Summary of the East European Studies discussion with Sabrina Ramet, a Professor of Political Science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway and a former Wilson Center Fellow.
Dr. Ramet's presentation focused on answering the question: "why did the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes fail?" In short, Ramet argued that the Kingdom, which existed from 1918 to 1929, was not necessarily doomed to failure simply because it was a country uniting several different ethnic groups under a Serbian monarch. Rather, it failed because certain specific political leaders, primarily Serbs, made judgements that did not work out. She asserted that had different people occupied the positions of power during that time, the Kingdom may have had a different history.
The Kingdom got off to a shaky start in late 1918 because the act of unification itself proved to be problematic. There existed a lack of consensus both among the constituent peoples and within each ethnic group on what the state itself should be. Also, the Corfu agreement on the formation of a new state comprising three of the South Slav peoples - Serbs, Croats and Slovenes - did not determine whether it should be a federalized or centralized system under the Serbian king. Other debates centered around the tension of centralization vs. decentralization and having one united nation vs. having three separate nations. Additional problems included inequality, ethnic and political hegemony on the part of the Serbs, active disregard for the rule of law and failure to build a sense of community.
The central problem, Ramet argued, was the failure of the Kingdom to establish a legitimate system. This was manifested through the inability of the government to protect individual rights, encourage tolerance and equality, and to accept the diverse culture of the Kingdom. As a result, the Kingdom became a victim of the disfunctionality of the system created with the formation of the first Yugoslav state in 1918.