AN EXPERT'S OVERVIEW The Rise of Nationalism: What led to it, the media's role in the nationalistic surge and, who exploited the media


The judges of the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague called on Professor Paul Garde to give an historic overview of the Balkans region and Garde then fielded questions from the judges. Garde's testimony was given June 27-28, 1996. He is a professor of Slav literature and languages and has written many lingustics books. Since 1991 Garde's research and writing have focused on the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Q. After Tito died in 1980, what led to the rise of nationalism and the eventual dissolution of Yugoslavia?

A. After Tito's death, as I indicated earlier on, we had the sort of turning presidency. So, in other words, you did not have one single person who would impersonate the state, it would rotate every single year. So, of course, his authority was actually very limited.

But from that moment on some nationalistic trends could be voiced and started to emerge less timidly than before in the different republics and, more specifically, in Serbia. In Serbia, even the press, came up with Serb nationalist opinions. As of '81, a year after Tito's death, some troubles arose in Kosovo. Kosovo, might I remind you, is an autonomous province whose population is -- Albanian represented about 80 to 90 per cent. But Kosovo did not have the status of a Republic, and so the Albanians from Kosovo, who claimed the status of Republic for their province (and some were even more radical and they wanted to be reunited with Albania,) generated major troubles, riots, that started at the University of Kosovo and then spread out to the whole country. The uprising was militarily oppressed in '81. There were many casualties.

So, from that moment on, nationalism intensified both from the Albanians from Kosovo but also from the Serbs. Even in Serbia we saw in the official press a whole campaign directed against the Albanians from Kosovo. So, gradually, the Serb nationalistic thesis were voiced up to the moment when nationalism came to power in Serbia with the accession to power of Milosevic.

But at the same time we see that the 80s, after Tito's death, there is another phenomenon that took place -- that has nothing to do with Tito's death, it just happened to happen at the same time -- there was an economic decline. Yugoslavia had been prosperous as long as the world economy was fairing well. That was until '74. Now, after the oil crisis of '74, Yugoslavia underwent some economic problems but still lived above its means. But in '80 or, rather, in '79 there was a turning point. There were major economic problems, and we see this on economic graphs. There was a downward trend as of 1980, poverty and so and so forth. Basically, all these phenomena coincided in time, impoverishment, in the rise of nationalism and, more specifically, the Serb nationalism.

So, finally, the more open expression of such nationalistic themes in Serbia more particularly, and we also see the accession to power of Milosevic. So nationalism is no longer oppressed in Serbia. It is even encouraged. It has become encouraged and promoted.

Q. Was there a memorandum prepared by the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences on an informal basis circulated in the 1980s that attempted to explain the rationale of the nationalist movement? A. That particular text dates to December 1986. It has not been published. First it was circulated covertly. It was only published later on in Croatia. So this text was drafted officially by the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Serbia by a group of academicians inspired by the writer Cosic So this particular text analyses the situation in Yugoslavia. The first part deals with the economy and it indicates that decentralization of the decision-making process, the excessive power given to the different entities, is a cause for the economic decline in this country. Now to keep this intact we would need to re-establish a centralized authority in the federation.

Now in the second part of this document they address the more cultural and political issues. It states and it asserts that Serbs do not have the place that they deserve in the federation, and that their country, i.e. Serbia, is unduly divided into three, since we have these two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo, which have just about the same authority, the same power, as if they were republics. Then furthermore they claim the authority of Serbia be re-established over these autonomous provinces. They also complain about the fact that the Serbs are oppressed in Kosovo, threatened in Kosovo as they stated, by the Albanian (majority) and even that the Serbs are threatened in Croatia by the Croat majority. So, in short, they denounce this threat that they feel under everywhere whether or not directly connected to the Republic of Serbia.

So this was a sort of first step, the first time that they expressed their nationalistic demands, and they look at different aspects of the problems from a political, legal, linguistic point of view, cultural point of view. So the remedy is to be found, according to the authors, in recentralizing, if you like, recentralizing Serbia. Serbia would then take power over these autonomous provinces, and to re-centralize Yugoslavia, in other words, to turn it into a stronger state. One could say, although it is not part of the text, that the Serbs would then have full control over the whole federation.

Q. What did the Serb demands for "recentralization" mean, and what did that have to do with Milosevic and nationalism?

A. When Milosevic came to power in Serbia this happened at the same time as Gorbachev took power in Russia in the USSR. Milosevic understood that communism did not have any future, so he had to find something else to keep his power and his authority.

So what he initiated in 1987 was what was called the anti-bureaucratic revolution. What does that mean? In all communist regimes you had oppression of course. The communist regimes, whenever they were faced with people being upset, they always said it was not the regime's fault; it was the fault of the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy had to be fought against. So, basically, we hear the same slogan from Milosevic in 1987. He wanted to fight bureaucracy, this anti-bureaucracy revolution as he called it. At the same time in Tito's regime, in that of the communist Yugoslavia, you did not have one single bureaucracy, you had several bureaucracies. You had the bureaucracy of each Republic and each autonomous province. So the whole idea of a revolution against bureaucracy has to be connected with the idea of fighting against decentralization.

If you wanted to do away with bureaucracy that means you also want to do away with the different bureaucracies that ruled over each Republic and autonomous provinces. That means you need to reinforce a central authority. Now this whole idea is based on a concept that the French are quite familiar with and which is the idea that democracy implies centralization, and any local authority is a source of privileges and inequalities, whilst, on the contrary, in other traditions like in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, one would think that, on the contrary, the more decentralized the more you have local freedom and the more democracy you have.

So I think that Milosevic thought that we did not need to fight against bureaucracy as a whole, but you had to fight against bureaucracies and the powers of the different Republics in order to come back to more centralization, of course at the level of Serbia, and, if at all possible, at the level of Yugoslavia.

So, more specifically, all the different forces that were against Serb nationalism were assimilated to bureaucracy. For instance, one of the slogans that was heard at that time was that we should eliminate powers that represent bureaucratic nationalists. So in Kosovo that meant you had to do away with the Albanian leadership in Kosovo. That means that you have to do away with a certain type of bureaucracy, but at the same time that meant that they wanted to re-establish the authority of the Serbs over the Albanians. Similarly, if we could in Croatia and Slovenia or elsewhere, if we could weaken local bureaucracy, we would then re-establish the central authority which is that of Serbia.

So under cover of anti-bureaucracy revolution you see hidden this trend of taking control on the part of the Serbs over the whole federation. Of course, that appears as a threat for all the other peoples who suffered from bureaucracy and still they were quite happy to have their autonomy.

Yes, I would like to add that, naturally, this sort of combination between fighting bureaucracy on the one hand and fighting for nationalistic objectives has been extremely efficient and even explosive, since in Serbia people were oppressed by bureaucracy as a matter of fact, but at the same time these national trends are always latent. So when you manage to combine both you get something that is extremely popular. So Milosevic exploited this phenomenon, capitalised on this phenomenon, and organised different meetings and rallies. In the years 1988 through 1990 in Serbia and in all other regions where you had a Serbian population you had major rallies, popular rallies of about 200,000 demonstrators in one city. One million people rallied in Belgrade several times, but these people got together under those slogans aiming at fighting bureaucracy, but also defending the Serb nation and this was used by Milosevic to do away with his political adversaries, those that were faithful to Tito and even those who refused this rise of nationalism.

He is capitalising on this to eliminate his adversaries in Serbia of course, but also in the two autonomous provinces. So he has managed, thanks to these mass demonstrations, to eliminate his adversaries who were in power in Vojvodina in Kosovo, and he managed to have them replaced by people that belonged to his side.

The same happened in Montenegro. So he managed to gain control over four out of the eight entities, over four of the seats at the Federal Presidency. So, consequently, he is breaking the sort of balance that emerged under Tito, since you no longer have eight equal entities, but you have one block that dominates practically over half of the federation and half of the seats in the Federal Presidency and that also claims power in other republics, in Bosnia and Herzegovina where Serbs live. So it is felt as a threat by the Albanians of course who were deprived of their autonomy and that are military oppressed, but also by Croats or Bosnians, since in Croatian and in Bosnia we also see such Serb rallies being organised that are felt as a threat. There is even an attempt to organise such a rally in Slovenia in Ljubljana, but it did not succeed because in that country you have no Serbs at all. So the Slovene government simply prohibited this rally and managed to prevent it. Otherwise in just a matter of a few years by using such popular rallies and by using such popular demonstrations against people in power, against all the different authorities with his authority as an exception, Milosevic managed to break this balance in the federation. So consequently it's impossible for the federation to survive.

Q. Were actually some special events that the Serb nationalists staged?

A. Yes, they occurred around the time of Milosevic constitutionally removed the autonomy of the two provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo. Toward the end of the 1990s there were all kinds of mass demonstrations, particularly at the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo which took place in 1389, the Serbs were defeated by the Turks. This event is celebrated by tradition and by the Serbian ethics and in popular folk songs. Sometimes people speak about the myth of Kosovo which had an enormous importance in the eyes of the Serbs. In 1989 for the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo there was an enormous rally with more than a million people, a million Serbian demonstrators in a primarily Albanian region.

There were also demonstrations which were intended to recall the massacres during the Second World War in which so many Serbs were killed, massacres that had been carried out by the Ustasha government which had been set up in Croatia, and demonstrations which were demonstrated to remove the remains of those victims who had been buried from the mass graves where they were lying. That is what happened at that time. It was a way of bringing the memories of this massacre back to life, and at the same time to encourage, perhaps not exactly instill hatred against the other people considered as the reasons for that massacre, but there were other things that happened. There were processions. There were remains of one of the Princes who had been killed during that battle. There was a solemn procession in which the remains of that Prince were removed and taken to various locations. Manifestations of tremendous nationalism. There were demonstrations as well in the regions of Bosnia and Croatia where there were Serbs living, that is all kinds of demonstrations whose purpose was to rekindle this Serbian nationalism.

Q. How did the media join in with the rise of nationalism?

A. From the articles and magazines that I looked at, mostly from 1990 on, the Serbian press of that time is filled with nationalist kind of statements, the reminder of the events that took place during the Second World War when there were so many massacres. This is a constantly recurring theme. There is not a single addition of a magazine at that time in which one does not find at least one or two articles on the subject.

One of the ideas which was an attempt to rekindle memory, one of the ideas which was propagated by the Serbian press were messages that under the Tito regime people did not speak about those massacres. This was not true because these massacres were always spoken about, but at that time it was not an obsession, as it became at the end of 1980s. Also at that time there was not so much emphasis placed on the ethnic nature of the massacres. In other words, under Tito one spoke of the victims of fascism and one attempted not to place so much emphasis on the fact that there were Serbian victims or Croatian victims, but rather there were expressions which really brought out the political rather than the ethnic aspect. But the massacres themselves were remembered. Therefore, it is not true to say that no one spoke about them any more. However, at the end of 1980s this appeal become somewhat obsessional in a way which it was not before.

There is also a propaganda which was unleashed against the memory of Tito and his regime. He was accused of all kinds of evils. That Serbian propaganda considered him as the man who did everything that he could in order to suppress the Serbs, to oppress the Serbs, who divided the Serbs into several states, with the result that these states became more and more autonomous. In short, they went into all kinds of details and all kinds of historical reminders. They tried to show the fact that from top to bottom Tito's policy was directed against the Serbs and for that reason that the Serbs were oppressed.

I have read hundreds of pages on that subject in the publication. One can imagine the degree of violence in the denunciation of Tito's memory. In that press as well is the denunciation of an `international plot' against the Serbs. The idea was that Serbia and the Serbian people, orthodox people, had their own religion, a national religion, and they were always the object of international plots, and that other religions, that is Islam and Catholicism, in fact were not national religions but international ones. Therefore, if the history was analyzed as one of the empires which had dominated the region, there was the Muslim empire, there was the Ottoman empire, there was the Catholic one which was the Habsburg one. Therefore, the Serbs were always subjects of multinational empires dominated by the other international religions; always the object of attacks by the Vatican Empire, by Islam. People speak about plots against Serbia, but there was yet a third international movement which played its role against the Serbs, that is Comecon, the communists. The historical analysis tried to show how the Comecon at that time, that is the time of the monarchy Yugoslavia, denounced it as being a prison for the people and it asked for a revolt against what the communist had called the Serbian bourgeoise. Therefore, that Comecon was alleged to have been continued by Tito who also played his role against the Serbs in the name of that Comecon international.

So they would speak about the Vatican Comecon Islamic plot. There was another neighbouring force which also played again the Serbs which was Germany, Germany against whom they were at war during the First and Second World Wars, Germany which at that time is accused of supporting the other Republics, specifically Croatia and Slovenia. Therefore, one speaks about a Vatican German Islamic Comecon plot, but this is not something which finds one time; you find that on every page in that press. You also find accusations about the other peoples.... Macedonians are not really Macedonians but only southern Serbs, or the Muslim Bosnians are really only Islamized Serbs, that some of the Croats in fact are really only Catholicized Serbs. There were all kinds of articles trying to popularize these ideas from a point of view of history, language, politics, culture, religion, all tended to demonstrate that the Serbs were always oppressed and that in fact they are much more numerous than people would like to say and that, therefore, it would be justified for them to have a greater state than the one they have.

I am only giving you few of the themes.

Q. Who was influencing and controlling the media during the rise of nationalism in Serbia?

A. When we talk about the media a distinction has to be made. First there is television which was completely controlled by the communist power and then by Milosevic. Personally, I did not have much occasion to look at that television. Most of my information comes from the written press, but I know that this was the same thing on television, even worse. Many important books were written on that subject. There is the book by Martinson "Forging War" which explains well how Serbian television operated at that time. Television was completely under the control of the power. As far as the written press goes, one could not say that power controlled it completely because at that same time there was a certain kind of opening up of the press. There were two types of press, that is, the government press which was communist: the Politika group. There was a magazine called Dugar. Then we also see the nationalist press of the opposition parties in the magazine Pogledi which is more or less the organ of the radical Seselj party and many others as well. The emphasis of the opposition press and the government press, come together when it comes to those themes, one more critical of Tito, but generally speaking the propaganda that is basically the same. This not mean that there was not also at that same time a real opposition press which resisted that nationalistic current. The two most important names we can cite there was the Vreme weekly magazine and the Daily Borba, both of which remained outside that stream and did a good job in informing their readers. There was no total control by the power over the written press. However, there was complete control over the television media.

Q: After Tito there were some six or seven years during which there was not really no conflict, and then suddenly it took off again. So, was this rekindling of memories something artificial, something that was provoked?

A. Well, the rekindling of memories would have taken place in any event, because the people not just in Serbia, not only in Yugoslavia but throughout Eastern Europe, had had the impression that the communist regime was lying to them and that was not wholly unwarranted. So, whatever was not part of that communist doctrine was welcome. Whenever anybody said something that was the contrary of what the communists said, it was assumed that that person was speaking the truth. So there would have been some rekindling of memories at all events. But something else that is true is that the of rekindling memories was voluntarily and systematically exploited by the people in power and guided in the direction that suited it.

At all events, the fact that this was so widespread, this rekindling of memories, and that it was directly directed against the other people, that was due to the manipulation on the part of the people in power. It was, in fact, the political exploitation of a phenomenon that did have something spontaneous to it.

Q. How did the declarations of independence in Slovenia and Croatia affect the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

A. Bosnia and Herzegovina, as we saw, is at the heart of the former Yugoslavia, and the people there, besides the Muslim Bosnians, you have Serbs and Croats there. Now, as a result, the setup in Yugoslavia suited the people in Bosnia, and survey showed that just before the war they were in favor of keeping their Yugoslav federation but on the condition that the federation be balanced, that is to say, that it included Serbia and Croatia as well. Bosnia was right in the middle and there was this desire of seeing this balance maintained, but once the federation no longer included Slovenia and Croatia, Bosnia ended up face to face with Serbia and was on unequal terms because there was a lot more Serbs and they have a lot more power.

So that solution whereby Bosnia would stay within the new Yugoslav federation that was dominated by the Serbs, well, was favored by the Serbs and the Croats. The Muslims of Bosnia were very much against that. So, once the federation fell apart, the majority of the Bosnian population, since Muslims and Croats in Bosnia account for two-thirds of the population, so the majority of the population of Bosnia wanted at that point in time independence to be declared.

In Bosnia at that time the elections in December 1990 had been won by the three nationalist parties, the SDS, Radovan Karadzic, (the Serbs); SDA of Alija Izetbegovic, (the Muslim Bosnians) and then the HDZ, the Croat party. So the three nationalist parties formed a coalition and ruled. They split up the authority, but that coalition did not last very long precisely because the various members of that coalition had conflicting interests.

Two of the parties in question were for the independence of Bosnia; whereas as the third party, the SDS, the Serb party, was totally opposed to that. This is why the conflict came about so quickly during the second half of 1991--all this while the war was being waged in Croatia, the terrible war, in the course of which the Serbs army, the federal army with the help of the Yugoslav militia, occupied a third of Croatian territory, drove out the Croatians living there and already at the time there was ethnic cleansing going on.

So whilst those events were occurring, Bosnia and Herzegovina remained outside of the conflict and, in principle, it was neutral, but President Izetbegovic was careful about that. But the federal army occupied the territory and it was used as a real base against Croatia. The internal tension was quite considerable; everyone felt that a conflict was going to break out, and during that second half of 1991 that the conflict was being prepared and that the instruments were set up with the intention of conflict and ethnic cleansing.

Q. Professor Garde, how did the Serbian nationalism manifest itself in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina? What was Karadzic's role?

A. At the time the first pluralist elections were getting underway, those of December 1990, among other parties, there was a nationalist Serb party that was established, the SDS, that is, the Serb Democratic Party. From the outset its head was Radovan Karadzic. Now, this party, unlike the party in power in Serbia, was not a communist party. It was anti-communist, in fact, and it was supported by the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church played an important role in the establishment of this party, the SDS.

So this nationalist party, the SDS, had as its official aims to defend the interests of the Serbian people in Bosnia, and it got involved in the elections and participated in the coalition that won the elections, but subsequently it participated in the government and in the administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Presidency of the Presidency went to the main Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic. The Presidency of the Council, that is to say, Prime Ministership, went to a Croat and the President of the Assembly went to a member of the SDS, a Serb.

Radovan Karadzic did not take on an official position, but remained leader of the SDS party. He also acted as President of the national Serb Council which is a non-official body, but which was supposed to be representing the interests of the Serb people in Bosnia.

At the same time, the Serb party, just like the other nationalist parties, made sure that it had power in the opstina, in the municipalities, where it had a majority.

Q: Some have speculated that international recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia gave rise to the war. Is this possible?

A. The declarations of independence as such did not immediately give rise to any reactions on the part of the international community, but in Slovenia and in Croatia when the conflict broke out, that gave rise to some reactions, that is to say, there was a war that was being waged. The international community and particularly the European Union could not put an end to it. In Slovenia, it was easy enough precisely because there was no Serb minority in Slovenia, so the Serbs did not see much point in conquering Slovenia. After a few days they had no trouble accepting to withdraw.

In Croatia, things were more difficult because the conflict lasted six months. It was bloody. It was dreadful. The efforts of the European Community to put an end to it were initially in vain, and at that point in time some countries, in particular Germany, but other countries as well, thought that the best solution would be to reconize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, so that the conflict would be officially reconized as an international conflict, and that would allow for outside intervention and intervention by the United Nations that would be legitimate with the view to ending the conflict.

Other countries in contrast, for example, France and the UK, thought that it would be best not to reconize the independence of those Republics which would entail reconizing the borders. They thought it would be best to wait and to get concessions from those Republics in return for reconizing that independence. In particular, what they had in mind was concessions from Croatia in respect of its borders.

So there were two opposing ways of viewing the problem. On account of this opposition of views, for six months no decision was taken. During those six months all of the efforts deployed by the international community to put an end to the conflict remained in vain. After six months, in December of 1991 the decision was taken to reconize the independence of those Republics.

Now, that decision of a condition of recognition was taken on 17th December. The recognition came into effect as of 15th January and Germany jumped the gun -- I do not remember the exact date -- but they went ahead with recognition on their part earlier. At all events, once the recognition did take place it was immediately after that that the fighting in Croatia stopped. They stopped it on 2nd January 1992.

It is often said that recognition was premature, that it was one of the causes of the conflict. I read somewhere that that recognition was the actual cause of the war. I think rather the opposite, that the recognition came very late. It was also on account of that recognition that the conflict ended in Croatia.

When you say that that is the cause of the war, what you have to know is that that recognition, that decision in December 1991 was taken after some six months of war, rather, there were tens of thousands dead in Croatia. There had already been massacres around Vukovar. There had been dreadful mass murders, mass graves. The war had been lasting for some six months. So to say that it was the recognition that caused the war, it is a bit much because the war had already been going on for six months.

 


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