bosnia report
No. 9 February - March 1995
 
A Book of Yugoslav Dread and Horror
by (Veljko Kadijevic: My View of the Break-Up, Belgrade 1994) Stanko Cerovic

The man who was Yugoslavia's Secretary of Defence between May 1988 and January 1992 has things to tell. We are not dealing here with Belgrade regime propaganda: the book was passed over in silence, published in 3,000 copies only, printed on poor paper with the simplest of covers - as if the regime wished to belittle this man who formally continues to bear the title of general. The book was published, as recorded on its last page, by "Kompanija Politika", which recalls the true background to this war - the role played in it by the daily Poli tika - since it is no coincidence that in the Serb language the word kompanija has a pejorative ring to it, as a moral disqualification meaning almost the same as "gang". And when you see also that the "company president" is Zivorad Minic [editor of Politika at the time of Milosevic's rise to power], then it is clear what company Kadijevic is keeping; and that his view of the break-up is part of the very ideology that united the whole kompanija which played so decisive a role in that break-up and the ensuing wars.

It was surmised even before these wars started that the army command was conservative and favoured Milosevic. This the wars have brutally confirmed, but from Kadijevic's book you can see just how closely harnessed were the General Staff and the Serbian leadership. This tie was so natural that Kadijevic at no moment speaks of the Serbian leadership as something separate from the Army, and very naturally uses such terms as "our view", "our analysis", when speaking of Serbian/military positions. Milosevic himself he hardly mentions, except when he says that Milosevic was the best person to drag Yugoslavia out of crisis and that he, Kadijevic, proposed him for the post of President of the Federal Executive Council [i.e. Prime Minister of Yugoslavia]. To me it seems clear from the book that, in those relations between the Army and the Serbian leadership, it was the Army which played the main role - perhaps until the end of the fighting in Croatia. It was the Army which invented Milosevic. Milosevic was more of an executor than a creator of Serb nationalist politics, though in that task he showed ability and a sense of initiative. It is visible throughout the book, when Kadijevic sets out the military's analysis of the causes of the Yugoslav crisis, that Milosevic and his nationalist-communist politics were concocted as the only real answer to the crisis as the Army saw it from the very beginning of the 1980s.

Kadijevic says that the Army considered that from 1989 on "Yugoslavia was ruled by the foreign factor". Then he adds that two years earlier - i.e. from Milosevic's arrival to power - it was already talking aboutÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌà "bloody civil war". You discover from his book that this notorious "foreign factor" is a single centre obeyed by all enemies of "Yugoslavia, i.e. of the Serb nation" - as Kadijevic puts it, quite naturally identifying Yugoslavia with the Serb nation. That this centre is apparently the CIA (serving German more than American interests), though this is not stated explicitly. That virtually all Slovenes, Croats and Muslims, as well as those in the federal institutions headed by Number One Trai- tor Ante Markovic [Yugoslavia's last premier], were working for it. That the most active conspirators are Germany and the Vatican, while France and Britain are impotent and Russia fettered (once the CIA had brought down Soviet commu- nism). Lastly, that all opposition media in Belgrade and Yugoslavia, as well as all oppositionists individually, are totally under the control of this foreign factor - for Kadijevic cannot imagine that an honest man might think differently from him unless paid to do so, since we are dealing with "evident and incontrovertible facts". This conspiracy is part of American global policy, which is directed "against the Serb nation and thus also against any form of Yugoslavia".

This is one of innumerable quotations through which one can see how Kadijevic believes there is nothing unusual or aggressive about his view that Yugoslavia stretches as far as Serbia's domination is realizable, while wherever such domination is not possible live enemies of the Serbs and Yugoslavia. All this was part of Serb nationalist propaganda in the years before the war, but only in this book can one see that such propaganda was coherently worked out in a single centre; and that its implementation, in which innumerable national leaders and intellectuals took part, doubtless involved no spontaneity. In its basic ideas and bureaucratic style this book looks so much like the notorious Memorandum of the Serbian Academy, in which the break-up of Yugoslavia was for the first time seriously mooted, that it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that both were conceived in the same centre.

The international context was unfavourable to Yugoslavia, Kadijevic writes, after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. All the Western powers were attacking Yugoslavia and the Serb nation by all means. Then he writes how Western interlocutors tried to persuade the General Staff to carry out a coup d'etat to preserve Yugoslavia, promising full support in the enterprise. But Kadijevic and his generals consider that they saw through this enemy ruse. The West wanted them to bring down also the Serbian leadership and Slobodan Milosevic, who were the Army's main support and the guardians of Yugoslavia, so this was, of course, out of the question. Like all nationalists, the generals saw their own Serb nationalism as justified, good and true, but other nationalisms as correspondingly perverted.

More important than lies and contradictions, however, is Kadijevic's deep sincerity, evident despite particular falsifications. He believes he was fighting against "anticommunism, anti-Yugoslavism and anti-Serbdom"; that he belongs with the defenders, not the attackers; and that he is on the side of justice and good. He explains simply how the Army upheld legality and respected the laws - but then proceeds to recount how it immediately and radically undermined Ante Markovic and the State Presidency when its President was Stipe Mesic, whom it treated "as though he did not exist". When dealing with nonüSerbs the Army does not respect legality, because the others are by definition traitors. And nothing was more natural than the Army's decision fully to support the so-called "rump" - i.e. Serb - Presidency and demand that the international factor likewise sup- port it as though it were "Yugoslav": for the Presidency was the Presidency, Serbs are honest people, and legality had to be respected.

This sÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌàincerity is surely the reason why Kadijevic's book was passed over in silence by public opinion in Belgrade and why it was published in so few copies. Because that nationalist kompanija in the Army, the regime, the media and the Academy knows that behind the ideology, projects and aims of which Kadijevic speaks, stand deceit, lying and crime. It knows its own responsibility and guilt, for which in somewhat altered circumstances it might pay dearly. It views Kadijevic as a dangerous fool, because he knows too much and thus unintentionally reveals the background of the Serb nationalist movement and the scenario according to which the destruction of Yugoslavia was accomplished.

Kadijevic belonged to the Partisan and Yugoslav variant of Serb nationalism, as opposed to a Chetnik and anti-Yugoslav one. He believes that the catastrophe in Yugoslavia began in the 1960s, whereas the Chetniks believe that it had already started with the Communist revolution. This is why Kadijevic fought for a Serb dominated Yugoslavia, while a Greater Serbia was just a second option. The Chetnik conception that was actually implemented excluded any idea of Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milosevic skilfully used both currents, the Communist and the Chetnik, uniting them through a personal brutality which impressed all.

Kadijevic failed to grasp that Milosevic wanted not to keep Slovenia within Yugoslavia by force, but to eject it in order to start a process of disintegration. That surprised him and was, it seems, the beginning of his fall. He somehow imagined that the Army would enter the service of the people defending Yugoslavia from foreign agents; but it turned out, republic by republic, that the people "hates the Army unbelievably" and that the Army, instead of constant patriotic victories, simply performed criminal deeds of which everybody washed their hands. You can see the problem he had when he tries to explain why mobilisation failed even in Serbia. For "Serbia deserted", even though politically it supported aggressive Serb nationalism. And the fact that Serbia deserted explains the character of the wars in Croatia and Bosnia: shelling of cities rather than frontal advance, too few men and too much materiel. When Kadijevic writes about the war, it becomes clear why civilians were killed so brutally. The reason is very simple. The Army, together with the Serbian leadership, decided to conduct a war, identified the enemy - and then discovered that the foe in question had no military targets. The war in Bosnia, in particular, could not even begin other than against civilians, because there were no soldiers or military centres to be attacked. The basic lie of Serb nationalists, upon which they insist all the more as awareness spreads of their responsibility for crimes, is the assertion that they were defending Yugoslavia - an assertion which they shamelessly repeated even while destroying it most brutally. To this day Milosevic plays on this ambiguity, through the writings of his wife Mirjana. If one could try Milosevic - or any other ideologue of Serb nationalism, all of whom premised their support for Milosevic upon Yugoslavia's destruction - he would insist that he was defending Yugoslavia.

Such a view of the break-up, from the very centre which began it in the first question, illuminates the question which preoccupies many people: was it possible to avoid all this, or was there something inevitable about the break-up and the wars. And whereas I do not believe there was a political or historical inevitability, it does seem that there was one of a psychological kind. You see a state in which enormous power is concentrated in the hands of people who enjoy privileges they have never earned and who are convinced that this is a natural and eternal state of affairs. And then you see a situation in which these people are suddenly confronted with a changed reality, where their whole world is falling apart. Automatically they identify their world and their privileges with tÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌàhe state itself and the nation. Nobody would be able to explain to Kadijevic that Yugoslavia was in a highly favourable international situation, so much so that literally every international factor tried to keep it going: offering enormous financial aid, promising entry into the European Community and every other conceivable type of support, only for all this to be rejected first and foremost by Serb nationalists.

Moreover, no significant anti-Yugoslav nationalist movement emerged before the Serb nationalist movement. Neither this nor any other such movement would probably have had a chance, if the Army had not been what it was: Yugoslavia's main problem. Kadijevic sees the Army as the pillar of Yugoslavia; it was its tumour - huge, malignant and incurable. What most worried Kadijevic, and evidently caused panic among the officers, was the fact that the Yugoslav Army became "an army without a state". This is the subtitle of his book and the sentence that he most frequently repeats. The most powerful Yugoslav institution treated Yu- goslavia as its barracks, and suddenly had to face the fact that in this barracks neither bed nor breakfast was guaranteed. The very thought of such an eventuality led the General Staff after Tito's death to begin making plans for creating a state in accordance with its own needs. So first a Serb Yugoslavia was fashioned, then a Greater Serbia.

Kadijevic's book is not better written, nor does it contain more meaning and truth, than the textbooks of military and premilitary education used in former Yugoslavia. But the Yugoslav wars, especially the crimes in Bosnia, have made sense of all that empty nonsense. Once, if you had to, you read it withboredom and aversion. Now you read it almost trembling, as a revelation of the hidden meaning of your past. Just as it has made sense of the writing, thoughts and behaviour of untalented artists and intellectuals, nationalists whom you once dismissed as professional and moral dross - until the outburst of violence and stupidity came to confirm them as expressions of the national soul.

The thoughts and words of a military man drilled in ideological dictatorship: here is the book of Yugoslav dread and horror.

Veljko Kadijevic was Yugoslavia's last Minister of Defence. Stanko Cerovic, Mon- tenegrin by nationality, is on the staff of the French radio station RFI. A longer version of this review was published in the Montenegrin independent weekly Monitor.

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