bosnia report
No. 18 February - May 1997
 
In Memoriam
by Zarko Korac and Branka Magas

When the real account is written of the times through which Serbia is passing, the name of Miladin Zivotic, philosopher and humanist, who has died aged 66, will have an honourable place. In Men in Dark Times, Hannah Arendt writes of people who redeem the principles of humanity, when these are most endangered, by force of their conviction and moral stand. Zivotic was such a redeemer.

In an early study of existentialism, Zivotic wrote that people can respond to dilemmas posed by their nature and the world around them only through a personal engagement. He never gave up that view. Always a participant and never a mere observer, he showed very early on that the right to hold opinions meant taking responsibility for them. He was thrown out of Belgrade University in 1975, with seven other colleagues, because he resisted monolithism. At the end of the 1980s, when a new - this time national - monolithism took power in Serbia, he again resisted and paid a high price. There were frequent death threats to himself and his family, and a break with many of his closest friends, notably some of those who had, with him, been associated with the Zagreb-based leftwing philosophy journal Praxis, but who now rallied to nationalism.

He never wavered. In 1991 he set up 'Civic Action for Peace', in protest against the war in Croatia, and in 1992, when aggression spread to Bosnia-Herzegovina, he founded and led the 'Belgrade Circle'. Its Saturday meetings became a rare oasis of normality in Belgrade, anyone could attend and sharp criticism could be made of the state propaganda co-ordinated by nationalist intellectuals. 'The Other Serbia' was born at such meetings, though unfortunately it was too weak to prevent destruction and genocide.

Zivotic came to dedicate his being to helping Bosnia and its people. He believed it was his highest duty to denounce publicly the instigators and executors of the country's partition and the 'humane transfer'ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ` of 'wrong' nationalities. 'If living together is impossible', he repeated, 'then life itself is impossible as well.' He fought for life's basic need, and that is why he was so passionate and personal in his polemics. During the war he travelled to Bosnia, sometimes at great risk to himself, convinced that fundamental values were at stake there, which had to be defended at all costs. He died just two days before the Forum of Tuzla Citizens was to honour him for this endeavour: one for which he found little support among his cocitizens in Belgrade.

He graduated in philosophy from Belgrade University in 1953 and after teaching at secondary schools, he taught at the university from 1957 until his 1975 expulsion. He was reinstated in 1987 as professor of contemporary philosophy, retiring in 1994. He was elected president of the Philosophical Society of Serbia three times and published a host of philosophical works, of which the last, in 1996, was ContraBellum [Against War].

Zivotic travelled, spoke, wrote and organized. His last journey abroad, less than two weeks before his death, was to Britain at the invitation of the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina. He spoke in London, Cambridge and Oxford about the hopes being raised by the mass demonstrations against the Milosevic regime then taking place in Serbia, but also about his concern at the Serbian Zajedno opposition's failure to provide an anti-nationalist alternative. His message was that Serbia needed someone of Willy Brandt's stature to go to Sarajevo and ask for forgiveness. In Zivotic, The Other Serbia found its own Brandt.

He was physically destroyed by the time and the evil amidst which he lived. Always on the side of good against evil, his anger was directed only against the immoral instigators of crime wrapped in patriotic colours and against war profiteers. Others knew a different man, a lonely and gentle person who absorbed the evil of the world to cleanse it. Modest, he never sought advantages for himself. His searching eyes saw much more than he wished to show, but the pain this brought to him he almost never shared with others. That was the price he was willing to pay for the life he chose to live.

He will be missed by family - his former wife, a son, a daughter and two grandchildren - friends and students. And by those whom he tried to defend - the deportees, the victims of chauvinist madness, by all those who suffered in the darkness that has enveloped his country and its victims. A man cannot die until he is forgotten. He will not be.

Miladin Zivotic, philosopher, born 14 August 1930, died 27 February 1997.

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