they don’t care and hope only for some table scraps, and a reason to once again believe in the American dream.
What is really driving us apart now are the many different colors and genders and religions and … well, tribes and clans that we are fracturing into. As I quoted Andrew Sullivan in this piece:
The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.
I came of age in the late 1970s, early 1980s. I graduated from high school in 1982. The almost 40 years since has been a slow-motion descent into tribal division in this country. As Sullivan pointed out, at one time the goal of afflicted groups was to be emancipated and to be viewed, as famously stated by MLK, based on the content of their character.
While this may sound like I’m suggesting that black people didn’t want to be black, or that women didn’t want to be women, that’s not it at all. What people wanted was for those characteristics not to matter. That they wanted to be equal, to be treated fairly, to be American and not to be viewed as a colored American or a female American or a gay American — each of which includes a label that some would use to discriminate and trash.
I look at the decades long struggle for equality for the gay community in America. What turned it around was when gay people came out of the closet and showed the rest of America that they were our neighbors, our teachers, our doctors, our friends, and our family members. We didn’t get legalized gay marriage and other “rights” for homosexuals because we suddenly embraced homosexuality. We got those things because we were shown that gay people were just like us.
I’m not suggesting here that the only way afflicted groups can be accepted is to “be like us.” I don’t believe assimilation and wiping away one’s culture, one’s heritage, one’s identity is necessary. No. I believe diversity is far better than a color wheel that is made up only of shades of white. I want people of color and people from different countries who come here to retain their culture and their pride in who they are and where they come from. I want gay people to be openly gay and not have to hide anymore.
What I’m suggesting is that we have now gone beyond reason in the other direction. We are Balkanizing (I made up a word!), not along geographical lines that force different ethnicities and tribes under the same government umbrella, but along gender and racial lines, between Republicans and Democrats, and across lines of orientation and religion. And nobody is forcing this upon us. We are doing it to ourselves. In a united nation, we are fracturing along the lines of our preferred identities, which no longer seem to reflect first and foremost being an American.
Here in America, we have blue states and red states. Enclaves and slums. Wealthy coastal areas and dying flyover country. Inner cities collapsing and suburbs with the best schools. Nobody living in one seems to want to care about the other. And each of these areas is being further divided along lines of race, gender, etc. America is fracturing. America is becoming a Yugoslavia on steroids.
The biggest problem is that nobody seems to know how to put an end to this. Our institutions no longer seem capable of leading or showing the way, of being voices of reason and moderation. Instead, they are being ripped apart by the very same thing that is dividing the rest of the country. Our politicians have lost the art of compromise and the ability to talk to each other – while some are actively trying to destroy our democratic institutions and traditions. The media has completely jumped the shark and lost any pretense of impartiality or non-partisanship – choosing instead to fan the flames of intolerance and disagreement, because, you know, it’s the ratings that matter. Our corporate heads care about the next quarterly earnings report and whether their pay and bonus will reach to the stratosphere – not about whether they are providing a livable wage and supportive work environment for their employees, who have become just as expendable as the parts that go into the widgets they produce. Our law enforcement agencies are stretched thin, to the breaking point – while more and more is expected of them. Our teachers and professors are burdened by too many demands and all too frequently are as much a part of the problem because of how they now teach our children. Our parents are too busy just trying to survive, while looking at their smart phones for the latest games and apps – while ignoring that their kids are struggling and just need some attention. And our technology, which could have been such a wonderful tool for education, information, and unity, has primarily become a megaphone for those who want division and chaos, tearing at the fabric of our nation ever more. With no end in sight.
Where does it end? When do we put aside our differences and our worst impulses and begin once again to travel along the road towards a common good, an end in which we are, imperfectly, working towards a better future for all? Cause it certainly ain’t happening now.
(Yeah, I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record. But I’m losing hope that this will ever turn around.)