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Serbia under the threat of fascism

12 July 1999

Serbia under the threat of fascism

Interview with Bogdan Bogdanovic , former mayor of Belgrade, conducted by Vesna Roller for Radio Free Europe, published in Monitor, Podgorica,

Q. How did you react when in March of this year bombs began to fall on a city of which you were mayor for a long time and where you have spent a
large part of your life?

A. It was a complex feeling. Instinctively, we could not help immediately recalling the experience of previous bombings by the Germans and by the Allies. Belgrade has often been bombed and it’s part of the Belgrade chic for the bridges to sink to the bottom of the Sava. We’d hoped it would never be repeated. But all this comes in a dark situation that has lasted for ten years and more. One war in the Balkans, then another - terrible things have been happening, the destruction of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo,
Srebrenica, Mostar... And then, what’s most perverse in this situation is that I once wrote that Belgrade too would be bombed. I mentioned
Prishtina and Belgrade as cities whose turn would come, as the result of a provocative policy which went on and on. So I had an uncomfortable feeling
because of my prophecy - what might be termed a parapsychological feeling of discomfort. I always joke or half-joke and then it turns out to be true. As a result I had very complicated, mixed emotions.

Q. When you prophesied that after Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Vukovar and Dubrovnik, Belgrade too would be bombarded, did you think it would be
the last act in this bloody war drama in the area of the former Yugoslavia? Do you think today that this is the last act or are there more to come?

A. I don't know, this time I really don't know. It is better for me to say nothing, so as to avoid another prophecy. First, I do not feel the rhythm of what’s happening in Belgrade. I have been here [in Vienna] for the past six years and in the meantime new people arrived there. Belgrade has changed its inhabitants, there’s now a new mentality there. I myself don’t understand such things. We’re talking about a deep indoctrination that has lasted for the past ten years. You know, the Marxist indoctrination
was a joke, because not even the children in Yugoslavia really believed in Marxism. This indoctrination, however, has reached deeply into emotions. At this moment I don’t understand the reactions of the Belgrade people. They walk around with three fingers in the air as if celebrating. I’d understand if they were happy that a horror had ended, but they’re actually celebrating. Some of them say that they’ve won, which means they’ve got further plans.

I wouldn’t be able to sketch you the profile of an average Belgrade inhabitant. I try to work it out through what they say. To begin with, all this has been going on for a long time. A nationalist beguiling of the nation has lasted a long time, for at least a century if not more. Then we had a country in which all those nationalist sub-ideologies of subversion of the world, the state and everything else remained
underground. But nationalist indoctrination was present then as well, and it brought forth these ten crazy years during which the country has been run by a psychopath, a madman. I have no other description. After that the madness evolved, set off madness in other people. In other words, I’m
very worried about what will happen next, but unable to judge. If the basic thing doesn’t happen, i.e. an understanding of what has occurred, if the nation doesn’t come clean with itself just as the Germans did after the war, if that isn’t done I can’t tell what will happen next. There are still voters for the nationalist parties, for Milosevic's own [SPS] and that other party of his [JUL], for Seselj, and for Draskovic who stirred up trouble on Ravna Gora. This means that the contamination is grave.
De-contamination will not be easy. Where it should begin is the most difficult question. Maybe it should begin with the Serb intelligentsia, given how responsible it has been for all this.

Q. Many believe that the Serb intellectuals are the original fathers of Serb nationalism and that Milosevic is merely their executor.

A. Everybody knows that.

Q. It all began long ago, as you said, but let’s talk about the recent past. In the 1980s, when for example stories began to circulate about the rape of nuns in Kosova, do you think things would have been different if at that time - we’re talking about the time of the Memorandum, i.e. before Milosevic came to power or soon after that, when some kind of Yugoslavia still existed - a number of Serb intellectuals had raised their voices against the language of hate that was starting to sweep across Serbia?

A. If there had been a sufficient number of intellectuals capable of imposing another discourse, things would have happened differently. I don’t believe the Serb people are quite so stupid as to be incapable of
understanding. If someone had said to the people: Listen, don't weep for Kosova, it’s obviously no longer ours. Everyone was leaving it and moving north. Kosova had been part of Serbia for one hundred years, one could have
gone to live there for a hundred years, but no one of my generation wanted to go there, they all fled from it. In other words, the Serb people had
subconsciously given it up, but then the Serb intelligentsia taught them to shout slogans. Alongside what I’d call the healthy feeling that
Kosova was no longer our worry, that it was following its own historical course, a different rhetoric appeared. No one would ever mention Kosova without sighing and so on, yet none of them had ever been to Kosova. If anyone went there it was at most on a school trip to one of the monasteries.

The whole thing is a fiction, a phantasm, and an extremely anti-intellectual and stupid one at that. In the first place, when you look at it more deeply the Kosova myth is not a real myth, since real myths emerge somewhere in the early Middle Ages. This is a latecomer, a kind of para-myth created in the 18th or 19th century. It was certainly created by the Church. So you get an indoctrination as it were from below, not from above through reason, but through let's say
national feelings, the heart. This has created a situation in which the basic question is how we can straighten this tree that has grown crooked. How,where, who will say this? Will the Serbian Academy of Science tell us? It will not. At the same time the critical intelligentsia has left Belgrade. The young people who have something to say are now wandering about the world trying to survive. I don’t know who has replaced them. Some other people have come, Belgrade has been taken over by other sorts of people, who have
come from small towns or villages and who have brought God knows what with them. The worst thing is that they’re celebrating and believe that they’ve won, even though they’ve given up that Kosova of theirs for good. It’s very strange. What’s perhaps still worse is the fact that the weeping for Kosova continues, and that another five hundred years will be spent waiting for something that will never happen. This
question, it seems to me, is more of an anthropological than of a political nature. Speaking of politics, I fear that another false policy is now going to appear and the opposition will start challenging Milosevic about whether
or not he has sold out Kosova. That would be a very bad outcome.

Q. You said long ago that the Serbs should leave Kosova, that they’ve lost it, and that they should apologise to the Albanians. Do you see any
one capable of doing that?

A. I know a dozen or so very clever people in Belgrade, who have managed to stay on, who think in this way and will say so. But their voice is not heard in all this noise. What interests me is what will happen with the whole false myth, what the story is going to be now. Is the whole story about the heavenly kingdom and so on going to be refurbished once again?

Q. Do you think things may develop in another direction? Raising tension is what suits Milosevic best, for example in Vojvodina. Vojvodina isn’t purely Serb.

A. Unfortunately that’s perfectly possible. In this initial confusion he still can tell stories, pretend that nothing has happened. But some questions will start to be asked of him. Small questions, like for example why he didn’t accept Rambouillet, but accepted this instead. Why
did he allow the bombing to start, only to accept it all in the end, etc. He’ll try to bluster and keep afloat, but then he’ll realise that he needs
to create some new crisis, new incident, new hysteria. I’m afraid this may well involve Vojvodina or Montenegro. We now also have a third factor, the factor of a defeated army. For as it retreats with its tanks the army still gives the three-finger salute, even though it knows that it has lost the war. And who knows what awaits it in Serbia? How will it live? Every defeated army is keen to blame the commander in chief. Defeated armies produce a special kind of fascism. Germany was defeated
in World War I, a deep crisis followed, and it moved in the direction of fascism. What I don’t understand at all is how the world will be able now to relate to Yugoslavia, i.e. Serbia? Will there be a renewal of the diplomatic relations that have been suspended? Will anyone talk to Milosevic and how?

Q. The official view is that Serbia will get no help while Milosevic is in power.

A. That won’t bother him in the least. In that autistic appearance of his on television, completely rigid and in fact frightened, he already talked about renewal and reconstruction. That is an old slogan from our Communist youth. He now plans to make people build bridges and so on, but of course he has no means or money. The collapse is here, and all the time we’re speaking as if he were a normal person, but he isn’t. His whole policy has been suicidal. The word
‘suicide’ has been mentioned countless times, in almost every discussion about him. Isn’t this really the beginning of a final suicidal act that has embraced the people too? After all, it’s not he alone who’s responsible. A whole mentality was created there which taught children to be suicidal, which took them to bridges and the children cried and wore those little signs
with targets painted on them, so that they could be hit. It’s unbelievable, it surpasses the usual and even the most extreme political psycho-pathology.

Q. Do you think the West lost the opportunity, or rather. did not seize it? What I have in mind is what you said about Germany after World War I.
Having learned from experience, the West did something quite different to Germany after World War II. Here, however, it stopped well before the
definitive and final defeat of Serbia, in contrast to the case of Germany.

A. But Serbia was never so important. It is a small country which happens to be at a geopolitical strategic point. It holds a button with which it can start a fire - this is what to a large extent has determined Serbia's tragic history over the past century. The fact that it occupied a dangerous spot and as a result could do dangerous things made some hotheads believe that it was terribly important, that it could make things happen, and that this was its real strength. But it wasn’t. The moment came
when it was once again necessary to light a fire, the fire was lit incompetently, and defeat resulted. This word ‘defeat’ must be constantly
repeated, one must so to speak create a ethic of defeat, such as exists in all nations, civilisations and cultures with a minimum of military ethics, military virtue and so on. When someone’s defeated, he’s defeated,in sports too. We shall see what will happen next, which way things will work out. We have in Serbia a type of man who spent his youth in a totalitarian world whichever way you look at it - a closed-off world - with very poor political understanding and who later became something else. They've become religious, wear crosses, everyone is now very Orthodox and so on. The Orthodox Church, blessings be to God, is doing its job - and I consider it deeply, deeply responsible for Serb historical misfortunes.

So what next? I myself, as I have said, can’t move out of this vicious circle. Milosevic has proclaimed victory, but he hasn’t said that the war is over. He should end the state of emergency and allow the press to write more
freely. Speaking of the press, NIN and other papers have followed him loyally through this situation. It was a national solidarity, a crazy
anti-American and anti-Western hysteria. And I wonder what those people will write now, beginning with the next issue.

Q. Have you thought of returning to Serbia?

A. Our wish is to have two cities, as so many former Yugoslavs do. I’d like to be able to go back there without hesitation or fear. My wife Ksenija travels to Belgrade, but I don’t. She takes books I no longer need here and brings back those I do. At this age it is quite an achievement. As for returning to Belgrade, I fear many things. I no longer fear those
stupid threats and so on, which I now find funny. I fear meeting people, their depression. When people from Belgrade come to visit us, you know, we see how they’ve changed, people who think right but who are becoming more and more
introverted, desperate and depressed. I’ve frequently said that at times my friends remind me of snuffed-out candles. That’s understandable, it has been going on for ten years. When we were young, we had four years of occupation, then we had those four dark years. Eight years, before we broke with the Informbiro. Afterwards we needed twice that time to reach a natural, normal, mentally good and healthy position. Changes will not come overnight now, but if some elementary order, a healthy government, comes into being, then of course friends will turn up there to see what it all looks like.

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