On the eve of this year’s annual Belgrade book fair, Dobrica Ćosić addressed Serbian public opinion on several fronts, in order to present once again – in the closing stage of his life – his own interpretation of Yugoslavia’s break-up and ‘the Bosnian war’, an interpretation that is based solely on lies; and also in order to defend himself and his role during the preparation and conduct of the war. In addition to appearing according to tradition in NIN, Večernje novosti and Politika – which has serialised his introduction to Nikola Koljević’s diaries, edited by him – he has also published two books: the latest instalment of Piščevi zapisi, and Vreme zmija. His habit of sounding off in the principal media began at the time of the preparation for war, and continued during the 1990s whenever key situations arose that required aims to be redefined in accordance with new circumstances.
As the literary critic Zlatko Paković notes in Politika, Dobrica Ćosić’s literary, journalistic and political work ‘is defined by the domination of an idea and the teleological stereotypes that derive from it’. His chauvinism, which has cemented our [Serbian] stereotypes about our neighbours, is perhaps most evident when he writes about Albanians, of whom he says: ‘These social, political and moral dregs of the tribal, barbaric Balkans chose as their allies the United States and the European Union, in their struggle against the most democratic, civilised and enlightened of the Balkan nations – the Serbs.’
One would not bother with trying to interpret Dobrica Ćosić’s work, were it not the mainstream and had it not become the general credo of the Serbian elite. It represents the official truth about our recent past, which has been adopted with minor modifications by the university, the media and the mainstream cultural elite. It is tied to Koštunica’s failed Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, and to the so-called third way advocated by the group around Vesna Ristanović (an imagined mid point between the Helsinki Committee and the Radicals). These people favour the drawing up of a ‘ledger of crimes’, without examining what caused them. In order as far as possible to equalise the tally of victims, the number of Serb casualties in Srebrenica, Sarajevo and elsewhere is multiplied. The initiators of the war were the Croats and Muslims, of course, who exploited ‘immanent religious and national intolerance and exclusivity, or existential insecurity based on collective memory of the past’. Responsibility for this lay with the ‘sticky fraternal embrace’, and naturally with Tito and Communism. Tito is the central personality of Ćosić’s showdown with Yugoslavia, or rather the Yugoslavia that came into being with the 1974 constitution, which in Ćosić’s view ‘caused the constitutional-legal disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Serb people’. Nikola Koljević’s diaries, says Ćosić, unmask the motives and aims of ‘Merkale-isation and Srebrenica-isation of the Bosnian war, in the Muslim struggle for a unified Bosnia, a first Islamic state in Europe, on the platform of Izetbegović’s Islamic Declaration’.
The Serbian strategists would not have begun the war in the 1990s so easily had they not believed that Russia would side with Serbia and ultimately ensure that the war would end in Serbia’s favour. This is why for the past twenty years they have been waiting for the world constellation to change, when amid general international chaos they would be able to extort a ‘re-configuration of the Balkans’, i.e. the partition of Bosnia and Kosovo. This also provides the key to the Serbian elite’s attitude to the recent past, i.e. to their interpretation of it. Ćosić thus says that the Serb people has been defeated, but that ‘defeats are not final’. At the same time, however, he stresses that the Serbs have achieved some historic victories, such as Republika Srpska. According to him, thanks to all the soldiers and commanders of the RS army, to the people and the leaders of the Serb liberation movement in Bosnia, Republika Srpska is the first Serb state on the far side of the Drina. Ćosić slides over the fact that Radovan Karadžić is in The Hague, charged with gravest crimes. Notwithstanding this, for Ćosić he is ‘not a war criminal but the political leader of the people of Republika Srpska’. He insists that Bosnia is ‘a land of hate’, and sees it as a ‘launching pad’ for the Islamic fundamentalists’ drive towards the north and the west, deep into Europe where they are awaited by ‘their Islamic brethren, now fragmented but determined in their jihadist faith’.
Ćosić is most upset about NATO intervention, for which ‘the Macbeth from Požarevac’ was responsible. He says that the motives for the [NATO] aggression were of a vulgarly Nazi kind, and that Serb greatness at that time lay in the scale of the absurdity – a hopeless war and resistance against the greatest military power in the world led by the United States.
Forgetting his odes to Milošević, whom he used to describe as the greatest Serb politician since Nikola Pašić, Ćosić in his books avoids mentioning his own role and transfers the responsibility to ‘the Macbeth from Požarevac’, or as he puts it ‘a Montenegrin from Požarevac’ and ‘petty banker’, ‘without any of Tito’s achievements or ability’. It was Ćosić, however, who in preparation for war sought allies among the Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He believed in ‘the inevitability of war between Serbs and Croats, Serbs and Muslims, Serbs and Albanians’ (Pišćevi zapisi1981-1991). War demands the establishment of priorities, which according to Ćosić meant concentration of will and forces around a single aim: ‘in order to win against so many enemies, we must mobilise our total mental, moral and physical forces’. The mobilisation and homogenisation of the Serb people in Yugoslavia was carried out for this reason. Ćosić argues that ‘all those who fight against Serb nationalism fight against human freedom’. This approach permits one to understand the campaign waged during the past two months (and before that) against the annual report for 2007 of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
Dobrica Ćosić has spent all his life in politics, and has managed to acquire a unique position on the Serbian political scene. He never forgave Milošević for removing him from the position of president of FRY. ‘The Serb people might have had a different fate, had it accepted my political views’, he complains in one of his books. He complains also because the world did not support him: ‘The West did not support me as president of FRY, because I was more of a Serb than I was supposed to be.’ The phenomenon of his influence and power certainly deserves attention, because that phenomenon explains the force of the non-transparent, informal centre of power that acts from the shadows and prevents forward movement by anyone (formerly Đinđić, now Tadić) until what they consider to be Serb priorities are achieved: the unification of ‘Serb lands’ at any price.
Why did Ćosić participate in that historical chaos and with what idea? He argued even before the war that the Serbs should unite in order to defend their ethnic and historical identity; in order to rid themselves of the frustration born of disunity; in order to heal themselves politically and acquire the self-confidence and self-respect that a democratic and creative existence demands. For, according to him, ‘the unification of all Serb differences will enrich the Serb national, social and spiritual being. Are not the aims of Serb unification into a single state – the unification of ethnic wholes and majorities rather than of all Serbs – basic human rights? Was this right not made use of by the great and powerful Germans? Why should not we small Serbs make use of it likewise?
Now, however, when the Serbs as a people have been broken up and ruined, now it is the fault of ‘the Macbeth from Požarevac’. Before the war, Ćosić headed the Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms; but today he insists that human rights negate the Serb identity. He argues today that the Serbs accepted great sacrifices in defence of this identity. Yet he does appeal to human rights when it comes to the fate of Radovan Karadžić. He explains this contradiction in the following manner ‘Only great nations respect the human individuality. This is not possible in small nations, because of taboo and myth, because of the people. In small nations, only the nation can be great. In small nations, the first moral duty is subjugation of the individual to the community, the people, the state. A Serb is a man who is not a man if he is not a Serb, if he is not aware of the nation, whether to praise it or to curse it.’ (Promene)
It must be admitted, on the other hand, that thanks to the degree of consensus that has been achieved on this kind of ‘interpretive model’ of the recent past, Belgrade has succeeded in watering down the effects of the Hague tribunal and the International Court of Justice. Florence Hartmann, former spokesperson of the Tribunal’s prosecutor, has been charged with disrespect for publishing documents that revealed the Tribunal’s decision to protect [Serbia’s] ‘national security interests’. This refers to the minutes of meetings of the Supreme Defence Council that might have played a decisive role in the ICJ’s decision in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s suit against FRY for aggression and genocide. The key question, however, is how it was possible for Carla Del Ponte to agree to blacking out parts of these documents. The proceedings against Florence Hartmann are consequently to be welcomed, so that international institutions and certain individuals may be called to account for making, in this case, amoral decisions.
Until the international community truly completes the process of creating new states in the Balkans – currently those of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo – Serbia will continue with its destructive strategy of undermining regional stability. For, as Biljana Plavšić once said: ‘We Serbs shall be brazen, determined, inflexible, and never agree to or recognise anything. The world will get tired and give up on us, and we shall achieve our aim.’
Translation by The Bosnian Institute