DFG Historical Subproject

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Corruption in Serbia and Croatia in the “short” 20th century, 1914–1989

The word “balkanization”, which describes an atomization of a large entity into many smaller and mutually antagonistic parts, has become very popular in recent years. If the break-up of Yugoslavia is emblematic of certain aspects of the human condition, the creation and the lifecycle of Yugoslavia can provide an even more representative picture of some of the most important developments in 20th century European history. Studying the phenomenon of corruption against the backdrop of two worlds wars, territorial expansion, nation-building, parliamentary democracy, royal dictatorship, civil war, fascism, and communism enables us to discover universalities of this phenomenon under the conditions of change. The two world wars provide the opportunity to study the evolution of corruptive practices following the disintegration of state institutions and formal rules, as well as the strengthening of informal networks forged during the wars. It also allows us to investigate how the post-war nation-building processes are undermined by the desires of these networks to get their share of the spoils of war. At the same time, the creation of the first Yugoslavia also highlighted the difficulties of uniting different institutional legacies that the post-Ottoman and the post-Habsburg regions brought into the new state. Political polarization and fragmentation of the public, the corruptive practices of the state leadership as well as an abrupt and highly unequal urbanization of a largely agrarian society all converged to create fertile ground for endemic corruption. The new socialist federation formed after the Second World War used the interwar Yugoslavia as the antithesis to what they were attempting to build, but the wartime partisan networks asserted similar desires for privileges, albeit under a much more tightly controlled media landscape. As the network membership gradually expanded to include all party members and the access to lower-level privileges was enlarged, as a consequence of the worker self-management system, history came back as farce. The barometer we will use in this project to measure the mostly secretive nature of corruption will be the study of corruption scandals and their official investigations. These peaks of the corruption icebergs and their legal aftermath will assist us in systematically forming a picture of the levels of societal corruption as well as the social norms regarding the acceptability of informal practices. The qualitative investigation of the corruption scandals will be conducted within the framework of an interdisciplinary cooperation, including linguistic analysis of the relevant sources collected through archival research.

Miloš Lecić (BU 2337/5-1)

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