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South Slavic: September 19, 2002

19 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 32

The next issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report" will appear on 3 October 2002.


Part II.

A program of Radio Most (Bridge) with Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and historians Olivera Milosavljevic, Belgrade, and Ivo Goldstein, Zagreb.

RFE/RL: Does that mean that nationalism is gathering its strength to prepare for future wars?

Olivera Milosavljevic: The goals of nationalist ideology can be realized only by war. Every demand for an ethnically pure state is basically a call to war that is always defined as defensive, while others' wars are defined as aggressive....

RFE/RL: Mr. Goldstein, what do you make of the idea of reconciling Ustashe and Partisans? [Franjo] Tudjman used to call for this, as others do today.

Ivo Goldstein: I think that the idea lost its appeal after the death of Franjo Tudjman. There is more than one explanation why Tudjman favored it.

First, he was whitewashing his own biography as a communist colonel and general. Second, his ambition was to establish himself as the reconciler and unifier of the entire nation.

However, a reconciliation between Ustashe and Partisans is a nonstarter since it would mean the reconciliation of two diametrically opposed ideologies.

The present government, however, has gone in the opposite direction and seems to think that matters will take care of themselves. This is an opportunist approach that may mean peace and quiet in the short run but trouble in the long term.

RFE/RL: Do you think people are avoiding facing the truth about the most recent wars in former Yugoslavia?

Goldstein: To a considerable extent. A large part of the Croatian public considers operation Storm [in August 1995 against Krajina] to be an act of liberation and refuses to discuss the other side of it. By that I mean the ethnic cleansing and the mass flight of the Serbs that turned them into refugees. Historical truth is a complex matter, but many people do not want to see any side but their own.

RFE/RL: Mrs. Milosavljevic, are people in Serbia similarly avoiding the truth about the last wars?

Milosavljevic: Very much so. The government, the broad public, and even many historians are not yet ready for that.

I recently read an ambiguous article in the [independent] daily "Danas" by a member of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, which is expected to seek the whole truth about everything that happened in the last decade. According to the author, it is not the intellectuals' task to set their own house in order first. He does not consider it essential that everyone face up first of all to the responsibility of his own nation. This is a kind of relativism.

RFE/RL: This lack of readiness to face up to the truth can best be seen in the various history textbooks in use throughout the region. They all give completely different interpretations of the events from the recent past. While some consider a particular war an act of aggression, others call it a war of liberation, and the third side calls it a civil war.

They all mention the crimes committed by other nations but never the crimes committed by their own nation. Mr. Goldstein, do you believe such interpretations will widen the gap between the estranged neighbors even further?

Goldstein: The situation has improved since alternative schoolbooks were introduced in Croatia. Let me give you just one example. In the history book for the seventh grade written by Filip Potrebica and Dragutin Pavlicevic, it is said that the main characteristic of 150 years of conflict between Croats and Serbs is the fact that the Serbian side constantly makes plans for aggression and prepares itself, while Croatia always responds by defending its people.

Until 1995, that was the only history schoolbook in use, while now it is only one of five. As far as I know, it is in use in only 16 percent of the schools. Teachers in Croatia are allowed to choose their textbooks, and most choose a more balanced text than the one by Potrebica and [Pavlicevic]. I am not saying that the situation is perfect, but it is certainly far better than five or six years ago.

RFE/RL: Mrs. Milosavljevic, are there alternative history textbooks in Serbia or just one single book for every grade?

Milosavljevic: As far as I know, there is only one book for every grade. I had the chance to read the eighth-grade history book published in 2001, which replaced the one used in Milosevic's time and which was the most dubious among all our textbooks.

What did I see? Exactly what you were talking about, that one's own history is being glorified, while others are denigrated.

I am talking about the book that was published after the change of power in Serbia [at the end of 2000]. Let me give you an example. The book defines nationalism as an awareness of belonging to one's own nation, in other words, in completely positive terms. However, when the same book talks about the fall of Yugoslavia, it says that the biggest problem was the growth of nationalism and Albanian nationalism in particular.

Therefore, when the book talks about our own nationalism, it is simply the awareness that we belong to our nation. But when it comes to others' nationalisms, they are depicted as the main problem that led to the breakup of the federal state.

RFE/RL: Finally, do you think that after the last war and the tragedy it caused, the ideas of a greater Serbia and a greater Croatia have finally been put to rest?

Goldstein: I think that this was the last big war for a long time to come. There are at least three reasons for this.

First, the social forces that led to the last war have lost their strength. Second, Croatia is moving closer to NATO and Euro-Atlantic integration, which makes aggressive behavior less likely. Finally, people are sobering up, if only thanks to external stimuli like the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Milosavljevic: I do not think the ideas of greater Serbia or Croatia have disappeared. They will appear time and again as long as nationalist ideology remains alive.

But I do agree with my colleague Mr. Goldstein that there will be no more big wars in this region for a long time to come. This is because the states here are no longer in a position to decide on anything on their own.

RFE/RL: Are they, in a manner of speaking, all under different forms of a protectorate?

Milosavljevic: Absolutely.