The position in which the Serb nation finds itself today is far worse than any that it faced in its – at all times difficult – past. The light of the Serb state and the Serb national idea was not extinguished at times of the greatest military and political defeats. Erected on healthy national and spiritual foundations by the Nemanjić dynasty, the Serb state was able to revive after nearly five centuries spent in Turkish slavery – to experience its resurrection. The political and military defeats in our long and arduous history were not also spiritual and moral defeats. Military defeats were as a rule stimuli for subsequent ascent, for victories, our history’s ‘starry moments’.
It appears today, however, that things could be different, that something different might result. Worse than that, we are perhaps confronted, for the first time in our history, with the possibility that our political and military defeats could become also our spiritual defeats, a historic loss of direction.
The Yugoslav illusion
The Serb national idea was called into question – and is even being seriously questioned today – above all by the Yugoslav illusion, to which the Serbs were the most prone in every Yugoslavia, including the state that today officially bears this name [FRY]. When speaking of the Yugoslav illusion, one must first of all bear in mind that the first Yugoslavia would not have happened without the participation of the Serbs in the War, their great human losses, and the even greater moral credit with which Serbia emerged from that war. [This refers to World War I, which began with Austria-Hungary’s attack on Serbia, and in which the Serbs, most of whom lived in Austria-Hungary, in fact fought on both sides.] The Yugoslav illusion consisted in the fact that the Serbs gave up their name and their national symbols in the belief that the new state represented a permanent solution of the Serb national question, whereas for the other nations (the Croats, and later also the Slovenes) it represented only a passing phenomenon on the road to their own states. [The first Yugoslav state in fact began its life under the name of Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, with Serbia’s national symbols incorporated into the new state’s flag and coat of arms.]
Slobodan Jovanović wrote critically in emigration that the Serbs had promptly demobilised nationally in the new state, while the others (above all the Croats) promptly mobilised nationally in it. Alex Dragnich was even clearer in this regard: ‘The first mistake which the Serbs made after the creation of Yugoslavia was to stop thinking like Serbs and to start thinking exclusively like Yugoslavs. They failed to harmonise Serbiaa’s interests with the interests of the new state. While the other ethnic groups cared for their particular interests, the Serbs thought first of all about the common – i.e.Yugoslav – interests.’
The question is frequently posed today as to whether any Yugoslavia was possible after Jasenovac. Perhaps the true question should be whether one was ever possible, even before Jasenovac. When creating the first Yugoslavia, the Serbs proved themselves ready to live with others, but the others did not wish to have a union greater than their own states. The number of ‘others’ seeking their own states doubled after World War II, among other things through a separation of parts of the Serb national body and the birth of new nations under Communism.
The Serb national idea was called into question also by Communist tyranny, which was twice legitimised by the international community, more precisely by the West. The West justified Communist tyranny politically and morally for the first time in 1945, and the second time in 1991, when it chose to defend at all costs Yugoslavia’s internal borders, declaring that the frontiers of the Communist republics of Yugoslavia were older than Yugoslavia itself, created after the First World War. The basic idea behind the internal frontiers of the second Yugoslavia was to make Serbia smaller than it really was, and to make the other republics bigger than they really were. This was in accord with the dominant if tacit slogan of the second Yugoslavia: a weak Serbia – a strong Yugoslavia!
Preservation of the Communist inheritance
Following the collapse of Communism throughout the world, the non-Serb Communists promptly gave up Communism while defending only one of its inheritances – Yugoslavia’s internal frontiers. At all events, they had clearly formulated national goals and the means for the defence of these. Yugoslavia’s collapse caught the Serb Communists lacking clearly formulated aims, allies or the means for representing and defending Serb national interests. The Serbian government did not have such aims, because it accepted without protest or resistance the expulsion of several hundreds [of thousands] of Serb from the Krajina, and accepted too that even more Serbs should remain condemned to living in the alien and hostile state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. To make matters worse, the Muslim-Croat part of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is formally (politically and militarily) linked with another enemy state, Croatia. At the same time the Serbs on the other side of the Drina, in Bosnia, are not permitted to maintain a firmer and more meaningful link with Serbia.
One should recall the words of Jovan Dučić: ‘In 1918 we, Bosnians and Herzegovinians, willingly surrendered our two lands to Serbia, which had shed a sea of blood for them in 1914 – for Serbia could have avoided the terrible war with a simple statement, had it not been for the inseparability of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ [There was in fact no surrender of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Serbia in 1918; the country joined Serbia as part of the State of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, made up of the South Slav lands of Austria-Hungary.] Note the distinctive expression which Dučić uses to portray our national situation before 1914: ‘inseparability of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ According to the poet’s words, therefore, Serbia and Bosnia were inseparable even when they were not in a common state. After more than seventy years of living in a common state, Serbia and Bosnia became separable due not only to the will of the Muslims, the Croats and the international community, but sadly also with the agreement of official Belgrade.
An unjust peace
One more word on the tyranny of the international community. It was expressed not only in the West’s endorsement of the inheritance of Communist tyranny as legitimate in 1945 and 1991. It was expressed not only in the extremely biassed American policy, which sought to be both a mediator between the warring parties and the political and military ally of one side in the conflict. In other words, to be both prosecutor and judge. Western tyranny was expressed not only in the punishment of the whole nation, especially its innocent members: the children, the old and the sick. The high point of its tyranny was the criminal bombing of the Bosnian Serbs, which made the American alliance with the Bosnian Muslim and Croat coalition an open and irrefutable fact. A further plan was crafted on the basis of this highest level of tyranny, a plan that everyone including the Serbs had to accept. This ‘peace plan’, the Dayton Agreement, offers to the Serbs peace without justice. The plan implicitly rewarded the greatest conquest and ‘ethnic cleansing’ conducted since the start of the war in Yugoslavia: namely, the expulsion of Serbs from the Krajina, Western Bosnia and Sarajevo.
The Serbs have lost un unbelievable amount. The loss is not only political and national, but also spiritual and moral. The last two centuries of Serb history have been rendered meaningless. It was possible to act both differently and more intelligently. But those who, in the face of the whole of Serb history, believed that at the time of the greatest testing of the nation it was possible to decide without it could not have done differently. Those who reduced the national programme to a mere unprincipled and unscrupulous effort to preserve power at all costs – they could not have done differently. And if they could not have done differently, then this leads to a sole conclusion: that things can be done differently and that this becomes possible only without them. This is no political position, but a simple common-sense conclusion. Today, as five years ago, one cannot go against the whole world. It certainly cannot be done with a five-pointed star on one’s forehead, and one’s gaze fixed upon the vanquished five-pointed star in the Kremlin. Thanks partly to its own interests, and even more to the authoritarian Communism and the primitive and compromising nationalism encouraged here, the world has come to speak in the worst possible manner of the Serb nation – about which it used to think differently before, especially after World War I.
Thanks partly to the prejudice and ignorance of the situation, and also to the image of the whole nation created by the current Serbian regime, it has become possible for the well-known American political scientist, David Gompert, to write a text whose title says more than his whole article: ‘How to destroy Serbia’. [ The title is in reality ‘How to defeat Serbia’.] This title reflects to a significant extent the present American government’s foreign policy.
And since a robust approach to the Serbs was a most important proof of power and rivalry between the United States and Europe, similar messages were often sent also from this side of the ocean. In the summer of 1994 the British prime minister John Major stated in parliament that: ‘Serbia should know that there is no future for it and for the next generation of Serbs unless they accept an agreement that satisfies the international community’. In the summer of 1995 the French president Jacques Chirac, surrounded by the representatives of EU member states, rudely interrupted before the TV cameras the presentation made by the Greek prime minister Andreas Papandreou, who was speaking about the nature of the war in Bosnia. Responding to Papandreou’s conclusion that the war in Bosnia was a civil war with elements of a religious war, Chirac cried out: ‘I disagree! The Serbs respect neither God nor law; they are a nation of robbers and terrorists!’ [These quotations translated from Serb may not correspond precisely to the original.]
Does the responsibility of outsiders, the international community, for the hasty recognition of the former Yugoslavia’s rebel republics pardon the existing government for the unenviable position in which the Serb nation finds itself? No. The reason why this is so have been given. In addition, power always presupposes and elicits also responsibility. One cannot govern and not be responsible. Does the responsibility of the government absolve also the Serb nation? The answer is again no. Bishop Nicolaj Velimirović was asked whether it was the fault of the people when its leaders were leading it astray. He replied that the people was not as responsible as its leaders, but that it too was guilty to an extent for blindly following its leaders.
Serbia can regain its prestige and its power, its future, only by returning to the original principle of its policy and culture from the last century, when the Serb state was reborn. That principle is: There is no external freedom without internal freedom. In other words, national liberation is not possible without democracy. Internal freedom refers, of course, not only to political freedoms and the existence of democratic institutions, but also to the spiritual and moral state of the nation. The Serbs can regain their place and prestige among the European peoples only by preserving and renewing the awareness of their own origins and national identity. If not, they will be condemned to become one of the many dependent, unfree and unrecognisable nations of Eastern Europe that emerged in the wake of the collapse of Communism.
This text, first published in Obraz, Belgrade, nos. 3-4, 1996, has been translated from e-novine, 18 February 2009. Notes in square brackets have been added by the translator.
Bosnian Institute, 12.03.2009.