11 March 2004, Volume 6, Number 10
THE RETURN OF NATIONALISM?
A program by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Vesna Terselic, activist of the Center for Peace Studies in Zagreb, and Jelena Milic, member of the Forum for International Relations within the European Movement of Serbia.
RFE/RL: Capital in many of the ex-Yugoslav states lies in the hands of those who acquired it during the war. They have power, finance political parties, and control much of the media. Do you think those people have played a significant role in enabling the right-wing parties to return to the political stage?
Jelena Milic: Obviously the enormous capital acquired in an uncontrolled fashion during the eras of inflation, war economy, and embargo plays a major role now.
Some insist that there is a difference between those individuals who stayed home and enjoyed privileged access to the central bank's money supply and those who acquired their wealth abroad, mostly in Cyprus and the former Soviet states.
I do not agree with this view, since there is no big difference between the two groups. In essence, they all dealt in Serbian resources and started their own businesses by stealing and transferring the business of the major state-run import-export companies to their private ones.
RFE/RL: Do you think those people run Serbia now?
Milic: They have done so all along. They were the main protagonists in the collapse of former Yugoslavia and brought in nationalism in order to mobilize the people and stay in power. Right now they are the main opponents of the modernization and democratization of Serbia, because that would mean an end to their privileges and benefits.
RFE/RL: Ms. Terselic, to what extent do war profiteers and others who became rich during the Tudjman regime control the political scene in Croatia?
Vesna Terselic: Well, I wouldn't really say that they run the political show, but they do control [much of the economy].
The [Ivica] Racan government did nothing to undo the criminal privatization [carried out in the 1990s], and for that Racan was punished by the voters. [The rich] have their companies and huge amounts of capital, but I do not think that they dominate politics like in Serbia....
But the Social Democrats did not undo the privatization of the Tudjman years, and one cannot expect the HDZ [Croatian Democratic Community] to do so.
RFE/RL: Might the 1990s return to the region of former Yugoslavia if this trend toward strengthening nationalism continues?
Milic: I am afraid it might happen because both the armed forces and the intelligence services in Serbia remain uncontrolled.
Their members committed crimes during the war, and they grew rich through illicit trade in weapons, oil, cigarettes, and alcohol. They now protect different interest or ideological groups.
What worries me is a statement by the recently elected head of military intelligence regarding enormous threats from...Al-Qaeda as well as other Muslim terrorists in the region. [This has no basis in fact and is designed to serve political goals....]
Meanwhile, the war criminals and other unsavory individuals remain at large and unpunished....
RFE/RL: Ms. Terselic, do you think the region might return to the 1990s?
Terselic: I do not think it could happen in Croatia, but I do worry about the increased intolerance in Serbia. However, I do not think that could pose a threat to Croatia.
There is a real danger, however, of what might happen between Kosovo and Serbia. What worries me now is the fate of ordinary people, because the process of normalization has been frozen. If that continues in Serbia, it might affect the entire region.
In Croatia we have a situation in which significant tensions between minority and majority groups are being dealt with through political means in the government and parliament and through public discussions. It is not an ideal situation and so much remains to be done in order to secure the respect of both human rights and minority rights, but progress is visible.
RFE/RL: Finally, how do you see the future of the region? Will the unsettled scores from the past keep nourishing nationalism and create instability, or do you think that democratic political options will prevail?
Milic: As far as Serbia is concerned, I am skeptical because we failed to establish a functioning democracy on 5 October . What we did that day was merely to open a door to democracy. Modern democracy is more than simple respect for parliamentary procedure, which is what [Vojislav] Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia seems to think.
Modern parliamentary democracy is more about the rule of law, respect for human rights, and fulfillment of international obligations. It will be a long time before we reach that level. Meanwhile, books continue to appear that have little hard substance but are filled with myths and historical falsification. I find it very dangerous....
The policy of promoting moral erosion and legalization of violence returned with the strong electoral showing on 28 December 2003 by the Serbian Radical Party, and the Socialist Party of Serbia's subsequent de facto return to the government by supporting the cabinet in the parliament.
I worry so much about the future of Serbia. The enthusiasm for European integration is fading, and the gap between Europe and us is widening.
RFE/RL: Ms. Terselic, do you think the unsettled scores from the past will continue to haunt the region?
Terselic: That will remain our fate until we understand the simple truth that a crime is a crime and at least must be acknowledged and punished. If a crime is not acknowledged, if it is explained away or even glorified -- as happened in Croatia -- the past will keep coming back to haunt us....