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South Slavic: July 26, 2001

26 July 2001, Volume 3, Number 25

Serbia Must Break With Its Past.

Part III. Part I appeared on 12 July and Part II on 19 July.

An Interview with Latinka Perovic by Omer Karabeg.

Omer Karabeg: Do you think that the final disintegration of the joint state [of Serbia and Montenegro] would bring about the independence of Kosovo?

Latinka Perovic: I think that Kosovo will remain under an international protectorate for a long time. That is a condition for stability.

The equilibrium has been considerably upset in Kosovo. The chance to ensure equal treatment for all ethnic groups, to save our [historical] monuments was missed.

It seems to me that we underestimated the Albanian question. The Albanian nation is the last in the Balkans to become conscious of its own identity. For too long we identified them with extremists, thus pushing them into that uncompromising position.

I do not think that we can talk about a biological or demographic expansion of that people. Theirs is a patriarchal, underdeveloped society that is undergoing change. It includes thinking people who do not like extremism. It is very dangerous to make an enemy of a people who surrounds you and also lives within your state.

Omer Karabeg: Basic human values were threatened during Milosevic's rule in Serbia. Communist dogma was rejected, but there was no replacement, and therefore all values disappeared.

The new government seems to be looking for help from the [Serbian Orthodox] Church in fighting that moral collapse. The Church is playing a growing role in society, it is slowly spreading its influence in all segments of society. Can the Church help society to overcome this moral crisis?

Latinka Perovic: The Church has been playing an important role all the time. That comes from its historic position, from its ties to the state....

The Church is one of the institutions that must think a hundred years ahead, which cannot allow itself to behave like a political party. If it does so, the nation is left without a deep religious dimension [to continue] generating the values you are talking about, which have been lost. The Church should return to such a role.

After all, the Church itself is divided. Some people within the Church feel that the Church is losing a historic chance to help develop Christian values by identifying itself with one or another political orientation within society.

Of course, the Church is irreplaceable, but it is not the only [force in a position] to bring about the moral renewal of society. In fact, that is the task of all institutions: the schools, the media, and scholarly institutions. We, as individuals...must get involved and do what is needed to start [things] moving ahead, step by step.

Omer Karabeg: But the Church seems to be the only refuge, as if an attempted return to the values of the Church is seen as the only way out. It simply looks like there is nothing else left.

Latinka Perovic: I do not mix the ritual with the basic values of the Church, and what is happening right now seems to be a return to the ritual rather then to the essence of the faith.

Omer Karabeg: The spirituality of the Church?

Latinka Perovic: The spirituality of the Church. As Ivan Colovic has said, that spirituality is everywhere around us, and one must understand its meaning. A moral renewal of society is not possible without the rule of law and a differentiated political life.... One should get rid of illusions that any institution -- the Church, the army, or any other segment of society -- might make this Copernican transformation in the Serbian people [for it], [a change that is] necessary if that people wants to remain true to its roots and to have a future.

Omer Karabeg: Two months ago, you and Vojin Dimitrijevic refused to take part in the Commission for Truth. That is a body created by the present determine the truth about the things that happened in the region of former Yugoslavia in the last 10 years. You said that the mandate of that commission was not clearly defined. Under what conditions would you, as a historian, take part in such a commission?

Latinka Perovic: Mr. Karabeg, I responded to the [government's] invitation, and then I made a decision I consider moral and responsible, without making a big deal of it, although many people wanted me to talk about it. I will answer your question, but I will not tell you anything I have not already said in front of the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and in my letter.

First of all, I thought that the commission had to be broader, that there are many other people of a [high] moral and professional integrity whose [rightful] place was there.

The second thing is that Yugoslavia is still a federal state, and this is why the other federal unit must be represented in the commission. It is a multiethnic and multiconfessional state, and this should have been taken into account when creating such a commission, in order to build confidence.

The third thing is that, for me, cooperation with The Hague-based tribunal is not just an act of fulfilling the requirements of the international community and [responding to] its pressures. For me, that is a moral and ethical issue for the Serbian people.

The fourth thing is that I do not consider such a commission in a position to write a history of the wars. There are competent institutions whose job is to do that. Besides, all during the war there was a non-governmental sector that courageously fought the policy of war and gathered a huge amount of material about what happened. I think that, without the cooperation of that sector, there is no way the truth will be uncovered.

I do not believe in a "national truth" about what happened. I simply believe in the responsibility of the state to identify and punish crimes, and to demonstrate the political will to help us to face up to the recent past, to understand it, and draw the lessons from the consequences.

Those are the conditions for my presence in that commission. I do not want to pass judgment on other people's motives. I am just explaining the reasons why I am not able to participate in such a body.

Omer Karabeg: At the beginning of your article "Escape from Modernization," written in 1996 for the anthology "The Serbian Side of the War," you wrote about the way the Serbian elite feels toward the West. You quoted French thinker Alexis de Toqueville, who said that many nations disappear before becoming aware of their mistakes. Do you think that this can be said for the present situation in Serbia?

Latinka Perovic: I think so, and this is why I took de Toqueville's sentence as an epigraph. If one persistently refuses to change, to get connected with the world, to have a European orientation, if one remains a prisoner of efforts to rewrite history from the Middle Ages down to the present day, and if, at the same time, the nation is growing weaker in biological, cultural, economic, and historic terms, then it means that a process of historical degeneration has started -- and that one is not able to understand it.

That is the threat that worries me. Maybe I am wrong, but this is the thought that is always on my mind. I keep thinking about those from our history -- like, for example, Stojan Novakovic and Milan Pirocanac -- who have warned us about such a danger. They explained the necessity of developing as a European nation within the realities of international political life. They understood that a small nation situated between Austria, Turkey, and Russia has to find its way through internal development and integration into the West European civilization to which it claims to belong.