4 February 2005, Volume
THE KNOWN AND HIDDEN RECENT HISTORY OF YUGOSLAVIA.
A program by Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.
In comparison with all other countries in the region, Croatia has made impressive progress towards European integration, as well as in other fields.... Unfortunately, that has not happened in Serbia. Will a political change -- similar to the one that took place in Croatia after the death of President Franjo Tudjman in 1999 -- be necessary to enable Serbian historians to look at their recent past critically?
That would certainly help, but we must not forget that there are many serious historians in Serbia who never succumbed to the siren song of Greater Serbian nationalism. I have always been honored to work together with them, especially with those specializing in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, like, for instance, Latinka Perovic, Olga Obradovic, and others.
People like them do exist. However, I must say that political changes do have positive effects in all fields, including historiography. I have not seen the broadcast myself on national TV, but I was told that Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's description of the present situation on 5 January was so critical of Tudjman's entire legacy that it clearly shows that political establishments...can change popular perceptions more effectively than outside critics can....
After a certain period of time, some events acquire a new perspective and dimension, thanks to changes in the political environment. Consequently, what was once viewed as a negative phenomenon might not be seen in such a dark light after 20, 30, or 50 years.
The best example of that involves the National Liberation War and the 1941-45 revolution [editor's note: these were the terms used in communist times for World War II in former Yugoslavia]: not only those who were on the side of the winners are privileged now, but also those who fought against the revolution but were not discredited by collaborating with the Germans....
This undisclosed history of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, or at least debunking one-sided discussions of that process, is what all parts of former Yugoslavia must deal with. This is why it would be interesting to see to what extent it would be possible to reveal that particular side of history to a broad public.
One of the most interesting hidden issues that was considered taboo for so long in former Yugoslavia was the problem of Montenegro's "unconditional unification" with Serbia [at the time of World War I] -- as professor Serbo Rastoder put it -- and, consequently, the Montenegrins' resistance to that unification that was kept hidden for so many years. In the 1990s, when our guest's book "The Hidden Side of History" was published, it was the first time that this topic was presented to the general public.
This book was written out of the need to present an alternative to the standard version of history presented during communist times. During the 1990s in Montenegro, it became possible to take a new look at some topics, particularly thanks to the publication of some relevant documents for the first time....
Can one book change the entire historical outlook of an entire community or a nation? In this particular case, it seems to me that when your book appeared, the broad public and historians alike began to speak more openly about the topic.
I do not think it can be done with one book or even hundreds of books. What I think is that what we call scholarly history writing is actually the least influential of all the elements that shape the understanding of history in our region. It is true that laymen saw my book as something really new, but I do not think that it was able to trigger changes in their views of history. The book's real impact was on professional historians who used those documents.
What I find important for all the Balkan nations is the central role of ideology in shaping their views of history. It starts immediately after an event, when the participants outline their views and attitudes, which are then "confirmed" by an army of historians. The result is a lack of pluralism in all fields, such as history writing, which is treated as the patriotic and national discipline par excellence, one of whose tasks is to form and embellish a national self-image.