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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

The Nationalist Paradigm
by Obrad Savic

Obrad Savic, currently president of the Belgrade Circle, is a philosopher; he was fired from the University of Belgrade in May 2000, after publishing a book U odbrani Univerziteta [In defence of the University]. These extracts have been translated from an interview in Monitor (Podgorica), 28 July 2000, given during a recent visit to Montenegro.

What has been happening in Serbia over the past decade?

A euphoria of apocalyptic , populist and nationalist passions, in which the state apparatus, the army (as an operational machine for brutal militarization of this concept), the Serb Orthodox Church, Serbian intellectuals, paramilitary formations, the Academy and the Writers' Association all took part and in equal measure. This was a monstrous mechanism acting to realize by force a paranoid Great Serbia dream, and remaining resistant to all outside influences.

A degree of sobering up came with time, but in a wholly negative sense, on a perverted moral field. Milosevic is being denounced and rejected not because he committed war crimes but because he lost the war, failed to realize the project. Many people have distanced themselves from Milosevic, but they are a gigantic band of turncoats. Once a million people shouted `Slobo, Slobo!' and now a million shouts `Slobo, Saddam!', but the story is the same: the shouts of `Slobo, Saddam!' are accusations for losing, not for starting the war.

But now many people have turned against the regime who have positions in the institutions of the system, and that is a problem for Milosevic. He has had to bring in a series of laws that are destroying those institutions. Serbia is being ruined from one law to the next: laws on the media, on information, on the University, on terrorism, on minorities. . .

What is the function of these laws?

To make a gigantic network that will legitimize the unlawful operations of the state apparatus, so that the dismissal of lecturers or the suppression of media can be carried out legally. A whole series of proliferating laws has just one aim: to cover these operations of a terrorist state that has turned against its own citizens. Milosevic is using these laws to cleanse institutions such as the media, the University, state and legal bodies, etc. I think that this operation is not over, and that when he has cleansed everything we shall find ourselves in a wasteland. We shall no longer be acting within the legal institutions of the system. If we still want to oppose this gang, we shall have to operate on a knifeüedge between legal and semiülegal activity. The law on terrorism will come in, and we shall become easy prey ý whether in a legal or an extraülegal sense. He would like to abolish and destroy the entire oppositional and alternative setup.

The harshest blows have been directed at the University. Why is that? Is the regime particularly afraid of a revolt by students and lecturers?

The University has been cleansed especially thoroughly because it was the centre of resistance to the regime in 1996 and `97. This is the regime's revenge. According to the available data, 180 lecturers have been dismissed, another 200 have been temporarily suspended or retired early, while several hundred more have left `of their own free will'. . . In short, 500 lecturers have been driven out, all the best the University of Belgrade possessed. It gives the impression now of a gatheringüplace for vampires.

How do you explain the silence that has accompanied all these actions by the regime?

What is the paradox of Serbian society? At the level of political and nationalist rhetoric, at the level of ideal normative and ideological standards, you have empty slogans such as `All Serbs in one state', or `Orthodoxy as a metaphor of mobilization and togetherness' . This is social consciousness at the level of mental structures. At the level of reality it is exactly the opposite. Serbia is a nonütransparent, nonücooperative, disconnected society full of brutality, aggression, narrowümindedness and egoism. A totally fragmented and riven society, living in a million parallel worlds.

Serbia is in reality a sick body. Evil has metastasized and is now attacking every organ in her body. University, legal order, media ý it attacks them all. And every subüsystem of society seeks to defend itself autonomously, in a kind of selfüexile and selfüisolation: the media defend themselves, lawyers defend themselves, and so on. . . There exists no elementary social, psychological and moral political precondition for achieving solidarity and cooperation, for achieving mutual support between the different damaged segments of society in the Serbian state. That is the secret of what we call silence.

Why did the concept of the `Other Serbia' fail, that which fought against the war and the nationalist euphoria?

That concept existed in Serbia as a possibility, never as a reality. For that concept to become a relevant political, social and civilizational reality, it is necessary to conduct a gigantic process of destruction of this whole model, this paraüreligious, Orthodox, GreatüSerb model, which has become metastatic.

Why is the Serbian opposition impotent?

Almost the whole of the opposition was created under Milosevic's umbrella, with his agreement or in some cases his help. It is difficult now to reconstruct empirically the precise extent to which the state security services and the Army were involved in the creation of these parties. The whole of the secret, undercover network was mobilized to create a false image of the existence of a multiüparty democracy. In reality it all developed under Milosevic's control, under his umbrella. The whole story of Serbia's political life has been fully absorbed into the nationalist paradigm, so we find a nationalist opposition competing with Milosevic over who is the more robustly Serb. They have never created any serious programme that would clearly differentiate them from Milosevic ý a programme based on the Western model, which would entail reconstructing the economic, legal, political and educational system. Today part of this nationalist opposition has turned against Milosevic, but within the same nationalist paradigm. I retain respect, however, for Zarko Korac's SocialüDemocratic Union, because that party has an intellectual, political and moral credibility and because it has not been involved in any secret or public deals with Milosevic.

What do you think of the idea that has been floated, and found a certain reception here, that Montenegro can democratize Serbia?

Come on now! ý for heaven's sake! ý that's a complete waste of time and a suicidal notion. That's no task for Montenegro to take upon itself, because it's an imposed task. I hope that a sufficiently critical political consciousness has matured in Montenegro to prevent your embarking on any such venture. If Montenegro agreed to federal elections, it would be a masochistic acceptance of endless attrition. Montenegro should differentiate itself, assert its autonomy and sovereignty. I don't know the legalüpolitical modalities ý but that is chiefly a matter for political and constitutional experts, and not for the occupying military formations and the occupying Orthodox formations that are devastating Montenegro.

Occupying Orthodox formations?

Look, it is quite clear that the Montenegrins are an Orthodox people like the Serbs, the Greeks, or the Russians. I have got nothing against Orthodoxy, just as I have nothing against any religion in the world ý that is a matter of private choice. But we need to build a secular society. I have not been to Montenegro for many years. I experienced a total cultural shock recently when I saw the cathedral building, somewhere in the centre of Podgorica. When, driving by car through the town, I saw this gigantic cathedral, the first thing I thought was: Good God, this is the same thing that is happening in Bosnia. There all three sides now have a strategy of symbolic registering of space; they systematically mark out their space, building dozens of mosques, Orthodox churches, cathedrals ý yet they don't have schools or hospitals or roads. Instead of financing factories, schools and hospitals, your state is financing a church which is nothing but a symbol of Serb religious hegemonism. What does it mean in Montenegro to build such a pompous temple? Here there are mainly little graveyard churches, in Montenegro a pluralism of religions has existed, and now they are trying to insist on the monotheism of the Serb Orthodox Church. Look, the Serb Church operates in Montenegro as an advance formation of Milosevic's policy of occupying Montenegro. Just as you have military garrisons, you have religious garrisons too. They are institutions installed on Montenegro's territory, mechanisms of a Serb hegemonism that has failed all round and is now supposed to succeed in poor Montenegro.

Do you think it would be better for both Serbia and Montenegro to break the illusion of Yugoslavia?

This process of demarcation, in which Montenegro is the last stage, must finally be brought to an end. Yugoslavia is outdated ý historically and civilizationally. This monstrous paraüstate cannot function in the old way, according to the old moral and intellectual code. It has to be unmasked. Montenegro must assert its state sovereignty, and every other kind too: religious, political, cultural and intellectual. And then perhaps, in a postüMilosevic Serbia, it could enter some new arrangements, such as the model offered by the Stability Pact. This is the idea of creating open regions, in which there exists an exchange of ideas and goods, and the idea of creating easy, painless borders. . . We should not lose faith in this model, which has much to offer us.

This interview with Professor Obrad Savic appeared in Monitor, 28 July 2000
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