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South Slavic: May 11, 2000

11 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 18

Reconciliation In The Former Yugoslavia? Part I.

In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss how to possibly achieve reconciliation in the region of former Yugoslavia. Our participants are Ivan Zvonimir Cicak from Zagreb, who is a member of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, and Mladen Lazic, a sociology professor of the Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy. Part II will appear on 18 May.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Cicak, you recently said that revealing the whole truth could have a detrimental effect on reconciliation. Nevertheless, many would say quite the opposite, that there will be no reconciliation until people are told the whole truth about the crimes committed in their name in the former Yugoslav region. Would you, please, explain your assertion?

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I think that insisting on what is called the naked truth is always counter-productive. Is there such a thing as the truth? The truth certainly exists, but if we insist on getting at the truth--and I am talking here in terms of a pure theory--we will never reach it.

On the other hand, if we discuss the truth in terms of history and politics, then insisting on it would aggravate our relations since everybody has their own version of the truth and insists on it. Former Yugoslavia used to be a country with a population of more than 20 million--and at least some 15 million of them were "historians." Every single one of them believed that his own interpretation of historical truth is the real and only one. That was one of the reasons for the war.

What should be done in the future is to find a group of historians who would reflect upon the past in a completely different manner. This would be not in a narrow-minded and intransigent way, but with scholarly methods known throughout the modern world. The goal would be to put the historical events of the former Yugoslavia in context of European and international events and try to discern objective truth from our "truths."

Mladen Lazic: I think that one should make distinction between two types of truth. One type is, as my colleague Cicak has just said, the philosophical truth. This is the one that is comprehensive, coherent, and takes into consideration all the aspects of a phenomenon. The other type of truth refers to facts and is always partial since it includes only one side of reality. Therefore, this latter type of truth is necessarily a product of a compromise, while searching for the whole truth is absolutely uncompromising....

Nevertheless, I think that searching for the facts and shedding light on them could be helpful. That could help us come to our senses, of course, on condition that everybody tries to throw light on misdeeds committed by his fellow countrymen. I think that this is exactly what the Helsinki Committee has been doing.

Omer Karabeg: If I understand correctly, Mr. Lazic says that one should insist on the facts instead of looking for the whole truth in the philosophical sense. However, who is to establish the facts when every side has its own interpretation of them? I have organized several dialogues between Albanian and Serbian historians--and they could not agree on one single fact, whether they were discussing medieval or modern history. How then we can establish the facts, Mr. Cicak?

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: The question is what an interpretation of truth is supposed to be. Does pure enumeration of facts represents the truth? I fear that even if we simply insist on facts, we will depart from objectivity. Not because we are not objective, but because any stands we would take about the facts would be laden with emotion.

For example, I am following this crazy, psychiatric discussion about the Gospic case, the Hague Tribunal, etc. in Croatia these days. You cannot say, "some hundred [Serbs] were killed in Gospic" [by Croatian forces in 1991] because others will say: "No one was killed." That reminds me of the famous answer by Leibniz when he was told: "Mr. Leibniz, the facts are different." "So much the worse for the facts," he replied.

Mladen Lazic: I think that one must be qualified to talk about facts.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Yes, but who is to determine whether someone is qualified to determine the facts? The world we live in is totally chaotic and mad, and there is not one inconvertible fact around me. Was there a war ten years ago? It seems to me that there was not. As far as the Croatian side is concerned, there was a war in which all the Serbs massacred all the Croats, while as far as the Serb side is concerned, there was a war in which all the Croats massacred all the Serbs. As far as the Muslim side is concerned, there was a war in which Croats and Serbs massacred all the Muslims. That is crazy.

Mladen Lazic: But, there is something else about it. I read Croatian newspapers, I go to Croatia occasionally and therefore I can see to a certain extent what is going on in Croatia. What I can see is that, starting with last year, the atmosphere there has been changing. As usually happens, it started first among intellectuals. They began by distancing themselves from what you have just described, from the stands they had in the early nineties.

I have noticed the same thing happening here in Serbia as well..... This is why I think it will be much easier now for us to establish the facts concerning the relations between Serbs and Croats.

Unfortunately, it is still too early to clarify the facts in relations between the Serbs and Albanians; this is fresh and unfinished business. In any event, I think that it is very important that there are people on both sides who are capable of talking about the crimes committed by their fellow countrymen. There were appallingly too few such balanced individuals but they nonetheless existed, and there will be more of them in the future. These people will be qualified to sit down together and try to establish the facts.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Lazic, it seems to me that there are still very few people who are ready to talk about the crimes committed by their fellow countrymen. As a rule, in the former Yugoslavia region, everybody talks about others' crimes, and every nation sees itself as a victim of another. Everybody is ready to dig up only those mass graves where their own compatriots are buried.... A crime committed against someone belonging to another nation is often proclaimed a heroic deed. Let us just see what is happening now with [former Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan] Karadzic and [his military counterpart General Ratko] Mladic.

Mladen Lazic: You are right when describing what used to be the pattern of behavior of the majority and what will continue to be so for some time in the future. However, I want to say that I can perceive certain changes and that they are inevitable. Let us not fool ourselves--there is nothing special about us, the same thing happened elsewhere. Normalization of life brings the process of normalization of awareness. The two go together.

However, here in Serbia what must happen first is what has already happened in Croatia. The fact is that many politicians who addressed the crowd gathered for the big [April] opposition meeting in Belgrade belong to those whom one could never trust to make the change. And if one were to start telling the truth about them, it would be a catastrophe.

But let us forget about the truth about them for the moment, because they are necessary to bring about changes. They have to take power and thus set the stage for something else, so that we can reach the truth.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: What you are doing now is talking against discovering the facts and the truth in the name of a pragmatic need for the changes. Excuse me, but Vuk Draskovic was a warmonger until recently.

Mladen Lazic: That is true.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: No hard feelings, but he cannot talk about peace to me. I know him too well; we used to be on good terms. Serbia will be in big trouble if Vuk Draskovic brings that country changes.

Mladen Lazic: No, he will bring no changes; he will only make them possible. He will bring about a situation in which no one is unremovable from office. He will be a priori removable, unlike Milosevic who has been unremovable for last 10 years.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I am not so sure about that.

Mladen Lazic: I am and this is why: back in 1989 and 1990, Milosevic had the right to say that the majority of Serbs in Serbia and abroad supported him. Not all of them, as some claimed, but the majority of them. Vuk Draskovic could never say so and he never will. This will represent an absolute limit to his capacity to remain in power for a long time. By the way, I am not afraid of Vuk Draskovic, I am afraid of what will happen after Vuk Draskovic.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: We in Croatia were living in a country where there was a certain Franjo Tudjman. We knew that things were not the way they should be, that everything was wrong, etc. I am not talking about myself, I am talking about the population of Croatia, about the citizens.

But hope is fading. You know, no one really cares about Serbs, Croats, war criminals, and the return of the refugees. What everybody is really interested in is his pension, children's allowance, etc. And that is where the Croatian government simply underperfomed. None of the things they promised could be accomplished. For one simple reason: there is no money.

But, where is the hope then? This is why I fear that a revolt might come out of this hopelessness. Revolt is followed by desperate situations, and what follows next is well known--Pinochet.

Omer Karabeg: Croatian, Bosnian, and Albanian politicians often insist on an apology when talking about Serbia these days. But no one seems to be ready to make apologies in this region.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Excuse me, but why should I make apologies to anyone? Wait a minute, am I supposed to apologize for crimes committed by someone else? Why?

Omer Karabeg: I am not talking about you. I would like to know what you think about apologizing.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Those who should apologize will never do it. They are either dead, or they will finish in The Hague, which is, by the way, called Yugoslavia in miniature. There they will apologize to one another.

Omer Karabeg: Do you think that insisting on an apology is completely senseless?

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: Please, but for me to apologize for what some idiot has done? I mean, I could do it, but that would be empty words.

Omer Karabeg: Not you, Mr. Cicak, but an elected representative of the nation. That is what we are talking about here.

Ivan Zvonimir Cicak: I do not know.

Mladen Lazic: ....What is this apology supposed to look like? As far as I know, [former West German Chancellor Willy] Brandt bowed down before the victims [of the Nazis in Warsaw]. That was the point of his gesture. But do not forget that Brandt bowed down [primarily] before the Jewish [victims], while there were many other victims [as well]. Let us not talk about us, but how many Polish civilians were killed, how many Russians, how many German civilians?

I find it terribly hypocritical. What about the commander of the Allied air force who destroyed Dresden? Was he supposed to apologize? What about the ones who killed more than 100,000 people in [the Allied bombing of] Tokyo? Are they supposed to apologize, or do the winners not apologize?

What does it mean? I find it hypocritical. For me, establishing the truth is essential. Establishing the facts is followed by punishing [the guilty]. The only thing that has sense for me is punishing those who did those evil things.