22 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 10
HAVE CROATIA AND SERBIA MADE A CLEAN BREAK WITH THE PAST?
Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss to what extent the new governments in Serbia and Croatia are ready to challenge the nationalist programs of Milosevic's and Tudjman's regimes, as well as the crimes committed by the two regimes against other nations. Our guests are Boris Buden, a publicist from Croatia, and Nebojsa Popov, a sociologist from Serbia. Part II will appear on 29 March.
The recent protests in Croatia in support of General Norac, who was indicted for war crimes against the Serb population in Gospic, show that the myth that the Croatian War of Independence was wholly good is still strongly present there, as well as the belief that a crime is justified if the fatherland is defended in the process. Do you think, Mr. Buden, that the current government made a mistake by not exploding that myth right after the coalition's election victory over the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) at the start of last year?
Boris Buden: There is no suitable political figure among those in power in Croatia -- the Social Democratic Party and the Croatian Social Liberal Party -- since neither Ivica Racan nor Drazen Budisa is ready to come to grips with that issue. One must say that coming to grips with Croatian nationalism has never been on their political agenda. They have even offered the nationalists a sort of tacit support -- especially Budisa, who has always been a declared nationalist.
Racan and his party have always had a more or less opportunistic attitude towards the complex of Croatian nationalism. It is not on their agenda, and they are not at all interested in starting an open fight with it...
Omer Karabeg: The new government in Serbia claims that Milosevic's worst crimes were committed against his own people, while his crimes against other nations are either suppressed or played down. Do you think, Mr. Popov, that it the new government is sincere in this or just playing politics?
Nebojsa Popov: The new government in Serbia is quite a complex one. It is made up of 18 political groups with different ideologies. Some of them are very close to what you call nationalism. However, we are talking not only about nationalist ideology here. The question is when these countries will develop a firm constitutional order and thereby become normal states. This is the way to understand the issue of nationalism and crimes.
Omer Karabeg: What do you think about the new government's claims that Milosevic's greatest crimes were committed against his own people?
Nebojsa Popov: That is a sort of what I would call perverted patriotism.... After what happened last autumn, it is about to become a majority view since the majority overthrew the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
Omer Karabeg: Mr. Buden, Mr. Popov has mentioned a populist revolution. In light of the recent [pro-Norac] demonstrations in Split, do you think that a sort of an "incited revolt" is under way in Croatia?
Boris Buden: ...It is obvious that what is happening now cannot be called a revolution. The demands of those who protested in Split are obviously part of a sort of coup or putsch. That is a completely illegal and politically dangerous thing. All the more so since they are supported by some army officers who have either been relieved of their posts, have retired, or are still active. That is a very open and clear challenge to the so-called young democracy in Croatia, which does not seem to be capable of reacting any other way but by making a compromise...
Omer Karabeg: Mr. Popov, do you think that a new wave of incited revolts or some other sort of unrest might appear in Serbia if the new government tries to extradite Milosevic and his closest allies to The Hague? Let us not forget that the army and the police are strongly opposed to that, since they took part in all of [his crimes] and their structures have not changed [under the new government].
Nebojsa Popov: I do not understand how one can claim to know the mood within the army and the police. We had some indicators of that mood last autumn, and I would not say that they are so devoted to the overthrown dictator. Therefore, I do not believe that any sort of unrest will take place if anyone were extradited to the Hague tribunal, even if it were Milosevic...
Omer Karabeg: Both Milosevic's and Tudjman's regimes fell because of corruption and not because of the crimes committed against other nations. The regimes collapsed but their nationalist programs are still there.
Boris Buden: I do not know, I cannot tell with certainty what caused the fall of Tudjman's regime. It seems to me that his regime fell because Tudjman died. If he were still alive, I guess that, in spite of the corruption, [the HDZ] would have won again.
But, on the other hand, it is obvious that there is no more surplus of nationalist energy left in these new international circumstances and after the defeat of the Greater Croatia project in Bosnia-Herzegovina...
However, the fact is that one of the objectives of the Croatian nationalist revolution has been carried out, and that is the ethnic cleansing and political demise of the Serbian element in Croatia. None of the new democrats now in power has ever sought to undo what Tudjman did on that score.
Omer Karabeg: Mr. Popov, do you think that there is a force on the Serbian political stage -- and I am not speaking about independent intellectuals but about political forces -- ready to face up to the legacy of the nationalist program and the crimes it generated?
Nebojsa Popov: That is closely related to the motives for overthrowing Milosevic's regime. We still cannot discern all the relevant motives that helped form the new majority consensus last summer and autumn -- which was finally expressed at the elections -- that the regime must be gotten rid of. I think that the question of survival was the main motive for many of them in confronting the regime and overthrowing it...
There is not adequate public debate here in Belgrade and in Serbia -- or anywhere else -- on the question of war crimes committed by small nations. This is a new sort of crime, which is not the same as the Holocaust, or the fascist, Nazi, or Stalinist crimes. I am talking about the crimes that are generated by the totalitarianisms of small nations and not the totalitarianism found in Germany or the Soviet Union.
[In Germany after 1945,] the Jews did not build their own concentration camps for the Nazis. In our region however, every single military or paramilitary group had its own concentration camp, carried out crimes, pillaged, tortured, and killed people. That in-depth issue, which is very interesting for anthropology and sociology, has not been addressed yet...
Omer Karabeg: Mr. Buden, how would you define the crimes that took place in this region? Do you agree with Mr. Popov that they were not the same as those committed by the fascists and the Nazis?
Boris Buden: I absolutely agree with it. It seems to me that the dominant logic in every nation was a simple dialectic of victim and perpetrator: we are victims and the other one is a perpetrator. However, that does not work anymore. Every victim was at the same time a sort of perpetrator, which means that that false dialectic of perpetrator and victim cannot explain anything that took place in this region. We need an analysis that will open a new political field to help us understand what really happened.
Nationalist movements are the ones that stick to that false dialectic. At the same time, I must say that during the past ten years, the West was trying to understand what was going on in the region of former Yugoslavia viewed only through the prism of that false dialectic. This is why they were alternatively supporting one side or another, and that is why they were repeatedly disappointed in this or that victim. Now, for instance, they are in the phase of being disappointed with the Albanians as victims.
That approach has reached a dead end. We have not developed the necessary political vocabulary and concepts to explain what those crimes actually represented. I think that we are all caught in a vicious circle -- the West and all of our nations -- and I cannot see a way out.