10 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.
The absurdity of the present situation in historical writing can be shown in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Professor Zijad Sehic:
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, we already have three schools of history, three interpretations of events, and hence no single curriculum in history teaching. Instead, in some parts of the federation children use history books from Croatia, while on the territory of the Republika Srpska, history books come from Serbia. We are entering the 10th year since the signing of the Dayton peace accords, but this lack of a single national curriculum -- as well as the presence of these three different interpretations of our history -- remains a major problem.
What professor Sehic is talking about -- different interpretations of history -- was the main reason for a project that started a couple of years ago. More than 250 historians, sociologists, and other intellectuals from around the world, including from post-Yugoslav countries, are working together to write a modern history of Yugoslavia. U.S. professor Sabrina Ramet told RFE/RL that a book will probably be published, perhaps in 2006 or 2007:
This project was organized by Charles Ingrao of Purdue University together with professor Thomas Emmert of Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. The [reason behind the project is] that there have been so many controversies and disagreements concerning problems of Yugoslavia, and post-Yugoslav states, especially in the years since...1989 or 1991, when the fighting broke [out]. Many, many disagreements and very, very different points of view have been articulated. So, it was their idea that by bringing together more than 250 people...and having people exchange their views and share their perspectives�a set of chapters and papers could come out, which could to a certain extent reflect a balance among these scholars. It would not exactly be a consensus, but the closest thing that one can have to a consensus, and be [more substantive] than any single individual could do by himself or herself.
Can you tell us how is it possible that historians from the states that were until recently at war with each other are now working together? I believe that our listeners, who are mainly from the region of former Yugoslavia, might have problems in understanding that.
There are [about 11] teams...and to each team is assigned a specific chapter in the book to be written, with limited topics. There are at least two teams working on Kosovo, maybe three; there's a team working on the [Hague-based war crimes tribunal], another team working on ethnic cleansing, and a number of others. Each team has two chairmen, or as Charlie likes to call them "captains" or "co-captains," and the writing is done by different teams for each theme.
In our case, Latinka Perovic and I are the captains, but it was decided that I would do all the writing. There is feedback. People send information to each other, to the team captains...and we get feedback and suggestions, all of which is very helpful. Those teams that have been stable -- with the same people heading them all along -- have had some meetings. But what happened in the case of our team is that the original team captains resigned along the way, and I came in at a point when the deadline was fast approaching....
Yesterday I read your working version of the second chapter of the book. You told me earlier that it might eventually become the first chapter. The beginning is very interesting: it starts with Serbian myths, and then come Croatian, Bosnian, Albanian, and other myths.
Yes, there is also a Slovene version as the fifth myth -- first cosmopolitan, and, finally, paranoid.
That is a very interesting approach. What do the participants in your project, your colleagues from the region of former Yugoslavia -- historians, sociologists, and other intellectuals -- think about the project and the approach?
That is, I am afraid, a question I really can't answer adequately. I am in contact with people during my trips. Last year I was in Ljubljana, Sarajevo, Zagreb, and Belgrade. My impression, though, from the conversations that I have had is that people are first of all impressed with how much work has been put into it -- in the first place by Charles Ingrao and Tom Emmert -- and also by the fact that people actually have been giving feedback and exchanging ideas.
Do you expect that new information could eventually come to light as archives are opened to the public?
As you could see in [the British] archives, what came out are things that are not vitally important.
Will we most likely continue to have separate histories, or will projects like these with a joint approach become the wave of the future?
[A joint approach] is certainly possible, and that is exactly what I advocate. I do not think there has ever been any real problem between serious historians from any part of former Yugoslavia, or [all of] Southeastern Europe. When you talk with serious people, you rely on the strength of your arguments....
However, there has been another phenomenon here, and it partly concerns people who, at some point, actually were professional historians and then got carried away by national ideologies and started working in a completely unacceptable way.... Some often mediocre and unconvincing historians have made "contributions" to various political orientations, projects, and programs, which often ended in genocide and destruction. If one comes out with the thesis that there cannot be any cooperation whatsoever with adherents of the Islamic faith...then one has opened the way for conflict and often for projects of extermination.
We must always bear that in mind. In the case of such individuals, I do not think that releasing files is helpful, because people who come with [preconceived] ideas will manipulate the documents to fit their theories....